Music & Synthesisers

November 2018 recap

That was November! California was on fire and Queensland is now also on fire. Also there was a giant cow called Knickers and Blender 2.80 finally went into beta.

In summary…

  • I’ve been recovering from having my gall bladder removed
  • I released some sleep-aiding whooshy noises on Bandcamp
  • AMITS: Hello! got a first pass of storyboards on index cards
  • The robot has not kicked the soccer ball yet.
  • I helped out with a compilation error in Blender
  • I’m learning Japanese!

Please read on for specifics…

Surgery!

I had my gall bladder out at the end of October and I’ve been in recovery mode since. Fronting up to work in tracksuit pants is fun.

The gall bladder recovery meant roughly a week of not being able to sit up without extreme discomfort – I was either lying in bed or standing up. I watched a lot of movies, including the restoration of Abel Gance’s epic 5 1/2 hour silent film “Napoleon”. Honestly I don’t remember a lot about those two weeks aside from that they were slow and full of nourishing home-made stew. I blame the anaesthetic.

My top tips for people about to have a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (keyhole gallbladder removal):

  • Stock up on oversized t-shirts and soft pants with drawstrings.
  • Work on your upper body strength and leg strength, especially squats. It will hurt like hell to bend over for a week or two.
  • Take a book to hospital which is capable of distracting you. I took “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and it was a perfect companion for walking off the CO2 bubbles.
  • Don’t plan on sitting up at a table or desk for a while after surgery. For me it was about a week and a half before sitting at a desk for longer than a few minutes was comfortable. Even four weeks later I’m taking extra doses of painkillers to manage the discomfort.
  • It hurts to laugh for a week or so. Aim for viewing material which is fascinating enough to pass the time without being laugh-out-loud funny.

Noises to sleep to

I live near a main road so having a neutral sound playing helps me sleep. I’ve been using a white noise app for years but lately my Bluetooth has been cutting out. Even worse, when it cuts out it cheerfully announces that it’s in pairing mode. Bah.

Fortunately the speakers can take audio over cables too, but my phone’s headphone jack doesn’t really grip anymore. Double bah!

Not to be defeated, I’ve patched up my modular synth to function as a white noise machine. There’s a video on the way going through the patch for the curious. I’ll update the blog post with a link once I’ve cut it together and uploaded it.

If you find yourself needing whooshy noises yourself, you can grab a 36-minute recording of these whooshy noises for a whole fifty cents over at Bandcamp. I’d offer it free but frankly I need to pay for this modular synth somehow.

A moment in the sun

In short: it’s on again!

Back on 8 November I finished up the first pass of rough storyboards for AMITS: Hello!

There are over seventy index cards – I used actual physical index cards because I could hold them in my hand as I was drawing them without needing to sit down. Sitting down hurt a lot at the time because I was full of holes.

Gronky lays down the law

Pointy has a moan with his new cuter look

Working smarter, not harder

Today I scanned in the index cards three at a time with a different chunk of the storyboard running at the top, middle and bottom. The Blender video sequence editor lets me crop video elements, so the idea was to run the sequence of scanned images three times with a different crop for each repetition.

Start at the top, middle in the middle, end at the bottom..

You can watch the entire sequence of scans below. The index cards are even thick enough to maintain their registration – at least, it’s close enough for rough storyboarding purposes.

If you can follow this after it loads, you’re an alien.

Batching the images up this way makes digitisation super quick – after half an hour of scanning and getting the right crop values, I have individual images of my index cards. Now I can import the images back into the video sequence editor and time them out to my audio scratch to see what I’ve got. Yay!

But has the robot kicked the ball yet?

Not really. I loaded the file up one night with no intention but to mess around and got a nice twisting faceplant happening in blocking. (Note: the first part of this isn’t timed out properly yet.)

This is how I feel about this exercise now.

Time away from animating has helped me realise something hugely important about where I’m going wrong: I’ve been taking reference pretty much as gospel instead of using it as a leaping-off point for my own ideas. It’s been screwing my creative process up a lot and it’s a thinking pattern I really must fix…

Other stuff

I helped troubleshoot a Blender compilation bug. It’s not much but I’m pleased to have found a temporary workaround nonetheless. 🙂

Between following sumo and getting back into Japanese animation, I find myself with a mighty strong urge to learn Japanese again. I’m trying out the site WaniKani to boost my vocabulary. So far WK is both challenging, aggravating and rewarding enough that I’m hooked.

That’s all for this month!

A quick July 2018 recap

July 2018 was the month of the Wild Boars soccer team getting rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand. Blender got a fur shader based on the one from Zootopia and its shiny new 2D animation system was merged into the 2.8 branch. Hurrah!

Just like last month, my day job bit hard into my time and energy, including one monster of a fourteen hour day (close to sixteen hours with breaks included) which started around 9:30am and finally wound up around half past one in the morning. Outside of work, I logged less than thirty hours of either training or making stuff. Forty hours in a month used to be low, now it’s normal.

Music

I released an album this month called Music for open plan offices. It’s a collection of noisy but calming ambient designed for knowledge workers in noisy offices in need of a relaxing sonic bubble. If you’re not sure what to make of that description, here’s track 2, “0716 (a leveraged synergy)”:

It’s selling for a cheap and cheerful $5 over at Bandcamp. You can preview the whole album before buying it.

Animation

Earlier in the year, I stalled on the last exercise of the lipsync course because using reference video just confused me with all that was going on. I doubled back and picked up the body mechanics course again. (Hooray for self-paced education!)

Why the switch? With body mechanics, the initial exercises are focussed on capturing a particular single action like a leap or a hop or a kick. A full acting shot has a lot of physical complexity to cover like weight shifts, eye direction, body movement and lipsync, all of which has to be motivated by the character. Jumping off a ledge? Not so much. There’s less to understand in a single action and analysing video reference is much more straightforward.

Not to mention, Instructor Wayne said to do body mechanics first. I understand why now. 🙂

Anyway, here is my blocking for a robot jumping off to ledge. Woohoo!

 

Somehow it still feels off, like there’s some indication of weight which is missing in the lift-off of the jump. Books like Animators Survival Kit can help when I get stuck, to some extent. There is really no substitute for an experienced animator’s notes and lots of practice though.

See you next month!

February 2018 in effect!

Here’s my February 2018. Let’s get into it.

Synthemabits

This month’s new Eurorack modules include

  • Music Thing Modular Chord Organ (kit, 1 February 2018) [modulargrid]
  • Joranalogue Compare 2 dual window comparator/logic module (12 February 2018) [modulargrid]

The Chord Organ I wrote a post about jazzy chords I’m trying with the Chord Organ, including a configuration to copy and paste.

The Compare 2 is a smartly implemented window comparator system that also makes a cute little robot face when doing its thing.

compare 2 has a face and that face is :E

A post shared by S J Bennett (@quollism) on

I experimentally tried streaming my patching sessions too. This is a 44 minute jam which starts off a bit slowly but it finds some nice little moments!

Movies and animation

Fishtank is parked because I’ve decided there’s something I need to deal with first.

Since I set myself the goal of becoming someone who makes animated movies, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about and getting practical experience in the pre-production bits. When it comes to outlines, thumbnails, storyboards, animatics and even 3D layout, I’m confident. But I’m too comfortable there to draw a line and move on from it.

At the beginning of this year, I resolved to work on smaller self-contained projects and exercises without extra strings attached. The effervescent Looch Muñoz posted an animation which brought home that I’d never looked into literal animation to any practical extent. So this month I dusted off my old CG Cookie account and got started on their Animation Bootcamp course.

For a few days, my spare time was all about the balls.

At the same time as I was learning how to see timing and spacing and how to manipulate them into illusions of mass and force, I felt like I was rediscovering my tenacity too. I was sticking with it. I was pushing through. I was learning.

I did four exercises over four days. I had a head of steam up. When it came time for exercise five and comparative ball bounces (basketball versus tennis ball versus bowling ball), my frustration got the better of me. I knew enough to know that I wasn’t getting as close as I ought to. My intuitions had outpaced my abilities.

This resulted in some impressively dedicated procrastination where I spent several nights in a row getting 24,000 words into an urban fantasy novella before writing myself into a corner and getting mired in rewrite hell. I’ve got it out of my system now, though. Sort of. (Not really.)

Animation-wise, I want to finish the rest of Animation Bootcamp as a priority. Having someone check my work and provide crit is invaluable. Beyond that I also want to tackle Wayne’s other animation courses at CGC to get my eye and confidence up many notches to where the prospect of animating doesn’t put me off so much any more.

And maybe in the process I’ll rediscover my tenacity again. That would be great too.

Jazz chords for the Music Thing Modular Chord Organ

The Music Thing Modular Chord Organ is a digital chord player for Eurorack. It is inspired by instruments like the Bontempi Organ where you press a button and get a chord. It’s also one of the cheapest ways to get polyphony in Eurorack.

The default chords didn’t do much for me though because I like jazzy chords! I came up with a quick palette of five-note chords which derive from some common musical scales. So if you’ve got your own Chord Organ and want to get jazzy, copy and paste this into the Chord Organ Config Generator, save it to your SD card and enjoy!

1 [0,4,7,9,14] major 6-9 chord
2 [0,4,7,11,16] major seventh
3 [0,3,7,10,15] minor seventh
4 [0,4,7,10,16] seventh
5 [0,3,6,10,15] minor seventh flat fifth
6 [0,3,7,11,15] minor major seventh
7 [0,3,6,9,15] diminished seventh
8 [0,4,8,11,16] major seventh sharp fifth
9 [0,3,7,9,14] minor 6-9 chord
10 [0,4,8,10,16] seventh sharp fifth
11 [0,4,6,10,16] seventh flat fifth
12 [0,4,8,12,16] augmented triad
13 [0,2,7,10,14] seventh suspended second
14 [0,5,7,10,14] ninth suspended fourth
15 [0,5,7,10,17] seventh suspended fourth
16 [0,7,12,0,7] fifth

If you haven’t got a Chord Organ but you’re a Euroracker and you want one, Thonk sells Chord Organ kits. It’s pretty easy to build too! And if you don’t know the first thing about jazz or music theory, have a play with them anyway. 🙂

The music theory parts for people who aren’t nauseated or enraged by music theory

The scales are the major, natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor and whole tone scales. There’s a couple of six-nine chords and suspended sevenths thrown in there to make up the sixteen. Each chord is voiced with five notes with the high note representing the tonality (minor, major or suspended). There’s a fifth right at the end in case the jazziness gets too much.

The relationship between chords and scales is useful to know because of the way chords reveal their originating scales four notes at a time. If you stick with chords 2 to 5, no matter what notes you play, you get a noticeably different harmonic colour from chords 3-10.

Here’s the scales which the chords belong to:

    major and natural minor scale seventh chords: 2 3 4 5 13 14 15harmonic minor scale seventh chords: 4 5 6 7 8 10melodic minor scale seventh chords: 3 4 5 6 8whole tone scale seventh chords: 11 12

And here’s how they derive from those scales:

  • major scale: 2 3 3 2 4 3 5 (Ima7 IImi7 IIImi7 IVma7 V7 VImi7 VIImi7b5)
  • natural minor scale: 3 5 2 3 3 2 4 (Imi7 IImi7b5 bIIIma7 IVmi7 Vmi7 bVIma7 bVII7)
  • harmonic minor scale: 6 5 10 3 4 2 7 (Imi/ma7 IImi7b5 bIII7#5 IVmi7 V7 bVIma7 VIIIdim7)
  • melodic minor scale: 6 3 8 4 4 5 (Imi/ma7 IImi7 bIIIma7#5 IV7 V7 VImi7b5 VIImi7b5)

The whole tone scale is symmetrical so chords 10 11 and 12 work fine from any degree of the scale. And there’s probably some other jazz scales those chords fit into as well.

January 2018 recap

Welcome to my January 2018 recap!

Other Perth folk will probably remember this fire..

the Tinies watch the #perthfire smoke drift over

A post shared by S J Bennett (@quollism) on

And of course we all remember the eclipse..

..but what did I get up to this month? Read on!

Synthesisery bits

I got a ribbon controller this month! It’s pretty cool!

I’ve loved the sound of the ondes Martenot ever since I heard it for the first time in the original “Ghostbusters” movie (pretty much the first thing in the movie you hear!). The ondes has a continuous controller called a “ruban” (as well as a keyboard), which is how it achieves those sweeping quivering notes.

The ribbon controller I got this month lets me have that some of that same expressiveness, and by expressiveness I mean hitting the wrong note a lot and having to cover it up with vibrato. Practice makes perfect!

Stuff I built

This is what I soldered together this month just gone.

  • Ornament and Crime polymorphic digital swiss army knife type thingy (3-5 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  • Music Thing Modular Magnetophon cassette tape head (16 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  • RYO 3xVCA triple voltage controlled amplifier (18 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  • RYO 2xVCX dual voltage controlled amplifier/crossfader and four quadrant multiplier (29 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  • Feedback 106 Chorus (30 January 2018) [modulargrid]

The Feedback 106 Chorus build was a bit of a disaster. It uses period vintage chips to get the genuine sound of a Juno 106’s chorus effect. When it works, it sounds bloody fantastic. When it works.

Usually I don’t bother with actual vintage stuff. For all the romance of vintage electronics, the reality is that they’re rare, expensive, unreliable, susceptible to failure, and even being counterfeited in the case of MN3009 chips. This chorus did sound fab so I at least wanted to have a punt at making one, but if the vintage bits turned out to be duds, I resolved to put the whole thing aside and cut my losses there and then. And that is pretty much how it went.

Unlike the 106 Chorus, I got the polymorphic digital module Ornament & Crime working after three nights of building and troubleshooting. This module of legend should keep me occupied for months while I discover everything it can do, let alone how to use that as part of a whole system. Here’s an early test of the o_C in “Harrington 1200” mode sequencing some pleasant Boards of Canada-esque chords.

 

A pleasant surprise this month is the RYO & Kymatica 2xVCX, a dual voltage controlled crossfader. Fading back and forth between two signals at audio rates creates all kinds of fun timbres, sort of like ring modulation (which the 2xVCX can also do). Here’s a little test I recorded which goes all the way from grimy analogue noise to happy little chords!

There’s enough space left for two more modules, both of which I’ve already picked out, but more about that next month! 🙂

Let’s talk Blender! And movies! And spaceships!

3D stuff

Alien Force

The secret project I mentioned back in November was some album artwork for the Alien Force EP. I did a big write-up on it which appeared on BlenderNation. The feedback has been a little sparse but generally positive!

Spaceship!

But that’s old news. Have some new news!

A moment in the sun

I am back in the sun (kind of)! Yay! (Kind of!)

At the beginning of the year I decided I liked the story mostly where it was. It’s the tale of a random labourer helping introduce a laser-obsessed geek to the Ultimate Laser Robot of his dreams. The current plan is to take the last scene of the story all the way through production as a pilot for the rest of the film, which means all I have to worry about for now is one single scene. My attention is contained to that one spot. Hooray!

I’ve been working on Scene 5’s art direction by rendering existing elements out from Blender, turning them into multi-layer images in Krita, then doing quick paint-overs to test out ideas.

Splitting up render layers to import them into Krita

To do this I render two EXR files – a multi-layer version with transparency and all render layers turned on to get each element isolated on its own layer, and a single layer non-transparent version which gives me the sky background.

Here’s the rendered layers fresh out of Blender, looking fairly pristine…

From there I applied filters and painted over the separate elements to test ideas out.

…and here is the same scene altered to get everything looking more decrepit.

In the repainted version the air is hazier, the route marker is crooked, the bus stop is falling apart and the road is sun-bleached. The scene’s still undercooked but this much better than trying to get my thoughts down purely in 2D or 3D. Yay for hybrid approaches!

Character-wise, I’ve been redesigning Pointy to make the character look and feel more like he actually is – a bit happier and younger and goofier.

Many Pointies. The one in the lower right is the current front-runner.

Gronky isn’t in Scene 5, but he’ll be getting an ill-fitting hi-viz jacket when he does finally appear.

Alas, I got bogged down in story decisions around tone and character again. I’ve got some storyboards for that scene but without pinning down how I want to approach it all, I’m stuck. Bah!

I read somewhere that it’s better to have another thing to switch over to than beating one’s head against a single project, so I found one. I work on AMITS until I get frustrated, then switch over to this other thing until I miss working on AMITS too much.

The other thing: Fishtank

An ex-animator friend and I dreamt up an aquatic animated sketch-comedy series many years ago, something that might get picked up and lead to bigger things. We gave it the working title “Fishtank” and brainstormed a few ideas, but we didn’t follow through so it fizzled….

One of my ideas saw a little fish laying a massive guilt trip on its potential predators for daring to eat something so cute and helpless.

My key image, where Shark feels very conflicted about eating Little Fish..

 

A rough exploratory sculpt of the little fish with the big eyes

The predator in question is a great white shark who’s a bit of a softy and slow on the uptake.

An exploratory rough sculpt of the shark. Not quite there yet, but getting closer!

Will the little fish end up a snack, or will the shark get more than he bargained for? Yes.

“Fishtank” is a much smaller project than AMITS, and definitely better sized for one person to work on. I might not finish AMITS this year, but this one I could conceivably get done by the end of the year.

I’ve got the story thumbnailed out already. Here’s the second of five pages of story scribbles which I drew on actual paper in biro then scanned into Krita.

Shark tries to get a chomp in but Little Fish isn’t having it!

I’m really looking forward to writing the music for this as well. It’s going to be an utter hoot writing completely overwrought tragically sad music, like that 1960s library music which Ren and Stimpy used to superb effect.

Despite both projects being comedies, Fishtank is more classic slapstick and AMITS is more inspired by 1950s Looney Tunes which is as indebted to radio comedy as the silents, so they complement one another pretty well.

See you next month with more fish, more sun and the final pieces of DASYRAC! 🙂