music industry learns nothing from the Avid / Sibelius saga?

By , February 25, 2013 11:46 pm

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.

What does any of this have to do with Sibelius? Continue reading 'music industry learns nothing from the Avid / Sibelius saga?'»

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cello lessons from a dead genius

By , January 28, 2013 8:05 pm

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time …

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.

In the mean time, hope you enjoy the video! (You can also view it on YouTube.)

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Rediscovering music

By , August 12, 2011 5:18 am

I’m sitting on a plane from LA to Chicago. This is my fifth flight in the last two months, having already been to New York, Ohio, Florida, and California, and it’s probably about time I explain what the hell I’m doing, as I have friends and family who have seen various confusing status updates I’ve posted on Facebook and Twitter whom I owe the full story.

Just over two years ago, I blogged about taking a leap of faith and turning down two great jobs because they didn’t involve doing something I was truly passionate about. It was a gamble, but even after two months I could tell it was going to pay off. Sure enough, two years later, I found myself with a wealth of new experience and knowledge which I’d had a ton of fun acquiring, plus a healthy boost to my CV and set of friends and connections within the industry.

Then the stars aligned again, and I found myself with another life-changing dilemma: take an even more awesome job than the one I was in, or quit IT altogether and face an indefinite period of zero income. Pretty obvious what to do, right? I quit.

If that sounds crazy, it’s because it probably was – definitely another leap into the unknown. But I’ll try to explain my decision. Continue reading 'Rediscovering music'»

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Flying with a (carbon fibre) cello

By , August 1, 2011 10:17 pm

When flying, most cellists are faced with either buying an extra ticket or getting a flight case, paying oversized baggage fees, and praying. Experiences vary widely and are in places well documented and full of useful advice, e.g.

My situation is different because I have a Luis and Clark carbon fiber cello which is incredibly robust and generally does not even go out of tune when checked in as normal baggage and placed in the hold of the aircraft in a normal hard case. My case is a Bam Hightech measuring 54.5 × 21 × 13.75″.  It seems virtually all airlines policies regarding oversized baggage operate in “linear” or total dimensions, which generally means by summing up the 3 separate dimensions together (although in some cases the wording is so confused, even that’s not clear).  This means my case has a linear dimension of 89.25″ which unfortunately is outside the 62″ standard limit, and even just outside Delta’s second tier limit of 80″.  Having said that, so far I have always managed to get it treated as normal sized baggage just by behaving exactly as if it was a normal suitcase, or even need be simply by confidently pointing out that the height is 54.5″ which is under 62″. In my experience, most staff at the check-in gate are not familiar with the exact terms in their airline’s policies, so having the right attitude (confidently knowledgeable and up-front but non-confrontational) can go a long way.

I’ve done some research on the policies of some popular airlines and referenced the relevant extracts below, with one section per airline. The quotes I’ve taken are focused mainly on national flights within the USA, because despite being from the UK, I’m currently flying around the USA a lot. However the policies for international flights seem similar, although sometimes with higher fees.
Continue reading 'Flying with a (carbon fibre) cello'»

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Audio looping with Free Software

By , July 13, 2011 8:24 am

I’m currently on a musical pilgrimage around the USA.  I brought my Digitech JamMan Delay unit with me, because I was attending Christian Howes‘ phenomenal Creative Strings Workshop in Columbus, Ohio, where I knew I would learn how to turn this gadget into a hugely useful practice tool.  (Incidentally, I was not disappointed, and will blog more when I get time about how awesome Chris’ various educational offerings are.  Until then, click the links!)  Unfortunately at some point after leaving Ohio, the JamMan stopped working.  I guess it didn’t like being surrounded by a bunch of smelly clothes and then getting thrown in the hold of a plane. (UPDATE Sept 22nd: actually it turns out that it was fine – the power adapter just needed the UK standard of 240 Volts, and the US standard of 110V wasn’t sufficient …)

So the other night I found myself desperate for a replacement.  I do have a Boss ME-70 with me which has a built-in phrase looper, but it only stores 38 seconds which is barely enough to get to the bridge of Cherokee.  Even worse, there is no way to undo/redo loop layers or store the whole thing after you power the unit off.

Then it occurred to me that I could potentially combine my laptop (a cheap Samsung N150 netbook) with a microphone, headphones (as a poor man’s substitute for an amp), and some software to achieve the same thing.  At this point, those of you with a Mac will exclaim “sure – use GarageBand!”  However, as shiny as Macs are, they are expensive and I also can’t stand Apple for philosophical reasons.  (I can’t stand Microsoft either, which is why I use Linux, but I digress.)  If you are interested in an alternative approach to looping with software, read on!

Continue reading 'Audio looping with Free Software'»

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