Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Feel The Noise

The title of this entry has many meanings.

I haven't made any updates to this blog in over a month.  This isn't because my work in Astronomy & Music hasn't been moving forward, it's just that up until now there hasn't been enough to report on.  But now I have a few stories to tell.

My astronomical research has been going a bit slow.  I'm allowing this to be an organic process so sometimes there will be temporal gaps in the work I'm doing.  This is sort of what's happening at the moment.  But I'm still thinking about some things and doing a little work.  The Zero Zero project is currently on hold, but is still in my thoughts.  A new project has surfaced which I will now explain.

Astronomical Music

About a month ago, I came up with an idea that I could "play" astronomical data, and any kind of data for that matter.  I'm still not exactly sure how this is going to work out, but let me try to explain.  The first thing I'm going to do is create a single-note song that varies in amplitude.  The amplitude information will be produced by taking an image of a spiral galaxy and measuring the brightness of each pixel along a particular row.  I will convert this brightness value into an amplitude value for the single notes I'll be playing.  Once this is done, I'll give it a listen and see how it sounds.  I'll also probably run through other rows and columns, and maybe even some diagonals.

Depending on how this initial peek at playing astronomical data, things could go in a couple directions.  First, of course, is nowhere.  If I take a good hard look at the sound that is being produced and I can't see any value in it, then this project is finished.  On the other hand, if I even have a HINT of something interesting, I'll continue to pursue this project by encoding different information into the MIDI file that will represent different aspects of the astronomical data.  For instance, each row or column in an image could represent a note on the keyboard, with the brightness of the pixel representing the amplitude of the note.  Anyhow, the sky is really the limit (I hope) in terms of this work and I'm as excited as I can be about it.

What this all hinges on right now is writing some software to create MIDI files.  The MIDI file will then be read/played by my synthesizer to produce the desired sound.  Anyhow, this is where I'm "stuck" at the moment.  Not because I'm not able to write the software (I was a fairly good programmer once), but because the motivation to write the software hasn't been there.  I've been more focused on my musical development.  In any case, I'll keep you posted on this new and very interesting project.  When I have some sound to share, rest assured that I'll make it available for everyone.


My musical development continues.  The band I'm in has been on a short break because one of our members had to do some traveling.  But now he's almost home and we'll be getting back to rehearsals this coming Wednesday (7/25/12).  At the same time that we took our little break, one of the buttons on my keyboard failed.  It is probably the most important button on this board and therefore the most used and therefore the one most likely to wear out.  When I got my Roland Fantom X8 over a year ago, this button was already flakey, so I knew it was just a matter of time.  Well, that time came a couple of weeks ago -- pushing the button did NOTHING.

So I wrung my hands for a few days as I seem to do.  I got ahold of the service manual and learned how to properly take the device apart in order to get into it.  With the exploded views of the interior, I found exactly the button (and it's technically a switch) that had failed on me.  It's located on a circuit board with nine other buttons/switches.  It connects to the rest of the device via a small ribbon cable.

Circuit Board '8' is the one that was replaced -- the one in the center with those ten buttons

[Just as an aside, it really met one of my primal urges to finally tear into this synthesizer.  I've been wanting to ever since I got it, but have been resisting the urge until "absolutely necessary".]

So by last Monday (7/16/12), I knew exactly what I needed and I had a couple of crude contingency plans if the primary plan didn't work out.  The primary plan was to call Roland and see if I could order the circuit board from them or a supplier.  I was nervous and excited at the same time.  I'd created several amazing horror stories in my imagination about this whole thing and in hindsight they were pretty funny.  Anyhow, I get on the phone with Roland and I describe the situation.  He asks me for a part number and I gave it to him (it's part .  Then he says something like, "Ok, the part is in stock and will be shipped to you today.  That'll be $18.49 plus $6 shipping for a total of $24.49.  Would there be anything else, sir?"

So that was that!  Three days later (this past thursday -- 7/19/12) the circuit board arrived and in about 5 minutes I had it installed.  Now the moment of truth.  Will the button work?  Did I screw up something else?  Did I zap one of the circuit boards with static?  Will the board even turn on?

The end of the story is that everything is working great now and I've been reinvigorated (as if I needed to be, ha!).  So much so that I've started up with a real "bang" and learned two very cool songs in a matter of hours.  One is 'Jackie Blue' by The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and the other is 'Red Sector A' by Rush.  I'm in the process of making a decent recording of these and will post them to Soundcloud when I get them done.  Both of these songs are VERY infectious and I can't seem to get enough of playing them.

I feel as though I've graduated to a new level after learning 'Red Sector A'.  Of course I knew of Rush, but I was never a big fan until only a few months ago when I saw an incredible biography of them on TV.  That show convinced me that I really needed to take a good look at these guys and what I found was amazing!  The music is incredible and so are Getty, Alex, and Neil as people.  This is actually one of the first bands in which I know the names of the band members.  Their names just stuck in my head!  Anyhow, it took me a couple of hours to get the song down, and now I continue to work on getting the "right sound".  I'll be doing the vocals on this song, and I found the original key (the first note played is a 'D') to not be in my range.  So I transposed it up to 'G' and this works really well for my vocal range.  What a totally awesome song.  As I said, I really do feel as though I've graduated with this song and if I can do this song then there really isn't much I'm not capable of.  Hmmmm, is there a hint of pride in that last sentence?????

Tonight is a weekly Jam session (with another group of amazing musicians, exploring the outer reaches of the musical chaos) and then tomorrow is our bi-weekly rehearsal with the band.  We're going to be changing the format of the rehearsal in that instead of randomly going through the songs in a "what do you want to do next?" way, we're going to start playing the songs in the order we'll be performing them.  I'm excited about making this step because that puts us that much closer to starting live performances.

I'll make a better effort to post blog entries much more often.  I know that my supporters (present and future) appreciate seeing the progress (or lack thereof).

Peace to All