Improvizone

Gig preparations

Andrew Booker 2009-02-03 08:03:36

In the blissful silence of a snowy South Woodford, I've been making a few preparations for Thursday's gig at the The Plough.

Over the weekend I worked on my drum machine. This is where I write my own software to generate semi-random percussion sounds in response to a MIDI trigger from my e-drums, without using Cubase or any other sequencing tools. It is an educational project for me, learning how to use the Windows sound device drivers, DirectSound buffers and general multi-threading, almost all of which is new to me. Also, it means I can create completely unique drums sounds, which will help to establish me as one nanoscopically miniscule yet individual dot in the global drumming scene.

I got a little way with this last November but was unhappy with my original approach. So I rewrote it all this weekend. What I have now is very basic in its sound palette, has zero user interface controllability, and will probably amuse me for about 10 minutes out of the whole gig. But at least I will have gigged it, and from there I will know where to take it next. It's basically ready to go and works through my external firewire sound module (EDIROL FA-66), but only in debug mode. Debug mode, for non-programmers, in this case means waste of perfectly good latency. It does work in release mode, but some resource or other is not being freed up when I close down the application, such that the application doesn't ever close. Not even from the task manager. In fact, you can't shut down the machine any more without pressing the hardware reset button. Oops. Slipped up somewhere, I guess.

Another gig preparation is putting together projections. I realise now it's been six months since I did this last, and I really have forgotten the swing of this process. All I remember is that it took me ages, and these last few hours are reminding me why.

As source material I'm using mp4s recorded on my phone, eg of yesterday's weather, plus timelapse bitmaps recorded from the webcam plugged into my laptop. Some of the material is sun and cloud movements over my back garden, which I've been doing on and off since last autumn, powered by a solar panel on top of the pergola. The weekend before last I took a great opportunity to shoot some more webcam material. On Sat 24 Jan 2009, Mike and I went up to do an Aimless Mules gig in Darlington with fellow workhorses Chris Wild, Chas Fernyhough and Nick Regan. It was three hours up the A1 from the Bearport to the Forum Music Centre, Darlington, where we opened for DeeExpus. I shot the whole journey at one frame per second onto the laptop.

Or at least, that was the idea. Trouble was, and I can't believe this looking out the window right now, the laptop is prone to overheating. Maybe the fan's not so good these days. Maybe laying it on a cushioned car seat is not the answer. With the sun behind us on the way up, it managed about 1.5hrs before giving up. I don't like to give up quite so easily, so we tried it on the way back as well, this time with the laptop upside down, grills-upwards on the seat. Much better. Lasted almost all the way back to Mike's.

If you're wondering how I can use the laptop upside down... it's because I can run my capture software as a scheduled command-line process, which means the task scheduler can wake the computer up from standby to run it, even with the lid down. Nice.

My trusty webcam is a Logitec 2 megapixel with a Carl Zeiss lens. A good lens is much more important than pixels up the kazoo. I shoot 800x600 images through it (less than 0.5 megapixels) for 640x480 video. It was at least £70 and is an excellent camera worth every penny. It's spent half the winter nights outside, in subzero temperatures or in the rain, and it keeps going fine. Probably works underwater. Try it with yours and let me know.

So our 3.5hr journey back condenses down to a few minutes. I might not use the journey for this gig's visuals, because I need to work on some image processing to soften the epileptic flickering of trees zipping past the peripherals of the movie. I noticed as it got darker, a webcam will do this for you brilliantly. In the dark, the device driver has to wait for the image to arrive down the USB port, and then enhance the colours. This means it can't process images as quickly, and you get a fantastic blur. We only see this in the closing stages of the journey coming into Bearpark-land, but I went out again with the camera the following weekend on a couple of laps of the A12 A13 A406 circuit at dusk. Terrific.

Finally, the CDs may or may not be ready for the gig. I dispatched the audio master, artwork, and not insignificant bite out of my current account. We'll see if they turn up. If not, doesn't matter, I'll be booking several more Plough gigs after this.

See you at the gig!

20th gig: Thursday 05 Feb 2009 at The Plough << | >> Mainly noisier or busier stuff