Can computers compose?

Is the art of songwriting about to be de-sensitised..?

The Sound Blog

This Thursday, my latest BBC Radio 4 documentary, Can Computers Write Shakespeare is broadcast. The programme asks whether computers can ever be truly creative, using sculpture, music and poetry as examples.

As a teenager, I wrote a computer program that composed ragtime music using simple probability tables, i.e. if the current note is an A what is the probability the next note is B,C, D etc. The notes were selected by rolling a dice. I then superimposed the structure and rhythms of ragtime to these melodies. This produced music that had the jaunty lilt of ragtime, but it wasn’t something you’d listen to for very long because it didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

The Radio 4 documentary focuses on a much better computer composing system, IAMUS (‘Other computer composers are available’). The video below shows the world premiere of Adsum, a piece entirely composed and orchestrated by the machine.

As you can…

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Sonodyne

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Sonodyne 100AK – I highly recommend this bit of equipment.

Pro-audio equipment designed in India is yet to break into the Western market. However, I think Sonodyne speakers may be the thing to change this. Having bought two SM 100AK monitors from Absolute Music in August, I am a big fan – they sound amazing.

The company is engineering and research lead, based at a factory in Kolkata, launched in the 1960s by Ashoke Mukherjee. Providing both professional and consumer audio solutions, they have now started distributing farther afield than just India.. to places such as America and the UK. I was probably one of the first UK buyers.

The cabinets are made out of die-cast aluminium, with limited cabinet-induced resonance and non-parallel interior design, which eliminates the effect of standing waves. The edges of the cabinet are rounded to reduce edge diffraction and turbulence.

The low frequency response is punchy and sounds amazing for the size of the 6.5 inch speaker, but for anything below 60 cycles, a subwoofer will be needed for accurate reproduction- which actually works really well in a 2.1 system. Then there is a very smooth transition between the woofer and the tweeter, even in the nearfield. The high end has beautiful precision for such a small amplifier of 40W.

With top quality safety measures (over current and over heat protection, transient filtering and subsonic filtering), Sonodyne have included everything to the best standard for this price range. A really good investment!

Home Recording

Making mistakes is the way that we learn.

Since I was 13, I have discovered some dark sides to the industry that I work in. There are some people out there who just want money or fame or both.. and they don’t think twice about hurting somebody to get that.

My way of avoiding these people is to do things myself. The majority of my material I have put together myself in my make-shift home studio, which consists of; an Imac, Logic Pro 9, a digital 4-channel Peavey desk, Sonodyne Monitors (got these very cheap because they are not a big make, but the frequency response is beautiful), a Neumann condenser, Nord Piano 2 and my voice. With my next student loan payment I’m investing in a Nord Drum 2….cannot wait! Who cares if I can’t go out for a month.

With this kit I have made a bunch of songs, all with slightly different vibes as I like to experiment. Have a listen:

Brain (Banks cover)

Bedshaped (Keane cover)

Disgraceful (Original song)

There are more on my SoundCloud , please explore.

So the main reason I stick to my room nowadays is because of a bad experience I had, left me feeling like I lost a lot. I won’t go into arduous details. Summer 2013. I thought I knew so much about the music industry; gigging, recording studios etc etc, but in fact I was naive – I was only 19 and had a very good knowledge of the way things work, but I allowed myself to get played by a producer who wanted money money mon£y. Although what he did was illegal and I had lawyers at hand to take this to court, I’m also a full time student so the stress of everything just wasn’t worth it. However tempting it is to name names, I won’t because (unlike him) I am bigger than that. 🙂

Anyway, I now work with two guys who make music for a passion – Sugar House – and are very very very good at it. I count myself lucky to have made that mistake last summer, because otherwise I may still be stuck with that average producer/thief! I’ve just made an EP with them which will be out in summer. I am not a producer really, so when I want things doing professionally I take my songs to Sugar House. Otherwise (for demos) my home studio does nicely.

Here’s some songs I’ve made with Sugar House:

Tear It Up

In Your Head

Just be careful who you give your money to..don’t trust anybody fully (my only exception to this rule is my parents)..but if you’re stubborn like me, you may have to learn this kind of lesson the hard way.

 

Since originally posting this blog, the producer in question here has found it and then ordered me to delete it. They proceeded to send insulting personal messages, even though they still have not returned £800 of my money and are withholding the music we arranged in sessions over a 6 week period.  As a professional in the music business, I believe I have a right to briefly blog about my experience. This was not a personal attack, I did not name them, as I did not want to be associated with them or cause unnecessary drama…only to warn other musicians of the darker sides of the industry.

We Are Legion

Last weekend I was browsing through Netflix. I always end up at the documentary section because I genuinely enjoy watching that stuff over anything else, but I really didn’t expect to find what I did. ‘We Are Legion’ it was titled, something about hacking and computer nerds so I flicked it on.

It may have been I was born a too late, or my school was such a bubble it never reached me, but how have I never heard of the organisation ‘Anonymous’. They started as a small group of internet ‘nerds’ on 4chan, sharing jokes, pictures and comments anonymously (social media these days–nothing is anonymous) and did loads of trolling. But that was kinda the point of 4chan.

Things started to get political. They took down a Neo-Nazi guy who was preaching illegally. They had massive internet and public protests against Scientology. (If you don’t know, people from Scientology stalk and threaten and harass people who speak out against their faith). Pretty rapidly, they gained members all over the world. They went on to do amazing things… when the Egyptian dictatorship cut all internet access to Egyptian residents, Anonymous worked with Telecomex over Twitter to give them a dial up connection. This enabled the people to organise protests and lead to the overthrow of the corrupt government.

They basically have total internet dominance and if they want to take something down they do it. If somebody is being manipulative or deceitful, they let the world know. If someone tries to mess with them….they send thousands of pizzas to their house, call them 24/7, refresh their webpage millions of times until it crashes.. and wipe their iPad.

So they have all this power and they could abuse it… I mean, Anonymous do have laughs over what they do. The pizza prank is pretty hilarious. But the point is that they use their intelligence to do good.

A spin-off group, ‘Lulsec’, however, had another approach. They crashed sites if they simply didn’t agree with the opinion being put across. This is kind of contradictory and limits freedom of speech, which was the whole reason they set up in the first place. Lulsec are an example of where this internet power has been abused and used irresponsibly. It also contributes to the bad stigma against other communities that are doing good stuff online, like Anonymous.

When PayPal and MasterCard withdrew their services from the WikiLeaks site, no more donations could be made. However, their services are still available on Neo-Nazi sites. Even though the subject of Julian Assange is controversial and should all documents be shared with the public? It’s debatable, but that’s not the point. Paypal and Mastercard were being hypocrites. Anonymous took action…….their members all over the world helped crash the PayPal and MasterCard websites. Unfortunately, the government did not like this and are trying to send some of those activists to prison. I see this as an online protest. Enormous numbers of people coming together to take down a site for a very valid reason. Not everybody agrees of course, but that’s the point of a protest – some are for, some are against.

Is the government afraid that maybe they aren’t the most powerful force in the world? Is this why they’re trying to control it by arresting a few activists..? Welcome to the world of the internet…it’s the future. They’ll soon realise they can’t keep putting away people that they don’t like because more will rise up.

Follow Anonymous on Twitter for news updates 🙂 @YourAnonNews

“We do not forgive, we do not forget”

The Best Vocal Microphone

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Neumann KMS 105

This microphone has been everywhere with me. We have gone to gigs, festivals and studios from Dorset to Manchester, providing a connection between my songs and peoples ears. I can safely say this microphone has made this connection a far more pleasant one than if I’d been singing through a Shure SM58.

Don’t get me wrong, the SM58 is a high quality standard vocal microphone, reasonably priced with a great frequency response and it’s also durable. However, the sound through this Neumann is just enhanced in so many ways and I’m not ever looking back.

There are many fantastic recording condensers out there, but I feel like when it comes to live performance, most people just stick to what they know (SM58) or what everybody else uses. Fair enough; I used to do the same until last summer. A purchase from Absolute Music (Poole)…where I go to get most of my equipment.

So down to the techy stuff. The mic weighs about 350g and is 48X180mm in size, within a smart, padded, hard wearing nylon case. Top protection for the slim, metal bodied beauty inside. This metal body reduces handling noise and the thick metal grating acts as a very effective pop-shield (I haaate pop-ing so I liked this feature very much). The shield can conveniently be screwed off for cleaning.

The frequency response is ideallic – almost totally flat – designed for close miking (5cm from the source is perfect). However, when the distance is increased, the low-frequency response falls smoothly below 200Hz. There is a high peak at 12kHz, which brings out clarity and vocal prescence – a quality I noticed straight away.

Neumann have designed a well-defined supercardiod polar response, with very little frequency variation. The response is broad and smooth. Additionally, the mic provides sound rejection from the rear board of over 15dB over the entire frequency response (20Hz-20kHz), providing resistance to feedback on stage. The dynamic capability is incredible, with a low noise rating of 18dBA and the ability to deal with peak sound pressure levels of up to 150dB!

It’s clear to see that the engineering side of the microphone excels and of course it sounds fantastic – another stunning creation from Neumann.

If it’s not clear already..I am a big fan. Cannot recommend it enough.

Ref https://www.soundonsound.com/sos/feb01/articles/neumannkms105.htm

Do it yourself and get the best result :)

When I was 17, at school, I sung a few of my own songs in a concert. I really wanted to capture this, so beforehand I set up the PA system and a recording system.. You can probably see the MOTU 828MK3 sound card and Mac behind the piano, tactically placed..  I wasn’t sure if the result would work particularly well, but I did things step by step and the result genuinely amazed me! It worked. And it wasn’t bad at all.

This lead to more recording work at school. I had the honour of recording Duncan Honeybourne, an incredible classical pianist, in his trio.

Thank you to Jordan Lees and Angus Gibson who did the filming – very talented guys.