Friday, May 29, 2009

Is it the end of the Loudness War?

We all know the scenario... you are at home, relaxing, watching TV (for those that haven't yet grated to the net) and relaxing watching your program then click the ads come on and you're diving for the remote to turn down the, all of sudden, screamingly loud TV. Ads can be perceived to up to 10dB louder than normal program material meaning they can sound over twice as loud.

Well the end may be in sight. The Communications Research Centre in Canada (CRC) loudness meter has been accepted as the international standard. There is a very good article on the website about the reason behind varying loudness of program material. It also details the research carried out to come up with an agreed standard for subjective loudness metering. Based on the data the CRC designed their own loudness meter and tested it against other loudness meters already in existence.

According to the report what made the finding so surprising was that Soulodre's meter was so simple. "While some of the meters modeled the complex interactions between sound waves, the ear and the brain, Soulodre's algorithm filtered out low frequencies from the loudness calculation and averaged the power of what was left."

"What it means," says Thibault (manager at CRC), "is that when you're adjusting the volume on the TV your ear acts as a high-pass filter: it's less sensitive to the low frequency sounds. Because your ear is more sensitive to the higher frequencies, especially those between 100 Hz and 8 kHz - the dominant frequencies in human speech - you base your volume calculation on the loudness of these higher frequencies."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Another modular drum machine

"This is a similar patch, but with two VCAs. One with noise input and the other with oscillating bandpass with noise. The hi hat sound reacts to the clock output and the drum to the gate output." - thanks to Pehr81

About a minute in he starts to get lovely rolls and triplets on the noise hats. More vids if you follow the YouTube link. A gorgeous demo of the Klee Sequencer making a dark brooding drone.

granular synthesis in PureData

"another 'classic': granular synthesis in Pd.

You can get the patch here:

Unzip both GRAINS.pd and GRAINREADER.pd into the same directory and load GRIANS.pd.
have fun :)" - thanks to tim167

Maybe watching Curtis Raods in the last post made you want to give granualar synthesis a go. You can download both Pure Data (Pd) and "Theory & Technique of Electronic Music" for free and start messing about with the patches from the links above.

If you prefer VST's maybe have a look at KTgranulator. It's not much to look at but it sounds great and it has a lot of flexibility. There's also a good article over on electronic music, a review of the excellent but expensive crusherX-Studio! At the end of the post is a fairly long list of places where you can get hold of decent granular synths for free.

The Granular Synthesis of Curtis Roads 3 part Vid

Curtis Roads talking about his music, how he started in synthesis and about his development of granular/particle synthesis. Curtis Roads is well known for his work in granular and particle synthesis. He has published two books, the first, considered to be the bible of computer music, is appropriately called The Computer Music Tutorial and the second is the definitive text on the history, techniques and development of Microsound.

The rest of the interviews can be found at VBS.TV via sonicstate.

When he talked about supporting for Autechre I couldn't help thinking about Gantz Graf.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A little random walks this way!

I always like hearing demos of synth modules so I thought I'd post a few of my first goes with the Doepfer A-149-1. The Doepfer A-149-1 is a clone of the middle part from the Buchla 266 Source Of Uncertainty module. With this module I was expecting lots of random atonal plinky plonkiness. I read the description of the module on the Doepfer website which, for me, was a clear as mud. 

The first demo is just that. Randomly plugging in cables trying to make the thing do something weird.  It's a single triangle going through a Frequenstiener with Bit Modification from the A-189-1. Pitch, Filter and clock randomness thank to the A-149. There's a crossfade in the middle of the demo.

I went looking for more info. Found a great post by Peter Grenader explaining the module in friendlier language. For the second demo I tried something based on his description of the module. I used both random outputs to drive 2 oscillators. Both random outputs are synced. Meaning that one generates random octaves and the other generates random semitones within that octave. I ran the semitone one through a quantizer so as I could force the semitones into major  or minor scales. Instead of atonal or chromatic random scales you get nice harmonic randomness. 

For the third patch I used the Allen Strange patch reprinted in Doepferspdf manual. I changed it a little. Instead of using an Squarewave LFO as the input clock to the A-149-1 I used a Cwejman oscillator with a really thin pulse wave . This seems to give much cleaner random gate outputs. A lot better for driving synced envelopes. I start at audiorate (grungy oddly harmonic distortion) and work my way down to slower clock rates. The clock rate is slightly randomized and produces a little flurry of notes every so often. The voltage that drives the flurry of notes also drives the filter you'll hear it at the end.

PS. Really have to get a new player. That one from Imeem is really ugly now. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"I Bring You The Future" - BrainJacking

Brainjacking, a more Gibsonesque name for neuroimaging, is where you put on one of those rubber brain hats and analyse EEG readouts to tell what's going on inside your noodle. There has been a lot of post on various blogs about brain and sound related issues. There seems to be a greater interest in what's going inside the mind when listening. Books like Oliver Sacks "Musicophilia" or David Levitins "This Is Your Brain On Music" have possibly sparked a general interest in studies of the brain and sound/music. More awareness of people with synaethesia or amusia or other unusual wiring's of the auditory mind underscore the fact that, much like beauty, music is in the ear of the beholder.

So what has this to do with synths and all things R2D2.  Well, scientists from Maastricht University have developed a method to look into the brain of a person and read out who has spoken to him or her and what was said. 1 "We have [created] a sort of speech-recognition device which is completely based on the brain activity of the listener," explained Elia Formisano of Maastricht University, who led the group. 2 Well that's pretty cool. They can literally read your mind and get a computer to speak it back. Brain voice recognition and speech synthesis all in one. 

Not only that, we have new breakthroughs in laser controlled humans. Flash's of light can be used to trigger specific sets of neurons in the brain. "The beauty of this optogenetic technique is its specificity. By using a combination of lasers and genetic engineering, scientists can control, to the millisecond, the firing of a specific class of neurons, allowing them to pinpoint problematic cells and circuits while leaving innocent bystanders alone, thus minimizing potential side effects." While of course this is all for medicinal purposes it does make me wonder if you could fire off the parts of the brain for music, rhythm, speech etc...

In my rambling sci-fi addled mind I put the two studies together and thought of people storing their musical brain patterning to computer and then allowing others to laser that track directly to their brains. Musicians will be those who can most coherently keep a piece of music directly in focus for a sustained period of time... or enough time for the rubber brain hat to do its thing.

Of course I couldn't end the post without a bit of cynicism (wouldn't be much of a sci-fi story without the dystopia at the end). Google, among others, are using brainscanning techniques to see if they can design better marketing campaigns. 1 Other groups, such as Neuro Focus, are going whole hog into "Neuro-Marketing" analysing the brains response to an advertisment, measuring levels of attentiveness, emotional engagement, response to repeat viewing. 2 Are the paranoiacs right... is it finally time to start wearing tinfoil hats?