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!

 

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….

Look at me on my lego piano!!

Presenting Ideas Persuasively

I gave a presentation for the London Girl Geek Dinners 6th Anniversary event. For  a brilliant blog post all about the event – along with an unfortunate picture of me and an angry bird, click here.

Meanwhile, my aim for the presentation was to use some of what I’ve learned from my experiences as a TV presenter and producer to help other people get their voices heard, whatever their walks of life.

During my talk, I repurposed some of the techniques in telling a story for television for use in real-world situations.

I used an example of one of my most recent features for BBC News as a way to illustrate the core elements of presenting ideas in an easily accessible manner.

Presenting Ideas Persuasively – LJ Rich

I was incredibly flattered that the original Girl Geek asked for my last slide to remain up so she could communicate her ideas to our audience using this technique!

After the speaking was done, something amazing happened – quite a few people came up to me after the speech to tell me that they were inspired!  Inspired to pitch something at work that they knew they could do, or to try again to present an idea they had faith in but didn’t quite manage to convey it the first time.

Before I gave the speech, I remember thinking that if I could encourage just one person to have more confidence in their abilities, and act positively, I would feel like the presentation was a success – so this result was even more gratifying.

I had a few requests to stick the slides up online, so here they are – and GirlGeekDinners, thanks very much for having me!

Look at me on my lego piano!!

The video I used for talking about presenting

 

 

My Most Treasured Possession

I attended this year’s Figures of Speech event in London last week which raised money for the Institute of Contemporary Arts.  Speakers included Bob Geldof, Alan Carr and Janet Street-Porter, all talking about their most treasured possessions.  Spinvox‘s James Whatley, who hosted the Bloggers’ table, has asked that each of us do the same, so here’s mine.

 

My Most Treasured Possession

 

If you see me out at night, the chances are I’ll have 2 big blue things in my ears, my beloved protectors of unwelcome noise, my USA-imported saviours, the humble hearos ear-plug. Since my previous life as a 4-times-a week musical performer, I’ve always made sure to wear hearing protection when gigging – a lot of the time, the monitors in front of the stage pointing at the band would be as loud, if not louder, than the speakers pointing at the audience. Whilst it looks a little unconventional, wearing my most treasured possession is worth all the good-natured pointing and laughing I get for the moment I step outside.

I pull out my earplugs and my hearing is crystalline, compared to my companions, who are shouting incoherently at each other over the ringing in their own ears. I generally put my earplugs back in at this point until they have calmed down.

what?

what?

 

The most painful thought for me is that if I lose my ability to hear, I won’t be able to navigate my world anymore. I spent such a long time getting used to the many dissonances of daily life, vexed by the microtones in each new scenario until I was taught how to process those sounds as music. It turns out that if you use the appropriate scale, then your audio landscape can become a wonderful, if chaotic, symphony*.

I would be devastated if I could no longer use this method to interact with the world. I recognise people more easily by the sound of their voices than their physical appearance, which is another source of great amusement to those I see regularly.

If I lost my sense of hearing, I fear I will lose the friends I can’t recognise by sight alone. Even sitting on the tube, as I write this, I can hear someone’s headphones at an ear-splitting volume. I wonder momentarily why we seem so relaxed about protecting something that’s fundamentally irreplaceable, before replacing my earplugs, letting the sounds of the Jubilee line recede to a blissfully tolerable volume.

NB *Within reason, of course – I’m not counting the downstairs flat’s questionable and mystifying 125dB musical interludes at 1am on a Monday morning.

CD!! CD!!! CD!!!!

Wow, I can’t believe it! I’m holding in my hands my FIRST grown-up looking CD!  Here it is:
I am soooooo excited

I am soooooo excited

This CD “wot I wrote” has 4 meditation tracks on it, I think the style is formally described as “new-age” or “extremely chilled”.  Each track has been composed, produced, and mastered in my lovely new studio!_

I’ve also uploaded a sample of the tracks on to myspace – if anyone knows a sexier way to get an MP3 file to talk to wordpress, please let me know, I’m still relatively new to all this blogging lark, and quite happy to benefit from someone else’s experience and/or knowledge.

Actually, there’s another, deeper, reason I’m really excited by this, because it’s only a small (some might say very small) step on the musical ladder in the big scheme of things.  I think this CD (and showing it to you in public) symbolises an acceptance of the musical part of me, which for a long time (and for very complicated reasons) I rejected for a while. I think there is also a big helping of nerves involved in actually going for it, creating a product and placing it in the market place.  What’s very odd to me is that I’m quite comfortable standing on stage / on TV chatting to a bunch of people I don’t know, but this blog post makes me feel incredibly strange, vulnerable and exposed.
_
Oh well.  Too late for that now.  The next step is for me to put the envelope with 5 CDs in the post to CDbaby, who will then hold the copies for purchase, and convert tracks to MP3 for digital download.
inside the Jewel Case

inside the Jewel Case

...and the back

...and the back

… right, I’ve been brave.  Now to self-medicate with chocolate and tea.

Music Messing with our Heads

I recently devoured a great book called “Quirkology” by Prof Richard Wiseman, whose experiment measuring how fast people walk in different cities around the world showed (unsurprisingly) that the pace of walking has got faster (to find out which cities were faster than others, and other weird and wonderful experiments, buy the book!)

This increase in pace mirrors an increase in musical pitch over the last few centuries – as the pace of life gets faster, Middle C gets higher! In Baroque times, (around 1700) Middle C was a full semitone lower – this is why I have to transpose in my head when I play baroque-pitch harpsichords.

When I’d go dancing, it would distress me musically as the sound systems would regularly play music at about 5-6Hz higher than it should have been – I wondered whether this pitch-shift was intentional, and people would unwittingly dance more / drink more as a consequence of this increase, or whether the sound systems were just rubbish, no-one was experimenting, and only freaks like me would suffer?

My freakiness is Perfect Pitch, a strange affliction/gift that means I can correctly identify notes, chords etc., and tell someone what key they are speaking in – where it starts to get a little strange is that I’ve found that people who speak in, say, F major, appear to be quite persuasive and good at motivating, whereas people who speak in B minor appear to be quite negative in their outlook – I’ll go out on a further limb here, and mention that everyone seems to have a key they normally speak in, and others that they modulate to depending on their situation/company/mood – this is something I’ve done since I was a kid, but last weekend at the Food 2.0 wrap party, I mentioned that someone was speaking in Bb major, which resulted in strange looks and a request to blog about it, hence the post.

…but one digresses (as usual). Continuing the pacing theme, in the 90s, music at 135bpm was considered ridiculously fast, however, in the noughties, we happily imbibe 160bpm without missing a beat (no pun intended) – there’s not that much more room in terms of tempo, (before it becomes pitch) so what happens next?

How fascinating that music affects us so deeply!  During (and after) my music degree, I performed some (very) empirical research. As a lifelong insomniac, I wanted to find out a way to get to sleep easily. The relaxation tapes I purchased were fine in terms of the NLP-type hypnotic language used etc, however, the background music kept me awake!  After reading all kinds of weird and wonderful research that music at 60bpm, the average resting heart rate, can sometimes have a calming effect on the body, I decided to test that out by composing – and engineered music that would relax me by using this tempo and also choosing the keys that I personally found calming.  Well, it worked on me, because I fell asleep writing it, and had to compose some of the stuff in double time (how frustrating).  What was even stranger was that it appeared to work on other people, too…

I’d be very interested to hear any thoughts on music and how it affects humans (or other animals – I remember New Scientist running a piece about chickens listening to Pink Floyd) – and I’ll put some samples  up online soon (will blog with link) so you can have a listen.   LJ x