Things I like: three music videos

Three things I’ve been enjoying on YouTube recently(ish). All quite different.

Sour – Hibi no Neiro (‘Tone of everyday’)

OK Go – White Knuckles

Lorna Rose – Flightless Bird, American Mouth

[be sure to read the back story too]

Stuff you should care about: Pogo

The movie ‘Up’, as sampled and remixed by the Australian DJ, Pogo.

It’s brilliant! It’s in my head. It has spawned this brilliant lipsync tribute too. Upular was commissioned by Disney Pixar (and so appears in Disney’s YouTube channel as well as Pogo’s own. Interestingly, of the two, the Disney one currently has fewer views). More recently, he has also worked on an officially sanctioned film for Toy Story Film called Toyz Noize.

Before that, Pogo was entirely sampling various films on the basis of Fair Use. He’s known for having sampled Alice in Wonderland (Alice), Hook (Bangarang), Terminator (Skynet Symphonic), Harry Potter (Alohomora) and more. He’s suffered several take-downs on YouTube as a result, and has written and spoken about copyright and fair use; to quote him, “remix culture is all about interpretation, not theft”. This guy’s body of work embodies why Fair Use is important.

MIDIguitar patch

Remember the Rock Band / Guitar Hero MIDI guitar thing I made? I have not fiddled with it much since I presented at Playful 08.

However, since a few people have asked me for it, here’s the current version of the ControllerMate patch which contains two versions; one for Rock Band (Harmonix) Xbox guitars and one for Guitar Hero (Red Octane X-Plorer Controller) Xbox guitars.

You’ll need ControllerMate to use it of course, but more importantly you’ll need the MIDI-enabled version (which means you’ll need a registered copy) but honestly, once I’d tried ControllerMate I knew the MIDI addition was well worth the $15.

Enjoy, and do let me know if you make any interesting modifications.

Things that might help you get started:

I am a weapon of massive consumption

Three songs for you, constituting exactly eleven minutes of listening pleasure.

First, Lily Allen – The Fear. I can’t get this out of my head at the moment. Big thanks to Parlaphone for not only sharing the video on YouTube, but also this audio-only version. It inspired me to go even further and hide the video altogether (I’m displaying it here at a minimalistic 25 pixels high) but you can still go full screen if you want.

I look at the Sun and I look in the Mirror … I am a weapon of massive consumption … Everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner …

Next, The Holloways – Generator is a lot of fun and seems to be back on Radio One’s playlist at the moment.

I can get a record player, and a generator. Generate the music that makes you feel better…

Lastly, Frank Turner – Reasons Not To Be An Idiot sounds a bit like the Lightening Seeds with Billy Bragg on vocals, but in a good way.

You’re not as messed up as you think you are
Your self-absorption makes you messier
Just settle down and you will feel a whole lot better
Deep down you’re just like everybody else …

Flobots – Handlebars

It’s quite possible that I’m the very last person in the entire world to have heard this song. My wife pointed it out to me yesterday (we had Radio 1 on for a change), and it’s stuck in my head. An earworm or Ohrwurm, if you will.

With 9.3+ million views on YouTube of the official video from Universal Music, it’s clearly popular enough that it doesn’t need me highlighting it, but I thought you might enjoy it.

Sadly, that official clip from Universal prevents embeds (grrr), so let’s try this one

(Apologies if/when that gets removed).

I like the video, I like the style (though it’s hard not to compare his rapping unfavourably with Eminem) and I like the tone. Some of the lyrics could do with tightening up (“I can split the atom of a molecule. Of a molecule. Of a molecule”?)

It’s Eminem meets the JCB Song meets Green Day. Or something.

Edit: it did get removed. Here’s the new link.

Iceland Airwaves – advice on Iceland

Speaking of travel, it’s nearly time for Iceland Airwaves again. Though I won’t be going this year, Mike Hedge recently asked me for some tips to get the most out of Iceland and Airwaves so he can make the most of it.

When I went last year I took loads of photos and my brother and I
recorded a daily hangovercast. In case you missed that last year, or even if you want to listen to it again, you might be pleased to hear that it now has it’s own podcast feed. Subscribe here, or click here to lazily add it to your list in iTunes.

Here’s what I‘d want to know if I was attending Iceland Airwaves, and/or visiting Iceland for the first time. I’ve tweaked the message I sent Mike and dotted a few of my photos around to make it more convincing. These are my tips, but I’d also dearly love to hear what I’ve missed for when I go back one day.

Sam at the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is really close to the big airport at Keflavik. You can, and should, arrange (either in advance, or at the airport when you arrive) a transfer from the airport to Reykjavik via the Blue Lagoon. It’s well worth it, and is a very nice way to unwind once you land.

Reykjavik 101 - panorama

101 Reykjavik (the postcode for the middle of Reykjavik, which also lends its name to a charming film) is possibly the most intimate and friendly city centre I’ve ever visited. Even during busy times such as Airwaves, everyone seems to know each other. Noticing that you’re from out of town people will want to help make you feel at home. It’s lovely, once you get used to (or are prepared for) the fact that being able to talk to random strangers on the street is a reasonable thing to do. What, in London or New York it would mark you out as an insane person, is perfectly normal in Reykjavik.

Keriđ crater

It’s well worth hiring a car and going for a drive. You won’t need it for the city, but when you want to get out of the city and see the country you can either rent a car or take a slightly-overpriced coach tour. The car rental option is more fun. Here are some of the things you can see:

Geysir

  • Geysir (the geyser for which all others are named)
  • The waterfall at Gullfoss
  • Lots of other waterfalls (Seljalansfoss, Skogafoss, etc)
  • The Keriđ crater
  • Amazing scenery generally. We just kept stopping the car to take photos.

And in the city of Reykjavik itself…

Baejarins Bestu hot dog place

  • the Baejarins Bestu hotdog place is famously good. You need one of these. Unless you’re a vegetarian of course.
  • The Hallgrímskirkja cathedral has to be seen.
  • I really liked hanging out at the cafe called Prikið (all these ‘ð‘ characters are pronounced ‘th’ by the way), and as a way of getting into the day with a burger (and all too often a beer) for breakfast-at-lunchtime.
  • The lobster soup cafe/shack is called Saegreifinn on the harbour. You Must Absolutely Go There and have lobster soup with bread. Whale & putrefied shark are optional.

Lobster soup

And then there’s Airwaves.

Planning is important here. They publish the list of artists, so take a look through and find the ones you don’t want to miss. It will help you plan ahead when the schedule is released.

You’ll probably find that the venues are more of less themed. Heavier stuff will tend to be scheduled in a particular venue, mellow stuff in another. Last year, the venue called Iðnó was where a lot of the laid back, and sometimes not so laid back, indie stuff was happening. Many local bands played there, with one whole evening dedicated to music published by the Bedroom Community label. A lot of bands on 12 Tonar were there too. Speaking of which, 12 Tonar is also a great record shop, and will no doubt be one of the better off-venue locations again this year. These off-venue gigs are cool, and a good way to warm up in the late afternoon before the main events start.

Nico Muhly, through the window of Kaffibarinn

Some venues will get very busy when the big names are on. bear in mind that about half of the people at Airwaves are locals, who love the fact that big foreign names come over to play. One evening we opted to avoid the crush at the Bloc Party gig, and I’m glad we did. I can see Bloc Party anywhere. I went to Airwaves to listen to icelandic and nordic music rather than stuff imported from the UK, Canada, the US, etc.

Trentemøller

I found it helpful to relax and enjoy where I was, even if it meant sitting through something I didn’t 100% enjoy (say, because I knew the next thing was going to be awesome) rather than rushing from place to place and always missing the start of every set. Hanging out at one venue for a whole night (which we did at least once, and even when we did move around, we stayed in venues for chunks rather than for just one set) meant less rushing around, seeing things I wouldn’t have planned to see and discovering new acts.

Greg Haines

Photographers love Airwaves. Partly because Iceland itself is so amazing, and partly because in most of the venues at Airwaves it’s really easy to get right up next to the action. Airwaves is the chance many of these bands have to be showcased to international audiences, and they love the cameras in the venues. (Don’t know about the US, but this is very different to the UK where cameras and recording devices are often banned from gigs). Although there were a couple of venues with dedicated photographer pits right up close, which you needed a press pass to get into, most of the venues didn’t have that though and you can wander up to the front and get some great views (as long as you’re not getting in anyone’s way). Wonderful.

Lastly, and this might sound weird, booze in Iceland is taxed beyond belief, and spirits are stupidly expensive, if you can even find a shop licensed to sell anything more than beer. We found that taking a couple of bottles of spirits with us saved us a small fortune. Watch the import limits though. When we flew from London you were only allowed to take 1 liter of spirits per person into Iceland.

Have fun in Iceland, and have fun at Airwaves. I’m sure you’ll really enjoy it.

We could be guitar heroes

Before I went on holiday, I began to think about getting my Rock Band guitar controller to act as a MIDI instrument in GarageBand. I’m still fiddling with it, and since implementing a couple of extra features, I’m increasingly happy with the results.

The setup in ControllerMate, initially quite straightforward, is gradually becoming fairly hairy. Here’s what it looks like now. Click through to see a bigger, annotated version.

Rock Band controller MIDI setup in ControllerMate

Features:

  • Sends MIDI notes based on the fret you are holding while strumming up or down. Release the fret to stop the note, exactly as you’d expect in Rock Band or Guitar Hero.
  • Pick a major key by holding a fret button and tapping ‘Start’. First fret (green button) + start = C major, second fret = D, etc.
  • Hold ‘Back’ while picking a key to make it minor. e.g. 3rd fret + ‘Back’ + ‘Start’ = E minor. Update: in the most recent version, you just hold a fret and hit ‘back’ (rather than ‘back’ + ‘start’ together)
  • Additionally hold the next fret up to make it sharp. e.g. 1st + 2nd fret + ‘Start’ = C# major. 2nd + 3rd fret = ‘Back’ + ‘Start’ = D# minor.
  • Within the chosen key, first fret (green button) is the root note, while the others are intervals on the major/minor pentatonic scale. e.g. for C major, the frets are C, D, E, G, A. For C minor they are C, Eb, F, G, Bb.
  • Move the pickup selector to the 2nd position to engage ‘drone’ mode, in which the root note for the current key is played on a second MIDI channel whenever it is played. Handy for having a different MIDI voice sustaining the chord. I’d like to add ‘chord’ and ‘strum’ and ‘arpeggiate’ modes in other pickup switch positions, though I think strumming and arpeggiating could be better handled by plugins responding to simpler MIDI notes which represent the current chord.
  • The whammy bar controls the MIDI pitch bend. Different VST plugins choose to respond to pitch bend in different ways, so depending on your instrument you can even set this up to be a guitar slide rather than a simple bend.
  • Left and right on the D pad to move up and down by 7 semitones. allowing you to explore the circle of fifths. Sort of. This bit needs some more work.
  • Upper set of frets play up an octave.

If you’ve got a Rock Band guitar and want to use it as MIDI instrument, in GarageBand or anything else, I’m very happy to make the current version of my patch available. Most of the features should work with the Guitar Hero controller too, though I have not tried this yet. Let me know if you want to try my setup and don’t fancy re-creating it from the picture above, though obviously you’ll need the MIDI-enabled beta of ControllerMate, which is available to paying ControllerMate users who have paired their registration details with their forum membership, on the beta forum.

I think ControllerMate is easily worth the $15, and access to the MIDI-aware beta should make it an even easier decision.

Background / further reading:

Rocking Outside the Xbox

My lovely friends at IBM bought me a lovely leaving present: a copy of Rock Band for the Xbox 360. I’ve been enjoying it greatly, and have been working my way through a solo guitar career as well as in band mode with my wife (our band is called Good Girl OK after the praise/release phrases we use when training her our dog. Good girl, good girl… OK).

Tonight I decided it was time to take advantage of the USB connections on those instruments and get the guitar, drums and keyboard hooked up to GarageBand.

My first exploration involved

GarageBand (and similar things. I really like Reaper) has a number of interfaces for people hoping to glue together random peripherals. Perhaps the simplest if the ‘musical typing’ on screen keyboard feature which lets you use your qwerty keyboard as a virtual instrument.

GarageBand Musical Typing

I started playing with ControllerMate to make it emulate keyboard events based on the guitar controls. There’s a lot of fun to be had in fiddling with this, and Ken’s post on the ControllerMate forums got me most of the way there very quickly.

ControllerMate - Rock Band guitar

Holding the green button (e.g. the first fret) and strumming up or down creates an emulated ‘a’ keypress, which is held until the green button is released. Additional up/down strums while green is still held do what you’d expect. Expand it to all five buttons and I ended up with something like this.

ControllerMate - Rock Band guitar (full)

Look carefully and you’ll see that it also includes whammy bar mapped to the six levels of modulation and left and right buttons mapped to octave up/down.

In short, ControllerMate is a lot of fun. It also looks as though it’s pretty trivial to hook it up to a Wiimote too. This got me thinking about alternative approaches, particularly something better than emulated keypresses and on screen keyboards and ‘musical typing’.

I’ve talked about MIDI, and it’s trendier younger brother OSC, here before. Since these items showing up in ControllerMate, (including Wiimotes via Bluetooth and Guitar Hero / Rock Band instruments via USB) are all HID (Human Interface Device) peripherals, it struck me that I’d been meaning to find a general purpose HID -> MIDI/OSC solution for some time. The closest thing on Windows is probably GlovePIE, but even before my switch to Mac I’d been leery of the licence, which states that “You may not use this software on military bases, or for military purposes, or in Israel…”. Eek.

Searching around, I found junXion which maps HID inputs to MIDI and OSC outputs on a Mac. Just what I wanted. Instant MIDI drums.

junXion

Looks interesting, and I like the free demo very much (reduced functionality and stops working after 20 minutes, but gives you a chance to try it). The full version costs €75 though, and I was sure I could find something similar in less than €75 worth of looking around time.

It turns out I was right. Hint: if I can buy your cool tool for $15 using PayPal (as was the case with ControllerMate) I will generally have registered for it before I can blink. Attempt to charge too much, and I get curious as to whether there’s something cheaper/free. I can’t be alone in this behaviour.

I dug around for about 10 minutes before I found MultiControl by Alexander Refsum Jensenius. This maps HID devices to OSC and MIDI outputs and doesn’t cost a penny.

MultiControl

Not a bad trade-off at all. I have not tried the OSC support yet, and support for MIDI notes is broken very strange and unconventional, but support for MIDI control messages is good and will no doubt prove useful.

It gets better though. Registered users of ControllerMate should check the ControllerMate forums. There’s a beta preview version which can send and receive MIDI messages. Awesome. I think I’ve found my new favourite thing.

Update: I’ve now got a fairly good setup in ControllerMate. Here’s a description (with demo video) which describes how it works.

Headphone Fun

I have a pair of JVC HA-FX300B sound isolation headphones which

come with three different sized silicon rubber earpieces and a pair of memory foam earpieces for a customized fit

They look like this

JVC HA-FX300B Headphones

and cost me a bit less than $100 (somehow I only buy headphones in airports, and usually American airports). These rely on a good fit from the memory foam to block out external noise. It’s a lot like popping in a pair of earplugs, but with built in headphones.

I have a pair of Sony MDR-NC22 noise cancelling headphones. These

have an inside microphone on each earpiece that work with an electronic circuitry to create an opposite sound wave to reduce wave. Up to 75% ambient noise cancellation (12dB at 30Hz)

They look like this

Sony MDR-NC22 Headphones

and also cost me a little bit less than $100.

Taking the memory foam earpieces from the JVC HA-FX300Bs and fitting them to the Sony MDR-NC22s cost me nothing, and really works. The fit is (just) good enough that the memory foam pieces don’t fall off and get stuck in your ear canal, which is what I was scared of when I first tried it and still terrifies me. Apart from that, I can’t see any reason not to upgrade them in this way; now I have the best of both worlds: sound isolation and noise cancelling. Great for long flights.

Back from New York – update

I flew back from New York today, to discover England where I left it, but covered with a light blanket of snow.

I will blog some more notes from the conference soon (I have already shared my flimsy summary on the panel I moderated on Eightbar. More to come) and I’m still uploading photos to Flickr.

For now, here’s a short video of an amazing busker we saw yesterday. (Update to use fancy new Flickr video feature)

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