Gordon's Progress

Posted: 2/2/2006 7:02:43 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Just a quick posting. Sorry not theremin related, but I suspect one or two people might enjoy this. Seven words I never imagined would possibly go together...

Disney's Teen Devo Cover Band's "Whip It" (http://appserver.veoh.com/mediaDetails.html?permalinkId=e26704)

Posted: 2/3/2006 11:14:42 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

I borrowed Dr Frankenstein's laboratory for the evening. ("Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?" "Same thing we do every night, Pinky: Try to take over the world!") and spent the evening practicing my evil laugh, mwa-ha-ha-haar, and cooking up a Weapon of Musical Destruction. Going to deliver it later to a hardcore, square-jawed, five star general from the deep South. He'll spit out his big old cigar and say "Boy, that sure is some fine mil-spec theremin there. Operation Sonic Destructor is good to go, get the President on the line and start a-chargin' up the Jericho Horns boys, tonight we're gonna sing them SOB's a lullaby they'll never forget..."

It's kind of Pere Ubu's 30 Seconds Over Tokyo meets Industrial Introduction by Throbbing Gristle.

unlit airraids (http://www.soundclick.com/bands/pagemusic.cfm?bandID=475314)

Play it [b]loud[/b].

I can quite understand if this is not for you (as my father says, "Huh. They call it music but it isn't.") So to save you the trouble of downloading it, here's a description.

This is music from the war zone. It is night. Against a backdrop of distant machinery jackbooted platoons march through the decimated city. All around the ruins loudspeakers blare out the cracked aphorisms of a bellicose despot. The claxons start to crank up to warn of an impending air-raid, but too late as the bombs start to fall...

What have I learned here?

Tried a new technique in garageband, imported straight from my experience using photoshop layers.

Put the same sound on two or more tracks, and treat each differently.

The opening track, the rhythm of distant machinery, is the same as the next voice, marching jackboots, which is shifted by half the duration of the sample to make them separate and distinct. The jackboots are actually two tracks, each with the same sample but treated differently. The emphasis moves from one voice to the other and back again over the length of the piece so the sound changes continuously in character. The voice is three tracks, also in perfect synchronisation. The first is distorted and megaphoney just beyond comprehensibility. The second is completely undistorted and plays just loud enough to make the first track understandable. The third is clipped until just snatches of voice remain, and then pitch-shifted into a squeak.

The two theremin tracks, the rising claxon and the falling bombs are both slow extended tiger claw strokes, one falling, one rising.

That needs some explanation. I am building a language, a nomenclature, to better think about what I am doing. The basic musical unit here is not the note, which has a fixed pitch and can vary only in volume, duration and tone, but the stroke, in which the pitch is also variable throughout the duration of the stroke. In this sense a note is a static stroke. The simplest non-static stroke is a movement either towards the pitch antenna or away from it, of constant velocity. This is easy to achieve, moving your hand at a steady speed - it is harder to achieve strokes where the velocity varies in a controlled manner - say to make a stroke in which the pitch varies sinusoidally like a police siren. Here we need to change the stroke from a straight line to a curve and take advantage of trigonometry. Describing a circle at a constant speed automatically moves the hand towards and away from the pitch antenna with just the required variations in rate of change of pitch. So a stroke is a curve described in the air.

The two strokes used in this piece are both slow straight lines (mostly), extending from one end of the range of the theremin to the other, hence "slow, extended". "Tiger claw" indicates a sawtooth wave with added gain to make it really sharp, and fast delay with lots of repeats to turn it into a cluster stroke like tiger claws ripping through your tent. Cluster strokes are one instance of an italic stroke, one in which the nature of the stro
Posted: 2/3/2006 4:42:37 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention. Had my first taste of environmental effects on the theremin.

Suddenly the control zone was all over the place, and then silence.

My first thought was how apt it was that the machine should fight back while rehearsing industrial music and my second that perhaps this was to do with vibrations because I had been reading about that in another thread recently. Or a dying transistor. Or something. But I'm pretty sure it was environmental factors. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but heating a chilly kitchen by boiling water for spaghetti in one pan, rice in another and reducing tomatoes in a third whilst trying to play an un-warmed-up theremin may be asking for trouble, what with rapid changes in temperature and humidity not being too good for the circuitry, right?

Anyway, it settled down after I finished cooking and let the climate return to normal, and it's been rock solid reliable since then.

Posted: 2/3/2006 8:47:06 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005


Well done. I like the way the tension builds slowly throughout. Good pacing, too... not so long that is loses ones interest.
Posted: 2/4/2006 4:16:38 PM

From: Kansas City USA

Joined: 2/4/2006

Greetings, Gordon!

I just wanted to encourage you on your musical endeavours. I have always enjoyed the mysterious "spirit" of the theremin. You most certainly have captured that in your "...Soup Dragon" piece. Kudos!

I have also recently added Veoh to my system, and particularly got a kick out of your Frigidaire creation!

I found your music on music.podshow.com and have combined it with another ambient music artist named Falter, using it in the background of a special in my podcast.

The podcast is The PLANET RADIO PodCast and can be found at http://www.planetradio.libsyn.com. It is a weekly Music & Entertainment show that features Indpendent Music, Trivia, Movies, News, etc. It is also a family-friendly show that is designed to educate as well as entertain.

Your music is the background accompaniment in a special titled "Dr. Numero: The Number 9". It appears in the special at 21:44 into "SHOW #9: No Use Denyin'."

Thanks for your musical contribution. It most definitely helps to set the mood for the piece!

terry wright
Posted: 2/4/2006 6:54:55 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Thank you. I'm delighted that my experiments are turning out useful. I haven't had chance to listen to the whole podcast yet, but I watched the video trailer and you are one high energy guy - I'm expecting the full show to be a blast! I listened to my bit and I'm doing my Sulley-style dance of joy even as I type. :-)

I've got one for you ... a handy way of remembering the nine times table.

Hold your hands out in front of you, fingers extended. Now, to work out 9 times, say, 4, fold down the 4th finger counting left to right. There are 3 fingers extended on the left of the folded finger, and 6 on the right, giving the answer, 36.

Digital Arithmetic!

And on a similar theme, you can count on your fingers from 0 to 1023 in base two! (By treating each finger as a binary digit, folded = 0, extended = 1.)

Posted: 2/6/2006 2:54:55 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

And, to finish off unlit airraids, a visual interpretation... the veoh video (http://appserver.veoh.com/mediaDetails.html?permalinkId=e33296)

Next project; how far away can I move from unlit airraids...

Inspiration can come from the oddest places. In this instance Dr. Seuss's ABC - "Many mumbling mice are making midnight music in the moonlight ... mighty nice" and a discussion the kids were having about humming in your sleep - I googled it - it's uncommon but sleep-humming does happen, apparently mostly amongst youngsters. So the working title is sleep-humming.

Questions: What would a child hum in his or her sleep? Perhaps sing-song refrains like "nar-nar-nee-narnar" or "we're go-ing on a pic-nic, we're go-ing on a pic-nic" or just little contented noises, purring, brief rising strokes, muted whoops of joy. How would they dream it sounded? Well, perhaps midnight mouse music would be a fair description. How could it be "mighty nice"? Have the mice grouped in barbershop quartets. (Mr Sandman, bring me a dream...)

I think a child's dream of mousey barbershop quartets is pretty step from hardcore industrial, so that will do just fine. :-)

Now to structure. I want [i]many[/i] mumbling mice, so perhaps three or four quartets spread across the stereo left to right, for a call and response style structure. Or "many mumbling mice" puts me in mind of the "vast Muslim muttering" that ends Naked Lunch after the author "unleashes his word horde." Well the music of Islam does not have a narrative structure, no beginning, middle and end, it's a timeless slice of a seamless texture - a chunk of infinity that implies the whole - a way to apprehend the divine - a vast Muslim muttering indeed. I'll try both, but I'm tending to the latter - having unleashed a Burroughs style word horde (rather timid by his standards) in unlit airraids it would be fitting to end with a vast mousey muttering.

OK - how to turn a theremin into a barbershop quartet - it's time for me to give my ignorance an airing...

This is everything I know about chords, including some relevant info I just found in wikipedia (here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbershop_music) and linked pages). A chord is a group of notes the frequencies of which are in simple ratio to one another 2/3, 4/5 and so on, referred to as fifths and sevenths and suchlike (or, in the case of western music, various multiples of the 12th root of 2, these being close approximations to simple ratios and allowing a kind of mix-n-match approach to melody not possible in music which uses the exact ratios. Perfect tuning is called just intonation and is what barbershop quartets use to get that distinctive ringing tone. Most Western music uses 12 tone equal temperament.

Chords come in different flavours, according to which particular set of ratios you choose to use in your chord. The most popular flavour is Major, which is your vanilla chord and is to be heard in most pop music, for example. The principle variant is the Minor, which uses some slightly different combination of ratios and has a sadder feel to it. Then there are the esoteric ones, with names like inverted Dim. 7 and Flattened Fifth, that predominate in jazz and other musical forms. Four notes is a triad, the basic chord, plus one more for extra flavour, called a 7th. The classic barbershop chord has a dominant 7th. The lowest note of a chord is called the bass.

Barbershop harmonies are homophonic: the lead voice is loudest with the tenor above it and the bass and baritone below basically copying the lead, but a bit quieter. So the lead gets the 7th, and the other three get the triad.

I suspect this implies an inversion of the chord, but that bit rather baffled me.

I found a filter in garageband that looks useful - Vocal Transformer. It has two sliders, labeled Pitch and Sound. Sound varies continuously between low and high. From the way various presets alter it I deduce that
Posted: 2/6/2006 5:44:02 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Quick note: I found the answer to my question by asking the gentle folk on apple's garageband forum (http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=1683368&tstart=0#1683368), where I was advised of the necessary intervals, and as an added bonus I learned how to resolve my chord (and what that means at wikipedia) and was ever so gently cautioned that this wouldn't work and basically I know nothing whatsoever about music, which, from some angles, I am inclined to agree with. Perhaps I should have mentioned that my intentions were experimental and my voice a theremin? Nah - he'd probably still think I'm an idiot, and a weird one as well. Sigh.

Next I'll calculate my cents and try it out. I'll try resolving it too! See what happens.


Posted: 2/7/2006 4:47:55 AM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Gordon. I would be pleased to help you with cadences, resolutions, suspensions or whatever else you many have in mind. Perhaps the easiest way to work out your harmonies would not be to be overly technical, but rather to use a keyboard and work out what chords you wish to 'play'. Each individual key counts as one semitone, so a normal major triad would be: 0,5,8

If you give each triad of a scale a number, depending on the 'root' key it uses, then each
scale has Seven basic chords (I've given you their root notes on C as an example), I (C), II (D), III (E), IV (F) etc. . .

A typical bog-standard 'poppy' modulation uses I, IV and V. Chord I sounds 'finished' and 'safe,' hence it's called the 'home' key. Chord 'IV' sounds more exciting, and chord V is the most distant and climactic. To finish a piece, the most common endings (called resolutions, or cadences) are V-I (which sounds totally finished and Da-Da!), IV-I (which sounds gentler) or anything-V (which indicates that the piece is unfinished and there's another phrase on its way)

That's probably clear as mud. But perhaps it helped. Sort of.

Another thing I must ask why you would want to do such a thing - sampling your theremin to create the harmony. It would probably sound unmusical. I don't want to stab you in the back or anything- just to suggest some things.

The other uses you have found for the theremin are very imaginative and effective - you've played to the theremin's strengths again and again. 'Sampling' a theremin (i.e. using its tone and transposing it around) would be pointless - its tone is plain and relatively uninteresting. Once more you'd be doubling up any fluctuations in pitch.

If I were to use the theremin to play harmonies, then I would consider the most effective way to do it to be the traditional 'multitrack' method, as used by catelow, Peter Pringle and Hoffman.

I dunno. We need pioneers!

Posted: 2/7/2006 5:56:28 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Charlie D. Yes, that was very helpful. Good idea to try things on a keyboard first - a technical approach is most certainly bewildering to me at the least.

As to why? The short answer is - just experimenting. It's something I do in my photography. I'm not a great fan of the "rules" in photography, which are essentially guidelines to producing marketable pictures which might be the most innovative in the world, but even a photographer with the merest imagination can apply them to produce something which is guaranteed not to offend the aesthetic senses. My approach is more hit and miss - I set out with my camera and the ridiculous idea that all images are equally valid and I should be able to point my camera at anything and make a brilliant picture. So I come home with a very mixed bag, And then I sit in front of the computer, load up photoshop and start really using my eyes and treating my samples.

My experiments in photoshop have a non-photographic basis - they are rooted in my understanding of computers, of how the data from the camera is created, represented, manipulated and displayed, and this has led, among other things to a magical formula which allows me to create colour photographs with the lighting qualities of black and white photography.

The real challenge with this approach is to learn how to manipulate the data and still retain that elusive "photographic" quality in the image. This is an ongoing process, but I am getting better at it.

I understand that one of the strengths of the theremin is in producing sad, sensuous, exotic, mysterious melodies. This I gather is because the closer successive notes are the more they sound that way. In conventional Western music this means dividing the pitch continuum into semi-tones for that sort of effect, and using larger gaps to evoke a more straight forward mood. (I just watched a school TV programme about Cole Porter.) The theremin takes that division of the continuum to its logical conclusion, like calculus with its infinite subdivisions of the curve, and therein lies its appeal for me - its extreme ability to create dreamy, hallucinogenic music that fascinates and transports me. Hence my interest in the transitions between notes rather than the notes themselves.

So far my experiments have produced very naturalistic results, sound-scapes if you like that are imitative of natural, manmade or supernatural phenomena arranged in an appropriate order in time and in the stereo, rather than being tuneful and sounding like musical instruments are being played. The theory I am testing here is that it is possible to introduce a greater degree of musicality into my music by stealth, if you like, sliding it sideways into the mix by utilising the computer's ability to create harmonies rather than my meagre ability to create melodies. As with my photos I anticipate that the hardest part with be retaining those elusive qualities that make a theremin sound like a theremin - as you rightly point out sampling is asking for trouble. But perhaps the equally magical properties of the barbershop will blend in nicely, or perhaps I'll chance on a trick in garageband that will make something I can work with.

Will the experiment produce a positive result? Realistically I give it odds of 1 in 20 (and even slighter odds of producing the result that I had in mind when I started this line of investigation). In my experience 95% of everything, my own ideas included, is a load of rubbish. To me this simply means I should come up with 20 times as many ideas in order to harvest the good ones.


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