Music Technology Posts from April, 2007

Jamming All Over The World

Monday, April 30th, 2007

Ever been in a band that split up because the lead singer/guitarist/tambourine man decided to go and live in Australia? Such geographically-induced demise may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to eJamming AUDiiO.

Tips and Tricks for Ableton Live (and Rewire)

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Ableton Live is a seqencing instrument which offers a vast array of features to the live performer. Originally devised as a sample sequencer, it now has added support for MIDI, mixing and production as well as some very advanced real-time effect manipulation. It is an immensely popular program, and allows sequencing to be ‘performed’ rather than just programmed. For some useful tips on getting more out of your Live set, have a look at the covert operators site.

Ableton Live is also a perfect partner to Reason, as the two can be run in unison using the ReWire protocol. When the two programs are linked via ReWire, pressing play on the transport control of one will also activate the other – essentially, the programs function as a single entity in sequencing terms. Moving to a different part of Reason’s timeline will move the focus to the corresponding point in the Ableton timeline, and vice versa. Usually you will have to open Ableton first, and then when you open Reason it will automatically detect Live and set itself into Rewire Slave mode. For more details on ReWire, check out the Rewire page at

Yahoo! and Gracenote to End the Mondegreen

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Yahoo! and Gracenote have announced a partnership whereby lyrics from the five major music publishers will be made available through Yahoo! Music. Gracenote has been building a database of legal and accurate song lyrics for more than two years, and its incorporation into the Yahoo! Music site means that this vast body of creative work is now easily searchable by typing in even a small fragment of a lyric.

Does this, however, spell the end for the mondegreen? For those not familiar with the term, a mondegreen is an accidental mishearing of a word, phrase or lyric so that it acquires a new (and often amusingly inaccurate) meaning. In fact, the word ‘mondegreen’ is itself a mondegreen (making it an autonym, as is canabrism). It was reputedly first coined by the American writer Sylvia Wright, as she misheard the following verse from Percy’s “Reliques”:

“Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurray, [sic]
And Lady Mondegreen.”

The final line here actually reads “And laid him on the green”. I’m sure everyone has a huge amount of personal mondegreens lurking in their brain somewhere – they can often go for years (in some cases, forever) without being uncovered, as it usually takes an explicit encounter with the lyric in written form before one actually realises the mistake.

  • “Grand Parade” becomes “Grandpa Raid”
  • “Gladly the cross I’d bear” becomes “Gladly the cross-eyed bear”
  • “There’s a bad moon on the rise” becomes “There’s a bathroom on the right”
  • “All of the other reindeer” becomes “Olive, the other reindeer”
  • “The dark, sacred night” becomes “The dog say goodbye”

And so on.

A well-known mondegreen appears in Steve Miller’s song The Joker – “Some people call me Maurice, ’cause I speak of the pompatus of love”.

The Joker refers to Miller’s own song Enter Maurice which inaccurately quotes The Letter (by Vernon Green). Green wrote “discuss the puppetutes of love,” where ‘puppetutes’ was a term he coined to mean a secret, paper-doll fantasy figure. So, in this case, the mondegreen of The Joker is actually the correct lyric in that song (which makes it not a mondegreen, even though it is).

Other silly phrases have been brought about by translation errors – the song “Can’t buy me love” was translated into Russian as “Throw a crowbar to the old woman”. Very nice – although not quite as bizarre as Coca-Cola’s translation into Chinese coming out as “bite the wax tadpole“.

Fame, Wassies and the Foley Room

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Taking a step into the surreal world of Cork-based musical eccentricity, Nialler9 posted a piece on “May Fame” – a quirky mockumentary featuring the larger-than-life Giordai Ua Laoghaire. In the film, Giordai epitomises a plethora of classic rock cliches and even indulges in a spot of nude frolicking. In real life (whatever that is), he formed the band Nine Wassies from Bainne, whose album ‘Ciddy Hall’ was engineered and produced by Aidan Foley (no relation to me). “May Fame” was directed by Colm Tobin of Langerland, who is no relation to Amon Tobin. Amon Tobin has just released an album called “Foley Room” (no relation to me).

Foley Room” is something of a music concrete venture, as the tracks are based on samples collected in the wild using roving microphones. A Foley Room is where Foley Artists record sound effects and incidental music for films – the art of adding such sound effects to movies takes its name from Jack Foley, a Hollywood producer who developed his techniques at Universal Studios. His career spans the transition from silent movies to ‘talkies’, and his vast portfolio includes the chain-gang sounds in ‘Spartacus’ and the propeller sound in ‘Pink Submarine’ (reputedly produced by recording a burp and looping it backwards).

Optical Pickup Technology for Guitars

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

A standard electric guitar pickup is electromagnetic in nature, converting the vibration of a guitar’s metal strings into an electric current by using magnets. Of course, there are variations to this process – I mentioned in a previous post that I played a gig using Roland’s GR-33 guitar synth, which converts the vibrations of the strings into MIDI data. Such data can then be interpreted/manipulated by other hardware, such as the synth itself or a computer.

Another method of converting string vibration into a usable signal is the optical pickup. Although Ron Hoag has been working on this technology since 1968, he has now decided to put the intellectual property rights to this research on the market. Hoag’s pickup has several advantages over standard coil devices. As it incorporates LEDs to detect the vibration of the string, it can be used on nylon as well as metal strings. Also, standard electromagnetic pickups actually interfere slightly with the vibration of the string, due to their magnetism. The practical upshot of this is that sustain is reduced – a problem that does not arise with optical sensors. As an additional bonus, the optical pickup can create a 30 Volt output signal – significantly louder than a conventional guitar. This one goes way past eleven.

K-Max pickup

Peer-to-Peer Review: The DRM Can’t Be Beat

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

A number of companies are attempting to monetise the massive quantity of music that is downloaded via peer-to-peer networks every day. SpiralFrog, Ruckus and Qtrax are three such companies, in varying stages of development. The common premise is to provide free music for download, and have the costs covered by advertising.

Qtrax aims to open for business in September, and has already secured licenses from EMI and Warner. They are continuing to broker deals with other labels, including Sony BMG and a number of independents. Given that CD sales are in decline, and standard mp3 sales from stores such as iTunes have not risen sufficiently to offset that loss, record labels are anxious to develop other monetisation models which take advantage of the new consumption profiles engendered by the Internet.

So is the ad-supported download going to succeed? According to Terry McBride of the Nettwerk Music Group, a legitimate peer-to-peer network could appeal to illegal downloaders because it works the same way as the software they currently use. While this does sound like wishful thinking, a lot will depend on the details of the implementation. Ad-supported downloads might work – for example, if you find an album you like, start downloading it and are then presented with some ads to look at while you wait for the download to complete. However, the issue of DRM has yet to be raised. Qtrax do not specify details on this, but they suggest that their ‘major label’ downloads may only be listenable five times. This means they are not actually providing ad-supported downloads, but ad-supported music rental. When you have listened to your songs five times, they become unusable. If you like the album, you can then go and buy it (perhaps at iTunes) where your legally bought mp3s will undoubtedly feature some other DRM which limits what you can do with your music. Furthermore, downloads will not be in mp3 format at all, but in a proprietary ‘mpq’ format.

Ruckus is targeting the college market, where illegal music downloading is understandably rampant (after all, what student has twenty quid to spend on an album?), and also incorporates DRM limitations. Ruckus mp3s can only be listened to on a PC (no portable devices, unless you get the premium service) and once the students graduate they lose all their music unless they get a subscription. Although free music at college is a no-brainer, I wonder what the uptake will be with graduates – that’s the real acid test here. As the service only came online at the start of this year, the results are not yet in.

Ease-of-access is one reason for the appeal of p2p music downloads. DRM-free (and just plain free) music is another. I imagine that most people would rather not clog up their computers with hundreds of mp3 files that will have to be deleted after five listens. Personally, I wouldn’t touch an mp3 download with a bargepole – if I want an album, I buy the CD. If a legitimate p2p service appeared which offered DRM-free downloads, I would be the first to check it out, but until all that small print disappears, I think I’ll give it a miss.

CTIA Gadgets for 2007

Friday, April 20th, 2007

The CTIA mobile technology exhibition has just finished up, and a couple of notable items emerged. First off, Able Planet have developed ‘harmonic boost’ headphones which electronically enhance higher-frequency sounds to counteract the effects of natural hearing loss. As people get older, they lose the ability to perceive higher freqencies – a teenager can probably hear frequencies up to about 22kHz, but many adults can’t hear anything above 15kHz. The Able Planet headphones aim to restore some of the signal that you may otherwise be missing. The headphones are also noise cancelling and have a soft clipping feature.

The 22kHz upper limit of human hearing is the reason that standard audio CDs are sampled at a rate of 44.1kHz. According to the Nyquist calculation, in order to accurately digitally reproduce a signal, the sample rate must be at least twice that of the highest frequency being encoded.

Moving on to a new topic (not directly related to music), the technology behind iqzone‘s website is quite interesting. It opens up a new window on the potential of the mobile Internet, and shows how a well-designed site married to a simple concept could really take off. Here, mobile users with a cameraphone can simply take a snap of an item they wish to sell, upload it to the iqzone site and have an ad online within a minute. I would guess that the simplicity of the site will make it a very popular destination for sellers (particularly those with limited wired Internet access).

How to Make People Love Your Music

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

The music industry has always been notoriously unpredictable, and the old A&R maxim that the ‘cream always rises to the top’ is far from a given. For any one band that makes a living out of their music, there are at least a thousand that never will – and the proportion of musicians that actually become wealthy through their work is smaller still. There is, however, a general feeling (if not an actual consensus) that those musicians who do make it are there because they are in some way intrinsically ‘better’ than the swathes of artists left in their wake.

SmartSound Announces BackStage for Sonicfire

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Sonicfire is a music scoring software package aimed at production/post-production professionals, and it has been further enhanced by the announcment of the BackStage website -Â which will be available to all registered users of the software. BackStage is set to go live on 1st June, and takes advantage of SmartSound’s advanced music library resources to create an online Automatic Cue Sheet service. Previously, production companies would have to compile their own cue sheets from edit decision lists (EDLs), a process which is notoriously laborious and time-consuming. With BackStage, processing cue sheets takes only a matter of minutes, and the system is able to recognise other music libraries as well as SmartSound’s own.

One interesting feature of the Sonicfire program is Mood Mapping, which imbues music with metadata reflecting the ‘mood’ of each section or component, allowing for more accurate matching of music with events on-screen. It is also possible to easily find all variations of a particular piece of audio, such as different performance lengths, mixes and featured instruments.

However, if this is all a bit much, and you just want something to take care of your mp3 collection, you could try MediaMonkey instead. It is an advanced music collection organiser, and can help you find that Elvis Costello track you knew you once had (probably on some bizarre compilation album).  Pop over to Create Digital Music for an enthusiastic review of the monkey magic and its manifold mysteries.

Record-Breaking High Frequencies Cut Through the Fog

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

A new high-frequency submillimeter wave record has just been set by researchers at UCLA. The team employed an ingenious method of waveform reinforcement to achieve a frequency of 324 Ghz with a 90 nanometer CMOS integrated circuit (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor). To put this breakthrough in context, the UCLA signal generator produces frequencies 70% faster than the previous best.

But what does this all mean? Well, increasing the frequency of a signal effectively means increasing its bandwidth – more information can be sent in less time, which of course has implications for the entire communications sector. In terms of imaging, such frequencies could enable sensors to see through clothing, dense fog and further into space with better resolution then ever before. The development of a technique that can provide a signal at 340Ghz (which the team expect to achieve shortly) is of particular interest to the aerospace industry and the military, as signals in this submillimeter range can pass through the atmosphere unhindered. At lesser frequencies, signals can collide and interfere with molecular bonds in oxygen, water, carbon dioxide and so on, which reduces the effectiveness of the transmission. At 340Ghz however, the signal can pass through all atmospheric molecules without any interaction, enabling us to see clearly through fog, clouds and even water. For more details, have a look at