Gordon's Progress Part 2

Posted: 9/11/2007 7:23:26 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

The kids are back at school, so I have some time to myself during the day again. (If you're just joining this thread I have ME - it's in wikipedia.) I've got a bunch of paperwork to do to finish up Hands Off, but I'm having a bit of me-time first. It's not helping that the builder has been tearing up my patio and drive with a jack-hammer, but the unceasing din is somewhat offset by knowing that [i]finally[/i] we are getting our house extended. It has been a loooong time coming.

Enough of me. Me-time for the last couple of mornings has been drawing graphs. It's kind of Hands Off tidy-up work in a sense - it's the guts of the paper I would have presented at Hands Off if I hadn't been busy organising it, and had the time to really do it properly. This is the Cliffs Notes.

It's a flickr slideshow (http://www.flickr.com/photos/8666613@N04/sets/72157601954673258/show/). I suggest you open it, pause it on the first frame and then rearrange your windows if you can so that you can read the notes below at the same time.

[b]Slide 1. A Simple Gliding Note[/b]

"Gliding note" indicated a note of variable pitch. A glissando is a simple gliding note. The one in the illustration is not terribly musical - it's a sine wave, and sounds like a police siren, if you live in a part of the world where police sirens sound like that. We're quite deliberately taking a simple but not completely trivial example, and will look at some ways of deriving new notes from it in interesting ways. Note that, in the interests of simplicity I am assuming this is a mid-section of a longer gliding note - thereby avoiding talking about the start and end of a note. In short - delays take time to get up and running, and tend to linger on at the end, which isn't always desirable.

[b]Slide 2. Pitch Shift[/b]

This is an obvious, but not very exciting way of adapting it. Fixed interval pitch shifters are good but a bit limited - whatever you do they're pretty much going to sound the same. However, we can develop the idea into something more exciting.

[b]Slide 3. Time Shift[/b]

Delay, echo - I prefer "time shift" to highlight its similarity to pitch shifting. They are implemented totally differently, but they both do the same thing - translate a curve on a graph along either the x or the y axis. We can see that this is more interesting than the pitch shift, as it allows a strong relationship between the length of the delay and the tempo of the music being played. It is musically more appealing than the pitch shifter as the intervals between notes varies, but has weaknesses as noted above, and if not used carefully can become overly complicated.

[b]Slide 4. Pitch And Time Shift.[/b]

Wow! Op Art! I've matched the delay to the tempo in a simple relationship and look what happens. You know that is going to sound interesting. This has a ton of potential for further investigation.

[b]Slide 5. Exaggeration[/b]

This is an obvious adaptation of a pitch shift. As noted on the slide it can be implemented by measuring the interval between the current pitch and a predetermined pitch and multiplying. It can also be achieved by observing the current rate of change of pitch and exaggerating it - the "dead reckoning" approach. Each would behave differently with other gliding notes than the one illustrated, so there is room for investigation there.

[b]Slide 6. Acceleration[/b]

This and the final slide are more "artist's impression" than the previous slides. It's been a long time since I could do the maths required to derive the actual equations I was looking for, but these give some sort of idea. The point is, that there is a progression that goes distance, velocity, acceleration, jolt, jounce... (the last two are terms used by, amongst others, roller coaster designers - to make the rides as thrilling as possible they consider jolt - rate of change of acceleration, and jounce - rate of change
Posted: 9/17/2007 7:23:17 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

[b]How To Stand Still[/b]

Searching the web for pages entitled "How To Stand Still" doesn't yield a great deal of success.

Hardly surprising - it's not exactly a skill that needs to be taught, one would think. And yet it is a problem for thereminists. If you are going to hold a note for a long time you need to stand very still indeed. Like a statue.

I played Statues as a child. And I [i]was[/i] taught to stand still. "Now children, I want you all to imagine you are trees."

That's the thing, then - identify with something that is immobile - a tree, a statue. My choice was easy - one of the most amazing texts ever written - Lessness by Samuel Beckett (http://www.random.org/cgi-bin/lessness?m=orig&a=0&l=en) - it's not prose, it's not poetry, although it is like both - it is word music: music composed not with notes but with words to evoke a single, powerful image of timelessness, endlessness, motionlessness, the literary equivalent of a drone. So I stand still and let that silent image fill my head.

So much for school. What about work? There are a few sites on the web about Human Statues, those guys who paint themselves like granite and busk, but not much help there - no elaboration on the standing still part of the job beyond stand in a comfortable, relaxed, stable position.

Who else needs to stand still? Photographers and assassins. And both do the same, they sight a target through the crosshairs and keep them aligned.

There's out second strategy - augment your sense of balance visually - you're not using your eyes for anything in particular when you play - so sight a distance object through the tip of the pitch rod, or through your pitch hand and it will be easier to keep a steady pitch.

Practice? Drones! Hurrah. Loads and loads of echo - with my two delay boxes maxed out at one and two seconds exactly (actually the Echohead not quite maxed out on feedback - the sound can get too saturated - but nonetheless) I can count 150 repeats, one a second for two and a half minutes. Excellent! I try to hold each note at least fifteen seconds before slowly adding in another one, keeping the pitch as constant as I can, using the volume hand to add interest, holding the elbow at 90 degrees to minimise transmission of vibration to my pitch hand.

Posted: 9/22/2007 7:35:35 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

I now possess an articulation regulator. See here (http://peterpringle.com/ondes2.html) - scroll down to [i]Martin Taubman's "Electronde"[/i]. Also you can download a video (the preview is acceptable quality and free) of Taubman in action here (http://tinyurl.com/yr46ow). (And a few other theremin related clips too. The Sherry Brothers is a false positive - no theremin involved.)

I ordered a small press to break momentary switch and it arrived this morning, I found a length of rigid plastic tubing that it fits snugly into, stripped a section of cable, pushed it up through the tube, cut one of the wires and attached the switch, then lashed the other end with string and coated the lashing with epoxy resin. It is currently drying. I have not glued in the switch as it fits exactly and is firm. This means that, when fate brings me near enough to someone with a soldering iron I can finish the job. However, I suspect this may be unnecessary - the other end is locked tight and the cable is slack inside the tube so I do not see how the wire could come loose from the switch. Neither is it pretty - it's white plastic tube with yellowish string at the end. But it works.

Before I glued it, I tried it for a quarter of an hour.

It is a little inconvenient to manipulate whilst using the volume loop - the cable is a bit heavy - mostly because I used a short (1 metre) cable so there are two jacks and a male to male adaptor. All in all it is easiest to hold vertical. I get the best responsiveness when I press the button with the lower part of my thumb. I am considering fixing it to a fingerless cycling glove so that I can regain use of all my fingers - holding it with the little and ring finger gives me use of the other two, so I can work the side of the loop with them, but it is not ideal. Strapping the cable to my arm allows me to play above the loop with little encumbrance.

I am favouring holding it with the pitch hand. I do not use aerial fingering - well, I do use my fingers, but not for the usual reason. I will digress for a moment. As I understand it, one of the points of aerial fingering is that it enables the player to move very rapidly from one note to the next, minimising glissing. Turns out it's also good for very slow, controlled glisses over short intervals. It's a lot easier to move one finger very slowly over an inch than to move the whole hand and arm a quarter of an inch smoothly and slowly. It's a sort of fingering. I also occasionally use a finger vibrato - one of my palate of vibratos. Anyway - the point is; not such a problem in my particular instance.

There is a problem with using the volume hand. There is a massive overlap of functionality between the working the loop and pressing the button. Admittedly I have not given any time to learn to coordinate with the switch in my hand, but I kept using the loop when I intended to press the button, and vice versa. No such problem occurred when holding it in the pitch hand.

I also experimented with a volume pedal, as I have one in my set-up anyway. This works well, with a good separation of functionality, but a volume pedal is a much cruder tool than a volume loop and my hand feels wasted just pushing a button. I think that the way to go is a foot-switch, leaving the hands free. Tapping a rhythm with the foot comes naturally. But for the time being I'll stick with what I have, as there is plenty to explore before I decide about investing in a professional solution.

The sound. It does not appear to introduce any perceptible additional noise to the system, nor does it thump, but it does make a distinct click, on make and on break - less so on break. It seems to vary in intensity depending on what I am doing with my pitch hand at the time, but I have not figured out what the relationship is. I suspect the click is unavoidable - square waves have lots of harmonics - but it also might be that, as I was told, the audio cable is the wron
Posted: 9/22/2007 8:16:18 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Heh. I said bleep.

Reminded me of Bleep And Booster (http://www.thechestnut.com/bleep.htm). Another significant childhood influence.

Posted: 10/21/2007 7:55:57 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Gordon's Progress started two years and two days ago, when my first theremin arrived. I now own two and a toy one. And a bunch of pedals and an amp and a load of wires and all the other stuff that goes with it. I've played gigs, got a record contract, recorded stuff that is on iTunes, camped in terrible weather and organised a theremin symposium and met some amazing and wonderful people.

Predictably, and a little depressingly, but not too much, the videos of my toy theremin are attracting far more attention than the others.

Today I took the lid off my etherwave and tweaked one of the coils. L6 to be specific. When the instrument first arrived the pitch tuned correctly at about 3 o'clock on the knob on the front. Just a week ago it suddenly moved to about 5 o'clock - rather close to the limit of the knob's travel. Why, I'm not sure. It has turned cold in the room it lives in, the house is covered on three sides with scaffolding and I heard they do wander a bit over time. All these could be contributing factors. I'm not honestly sure about the scaffolding, but it seems like it might, to me.

Anyway, having tuned the very fiddly Gakken theremin mini I figured I'd brave the insides of the etherwave. I read the manual and decided that was far to complicated, with jump leads and a choice of three coils to turn and ways to alter the range of the instrument as well as the field size. But I got the impression that unless the tuning was completely out it was coil L6 that I should focus on. So I turned it a little bit clockwise, put the lid on, tried it, it was an improvement. Repeated two more times and bingo, it now tunes right at 12 o'clock. Well, perhaps quarter past 12, but close enough.

Musically, things are quite quiet. I'm just playing for myself a bit each day, mostly in the Moths Ae Made Of Dust vein, and occasionally with my articulation regulator, which is fun, but I'm still working on a use for it in a piece. I had the aforementioned click explained to me in private email. Apparently there should really be a circuit with a zero crossing detector in it, so that it switches off when the voltage is zero. That makes sense. When I do use it in a piece, it will be in ways that minimise the click. It's not actually terrible, but I've decided I don't care for it.

Currently looking forward to Sonic Weekender 2 at the start of November, and meeting electromungo of these forums.
Posted: 10/22/2007 10:41:26 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

[i]Predictably, and a little depressingly, but not too much, the videos of my toy theremin are attracting far more attention than the others.[/i]

It could be worse... people could be swarming to watch someone else's grainy, lo-fi video taken with a cell-phone camera, which shows you doing something far less satisfying... say, calibrating the Gakken, instead of playing it.
Posted: 10/23/2007 6:11:38 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Indeed it could be worse. I could be Fake Steve Jobs.

A poem from his new book...

[i]Sometimes I feel like a great chef
who has devoted his entire life
to monastic study of the art of cooking
and gathered the finest ingredients
and built the most advanced kitchen
and prepared the most exquisite meal
so perfect so delicious so extraordinary
more astounding than any meal ever created
yet each day I stand in my window
and watch ninety-seven percent of the world
walk past my restaurant
into the McDonald's
across the street.[/i]
Posted: 10/23/2007 10:26:02 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

Oh. Mah. Gawd. Story of my [i]life[/i]--or rather, of my career, as a composer of music with absolutely zero commercial potential.

Thanks for hipping me to FSJ.
Posted: 10/25/2007 10:58:17 PM

From: Toledo, Ohio United States of America

Joined: 2/22/2006

Although, your description of your "articulation regulator" was quite definitive, I would love to see some photos of your creation.
I have done something similar with my Theremax.
I went to RS and purchased a momentary mini-switch and a 1/4" phono input jack. I soldered the leads of the switch to the leads of the phono jack, and with a little tweaking, managed to insert the switch into the plastic housing that came with the phono jack. When finished, my little project looked professionally manufactured.
To use my version of the "articulation regulator", I plug one end of a three foot 1/4" patch cord into this switch/jack creation and the other end of the cord into the mute jack of my Theremax.
While holding the switch in my hand, I can still have the designed volume control of the Theremax while playing, with the added benefit of no sound or stacatto at the push of the "articulation regulator" switch.

Good Luck!

Posted: 10/26/2007 1:41:31 AM

From: Fresno, California USA

Joined: 3/26/2006

Aha! The cord is an alternative neither I nor evidently the folks at PAiA had thought of! I put a push button in place of the jack; they suggested leaving the jack, but building a micro toggle switch into a male plug.

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