Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Sound Effects, Summer Holiday

Two very busy days. Spent most of yesterday updating and reviewing my IndieSFX sound effects, almost 50x sets of (normally) 100 sound effects. Many have a graphical icon for each one, but many only have a generic one. Some have a sound list with descriptions, but only about 8. Yesterday I made a spreadsheet sound list for every set, a tedious mechanical process. I would like to refurbish and fix up the full library.

Painting today, the third of the English Triptych called Summer Holiday. Here it is so far:

It's generally used cobalt turquoise colours for the blues, and light red and the faux-Naples yellow for the flesh. My 'default' flesh mix uses mars violet but here I wanted something warmer which might suffice for one layer.

Windows keeps wanting to update my graphics drivers to faulty ones. The drivers that came with it work fine, also over time, a lot of what is added is actually negative or useless anyway, such as general spy-like additions or 'custom' setups for lots of different games, which are nothing special. The whole concept of continual updates is inefficient, of course there is an analogue in medicine, with a population where most people are on a long term prescription.

Sunday, August 01, 2021


A backup day, the first of the month. I'm short of money but looking back now I've had a busy and productive July, and will always push to the limit and invest everything in my art.

Today I've fixed the top tier of the Adam Hall keyboard stand. It's very solid metal, but has a few design flaws. It grips the inside of the tubular steel with an oddly shaped hex-bolt, which means a poor metal-metal friction grip which easily slips. I addressed this a few weeks back, but I noticed that the slope of the two bars are not aligned so the top keyboard always wobbles, by 5mm or so, quite a big gap. I could just use foam to level up but I investigated options of fixing the stand and clamped the pair into a vice to measure the error. The tubular steel is not suitable to bend into shape (even though its only about 1 degree or less out). The silver teeth-like gripper could be filed down to change the angle. Really they should have had the option to manually fine-adjust the slope because, unless they carefully check the slope (which they obviously haven't), these will be out of line. I filed the metal a little, but I thought that a less destructive solution is to loosen the grip on the bar that is too high, so did that. It wobbles, but gravity will keep it level.

I've fixed a few new features to Argus; to expand (double and interpolate) and contract (half size) modulators. It is important that the start and end samples are unchanged, so for odd lengths, the halving takes every other sample: AaBbC to ABC. For even lengths, the middle values are averaged: AaBbCc would be 3 samples long: A((a+B)/2)((b+C)/2)c. I've also changed the lengths of a few Fall in Green videos to fit the performance.

Frustratingly and amusingly, the new fancy frame I've been working on for weeks in black, gold leaf etc. is 10mm too small on one edge for the painting. So I have an unused frame for a 350x240 painting, a size I'm unlikely to ever paint. I rarely make measuring mistakes, each one is too painful, yet on these I've made two! Well, I've always considered these two frames tests and neither was as finely finished as I think I could make, although still among the best frames I've made. I aim to make frames better than any framer. One should always be training to master a new skill.

In the night I listened to The Myth of Sisyphus and the CD Player kept jumping and rejected the disc, the first time this fancy Marantz player has ever had problems with any disc. I tried a David Bowie disc and it too struggled. My NVidia graphics card continues to crash with the latest driver so I'm trying a variety of older ones. The older one I thought I had a week ago refuses to install. I wish Windows had a long of driver versions.

I feel a little cursed over these past few days, but I remind myself that things breaking or going wrong are an inevitable part of the universe. Patience and fortitude over the long term must note changes to make in future to limit errors, and things must be fixed, tidied.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Wonderland, Digital Art, TMBWOD, Games

A couple of days of small jobs. Updating Argus a little and completing the list of videos for Wonderland, and today a full run-through of the show. The first half was 47 minutes, the second about 39, so about right (though I would prefer to remove a song from the first half). The projector loads in order of files saved to the USB (not alphabetical!), so rather than saving one at a time I delete everything and use Irfanview's batch processing to save them.

My PC worryingly locked out for the second time yesterday. I blame the rubbish, new, graphics driver from NVidia, which I only installed because Windows Update refused to update and I wondered if the ancient (but very reliable) driver was a cause. It didn't help, and now the driver crashes regularly AND I can't reinstall the old and reliable version.

I've also worked on the look of the Aspartame frame, one of the two new black frames I've been making. These two were made as tests for a new class of frame. All tests should be pushed an experimented with. I really need more places to show paintings, only I see them most of the time and they look so poor online compared to real life, unlike the awfulness of 'digital art' or 'acrylics'. Even photographers are more like artists than 'digital artists', and photographers are generally people who think of themselves as creative but lack the skill to draw or paint, like a film critic who convinces himself that he knows a lot about film and could easily make a great film, but of course doesn't and can't, vs. the film maker who proves his worth by doing. A bad film maker is obviously a better artist than the best critic. So it is with digital artists and photographers; a scribbling child (like Cy Twombly) is better.

In other news, the new, second edition of The Many Beautiful Worlds of Death has been published. I've made the eBook free so that it might get some readership.

I'm slowly releasing Sheeky's sound effects on Itch and will continue, and probably release others. I might release old games too, but how games and sound effects frustrate me. Flatspace, on Steam, gets good reviews yet Flatspace IIk, which is almost the same game in terms of controls and style, yet with more depth, much more content and many bugs fixed, gets worse reviews when it is unquestionably far better than the first game. The same with Hilt II, which has great reviews and response on Amiga, as did X-COM (UFO Enemy Unknown), and my game Taskforce is far better than Hilt II and certainly on par with X-COM, yet gets zero sales and generally a poor reception. How I hate everything to do with games. My lifetime income from 50 games and over 30 years of programming would amount to about one year of minimum wage pay, almost all from Flatspace.

But, of course, there are many positives. Programming taught me logical thought and the power of a plan executed step by step. Prometheus, SFXEngine, and Argus are amazing pieces of software which have changed my artistic output enormously. The experience also showed me the effect of a hit in the realm of creativity, and how some things which appear to be short term often work well long term. I have great sympathy with Richard O'Brien, who probably gets annoyed at each mention of The Rocky Horror Show, knowing that his newest or next (probably failed) project is the one that gets his love and attention, when the world doesn't care or rate that. Art taught me that the world can turn. From Beethoven to Bowie, all great artworks were ignored or criticised at first.

The Futility of Protest

If there is one key part of my personality that my parents instilled in me it is that to fight or protest is futile, that when attacked or facing difficulty, surrendering and stoically tolerating fate or punishment is the only option.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Argus Modulators

A day of working on modulators. Argus, like my music software Prometheus, uses wav files as modulators, so a wave, in Argus, can move an object in any axis, or change anything else, and in Prometheus it can set the amplitude or pitch or filter or panning or anything like that. Because these are just wav files they can be far more complex than a mere ADSR envelope, and in many ways are easier to edit and manage.

Here are some examples:

Many of these are made from sine waves, because they work well, but I have angular fades and things like arcs and spikes, as well as noise and wobbles. These have been 2205 bytes or so for years, 20 years or so since Noise Station (in fact you can download the early versions of these, at time of writing, in the Noise Station distribution). My recent videos revealed that 2205 is not long enough... if you make an animation that lasts longer than 2205 frames, the result is jerky. You can't really hear this jerk in audio so much, but still, I realised that I really need higher resolution waves, so today I very carefully rebuilt all 140 or so library waves from scratch. Each needs very careful calibration, so that they start and end exactly on zero or one, or whatever, and have the correct maximum and minimum values.

To help me, Argus shows these values on the display. I've added tons of wav processing for making modulators. I can multiply two together, or append, or add, or flip in all sorts or ways, add noise etc.

The day and work is done. These days of emotionless admin-type work are satisfying. I feel the need to get going and seize each day, and I need money, but feel strangely in two minds about how or what to do, or whether to wait. I think we are feel ready for Wonderland and I played through Time, Falling on the piano. The show is in two weeks exactly.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Final Wonderland Videos

Another full day yesterday, and this morning, working on the Wonderland video projections. All 27 are now complete in a first draft. Blessed be Argus! Most would have been so difficult or impossible without it. Essentially the software places film clips, more often stills or sprites, at any 3D location on any frame like notes in a music sequencer. The position, alpha, size, frame can be easily modulated over time, so movements and flicker effects are easy. The Grim By Day video, for example, simply stabs poster images of Grimaldi on the screen every half a second or so, but these are randomly placed, and randomly sized, a scatter of images. To do that manually, one image at a time would take hours, but it was done quickly in Argus.

Some tracks, like Jabberwocky and Herr Kasperle vary musically in tone and pace so much that any video would really need to be synchronised. I designed some software last year to live 'video jam' - in case we ever get a third band member who would control images in real time, but for now the videos are more like asides to the music, not fitting with each part, a backdrop. For these complex tracks, the backdrop is simple; Jabberwocky is a glide through green mist.

One of the last was Clown Face. I simply resorted, in the end, to a long slow zoom out which reveals Max the clown. The first couple of minutes are an extreme close up, flickering and turning, almost an abstract shape.

Some videos use real film footage. Siamese Twin Domestic overlays two mirror images.

Barely time to pause. I'd like to improve these a little. We have a rehearsal this afternoon and another on Saturday. We've never rehearsed this much before.

How I'd like a new synth. This will, with luck, be the last show which includes my brilliant but heavy P105 piano. Bizarrely, Yamaha's latest model lacks any sound other than piano, so this one is still perhaps the best in its class. Though I love the heavy hammer action, the ultra-light keys on the Reface DX are so pleasing to use, they have a sort of pleasant spring. I'd now prefer a light keyboard to one of these weighted hammer action ones, for live play, though of course nothing beats the feeling and resonance of a real piano.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Wonderland Videos

A busy day, started by finalising the sketch for the third of my 'English' paintings; Summer holiday. This series might be the best thing I've made this year, and of course, not for a specific purpose, commission, event etc. Of course, I will use and exhibit them somewhere.

I then piled into making some projection videos for Wonderland. I have 27 videos to make, I'm aiming for 1 or 2 minutes per video. I haven't time to muse so I've used some edits from existing videos, like Time Falling or unused footage from Jabberwocky. I've used some old stock footage for the tracks set in the past, and made some animations in Argus.

This is one of the more interesting animations, for Asylum Flowers. It uses a spiral of daffodils vs. skulls. These animations are easy in Argus but still take more time than edits of filmed footage. I will try to make more.

I'm also watching David Bowie's Glass Spider tour on television. It's so theatrical that it's more like a musical than a rock concert. The best performances, for me, are the plainly sung ones, partly because there is so little narrative to everything. The actors jump and dance around almost for no reason other than dance itself, ever grinning in a somewhat odd way. Musically, this period is seen as a low for Bowie, but this was his most theatrical show. I like the idea of these dead ends, these ends of an experiment because there is always a further step that wasn't taken. Bands like Genesis and Renaissance, for me, could have pushed towards new territory rather than retreating back to convention. Bowie rarely unified or thematically linked work, few concept albums and a very random path.

I'm reminded what a vast amount of work goes into being an artist, a non-stop incredible amount of work, and almost always for nothing or uncertain rewards. Over time, these rewards almost always do materialise, but it often takes years and the rewards are very staccato. These projection videos, what reward will these bring?

Years ago, I made some huge projection videos for the summer solstice event at the Iklectic Art Lab in London with Sabine Kussmaul. Those videos, a full one hour loop, played all day and really lit up the event. It inspired me in video work and even now my memory of them is strong. My old art friend Stephen Barry was included, I quickly filmed him for one of the segments. He died a few years later, so is immortalised in those segments. I had only about 48 hours to make the whole hour-long video.

Again I have hardly any time to make these projections, but I must try my best in this fleeting bite.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Gynocratic Paedoparanoia Glazing

Decided to paint today. I had four paintings awaiting a glaze: Gynocratic Paedoparanoia, The Safe Box, Hand of Destiny and the new Shakespeare one which isn't dry enough. Gynocratic Paedoparanoia was the oldest, so I painted that:

The title appeared as I quickly and unconsciously sketched the idea. Its genesis was a painting about a fear of sex in a similar manner as the fear of Aspartame for the compositionally related work, but after this lightning thought, the idea was drawn very quickly as I usually do, with little conscious thought or intervention of reason. I prefer this because it creates dialogue by mystery, the enigma. It has a meaning, because it was authentically drawn from my waking dream (we always and constantly dream, but our waking mind often obscures these lower and complex thoughts), but even I can't be sure what it means.

The final painting is very close to the idea sketch:

I like how the figure and her same features in the right monolith look like internal vs. external dialogue. The half-complete rainbow (it has red, yellow, none, and blue) and second set of violet 'lips' were added during composition, partly as a second, similar, reflection.

In technical terms, the fantastic colour of the Blockx Mars Yellow Orange dominates the monolith. I've started to make more use of zinc white again, its fine dust useful for the highlights (I tend only to use it in specular highlights, hardly ever mixed and almost always in a topmost layer). My concern when underpainting was the MAMA text, but it was very easy and enjoyable to glaze.

I painted while listening to Brian's Gothic Symphony, which is epic in every way, for me, far more unified and better than the Mahler he is sadly compared with.