NAMM: Visionary Instruments

Oakland-based Visionary Instruments presented their new guitar-based MIDI controller at NAMM. Guitar-controllers are nothing new, but one is quite advanced, going beyond simple conversion of basic guitar fingering to include a wide variety of modern controls, including accelerometers and pressure sensitive pads in addition to an array of knobs, sliders and buttons.

Here we see Moldover demonstrating the basic version of the guitar. (We have reviewed Moldover’s performances in San Francisco in past articles.) You can see a little bit of the guitar in action in this video:

There was also a model with twelve strings and a more traditional finish. That one also had a built-in “e-bow”, which was a nice feature.

In addition to the controller, Visionary Instruments makes “video guitars” with embedded video screens. The main model has a stylized, curving shape, but I particularly liked this metallic retro model:

For those who look at such details, the video is Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap.

In addition to the quality of the instruments, it nice to see an innovative company from the Bay Area (and Oakland in particular) represented here.

NAMM: MIDI at 30

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), the protocol that we use to connect musical instruments together, has officially been around for 30 years now, and the occasion was being marked with an exhibit at NAMM:

There were some of the earliest instruments as well as those demonstrating how it is being used today. The Yamaha Disklavier series was quite prominent, as an instrument that is both acoustic and a MIDI device at the same time. There was also the Prophet 600, a forerunner to the Prophet 12 we reviewed yesterday and the first commercially available instrument to implement MIDI.

In the middle, between “1983” and “2013”, were a few of the devices I remember from the mid-1980s.

I had a Yamaha box (a sequencer) with the same beveled shape as the TX7 pictured here. And I was quite interested in the Atari ST computer, though was never able to get one. Both devices seem quite primitive today. Unlike the analog synthesizers that we have been reviewing, earlier digital devices don’t seem to hold up as well. Nonetheless, the MIDI protocol itself is still vital for much electronic music-making, despite its well-documented limitations in speed and resolution.

IK Multimedia iRig MIDI and iRig Cast (Good for OWS?)

IK Multimedia has introduced a few new items in their iRig line. These are appealing for those of us who use “i-Thingies” (i.e., iPhone and iPad).

The iRig Cast is a tiny microphone. You can see the scale compared to the kitty in the above picture. For those who have used the Square card reader for iOS, it’s about the same size and shape. IK Multimedia suggests that this would be a device well suited for voice recordings, podcasting, interviews and such. So I am thinking this would be a useful accessory for those who are doing live streams from Occupy Wall Street protests!

The microphone will join the already available iRig MIDI interface.

The iRig in some ways seems better than a dock for live performance, particularly if one wants to pick up the iPad and move it around (though that is not what was being done in the demos). It is bidirectional and thus will be useful both for use as a controller (the primary direction in the live performance situation) and as a synthesizer receiving control data from DAW (in a studio setting).

Preparing for tonight's performance: Cats, Rehearsal and Software

First, I have to remind myself to ABC: Always Bring a Camera. I missed several photo opportunities before and during our rehearsal in San Francisco on Wednesday. There were some great shots on the new Central Freeway terminal ramp. And then the “kitty moments” during the rehearsal with Polly Moller and John Moreira. I did snap this cell-phone pic of John Moreira's cat Crescenda rolling around among our cue sheets and amps. She and her fellow cat Pearl joined us several times during the rehearsal, but Crescenda's little act stole the show.

Musically, I had a minimal setup – a subset of what brought to the Skonkathon two weeks ago – just the MacBook, the E-MU 0202 | USB and a MIDI keyboard. The Mac was running the new script-based Open Sound World to process live guitar input. The processing worked quite well, I think, with several wavetables, ring modulation, and a rather nasty little FM algorithm (it's a lot like those distortion-modulation “sound mangler” pedals). Both the guitar and processing needed to fit within pieces with voice, flute and existing electronic material.

UPDATE: You can read Polly's account of the rehearsal and Crescenda here.

The one concern was the frequent OSW crashes – it wasn't a huge problem during the rehearsal because the system can reset itself very quickly (far more quickly than the older UI-centric version), with only a few seconds of dead time. But still, that's not cool. I suspected something related to the MIDI input handling. Fortunately, last night I was able to track down the crashes last night. They were indeed in the MIDI handling, some issues exposed by the multi-processing with the Core2 Duo. Easily found and fixed by playing the patch with a lot of MIDI control, with the laptop and keyboard on the coffee table. Actually, I made some interesting lo-fi music with the built-in mic and speaker and feedback while testing and debugging. This will probably form the basis of my next piece.

Warped Cannon

Courtesy of fellow experimental musician Gino Robair, we have the “Warped Cannon” page, which features the Pachelbel's Canon in a wide variety of tunings. The MIDI files on the site present the canon performed not in variants of the traditional just and equal-tempered scales, but several rather odd tunings as well. Of particular interest to me was the the Bohlen-Pierce variation, using the Bohlen-Pierce tuning that I have discussed in previous posts. While some readers/listeners may find this variation a little difficult to listen to, and even disturbing when contrasted with the original, I actually find it quite inspiring. I am always interested to hear pieces done in this tuning ahead any future BP compositions of my own.