Archive for the ‘music theory’ Category

Audiobiography (for Disquiet Junto)

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

My third (or fourth?) entry to the Disquiet Junto is a 2-minute narration that was uncomfortable to do. I initially resisted doing this “audiobiography”, as I generally dislike the self-consciousness that arises from talking about myself or hearing my voice, but as so many others in the Disquiet Junto have done it, I felt like I was cheating by skipping it. By the time I was finished, there were many things I didn’t talk about that contributed to the whole picture that didn’t make the cut : Indian music, analog synths, field recordings, Autechre, My Bloody Valentine…. but I was already several minutes over the allotted time when I started editing.

I also created a new SoundCloud account to post works from this site. I’ll be retroactively posting all the tracks from this blog soon.

background music: Chef Menteur – “Io” (edits)

More on this #60th Disquiet Junto project at:disquiet.com/2013/02/21/disquiet0060-audiobio

More details on the Disquiet Junto at: Groups – Disquiet-junto

More details on the SoundCloud “audiobiography” project at: blog.soundcloud.com/2013/02/06/audiobiography/

Mystery Instrument Riddle Solved!

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

For over ten years, I’ve had this instrument without knowing what it was or where it came from (at least before the music shop in Carrboro, NC that sold it to me used for $20):

Swarsangam and case

Weird looking right? And truly possibly the first “weird” instrument of my collection, if you don’t count the Appalachian mountain dulcimer I made at camp as a kid.

It has four “bass” strings, mounted on a jawari, or “buzz” bridge— the kind you might find on a sitar. When you pluck one of these strings there is a very long sustain with an oriental twang like you might hear in Indian music.

It also has eleven treble strings, mounted across a more normal style bridge, and which make a sharp turn across a series of screws to the end of the box, where somewhat flimsy tuners control their pitches. Someone had installed a “BB Jr.” stick-on pickup. And, it came with a charmingly old-fashioned velvet-lined case.

It was definitely a handmade instrument; the tuners and screws were the only part that appeared to be factory-made. So, I assumed that it was someone’s DIY project that was getting into instrument building and was quite good at it, but wanted to make something really strange and original. I’d assumed it was one-of-a-kind.

For the first 5 years I had it, it was a novelty, not knowing how to tune it or play it. Occasionally it was pulled out to make weird Chinese-sounding plucking noises.

After listening to Ravi Shankar a lot for a few years, though, and then attempting to learn to play a sitar, I realized that this was meant to be an accompaniment instrument, much like the harmonium or tanpura (also known as tambora or tamboura; I don’t attempt to pick a spelling). Tuning the four “bass” strings to the same notes that a tanpura might play sounded really, really good; and knowing that sitar players tuned their 11 sympathetic strings to subsequent notes of whichever scale they are playing in, then it followed that these 11 strings could be tuned similarly. They can be played then, much as a harp or zither, or just left alone to resonate in sympathy with the drone strings.

You can hear it all over the Murmur release Fermata, most noticably the first 12 minutes or so of the second track “Description of the Between.”

It’s also on “OTIII”, the last track of Chef Menteur’s The Answer’s In Forgetting. The tamboura side of the sound is buried beneath banjos and harmonium, but the harp side of the instrument can be heard clearly in the second minute.

You can listen to both tracks online. The links to each song are at the bottom of each page. In both cases we tuned it to open E-flat, as that’s the only key the harmonium we have will drone in. In the liner notes, we listed the instrument as “tamboura/zither box.”

Just this week, I got an email from Dan with a link to another site where the name is clearly listed. It is:

SWARSANGAM.

Here’s a page on Flickr that he found with the instrument’s name and photo. It also hints at the origin of the instrument as a hybrid or synthesis of two instruments:

  1. the drone side is a box tanpura (pictures/shop )
  2. the harp side is a kind of box zither called a swarmandal or surmandal (Wikipediapictures and tuning info). The swarmandal, according to the Wikipedia entry was the instrument producing the harp sound on many of my favorite Beatles songs, including both my wife’s and my all-time favorite song “Strawberry Fields Forever”, as well as “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and the brilliant (but often maligned) Harrison composition “Within You Without You.”

This was very pleasing to read, though not wholly surprising, because it meant that we’d arrived at an understanding of the instrument that’s very close to its common use and purpose in a very organic way by trial and error and deduction; however it did take lots of patience and experimentation with tuning pegs and tuners and a few years messing about with the thing.

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.

Analog Sound Patterns

Friday, August 7th, 2009

I was looking at the site logs for Backporch Revolution and noticed that a lot more hits were coming in from YouTube. It seems that people have recently been taking an interest in my good friend Bryan Killingsworth’s “Sound Patterns” series. This got me looking at them again, and remembering how cool this experiment was.

Using a laser pointer, plastic wrap, and a metal bowl for the visuals, Bryan cranked up his modular analog synthesizer and made some trippy visual patterns that co-relate nicely to the sine waves he’s tuning.

For information on how this was done take a look. The links to the YouTube videos are at the bottom of the page.

handy tools for audio geeks

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

This reference site has just about anything you can imagine you’d need, from note names and frequencies, to a chord finder, to a BPM calculator, and much more:

http://www.sengpielaudio.com/Calculations03.htm

I found it when I was looking for the frequency range of a standard 88 note piano, and the MIDI notes that corresponded for a simple MAX patch I was working on. So far, it just plays random piano quarter notes in a minor scale, you pick the root key and the octave span and tempo. I was thinking I could make a robot that does a good Terry Riley impression a la Rainbow in Curved Air.