07 May 2008


One of the many projects I'd like to get back to now that I've completed my Ph.D. requirements (and the grades for the class I TA are turned in) is fooling around with composing music.  About ten years ago I wrote a handful of weird little MIDI pieces in the ABC language, and I still enjoy listening to them, but MIDI doesn't allow for much fine-tuning or experimentation with different timbres.  Actually, it sounds pretty awful.

This past weekend I finally got my MIDI keyboard (which O gave me two Christmases ago) to work.  That is, I was able to set it up so that playing a note actually produced a sound I can hear.  The sparse documentation that came with the keyboard should have included a "how to just get it to play a note" section.

Now if only I can get it to play in different tunings, I'll be set.  Specifically, I'd like to tune it so that frequencies are in small-number ratios, as in just intonation.  For example, when I hit a middle C I'd like it to play at 264 Hz (so that it's in a 5:3 ratio with A at 440 Hz) instead of 261.626 Hz (as under equal temperament.  Equal temperament, the standard for modern instruments, has good perfect fourths (4:3) and fifths (3:2) but its major thirds (5:4) are quite sharp and its minor thirds (6:5) are too flat).  I plan to do most of my actual composing with Csound, but it'd be nice to be able to test out justly intoned chords and melodies in real time.  Unfortunately, the keyboard's sparse documentation did not include a "how to get it to play a just note" section either.  It would be really cool if I could play the keyboard and have it automatically produce appropriate Csound code, but I don't see how that could be possible.  I wonder whether I could get the keyboard to play timbres created with Csound, though.

Actually, many of my compositional ideas are algorithmic in nature, which has led me to write programs in some other programming language to produce the music code—I used to use C to produce ABC code.  I'm trying to decide between Python and Ruby to use with Csound.

Well, I'm off to play racquetball.  The weather today is just perfect for indoor sports.  More on music later.


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