Follow Friday: Musical Twitter Feeds You Read – and an Alternative Approach

Twitter has been (rightfully, in many cases) maligned as a distraction, but at times the “microblog” can keep us connected in smaller bits of time, not larger. People read while something is rendering, when they feel a bit lonely or distracted to begin with (a bit like taking work to a virtual coffee shop), while they’re in line at the grocery looking at their phone. And for the bedroom- and studio-based music maker, Twitter reveals something of what the future might be like. Twitter itself can sometimes prove too unstructured to be useful, but that one service aside, it demonstrates …

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Bear McCreary: Rocking the Electric Violin on Battlestar Galactica

Film/TV composers have a particular interest here on CDM in that they tend to think creatively about style, instrumentation, and sound in their work and have to meld one technology (music) with another (film). It’s Friday night, so having resisted this long, I can no longer avoid mentioning Galactica. Composer Bear McCreary, who has scored the Battlestar Galactica TV series, has a blog going in which he talks about his music and some of the instruments featured in the show’s eclectic (and often surprisingly ethnic) sound textures: For tonight’s episode, McCreary blogs his featured violinist, Paul Cartwright, whose electric violin …

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Stroh’s Strange, Early 20th Century Horn-Violins; “Digital Violin” Resource

Amplifying violins — and processing them with bizarre Max/MSP patches using mics and pickups and gyroscope bows — is no longer a major challenge. But it wasn’t always so. Early recordings of violins faced the challenge of the fragile sound of the instrument. Builders like John Matthias Augustus Stroh devised a primitive but effective solution: attach a horn to the instrument. The results are nothing if not wacky, and they reveal a lot about how instruments and technology evolve over time. I’d love to see more of this thinking in modern digital instruments, and violin/horn mash-ups seem even more compelling …

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Expanding the Violin: Diana Young’s Sensor-packed Hyperbow

The original design of the violin is a classic, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to improve upon it with modern tech. While it looks mostly like an ordinary bow, the Hyperbow is designed to electronically measure gestures and calculate force, speed, and bow-bridge distance, thanks to accelerometers, gyroscopes, and force sensors. The bow, designed by MIT Media Lab Ph.D. candidate Diana Young, began as a way to measure different bowing techniques. But combined with MIT’s Hyperviolin, the all-electronic/non-acoustic violin also developed by the MIT Media Lab, the bow can unleash new means of making music with violins. If …

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16th Century Music Tech: 11-yo Sirena Huang on Design Marvel of Violin

We hear lots of discussion of how to make better digital instruments. But to fully understand instrument design, it’s often best to look at instruments from around the world that have evolved over centuries. (Hey, these synthesizers and such, by comparison, are mere infants.) Here’s a fantastically virtuostic performance from 11 year-old Sirena Huang, via June Cohen on the TEDtalks blog. Following the music, she discusses in frank terms why the instrument is such a timeless design. She’s got a smart audience for such thoughts: the performance comes from the Technology, Entertainment, Design conference, a legendary gathering of “thinkers and …

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A New Way of Learning Orchestration: Online, Free, Interactive

Talk about digital technology and music, and people are often skeptical: doesn’t technology get in the way of making music? But technology and music have always been interwined, and even for advanced composers, better understanding the technology of how acoustic instruments work is fundamental to realizing musical ideas. Unfortunately, orchestration books, despite their best intentions, can be disastrous for composers trying to understand instruments. Books by definition can’t include musical examples, and the texts themselves are often divorced from real practical information. Now the good news: the Web could offer an antidote.

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The Violin That Plays Itself

“The dream of a violin that can play itself has tantalized inventors for over a century.” Well . . . mad scientist inventors, maybe, along with dreams of self-cleaning carrots and ironing boards that can go into battle. Nonetheless, here it is: I give you the Gulbransen Virtuoso Violin, a QRS Pianomation Player Violin. Put on a violin piece, and it sounds like the violin is really there — because it is. Ain’t no digital samples here, just a MIDI-controlled bow hacking away at a real violin. List price, $20,000, but for some reason it’s at a fire sale bargain-basement …

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Electric Violins, IBM Mainframes, and Playboy

Pop quiz: what instrument by pioneering “father of digital audio” (or, if you’d rather, “great-grandfather of Techno”) Max Mathews was featured on the cover of Playboy Magazine? If you guessed the IBM 704 mainframe, the computer on which Mathews generated the first computer music the world ever heard, you’d be — wrong! Would that we were so lucky. I’m sure you hard-core geeks can imagine your favorite woman or man sprawled over those . . . crisp lines . . . cold, slab surfaces . . . humming away . . . see the 704 photos here and here. The …

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