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Diving into Periscope – interactive streaming with a musical edge

I’ve recently started playing with an app called Periscope, giving interactive music concerts at my stage piano.

My ‘cast’ (if that’s what it’s called?) includes talks on music theory, breaking down similarities in familiar tunes and of course playing the odd request – like a classical version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Human Nature’ – or a mashup between Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and The Commodores’ ‘Easy Like Sunday Morning’

It’s really fun – and my usecase seems to be a unique enough to get a mention in the Daily Telegraph‘s round up of the technology.

So, what do I get up to when I cast? you can find out on Mondays at 20:30 UK Time! At least, that’s the plan…

Essentially I’m talking about classical music theory using contemporary tunes – why is something catchy? What songs sound similar? What bits make a tune feel good? The session is mixed with live composition and conversation – content creation and audience interaction in real time.

Giving the audience access to the creative process and also a chance to communicate is pretty much exactly opposite to a traditional classical concert, where I’d be on a stage, far away from the listeners.

I believe it’s possible to demystify music without dissecting it, it’s so fun to explain what’s happening while playing some of the most memorable songs on the planet. I think this kind of informal direct broadcast is a great proving ground until I have my own big budget show where I have a huge grand piano and some notable musical guests to riff with.

Until then, viewers who make the effort to interact and contribute positively are going to shape how this cast evolves. How exciting! What works, what doesn’t, what do people want more of? I’m finding out every day. I’d hope to keep the audience interactivity if a big TV company wants to fund the huge grand piano and notable musical guests version.

For those of you reading this on Thursday 9th April 2015, there’s a replay available until 22:30 tonight, but you’ll need to download the app on an Apple device to watch at the moment. They say there’s an Android version coming. And, if you do visit, please ignore my faffing with the cables at the start, it definitely gets better.

At about 1AM this morning, I think I solved the problem of getting a decent audio feed in and listening at the same time, so Monday’s cast should have really rather good sound quality.

Oh and a final note from the technology presenter in me – streaming from mobiles has been available before – apps like Seesmic and Qik did this many years ago. But now data is cheaper, social media makes things more immediate, plus our connections are generally faster. This means the tech is ripe for mass adoption.

A notable alternative Meerkat has some big names endorsing it – Madonna released a video using this platform recently. I’ll let you know if I get a chance to try it out. And I’m sure there are other players in this area. In coming months we’ll get to see whether a single platform gains dominance, or if these apps can co-exist. It’ll inevitably play out over the next few months. Interesting interactive times!

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…

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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

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….

Living with perfect pitch and Synaesthesia – what it’s really like

I was at a party last week, and a fellow dinner guest asked me what having perfect pitch was actually like. They wanted to know if it was just knowing what an ‘A’ was – and whether it could be learned. They were musical and seemed genuinely interested – so I decided for once to give them the full, no-holds-barred explanation. It’s complicated, and I get asked this a lot, hence this post.

Yes, having perfect pitch includes knowing whether something is an A or an A flat – that’s also the case for excellent relative pitch which is something that can be learned with time and effort. But for me perfect or absolute pitch is more than that.

With the caveat that this is my personal experience, and it might be different for fellow sufferers/carriers, this is how it feels for me to be a composer with perfect pitch.

Train from Gothenburg to Stockholm is in B Major – the trees outside are beautiful. Composing on the train is a wonderful experience. I love the sound of the train and how it interacts with the landscapes. Trees and lakes and the sea are generally in major keys so it feels uplifting and inspiring to me! This music was recorded in two takes – first the strings, then the piano sound.

 

Now, I’d like you to imagine you’re chatting with your conversation partner. But instead of speaking and hearing the words alone, each syllable they utter has a note, sometimes more than one. They speak in tunes and I can sing back their melody. Once I know them a little bit, I can play along to their words as they speak them, accompanying them on the piano as if they’re singing an operatic recitative. They drop a glass on the floor, it plays a particular melody as it hits the tiles. I’ll play that melody back – on a piano, on anything. I can accompany that melody with harmony, chords – or perhaps compose a variation on that melody – develop it into a stupendous symphony filled with strings, or play it back in the style of Chopin, Debussy or Bob Marley. That car horn beeps an F major chord, this kettle’s in A flat, some bedside lights get thrown out because they are out of tune with other appliances. I can play along to every song on the radio whether or not I’ve heard it before, the chord progressions as open to me as if I had the sheet music in front of me. I can play other songs with the same chords and fit them with the song being played. Those bath taps squeak in E, this person sneezes in E flat. That printer’s in D mostly. The microwave is in the same key as the washing machine.

 

For me perfect pitch is not knowing notes, it’s about living in a world where everyone resonates, every thing has music. Everything and everyone weaves together a fantastic audio symphony that I have no choice but to absorb. For me if there isn’t music somewhere, I’ll add it in. Say someone is walking along a station platform, I almost unconsciously compose a tune fitting into their footsteps – it’ll generally be in the same key as the resonance of the station. While I hear a piece of music I generally imagine a counter-melody to complement the existing melody everyone else hears. It was only on talking to my friend Jonathan in Boston that I found out these things are not typical.

It’s odd – though I’m a composer by nature, I also love encoding the melodies and harmonies I hear in music for other people to appreciate, for example – the sound of a sunrise – or the beautiful noise of an aeroplane at 33,000 feet in D major.

I recently live-composed some classical music for each of my friend’s children at a naming ceremony. They had very different personalities and I captured them each in a short musical piece recorded for posterity. It never fails to amaze me how many people agree with my musical perception of someone – even someone young! There must be something I pick up on that is there, intrinsically, inside everyone.

When I taste things, I also hear music, mainly chords – sugar and desserts almost always in major key and chocolate and coffee are particularly complex sounds, with overtones and harmonics. I love broccoli and cauliflower which are a cycle of fifths. Sushi tastes like power chords on an acoustic guitar. Lemon meringue pie is a concoction of A major chords and inversions, 7ths and minors. I’ve ‘played’ tastes to a bunch of very gifted musicians who agreed with my interpretation of doughnuts, eggs and the like. I love delicious food mainly because of the pleasurable sounds it generates for me. Roller coaster rides also kick my synaesthesia into overdrive, oh, the harmonies and melodies of weightlessness and acceleration, I’d love to live-compose in variable weight conditions like that!

For me every single piece of life is flooded with sound – so much so that I didn’t realise for many years that this is not the case for everyone.

Auditory is most certainly my main sense.

 

Finally a few other strange characteristics that may or may not be attributable to perfect pitch – listed below in case any fellow perfect-pitchers would like to add their comments!

Picking up a language is easy – once you hear which notes people associate with particular things, it’s generally just a question of working out which scale they are using. My grammar is almost always terrible but I’ll pick up vocabulary words quickly. Optimism and the desire to communicate take over once I’ve decoded where words begin and end. For me, a laugh is almost always in a major key – crying is almost always in a minor key, regardless of language.

Other traits!

  • difficulty recognising people visually – especially if I meet them again out of the original context. I can however (given enough of a sample) recognise people by gait or voice.
  • hardly ever get motion sickness
  • great sense of direction
  • rather clumsy if I’m not paying attention
  • ultra-high scoring spatial awareness and pattern recognition skills – but also incredibly unobservant in everyday situations
  • I’m rather good at opening locks!

Hopefully I’ve given you an insight into the condition. It’s clear to me now that we all encode the world differently – and in my case very intensively and musically. Though I feel surprisingly vulnerable sharing these thoughts with the wider world, it’s also a pleasure to finally explain what it’s like to have perfect pitch.

 

Music = sometimes better than words

(cross post from my soundcloud account)

 

Right now, a few people I really like are going through some tough times. I sometimes find it comparatively difficult to express my emotions in words – even through the richness of language there are times when words are a poor substitute for music – a super-conductor of emotion and meaning.

I truly know how it feels when no-one can reach me, and I don’t want to be reached. So this is for you, and anyone else currently undergoing adversity. I think that even if you, like me, are experienced in how to deal with hardship, it doesn’t make it any easier when it happens.

This composition to me represents wordless, deep support to my friends, and also to myself. It’s reassurance that even in the most dark of situations, where it might feel bleak and desolate, grey and hopeless – after some time has passed, a glimmer of a smile, a glance of understanding, a random act of kindness from a stranger could be all that’s needed to transform that grey world into something more habitable – infusing it, finally, with much-missed slivers of light and colour.

This music was live-composed in just one take.

 

The Origin of the iPad – kinda

Everything stems from something before it – after all, you couldn’t have Oasis without the Beatles, you couldn’t have the Beatles without Elvis, and you couldn’t have Elvis without … you get the idea.

Hidden Room at the Beeb

Click to Go to the BBC site: Analogue Computing, Polaroid's Back, Cockney Singing

RSS readers / can’t see the link? click http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/8710938.stm to go to the Beeb’s Site:

This is the piece I did for BBC Click all about analogue tech, and it was such a pleasure to do.

Some interesting behind-the-scenes stuff

  • The computer behind Kevin Murrell in the picture is an old analogue machine from the 1970s, it’s modelling a damped mass, i.e. adjusting the suspension on a wheel so it bounces properly. The oscilloscope shows the trace on screen.
  • The Analogue Computing Room is one of many fascinating places within the National Museum of Computing – there’s a working 2nd world war Colussus machine there, and a bunch of old kit including the beloved ZX spectrum – a lot of the stuff is hands on – you can touch and play with it!
  • The room was quite small, so the camera is right up against one wall, and Kevin is sitting down next to the machine – the camera’s tilted to get that shot.
  • The Polaroid brand has gone through some very interesting times and the name is now licensed out. After an FBI raid, the owner of the holding company will now have to do time in prision.
  • The Impossible Project sells reverse-engineered film for the old cameras. There are some lovely videos on their site and a tour of their factory
  • Adrian Tuddenham from Poppy Records has been given very strange artefacts to play in his time, including magnetized wire and paper. If he doesn’t have a player, he’ll make one. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of microphone technology.
  • The band in the piece are very charming, and called The Men That Would Not Be Blamed for Nothing – they describe their music, roughly, as “Victorian Cockney Grindcore”.
  • Andy Heintz, one of the band members, has 4 cats, the non-ginger cat is called “Ginger”.
  • Andrew O’Neill, another band member, is a stand up comedian and charming telly crasher, smiling in the background and remaining in shot throughout another person’s  interview in the green room of a New Zealand TV show. He also hosts Jack the Ripper walks.
  • To find out more about the Steampunk movement, you can build your own stuff, pop over to  http://steampunkworkshop.com/ .

Righty ho, back to work – my next piece is all about Fitness, and I’ll tell you all about it when I get my breath back …