21 April 2007

Build Your Own Classic Synth

The x0xb0x is a homebrew synth/sequencer kit from Limor, an engineer from the MIT Media Lab. (Fun fact: The design of the front page of her site is the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.)

Photos of the x0xb0x on Flickr

Currently listening to: Headhunters, Survival of the Fittest (with Blackbird McKnight!)

God Hates the Guitar

Apparently, the Pope’s aesthetic sensibilities are just as medieval as his politics and beliefs:

ROME - Pope Benedict XVI has called for an end to electric guitars and modern music being played in church and demanded a return to traditional choirs and Gregorian chants.


“It is possible to modernize holy music,” he said at a concert conducted by the director of music at the Sistine Chapel, Domenico Bartolucci. “But it should not happen outside the traditional path of Gregorian chants or sacred polyphonic choral music.”

“Benedict XVI’s supporters argue that the music played during Mass is a vital part of the communion between worshippers and God” — which is, of course, precisely why the music should respond to and interact with modern culture in an other than dictatorial way. Imagine if a religious leader suggested taking gospel music out of African-American churches: unthinkable, absurd, and offensive.

07 April 2007

Bunnie on Digital (and Analog) Technology

Electrical (and software) engineering is the platform on which modern music stands: electronic instruments, audio software, computer hardware, radio, and computer networks are all applications of electrical engineering and digital signal processing. Therefore, I think it’s handy for music makers and listeners to know a few things about it.

Andrew “bunnie” Huang is just the person to help us out. He’s got a PhD in electrical engineering from MIT, is a technical advisor for Make magazine, created the Chumby hackable digital toy, and cracks computer hardware security for fun on weekends.

He has a pair of blog posts about how you can build your own analog-to-digital converter out of cheap, general-purpose parts. (Note: an FPGA is a “field-programmable gate array”, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s a chip you can redesign on the fly. You can feed it a new design specification, and it will change its behavior from a USB controller to a digital radio receiver to whatever you want. As such, it’s perfect for making an A/D converter. Another cool use of FPGAs is the Universal Software Radio Peripheral, which you can use with GNU Radio, a free software-based radio system.)

One interesting thing from the theory part of the article is that, as bunnie says, “digital technology is on the verge of coming out of the analog closet” (emphasis added):

At very high signal speeds or densities, there is an important energy-time trade-off that digital signal designers must consider. The faster/denser you send/store bits, the less energy and time are available to interpret the information. In fact, the term Bit Error Rate (BER) is starting to appear more and more in product literature. BERs are typically specified in terms of expected failures per bits transmitted. For example, a brand-name hard drive today has a non-recoverable error rate of 1 per 1014 bits—in other words, once every 12,500 Gbytes transferred. This state of the art hard drive today stores 500 Gbytes of data. Chew on this: if you were to read data off of this drive continuously, you should expect an unrecoverable bit error just once every 25 times through the entire drive’s contents. Another way of looking at this is one in 25 hard drives performing this experiment should expect a bit error after one complete beginning to end read pass. Feel worried about the integrity of your data yet? Don’t look now. Hard drives encode data so densely that quite often there is insufficient energy stored in a bit to detect the bit on its own, so hard drives use Partial Response, Maximum Likelihood (PRML) techniques to recover your data. In other words, the hard drive controller looks at a sequence of sampled data points and tries to guess at what set of intended bits might have generated a particular response signature. This technique is combined with others, such as error correction techniques (in itself a fascinating subject), to achieve the intended theoretical bit error rates. Have valuable data? Become a believer in back-ups. Our robust digital complacency is starting to ooze back into the analog days of pops, clicks and hiss. Bit errors are not confined to storage, either. Many high-speed serial links are specified to perform at BER’s as low as one error per 1012 bits. While error-free enough for a single user to tolerate, these error rates stack on top of each other as you build more complex systems with more links in them, to the point where managing error rates and component failures is one of the biggest headaches facing server and supercomputer makers today.


Currently listening to: Leg End by Henry Cow

Outsound Presents Jim Ryan, 7 and 8 April

The folks at Outsound are holding two shows of Jim Ryan’s Forward Energy Trio, a new/free/out jazz group, in Oakland on Saturday the 7th and in San Francisco on Sunday the 8th.

MP3 samples of the Oakland version of the trio and of the Portland version are available.

Here’s the info:

Saturday April 7th, 2007
Jim Ryan’s FE3 Oakland Performance
With Scott R Looney, piano & Stephen Flinn, drums
1510 Performance Space
1510 8th St. Oakland CA
Also performing Dave Sewelson and Friends Jam [bring your axe and participate in a free jazz jam session]

Sunday, April 8th, 2007
Jim Ryan’s FE3 Portland performance
With Bob Jones, double bass & Andrew Wilshusen, drums (OR)
SIMM Music Series
116 9th St. @ Mission, San Francisco, CA
7:30pm $10, $8, $5
AND SBTG-Quartet David Sewelson sax (NY) / Carolyn Torrente sax/ Antony Bichon bass / Nicolai Gvatua drums

05 April 2007

Steve Albini, Propellerhead

Rattlin' around in there like dried beans!

04 April 2007

Sage Advice From Dick Dale: Run Screaming From Record Companies

In this interview, the legendary Dick Dale tells it like it is, Steve Albini-style.

Don’t sign with a label, don’t sign with a record company; because the minute you sign you will lose all the rights to your music. And you will never see a dime. Build up your following by continuously playing; save up your money and record your own stuff on your own CDs, and learn to market yourself.

He goes on to explain the Ani Difranco business plan quite persuasively. “And that’s the reason why the system hates Dick Dale.”

Currently listening to: “Ouch” from Meg Nem Sa by Hilmar Jensson