I’m a long-time fan of Björk, and was recently lucky enough to snarf a spare ticket to a show here in London at the end of her Biophilia tour. It was a fairly insane show (in a good way), involving an all female Icelandic choir, a drummer, an organ, a musically aware lightning bolt generator, a pin-barrel harp, and David Attenborough (obviously). Really impressive to see how she’s still trail-blazing rather than just churning out the old favourites (although some of the latter were presented in imaginative new ways).
On a related note, back in February I revisited my old haunt the Royal Academy of Music to record/film a version of Björk’s famous tune Jóga, arranged and sang by the amazing and consistently entertaining singer Emma Smith. Yesterday I finally finished the video editing (done with the awesome Kdenlive video editor which is Free Software), and here is the result. Hope you enjoy it!
I’ve been a bit of a hermit the last few weeks, burning the candle both ends and spending the majority of my spare time building a new toy … well actually it started out as a toy, but now I think it’s good enough for musicians to use as a serious tool for improving their improvisation / compositional skills, and harmonic understanding.
These days I have the regular pleasure of playing in the London Tango Orchestra with some wonderful musicians. A while back we did some filming for a BBC Persia documentary, and we recently received copies of the videos, which came out pretty well! Take a look …
This next one is the gorgeous Piazzolla tune Milonga del Angel. Unfortunately the video and audio don’t match for the first half, but it gets back in sync at 3’35″:
UPDATE 26/02/2013: Daniel has replied to this post, and I have replied to his reply.
As George Santayana famously said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. In light of recent news regarding music notation software, I would add with some disappointment and frustration that those who choose to ignore the past are also condemned to repeat it.
For those of you who don’t already know, Sibelius is a proprietary software product for music notation which has for many years been one of the most popular choices for professional musicians and composers. For many of the more experienced customers in the technology industry who have already been burned in the past, a heavy reliance on a single technology is enough to trigger alarm bells – what if the company providing that technology goes bust, or decides to change direction and cease work on it, or simply does an awful job (*cough* Microsoft *cough*) of maintaining and supporting that technology? Then you’re up a certain creek without the proverbial paddle.
In the IT industry, this is a well-known phenomenon called vendor lock-in. A powerful movement based on Free Software was born in the early eighties to free computer users from this lock-in, and is now used on billions of devices world-wide. You may have never heard of Free Software, but if you own an Android phone or a “broadband” router, or have ever used the Firefox browser or Google Chrome, you have already used it. The vast majority of the largest companies in the world all run Free Software in their datacentres around the world; for example, every time you access Google or Facebook you are (indirectly) using Free Software.
In the summer of 2011, I quit my job to resume full-time music studies. During the summer semester at the Berkeley Jazzschool in California, I started learning John Coltrane’s solo on the title track of his famous album Blue Train. It was really tough going, but addictive – I was getting my arse handed to me on a plate on a daily basis by a dead person, but I felt like I was way off the well-trodden path and that was really satisfying!
After 3 months studying in various places in the USA, I got back home and resumed work on this transcription in earnest. It became part of my daily routine, and I craved the day that I could play the whole thing note perfect at the same speed as the original. There were so many notes to fit in that I had to come up with totally new ways to use my left thumb, on which the normal cellist’s callus grew to epic proportions. Trane became the best cello teacher I never had. Unfortunately, just around the time I was getting close to being able to nail it, real life intervened, and I had to refocus on earning money. Inspired by Benoît Sauvé’s incredible rendition of the same solo on recorder (recorder?! what a mofo – check out his other videos), I did a couple of very rough recordings with my compact camera for posterity, and moved on.
Sometime later, I discovered a John McLaughlin video on YouTube (sadly no longer available) which had an awesome animated transcription at the bottom – a really cool glimpse inside the craft of a master musician. Then it occurred to me that I could do the same kind of thing with my video, and publish it in case there are any other jazz cellists out there who would be interested in it. I put a lot of effort into notating and fingering it, so it seemed a waste to just let it rot and never see the light of day. After all, I already had the source files and a video, so it was just a simple matter of combining the two, right? How hard could it be?
Very very hard, it turns out. I had to write two new pieces of software, completely overhaul a third, and fix some obscure bugs hidden deep inside a fourth. But I didn’t discover that until I’d reached the point of no return …
I’ll probably blog more at some point about the software engineering hoops I had to jump through in order to make this all work. Email me if you’re interested.