furia furialog · Every Noise at Once · New Particles · The War Against Silence · Aedliga (songs) · photography · other things
13 February 2006 to 25 January 2006
The NIN rebuild was done entirely in GarageBand, starting from Trent's files and using only cut/copy/paste/move, pitch-shifting and a little extra effects-processing.  

GarageBand is sleek, but barely adequate for even this crude project. Its current fatal limitation for my own music is that it doesn't do any kind of MIDI out, and thus can't drive external MIDI devices. It's cool that it has its own software instruments, but they're toy sounds compared to my Korg Triton, which I have no interest in reducing to a glorified keyboard controller.  

I unloaded a lot of my old random bits of music gear in the big object-purge when Beth moved in, so my setup is now pretty simple: the Triton, a Tascam 788 hard-drive recorder, a guitar, a big guitar multi-effects board, a fretless bass, some microphones, and a pair of Mackie powered monitors. I didn't use the guitar or bass on the new song, so everything other than my voice came from the Triton.  

There are five different loops on the drum track, mostly played by hand and then touched up in the event editor. I initially played the piano riff by hand, but couldn't get it to be legato enough, so I ended up transcribing it and then recreating it note by note in step-record. The Triton has a great dual-programmable arpeggiator, so for the burbly bass-line I step-recorded a custom arpeggiator pattern and then played the trigger notes in real-time. Or, more precisely, I first tried to play this on my real bass, but it made my hand bleed, so I slowed down what I was doing and then recreated an even faster version in the arpeggiator. I think everything else I just played by hand, the most complicated bit being some weird ghost noises in the quiet parts that required the ribbon controller and joystick. Another advantage to sequencing this stuff instead of recording it as audio, obviously, is that you can do all the punching in and out you want without any risk of stop/start artifacts, which saves a lot of time in a song like this where most of the individual parts come in and out a lot. All the mixing and effects-processing for the instrument parts were done in the Triton, too. I think in the end I used nine sequencer tracks and nine different synth programs, but I'm not sure what maximum note-polyphony I hit at any one moment.  

All the Triton stuff was originally done with internal sync, to cut down on button-pushing, but for the vocals the Triton was then slaved to external MIDI sync from the 788. The switch could have been essentially transparent, except that I had insisted on using one drum-loop in 7/4, so I had to recreate a matching tempo-map on the 788.  

I then did vocal takes ad nauseam on the 788, switching among several recorder tracks to compare takes. I tried some "harmony" vocals, too, which sounded fabulously terrible, so in the end stuck to a single vocal track, from a single continuous take. The 788 has two multi-effects units of its own, so all the vocal processing was done there: EQ, compression, de-essing, some chorus, a little reverb. The Triton was slaved to the 788 all the way to the final mixdown, so the instrument parts didn't go through any extra generations, and more significantly, remained in fully-editable sequence form even after the vocals were recorded.  

The combination of the storm and Beth being away resulted in my violating one cardinal rule of recording in this process. When I went to do the vocals I realized that I'd purged not only my one bedraggled pair of closed-ear headphones, but all my 1/4"-to-1/8" headphone adapters, and thus I couldn't even use my iPod earbuds for monitoring. So I did the vocals with the music actually playing in the room, me facing towards the monitors and the microphone facing away. The directional pattern of the microphone (an Audio-Technica Midnight Blues) turns out to be excellent, and produced almost no audible bleed-through even when soloing the vocal track.  

Mastered to CD-R on the 788, trimmed and normalized in Sound Studio on the Mac, converted to mp3 in iTunes.  

There's not much else to say about the compositional process, such as it was. I did most of the drums first, including a little bit of diagramming on paper and a bunch of just pounding on keys. Once I had the loops I went back to paper to figure out a tentative song-structure, sequenced that, and then fiddled with it until it seemed workable. The deepest original philosophical premise for the music was that it be 3:20 long, which I revised to 2:57 because one section felt tedious and I couldn't think of a way to fix it. The rest of the instruments were overlaid on the drums one at a time, with a fairly small amount of iteration since there aren't actually that many places in the song where there's a lot going on at once.  

For the vocals I started with nonsense lyrics to work out the melody and meter. Possibly I ended up with some nonsense lyrics in the finished piece, too, but at least they're different than the nonsense lyrics I began with. Sometimes I already have a story in mind before writing anything, but in this case all I had was one word ("Tantalizer"), so it took several drafts before anything even vaguely coherent materialized, and although I know what I think the thing ended up being about, I can't really explain why it ended up being about that.  

I always think I could get better melodies if I figured them out on the keyboard instead of just improvising them by singing, but when I try to do that I come up with notes I want to sing but can't, which is unhelpful. Some vocal lessons would increase my options, but then so would virtually any kind of music training, production discipline, writing forethought, etc. But as the last long silence testifies, I have a much bigger problem finding the time and emotional space to make any music, and it's pointless to worry about how bad your music is when you aren't making it.
There's little better for artistic perspective than seeing the internal mechanics of somebody else's creativity. The next thing on my music list after writing a new song myself was playing with the files Trent Reznor put up in GarageBand format a really long time ago.  

After a few hours of that, I don't feel quite so sheepish about "The Foreverists". I have no easy way of getting the multi-track sources out of my Triton and 788, so you'll have to trust me that piece by piece there's at least as much to my song as Trent's. It would be wildly foolish to judge a song by its soloed tracks, of course, and the ability to put simple pieces together evocatively is much different than the ability to simply stack them up. But as snowbound amusements go, smashing things apart and stacking up the bits to look like different monsters isn't bad.  

Will You Stay (rebuilt by glenn mcdonald from Nine Inch Nails' "The Hand That Feeds") (1.1M mp3)
OK, apparently the necessary conditions for me to make music are that Bethany is going to be away on Valentine's Day, and I am snowed in.  

This one probably won't qualify as a valentine. I think it's a new low for me in compositional sophistication (when real composers talk about the "key of D", they don't mean just the note D), and the lyrics came out in some bizarre evangelical earnestness I won't bother trying to justify. The original idea was to write a dance track called "The Tantalizer", for reasons that now escape me. As usual, my attempt to transcribe the shreds of music in my head into audible form were a laughable failure, and this sounds absolutely nothing like what I began by humming. But the cats and I have been dancing around to it, and we got through the recording without them eating any of my equipment, or me dropping any of it on them, so I'm declaring moral victory.  

Anyway: The Foreverists.
Moki is of the strong opinion that Winged Migration is the greatest movie of all time.  

To be entirely fair, Moki is rather young, and as far as I know the only other movies he has ever seen are The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Hellboy, Rashomon, Spy Kids, Dinner Rush, Kind Hearts and Coronets, No Such Thing, Turn and Picnic. I'm not sure I agree that Winged Migration is clearly the best of these, but it's certainly in the top five. Plus, I myself thought the greatest movie of all time was Capricorn One until a rather embarrassingly older age.  

Luna tends to keep her opinions to herself, but she wandered off more than once during Hellboy, and seemed comparatively intent on Kind Hearts and Coronets, so in this as in many other things she shows signs of a quiet classicism.
This morning I turned in my badge, and I'm now neither required to turn up at the office nor, indeed, allowed to. Barring wholly unanticipated developments on Monday, this will be the first time in my entire working life that I've had more than a long weekend between one job and the next.  

I do not know what I will do next. I do not know what I want to do, maybe not even the shape of it. Obviously I have some lists to make, starting with the list of lists.  

But not yet. Tonight I am adrift. Tonight I have been released from abandoned loyalties and memories of good work long ago. Time to rest.  

And then time to start over.
My yearly statistical service to the music-critic community is up, with numbers just re-done this morning to take into account some corrections in the source data.
Here's how bad the spam problem has become: my kittens are getting spam.
Here is my favorite current example of a good bad internet business idea. My wife and I have a number of friends with whom we often get together for variously collaborative dinners in various permutations of availability. Nearly everyone has some kind of eating preference, and several of our friends have menu-changing physical or moral constraints like wheat allergies, lactose intolerance and levels of vegetarianism. Keeping track of all the personal variables and their interactions is hardly impossible, but neither is it trivial.  

DinnerPeace, then, would be a web-based eating-constraint resolution service. Each participant specifies their own food rules, the dinner's host selects the guests for a specific event, and the service automatically combines the guests' needs to produce a composite constraint profile for the evening's menu.  

Later versions might add invitations, recipe-database integration ("I've got these eight people, a lot of spinach, and a good sale on Alaskan salmon; give me some suggestions."), pre-event/potluck planning discussions, post-event notes and recipe-sharing, and historical context ("Oh, and I don't want to make anything I already made for any of these people before.").  

As a stand-alone business this is a fairly dismal idea. Users won't be willing to pay much, if anything, for what is at best an appealing minor convenience. Food-related advertisers might be interested, but the only ones really likely to benefit would be grocers local to the people preparing dishes, and there probably won't be a critical mass of participants in any given locality, soon or ever.  

More significantly, though, an independent service is simply the wrong model for the idea. It requires the builder to provide and maintain all the framework of a generic social service (notably member- and discussion-management), and requires the users to join another thing, keep track of another set of credentials, and of course provide a bunch of information whose privacy they have to consider, and which is unlikely to be reusable in any other parallel or future venue.  

The biggest jump-start for building little good ideas like this would be a pre-existing public infrastructure for distributed identity management, with portable authentication, ratification of trust, communication uniqueness (that is, your new managed identity is sufficient contact information for IM, email, etc.), arbitrarily extensible personal profiles, integrated personal past-and-future calendar-handling and straightforward control over what information is exposed to whom. This needs to be at least as easy and ubiquitous as email is already. In the new world, in fact, this (and not just email) needs to be the new baseline for online presence, in the same way that the baseline for telephone presence grew from home-phone to home-phone+answering-machine to home-phone+remote-messaging to cellular.  

This new baseline identity system would get DinnerPeace and everything like it (including much bigger things with ultimately the same structure) out of the commodity headaches of name arbitration, password resetting, access control, scheduling, elemental data-storage, history, recovery, etc., and leave each inventor to put all their work into their idea's unique characteristics, which in the case of DinnerPeace are really only a reference schema and vocabulary for the representation of a person's eating constraints, and the associated reconciliation logic for sets of these constraints and their histories.  

The business problem may be a little harder than the technical problem, but it is of the same shape. Along with the new identity system must come a distributed microcommerce system of which ad-click commissions are only the distant ancestor, their replacement being much closer to a pervasive method of tracking and apportioning credit for all the influences on each spending event, including the new possibility of tipping as a networked and optionally aggregated act.  

Thus DinnerPeace, and all the other little pieces of a smarter new world, mostly shouldn't need "business plans" in the old sense, nor investors or funding or stock or even companies. They shoud live or die or evolve based on their usefulness, and profit or not based on how much commerce they touch. DinnerPeace should generate one little trickle of money from how it affects what its users buy, another from its users' direct gratitude, and a third from its share of its users' collective appreciation of all such services they employ. This money flows in outgoing trickles, in turn, to the contributors to the service's logic.  

Probably the trickles from one idea usually don't add up to a living for even one person, let alone several, but then most of the little ideas from which they flow are not life's works, either. They are inspirations of moments, and the work of hours or days. The new world is improved by little touches, and rewards them with little gifts. And if it becomes less compelling to dream of retiring on windfalls of luck or greed, then maybe it will become easier to live by caring.
[Postscript to Content and Presentation Are 3...]  

Arguably the most fundamental specific semantic failing in the current HTML approach to information communication is that it does not effectively distinguish between a) content unique to the individual information node represented by the page URL, and b) navigation and context appearing on the same web page but belonging conceptually to a higher containing node. Thus, most obviously, indexers have no way to reliably attribute text-matches or links to the correct node. Less obviously, perhaps, this makes it difficult for reading software to easily recognize that two URLs present the same content in different contexts, which is currently the shape of quite a bit of content abuse, or different content in the same context, which at this point is probably the shape of most legitimate web information. The real solution still lies in separating content structure and presentation structure, but a microformat-style approach might help a lot in the interim.  

PPS: There is also currently no good method for separating the content and context components of a URL, either, meaning there is often no user-visible URI for the content node itself. This may be moot most of the time in the new world, since content will either have a context imposed upon it or will invoke its own default context. But standardizing URL formats in the short-term may be even harder than standardizing class-based pseudo-semantics...
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