Wednesday, April 5, 2017

How Strange the Change...

It is so nice not to have a show to work twice a week and two shows on weekends. I feel so relaxed -- even with putting holocrons in boxes (I spent five hours last night at the laser, getting home too late to even eat diner) I feel relaxed.  I feel like I can finally finish some of these dangling chores and clear the work table a little.

So, of course, I'm yanked off in a new direction. Started this morning. See, I've been bringing my
violin to work to practice during my break time.

Which is coming along well. Messed with the theme from the 1978 Battlestar Galactica (fingering is straight-forward enough I could almost play through on the first attempt) and the "usual snippet" from Polovtsian Dances (rather less so). By ear, that is. I've got my music stand back and I'm a member at MuseScore now but my sight-reading still needs a lot of work.

Anyhow, carrying an instrument on your back as you approach the time clock will start a conversation here and there. One of my co-workers is buying a keyboard soon, another is trying to spend more time with his (a familiar problem).

I don't spend a lot of time with my keyboard partly because it is a Behringer controller; no internal sounds, no external speakers. To run it I have to connect it to the laptop, boot up Reaper, then stretch a headphone cord across the room. Every now and then I think I should throw a speaker and some kind of synth module in a box so I just have to throw a single switch and the piano is playable. Right now the only impulse instrument I have is a ukulele I keep on a hook by my chair.

So today I opened my Maker's Notebook and scribbled ideas for a simpler keyboard setup. I still have
a couple rack-mount synths, but 19" is large for the "box with a speaker" I was envisioning.  I do have a Korg P3, but there's a lot to be said for having other than a basic piano sound. An even smaller box would fit a Kurtzweil micropiano, which has some of the best keyboard sounds in a book-sized synth (and really nice piano). But the things are still $200 American on the used market. Hrm. Keep scribbling.

Plus the Behringer keyboard requires external power when using a MIDI cable, so that's more wires to play with. A USB box would be just one cable...  Say; a Raspberry Pi can handle software synthesis and even be trained to handle MIDI-over-USB. So could throw that in a box and...

But by now I'm thinking of the sounds I spent so many years practicing keyboard with. The sounds of the Yamaha DX21 (a cut-down version of the DX7; no velocity, only four operators instead of six...and that's all Geek to you, right?)

So I hunted and yes there is a free multi-platform FM synthesizer pre-loaded with those great old
DX7 patches. Called DEXED and you can find it with a short Google. By this time, as you can gather, I'm pretty far from my original starting point. (Incidentally, the pi-in-a-box is totally doable but requires some hairy programming steps to boot into musicality without having to hassle around with passwords and so forth every time).

But by this time I was off-track. Found myself listening to samples of DEXED on YouTube, then DX7 samples, then reproductions and homages of some of the synth-heavy 80's hits. And that leads me to some clever videos explaining the chord sequences used by many Hollywood composers (as well as the familiar discussions of orchestration and so forth that somehow never seem to show up on my YouTube "you may also like" page no matter how many I watch.)

And, yeah, this seems completely out in the woods now, but one of the things I was intending with the violin was to get back into composing a little. And that instrument is now close to the point where I can actually make use of it.

And probably I'll just prop a rack module and powered monitor under the Behringer and gaff-tape a power strip to the keyboard stand. The perfect is the enemy of the good, and a fancy box with a Pi-based FM synth and a scratch-built speaker system at some point in the indeterminable future must fall to the utility of having a keyboard I can go to now when I hear a musical motif in my head and want to try it out.

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