Music Technology

Tension Blue: Bridget & Milton Mermikides

Bridget and I will be performing at 1.30pm Sunday March 30th (University of Surrey) at the launch of the International Guitar Research Centre (IGRC) run by Steve Goss and me. We’ll be performing 7 new works for classical guitar and electronics. Not the usual guitar rep. Tickets are £2 for students and £10 for the rest of us. Would be lovely to have some friends (of ours and new music) there.

http://www.surrey.ac.uk/arts/music/events/bridget_mermikides.htm

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The Amazing Metrobird

I have a little place in Greece, on a lesser known corner of the Peloponnese, on a little beach with a derelict and rarely visited acropolis from which the islands of Ψιλι, Πλατεια and (just about) Σπετσεσ are visible.

Here

It’s a magical (and for me painfully nostalgic) place where even when we eventually installed a phone (1996),  modem (2006) and wi-fi (2013) seems eerily frozen (well baked) in time. This part of the world is home to some odd creatures: deafening cicada, scorpions, flying fish, swordfish and a plant with fruit that explode on the lightest touch.

Shore it is

One such unusual animal I have yet to (knowingly) see but I’ve been fasciated by its sound for years. It’s some kind of bird that emits a short tweet at intervals so regular that we use it as a metronome. (It sounds particularly good on beat 4 & in a bossa).

Here’s an unedited audio sample recorded on Tuesday, 7 July 2009 19:32

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(non-flash) Metrobird

Notice how (separated by an unmeasured pause) there is a decent metronomic tempo established. Logic Pro X’s transient detector and beat mapping tools reveal that once a pulse is established it tends to stay within a couple of bpm. I’ve played with far worse time-keepers of the human species. Here are the numbers:

Numbers

To get a feel for it, listen to the same unedited clip with a click track.

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(non-flash) Metrobird with Click
Not bad at all. Here’s how it sounds (again completely unedited) in the context of a percussion groove.

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(non-flash) Metrobird Groove

Does anyone know what type of bird it is, an what evolutionary pressures gave it such tight timing?

John Williams Recording

It’s wonderful to be involved in classical guitar virtuoso John Williams’ latest recording project. Details to follow, but the energy, enthusiasm and skill he continues to deliver after 200 CDs, all the accolades and well over a half-century of professional musicianship is astonishing and inspiring in equal measure.

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The Beatless – Part 2 Minimalisation & Non-quantization

TheBeatless

 For Part 2 of the Beatless series lets look at a Beatles rework by one Joe Connor. 

Here the motivic and harmonic elements of the piece are extracted and examined through repetition with gentle timbral variation – techniques borrowed from minimalist and process music.

This, together with non-quantisation rhythmic elements creates a compelling atmosphere. Electronic music has been refreshed of late with such artists as Mount Kimbie rejecting the dominance that strict grid-based (‘quantized’) time has had on the genre. ‘Loose’ (but not sloppy) timing has a huge effect on musical expression, and this latest trend in IDM is heartening.

Enjoy.

http://www.mediafire.com/?wnqnfrd12mqpzb9

London Premiere of ‘The Escher Cafe’

Monday 23rd January 8pm, King’s Place. The fabulous Living Room In London Ensemble with Manu Delago of Björk fame, perform a great concert – including a London Premiere of new piece ‘The Escher Café’ blending classical, jazz and live electronics. http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on-book-tickets/music/manu-delago-living-room-in-london?tid=16

Maria-Christina: Harp & Electronics.

Here’s a short video of my (gorgeous) cousin Maria-Christina (Winner of the Wales International Harp Competition) on harp and electronics.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4bopHmiTVE&w=640&h=390]

Vuvuzilla: The Science of a Musical Monstrosity

In the midst of the chaos, mania and staggering bolshiness of the World Cup is an instrument that is chaotic, manic and bolshy. The marmite of the horn family, the dreaded vuvuzela.

The vuvuzela (I prefer vuvuzilla), let’s face it, is a monstrous instrument. And those that say they like it, are actually enjoying the effect it induces in others rather than loving its intrinsic sound.

Why does it sound so horrendous? Well firstly, it is loud, a staggering 120dB(A) at the bell-end. Can you imagine having to stand right in front of that bell-end, while someone is blowing it hard?

But a trumpet is equally loud, but does not elicit such an eargag reflex, so what’s the problem?

Firstly, it produces only one note with any consistency, a B-flat (Bb3 just below middle-C on the piano, around 233Hz). Technically, monotonous. However there is a microtonal wobble on this note so that it actually wavers around 210-240Hz range, Actually I’ve heard, presumably in the mouth of a particularly exuberant bell-end, the pitch drop up to a perfect 4th below. (See figure 1)

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Figure 1. A particularly pissy vivuzela caught fucking around the 233Hz mark. Note its untrustworthy slow glides and sudden pitch disruptions. Bastard.

This, en-masse, contributes to the siren-like, ominous swarming drone, however the fluctuating pitch is not where the irritation lies.The big problem, my bell-end blowing friend, is the overtones.

What are overtones? Well… every sound is actually made up of not just a fundamental pitch but a series of higher pitches called overtones, that make up its particular tonal character, or timbre. (The only sound with only a fundamental with no overtones is the sine wave, that pure test-tone sound, to which a tuning fork comes close to emulating)

Some overtones are harmonic, they exist at regular frequency intervals to the fundamental. Like 2/1, 3/2. 4/1, 5/2 etc. These make up ‘musical’ intervals above the fundamental pitch like octaves, fifths, major 3rds and so on. Musical instruments that are pitched tend to possess mainly harmonic overtones.

Overtones that have no simple relationship to the fundamental are non-harmonic and contribute to a noisy timbre. A crash cymbal for example, has a smear of close intervals heading up to the top of our hearing range. The most non-harmonic, or noisiest sound is white noise, which is like a random waveform containing all overtones at random amplitudes. Think the sound of constant static, or in nature, a noisy seashore.

Actually musical instruments contain a complex, dynamic combination of overtones. A piano for example has a smattering of non-harmonic overtones at the initial ‘click’ but quickly settles into a regular harmonic pattern. A violin has beautifully regular overtones heading up into the stratosphere, mixed with a bunch of crazily chaotic non-harmonic high overtones.

The vuvuzela, however is an odd frog. It has a simple and regular pattern of overtones but they don’t match harmonic overtones. So it masquerades as a ‘musical’ instrument but is actually noisy, without the decency of being part of the percussion family (a highly respected family, incidentally, despite you know, the rumours) So what you get is the impression of musicality but the effect of irritation. (Figure 2) It’s like false advertising. We are trained to expect a musical timbre when you hear regular intervals but we get is the death-knell rasp of 10,000 kazoos in a giant blender.

vuv-sonogram1

Figure 2. Look at those sneaky regular intervals, pretending to be harmonic. Bloody Charlatans. And look how fucking high they go.

So what good is the vuvuzela other than giving a clear “Hey look at me blowing my bell-end!” message. Can it be used musically? Well I leave you with some half-hearted attempts to depict a parallel musical universe where the vuvuzela holds equal esteem to the violin, piano, cello, trumpet and human voice. Enjoy.

So in a ballad, perhaps? (Led Vuvuzeppelin)

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Or more dramatically: (Vu-thousand-and-one)

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Alas, I have found but one place where it really works. (Voot’s Theme)

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