In which I co-write a musical…

Date: Mon 23 March 2015:   Event: My first ever full-length musical !

TICKETS AVAILABLE!

I’m super-excited to call myself a London Theatre Impresario! A date, a venue, a show, tickets on sale!

Scary as I’m currently only about 70% of the way through writing every single note of the upcoming musical adventure that will be held in conjunction with the inimitable Hack Circus in exactly one month’s time.

We’ve written a story to go with some expert talks and some rather spiffing tunes as well even if I say so myself. Leila happens to be a genius librettist in my opinion and I’m hoping my tunes and orchestration will do those fantastic lyrics justice. She and I have hatched a musical monster of a night out… What a nerve-wracking but satisfying experience this is!

TERRIFYING REALITY:

  • I need to finish building the scores and orchestration
  • we need to finalise the order of songs and talks and audience interactive bits
  • I’ll have to learn and sing pretty much all the songs on the night
  • Leila and I have to pre-record some short bits of audio to give on-stage a break
  • I’m trying to build a home-made instrument that may or may not work on the night
  • Eek I need to do all the audio show control while performing (Ableton I’m looking at you)
    and;
  • people are actually buying tickets so it has to be good because we have a paying audience.

ONE NIGHT ONLY

Talking of which, if you’re in London that evening AND want to be the first to see this quite peculiar and creative take on the musical genre. From the HC site:

We will be travelling in a unique sound-powered tunnelling vessel, currently under development. Please bear in mind: we really don’t know what we will find. We need a strong healthy team. It might be worth getting down to the gym now if you can.

Bring a torch. This is very important. We are expecting it to be dark.

We will be guided on our journey by three experts: monster afictionado sci-fi author Chris Farnell, historian and volcano enthusiast Ralph Harrington and shark-mad comics legend Steve White – but who knows who (or what) else we might encounter?

From: Hack Circus

TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE!

OK, I’m intrigued, tell me more:

hackcircus.com/underworlds/ 

(link for mobile users: http://www.hackcircus.com/underworlds )

DID I MENTION TICKETS ARE ON SALE?

Yes!! I’m ready and can’t think of a better way to spend a Monday night!

SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!!

(link for mobile users: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hack-circus-underworlds-tickets-15756232315?aff=es2&rank=1 )

^^This link goes to the EventBrite Ticket Page if you’d like to buy a ticket or two.

**For some reason, none of my links work. Head over to hackcircus dot com forward slash underworlds. Oh the humanity…

How to win the TechTent Xmas Quiz without cheating

 

TechTentQuiz

The odds were most certainly not in my favour.

I was asked to take part in the Tech Tent annual quiz all about the tech news of 2014, pitted against none other than the people who actually make the news – the BBC Technology website team. Sounded to me like a guaranteed failure – these people know everything about the stories of the year – not only would they have written the articles, they would also have researched the stories thoroughly and (worse!) know background and periphery information.

How could I game the system without cheating? My plan below actually worked…

 

 
 
 
1. UNDERSTANDING THE FORMAT – where the scoring happens
The email came through with the rules: there will be “12 questions each relating to a big tech news story during 2014 – there’s one question for each month BUT they will not come in order. The order was selected by random draw. Most questions are in two parts offering two points, with an extra bonus point available for guessing which in which month the story happened. FWIW, I doubt we’ll get through all 12 questions in the limited time we have. If one team fails to answer a question or part of a question correctly, that q or part of question will be offered to the other team.”It made sense to memorise the news stories and their months as according to the format knowing these represented 12 points straight away.

2. CREATE DATA SET A
I gleaned the main events in technology from Wikipedia by month with a definite nod towards business and consumer electronics. I based the emphasis on quizmaster Rory’s preferences and my knowledge of the stories producer Jat tends to choose for the Tech Tent podcast.

3. CREATE DATA SET B AND SEE WHAT STORIES APPEAR IN BOTH A AND B
The click news scripts from the whole of 2014 were cut and pasted  – all the click newsbelts together by month made it really easy to work out the most likely questions in each segment. I amalgamated this with the Wikipedia and The Verge year in review and other sources, then applied weighting depending on information available to ask deeper questions around a topic.

4. FURTHER ANALYSIS TO PINPOINT MOST LIKELY STORIES
Based on my analysis, some stories were more likely than others to work as questions for a quiz –for example Twitch and Apple buying beats were big stories in otherwise quiet months so it made sense to drill down into those. Flappy Bird was also pretty much guaranteed to be a question based on the analysis – and it helped that Rory did rather a few spots on flappy bird in 2014, so again, a likely candidate.

5. EDITORIAL CONSIDERATION
I could also discount any stories that weren’t appropriate for a Christmas quiz tone, which reduced the viable stories further.

6. EXPERT AREAS
It made sense to look at key stories like the Apple launch, top tech mergers and acquisitions and crypto-currency as big stories of 2014. So I memorised as many numbers and month/story combos as possible to maximise those easy points. Knowing about the business of tech meant that I could at least make informed guesses when I wasn’t sure of an answer – which sometimes paid off and sometimes didn’t (Google nearly bought Twitch = correct, The tablet-sized device launch was the Nokia tablet not Microsoft’s Surface pro tablet – nearly)

7. A BIT OF LUCK
As soon as I realised the last question (Number of World Cup Tweets) was directed at the Tech Website team first, it was easy to make an N+1 or N-1 call which would automatically cover more ground than the first guess, which led to eventual (if messy) victory!(It made up for correctly stating the flappy bird developer was making £32,000 per week ($50,000) which was not picked up!)

 

Yes! Emerged Victorious! Dave and Zoe from the BBC Tech Website team were worthy adversaries – because of the calibre of opponents, I had to up my game in order to even stand a chance against them. Thus I learned that when the odds aren’t great, it’s still worth doing the best you can, a great lesson to bring in 2015. Hurrah! and Happy New Year!

 

duncan-rawlinson-photo-106532-burning-man-2014-black-rock-city-nevada-usa-20140827-img_2314

The Sound of Stars

Music inspired by colour/art

An artist I know called Debbie Davies made a giant light-up interactive star for the Burning Man festival this year. I never got to see it in real life, but the pictures were enough to trigger the most amazing melody in me. I was so utterly happy to hear that she loved the composition. I can’t really explain why I wasn’t surprised.

Debbie, this is your star. I told you it was beautiful!

Photo credit  duncan.co

Music-Powered Spaceship

Last Sunday I took part in a very unconventional story/experiential theatre event run by a friend of mine. I live-composed the music. The event involved taking an audience on a fictional journey into space. Then (whilst in that context) they were given amazing lectures by real rocket scientists (Dr David McKeown), artists (Toby HarrisSinead McDonaldJeffrey Roe and more. The talks were diverse but relevant. Imagine hearing what space travel would feel like – as if you and the whole theatre was in fact in a spaceship – travelling through space. Kate Genevieve, a visual artist talked about the messages sent with the Voyager space probe. A man from SETI (Alan Penny) informed us of the best way to survive first contact in a suitably realist approach. There was more, but I’ll get to that nearer the end.

And I? I powered the spaceship with music.

It’s because of Leila Johnston – Hack Circus is her thing. She asked if I would like to create music to simulate ‘hypersleep’ during extended space travel, I went one step further and wrote the following email reply…

I have a great job of being the hyperspace engineer – the piano keyboard is in fact my console muwahaha

Leila responded with;

Oh I love that. Yes! Play us into hyperspace! What a lovely lovely idea.

This really captured my imagination, so much so that I appeared to send the following response:

Yes, the equations are quite complicated to most people. But hyperspace mathematics calculations actually have more in common with Bach fugues than physics, turns out those aren’t musical pieces but formulae all along. A fantastically complicated spatial equation can be surprisingly easy to solve musically which is why the keyboard is my usual preference for transport consoles. Bach was a hyperspace engineer from the future who got stuck in a time travel incident. Before he got transferred back to his timeline he enjoyed annotating his equations in musical form and confusing the natives.

Though the sustain pedal just puts the kettle on

I found this in my ‘sent’ items the next morning, and hurriedly dashed off an apology for sleep-emailing. Clearly I had really taken my role as Hyperspace Engineer to heart.

For some reason this didn’t put her off, and the event was quite literally a blast.

There were cabin crew. There were flashing lights. There was hazard tape. Dr Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiologist, played some amazing sounds from space that triggered my synaesthesia like you wouldn’t believe.

The sound of Saturn’s rings original, courtesy Cassini Radio & Plasma Wave Science team:
“…the sounds produced are exciting! You can listen to the sound of passing through the ring dust by clicking here. sound Listen ” (nb the ‘Listen’ link opens up a video file)

Wow! What magical unearthly sounds! What a weird recording! I had to share how wonderful it felt to absorb these strange vibrations! I attempted to convey my synaesthetic response to the sound of Saturn’s rings – what I hear when I hear them…  and this is the result.

 

For those interested, here’s the mission page. Off topic, I’m joyous to report that the Sun in our solar system plays a giant Major 7th.

I won at the MusicTechFest London Hackathon 2014!

THE CHALLENGE

MTV: Hack The Gig: Music fans’ current digital interface with live performances is generally passive and flat. Using the provided exclusive stems, recorded especially for the Music Tech Fest, invent completely new ways for audiences to experience a filmed concert. The winner will get to develop their project with the MTV UK Digital Media team

  

MY ENTRY (it won!)

I had 24 hours to create something – and this is what I made:

Absorb more data in Less time! Welcome to my ADHDTV concept (Always Deliver Heavy Data*)! Innovative ways to consume content – especially music content – with a real emphasis on the viewer/listener being able to directly influence what they are being shown.

It’s a bit rough and ready (anything is with 24 hours’ continuous work) and of course these are just concepts that would benefit from a design approach and a bit more development of these ideas. The prize: develop this further with the MTV team, something I’m really excited about.

My concept (which hit me at 0330 after much caffeine) consists of the following premise:

We are bombarded with information and there’s loads of ways to filter it. But what if we want to have it all?  Watch everything, listen to everything? Why not say goodbye to curation and discretion, and instead drink from the firehose – and say hello to

 

Always Deliver Heavy Data TV or ADHDTV*

 

As it’s aimed at the ultra-connected, two-screen viewing ‘high consumption on mobile’ uber-trendy crowd, I’ve also come up with a hipster term that makes me both proud and disgusted with myself.  “Non-Linear Sideways-Relevant Transmedia”.

The basic premise is that the viewer is able to take a much more active role in the content they are served. This can be done through the following interactive modes. I mocked up each of these in Final Cut Express on my rather wobbly MacBookPro. For the audio manipulation I used Logic Studio 9.

 

VIEWER MODES

ALL KILLER
Press a button to go straight to the chorus / hook.  

INVERSE DJ / BLURRED LINES
If the artist is being interviewed and you like the background music, toggle the volume between the interview and the music underneath. Could even swipe up or press a button (say, the spacebar) to transition to the music video attached to the background music.

OVERLOAD ME
Plays at 1.5, 2 and 4x speed without changing pitch. Listen to ALL the music!

PEER PLEASURE
Bits that other people have marked as good, much like highlighting a favourite section of text. People can skip to the bit that most people marked as pleasurable. 

EXTRAS SERVED instead of Searching
As well as song by the artist, the option to switch to remixes, songs that sound really similar, fan-made footage or tributes on youtube – but in time (quantised to the beat) so the listener doesn’t experience ‘jarring’. 

ANTISOCIAL
With this option engaged, viewers will only see clips of the artist talking about their music – any mention of social media, events, fan interaction or non-musical content won’t get viewed. Can also work the other way around. 

NB MTV provided the video : the Artist’s name is Kwabs. 

Links:

http://www.musictechfest.org
http://www.mtv.com/uk
http://www.kwabsmusic.com

*I am reliably informed by Adam John Williams that this is known as a ‘Backronym’ 

Remote Controlling a Digger using Virtual Reality

It really did feel like I was ‘inside the machine’ even though the resolution was low!

I composed the music especially for this feature, there is something very pleasing about a digger in C.

Full story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28425844

Hack Circus / Synaesthesia Interview!

Click here to listen to an interview about my synaesthesia and music composing! This was for the wonderful Leila Johnston’s Hack Circus podcast …

And I scored some of the conversation!

Here’s the music on its own, which turned out rather nicely.

a great way to compose!

Modern Glitching – Auditory Enhancement of Reality with Music

I recently gave a talk at TedXTokyo 2014 about a musical device I built with the aim of giving other people the chance to hear the world as musically as I do. To date, around fifty people have tried my mobile composing inspiration rig with me – mostly with very enthusiastic responses afterwards, and in the more musical/auditory types there’s also a degree of joyful disorientation.

Some of the background to what I think is going on: Around twenty years ago, psychology professor Diana Deutsch discovered what she called the Speech to Song illusion. Essentially, a spoken phrase repeated often enough starts to take on musical qualities. There’s a great Radiolab episode which explains the phenomenon.

For me, I don’t require repetition in order to hear spoken phrases as musical. Speech is intrinsically musical for me, and so is the rest of the world – from cars passing to people typing. I really wanted to share my experience as I find it very beautiful.

 

STORY TIME!

It was the day after winning a prize at MusicTechFest’s Boston Hackathon event, which I took part in and filmed for the BBC. I was sharing a small apartment with a bunch of other music obsessives.  The day before I left, instead of packing neatly as normal I optimistically chucked everything I could see into my case and hoped for the best.

The idea of adjusting auditory experience or adding a ‘Glitch’ to reality – at least in aural terms – is not a new process.  But glitching with modern tech sounded like a great way to reveal the music I hear all the time – plus I wanted to add a more musical classical compositional element to the practice.

Sean Manton and CJ Carr (who was familiar with glitching) were two other music hackers I met at the Hackathon. They were instrumental in my sleep-deprived electronic inspiration.

So, grabbing my iPad and headphone splitters,  I built the first iteration of a device that messed with the ambient sound in the room in real time in a pleasurable manner. Raw audio is changed in real-time and enhanced with sound effects, and crucially, I added basic musical elements and phrases that would play simultaneously. A while later, I got the thing working in a way I liked and emerged from my room, eager to try it on other musical / technical people. My ideal system would allow for me to sing and play melody and harmony but I was nowhere near doing that yet.

So, extra headphones bought, splitter in,  time to try my rudimentary iPad device on CJ and Sean in a quiet teahouse. It was so much fun! The sounds of tea being made, the door opening, teaspoons hitting cups, amplified and enhanced by repetition! Those sounds were unexpected, made musical and wonderfully tingly. I sang along to the notes in the cafe to accentuate them. The staff at the teahouse got interested, all they could hear was us singing and hitting teaspoons and laughing. So we asked if they wanted to try it then wired them in to see their response – they liked it – a lot.

 

Going mobile was more interesting – we were physically connected by our headphone cables, so it took a while to maneuver through the door but together we emerged, wired up out into the wild. And, once our headphones were in, we pretty much stayed ‘glitched in’ for at least 5 hours straight. I could hear the music I normally hear but amplified! Wow! I sang in joyous harmony with the world for my cohorts, who joyously joined in. An ear-opening experience indeed, and I expect we were a strange sight, connected together by cables, singing and swaying – especially as only we could hear the glorious harmonic results of our musical musings.

What followed: glitching around a bookshop, glitching through a delicious dinner at a noodle restaurant until we got chucked out at closing time – and (my favourite) glitching on public transport all over Boston. Some time during the evening, I added a recorded drum loop to the experience – an albeit low-tech but incredibly effective way to turn the world into a very funky soundtrack – rhythm along with harmony generated by reality transcended a run-of-the-mill walk through a city, making it a musical recital!

Now, without our headphones in, the world seemed dry and desolate. And, after trying this on six other people with the persuasive line ‘Hey, you wanna do some digital drugs, guys?’ to gratifying results, it didn’t take long for us to ascertain this was indeed a pleasurable and slightly psychedelic auditory experience – not only as a participant, but also as a listener. The three of us decided to take modern glitching further with a bit more technological clout.

A quick stop on the way back to the hacker apartment meant we now had extra kit. And, by 0100, Sean had plugged his Raspberry Pi computer into the TV – programming on the Pi with PureData. We made some tea and ate bread with the most delicious honey (the honey was in Bb major 6th) and kept working. By then it was 0300 and my taxi was due to arrive at 0615, we only had a few hours left!

We all wanted to add fine-grain control to this strange and wonderful auditory experience. CJ had brought his FM transmitter and binaural microphone/headphones and we plugged everything into my Mac.   I wanted to do more than just sing the city, I wanted to play it too. That meant configuring something that could take multiple inputs – MIDI and Audio at the same time.

Finally at 0400, and full of incredible quantities of tea, bread and honey, we were now running a glitching instance on Ableton Live, with a binaural microphone / headphone setup and my iRig Keys midi controller hooked up. I started building musical stems right then and there.

The latest version has more than just repetition, my new glitching device can harmonise and play with the world in a much deeper way – and I walk around a city first to get what key its in and compose something beautiful that goes with the natural sounds around me. Then I load those sounds up – I can then trigger them when I hear something in the right key, so a motorbike going past in B flat will mean I trigger my ‘B flat, traffic’ piano composition. The main problem is that the laptop gets really hot, also I’m covered in wires so it looks a little strange.

And this is what glitching sounds like – some of these examples have music in, others don’t.

The tech is still very much hacked together, but there’s more documented in the talk.

 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

CJ, Sean and I are all enthusiastic about sharing the joys of glitching – and we’re all working on versions of glitching devices. We’re hoping to create a resource online for anyone interested to play with the idea in their own way.  I’m going to list everything I use in my hacked-together inelegant solution in another post.

I want an app that does this! I want to create a glitchpad! Beautiful musical stems that trigger automatically when friends walk through that city with this app! I want to be invited to perform ‘glitching’ concerts in cities around the world!

(for reference, I’ve reposted the TEDxTokyo video here)

More on this story as it unfolds….

Musical CV: About me 2014

So, I’m a freelance presenter and music composer/hacker.  I do a lot for Click, the BBC’s tech show but I’ve also hosted BBC Orchestra events and most recently hosted my first Radio 3 show, which was great fun. I love doing projects where music and technology meet, so any excuse to do more is fallen upon with great joy.

These are the things I love.

1)     Music composition and performance –  I do a lot of classical piano and orchestral composition – including spontaneous classical piano composition in pretty much any style.  It just comes out like that, I can’t explain it, but I’m OK with showing it off now.  I really enjoy giving live recitals! https://soundcloud.com/ljrich/140420-flying-through-colour  – recently performed at BBC NBH much to the surprise of some of my work colleagues…

Here’s an informal performance from a few weeks ago:

 

2)      As well as presenting on TV (hard work but lots of fun) I enjoy hosting live events – a few weeks back I had the fabulous experience of hosting a classical orchestral concert including the National Orchestra of Wales playing the Doctor Who Theme. I also give keynote speeches on technology and social trends. I grew the @BBCClick twitter account to nearly 2 million followers, so I used to give talks about how to do that until I realised it’s much more fun to talk about future trends, music innovation and host events instead.

 

3)      Music hacking – tech/music innovation  – I filmed a feature for the BBC in Boston which involved entering MusicTechFest‘s Hackathon competition and staying up for 24 hours – I won one of the top prizes! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-27067106

 

4)      The two things I liked most about my music degree were composition and critical music analysis. I do like explaining why songs work and sound good…  music theory, but with a contemporary twist. Here’s a radio pilot I made a while back

 

5)      I recently gave a talk at TedXTokyo 2014 about a musical device I built with the aim of giving other people the chance to hear the world like I do.  I built the first iteration of the device in my room while sharing a tiny apartment with a bunch of other music obsessives – the process is ‘Glitching‘ – not a new technique, but certainly easier to do with today’s tech. I’ve augmented traditional glitching with musical inserts based on what key the world is in. People doing it report the practice as a pleasurable and slightly psychedelic auditory experience. More of the story is documented in the talk, and I’m working on an epic blog post which explains a lot more.  I love classical composing in the wild! I want to do ‘glitching’ concerts in cities around the world! 

 

6)      I’m very interested in new musical interfaces and software synthesisers too – these deserve their own blog post.

 

7)     And Finally…  here’s a link to even more BBC stuff I get up to and finally, here’s a link to loads of free Music I’ve composed.