Month: October 2011

I’m oldschool as hell

It’s been pointed out to me recently that my music all sounds a bit… samey. In particular, the tracks uploaded onto my YouTube channel.

I realize this – but I don’t think it’s because I’m lazy or unimaginative. Creating music is something I pour my heart and soul into. The medium through which I create that music is just a bit restricting. But I’m fine with that.

I work at a very basic level in music composition: General MIDI, and soundfonts. The General MIDI soundbank is confined to only 128 different voices and some very basic-sounding drumkits. Soundfonts simply attach different sounds to the songs that I write. I only have a few of those (I will expand my collection whenever I stumble on any new ones, though) but I do try to mix them up, choosing the best-sounding voices for my music in order to give it some lift.

I realize that with my soundfonts, I’m essentially using a bunch of preset sounds and just whacking them onto the finished composition. It’s kind of lazy of me. I really should get into the habit of writing music through some other, more diverse means. But I have always been a MIDI artist and I am happy that I’ve been one for so long.

MIDI is what I have learned everything about music through. I started out close to a decade ago, learning the ins and outs of the very basic composition software I was using back then (and that I still use today) – Cakewalk Express 3.02. It lives up to its name: it’s an incredibly easy-to-use program and just gives you exactly what you need to write good music.

The program is nearly as old as me. Hence, it’s not really capable of producing music, but rather scoring it.

When you’re an artist working in General MIDI alone, things tend to sound familiar when you only have 128 different voices at your disposal. But limitation isn’t always a bad thing. You could trawl for possibly millennia through the vast array of softsynths, plugins, and preset voices – even just the ones that are available for free – on the internet. There’s just so much stuff out there, it’s frankly overwhelming. When such a torrent of variation is made so readily available, it’s incredibly easy to get deluged in the sheer volume of possibility. It’s actually quite intimidating.

However, when you’re confined to 128 voices and only a few separate effects available to play around with, you really start to get creative. You try to push those limitations, and use the limited software to its absolute maximum potential. This is what I’ve done as a musician – I haven’t bothered with all the more advanced aspects of composition and production, and have instead focused on honing my ability as a writer. I write music, that is as melodic, harmonious, varied, rhythmic and dynamic as I can make it – even if it means reusing the same old sounds over and over again. But you don’t write sounds, do you?

This approach hasn’t exactly stopped chiptunes from being immensely popular, has it? (Listen to that tune. Listen to it. You cannot deny its musical brilliance.)

Hell, if chiptunes – music tracks only confined to a few basic waveforms – can be as popular as they are, why the hell not General MIDI? It’s already superior to chiptunes in that you have 128 possible voices, which gives rise to many combinations of timbre, dynamics, and tone. It’s a little bit more varied than chiptune, sure, but it’s too much variation and possibility that I have a problem with. 128 is minute compared to the rest of what the vast universe of modern music production has to offer. I think it’s one of the reasons I, along with a few other people, don’t quite get the appeal of Minecraft. But I digress.

Sure, it looks nice, but it must’ve been a bitch to build.

I think it’s perfectly possible to create music that people can enjoy en masse, and, I’d even go as far to say, easier. You only have a limited selection of voices, so you don’t have to worry about the intricacies of modern music production, like frequency modulation, EQ, compression, mastering… et cetera.

And you know what? Believe me, you’ll be hard-pressed to find genuinely bad MIDI tracks or chiptunes, unless they’re deliberately made bad. Yet modern producers pour effort, commitment, and hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, into writing and producing songs for popular figures, and after all of that, the music is so often… unbelievably bad.

You surely must’ve noticed – as music has moved on and gotten more technically advanced, the floodgates to a nigh-infinite myriad of crap have opened up.

Now before you get annoyed with me,ย I’m not saying “all modern music is bad” – there is certainly some amazing talent out there. I’m not even saying “I deliberately avoid modern music technology”. Just reread that previous paragraph. And then look at this.

A chiptune of this song would actually be tolerable.

…See where I’m coming from?

It’s so freakin’ easy to make something sound god-awful nowadays, even with the best will in the world. There are so many parameters to consider that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. I’ve studied music technology at A-level and am planning to study all of its intricacies for a further three years at a university in Australia – I know how complex and precise a science it is. (It totally is a science, now. There is still an element of artistry to it but the process of music production is nowadays simply too intricate to be a completely free art.)

I do use Propellerhead Reason, a fine digital audio workstation with a friendly interface and many, many advanced production features that allow for some truly awesome stuff to be produced. I just prefer the comfortable constraint of General MIDI a thousandfold.

Sorry. While this post did get a bit ranty towards the end (and I did go a bit bananas on the italics), I just wanted to clear myself up for anyone who is unaware or curious.

Back to the usual semi-craziness, next time.

Obsessive-compulsive webpage-reloading disorder: A diagnosis

I realize I’m now in the advanced stages of obsessive-compulsive webpage-reloading disorder. An unfortunate condition, in which the afflicted slowly but surely loses track of the concept of time over a twelve-hour period. I have compiled my study on this condition (and my subsequent findings) into this post.

The ordeal begins early in the day, after the subject’s waking up and checking their social network, forums, blogs, feeds, webcomics, etc., for missed updates that were made during the night. This is done sequentially, with the subject checking each one individually, and then, content that their short browsing spree has yielded at least the morning’s worth of entertaining web-based material, will go onto something else for the rest of the day – be it web-based or otherwise.

Over the course of the day, the afflicted subject may well keep a few tabs open in their browser indefinitely, with a view to refreshing them every hour or so, for any unchecked updates that were made throughout the day.

Then, as the day wears on (especially well into the night), and the afflicted starts to grow bored and fatigued, they will find little else to do with their remaining energy, and simply turbo-browse, loading up every webpage they have favorited or bookmarked (thereby essentially repeating what they did earlier that day) that could conceivably be updated in a gradually-shortening span of time. As the subject comes to realize how few pages in their vast collection are actually that likely to update, they will narrow their options down until they continue to refresh the same 5 or 6 webpages at an exponentially-increasing rate – to the point where they become deluded that a webpage will update within 30 seconds of its last checking.

The disappointment of the inevitable lack of updates has a physical effect on the subject, causing the eyes to droop and become bloodshot, the mouth to fall slack, and the right arm to go numb. The subject will emit increasingly frequent noises, suggestive of what can only be described as a mixture of boredom and self-pity.

The cycle can only be broken when the subject loses consciousness through sheer boredom, or goes to make a cup of coffee in order to reclaim the energy they had whilst they were actually doing something constructive. However, this low-energy, zombie-like state of perpetual turbo-browsing may return some time afterwards, owing to the subject not actually going off to get some bloody sleep. It is thus that I can conclude that this affliction may well be linked to my inadequate circadian rhythms, and possibly a mild form of OCD.

…And I’ve spent 20 minutes writing that post so now I have to check everything that could possibly have been updated in that time. Oh joy.

(Disclaimer: This post is a direct copy-and-paste from one of my own forum posts, so it’s a crosspost from a few weeks ago, but it is still relevant to me. Sadly. Just now, I found myself turbo-browsing back and forth between pages I’d only visited minutes ago, and ashamedly thought, “this is still a problem, clearly. Might as well share it.”)

New collaboration in the works!

If you enjoyed Prototype, the collaborative effort between myself and the awesomely-talented Stuart Rynn, then good news! ๐Ÿ˜€

Myself, Stuart Rynn (aka Forty-Two) and John Weekley (aka PRIMEVAL/Tenebrae Aeternus) have been working on a brand-new three-way collaboration. This is the final track that will be submitted to the Doom project Reverie, for its twenty-seventh level. It will be finalized and uploaded soon, so stay tuned. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Jimmy’s Jukebox update

So, for a while now, I’ve been working on and off on a mod for Doom which allows the user to create an in-game playlist of the music they want to listen to. This is “Jimmy’s Jukebox”, and is currently available as version 7, here.

The Jukebox is a collection of 773 unique MIDI tracks which are grouped into “collections”. Collections can be selected individually or together to create a random selection of music tracks, which then plays throughout the game.

What I’ve just released isn’t version 8 exactly. It’s a separate release called the “User Jukebox” which comes with a bunch of blank collections, so it can be user-edited for custom collections. With a little modification, you can make your own collections from tracks from your own media library!

If you wantย  to give it a shot, get it here! Customizing it requires some knowledge of Action Code Script, but please consult the “help.txt” file if you’re unsure. Just get version 7 if you’re not up for that kind of thing.

This mod requires the latest subversion of ZDoom or GZDoom to run, plus a copy of the Doom2 IWAD.

Scotty the Cat, episode 1

Look at him. Look at that adorable little furry bastard.

Pictured: Pure evil

He’s the most lovable, friendliest, ginger-blonde pussy cat with a tendency to roll down stairs and obsession with being a ninja I’ve ever laid eyes upon. But right now I think I have a justifiable excuse to hate him with every fibre of my being.

This will blow over, obviously, because quite frankly he is impossible to hate for any great length of time.

First, some background information. This is Scotty, a young cat who lives in the neighborhood that has adopted us as his second (or perhaps third – we really don’t know at this point) family. We feed him and shelter him from the rain. We let him be when he jumps onto one of the beds and dozes off for 10 hours.

At 5:30am last night he woke me up. I had no idea he was even in the house, but there he was, behind my bedroom door, making a bit of a racket. He obviously wanted attention, so I opened the door and he led me downstairs to his food bowl.

Under normal circumstances I would’ve flatly refused to feed anything or indeed anyone at such an hour, but Scotty gave me a look of pity and despair that would’ve make Puss in Boots melt. I fed him the last of our cat food (about half a sachet’s worth of that disgusting jellied cat meat) and gave him some milk and had a bit of a play with him, all the while trying my best not to topple over sideways due to my brain still not having fully awoken yet. He likes playing with plastic jugs, tiny balls and cardboard boxes, but I felt like I didn’t need to supervise him, so I stuck him in a box with a jug and a ball and went to bed, leaving him to his own devices.

15 minutes later I was awoken again by further incessant meowing outside my bedroom door.

I thought “right, that’s it, I’d better put him to sleep”.

As in, get a blanket or something and stick him on it. Not euthanize him. Sadists.

Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t consider the possibility that Scotty was operating on a different sleep schedule to me. Granted, my own body’s sleep schedule is so irregular and abnormal that it’s probably dictated by some incredibly complicated quantum mechanics. But I was sure that if I just procured a blanket and set him down on it, that would be enough.

Not so. I had to chase him around trying to get him either settle down somewhere, or leave the house (which he wouldn’t because it was cold and rainy outside) – an exercise which involved luring him into rooms with his own toys, picking him up in awkward arrangements that probably didn’t do his engorged digestive system any favors, and closing doors behind him in an ill-conceived effort to deter him from running away again. It felt a bit like I was playing Chip’s Challenge, arranging blocks and opening/closing doors to try and lure that annoying paramecium into an enclosure from which he couldn’t escape. In fact, it was exactly like that… only with a cat instead of a paramecium.

This whole ordeal, from the point at which he first woke me up, lasted roughly an hour. In the end he managed to pry the previously-closed kitchen door open again, and stood once more by his food bowl. It was starting to get light outside, there was no food left for him, and he’d had a massive helping merely half an hour ago. I began to think that he was starting to take the piss.

There was some milk left, however, and I think this satiated him, at least partially. I unleashed a veritable torrent of milk into his bowl, and having drunk it, he then perched onto one of the chairs in our conservatory and sat, for the time being immobilized. I bade him goodnight and shut the kitchen door behind him. There he remained for the rest of the night, effectively trapped in one part of the house.

Now – if my own sleep schedule is thrown into any sort of disarray due to interruptions in the night, I will of course wake up later in the day. Much later. Obscenely later. Disproportionately later. I’d gone to bed at about 1:30am, and my body, being the potato sack of laziness that it is, slept until 11:00am – at which time I managed to haul myself out of bed because some visitors came round to the house to look at my room – but I had to fall unconscious again (nearly as soon as they’d left) until… wait for it… 2:30pm. I’ve spent the rest of the day still feeling absolutely knackered.

Aaaaaand that is how a cat cost me half of an entire day in less than an hour.

You can read more of Scotty’s escapades on my brother’s blog.