Wednesday, December 21, 2011

fluid dynamics, video

fluid dynamics is the final video project of the video theory/production course I took this semester. It is an expansion of a video sketch I posted previously.

This piece is very process-heavy in both the video and audio portions, but I think they are very unified because of it. The most interesting criticism I received was that it was a bit too repetitive visually. I found this interesting because musicians use repetition all the time. We love repetition. We live repetition. So the comment showed how different the media of video and music are from each other. I had to point out that there are only six chords in the whole piece...

Those chords, by the way, are stolen from my piano piece Late Frost. When I hear this piece I don't think about the other one at all, which I suppose means that I did some successful recycling.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Interiors, for flute and guitar

As I kill time waiting to go to my composition jury, I figured I may as well post a blog about one of the pieces I'm presenting. It is called "Interiors" and is written for flute and guitar.

The notes are based on the frequencies of the harmonic series, based on E2 and D3, the 6th and 4th strings of the guitar. The guitar part is almost completely made of natural harmonics, played on different strings. This shows the out-of-tuneness of equal temperament, and makes for some interesting wobbly effects. The flute part is mostly "normal" though it gets a few harmonics as well.

My mode of composition this year has been fairly minimal, in the sense of economy of material. I have also been interested in spectral techniques, so this and the piano piece I'm currently writing are based on the harmonic series. Thus, I'm leaning ever more *gasp* tonal.


mp3 reading

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tether 2.1 performance

We went down to Florida International University last week for the FEASt (Florida Electroacoustic Student) Festival. It was a nice chance to perform a slightly improved version of Tether. Fixed the program on Josh's unit and improved our performance a little bit. Several people mentioned that version 2.0 was a bit "sterile," focusing too much on space and too little on interaction. We got a better balance this time.

Of course, one of Josh's speakers wasn't working in rehearsal so we had to suss that out, then one of mine stopped working just before the performance! But, overall it worked and we were happy with the progress.

Also: had some fun adventures going to a Spanish-only bar (what are the Irish guy and Asian guy doing here?) and nearly running out of gas in the Everglades.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tether v.2 performance

Last Friday Josh Cajinarobleto and I presented Tether on Unbalanced Connection 48 at UF. The week leading up to the performance, we spent about 30 some-odd hours constructing and tweaking the units.

We are happy with the look of the units and the performance overall, but a few things need more tweaking. For one, I couldn't upload the final version of the Arduino program onto Josh's Arduino. Something to do with "avrdude" - couldn't find a simple answer on that one so I'll need to work on it. Also, the gears inside the units weren't quite aligned, so the cables would get a little stuck every once in awhile. So we held onto the units to give them some extra force against the gears - but we were hoping to do this 'hands-free.'

We'll be performing this again in Miami in 2 weeks so hopefully we can get a few kinks worked out (I doubt all of them!).

Here's a video. I apologize for the sound quality (applause at beginning and end will be much louder than the performance). This is taken from the camera mic, at the back of the hall. Also, we have a large, loud AC system and no noise reduction seemed to help without adding major swishiness.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Improv with Tim Kaiser

Had a good time at the Laboratory Music #4 Improv Fest last weekend. I was paired up with Tim Kaiser, who was touring from Minnesota. Tim's day job is making cool instruments - here's a link to a Make Magazine video profile of Tim.

I think we gelled pretty well. These improvisations were limited to 9 minutes, hence the buzzer at the very end.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Grad Student Composer

Here is my third video sketch:

I decided to be a little lighthearted and less abstract on this one. It is a glimpse into my workspace - i.e. my life. Grading some theory tests, taking notes on a dissertation about Adorno, writing a piece for flute and guitar, programming an Arduino and soldering components for Tether. Also, making copious amounts of coffee and trying to destress by jamming on the piano.

I recently solved a snag in Tether, so I'm happy about that, and we're starting to get things together. Still hoping to perform it at UF on Oct. 28, but if that fails I applied to a student festival in Miami in November we may be able to do.

Flute and guitar piece is done. I am Lilyponding - most of it was pretty quick but the hairpins and guitar fingerings keep interfering - I want the dynamics to consistently be below, but alas, I have not yet sussed that out. (then again, I only started yesterday!)

Current projects include a paper on Mr. Bungle's "Quote Unquote," a transcription of a Daniel Myer (Haujobb) interview for my prof, yet another video, and getting things set up for our guest performer and guest composer next semester.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

first video sketch

Yesterday, we screened our first "sketches" in video class. The directions for this project asked us to "concentrate on the materiality of color, composition, framing, texture..." rather than using characters and language. We were also to make this all in-camera, without edits (other than pausing the recording, re-recording, etc.).

For the semester, I have a Canon XH A1 checked out. The following video is one of several takes, no edits.

We will be using Final Cut Pro in class, but I was able to capture this video with dvgrab, then add some fades and render it as an Mpeg with Kdenlive (Kdenlive's capture function seems to be buggy - I could control the camera transport from the computer, but not import video. After searching around, I saw that I could just go into the terminal and use dvgrab - so easy. Go Linux!)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

new school year

Ok, I'm nearing the end of the second week of the new school year, and figured I should update a little.

My assistantship is a lot busier this time around. I am a TA for Music Theory 3 - teaching 3 lab sessions a week, plus grading lots of homework and quizzes for 55 students. I managed to work my schedule so that I have Thursdays "off" (aka - time to WORK). I also took over as SCI chapter president, so I'll be in charge of concerts, etc.

Taking a video production/film theory class + a seminar on "dissonance, cacophany, & noise." These are both VERY interesting so far! Finishing up Tether (decided to give up on the soldered board for now since I can't suss out the ground loops I keep getting), and starting to write my flute/guitar piece.

Some sad news: Carla Rees, for whom I wrote "Simoom," lost her flat, her cats, her custom flutes, and many other possessions in the London riots last month. Please consider donating to her recovery fund here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

we're talkin' 'bout (soldering) practice

I made a quick trip up to Atlanta this week, but now I'm back in Gainesville. One more week until fall term begins. This year, my TA position will be assisting with Theory 3. I've heard it's a heavy workload, but I'm looking forward to gaining more teaching experience.

I have been working on soldering together Tether 2.0. The circuits on the last version were done on breadboards, so I wanted something more permanent. I bought some perfboards and started soldering components. This is a learning process to be sure!

I royally messed up the first board - got solder everywhere. A lot of this was due to workspace - I was soldering on some wood on the ground and couldn't really see that well I think. I moved everything to my desk and turned on all the lights (during the day as well!) and could do a lot better. However, the second board doesn't seem to function. I'm not sure why, so I think I'm going to need a voltage meter to diagnose it. Solder wick, clamp or "helping hands," and wire snippers are in my future as well.

Worst comes to worse, we can stick with breadboards, maybe with some hot glue for quality assurance, but I really want to say "I can solder" and not be kind-of lying.

If you want to learn how to solder, I recommend these videos: Perfboard Prototyping and How to Solder.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tether 2.0

Artist Josh Cajinarobleto and I are working on refining our "Tether" project, which you can read about in previous posts (March-April timeframe). It's been really nice to have the luxury of TIME. Each week we seem to have another mini-breakthrough.

In Tether 1.0, we measured distance by having our spools of tether line push a button repeatedly. This worked for moving apart, but we needed to push a switch and hand crank the spool when moving closer together. While the handcranking arguably adds an interesting element to the performance, we are attempting to do without it this time.

During our reseearch, we learned about Constant Force Springs, such as those used in tape measures and other retractable gadgets. Interestingly, it was cheaper to just hack some tape measures instead of buying just the springs. So that is the inner mechanism now. We will be attaching cable to the spring instead of the steel tape.

Later I learned about Rotary Encoders, which are perfect for our purposes, as they are made to count turns in both directions. Due to the mold of the plastic for the tape measure/cable spool, we won't be able to attach the encoders directly to the cable spool, so we will be cutting one side of the spool into a gear shape, and making a separate gear that will drive the encoder. Fortunately, someone made an interactive design program accessible online [here].

Once this hardware is done and I've revamped the program, we'll move on to the enclosure design. Since the contraption is much smaller this time, we're hoping to make the grotesque organs that encase the electronics a little better-fitting and less unwieldy (more wieldy?) We may be working with some dancers in the future, so all these improvements will be helpful - they should just be able to wear them, flip an "on" switch, do their thing, and the electronics will react. More info soon!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer Reading List

To stay true to my six credits worth of research this summer, I have been trying to read a fair amount. Here's what I have read so far:

Selected essays from Audio Culture

I have already read many of these, so I read some I had not yet explored. I think this is a great reference to have on hand, so I plan to buy it eventually.

Miller - Sound Unbound

This was another collection of essays, and I essentially read it cover-to-cover. One of my colleagues requires it for his undergrad Music Tech class, so I wanted to see how it was. I liked it a lot, but I would not require this for that particular class. Most of the essays, while great for those interested in the history of media, are very specialized, and not particularly relevant to a class that attempts to bring undergrads up to speed on Finale and Reason.

Chanan - From Handel to Hendrix

This was a great read. Since G.F. Handel and Jimi Hendrix rented houses next to each other in London (centuries apart of course), Chanan uses that as a jumping off point to examine evolution of composers' role in society, from court servants to businessmen to academics, etc. Many of the anecdotes I had read elsewhere but Chanan has a pleasant writing style and ties together a lot of interesting ideas about economics and politics as well as art.

Tarasti - A Theory of Musical Semiotics

Since we touched on Semiotics in my Analysis class this semester, I wanted to get a better grasp of the subject. I've made it through the first half (and I'll probably need to read it again!). The second half gives thorough analyses of some well-known works, such as the Waldenstein sonata and Pictures at an Exhibition.

Tamm - Brian Eno

This is a pretty short (175 pages) summary of Eno's ideas and processes. It was published in '89 but it covers the music by Eno that people care about! Tamm divides his attention between Eno's rock music, his ambient music, and his collaborations in general. A decent read for Eno fans or fans of process music.

Adams - The Place Where You Go To Listen

This book is primarily a journal of John Luther Adams's creation of his work of the same name. I enjoy his work quite a bit and admire his combination of often simple-sounding music with more complex ideas about nature and sound. This work is an installation that gives sound to various phenomena found in his home state of Alaska, such as the position of the sun, seismic activity, and the Aurora Borealis. Interesting read, just wish I could experience the actual work!

Feldman - Give My Regards to Eighth Street

A collection of essays by another favorite composer, Morton Feldman. Really fun. Not done yet but will eventually purchase - can sit next to my copy of Silence.

Kim-Cohen - In the Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art

This title (and subtitle) were just too good not to check out. Kim-Cohen has a breezy writing style that made this a joy to read. There are a lot of ideas here so I will need to revisit it. Essentially, Kim-Cohen compares sonic art with visual art - particularly conceptual art from the second half of the twentieth century. He claims that sonic artists have retained an essentialist, phenomenological approach while visual artists have gone beyond this - and he wants sonic artists to do the same. Again, much to absorb and think about.

Chanan - Repeated Takes

Another book by Chanan, a taut and exciting history of the recording industry, from Edison, Bell, et. al to the proliferation of the CD and so-called "world" music. It was published in 1998, so I'd be very curious what Chanan makes of CD burners, mp3s, and all that has happened in the last 13 years. From reading this book it seems that the music industry has always had the same complaints regarding piracy and their inability to keep up with new technologies.

Next up include:

Kahn - Noise, Water, Meat (been wanting to read this for awhile)

Attali - Noise: The Political Economy of Music (not too long, but still looks intimidating)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Time Out

I am at the computer too much. Every summer during grad school I get excited about working and work all day, developing RSI. I haven't let it get as bad as I have before, but it's time for a break. It's really hard to force myself NOT to work, but here we are.

FLIP is going to perform The Tiger's Mind by Cornelius Cardew tomorrow, which will be a good change of pace for me. Hopefully we'll be able to get some video of it.


Friday, July 8, 2011

more Lilypond fun

I've been working on a short piece for piano 8 hands (2 players on keys, 2 inside). This gave me another opportunity to learn more about Lilypond. As Nympholepsy is just a solo, I had a lot more layout issues to deal with on this one. Also, arpeggios, cross and diamond noteheads, clefs, and how to override just about anything.

(click to enlarge)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Six albums now on Bandcamp

The past two days I spent uploading my albums to (quite time consuming, but I got some reading and other stuff done). I think Bandcamp is well run - artist interface is very intuitive, and the "fan" interface is very clean. Although I have some of my music in other places such as CDBaby, I think it's nice to put everything on a site where it can be streamed for free.

I even uploaded albums by my old bands!

Main link:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Solo Improv (Blueprint No. 1)

Last Saturday, I performed this set as part of Hal McGee's "Apartment Music" series at his...apartment.

I am using my Max patch for Blueprint No. 1, though I am ignoring the score. I guess that kind of makes it the premiere...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

learning Lilypond

In hopes of going all open source, as well as producing better scores, I am starting to learn Lilypond. I had thought about learning it for years but was always too lazy. Now I'm finding it's fairly easy. The Lilypond website has great reference and tutorial pages, which helps.

After doing some initial tutorials, I figured the best way to really learn it was to force my way through notating a piece. I am reaching back to 2004, the beginning of my composing career, to (re)notate my flute solo "Nympholepsy." I'm pretty happy with a lot of my scores (notated in Sibelius), but for some reason this one always bothered me. Can't say why.

Below are images of the beginning of the score. The first is the Sibelius version, and the second is the new one I'm working on in Lilypond. As I'm notating, I'm reading off a version of th Sibelius score I printed out, where I had spread out the notes better than what you see here (the line breaks match those of the Lilypond score).

(click to enlarge)

Edit: here, also, is the first page of my final pencil draft:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

research credits

Interview with me on the Atlanta Composers Blog: here.

To keep my fellowship money from UF rolling in over the summer, I have to teach as well as take courses. Graduate summer courses are few and far between, so I'm taking "research credits." While this is basically the most lax independent study ever conceived, I am indeed researching/working.

First, I transcribed/revised two older pieces, writing for more, shall we say, plausible ensembles. Promenade de minuit for alto sax and harp now has an alternate version with piano instead of harp. Gallery was originally for flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, percussion, violin, viola, and double bass - a strange expanded version of Stravinsky's L'histoire ensemble. There are now 3 versions of Gallery, this latest being for small (12 member) wind ensemble: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, horn, trumpet, trombone, and two percussionists.

Next project was revising Ghazal, a piece for quarter tone alto flute and stereo playback [mp3 mockup of old version]. I was never really satisfied with the flute part, so I pulled out the few ideas I found interesting and started over. The old version was like many bad pieces you hear, where the composer tries to fit in as many "effects" as possible, while giving the player some flowing, lyrical lines that aren't as interesting as he/she thinks. The ideas that excited me were the juxtaposition of pitch bends and discrete scales and the differences between quarter-tone, and semitone, and whole tone scales and trills. So the new version is much simpler, using far less types of ideas, and cramming less in during the 6-minute duration.

A big background project is learning about Linux and Linux-based audio tools. My ca. 2005 Dell laptop died last year, so with extremely limited funds I got an ASUS EeePC 1005HAB netbook. I love that thing, but I really needed something more powerful. I had been exploring Ubuntu on the netbook (dual boot with XP) for most of this school year, so after a lot of research and pacing I decided to invest in a System76 Gazelle. Other than an issue with the proprietary Nvidia driver (I did a fresh install of Natty Narwhal and am using the open source Nouveau driver to good results), it has been great.

Most programs install and work with ease. The only one that doesn't is SuperCollider, which I'm also working on learning. Windows and Mac have IDEs for SuperCollider, but Linux just has plugins for text editors. No problem, just different. I'll probably be posting things I've found out as we go along. Here are a few things, for anyone stumbling upon this trying to get SC to work in Ubuntu:

This page is very helpful for setting up SC in Ubuntu. On the "sources.list" part, change "hardy" to whatever version you're using, e.g. natty

I found SCVim and Emacs very confusing, personally, so I am sticking with the Gedit plugin.

Using SuperCollider in Gedit is fairly straightforward. I never tried recording with it until today, and I got an error basically saying that it couldn't write to /share/SuperCollider/Recordings. You will need to make a Recordings directory, then set the permissions (i did chmod 777 just to make sure). After that, it should work like a charm.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Here is a video of my group FLIP performing at The Laboratory in Gainesville, FL on 4/30/11.

This was our second performance ever

Thursday, May 12, 2011

evolution of "Etude in Metal"

In earlier entries I mentioned that I was working on a percussion solo featuring extended-range glockenspiel. I finally finished it.

It went through a few very different incarnations. The only idea that remained throughout was that the glock part would be based on the harmonics of the other instruments. So the process of writing this was boiling the piece down to that idea, essentially.

It took me awhile to get started on it this semester, but during spring break (first week of march) I had time to get out the first draft [pdf here]. I started this one by imagining a lot of different sounds using my chosen instruments, sketching these out on small pieces of paper, then categorizing them and laying them out in orders that seemed to make some kind of logical flow. After several different orders of ideas (I think I did four), I sketched out the draft seen above.

After bringing it to my teacher, we agreed that it was a bit plodding rhythmically and that it explored "linear" gestures rather than the glock-vs-gongs ideas that were what I really wanted to highlight. I then started on a second draft that featured only "chords" and spiced up the rhythm a bit. I used a rhythmic scheme based on Babbitt/Wuorinen's timepoint system, crossed with Ferneyhough's subdivisions. There are a series of 2/4 measures divided into various tuplets; the "row" if you will was 7 8 4 9 5 3 6. I used derivations of the same "row" of tuplets for the timepoints/attacks. Whereas Babbitt and Wuorinen would count just even sixteenths, I would count the same number of subdivisions and the next attack would fall on that timepoint number, regardless of its actual duration. [pdf here]

This take looks a little cooler by modernist-composer standards, but it still wasn't highlighting the idea behind the piece. The rhythm was actually distracting. So I started yet another version, doing away with traditional rhythm altogether, focusing solely on the sounds of the instruments and their combinations. The final result is very introspective, and, dare I say, pretty (I made a mockup recording for my jury, but it does not reflect all the articulation called for in the score - I'll post something when Trevor plays it for real). The final score is here [pdf].

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Full Circle project on SoundCloud

I am trying out SoundCloud, and have uploaded two tracks from A Sharp and Friends: Full Circle. Below is "Possibility":

Possibility by adamscottneal

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Here is a video of "Tether," a collaboration with artist Josh Cajinarobleto (first half of video):

My previous blog entries described it, but for those who dislike scrolling...we are both wearing boxes covered by these latex "organs." Each box has a spindle, with the cord connecting the two organs. We can crank the spindle, and that pushes a button. Also in the box is an Arduino, which counts the button pushes and maps that onto a tempo for the beeps. We each have an accelerometer as well - one axis controls frequency, the other controls duration. The sound is PWM output from the Arduinos (Arduini?), amplified and sent to two small speakers (which were also decorated with latex to resemble some kind of biomechanical growth).

It was a very hectic few days leading up to this performance, so this is actually the first time we ever performed, besides simple "yay! the accelerometer works!" tests. So we basically chose four actions and decided to perform them very slowly. First, we start close together and pull apart. Next, I pull Josh toward me. Then he wraps the cable around me. I escape, we pull apart, and he ends up on the floor. During the performance I decided to eventually hit the floor as well. We both like improvising so it ended up working fairly well.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Arduino/performance project

I am taking a transdisciplinary seminar with students from the digital media and sculpture departments. The class is hit or miss - there are a few people doing interesting work and thoughts, and a few people who don't seem to know much and like everything uncritically.

Anyway, our final projects are looming. I am doing a performance with another guy in the class. We are building some wearable contraptions and will be hooked together by a cable. We're still figuring out exactly how this will take shape.

I am handling most of the programming side, getting reacquainted with the Arduino microcontroller and language. The photo above is my almost-finished circuit. The potentiometer at the bottom currently controls the "tempo," but this is going to be replaced by two buttons. As we move closer and apart from each other, we are going to unspool and rewind the cable connecting our little "proton packs" (actually they are going to be some kind of Cronenbergian "growth"). The spool will hit a momentary switch to act as a counter, while a locking button will tell the processor what direction to count.

The controls are mainly drawn from the Arduino site's great tutorials, with some modifications. Much of what you see at the bottom of the breadboard is an amp circuit that I built from the schematic and photos on this site. I had been hoping to get back into Arduino, so this has been fun, and a good review of programming and schematic reading.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Had a gig last night...

CD is now available (mp3 downloads too)

Soon it will be on iTunes, Amazon, etc. as well...

The live performances were great, and quite eclectic - first was some percussion/electronics improv (Stuart Gerber and Craig Dongoski), then a reed trio (Morningside Chamber Musicians), then a prog/fusion/rock band (Gravity Machine). Then we played my CD and hung out. A good number of Atlanta composers were in attendance, and I think that the setting (Kavarna) was great for music-making and for chatting (we see each other at concerts, but there was more time to hang last night).

Major recurring topics: we need to do more artsy-eclectic shows like this one, we need to bring more people into the composerly alt-classical circle, and we need to get the audience that we know is around town to actually come to gigs (especially free ones!) Another ongoing project...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring Break = Update

In the past month since I last posted, I've been busy with school. The biggest event was February 19-21, when my friends Cerberus Percussion Group came down to Gainesville to play two shows. The first took place at a local bar called The Laboratory; my new group FLIP opened with a set of laptop improv. I do have a recording of FLIP, which I'll take an excerpt and post at some point. Cerberus of course played Pachamama - the fourth time they performed it. Cerberus is going to put it aside for the time being, but the GSU Percussion Ensemble, led by Stuart Gerber, will be performing it on April 5.

On February 21, Cerberus performed at UF for the portrait concert of our guest composer Mark Applebaum. I was in charge of curating the concert, which included a dozen of Mark's pieces. Cerberus played his percussion duo Go, Dog. Go! and his trio Catfish. Mark played some jazz piano, we presented a few of his tape pieces (including the hilarious Pre-Composition. UF students performed a piece for carillon, piano six-hands, 3 conductors (and no players), and some improv pieces such as 48 Objects and The Metaphysics of Notation. Below is a cool video documentary about the latter:

There's No Sound In My Head from lateral on Vimeo.

As for my own music, I am working on a multi-percussion solo (with an emphasis on glockenspiel) for Trevor Saint. It was originally conceived as a piece for glock and tape, but I just keep finding that I have no ideas for "tape," nor do I have a real desire to write for tape right now. Someday, perhaps.

My work is definitely in experimental mode right now; not much "finished product" that I'm extremely pleased with, but exercises that I'm confident will lead somewhere, eventually!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Saxophone Solo masterclass

Susan Fancher, an excellent saxophonist based in North Carolina, visited UF and gave a composition masterclass. Three other students and I wrote etudes for her to play, and she worked them up and talked through them with us.

My piece, Blueprint No. 2, was originally indeterminate. I wanted to explore multiphonics, and base melodies on these multiphonics. Unfortunately, multiphonics on woodwind instruments are notoriously difficult to predict - the same fingerings can produce drastically different results on each instrument. So, in my score, I ask performers to pick their three favorite multiphonics, write them down, then improvise with melodic contours and rhythms I provide, centering around the pitches within the multiphonics. The score is here.

Susan picked three multiphonics but suggested that I write out the piece based around these, rather than having her improvise. She felt that to do the piece justice, she would need to write it out herself. She didn't have much time, but she agreed that some saxophonist in the future might have a lot of fun doing so.

I took her multiphonics and made a second version for her to practice. The score is here, and you can listen below:

Laptop Improv

On Saturday, January 15th, I participated in an improv festival at a bar called The Laboratory in Gainesville, FL. This event featured 36 solo improvisers, each playing a set of 9 minutes or less. Here is mine: