Monday, January 10, 2005

Virtual Musical Instruments on the Web


I Make Music with Imaginary Musical Instruments that Exist Only in a Computer Simulation Form, with No Other Real Physical Substance: They are "Pretended Entities"

I've been spending some time over at NPR (National Public Radio), their Music Maverick web site. Within this site, they have online versions of composer Harry Partch's home-made musical instruments. Check it out at:

I'm learning how to play virtual musical instruments on the web, using my PC keyboard and mouse control as the interface.

Imagine it: actual online versions of musical instruments, both acoustic and electronic. It's an amazing "rich web application" powered by the Macromedia Flash Player.

Let me tell you: my opinion of Flash applications just skyrocketed. This is a revelation. I think it is a revolutionary event of major proportions. (Kevin Lynch, Chief Software Architect for Macromedia--you may quote me.)

It's not easy to play a virtual instrument, though. But it's not intimidating either.

Depending on the instrument, only certain keys on my computer keyboard are operational in correspondence to the keys on the virtual keyboard. The good news is that by holding down a key, I can activate a repetition of a note, in a loop that changes its tonality and pitch slightly as time progresses, enabling a minimalist drone.

Passing the mouse cursor over clusters of virtual bells or virtual strings is also somewhat challenging.

On some virtual instruments that I've seen so far, you have a choice of using your mouse or your keyboard as the interface for playing them.

I haven't made any music during the last six years, but I spent quite a few years composing and performing avant garde experimental electronic music, in various bands and solo.

I made approximately 300 tape recordings, each with anywhere from 2 to 20 compositions, so the total number of original songs would be in the thousands. I don't like thinking about how many compostions I and we as a band made. It's spooky.

I specialized in analog and digital effects processing, music concrete (using naturally occuring sounds, like bird song, airplanes, squeaky door hinges, insect noises, etc.), and synthesizers. In addition, I created some of my own instruments and devised innovative techniques for playing existing instruments.

My favorite music is electronic compositions by such modern classical composers and university professors as Morton Subotnick, Iannis Xenakis, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Pierre Henry, Pierre Schaeffer, Milton Babbitt, Edgar Froese, Alvin Curran, Daphne Oram, Pauline Oliveros, Isao Tomita, Wendy Carlos, Terry Riley, Oskar Sala, Tod Dockstader, Charles Dodge, and many others.

What's really interesting is the fact that a home computer user can access sophisticated virtual musical instruments, play them, record the sound emanating from the computer speakers, and have a composition on tape.

Do a search on "virtual musical instruments" and see what you can discover.

Remember, as you explore, that you don't want audio clips of musical instruments to listen to, you want actual virtual musical instruments with which you can interact in real time.


If anyone out there is interested, my new virtual instrument compositions, "Tsunami 2005 Symphony" (45 minutes) and "Properties of Linear Detergents" (45 minutes) is available on cassette tape.

Virtual versions of musical instruments designed by composer Harry Partch featured on my recording:

* chromelodeon I
* zymo-xyl
* spoils of war
* harmonic canon II
* kithara I
* kithara II
* surrogate kithara
* crychord
* diamond marimba
* bass marimba
* gourd tree with cone gongs

WARNING: This is not "world music" or "dance beat" or "techno" music, it's experimental avant garde composition. In the style of the 1960s and 1970s French, American, German, Russian, and Slavic university electronic composers.

You might compare certain aspects of it to the aestheics of "Zeit" (1972) or "Atem" (1973) albums by Tangerine Dream, which I have recently acquired at Barnes & Noble.

"Tsunami 2005 Symphony" (for the victims and survivors) may also be compared a bit to Vladimir Ussachevsky's "Film Music" LP and certain compositions of French composer Lt. Caramel.

Not abrasive industrial noise, but not syrupy sweet new age dumbed-down minimalist sleepy music either.

Explore my inner universe of surrealistic, micro-melodic, with transient, non-sustained rhythmic material, ambient noise drama overtone adventures in sonic experimentation. 90 minutes of fun for the whole family (of dischordant tone clusters).

There's no singing, but the music does contain a small amount of sporadic voice intrusions from radio receptions and phone answering machine messages.

Just email me for ordering information. The cost is only $10 USD per tape (90 minute high bias TDK or equivalent quality cassette), plus shipping cost.

Ask for the Streight Virtual Instrument Concert Tape #1.

UPDATE EDIT (Jan. 12, 2005)

I just discovered a new vmi (virtual musical instrument) web site.
Elemental Design by Jim Doble

He has some vmi you can play, including Pipe Harp, Wrenchaphone, Pentatonic Aquarion, and Stonaphone, plus links to other interesting experimental music sites.

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