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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Those of you who know me are familiar with my love for banjos. Nothing is more enjoyable than playing a banjo. It’s such a simple instrument, a piece of wood stuck to a drum with some strings attached, but it can sound so beautiful when placed in the right hands. While I’m just an amateur, picking away at the Gold Tone 5 string Julie bought me a year ago, Jake Schepps is an example of a truly skilled banjo wielding musician. Last month, Schepps released an album on his BandCamp of tunes composed by 20th century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.

Jake Schepps

For those of you unfamiliar with Bartók’s work, start googling. His use of folk melodies in his compositions is one of the earliest forms of sampling, so next time you’re listening to Girl Talk you have this ‘old dead guy’ to thank. Interesting to note that Bartók also was one of the first practitioners of Ethnomusicology, redefining how we analyze music in a historical context.

Check out the album, it’s pretty catchy. Hopefully Jake will make his way to Boston soon!

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Attended my second music hack day, hosted by The Echo Nest at the Microsoft NERD center in Cambridge.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, I developed the Toscanini  system at the event last year (click the link for the first blog post about Toscanini). The premise is this: hackers gather at the NERD center early Saturday morning, hear elevator (read: really long) pitches about each sponsor’s API, then they pair off and start hacking. There’s a crazy party that night also, which ?uestlove was supposed to DJ, but he backed out (as did I). Sunday morning you come back to the NERD center, complete your hack, and present.

My friend from last year’s hack day, Jeremy Sawruk (@composer314) came up again and set up shop in my living room. Julie Vera (@jvera), my cohabitational partner and SEO wiz, joined me this year as well. We met up with Jason Sigal (@therewasaguy) from the Free Music Archive of NJ to talk about making a pandora-like application for their site. He was thrilled about it, and we got to hang out with him all weekend.

The app can be found at http://fma.jsawruk.com. It allows you to enter an artist, style, or mood, and will return a playlist of free music which can be filtered by license (either FMA limited or the various CC’s). There are two things that make this app truly great in my eyes. First, you can download the music instantly, for free. Secondly, the tracks you’re listening to are from bands ranging in popularity from local unknowns to Nine Inch Nails, and some of them are pretty rare remixes or live tracks. I had a blast working on it, and learning javascript in the process. That last part feels dirty, but whatever. Web development is definitely not for me, I shall remain a software dev forever.

The whole event was great. Brian Whitman (@bwhitman) of The Echo Nest showed us great hospitality as always, and people seem to really like our app. Just yesterday we received over 460 visits, and word is spreading. We have a meeting with the FMA people later on, and a few mobile developers we’re interested in bringing into the project.

For more information, including links to the articles written about FMA Radio, check out Jeremy’s blog at http://JSawruk.com.

This Sunday there will be a concert at the NEC featuring the works of some of my colleagues titled “Electronic Music Unplugged”. Northeastern, Brandeis, and the NEC are being represented. Also represented will be St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, as Anton Tononou will be having the American premier of his piece ‘Lenin 2017’. Check it out if you can- Sunday November 6th, Brown Hall, 8pm.

Well I’m back! Severely jet-lagged, and quite tired from the whirlwind tour, but I’ve hit the ground running. I have two compositions to complete this month, some research for the Brain2Music that’s gaining momentum, and plenty of homework assignments. Not to mention graduate applications, but I digress.

The point of my trip was to visit UC Berkeley and Stanford, two of the schools I am applying to for my doctoral research. I spent most of my time near Berkeley, getting to know the great people of CNMAT. On Friday, in the sunny California weather (juxtaposed with Boston’s thundersnow) I cruised down to Stanford to visit CCRMA. Carr Wilkerson met with me and talked about the atmosphere of the lab, which he described as having a tribe-like quality. I felt really inspired while we spoke, as I’ve never felt part of a tribe. It’s been a long, hard, and sometimes lonely journey to finding my place in the world of music technology, and I think that grad school would be where I find my way into a ‘tribe’.

Carr gave me a tour of the facilities, starting with the balcony. CCRMA is located in the Knoll building, which is aptly named as it is the only building on the top of a hill overlooking campus. The building was the old president’s mansion, before he moved to some more modest digs elsewhere on campus. Quite a beautiful view.

After that we checked out the mini museum in the lobby. I’ve included some interesting pictures, including an acoustic model of the new performance hall being built, early SLOrk prototypes, Jon Chowning’s Sully tape machine used to realize Stria and more.

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Aside from the cool artifacts, CCRMA is filled with beautiful studios and spaces. The listening room is a 24 channel system for 3D sound, with speakers arranged in a sphere around (and under) the room. Their recording studio is the only room of the building that wasn’t refurbished after an earthquake devastated the building. The acoustics in the room were astounding, and the disklavier in the corner added to the cool retro electronic vibe.

The end of my tour concluded a conversation with Chris Chafe, the director of CCRMA. He was great to talk to, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed (and glued to the laptop keyboard) to see if an opportunity to work with him, or David Wessel, or the directors at the other schools I’m applying to, will come out of my hard work. If not, at least I’ve finally written all those notes on my projects!

As for California itself, I had a great time experiencing the Bay Area and all it has to offer (especially the local brews). I’d like to thank the following people for showing me great hospitality and helping me to put this trip together: John MacCallum, Ronald Bruce Smith, David Wessel, Chris Chafe, Ian Saxton, Adrian Freed, Luke Dahl, Carr Wilkerson, Miriam Akkerman, Yotam Mann, and Ilya Rostovtsev. (Sorry if I missed anyone.)

While I enjoyed my time greatly, and I hope more than anything to make it back out to the Bay area as soon as possible, I am glad to be back and busy again. This weekend is Boston Music Hack Day 2011, so I’ll have some great updates in a few days (follow me on twitter: @ConductiveIO), and on November 9th I’ll be giving a lecture on New Musical Interfaces at Northeastern University (West Vil. G 104, 6 pm). Cheers!