Why Lockdown Music Jams Don’t Work

We’re seeing a lot of virtual choirs and orchestras out there, as well as other groups. It all looks and sounds great, until you decide to get together with your musical friends via  your favourite app and do some real time jamming. Then chaos ensues! So, sometimes I hear people asking what’s the best way to pull it off? Recently I answered this in a music group (after first quipping “Time travel”), so I thought I’d do an edited version here for others wondering the same thing.

To have any success you need to be local and have good internet. The fastest anything can travel is the speed of light, which is about 300,000 km/second in air. Think about how finely we rely on timing in our music. Suppose we want to ensure that our semiquavers (16th notes) at 120bpm are in alignment. Each beat is a half second. A 16th note is 0.03 seconds. So, assuming it travels without delay, the signal can travel 9370km in that time. So, twice the distance across the USA. But, assuming most of it is via wires, these are a lot longer than the direct point to point distance, so let’s assume it’s double. That makes it about the distance across the USA. You play a note, your band member on the other side of the continent hears it 0.03 seconds (a 16th note) later and plays in time with it, but you hear what they played 0.03 seconds later again. So what they might hear being the same time, you hear with a 0.03 second delay between. So you’ll be a 16th note out. Maybe you don’t mind being a 32nd note out. That cuts us to ~2000km. But, the speed of light through copper is about half of the speed of light through air, so that brings us to 1000km. But there is overhead from the way that information travels via internet, so maybe that cuts it to 5% of that distance. Now we’re down to 50km. Your internet speed might be rubbish, there could be delays from everyone watching Netflix etc. So that’s why local is best and may _still_ have noticeable delays.

Maybe you can try something really slow with slushy timing. Or write something that works with people that are out of sync. Like improv over a drone. I’m thinking of writing/arranging something like this for my singing friends to try.

Disclaimer: These are all estimates and could be way out. You can find out the real delay with internet tools and decide whether it is feasible.

 

 

Progress

It’s been a while since I have made progress on the “Sandra Bogerd” project. Music continues in some form all the time, along with creative projects, but has mostly been in the form of choral composition or semichorus performance since the aborted SAS trio project.

But the past two weeks things have got going again via video creation. First up was a LOLcat Christmas video that started out as an excuse to put up the recording of the trio from my Missa Lolcat composition, performed in 2018 by ROCS. It then evolved to something else, as I realised the performance didn’t quite match the mood of the LOLcat story I was creating, so I recorded a canon version of the “mou mou” section of Missa LOLcat’s Agnus Dei for the first part of the video, and generated a sinsy-rendered version of an accompanying “mew” phrase of the Credo solo to provide contrast for the Happymass “storee”.

Then, feeling a bit more video-fluent, and while reflecting about my cousin Bea, who died in June, but had helped me film some footage for my Tiger song, I tackled the “I am the Tiger” music video project. I’m reasonably pleased with the results, though I wish the tiger footage was a bit better quality.

I am the Tiger is my most popular song, based on downloads and streams. I’m pleased to have finally produced a video for it. I hope you enjoy it.

On Art and being an Artist

I’ve been thinking a bit about what it means to be an artist and what art is. This is, of course, a topic that has had many things written about it over the centuries. Here’s my simple take on it.

An artist is someone who creates art, where art is something that has been created by an artist. The programmer in me is amused at the idea of mutually recursive definitions (eg. the infamous “kumquat, see cumquat” and its reverse), but I’ll expand on it.

Art includes a wide range of media, including music, visual arts, multimedia, performance, textiles, text and even code. It involves some thought and decision making on the part of the artist, resulting in something unique. For my definition of art, there is no exclusion based on quality criteria. Sure, some works of art are masterpieces, but something doesn’t have to be a masterpiece to be art. Most drawings by young children classify as art. Strictly following a pattern defined by someone else is not making art. Adding creative input to someone else’s creation, for example, interpreting a composer’s work through performance, is art.

For someone to be an artist, I think there is more to it than just creating things. An artist doesn’t need to produce “good” art to be an artist. But I think an important criterion for being an artist is to reflect on what is produced and to learn from it.

Something that the non-artist sometimes doesn’t understand is that a quick sketch doesn’t necessarily reflect the capabilities of the artist, and that it takes time to do a high quality representational artwork. It is a common and useful technique to quickly sketch down an idea. A recent video that has been doing the rounds at demonstrating the effect of time on output quality showed this very well.

In between my main projects of music and language comics, I also sketch and draw. Lately I have been tinkering with the idea of colouring books. Here is a scan of a test colouring of a scanned and printed pen sketch. I will be cleaning up the drawing electronically to better suit colouring, but I like the effect of the colour scheme I chose, and having colouring as part of the picture-making process.

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Missa Lolcat premiere done and dusted

Last night was the premiere of my new choral work Missa Lolcat, which was featured in the RMIT Occasional Choral Society concert Internet Through the Ages. An attendee (DG) had the following to say about the mass in his concert review:

Of the pieces, the tour de force was Sandra Uitdenbogerd’s Missa Lolcat. Instead of Kyrie eleison we got Ceiling Cat Can Haz Mercy. If you are doing a parody mass, you really need to ensure that each section is instantly recognizable. This was achieved effortlessly as I counted through Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. A splendid achievement!

My Laudate v3 was also featured, and had this response:

The Rick-Roll Laudate was awesome. There are, as with the Missa Lolcat, three distinct aspects to parody. Anyone _could_ have thought of the idea of a Rawnando-style Laudate/Never Gonna Give You Up mashup. Except that no-one did until now. But you still need the compositional technique to make it work properly, and the performance finish to make the jest perfect.

As promised, I am making the sheet music for part of Missa Lolcat freely available for download. People are free to perform these movements, but I would appreciate knowing the date, location and performers for any performances, for my composition CV (and where applicable for APRA performance royalties, small as they are).

 

Mission Accomplished: Missa Lolcat is done!

For the past few months my main project has been writing Missa Lolcat for my choir, ROCS. I’ve now completed as much as I would like to do for it for its debut performance at the start of June. It is a 15.5 minute a cappella choral work consisting of 9 movements, that sets a lolcat version of a typical choral mass. The Credo is largely the same as the lolcat bible Nicene Creed, with some edits and omissions. The rest of the text is original but attempts to follow the guidelines of the Lolcat Bible project.

Thanks to Din for his help.

Parts of the work will be made freely available after its premiere. Stay tuned!

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Analytical Engine programme notes

The text for this work is an excerpt from Ada Lovelace’s notes on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the first general purpose computer, designed in the nineteenth century but never built. Ada Lovelace is often called the first programmer, due to the example instructions included in her notes, which were published in 1843. While people debate whether she actually designed programs rather than merely documenting and explaining clearly the nature of the analytical engine, she was certainly a visionary in terms of the capability of the engine. This quote predicts algorithmic composition of music.

While the quote is about using computers to generate music, the setting here is not really algorithmic. The premise of the work is the hypothetical situation in which the first eight harmonics (comprising the notes A, C#, E and a slightly flat G) are discovered before  melody. The first section builds the chord based on the harmonics on A. This section concludes with some modulations based on the fifth above the fundamental (the third harmonic), and finally collapsing the harmonics into a smaller range in what sounds like a perfect cadence involving a dominant seventh chord taking the music back to the original key of A.

The second section commences with the notes of the dominant seventh, then, as these notes are rather limited for the creation of melodies, the harmonics of the dominant are added to the scale and to the musical texture. This creates a scale consisting of A, B, C#, a slightly flat D, E, a slightly flat G, G#, A.

The third section attempts to create a melody over a chord sequence made of the major and minor triads available in the key created by the harmonics as described.

The fourth section takes its inspiration from the sound of the working models of Babbage’s Difference Engine, while the bass walks through a scale-like melody. This is immediately followed by a fugue-like fragment, leading to the reprise of the initial theme.

(An approximate rendition of The Analytical Engine, composed by Alexandra L. Uitdenbogerd can be heard on soundcloud. Sheet music is available from the composer.)

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Aftermath Programme Notes

Here are the cover and programme notes for my choral work from last year.

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Aftermath explores aspects of the aftermath of sexual assault, from the personal to the official in a variety of musical styles in six movements.

Naiveté Stripped is about fear related to an incident that has just occurred, and isn’t fully realised. Musically it is influenced by Portishead. The choral arrangement explores the space between the use of the flexibility of vocal timbre as substitute instrument and writing specifically for voices.

Desiring Invisibility explores the use of modulation with modes, and uses natural word rhythms.

Realising Vulnerability builds up a sentence phrase by phrase, and incorporates strategically placed finger snaps as interruptions.

Echoes of Fear is about fear related to something that happened in the past. It builds up repeated layers as might happen with a looper, and emphasises the recurring themes in the mind, in a similar way to the line of text that states “Things go round and round in my head like the sounds a looper’s fed”.

World Cloud is a prototype data sonification of texts related to sexual assault, taking its name from “Word Cloud”, a representation of text by frequent words that characterise the text, shown in a cluster with different font sizes for different frequency levels.  For each section, the top 30 word frequencies were determined for a specific set of texts and converted to audio frequencies for the vocal range of bass low G to soprano high F#. Each vocal part is allocated an unoverlapping range of a minor sixth, and words are performed in frequency order, with each range sung simultaneously, and parts starting in order of first appearance in the text. Durations are a minimum of a quaver (usually the bass part), and other parts are scaled to approximately match the duration of the word list. The first text is a collection of resources on sexual assault.  The second is a set of letters, all but one of which were downloaded from an internet search for “letter to my rapist”.  (Rape survivors are often encouraged to write a letter to their rapist as part of their process of recovery.) The third section consists of Australian legal text related to sexual assault. The fourth takes all texts together. The coda just takes the most frequent six words across the entire text corpus. The vocal parts are supported by starting notes commencing each section, played by flute, clarinet and piano. Additional notes at strategic locations occur at starts of bars.

Hope is about overcoming fear and regaining power. The text is inspired by the victim statement from the People v. Turner case publicised on Buzzfeed.

 

Movements 1, 4 and 6 of Aftermath were originally performed as a unit of songs in popular styles under the title Songs of Fear at the RMIT Occasional Choral Society Occasional Choral Competition Concert 2016. Aftermath was originally performed as movements 2, 3 and 5 at the same concert.

The final movement, Hope, I make available for free download, with the intention that it be sung in support of victims of sexual assault, and also in solidarity with others who are marginalised, such as those from minority genders and sexual orientations.