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Ugh, stop twitching
a practical guide to electronic music
music Posted 2010-05-18 19:43:01 by Jim Crawford
<Jim> they're in the military, they have to be legal, right?
<Jim> what do you call this kind of music? melodic trance or something? this isn't the first time i've heard one of these songs end on a toneless drum hit. it's completely governed by music theory all the rest of the way through, not a single interesting chord or progression, but they can't remember to hit the tonic at the end.
<Chris> isn't it house?
<Chris> is trance house but with those supersaw lead/pads?
<Jim> yeah, i guess!
<Jim> louis says if it has gates on everything and four on the flour -- uhh, he said "floor" but i'm keeping it -- 909 and cheesy drop-out-build-up dynamics, it's trance :)

<Danny> hm, yeah, i don't think trance is allowed to be in a major key
<Jim> is it happy hardcore? :)
<Danny> i don't know, man
<Danny> it's not hardcore enough for happy hardcore
<Jim> happy casualcore
<Jim> gated pads in a major key over a house beat is definitely a style i've heard a lot*
<Danny> no search results for 'electronic music genre flowchart'. this seems like a conspicuous hole in the internet
<Jim> there was totally one of those
<Danny> yeah?
<Jim> it has a wikipedia page :D
<Danny> hah
<Danny> i think what i need is more of a cataloging algorithm that works per song, with questions like "does it go 'boom-tss-boom-tss'" and "is it >150bpm"
<Jim> that would be incredible :)
<Jim> you could base it on one of those binary tree "20 questions" solvers you can find in 1980s books of basic listings you can type in
<Jim> fuck, you could totally do it from a celebrities in prison* node!

<Elena> oh man!
<Elena> that would be the most hilarious set of nodes
<Elena> "ugh, there's this song stuck in your head, but you're not sure what genre it is"
<Elena> and then the next 20 nodes are questions about the song
<Jim> that would be awesome :)
<Elena> i think the most amazing would be if at the end of every branch of the tree, it would be all "Oh, of course! It's $Song by $Artist!" with a different song that fits the description each time
<Elena> i would get to noding, except i don't know anything about categorizing songs, and i need to go to the bank
<Jim> word
<Jim> i'll foist it off on one of my friends
<Elena> sweet
<Jim> i'll paste the past few lines of this chat to each of them, except changing "one of my friends" to their name

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audiosurf vs. the music game genre
music Posted 2010-02-01 21:42:17 by Jim Crawford
Playing a good music game, I slip into a groove with the song and get to know it from the inside. When I'm playing at my best, it feels like I'm letting my conscious mind go, so my reptile can brain take over, process the audial and visual information in synchronicity and translate the patterns directly into commands to send to my limbs or fingers. To “become one with the music” is a cliche because it happens and it is awesome. After mastering a song in a rhythm game, I find that I understand the song, musically, much better. This is the magic of rhythm games: they put you inside the song and show you how the music is constructed, by giving you high-level visual patterns to match with the music and asking you to prove that you “get” them.

Sometimes I get into a similar flow-state in Audiosurf, finishing with an unexpectedly high score. Afterward, I invariably realize that I was completely ignoring the music. The visual information presented by Audiosurf is mostly random. The patterns that connect to the music are coarse-grained at best and misleading at worst. It is not edifying. By associating itself with games like Amplitude and Rock Band, Audiosurf is a scam.

Sidebar: Impressed by Audiosurf's pattern-detection code? Here, let me ruin the magic for you. Audiosurf looks for three patterns in the audio stream, all trivial to detect from a DSP standpoint:

  • Periodicity in the low frequencies. This allows Audiosurf to undulate the “road” at the tempo of the song.
  • Transients covering a wide spectrum, such as a distorted guitar stab or a snare drum. This allows Audiosurf to place colored blocks that, more or less, fit the music. Often, it screws up and places a block slightly ahead or behind the stab, asking the user to internalize false patterns.
  • The overall loudness of the music, which feeds into the speed of the player's vehicle and the slope of the road.
The rest is just tuning the algorithms involved. Well, that, and the human brain's tendency to see patterns that don't exist.
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the psychological ramifications of sampling a friend
music Posted 2009-09-12 16:34:36 by Jim Crawford
Not so long ago, Chris and I were having lunch and talking about our respective storied musical histories. He described a situation to me: in the late 90s, he was sitting in a friend's house, making noise with a cheap acoustic guitar by plucking and striking in ways a guitar was never intended to be plucked or struck. While picking at the strings between the nut and the tuning pegs, he found a tone he liked: “Hm! This sounds Asian!” (2009-Chris relayed this thought in a self-deprecatory tone, being much more familiar with Asian cultural music than his past self.) So he sampled the tone, and wrote a tune around it.

Perhaps a year after that, I grabbed the sample and wrote a tune using it myself. I hadn't known the story behind it at the time, but now whenever I listen to my tune, I can't help but imagine that there's a tiny bit of late-90s-Chris-Hampton-abusing-a-guitar-at-his-friend's-house embedded throughout. It adds a little bit of emotional depth and a little bit of historical resonance. A recording is a slender cross-section of the life being recorded, and listening to someone else's recording adds a little bit of their life to your own.

But when I pulled a similar stunt with the modified organ Paul McCartney played in the opening of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, it was harder to feel the same way, even though there's presumably an even more elaborate story involved in the creation of that exact tone. Perhaps if I were personal friends with Paul and he relayed the story to me himself, my feelings would be different.

So it makes me a little bit sad that I'm the only person who is going to think of Chris's story when hearing the song. In fact, just about any work is inevitably going to have special historical resonance for the people involved in creating it that the audience isn't going to share. It requires a little bit more effort from the artist, to be able to see past the context he provides for his own work, and make it accessible to people who don't share the context.

It also helps that the audience builds in their own historical resonances. (And in my case, I think I've come to terms with the fact that for the most part, I'm the primary audience for my own music.)
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troboclops - hate edge
music Posted 2009-05-03 19:29:58 by Jim Crawford
Back in Summer or so of 2008, Cameron got a bunch of recording gear and software and started a jokey electro-punk band called “Troboclops” with his friend Jesse, basically as an excuse to learn how to use the gear. Since then, he's given that stuff up to work on more serious material, closer in style to his punk roots. Which I personally consider to be much less entertaining, but he's the type who considers comedy to be inherently worth less than other forms of art, and a man's occasionally gotta sack up for what he believes in, right?

Anyways, before they broke up, they and Matt and I shot a music video using a cheap digital video camera and prosumer lighting rig that Matt had in his closet from back when he'd been going to film school. The footage lay fallow for half a year, but after much badgering I managed to get ahold of it so I could put together a cut:

. . .

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music Posted 2009-02-11 02:58:36 by Jim Crawford
I just got my DS-10, which is a Nintendo DS cartridge that features an emulation of the Korg MS-10 synthesizer. It's well-done and more flexible than I expected, though though the 16-step sequencer is pretty simplistic for making anything but minimalist techno.

I like how it uses game nomenclature, like “single player” for just, you know, using the synth, and “multiplayer” for syncing up to other DS-10s. Whereas actual multiplayer would be when you and your opponent take DSes to opposite ends of a park and see who comes back with the most spare change in their hat and/or girls' phone numbers.

But I was thinking that the best part is going to come in a couple years, when you can rent it or buy used copies and hear all the tunes that the previous owners had saved, the same way people used to buy used copies of Pokemon to get the Pokemon the previous owners had captured.

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new smush album: a smush before smush began
music Posted 2008-12-31 19:55:20 by Jim Crawford

A Smush Before Smush Began is out! Go listen online or download it.

This is a retrospective album, so if you know my tracker scene music, you've probably heard most of this stuff before.

Thanks to Elena for cleaning up the album art! Oh, and to Shannon for drawing the album art.
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the guitar hero 4 drum kit
music Posted 2008-07-17 00:48:12 by Jim Crawford
Neversoft/Activision/RedOctane has attempted to one-up Harmonix's Rock Band drum kit by adding an additional input and using elevated cymbals in the drum kit for Guitar Hero 4. Having six inputs on the drums is nice, and having elevated cymbals is nice -- it sure looks a lot more like a real kit -- but I'm not so sure that it's going to actually provide a more authentic drumming experience. How would they handle something like Run to the Hills? First of all, the fill at the end of each section uses four toms and the GH4 kit only has three. No go. More generally, the position of the hihat is going to make 16th note patterns very difficult.

. . .

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new smush album
music Posted 2008-06-01 17:12:33 by Jim Crawford
Smush's 2007 comeback album, Hop on Pop, is now available! You can go download it, or you can go listen to it online and then reflexively hit the back button.
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music Posted 2008-02-19 01:43:57 by Jim Crawford
I bought a DTXPress III electronic drum kit on the 13th. The same day, I ordered a kick pedal to go with it, which hasn't arrived yet -- frankly, I probably should've just gone to interact with the staff at the Guitar Center a few blocks away -- but I put my Rock Band kick pedal in its place and have been playing for a couple hours a day. Even without the kick actually making any noise, drumming is a whole lot of fun.

I can play some pretty compelling stuff now, within certain genres and tempos, but I don't think I actually have much actual limb independence yet. What I do have is a bunch of copypasta limb patterns I can move around the kit. For instance, I could bust out some sweet triplet-based fills, but there's no way I could keep time during them -- or, I should say, I can't express time. Since I do know where in the beat I am. Or maybe I just know when I get it wrong. Hm.

For another instance, when keeping time in eighth notes with my right hand on the hihat or ride, I have sort of a muscle memory that knows where to place snare hits, but if I'm playing quarter notes with my right hand, I would be hard pressed to place the snare hits at the same point in the measure.

I imagine it'll all come with practice.

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rock band vocals
music Posted 2008-01-18 02:23:01 by Jim Crawford
Five-starred everything on the Rock Band vocal career. Still can't pass Green Grass and High Tides on guitar. So the verdict is in: I'm a much better real-life singer than plastic guitarist.

Update on how I'm doing compared to the rest of the world: now that the game's been out a few months there's some actual competition, so my easy #13 has turned into a hard-won #39. You can probably see me here. If not, try paging down! Paging up will probably be futile; I'm more restricted by my free time rather than my abilities at this point, and am intending to go back and make a concerted effort to gold-star everything I can, but I doubt I'll be able to crack the top 20.

Interestingly, the songs that I had the most trouble five-starring, the ones I had to practice the most to reach the five-star score cutoff, are also mostly the ones I'm doing best at on the individual song leaderboards. Which pretty much means that Gimme Shelter, Mississippi Queen and Blood Doll are not just the hardest songs for me, they're the hardest songs for everyone.
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