Two Releases Spring 2016

You might be thinking that I’m showing favoritism by once again announcing a release by UK artist Dave Migman. It’s certainly true that I like his work and would love to enlarge his audience. It’s also true that he’s relatively prolific. While most of us seem to be running our children around town or getting sucked into another season of some television show or other (now that we can stream whole seasons over a weekend, why bother with anything else?) he’s busy making stuff. Not that artists don’t deserve a little relaxation and a chance to fill themself with the mental equivalent of a Twinkie but, really, we’re usually happier making stuff.

Dave Migman - Learning How To Live And Die - Learning How To Live And Die 3

A drawing from Learning How to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

Migman’s most recent release on Bandcamp, Learning How to Live and Die, has many of his delightful drawings. His writing, as always, is visceral, blood and sinews, corporeal, tangible, and in-your-face outraged. That is, he’ll probably offend your finer sensibilities and get himself thrown out of any polite discussion of office politics. The sounds here, behind the words, are spartan, especially compared to his last release iPadded Cell, and, as always, help build a sense of immediacy and intensity.

Another drawing from Learning How to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

Another drawing from Learning How to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

According to the notes on Bandcamp’s page, these works were originally “dogcasts” written and performed in 2012 for Doghorn publishing. Then, “This version has been re-edited, scooped and hollowed and then pumped with reinforced concrete. Some readings are recent, others old. It recounts a journey through Greece back in 2007 and much was written under the influence of Grecian Village white wine, while staring at the gathering dusk.”

A third drawing from Learning to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

A third drawing from Learning to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

I hope you have the time and money to venture over to Bandcamp to buy all his recordings. (I think all his downloads are name-your-price.)

Also available at Bandcamp is my own collection, 20 Years Frozen for
All Time, with selections spanning 1996-2016. Compared to my previous retrospective collection, 15 Years of Prattle and Din, this one better represents my earlier, pre-computer years of recording.  It is a 2-disc collection (though it downloads as a single stream of twenty-one compositions) lasting over 2 1/2 hours. It’s hard to do anything else while listening to any kind of spoken word, so this could be quite a chore to listen to. The collection includes a 72-page booklet, both in standard PDF and in a printable version (set out in 12-page signatures that need to be collated, trimmed, and bound), and binding instructions. The content of several recordings and certainly that of the booklet are sexually explicit and not appropriate for all ages or philosophical states of mind. The booklet is thick with biographical detail, forays into my recording history (which you can find in even greater detail on my blog Prattle and Din), essays on the creative process, the texts for all included recordings, as well as some notes specific to each recording (again, you can find much more on the blog).

Drawing 105 from Laughing Water. 6"x 8" graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Early to mid-1990s. One of the more socially acceptable (that is, less explicit and therefore less "offensive") drawings from the series. Copyright Michael Myshack.

Drawing 105 from Laughing Water. 6″x 8″ graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Early to mid-1990s. One of the more socially acceptable (that is, less explicit and therefore less “offensive”) drawings from the series. Copyright Michael Myshack.

Drawing 107 from Laughing Water. 6"x8" graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Circa early to mid-1990s. Another "tame" image from the booklet. Copyright Michael Myshack.

Drawing 107 from Laughing Water. 6″x8″ graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Circa early to mid-1990s. Another “tame” image from the booklet. Copyright Michael Myshack.

 

A Recording Memoir

A recording memoir? Like spending months in the studio with rock stars? Endless drama and creativity? Even those books (try Tony Visconti, Glyn Johns, or Phill Brown) give a hint of day after day at a control surface playing knob and fader ballet. It’s rarely glamorous. The excitement is a bit more rarefied, that sense of a job well done.

That story is becoming legend as even professional musicians do more and more of their recording alone at their home studio. They might still have some interesting tales of life on the road but their recording experiences are becoming as dull as any amateur’s, possibly not even getting to play with those cool looking faders and knobs, just sitting at a computer’s monitor clicking the mouse between takes.

Welcome to the blank screen of infinite creativity. It’s just you and the machine. I hope you can work together. It need not be as intimidating as it seems, maybe even less so than a blank sheet of paper.

Last November (2014) I began to write down my experiences in recording as I attempted to make the transition from clueless to creative. The memoir would be Prattle and Din. I spent most of my free time for the next nine months bringing the tale up to date, as of August 2015, telling the story of each recording as well as of my (mis)adventures with technology. That’s almost twenty years of me and the machines, beginning in March 1996 on a 4-track cassette portable studio. Since 2002 I’ve been working on a computer with DAWs and virtual instruments and processors. Don’t worry, I haven’t become some sort of jaded technocrat; I’ve managed to remain true to my roots and am still pretty seriously clueless.

Of the reasons for me to write of my experiences recording poetry and music (or other sounds), other than to just get it out of my system, I think the most important is that I can inform and warn (and maybe entertain) others who would attempt to create a similar art. I’ve tried a variety of home recording solutions, both hardware and software. Along with the articles telling of each individual composition, its aggregation and evolution, I have posts on microphones, software instruments, effects units, analog and digital portable studios, et cetera. Learn from my mistakes (buy a preamp for your mic!). My experiences are limited so I’ve added numerous links to every article.

I might also inspire you to get beyond some of the conventions of music to try more experimental ways of producing sound. If you think a pop song or classical music is the best thing ever and that’s what you want backing your poetry, by all means. But, really, there’s no reason to get stuck with convention. Everything, absolutely everything has music making potential. It’s just a matter of capturing those sounds and then doing something with them, whether leaving them natural sounding or mangling them beyond recognition (just taking something out of context is often enough). The sound manipulating possibilities within computer software make this very exciting to play with. And if you’re a poet you probably already like playing with sound.

If you have experience recording my story might just be a bit of nostalgia and a source of argument (for instance, I do not glorify recording on a 4-track). Checking out someone’s instruments and tools in recording is quite a bit like checking out someone’s library—it seems to be the geek alternative to butt sniffing (I reek amateur).

I almost forgot, you might have an interest in my recordings and want to know more about them. Almost every post has a story about the sounds I’ve used, maybe something about how they were processed, and how they were put together. There are often photos of the recording tools and of household objects turned into musical instruments. There are screen shots of how the sounds are laid out on a DAW’s timeline, showing the structure of the thing. There is the poem itself (or rant or dream) and often some background information as to what was going on in my life when I wrote it and how it evolved over time, if it was an early work.

I want more people making this kind of nonsense—poetry and other sounds—so it is in my self-interest that I convince you it’s worth your time. I just want to kick back and enjoy what you’ve done. I want the luxury of being a fan.

Sylvian/Wright, Migman, and myself

Some recent releases of recorded poetry and music…

2014 David Sylvian released a recording of a project he had begun in 2011 when he paid a visit to poet Franz Wright and recorded Wright reading poems from Kindertotenwald, There’s a Light That Enters Houses with No Other House in Sight.

I had not heard about it until this summer, about two months after Wright had died (May 14, 2015). I had no problem ordering the CD from Amazon but I’ve since heard that it’s already hard to come by. Start emailing Samadhi Sound to let them know it’s their obligation to keep this in print and available (at least through them, if they’ve got problems with the big distributors). I understand that it’s expensive to print LPs and CDs and to keep them on hand but there’s no reason to not have a download available.

Dave Migman has released another album available for purchase at Bandcamp, In the Fine Night We Marched…we’re testing my memory here, I think this is part 2 of The March. The storyline is a retelling based on his notes of a walk from the Pyrenees to Fisterra, along the Via Franca, in 2013. The musical aspect of the record is different from most of his solo albums, which tend to have a DIY punk edge of rough guitar backing his voice (try The March, part 1), while his collaborations with Spleen have a rich electronic backdrop. The music here is primarily synthesized but sparser than Spleen’s style. If I remember correctly he said this album was made in Garage Band.

To help tell the story on my recording memoir Prattle and Din about what I was doing in 2011, just before I began posting my recordings on SoundCloud for all to hear, I re-issued an anniversary collection from that year, 15 Years of Prattle and Din, and put it on Bandcamp. Originally I burned about ten CD copies to give to friends: so, to me, it’s something of a joke to say it’s been re-issued. Most of the compositions were recent (as of 2011) but a couple of them, such as “Music, the Beginning” and “Evil 1”, are recreations of things I’d first recorded in 1996. It’s not particularly representative of my oeuvre in that it lacks stylistic diversity. That is, I tried to put together a fairly cohesive album.

Cryo Is Not Meant to Last

Since creating Poetry and Other Sounds a couple years ago I’ve started two other blogs, both of which have been more successful at cracking open my imagination.

Poetry and Other Sounds is the noble idea, a place for people to connect and learn and, I’d hoped, communicate. It must go dormant until I’m in a different place in my life or until someone else with more time and a more journalistic personality revives it. I’m pretty much clueless as to what’s going on in the world, artistically or otherwise; a more engaged personality is needed.

The Naked Old Man is the ignoble idea. It was meant to be a place for me to rant. Considering how opinionated I am you’d think it would be a non-stop flow of words. Maybe it’s that the plan has been degraded by thought and conscience until I’m mentally stifled. I hope I overcome that weakness. Or adapt to it. I think over time there will be many more posts.

Prattle and Din is my most recent blog and it could be of interest to you, which is why I’m writing this now, and seems to be the thing I actually need to be working on. It’s a memoir of my experiences recording my poems and sounds.

As I work on Prattle and Din it begins to shape itself. The original intent of just telling a linear narrative leading from composition to composition broke down, maybe, even before I started. There are side stories and back stories. There are brief forays into technology as I would stumble into each new tool and, sort of, learn to use it, and I have to tell you about that. There are personal and social events intruding upon creativity and the process of production. The world collapses and sometimes I go down with it and fail to produce anything for years at a stretch (I’ve been making art for so many decades—never living off it—that to have a long fallow period does not alarm me in any way).

Prattle and Din is a story that solidifies in March, 1996 and covers the creation of over 80 audio compositions since then. It’ll take me awhile to jot it all down.

Telling the tale of my recordings is the one way in which I can continue the ideal of Poetry and Other Sounds.

May the frost be with you.

Multimedia Digital Publishing, Second Experiment

In the process of writing this post I’ve already encountered a major failure. More on that later. (A link to the finished book is at the end of this post.)

Last spring I made my first foray into multimedia digital publishing with an interactive PDF called Essay. The failures were as interesting as the successes, showing that it is not a universal medium even though some form of PDF is ubiquitous. The main problem is that the Adobe software used to create the multimedia PDF uses Flash. Since the arrival of the iPad Flash is on its way out, not supported on much of anything except desktop computers.

This time I am trying to create a book in HTML. The idea is to upload the book in a folder that can be opened or downloaded, making it accessible via the device’s browser. I think it should be available to all devices except for old-fashioned e-readers that only open EPUBs. Smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers should all be able to open the HTML and play the mp3 audio. (It did open properly on a NOOK HD. My first failure, however: I could not upload a folder as an attachment to this post, I even tried creating ZIP and 7ZIP versions. I still assume this could be done on a full blown website, where the folder is uploaded as part of the site and then linked to a page, such as a download button, but I’m not sure of how I would go about doing this.)

What I’m trying to do is almost the same as if I’d created an interactive book in EPUB3. The bonus is that it should be something close to universal access, as mentioned above. The downfall is that the publication is not bound, or packaged, as an EPUB would be (from what I’ve read an EPUB is little more than a packaged HTML document). (Of course, the other problem with all the things I’m trying out would be marketing: how do you sell it? After you’ve jumped through all the proprietary hoops you can upload your EPUB to one or all of the online sellers, which I don’t think you could do with a raw HTML file.)

So, for the past four months or so I’ve been compiling my documented dreams, recording readings of them, gathering photos, and piecing it all together in Adobe’s Muse.

One of the problems I wanted to tackle is the recording of the readings. Normally I work with a Røde NT-1 microphone mounted to a boom mic stand. The issue is that the mic and pop filter obstruct my view of the text so that I have to position my neck and back at odd angles to speak into the microphone while maintaining a clear view of the text. The first thing I tried was setting up a Zoom H1 portable recorder on my desk. The sound was odd, probably from reflections (echoes) off the desktop and nearby furniture, making it sound like I was in a small box. This led me to buy a new microphone, an Audio-Technica PRO 8 HEx headset mic: hands free and line of sight clear. Unfortunately I don’t like the sound of it. There’s no lower range (most microphones give you a proximity boost which makes all of us sound a little like radio announcers). I had to tweak the EQ to cut back on the middle frequencies, which I usually boost, and boost the lower frequencies. The sound is still inadequate because of the lower bit-rate mp3 format I used for the HTML download (128 kbps, which is a compromise between small file size and clear audio). (It sounded better on my NOOK than it does on my computer’s speakers.)

Another problem I faced was that I hadn’t been able to get audio files to work when linked to a button in Muse. The answer was to have the media file open on a separate page or tab. Now you can hear the narration while reading along.

And, of course, there’s the issue of navigation. Starting with the cover page there is a link to the table of contents. All pages have a link to the table as well as to the cover. (My intention was that when opening the folder you would open the file called index.html to access the cover/home page, to give you something of an EPUB experience…though opening any file at random would be like opening a real book at random, except that you use the links rather than flipping the pages.) Then, as you would expect, each title in the table of contents links to its respective document. Because this is not a PDF or EPUB where you can swipe from page to page I added previous and next page links. Beyond that, there is a button to open the appropriate audio file in whatever media player your system uses. See the sample pages below:

Cover page of Dreams, by Swampmessiah, with instructions on opening the file and using the links.

Cover page of Dreams, by Swampmessiah, with instructions on opening the file and using the links.

Typical text page from Dreams, by Swampmessiah, with instructions on using the links.

Typical text page from Dreams, by Swampmessiah, with instructions on using the links.

I think I’ve said enough.

Higher quality audio files will be uploaded to my page on soundcloud.com. They will be compiled as a set and downloadable as individual tracks (they are copy righted and made available only for your personal use).

I’m sorry I couldn’t give you the folder as an attachment to download into almost any device. Instead, I will provide you with a link to Business Catalyst, a feature of Adobe’s Creative Cloud, where I can post up to five live websites (small ones) as part of the overall service: dreamlog.businesscatalyst.com.

 

A Very Basic Introduction to DAW

Just because you’re an intelligent and creative person (that is, a poet) doesn’t mean you know anything about recording or composing, or that you know anything about the technology for creating any kind of audio composition. This is specialized knowledge with a specialized language and specialized tools: it takes a while to learn it, even the basics.

I’m going to take a few minutes to introduce you to some of the most rudimentary means of construction within the recording technology accessible to almost anyone in the modern world: the DAW, or digital audio workstation, on a computer. That is, I want to introduce you to recording actual sounds, creating with MIDI, and looping.

I do my sound editing and some basic recording in a program called Sound Forge, then construct an audio collage in ACID Pro. (These are moderately expensive programs, both of which come in much cheaper versions. I’ve been spoiled by good software and it is now one of the few luxuries in my life. Almost all the DAWs have at least one limited use version at a lower price, and almost all also have a version that is free. The wikipedia article on DAWs lists quite a few options, both paid and free.) In the late 1990s there were huge differences in what each program could do. For instance, most of the programs were nothing more than MIDI editors and controllers. Pro Tools made its mark by being a dedicated recording platform—turning your computer into a digital tape deck. ACID was unique as a loop production program. Now they all do pretty much the same thing.

Twenty years ago loops were the buzz, very mysterious and very intimidating (at least to traditional musicians).  All there is to a loop is a sound recording set to continuous playback (yes, that annoying theme song that keeps playing while a DVD is in menu mode is a loop). Looping in performance—that is, performing and recording a musical phrase and setting it to repeat, then creating more layers the same way—takes talent and timing. The subject here is a bit more static and slow moving. The loops I use are created by setting the beats per minute (BPM) by selecting how many beats a recording has or by selecting a tempo (say, 110 BPM) in an audio editing program like Sound Forge (this is also known as acidizing). You can buy commercial loops, such as short passages of drumming, that are ready to go, and I’ve used them but find the process dissatisfying. Most often I create something original made from recording found and household objects abused in various ways.

In 2003 I found some furnace filters while cleaning out a commercial space, on my day job, and brought them home to rub and bang on. The following recorded clip is one of the results:

By looping it and placing it on the timeline in ACID I’ve created a crude rhythm. You’ll notice that the sound is quite different now: that’s because the tempo of the sample was set to something like 298 BPM but the composition is at 110 BPM. This stretches the sample beyond its limits, creating artifacts very much like zooming in too far on a photo. It’s sort of like an audio pixilation.

Here is how it sounds:

And here is how it looks on the monitor in ACID Pro:

loop and MIDI

This is a screen shot of looped audio and a MIDI track in Sony’s ACID Pro.

Below the looped audio file you’ll notice five horizontal blue bars. This is a display of MIDI information in a piano roll editor (as opposed to a text editor). The basic blue bar shows the pitch by diagramming its placement on a piano’s keyboard; duration by the length of the bar along the timeline; and how hard the keyboard was pressed or struck by the little vertical wand with a diamond on top. MIDI data can be entered by performance in realtime with any kind of MIDI controller (a piano-type keyboard is the most common but wind controllers (basically a sax mouthpiece), guitar controllers, and percussion controllers are also very common), it can be step-recorded with a controller (a laborious process where you set the length of each note then create it with the controller), or you can even draw in the notes in the MIDI editor.

The mind boggling side of MIDI is that you can play it back with any sound, whether on hardware or software. In this example I merely copied the MIDI clip and placed it on two tracks. The first track is the original sound module, a patch called M’Lady on a software instrument called M-Tron Pro (an emulation of the venerable Mellotron). For the second track I used a purely digital product by Native Instruments called Massive (a patch known as Infatuated).

The last component, and to the poet the most important, is live recording. You can record your voice or any other sound directly into the computer with any of these programs. Or you can record elsewhere with a portable recorder, your phone, or anything else that can capture sound and then transmit it to a computer, then open up the file within the composition program.

The example I’m providing is a recording of my older daughter at the age of five, in 1996, on a cassette 4-track portable studio just a few months after I began working with audio (this singing and babbling goes on for half an hour and only came to an end because the tape came to an end—unfortunately she’s become a rather shy young woman).

all four tracks

This is a screen shot of ACID Pro showing the looped sample, two copies of a MIDI clip, and a fragment of stereo audio (my daughter singing).

I’ll conclude with one of my compositions, Winter Flowers. With this piece I used a variation of sampling and looping not discussed above. First I’ll let you hear the original field recording of “snow pellets”, little hard balls of snow not quite solid enough to be considered hail. This was then looped in a processing program from Native Instruments (unfortunately long discontinued) called Spektral Delay, a mixture of delays and EQ filters with a visual controller (you can draw how the filters work). I did this several times over, each time with different settings, then compiled them randomly in ACID. To which I added voice and a couple MIDI instruments. The whole thing is very simple.

No Universal Format for Digital Publishing

Was there a time in which anyone inventing new technologies was stoned to death for violating tradition? I imagine there was. And every time I have to deal with a new battle of proprietary products I start looking for something to throw.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not idolize old technologies (with the exceptions of the bound book and a manual transmission in my car). I’ve lived with oil lamps and wood burning stoves and outhouses and having to haul in water. I’ve written with a manual typewriter (it’s sort of a printer/keyboard combo without a monitor and very limited editing capabilities, primarily involving the crumpling of paper). I’m not someone who misses the sounds of clicks and crackles on vinyl or the hiss of tape. My desk no longer sags under the weight of a CRT monitor. Et cetera.

I do, though, tend to embrace technology when it has stabilized a little, when one developer’s offering has won the battle in the market place and we can all settle down to enjoy the content rather than fussing over the medium.

This has not yet happened in the world of electronic publishing. The primary forms are: EPUB and its variants; interactive PDF; interactive magazines; and HTML. I think the only format that works on all computer platforms and on almost all mobile devices is HTML. At a glance PDF also seems almost universal.

My first foray into both reading and production was overly optimistic. ePublishing with InDesign CS6 by Pariah Burke is an excellent work, digging rather deeply into things not exactly specific to the book’s title, with an abundance of information and tips. At the time I was looking into buying his book I was also looking at Digital Publishing with Adobe InDesign CS6 by Sandee Cohen and Diane Burns. Cohen and Burns’ book looked as though it did little more than walk you through the InDesign menus. This is more or less true, though there are a couple pages in their book that I wish I’d read (pages 224-225). Burke has charts with the pros and cons of each format and spells out their limitations. Unfortunately he’s not really looking at the market and what is typically being supported.

For instance, the EPUB: version 3.0 supports more layout options as well as audio and video. Very encouraging. Cohen and Burns point out that very few e-readers or mobile devices recognize EPUB 3.0 and, to date, that most of the electronic book sellers do not market it. (I think my next project will be a new collection, a dream log, created in both versions of EPUB and probably PDF. I’ll post them here, but until I get a website of my own this will be the extent of availability. And that’s another problem for independent publishers and do-it-yourselfers: where to publish and how to make your work available to as many devices and operating systems as possible.)

On the surface PDF would seem to be the ultimate format for an electronic book. You can do almost anything with it, it’s been around forever, and almost all devices and operating systems can open it. But there’s the catch: often they can only open it. Cohen and Burns have a long list of things that don’t work, for instance in Macs and mobile devices. Hyperlinks usually still work but multimedia and buttons only work on your PC (I found this to be true on my NOOK HD as well as on my partner’s iPad3, and I’ve gotten reports from friends that my first foray was a bust on their Mac laptops). Except on a PC an interactive PDF is likely to be opened as a flat, printable PDF (your basic, boring user’s manual-type PDF). If you’d gone ahead and created a printable PDF your images would at least be higher quality.

Interactive magazine is very interesting and very versatile, with all kinds of interactivity, linking, multimedia, and viewing options. Two catches: one is that, at present, they are not viewable on computers, just on tablets (both reference books were saying the same thing); the other is that you have more hoops in terms of processing and integration to create an app for your publication and potentially much more work and expense. For instance, to create an app for an Apple readable publication you have to have an Apple computer. I don’t think I’ll be creating any kind of interactive magazine for years to come.

What about HTML? It’s capable of doing just about everything the other formats are promising, and maybe more. It’s viewable and functional on everything but some of the older e-readers.…I think the problems are threefold: packaging, distribution, and know-how. I think for me packaging and distribution are the more difficult to overcome. Unlike the general subject of digital publishing creating a downloadable packet of HTML is a deeply buried sub-genre that is not featured in how-to books or videos. It’s something that’s always “outside the scope of this book”. It’s probably not much more than creating a folder, as you would for a website, and maybe ZIP-ing it. (Once again I’ll mention that I subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud and its incredible assortment of software. Muse is still under development—at least as far as I’m concerned—but it’s already an extraordinarily easy tool for creating HTML. It’s a lot like using InDesign for creating print and electronic books.…I still find it doesn’t work well for adding audio files (and also video?) and that I need to do that in Dreamweaver.)…I have no idea how to tackle distribution. None of the online bookstores market HTML books. If they did we’d probably end up with another proprietary nightmare (for instance, even though EPUB is a common format Amazon’s Kindle will not read it, you have to convert your EPUB to their file system).

So, yes, I will keep working through these issues. And, yes, I will keep you posted as to the results.

In the meantime, I’m having vicious fantasies of throwing things at the developers of proprietary systems. I’m more of a mind to pelt them with our ever-dwindling supply of Twinkies than with stones.