Monday, August 11, 2008

Borne Back Ceaselessly into the Past, Part One

So, I'm cleaning up the office and organizing a lot of things in boxes, and waxing nostalgic. I am purging cables, equipment I'm not going to use any more, obsolete software, and hundreds of cassettes. Most of them are just getting tossed -- but I am doing a little preservation work on a few of them.

Over half my life ago, around winter 1986 or 1987 (it may have been 1988 too, I don't have a good memory for dates), I was a student at the College of Wooster. My friend Jim Batman and I got permission from Dr. Dykstra to go in to his office after hours and play around with his Yamaha DX-7. Jim had the keyboard chops and I had a fascination with programming synthesizers. I brought my cassette deck and we recorded the results. We would listen to sounds, and pick one to play with. I would then work on messing with the settings until I had made it my own, and Jim would then improvise a piece using that sound. Then we'd discuss what to call the piece. No silly pompous name was out of the running. I don't recall for certain, but there may have been a six-pack of Killian's Red Ale involved.

Listening to these spontaneous compositions now, I'm struck by a few things. Although the synthesizer sounds are a bit dated, I think they still sound pretty good. The pieces themselves are mostly sketches, but Jim was pretty good on keyboard and they are imaginative. The quality of the cassette recording is good enough that I decided not to bother messing around with noise reduction.

If you'd like to hear what I'm talking about, you can find the index of individual tracks in MP3 form here. And here is a zip file of the set of 8 songs as MP3 files.

The license issue is confusing. On the one hand, I don't think Jim would object to letting people hear it, so I'm making it available. But on the other hand, I haven't actually been in touch with Jim for many years, so I don't feel like I can speak for him. For now, let's call it my usual Creative Commons license.

It's worth mentioning that there were roots to this spontaneous evening. I know that Jim and I shared an interest in New Age and Industrial music. I still have a cassette called Computer Music from CCRMA, Volume 1, circa 1983. I must have purchased that by mail order back in high school. The compositions on that tape include a piece by John Chowning called Turenas, completed in 1972, using a then-new sound-generation technique called (wait for it)... FM synthesis! Chowning and Stanford licensed the patent to Yahama, and it eventually became the synthesis technique used in the DX-7. Turenas got me interested in all kinds of electronic music, and I suspect that talking about psychoacoustics and the doppler effect and FM synthesis in my college interview helped get me into the College of Wooster way-back-when!

I'd love to find a source for more music from CCRMA. As far as I can tell this cassette is long out of print, and there don't seem to be any CD recordings in print.

And finally, I'd love to hear from Jim!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Being a Parent...

Being a parent is sitting in your desk chair at work and suddenly noticing that there is dried peanut butter stuck all over the back of one of your pantlegs. I'm pretty sure this is Sam's doing -- he's got quite the peanut butter fixation.

Lost and Found Mail

If you sent me e-mail since the first of August and I have not responded, please re-send it. Dreamhost has had some trouble with its spam-filtering software, and I suddenly got a pile of important e-mails that had apparently just been lost in space. I'm not very happy about this, but they do seem to be on the path to improving the situation.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Books of Summer '08

The Library of America's second volume of Philip K. Dick novels is out, and I bought five copies. Three of them will be given away to friends. I'm tremendously excited to see these novels getting recognition. I'm currently reading Martian Time-Slip. Technically, I'm re-reading it, but it was many years ago and I don't remember the story very well.

So, what else? I do manage to read, although because I only get occasional bite-sized chunks of time, enough to read perhaps 5 pages, it is slow-going. Finishing novels this way makes them feel slightly disjointed, but it's what I can manage.

Not long ago I plowed through The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, since it seems like the kind of book I should have read back in middle school. Hugely successful upon release, this book has been largely dismissed as a Tolkien ripoff. It is definitely that, although there are the seeds of some originality present as well. The biggest problem is that the things it borrows from Tolkien, it robs of significance. When the Gandalf-like character apparently falls to his death, only to reappear later, there's a prosaic explanation for what happened to him. There's no real dramatic tension established by this. Most of the Tolkienesque elements are like that. I think most readers and critics would be quite forgiving of a book that borrowed heavily from Tolkien if it did so artfully. I am undecided as to whether I want to dip into any of the later books in this world and see how Brooks developed as a writer. The first one is not a keeper, though; it's on my giveaway pile.

I wrote a while back about Iain M. Banks and his novel Matter. I vowed to try another of his books, and so I did: I read The Algebraist. That book was notably better, enough so that I'll consider reading more Banks in the near future. It still suffers a bit from the author's apparent propensity for setting up very interesting characters and then forgetting about them until he finally gets around to killing them off without much fanfare at the end of the book.

I'm partway through The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds. This is a gothic police procedural set in the Revelation Space universe, and the nice thing about it is that in following the detective format, the storyline is stripped down and much tighter and shorter. I'm a big fan of Reynolds' sprawling space operas, but it is nice to have a shorter read. I haven't finished it, but I imagine this would make an excellent introduction to the Revelation Space books, and I'm looking forward to more by Reynolds.

On my pile: Saturn's Children by Charles Stross, and John Scalzi's The Last Colony.