AirDeck Project Update 2.0

The Fall Quarter will be starting up this week and as a result I am really making a final push to complete as much of my project as possible. My goal over the summer was to complete as much of the application as possible, so I wasn’t scrambling during the quarter to wrap everything up. The good news is, I have made some significant progress on many fronts, but I am still not where I wanted to be when the quarter started.

Here is where I am at so far:

  1. I have redesigned the GUI somewhat, adding elements for some of the features that I am adding. For example, I added tabs to select the mode the AirDeck will be using based on user selection. Right now, my main priority is on the “SynthDeck,” which is the theremin app. I added tabs for ScratchDeck, a DJ scratching utility and MixDeck, a DJ mixing utility. These last two components are outside of the scope of my Project, although I would like to fit them in, time and resources permitting. Even when the Project is complete, I still plan to develop these elements… I Just had to limit the scope of my project work to something that I am 100% confident that I can deliver – which is the theremin/synth side.
  2. I have the MIDI out working now. This will allow the user to select a MIDI out device and it either can use the built in General Midi Instrument library(from the soundcard), or it can be used to control an external sound source such as a VST instrument, a 3rd party synth application or MIDI capable keyboard/gear. One issue I am trying to work through is that because I am using the MIDI pitch bend control, which is a variable parameter depending on what MIDI capable device is being triggered, the notes on the keyboard grid do not line up with the grid that I currently have set up for internal synthesis. So I might have to dynamically reconfigure the keyboard grid depending on the range of notes the pitch bend is set for, although this is dependent on the external application. I did include a dropdown menu for choosing the General MIDI patch, so the user can change the instrument they are playing. Currently these are represented by numbers, if I can figure out how to get the list of instrument names programmatically, I will add that as well.
  3. The amplitude control issue has been resolved, although I need to work this out for midi control. It is my understanding that midi control has aftertouch and velocity signals that can be modified, so I need to figure out how to dynamically control these.
  4. The GUI has been tightened up in terms of event logic. I have individual methods for each of the GUI components such that choices made by choosing certain items make the appropriate calls.

Here is what is currently outstanding:

  1. While I added synth parameter sliders such as Attack, Decay, Resonance, etc. I still need to figure out how to program those to apply the actual effect.
  2. Same thing with the effects sliders, which will add global effects such as Reverb and Delay.
  3. I need to program the preset sounds. I want these to sound as realistic as possible and since I am still learning a lot about analogue synthesis, it will remain a challenge to program these right.
  4. I want to incorporate patch saving capabilities so that a user can tweak certain parameters of a sound and then be able to recall these later. That is why I have added a File Menu.
  5. I want to add status indicators that show the three following things:  a) the Wii remote is connected, b)battery level of the Wii remote, c) Midi out is active.

Here is the GUI as it currently stands:

deck

Mojo Tunes – Bionic Brew

During the last Winter Quarter, I took the Advanced Electronic Music class, as required by my Recording Arts minor. I was excited to do so as I had just purchased Cakewalk Sonar 8 and was anxious to get working with it. We were tasked to create another original piece and while most of the class was again using Pro-Tools, my professor was gracious enough to let me do my thing with Sonar. This song is the result.

I’ve always enjoyed contrasts, so this song is an attempt to contrast organic sounding material with synthetic elements; also contrasting an upbeat jazzy mood with darker, moodier tones. Hence the name Bionic Brew. The initial melody line is latin lounge flavored with a little bit of funkiness; again my exposure to the Hotel Costes type sound is showing. Then it gets into an analogue synth arpeggiation and on into a spy vs. spy kind of bridge, capped off with a touch of scratching. One of the things I experimented with a lot on this tune is the use of LFO to modulate different parameters of a waveform through another waveform and I was able to come up with a few interesting sounds using Sonar’s z3ta synth module in this fashion. Again, probably not the most dance floor ready or DJ-friendly track, nonetheless… I present Bionic Brew.

Bionic Brew

Bionic Brew © 2008 Mojo’s Dojo

Mojo's 15 Essential Cover Songs

Following up on the previous post about Beatles covers, here is a list of other cover songs I have discovered over the years that I believe are essential listening. Again, the formula that produces the best results, in my opinion, is that the cover is a completely unexpected interpretation of the original. The more outside the original genre the cover is, the more interesting. The first tune that really sparked my interest into this novelty is a ska version of Hotel California I heard about ten years ago. I don’t even know who the artist is, and it didn’t make the list here, but it is a notable example of the art. There are, obviously a tremendous amount of great covers out there and this is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather versions of songs that mostly fall under the criteria of unique stylistic departures. If you are really into this whole cover thing, check out Coverville. This site is completely devoted to the whole phenomena (to an almost overwhelming degree) and features numerous lists, charts, polls and podcasts.

1. Johnny Cash – Hurt (original artist: Nine Inch Nails)
Let me preface this by first saying that my antipathy towards country music regrettably prevented me from learning about Johnny Cash until much later in my life. I have to say that I have since become more familiar with both his body of work and his life story and I respect both very much. This well known cover of the Nine Inch Nails song is one of the things that led me to learn more about Mr. Cash, as I was so surprised to find that a “country” musician would perform a NIN song. In any event, this version of the song is produced by Rick Rubin, and is so full of depth, character and emotion, it really is an amazing piece of work. Performed shortly before Mr. Cash’s death, it is a haunting, subtly searing legacy of an American icon.

2. Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme – Black Hole Sun (original artist: Soundgarden)
I don’t quite remember when the whole “lounge” scene emerged; it was towards the latter part of the 90s. But whether it was William Shatner lounging it up on TV commercials or the numerous lounge CDs such as Richard Cheeze’s “Lounge Against the Machine” series, or even Paul Anka’s “Rock Swings” (which actually has a couple of noteworthy covers – check out his version of Van Halen’s Jump) the trend quickly became a parody of itself; which was probably the point. This lounge version of a dark grunge song, replete with a full backing orchestra, really epitomizes the whole fad and thus it earns its place as a cover classic.

3. Easy Star All-Stars – Money (original artist: Pink Floyd)
Easy Star All-Stars is a dub/reggae group and not only did they cover a Pink Floyd Song or two… they went big, and did the whole album. Their version is called Dub Side of the Moon. Now, being a very big Pink Floyd fan, my immediate thought was that this borders on blasphemy. How could anyone even think of trying to top such a brilliant piece of work? Truth be told, not only does this album work, but it works well. These reggae versions of classic Pink Floyd tunes such as Time or Us and Them pay proper homage to the originals, and you can tell that the band respects Pink Floyd’s work and took care to get these done right. However, for me, the real show stealer on this album is their version of Money. From the satirical opening montage to the heavy dub bassline and even maintaining the odd time signature of the original, this is about as good as a cover can get.

4. God Lives Underwater – Fly On the Windscreen (original artist: Depeche Mode)
I’ve heard several tribute albums over the years and I’ve never been much impressed. They may feature one or two decent tracks that pay proper respect, but much of the material is filler and does a disservice to the precedents. The album For the Masses, a tribute to Depeche Mode is a powerful exception. Most of the tracks are done very well, all of the tracks capture the spirit of the Depeche Mode versions and yet present them through the refraction of the covering artist’s style. Many, many standouts here including Smashing Pumpkins’ Never Let Me Down Again, Monster Magnet’s Black Celebration and Hooverphonic’s Shake the Disease. It’s hard to narrow it down, but I have to give the nod to God Lives Underwater’s version of Read More »

Favorite Beatles Cover List

I have to admit, I like cover versions of songs; and the more stylistically diverse from the original, the more interesting a cover can be. Just as interesting is to see an artist you respect cover another artist you really respect. Following is my list of favorite cover versions of Beatles songs. Most folks know Joe Cocker did With A little Help From My Friends, and to be honest I prefer John Belushi covering Joe Cocker covering this song. Most folks are familiar with Aerosmith’s version of Come Together, which I have to admit,  does absolutely nothing for me. And then there’s the Bee-Gees tribute thing for Sgt. Pepper’s… let’s go ahead and forget that even happened.

Instead, I would like to introduce my own list, based on my own criteria. And the criteria is as follows: either it’s just a cool version or really unexpected take of the song or it involves another artist I really respect or dig paying homage to the Beatles. So without further ado, here’s the list. Please check these versions out if you get the chance.

  1. David Bowie – Across the Universe
  2. Marvin Gaye – Yesterday
  3. Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – Fool On the Hill
  4. Siouxsie and the Banshees  – Dear Prudence
  5. U2 – Helter Skelter
  6. James Brown – Something
  7. Candyflip – Strawberry Fields Forever
  8. Stevie Wonder – We Can Work It Out
  9. The Chameleons UK – Tomorrow Never Knows
  10. Bob Marley and the Wailers – And I Love Her

Honorable Mention for the absolutely weirdest Beatles cover I think I have ever heard: The Residents – Flying

The Beatles

What can I say about the Beatles that hasn’t already been said? In terms of my own life, they are probably the single biggest influence on me musically, socially, philosophically, ideologically and culturally. The Beatles are the reason I first got in to music. The social consciousness of John Lennon has been an inspiration to me from a young age and shapes many of the views that I hold. I don’t have many “heroes” in my life, but if asked, John Lennon would top the list. I consider my musical tastes to be far-reaching and eclectic and have been inspired and touched by numerous genres from classical to jazz to hip-hop to new wave to punk to house music to reggae to latin lounge music to just crazy weirdness that cannot be labelled… And to this day, nearly after 38 years of time on this rock, it is the Beatles that I hold in highest regard above all my musical masters.

Now today, with the release of Beatles Rock Band, clearly there is going to be a commercial explosion, and there is a part of me that is offended by that. But if this is the media that keeps the Beatles fresh in the hearts of future generations, then I am OK with that.

Let me close with a top ten of personal Beatles favorites. These are songs that, despite having heard them literally hundreds and quite possibly thousands of times still touch me in some way. Songs that can still make me smile when I am caught in one of the logjams of life. Songs that still touch me with their depth and make me think. Songs that still bring a tear to my eye. Some may not be the best known, but they are each special to me in some way.

  1. Across the Universe                              beatle_quote
  2. Strawberry Fields Forever
  3. Blackbird
  4. In My Life
  5. A Day In the Life
  6. Eleanor Rigby
  7. Here Comes the Sun
  8. I’m Only Sleeping
  9. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
  10. With A Little Help From My Friends

Honorable Mention: Imagine by John Lennon.