Projects, projects, projects…

This is heavily inspired by (read “ripped off from” πŸ˜‰ ) a post on my brother’s blog.

I also have a bunch of creative projects on the go. Well actually, a lot of them are not quite so on-the-go as I would like, in fact some seem to be terminally stuck not going anywhere. Maybe talking about them a bit more publicly will inspire me to get them going again.

I’ve always been like this, I think. Ever since I was quite small I would come home from school and spend most of my free time writing stories, messing around making things on the computer, drawing maps of places I found interesting, or learning new music on the piano. I never saw the appeal of spending hours in front of the TV (I still don’t), and although I did play a lot of computer games, I must have spent at least as much time designing and writing my own as I did playing other people’s.

Now that I’ve got a full time job it’s a bit harder to find the time to do all that kind of stuff. But because it’s important to me, I still try. I’ve already blogged from time to time about my Android app making, my band,Β our film group, (on my other blog) one of my home-made computer games, and piano playing. To try and organise things a bit better and prioritise the stuff that’s really important to me, I decided to make a list and give them all codenames like Alex did in his blog. Here is the list, along with a little symbol of some kind for each one. Some of these overlap with Alex’s ones because they’re group projects of some kind – they have the same names that he gave them. Some of them are slightly ill-defined and are really catch-alls for a whole possibly area of creativity that I might be interested in experimenting with later on. Some are much more specific. OK, on with the list!

Project Bubble – this is the codename for our next Sonic Triangle EP, which has been in production for quite a while now. Alex already wrote a whole post about it so I won’t say much here.

 

Project Hohoho – the Beyond Studios Advent Calendar! Alex and I have both already written whole posts about this so again I won’t say much here.

 

Project Everything – this is really Alex’s project and I don’t know if he wants to reveal what it is yet, so I won’t.

 

 

Project Chippy – Alex’s web series!

 

 

Project Noah – this is actually a work (as in paid work) project. I need to find out whether I’m allowed to blog about it or not. I probably will be able to, and I hope I am, because I think it’s really interesting.

 

Project Bits – this one’s computer related and probably way over-ambitious, but at least I’ve been managing to make some progress on it lately.

 

Project Buster – one of the sort of vague, catch-all ones.

 

 

Project IOM – this one has been coming along quite nicely, before I even decided to make it a Project with a defined end goal. It’s nice because unlike most of the others it involves leaving the house quite a lot.

 

Project X-ray – another of the vague, catch-all ones… including ideas that are probably also way over-ambitious, but might be fun to play around with anyway.

 

Project Megadroid – if you’ve paid attention to my previous blog posts you can probably work out exactly what this one is just from its symbol and name. But anyway… it’s one of the few that’s (a) got a well defined goal, and (b) probably isn’t too far from reaching it… yay! It’s been taking a bit of a hiatus recently but thinking about it is starting to tickle my interest again, so maybe I’ll finally get it finished (and release it on here).

Project History – this one is journaling-related. It probably deserves its own post at some point.

 

 

Project Classical – another one that’s probably quite obvious from the name and pic.

 

 

Project New Leaf – a nice, hopefully quick and simple but very rewarding little Project that will help with some of the others once it’s done. I won’t say more than that because I’m saving it for its own blog post.

 

Project Tridextrous – ambitious, probably slightly insane, may never happen.

 

 

Project Fantasy World – very broad, catch-all project… no definite plans in it yet but an area I’m still interested in returning to.

 

 

Project Bonkers – … um, yeah.

 

 

So that’s them. Some of them will hopefully get their own posts soon and hopefully having a place to write about progress will inspire me to actually make some progress to write about.

 

Gapless playback on Android!

I am disproportionately happy about something geeky again today :). I finally found an Android app that supports gapless playback properly.

This has annoyed me ever since my faithful iPod provided the perfect finale to one of the worst weekends of my life back in 2010 by suddenly dying completely and leaving me music-less just before a 5 hour car journey on my own. I decided to save money by getting a big memory card for my HTC Wildfire and putting all my music on there instead of replacing the iPod. Mostly this worked ok, but two things about the default Android music player app began to irritate me quite a lot. One is the fact that once you’ve started playing a song, there doesn’t seem to be any way to go back to the track list for that album or the album list for that artist. If you decide you want a different song by them (which I do quite often), you have to go right back to the start of the process and find them in the alphabetical list of artists again, then the album list, then the track list.

The other annoyance was the lack of gapless playback. On the iPod if you ripped a CD with tracks that were supposed to run straight into each other without a gap (like the first two tracks on Sergeant Pepper to give a well known example), they would play correctly and you wouldn’t even notice the transition. On Android there was always a gap between, no matter how you ripped them. This probably wouldn’t have bothered most people but I am (a) easily irritated when technology doesn’t do what I want, (b) the sort of person who likes to immerse myself in music and that doesn’t really work when there’s suddenly a jarring silence that’s not meant to be there, and (c) a big fan of several artists (Mike Oldfield, The Arcade Fire and Evanescence to name three) that tend to use quite a few gapless tracks on their albums.

I had a hunt around online for ways of getting gapless playback on Android, but it quickly became apparent that not many other people had managed to do it either. There were several apps that claimed they would do it… something called Museek tried to simulate gapless playback by slightly overlapping each track with the next one, the effect of which was, erm, “interesting” but still quite a long way off being seamless. Others could only do gapless if you went back and re-ripped each album as one single huge file instead of individual tracks. Others I think could only do it if they were running on a version of Android that supported it, which mine (2.2) doesn’t.

I was sure it must be possible, though, and last year I started hacking together an app to do it myself. The built in Android audio decoding libraries wouldn’t do gapless properly, but there was no reason you couldn’t bypass those and do the decoding in the app code instead – it would just be more work. After a few days I had an app that was capable of playing two OGG files with no gap whatsoever between them, but I got bored of it and it slipped way down my todo list before I’d got around to making it do anything useful.

And then today I found Poweramp… which uses exactly the same approach as my little app was going to, doing the decoding itself instead of using the Android system libraries. For the last few hours I’ve been stress testing it on all the gapless albums I can find and I’m very impressed. It even makes a decent attempt at removing the gaps when playing a file format that doesn’t support gapless (like standard MP3), though it’s only completely seamless when playing formats that do (OGG, etc.). I’m still using the trial version at the moment but I think this may be the first mobile app I actually end up paying for. Highly recommended πŸ™‚

 

An Aversion To Versions

When there are different versions of a song or piece of music, I’ve noticed I get quite picky about which one I listen to, even if the differences are only minor (like two different mixes by the same artist). I was thinking about it this morning as I picked out Pet Shop Boys – A Red Letter Day to perk me up on my way into work, and noticed myself avoiding the album version in favour of the single release.

Almost all the time, it seems to be that the first version I hear burrows its way deep into my subconscious and settles in as my favourite, then any other ones I hear subsequently fail to unseat it. I remember how disappointed I was when I bought the CD of Hergest Ridge, one of my favourite albums by one of my favourite artists (Mike Oldfield) and found it sounded nothing like my Dad’s old LP that I knew and loved. In fact it sounded so weird and stripped down in comparison that I took my first CD back to the shop thinking it was faulty. It wasn’t… I later found out that the original mix actually wasn’t available on CD at all as Mike Oldfield had decided he liked a later remix better and wanted that one used for all future releases. (On the plus side, though, I was ridiculously over-excited when he eventually changed his mind and I finally got my hands on a shiny CD copy of the “real” Hergest Ridge – only fifteen years later!).

Often I end up raiding my Dad’s music collection or scouring the internet for that elusive version of Pachelbel’s Canon or Space Cowboy that I heard years ago and still can’t get out of my head. (Amazon MP3 is a godsend… they seem to have almost everything and you can preview it before buying to make sure it’s the “right” version!). It even happens with our own music sometimes… I still have a copy of the old vocal-less, keyboard-less MIDI demo mix of It Could Be Different because I listened to it so often back when we were making that song that sometimes I just crave hearing it again rather than the much more polished final version.

Actually I can only think of one song right now where the version I ended up liking wasn’t the first one I heard. Even though I’d got used to the album version of Running Man by Jimmy Nail first, it’s always sounded bland to me since hearing the single release.

Other music news: still haven’t managed to book any more gigs or festivals yet, though I’m looking out for them. Still also practising away at the piano and been meaning to post about that again. Still slowly getting nowhere with new Sonic Triangle EP, I’m sad to say :(.

End of January update

Well, we’re already into the second month of 2012, and once again I can’t believe how fast it’s going :O

I’m going to try and regularly track my progress on my vague-sort-of-resolutions that I made earlier.

Goal setting: has been going ok. I’ve been setting myself weekly and monthly ones and mostly been keeping to them. I am generally much more organised and on top of things than I used to be even a few months ago. Maybe I’ll write about the things that helped me get here sometime. (I’m still a bit worried that my goals are a bit aimless and not really leading up to anything coherent, but I have some longer term ideas forming in my mind. Maybe I need to give them a bit more time to form).

Meditation: good, have been doing it a few times a week, will hopefully gradually increase it over time. Some days it really does seem to help.

Weight loss: not good… still slowly gaining πŸ™ but I feel it’s low-ish on my priorities right now. I guess January is the best time of year for getting exercise if you prefer outdoor activities (which I do).

Concentrate on the people who are worth it: check πŸ™‚

Piano playing: very pleased with this. It’s going better than it has in ages and I’m enjoying it a lot. I can play the Fugue in A Minor from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier book 1 reasonably well now, which I always thought would be beyond me. Also started on something else, but it maybe deserves its own post in a bit. And I have an interesting idea for a piano-computer hybrid project which I might get onto soon.

Dancing: another positive thing. Been back to dance class not once, not twice, but three times so far in 2012. Have also booked myself on two weekends away with the dance society, both in the next few weeks. So that’s something to look forward to.

Walking and photography: it’s not really the best time of year for it at the moment. But we did have our Stirling weekend, and planning a Glasgow museum visit tomorrow.

Creativity: paid work projects are going pretty well (though very busy – I now have 3 separate things to work on, where I previously had only one. It’s lucky the two new ones are both things I can get really excited about). Spare time programming projects are going ok, though I’ve possibly bitten off more than I can chew with the latest one. On the minus side I haven’t written as much (or as interesting) stuff as I wanted on here. I do have a list of ideas though, so maybe I’ll get round to putting up something more substantial soon.

Gigs: got two gigs booked so far (Fascinating Aida and Derren Brown) and about to book another one (Ross Noble, without a doubt my favourite stand-up comedian of all time). Still want to do a festival this year as well.

Other stuff: I’ve been cooking a lot more food from scratch, partly thanks to being in a relationship with someone who does it all the time, partly thanks to the lovely recipe books I got for my last birthday and Christmas from several people, and partly just because I’ve been meaning to for ages. I’m not sure it’s actually any cheaper or healthier than my previous diet, but it’s certainly more fun and tastes a lot nicer.

(On the subject of new year and resolutions and all that, I found this postΒ on one of the blogs I like to read very inspiring. Plus I can always get behind anything that encourages me to act like a big kid πŸ˜‰ ).

Gladiolus Rag

I love Scott Joplin… always have, ever since I was about 5 years old, oddly enough. I’ve heard his music described as “intoxicating” and I totally agree… I find it so easy to lost myself in it, either just listening to it or playing it myself.

This is one of the best piano books I ever bought:

(Despite the editor name, it’s not a dodgy knock-off I got from Del Boy πŸ˜‰ )

All of Scott Joplin’s ragtime pieces in their full original versions, including the original cover pictures as well.

Hard to imagine now, but back in the days when pianos were more widespread than any sort of sound recording device, those sheet music booklets would have been a pretty common sort of musical entertainment. Much more interactive than a CD… ultimately more rewarding as well, maybe.

Anyway… have finally got back into playing the keyboard a decent amount lately, so thought I’d give one of my favourite rags another bash. Not one of his most well-known ones (though there are still zillions of videos of it on Youtube, most probably better than mine). My keyboard isn’t too bad for playing piano pieces if you plug a decent sustain pedal in; the sound quality and touch sensitivity are pretty good, it’s mainly the weight of the keys that I miss. This is the first time I’ve tried filming myself playing and it was quite illuminating… I’ve always known I have flexible hands, but I’d never noticed the weird way some of my fingers bend backwards before! (On the other hand I have always known that I involuntarily make weird faces while I play… hence the close-up angle).

Enjoy :).

PS new Sonic Triangle material coming along nicely now… new EP is in the works, the first track of which is coming together pretty well :).

 

Evanescence!

I decided it was about time I went to a gig. Like a big one with a band people have heard of. So when Facebook helpfully informed me that Evanescence were touring in November, I decided “this is the one” and went straight over to Ticketmaster. The Glasgow show was already sold out but, undeterred, I got a ticket for London instead. (I didn’t bother asking anyone else if they wanted to go with me. I just assumed none of them would. Then later on when I sheepishly told people who I was going to see a lot of them said “oh, I like them too”, so maybe I should have. This probably means I should stop using my friend Stuart as a barometer of musical taste. Sorry Stuart).

I had a feeling they would be awesome live after watching their DVD. I was not disappointed.

They were fantastic. God, that girl can sing. And play piano… and both at the same time in fact. The songs sounded just like the album versions (well, apart from there being no vocal harmonies, which would be a bit hard to do live with only one singer). They played a good mix of old and new music, I was glad I’d listened to their new album enough to get to know it a bit, but there was plenty from Fallen and The Open Door as well.

The last encore, My Immortal, was the highlight for me… would’ve been worth the whole ticket price just to be there for that moment when the lights go up and the rest of the band join in near the end. Spine-tingling stuff :D.

So yeah. I’m very glad I went. Highly recommended :). I expect I’ll go see them again some day.

I enjoyed the support act, the Pretty Reckless, as well… I didn’t know them at all before, will have to check out some of their stuff.

Anyway, here’s Evanescence in all their distant blurry glory, courtesy of my old, non-zoom digital camera (sadly SLRs aren’t allowed in the Apollo):

The trip itself’s been mostly fine, though I’m still on the train back just now so there’s still time for disaster to strike and drag me down into public tranport hell, I guess. I didn’t sleep well in the hostel so I’m feeling pretty out of it… just debating whether to try and sleep (though I can never sleep on trains or planes, in fact can hardly sleep anywhere that isn’t my own bed) or whether to dose myself up with caffeine and wake up properly instead.

On the journey down I saw real, proper trainspotters for the first time, standing in a group on the end of a platform and noting down train numbers. I don’t think I ever quite believed they existed before, in my mind they were like some mysterious creature that would have a wide-eyed girl whispering “I have heard such things exist” near the start of a scary film. It got me thinking… why are they considered so sad? Sure, it’s ultimately a pretty pointless way to spend your time, but then so are a lot of things. It’s no worse on that score than playing Angry Birds or watching the X Factor. Trainspotters obviously must enjoy looking at trains and noting down the numbers, otherwise they wouldn’t do it… and what’s so sad about people doing something they enjoy? Personally I’d find it a lot more sad if they gave it up and spent their time doing something they don’t actually like instead, just because it’s considered more normal. So rock on, Trainspotters πŸ™‚ you have your trains, I have my Evanescence gigs and my keyboard playing and my photography, someone else has their football matches and their Xbox… as long as you’re enjoying it then it’s all good.

 

My strange music taste again

Been listening to this a lot…

Just bought it from Amazon MP3 today. Want to get myself in the mood for when I go and see them live next month :D. They’re one of those bands I feel like I shouldn’t like, but I love them anyway. Looking forward to the new album as well, but I haven’t bought it yet because I’m hoping someone will get me it for my birthday (yes, that is a hint πŸ˜‰ ).

I must be feeling musical as I had a go at playing the piano for the first time in a while (well, to be more accurate, playing proper piano music on my keyboard). I’m having another crack at learning Beethoven’s Appassionata (which I used to be able to mostly play the last 2 movements of but have got rusty) and the Fugue in A minor from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier book 1 (which I just find amazing to listen to but never had much luck with learning before).

Both kind of challenging… wish me luck, I’m gonna need it.

(Hmm. Wonder if I’m the only person ever to write a blog post about Evanescence, Beethoven and Bach…).

Today, I have been mostly listening to…

Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental, and Belle & Sebastian – Tigermilk.

I also still keep coming back to the MIDI demo mix of our own “It Could Be Different”, which seems a bit odd. I think it helped get me through a difficult time as I have a weird attachment to it now and always find it somehow calming and life-affirming.

(It isn’t online BTW… that link just goes to the normal fully finished version. I doubt Alex would let me put the demo mix online, and I’m not sure anyone else would share my enthusiasm for it even if I did).

 

There’s a glockenspiel on my coffee table…

… a freakin’ glockenspiel!

(It’s actually Alex’s).

There is also the score for the glockenspiel part of the next Sonic Triangle song, sitting there inviting me to practise it. Just when I’d finally got used to having the keyboard, viola, tin whistle, bamboo flute and stylophone here. (This is actually the first time we’re using a real acoustic instrument in one of our songs. Previously everything was either keyboard, drum synth on the computer, or vocals. Plus a few weird sound effects such as me impersonating a station announcer, and Heather and me screaming on Oblivion at Alton Towers).

I can probably say goodbye to getting anything useful done at the flat as long as this situation persists. I’m supposed to be working from home today but c’mon… this is like shutting an eight year old in a room with a bouncy castle in one corner and a fully functioning chocolate making machine in the other and expecting them to get on with their homework unsupervised. By the time I’ve finished hammering out the tuned percussion parts from every song I can think of, there won’t be much time left for programming.

It’s also reminded me that I always wanted a set of tubular bells to play with, not just because I love the album of that name but also for the sheer coolness. I’m guessing they’d be expensive though. Especially if you take into account having to find somewhere else to live after I get evicted for disturbing the neighbours.

Sonic Triangle: how it’s done

What better way to inaugurate this new blog than with a post about how our band records our music? (Well actually, there are probably lots of better ways… but this is my blog so I’m just going to do whatever the hell I like πŸ˜‰ )

We’ve done 8 songs and a video so far. In the video you get to see my flat, my office and most of my drive to work as well as some random locations around Edinburgh. We’re a bit of an unusual band. It’s difficult to say what our style is or who we’re similar to, so draw your own conclusions. For those who are interested, the music (apart from the drums and vocals) is all played on one of these:

…my faithful Casio WK-3000. Considering Casio isn’t exactly a renowned synth company I’ve been continually amazed at how nice it is. The sound quality and number of features are excellent, far better than I expected when I bought it. With touch-sensitive keys and a proper sustain pedal plugged in it even works as a decent portable piano. The one drawback of that is that the keys aren’t very weighty compared to a proper piano’s, but you can’t have everything.

There are typically up to around 10 keyboard tracks per song. We record them one at a time in high resolution using an external SoundBlaster box connected to my laptop and a free program called Audacity (though currently switching to Goldwave instead due to Audacity’s infuriating tendency to crash suddenly right at the end of a good take of something long and difficult). Then Alex fiddles with them and mixes them using Magix studio (I think… or maybe he’s switched to a Sony studio now), imports the drum track which is done in a program called iDrum, and mixes in the vocals. None of the software or hardware we use is particularly expensive but we’re pretty happy with the results. (Mostly… the bass lines could be better. The keyboard bass voices aren’t its strongest point. Maybe we’ll find a way to improve on them).

We’ve never played live yet. It would be a bit of a challenge but I’d really like to. Alex has recently bought himself one of these:

which I’ve had a play with and I reckon we could do passable live versions of some tracks with the 2 keyboards. He has a glockenspiel now as well, but that isn’t used in any of the tracks so far… those are all-electronic apart from the vocals.

(My own taste in music is pretty much as weird as the band’s style. I expect I’ll say more about that in future posts).