Monday, 28 November 2011

It's Just Like New!

So, while a guest was playing on the Clavinova the other day, fantastically slaughtering Greensleeves like only a true novice can do.. I noticed something.. odd..

The 'D' key, to the right of middle C, seemed to be stuck down.. I watched her fingers, and she definitely wasn't holding it down.. and yet there it was.. still depressed. As she finished playing, it popped right back up, and I began to wonder how long it had being doing that.. 

I had a quick play afterwards, and concluded the key was just 'sluggish'.. sometimes it would come right back, other times it would stay down.. there wasn't any reason to it, just random chance. Of course, from that point on, if I tried to play something with 'D' in it, the key would behave fine unless anyone else entered the room. Perhaps I had a psychic key malfunction.. or perhaps this was about to get expensive..

Sunday, 24 July 2011

On sequencers.. and sequencing..

I've been playing with Music & Computers for a long while now.. for me, the journey started with an Amiga, with a serial port Midi interface. For many others it was an Atari ST, but regardless, that midi port is fast becoming the only connector that still has widespread use now, over twenty years on.

Back then, there was 'Music X' and 'Bars and Pipes' .. and 'Cubase' over on the ST.. and many many more.. all trying really hard to let you lay down recordings of midi data, and coordinate it back out to the device.. the concepts of VSTs far far away in the future.. Maybe you were lucky and had access to a nice synth, I got to play with a Kawai K1, a Korg M1, although I was limited to just a small Yamaha PSS780.

A lot of music progs fell into either midi, or sample based. The latter became really popular for programmers, as they let you create a simple tune with a low memory overhead, and package it up with some player code to embed into a game, intro, etc. The midi ones tended to try hard to be professional, and were experimenting with many of the user interface features familiar to today (think horizontal track based layout, piano roll editors etc)

Back then, it was still possible to consider music, both midi and sample driven, as 'block based', where the block could be a bar, a quarter of a bar, etc. Record a 12 bar blues bassline to a metronome, then simply cut & paste it, happy that the pastes will line up right.. Early versions of cakewalk had a track ui that placed black dots into squares showing data present for a bar..

Then PCs got fast.. and mp3 came around.. and PCs got faster, and disk space got kinda huge, and memory got even larger.. and I find myself staring at a multiple gigahertz processor, with gigabytes of memory, and terabytes of diskspace.. these are units I could barely have dreamed of when working back on that 7mhz Amiga, with just 1mb of ram, and 2 floppy drives making about 2mb of disk space.. that means the current PC is now umm. 300 odd times faster, 6 thousand times more memory, and some 2 million times more disk space.. ouch.

So, what can I do with this.. I could try running the modern versions of Cakewalk, or Cubase, which I had a quick look at.. "omg crazy complicated".. oh, and quite pricey too ;-) .. looks like they've integrated audio processing into the midi, and seem to have almost as many features as Word. When I need to underline and italicise my melody, I'm sure these guys can do it. Sure they offer home versions.. but they seem to just remove bits from the complex ones.. it's not clear if removing bits makes it easier to use.

I track down the modern version of a sample based prog.. back then, Soundtracker, Octamed.. now.. Renoise.. wow, nice interface.. I lost a day or so playing around in there =) many happy memories.. mp3 based instruments, decent audio editor, and vst fx chains to die for.. awesomesauce on toast with a pineapple ring. And yes, midi support.. but at its heart, its still a block based tracker, I'm not sure I'd use it to record something entirely piano based.

So I go googling for a simple sequencer.. something hopefully capable, but lightweight.. and find Cockos Reaper.. very very nice.. I've got about 28 days left to figure out if I get on with it.. but given its price is only 40 odd quid (if you meet the terms for the lower price.. which I do)... I'm pretty tempted already.

All of which brings us to VSTs.. where back when I was on the Amiga, you needed an external midi instrument to create the sounds for you, because the computer didn't really have the power, now the PC does.. I mean today's PCs have the power to completely emulate an entire Korg M1 (see the Korg Digital Legacy Collection).. or a half decent piano (TruePianos) .. or instruments so odd they are just awesome fun (Toxic Biohazard)... to instruments that seem insanely powerful (Omnisphere).

Where does this leave me? wondering how I can balance a small laptop ontop of the Clavinova.. and seeking for "that app".. the one that lets me record, but doesn't get in my way.. maybe I shouldn't fear the Reaper..

Monday, 11 July 2011

Sealed with a..

I'm sure you are all wondering "Where's the embedded music thingy?" .. to which I can answer that no.. the evil media corporations have not convinced me to stop playing piano.. and no.. I'm not stuck & out of ideas.. busy busy busy mebbe, but not idealess.

I've been hacking around with that classic song "Sealed with a kiss" (yes, Jason Donovan.. or at least 4 other versions according to youtube) .. I don't think my version sounds much like any of the others.. although The Lettermans version did raise a few chuckles. Now it may be fair game to snigger at the song by Scott from Neighbours, but don't tempt me ;-) I'm sure Rick Astley has at least one song that needs revisiting, or failing that, wouldn't you just love to hear a swing version of Aga-Doo ?

So.. how's it all going?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Nights in White Satin...

Ok.. not the most obvious choice for a Noodle.. but I do kinda like this old song.. It has some nice transitions in it, and a fairly catchy main theme, what it doesn't have, is a 4/4 Swing beat, double bass, and a brass section..

Thankfully.. that's where I come in ;-)

Monday, 6 June 2011

St Trinians

Here's a song I got stuck in my head, unintentionally, though I suspect that's how all songs get stuck.

This one began when I was happily noodling around on Cm, the usual sort of pattern, Cm, Ab, Bb, or Cm, Eb, Bb etc.. except one time round the loop, I went Cm, Ab, 'G' .. now, I like finding places where I can get away with a single semitone chord transition, and Ab->G is one I've met before, so I should have been fairly immune to it.. until my RH ran down from Eb through a few notes, and a little voice at the back of my head sang 'def-end-ers of an-archy'..

That's when I knew I was doomed.

After spinning it round on the piano a few times, I ended up with this version.. which is quite removed from the screaming hockey stick waving high school terrors in the original =) Although if they want to come sing over this version, that's fine with me, provided they bring the uniforms!

St Trinians by DwellerTunes

I don't think I'm done with this one yet, I've found some nice chords for one part that don't really make much of an appearance in this version, a shame as they are quite nice & rich, but I'm suspecting the newer chords may call for a latin style rhythm.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

What if a Piano behaved like a Computer?

"What would a Piano have to do, to be as frustrating to work with, as a Computer?"

A simple question, not even my own, but a fun one to think through =)

First, you approach the piano in the morning, and you open the key cover.. then you go get some coffee while the keys slowly appear from inside the piano, in clusters, but not organised in any musical fashion.

You come back with your coffee to find there's a few octaves there, the last octave hasn't appeared yet (again), and a few notes from the bottom one are in the wrong place.. but that's to be expected, it's been a while since you did any maintenance on the piano.

Saturday, 28 May 2011


Was noodling about on the piano tonight, and ended up with this... Maybe it'll sound a little familiar =)

Had to find somewhere to host it, found 'soundcloud' .. this looks cool..
Doctor? by DwellerTunes

Else, I've tried to put it up on YouTube, but that 'required' a video, so you get to look at a nice shot of Niagara Falls at night while you listen.

You'll have to excuse the duff notes.. got a bit late to try to clean it up. 

Monday, 16 May 2011

Crowd Sourced Blues Generation.

"I woke up this morning.. my blues were all red, 
 Been thinking about, generation instead..
 Chatting with Gandalf, putting thoughts in my head,
 That blues is a sequence, of riffs in a thread.
 Woaah-oh.. maybe you could get some, of my gener-ated-blues.. "

Ok, so, when noodling blues, I have a whole bunch of little tiny riffs, that I glue together based on where I think the music should go next, and when you stop to think about it a bit, the sequencing isn't entirely random.

Perhaps there's enough structure present within the music to allow construction of a system where anyone can contribute to the music, while the system acts as composer & arranger..

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Spotify Buffet Picks of the Day.

I was thinking of a Smashie & Nicey themed post given the title.. but I was convinced by Jim the Jedi to avoid that for the sake of the sanity of the blog readers.

I've been listening to Spotify a bit recently, although some of the discussion over their recent (free) usage limit changes is a little offputting, that doesnt change that it does have a huge pile of  music on there. Every now & then, you come across one or two that make you smile...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Real or Fake ?

Thought it'd be worth sharing my thoughts on this one.. I'm sure many people out there prefer the touch & feel of 'real' but others amongst us prefer the greater opportunities provided by 'fake'.

I'm talking Pianos here, or rather Analog vs Digital, or Thing-with-lots-of-strings-and-tiny-hammers vs Thing-with-an-electrical-plug. However you want to describe them, I've played both, used both, abused both, and learnt a few things I tend to love / hate about them. I thought I might share my thoughts on both here...

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Old School Piano Demo

So I've been messing with Blues in different keys than Cm...

I mean I can play Cm blues with my eyes shut (this may not be a good thing), but its like 90% muscle memory, and 10% creative input from me. On the advice of my piano tutor, I've been experimenting playing them on other keys, Am, Fm, etc. Normally I'd just hit transpose and be done with it, so I'm happy to discover there is a benefit to attempting this, beyond having a few other targets to transpose to.

While noodling around in Fm blues, a phrase came out that sparked off a little nostalgia, it's all caused by the white/black arrangements and how I like to slide off the blacks to get that nice sorta jazz/blues/waterflowing type effect.. of course Fm blues has different alignments for those notes, which then lends itself to the creation of different little patterns to use rather than the Cm familiar ones.

While experimenting with variants of phrasings over the new alignments, I'd started getting the odd flashback to a demo on the Amiga, with lots of spheres rotating on the screen in a vaguely 3d way, where you could alter the parameters used to generate the animation. All the while in the background of this was a piano tune looping round & round drilling down into your subconcious.

Now, I could go power up my Amiga, root through a tonne of Floppy Disks, and hope to discover the one with the demo, or, I wait a few days, and the name 'Piano Plinker' comes to mind, hit youtube, and bam.. here it is. Enjoy... (It's not the original, but the tune's still there.. just as addictive as ever.)

Welcome strange blog reading people

Yes that's right, you.. ;-)
Not possibly me, the one writing the blog, I'm perfectly normal ;-)

So why are we both here? a valid question. This is where I hope to dump my thoughts on musical type stuff, bits I'm enjoying bashing out on the Piano, and stuff I'm enjoying listening to.

Who am I ?
  • I'm a mostly self taught player of keyboardy type instruments.
  • I enjoy bluesy piano noodles, and floyd/tron/sweeping synthesizer sounds, and soundtracker music, and 8bit sid-style, and pop, rock, and the odd bit of classical.
  • I play mainly by ear, from memory (not sure if thats my finger's memory, or mine though)
  • I've just started the journey to try to better understand how I connect listening to sound, to how I play the piano. 
  • Someone who likes bullet points.. yay.. go bullets, go bullets.. 
That much said.. time for a little background.. taught myself how to play keyboard on one of those tiny-key synthesizers that were popular back in the early 90's, I had one of .. these..
Yamaha PSS780
No fullsize keys here.. just tiny little keys that always respond the same no matter how hard you hit them.. (actually, thats a slight lie, if you hit them hard enough, they snap, and stop responding at all until you glue them back together.. ).

I guess technically this wasn't my 1st instrument, at least 5 years before this one, I attempted guitar, there's no picture of a guitar here, as like wookies and endor, they don't make sense. Guitars appear to be 6 monophonic pianos stacked ontop of each other (at random offsets), where you have to decide the notes with one hand, and create the sound with the other. My dreams of becoming an overnight Rock God were sadly crushed into oblivion when I realised just how much effort ever learning such a twisted instrument could be.

So in comparison, I got on really quite well with the keyboard ;-) Plus I'm more than a bit of geek (really, and you didnt get that from the whole blogging thing already), and I really kinda liked the entire MIDI idea, where you can hook the keyboard to the computer, and have it join in.. even more fun if you discover the details of the MIDI protocol & start writing your own little programs to play with it.

Gradually over time I picked up more little bits & pieces, before buying myself a Roland A33, yay for fullsize keys, with velocity sensitive response.. but I still really craved a nice piano sound or eight. Took me many years later before I bought the Clavinova, a CVP103, it's pretty much the main instrument I bash around on these days.

Finally after spending too long playing stuff that all 'felt the same' I figured it was time to go find someone to try give me some proper direction.. someone willing to cope with the fact I've never learnt to read Score, and don't really want to put the time in to do so.. It's been around 6 months or so since then, and I think I'm still being surprised by what I already know but dont understand, and do understand, but dont already know ;-)