Archive for December, 2009

Automagic Jazz Improvisation

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Just heard an interesting story on NPR about a Georgia Tech professor’s algorithmic modeling of improvisational styles of jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk and John Coletrane. (I’ve been working on a really basic thing in Max/MSP that can play like Terry Riley on A Rainbow in Curved Air).

There’s video on their site as well with a robot that plays the marimba. Check it out.

Sinewave Workshop: A drone machine in Max/MSP

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

I have finally got something that I made in Max/MSP that I like well enough to send out into the world.

This project was started many months ago under the somewhat tongue-in-cheek name “potpie simulator”, and although I have left some visual artifacts to spice up the interface, I changed the name to “Sinewave Workshop” because it simulates my controversial musical friend potpie no more than a stack of AC/30’s and a Les Paul simulates Brian May of Queen. It does simulate his most famous (and crowd-dispersing) setup, such as I remember from the many times Chef Menteur played a show with him, but it differs from a few important ways as well.


Sinewave Workshop 1.0.7 for Mac OS X

The bank of sliders allowing you to add harmonics via additional oscillators (and detune them) is not a feature of the classic potpie setup, but would be similar to running the signal through the Electro Harmonix POG or HOG pedals. In addition, the knobs above the sliders give you the ability to detune each oscillator slightly for that groovy “beating” sound common in analog synthesizers and tube/transistor organs.

There is an onscreen mini-keyboard you can use to set the sine wave generator to exact note frequencies (equal temperament, A=440Hz), and you can even attach a MIDI keyboard and play the notes that way for an organ-like sound. If you have a MIDI fader box or other controller you can use that to change the volume and tuning of each slider and detune knob in the harmonics section. I have an Evolution (now M-Audio) UC33e that I use for this.

The range knob on the emulated sine wave generator does not multiply by factors of 10, but by factors of 4, which means that each turn of the knob will raise or lower you by two octaves instead of some non-musical ratio.

There is a little bit of vibrato modulating the sine wave. (I plan to add a switch or knob to change this.)

The delay section simulates one pedal, you can turn off the incoming sample by clicking the light blue square button (or hitting the spacebar) and the delay will continue to cycle. To really get the “potpie sound”, turn the mix up to 100% and the feedback to 90%, and only let sound through sporadically with the button or spacebar (changing notes in between).

Possible future improvements:

  • square wave option
  • Multiple delays, including an 8-second one to simulate the DigiTech 8001.
  • Delays with white noise and 12-bit sampling (for that old school grungy digital sound).
  • Vibrato depth/rate control.
  • Wii-remote control. (Actually I already had this working, but was so hard to set up the Wiimote that I removed it for now.)
  • OSC control… so you can use your iPhone to control it.
  • An “organ” version that allows you to play chords with MIDI keyboard and releases notes when key is released.
  • A Max For Live version


Download link for this project is below. It requires Mac OS X 10.4 to run as a stand-alone app. If you have Max/MSP (version 5 or above) you can download the max collective:

Sinewave Workshop 1.0.7 (standalone application for Mac OS X 10.4 or later)

Sinewave Workshop 1.0.7 (Max collective; requires Max/MSP 5.0 or later)

Enjoy, and please let me know how you like it. I’d appreciate any feedback (no pun intended) from both people wanting to use it as a simple musical instrument and folks who are familiar with Max and take a look at my patch. Note that I have Max For Live and “borrowed” the delay line patch from one of the tutorial sessions; my much more simple one had noticable clicks when you changed the delay time.

RIP Jack Rose

Monday, December 7th, 2009

It has been confirmed that acoustic guitar master Jack Rose aka “Dr Ragtime” has passed away. He was only 38.

Jack Rose was one of the leaders of amazing Virginia experimental band Pelt, and a brilliant fingerstyle guitarist in the “American Primitive” tradition of John Fahey. I only got to see him play once (at the Circle Bar in New Orleans) and a second solo show last winter at the Hi Ho happened to come when I was down with a bad flu, and I remember being very disappointed that I had to miss it, but never imagined that would be my last chance to see him play ever.

A nice tribute to Jack, including video of him performing, from Arthur Magazine.