Friday, October 07, 2022

Salome Cover Art

A full and tiring day today. I started by re-examining my 16-bit dither algorithm, my >=-1 and <=1 random number generator. I reasoned that if a sample was in the exact centre of where it should be, it should never dither up or down, so I had the idea of limiting it to >-1 and <1, but this is a bit of a pain, as it involves an extra addition (ie. slight speed loss) to the seed value before taking a modulo.

I spent hours this morning experimenting with different random seeds and ways of mashing the numbers to generate a 'most random' result, but they seemed to work about the same. The values I'm working with here are miniscule, the width of one 16-bit sample (so 1/32767) and it's quite hard to examine such numbers. I discovered a bug in SoundForge where the sample graph display breaks down when showing a 3-minute sample of these tiny numbers. My >-1 and <1 algorithm should have worked but it's hard to test... the statistics show that some numbers were 0.000015259 - this is the =1 or =-1 result BUT it might have been less than 0.00001525925... I couldn't be sure because the number of decimal places in SoundForge isn't high enough. I decided to fix it by using the >=-1 and <=1 algorithm and simple multiply by less than 0.5 to shrink it a -tiny- bit from the edges.

Working and worrying about these tiny details can cause insanity.

Then I started on the Salome artwork. I probably work too hard on a full 8-page CD booklet for my albums when then odds of printing and selling any CDs is so poor - but in this case we almost certainly will print some. I still love CDs and jewel cases, and can't stand the cheap cardboard cases that seem to be the norm these days. Even the wonderful artwork of Bjork's Utopia (which is, if anything, better than the badly mastered and sadly distorted music) went in the bin due to the impractical shape. I care about CDs, I don't want them scraping along the sides of a cheap piece of cardboard.

As an artist, I sigh and wonder why I put so many day of my life into meticulous artwork designs for CDs that will remain unsold, unseen, and unheard, but, such is art. I must still do my best and push for better each time; this is art not commerce. How many people see my paintings in real life? Not enough, but some do.

The cover was easy, I wanted to use the poster design, but it needed a contrasting colour. The red on the poster really helped. I experimented with a green shard, like the shaft of a daisy for the 'o' in Salome, but later used a red heart:

Hearts were used on the inside cover, I decided to use a spiralling still from the Cosmic Solitude video:

Most of the inner pages are the yellow, transparent smoke, colour from the cover. The get the same granulated effect, I used different fragments from the source photos and blew them up, then layered them to create lots of interesting results. I wanted a contrasting colour on the back. I thought green, partly because the similarly hued The Myth of Sisyphus used blue... so I wanted something different. The result is how I imagined:

The red symbol from the cover, almost a kiss, really helps. I rather like this strange, floral, rosy, result, but I'm not sure if it matches the feeling of the music. These are all first drafts, early days yet.

Generally the colours are bold: bright sallow yellows, dark greens, dark reds, that is all. I've sketched out 10 pages so far. A busy day.

I must finish the music editing and general sound, and this artwork. I'm tired, I feel Sisyphean again, but I must keep pushing this rock no matter how exhausted I feel. Tempus est pretiosum. Vita brevis.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Music Mastering, Spotify Canvases

I'm in the final testing a checking stages for the Salome Music.

This is the mastering stage which is a process of setting the volume levels and tweaking the EQ, this is the only time in music making that I tend to use equalisation, which is why I was developing a 10-band graphic equaliser. In the end, I haven't applied or used the new equaliser, but I'll keep it in reserve in case I can use it. For me, EQ is about making sure that all of the frequencies are covered correctly, but to some extent having to use any at all is a failure of good composing - although this factor was and is always part of music making. In classical music the conductor is producer and mastering engineer, ensuring the right balance for the composition. I now use visual and technical tools to compare some EQ 'tuning forks' to my mixes to see if anything is way out. In this case though things are good enough as they are. I like to make everthing 'perfect' but this sound quality is also part of the art - one rarely experimented with.

One other change is to edit the 'intermission' track. This is a live audio recording of the room chatter which took place during the live performance. I've removed a few snippets of conversation by people who I don't know and can't consult, although the key point of this track is that nothing is particularly audible, and that it is absolutely authentic. There are many albums of 'live' music made but I can't recall any making a track from the incidental auditorium noise. The most audible here are those of Mike Drew towards the end discussing the line-up for the open-mic part. It ends with the 'lights out' speech that opens At Freud's Lecture, so unlike the Beatles' Revolution No. 9, my 20-minutes of musique concrète leads to a dramatic resolution. We wait the entire time for enlightenment (in more ways than one).

Most of today has been making the 8-second 'canvas' animations for Spotify. These are based on the projections, but I've had to brighten some up, and of course make them loop perfectly. Many loop anyway, but not at exactly 8-second intervals, so some programming and other fancy editing is needed. Argus is so good for making these.

Other news. I've re-watched 1970s classic The Man in the Iron Mask, and must create a painting about it. Our next engagement will be at Crewe Hall on Sunday, an artistic accompaniment to the Worleston Music School concert there.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Salome Music Ending

The end is finally in sight for the Salome album, the 16 tracks are complete in a first draft. A couple need new vocals from Deb, but it's time to work on other things. Today I finalised the composition for the Dream Sequence dance version, and made some balancing adjustments to Entwined in Infinity using the new Watergate plugin.

I've started work on the cover, which will be similar to the poster, and started work on the 8-second Spotify Canvases.

I spent a lot of the day working on a 10-band graphic equaliser. It's a simple array of band pass filters which are then boosted (or not) by the right amount. Here's the spectrum of white noise boosted across all bands at 0.200 bandwidth:

There is no dry signal there, just the peaks so it gives an artificially strong result. Here it is with 0.400 bandwidth:

The equaliser I tested seemed to employ more of a wedge-shaped boost rather than a peak; will that be too slow for my real-time use? Which is best?

Monday, October 03, 2022

Film Dream, Otesanek Edit, Waterfades

I dream of being in a film. I was acting, and delighted in how easy it was because I was behaving naturally and didn't know the script or what was coming up, unlike the other actors; which were I think two men and a woman. A camera was invisibly following us and I was smiling, delighting in being on film. We entered a restaurant and sat down. I was served thick chips, like potato wedges. I was informed that a steak was coming. This made me nervous, a fear of eating this rich food which invariably give me stomach ache. I began to worry at having to eat it on camera. Then, with this anxiety in mind and before the meat arrived, the scene changed abruptly.

I was now in a large bathroom with several baths and sinks, as though in an institution. It was clean, nice, lined with zinc-blue tiles, and the leading man and lady were here in a new scene of the film. He said that she should submerge her face in a large sink of cool water, to feel refreshed, and she did so. The sink was huge, more like a huge cubic bath or vat, perhaps a metre cubed or bigger. The pair walked to a corner of the room and conversed out of my attention. They seemed to be oblivious to my presence. I secretly moved to the sink and put my face in the cool water, to see how it felt. I held my breath under the water and it felt lovely. Then I climbed in to another bath in a slightly darker part of the room, holding my breath with my whole body under the cold water. A Japanese woman, dressed like a nurse, came in and threatened to put a lid over the bath/sink, trapping me underwater. This made me panic, I thought I'd better get out. Then I awoke.

A busy day. Started by making a new edit of Otesanek for a new e-zine. This involved a new bit of guitar playing, which added a bit of sparkle to the morning. Then I researched more random number generators, and specifically tests of a new 16-bit ditherer, which I'll implement at some point.

Then some work on a Prometheus plugin, Engram Input Waterfade, which fades a signal on a track based on the input of another track (or another anything, an 'engram' can be used to store sound from any part in the signal chain, permitting some complex, almost programming-style logic). The plugin isn't great though, it's too simple, simply reducing the volume based on a crude volume trace of the source, and the result can be stuttery, and the attenuation is related to the source too closely. So I spent a few hours redesigning it to be more like my noise gate, which has two gates, one triggers the other, to creates a smoother result, and with more standard parameters. I can now, for example, mimic the volume of the source rather than it's silence.

In between doing this I finished the main composing for the dance version of 'Dream Sequence', and played an electric piano solo for it, just live in one take. In a way this natural feeling part stands out, for the better, from the rest of the song, but there's not really enough quiet time in there to add more.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Rilke Translations

Today, I started by translating some Rilke poems for our album, which was a fascinating experience. I'm blessed that Ursula K Le Guin translated 'The Flower of Farewell', as this meant the original German was online, so I've translated that and 'Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower'. It's amazing just how different each translation is. Poetry translation is far more like art than science. For Bell Tower, for example, here's the first stanza:


Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen,
fühle, wie dein Atem noch den Raum vermehrt.
Im Gebälk der finstern Glockenstühle laß dich läuten.
Das, was an dir zehrt,

Google translate says:

Silent friend of the many distances,
feel your breath increasing the space.
In the entablature of the dark belfry, let yourself be rung.
what feeds on you

Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows translation is:

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

Another online version I saw:

Silent friend, of plenty distance,
feel how your breath fills the room.
in the face of the clocks, so real rings
the thing that makes your doom

For me, the 'many distances/great distance' is important, and Silent is a better word than Quiet. In the second line, there are many images and references, already the flow of a bell pushing out and in, but also a widening out psychologically, a letting go and breathing out. For these lines I decided on:

Silent friend of many distances,
feel, your breath extends your space.

I chose 'extend' because of the rhyme, perhaps a poetic fancy; the Fernen/fühle is a rhyme lost in translation already. Next, I much more favour Google's translation, but wanted to set the atmosphere too, so I chose:

In the shadows of the belfry, let yourself be rung.
That, which feeds you,

And for the rest I translated as follows:

becomes a strength beyond food.
Change in and out.
What is your greatest pain?
If drinking is bitter, become wine.

On this night
from the overflowing magic, be at your senses' crossroads,
sense their strange encounter.

And if the earth shuns you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
Say to the rushing water: I am

'Change in and out' has so much of bell in it! The 'overflowing magic' line was the most difficult, it is something of a mouthful, but this matches the original closely. I used "senses' crossroads" because I didn't want to repeat the word 'senses'.

After this, I started on some music for another Rilke poem, 'The Flower of Farewell'. I started with a guitar inspired by The Coastliners song by Genesis, but the music is more relentless, pounding, constant, like the flow of pollen in the poem. At the climax the music collapses into a piano solo that reflects the main Salomé theme from the start of the album; so this is a perfect last track for the project.

The music was recorded and completed today, apart from Deborah's vocals.

Random 0 to 1, Bjork Dream

Rather a slow day yesterday. I spent the morning working on a random number generator that sort of hacks the IEEE float format in a quest for greater speed than a float-int converter:

// Return a float random number >=0 and <1
float floatrandom(void)
  lword number;
  float result;
// Multiply seeds
// Mask float to create any number between 1 and <2

It seems to work well enough for white noise, but was, actually, slower than a normal float-int conversion anyway. I decided to test it using some of the 'diehard' tests, which shows that it's not very 'random' but seems random enough to my ears and basic tests of limits and means. I'd prefer an algorithm that returns a number 0 to 1, so I came up with this:

if (result<0.5f)
 if (result<=0.5f)

I'm not 100% sure if it's free from bias, I can certainly make one that isn't with a few 1-value returns, but I don't want to slow things with too many more tests. It's clear that 25% of the time the >=0 to <1 range applies, but the plain algorithm always applies that. Anyway, these sort of silly obsessions can waste far too many valuable hours. In the afternoon I had a nice drop off to Ty Pawb and the Wrexham Open, but little other work.

I ate normally at 6pm but the pain of slow digestion gradually grew. At 8pm I felt fine, but at 9pm, started to feel the familiar pain, which became agony by 11pm. I barely slept, unable to rest or lie down, my insides beset with many earthquakes.

I finally slept at 6am and dreamt of meeting Bjork, she visited my house for a music creation session. She seemed rather aloof and snobbish, a class above us, and had a personal assistant. She was due to leave but tested positive for Covid in the door of the auto-taxi, a white car which had two locks on the door which required two negative Covid tests to open. The first test lit a green light on the lock, the second, unexpectedly red, causing her to remain, amazed and inconvenienced.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Sit With Your Ghost Solo

Awake in the night, I listened to a Bach Partita; a transcendental experience, an emotional cathedral ceiling. The hardest emotion to represent in art is transcendence.

A slow morning. In the afternoon I wrote a little tune with 'Bach like' parts which darted between C-minor and F-minor, using the climbing themes in Sit With Your Ghost. I fed the composition through to the RefaceDX, and it sounded really natural, this synth is so expressive. I still love the sound - Yamaha would have, had have, a sure-fire hit synth if they had given it more presets and the ability to save them externally (excluding the utterly impractical Soundmondo).

I also researched the Rilke pieces we had aimed to perform. It looks like I'll have to translate them, I had hoped that Deborah would. I'm so tired of this album. I'm off to Ty Pawb tomorrow to deliver my painting to the open.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Limiters, Stockport, Airwolf, and Crashes

More experiments with the Cathedral Limiter, all trying to get a 'better' trace, here are some experiment results:

But they don't work and the whole process was too complex, I just couldn't get it to work. No matter, as a complex trace like that would create a complex result in audio too... the trace is ultimately used like a gate or switch, so the more complex it is, the more obvious (and strange) that change may become in the result.

At 11:30 I gave up and decided to stick with the Cathedral Limiter as it is and file everything. Then, a trip to Stockport to collect my paintings from the art gallery. This is an adventure and fitness challenge. The train arrives in Stockport station at 44 minutes past the hour, and the return train departs at 04 minutes past, giving me exactly 20 minutes to get to the gallery, collect, pack, and get back to the train station. Fortunately the gallery is nearby. I noted the exact time when pressing the train door open button, and 4 minutes later, I entered the gallery. I was alone, no queue, and quickly found and packed both paintings. I was back on the station platform, hot after a near-run, when the hour hit. Quite an adventure.

After that, I watched an episode of 80s series 'Airwolf'. I remember it, as a child, being quite good but it appears I was wrong. This episode was so bad it was hilarious. The enemies were 'draft-dodging hippies' who wanted to create world peace and/or a new society of mind-controlled love-children. They decided to achieve this by using computer hacking to hijack a top-secret, nuclear armed, drone aircraft, and then asking the US Government for $20 million in ransom money. After giving them just 15 minutes to think this over (during which time the government did nothing), they decided to fire the missiles anyway to destroy the evil war-mongering politicians. If this sounds a lot to cram into 25 minutes, it's just the start. Jan Michael Vincent (an actor who is/was exactly like Richard Dean Anderson, but with no acting ability) was friends with the army-hero brother of the evil hippie draft-dodger mastermind - a villain who fled a war due to cowardice, and avoids violence so effectively that he uses pistols and an army of gun-toting children to battle it.

Now, I must rest. The news of the past week has been hideous due to massive government incompetence. We are now enduring the first self-inflicted financial crash of my life, or perhaps the first ever, as I can't recall one that wasn't caused accidentally. From the government that punched itself repeatedly in the economic face with a glove called 'Brexit' we have an idiot prime minister doing the same for, apparently, no reason but the desire to self-harm and to punish others.