Sunday I turned 30, as in years. The celebration started Friday when we had a great combo-party (Brianne's birthday on Saturday) in my space age bachelor pad. I hardly ever host parties in my place so I was a little nervous. It turned out almost ideally; like maybe 50 people and never got out of hand. I have one room, now known as the Observatory, which is basically empty since my brother moved to Boston, and so that room just now has a secondary colony of San Pellegrino bottles (kind of ran out of space in my own room), my answering machine (full, useless) and two seats for "Observing" these objects, like a minimalist art project. (This was great. The San Pellegrino collection really drives some people nuts and other people happily make new interactive art with it.) On Nels's suggestion we made the Observatory a bit more partied up for the party, using the projector to show Robot Jox, a classic Robots Gone Wild cold-war-forever piece. No real sound setup in there, but I could only find Spanish subtitles, so I Google-Translated those back into English, so the whole movie was subtitled in this broken doubly-translated language which was especially delightful if you also listened closely enough to the computer speakers for the original EN audio, until the text inexplicably transforms into Spanish because Google Translate gives up once it gets a certain ways into a document that you upload, cuz I guess it gets tired and is like ahem you finish this. But only a few people in there at a time because of the two seats. Most people party 4 regular in the games room, or Gallery, or murder Prof. Plum in the Kitchen with the candlestick.
The highlight for me was the Great Race, a 10K which I run every year. This year it was on Sunday morning, my birthday. Last year I ran it real hard which qualified me as a seeded runner this time, but I'm not in as good shape and anyway have retired from running 10K for speed. So I decided it's costumes. I have pretty complex requirements for a race costume. It has to be pretty conspicuous, so people spot it. It has to not get in anyone's way or be race-ejectingly illegal, because I don't want to interfere (except maybe mentally) with anybody who's taking the race seriously. It has to clearly impede my ability to run, but should also be actually harder than you'd first think. This time I also wanted a birthday theme. I mulled a bunch of ideas with friends (bunch of helium balloons was a frontrunner for a while) and eventually settled on Ryan's idea to run with a birthday cake. So I got a half-sheet cake and decorated it, and ran the whole six miles carrying it:
I can put on a smile for the camera but it didn't feel that good in the arms. It is pretty weird to run a race and for that to be the primary focus of pain. Harder than the H1N1 marathon costume, I'd say, though a much much shorter race. But running with a costume is basically always worth it. For the people you run by (observers or if you start in the back, folks you pass) the costume is new and funny, so the whole race people are laughing or making comments and in this case wishing or singing happy birthday. They love that shit because they're either waiting in the rain for the one person they know in the race to pass, which is otherwise totally monotonous, or they're hurting from running in the race and want to be distracted. And I love overhearing or having other people overhear, "You got beat by the guy carrying the cake?!" Oh yeah so it was raining, and this made the cake very wet, and the cardboard it was on start to have deteriorating conditions and buckle, so this was a disadvantage for ways one could carry it because it needed Total Underbody Support. Eventually there were only like two asymmetric (dual) ways and one symmetric way to hold the cake and I'd cycle between them every 15 seconds as my arms and back were burning up. I made it downtown with the cake about as intact as it could be, which isn't saying much:
9-27-79 NEVER FORGET
Even my birthday hat has melted. News like spectacles, so some people interviewed me. The best coverage was on KDKA (near the end, though the anchor foreshadows). There's some interviewing of me in the otherwise extremely boring (like it's mostly just video of people standing around?) WPXI Web Exclusive. See 1:55 and 3:30.
Lots of friends helped make this the best birthday weekend ever with their party-going and fun-loving and organizing and driving me to-and-fro since my license expired and I have another flat tire, and the cake eating and wearing hats in the race and writing on me and watching Steelers and not giving me presents that make me feel uncomfortably materialistic and rearranging the art bottles and taking photos and everything. Thanks!!! :)
I couldn't figure out how to easily get that diagonal candy cane stripe look in 10 minutes, so instead purely vertical bands which are like their own mini prison inside the letters.
Now you want to hear me overanalyze? This song is kinda like theme from rt2i in that I spent a lot of time on it (like multiple nights), a lot of which was on texture. This is highly unusual for me. I'd go back and listen to it and think, hmm, this particular transition seems to lose too much bass, and then fix it. I didn't stop until I listened through the whole thing and thought there were no undesired jarring moments, cheesefest notes, boring off-pace repeats, or missed opportunities. (Usually I just crap it out in an hour or two binge with all default settings, and hope for the best.) I like the song better than rt2i though because I feel like the basic tune is more sound. I started with what you hear in measures 1–28 (intro, intrigue theme, main echo theme) which loop so nicely and which would easily have been the whole song in 1999-era T7ES. I really liked the twisty uneasiness of the chords and (especially) the echo theme. So I decided to embrace and extend, and the end product has at least 5 distinct parts, and maybe counting the counterpoint something like 9 or 10.
Another way this is similar to rt2i is the way that the melody from the main echo theme shows up in 3 totally different places, changing its meaning each time. I am in love with this trick these days. (For sure it's in Zürich bigtime.) It is a good challenge to pull it off (usually it means adjusting something rhythmically or melodically, and can easily lead to a muddle if clumsy) and I think that the self-reference is so damn satisfying. IMO the part in the coda where the echo theme comes back (gently telegraphed in the square waves in the prior pattern) is completely fucking epic. To me in the narrative of the song it's like something odd but familiar finally making sense.
Crapversity Marching Band – Upright Base
(06 Sep 2009 at 23:58)
One of my longest time buddies (since I think 1998) Jason (aka jcreed) is leaving Pittsburgh tomorrow, having graduated and now needing a post-doc. In the spirit of doing things that we should have done a long time ago, we had a One Night Band, which was actually two nights, to write and record a song. Our band is called Crapversity Marching Band for our dream to some day make a university formed upon Crap Art philosophy and then to be its marching band. Here is our album cover:
The song is called Upright Base. We wrote the chords together, me using the guitar and my illiterate florid language to try to try to describe what I was getting at chord-wise, and him with the keyboard eptly naming those funny fingerings and then being like, "Oh well if we have B♭m6 then obviously Dadd9 will go next," which is funny and also really useful when you get stuck off in chord lala land. Today we wrote the words and recorded it. Jason did the keyboard playing (basically improvising all that fancy shit on the spot) and I did the guitars and the singing. Jason was going to do some singing too but then he started guts-clutching like always and it was getting urgent since he needs to get up at 7am to drive to Philadelphia. So just me on sings. I think it came out pretty well.
Two more new recordings for other projects in the queue.
A few weeks ago our friend Donna successfully defended her thesis and threw a party, even waiting until a Tuesday night so that Nels and I could play at that nice party, so of course we wrote a song for the gig. It is called Lausanne... Jealous? because Donna is about to take a post-doctoral position at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. More than usual—which is saying a lot—this song is loaded with detailed in-jokes and difficult puns. I will provide some hints, since we received positive feedback about the fact that we did this before playing the song at her party. There are three national languages in Switzerland: (Swiss) German, French, and Italian. The Swiss invented the Swatch watch, which you are encouraged to wear multiple of on your arm, for fashion. (Nels and I predict a Swatch fashion resurgence, soon.) They also invented the Swiss Army knife and cheese. Donna always serves mostly cheese at her parties because she has a gluten-free diet. Donna's dissertation is about some objected oriented programming stuff. At EPFL she'll work on Scala, a maximalist language which combines all known programming ideas into one Java-like syntax. It was made by Martin Odersky, who also made a Java extension once called Pizza. That's probably enough to get you started.
Still in queue: ICFP contest report (very soon I'll even be able to include the final results, heh), new T7ES song, Pac Tom update, pics from various events. Shame.
Related: I have been working on several different pieces of audio-generating software and hardware. One of my favorite things about doing this is the crazy ways that stuff can fail, and the unexpected sounds that result. My most current thing is some microcontroller-based sound generation for secret project EG. As part of testing it I created what I think is my first actual chiptune, in the sense that the music is generated by a microchip dedicated to the purpose, not some software emulator or hi-fi MIDI synthesizer. Here is Sensations (chip error); the sound quality is very bad because the only way I have to record this is to hold a mic up to a speaker. It starts out fine but goes to shit pretty soon. What's actually happening is that I'm not making the realtime deadline for emitting samples (chip is only 12mhz) because I'm doing too much computation when there are more than 2 notes sounding simultaneously. Because it's basically deterministic and only generating sound, this actually just slows down everything: the length of the notes and their corresponding pitch, by a factor depending on how many simultaneous notes there are. I had a good laugh about this.
I'm usually very careful when programming microcontrollers because it's way harder to debug than in a regular computer, if you get it wrong. I'm proud to report that this was compile/flash/test #2; the first didn't do anything because I forgot to increment the index into the song; the third worked exactly as I wanted. More on this project soon, I think.