Improvizone

The solar shed and tree-based drum practice

Andrew Booker 2009-10-08 22:53:53

I now have a wooden shed at the bottom of my back garden. It will supersede the smaller brick shed adjoining the back of the house and heading for demolition. I spent a few days putting up shelves and moving most of my electronic and music stuff into my new little 6ft by 4ft den. It has a bench at one end for me to sit at my laptop, from which I can swivel 180 degrees on the stool and be seated at a minimal electronic kit for practice and development. For the first time ever, I can now have an electronic kit permanently set up between gigs. Surrounded of shelves for boxes of leads, electronics stuff, and CDs. It's like practising the drums in a cupboard.

Tucked as it is at the back of the garden, the new shed is a long way from any electricity. By now, this is no problem for me. I have had a 90W solar panel sitting in the back garden for more than a year, which I've been using to power laptops and charge smaller devices such as phones and iPods. The solar panel is now wired into batteries in the shed. These can power my laptop and electronic drum equipment directly. Also I have a couple of mains inverters, which I used during shelf-building for the power drill, and which I now use for a paper shredder to dispose of personal documents, cereal boxes and other card prior to composting. I also use an inverter to light the shed using an 11W fluorescent bulb, about as powerful as a 60W incandescent bulb, but much less of a load on the battery. Even then 11W is prodigal, and I have some LED spots and bling that I can wire up for practising and laptopiary, when I don't need to be able to see what I'm doing.

I was enjoying my new box-office in the twilight of summer and early autumn, drifting back into work on regular Improvizone projects, until it got bit froid in the evenings. I even stuck the webcam on the outside of the shed and shot a couple of hours of time-lapse. The sky is great, but the view is not as good as from the house, and besides, I need to save the power for the odd half hour or so in there working on my drum software while I have the electronic drums rigged up.

No plans to do any more Improvizone gigs until I've got further with re-inventing my electronic drum setup. Earlier this year I made a bit of progress with my drum synth software, and gigged it a few times with Improvizone and Darkroom. Though nowhere near the state it needed to be in for me to take seriously, I did get a few ideas on how to make it more useful. One. Remove virtually all user interaction. When you have a drumstick in each hand, you cannot use a computer. Nope. So, if I want usable drum software, that means not having to change settings to get new sounds. Instead, it means getting the sounds to change themselves over time, or in response to the busy, sparse or other characteristics of my playing.

My original plan for drum software was to generate samples for the SPD-S. I went off that idea because it is a real drag to load up samples into the unit. But I did get somewhere, and felt invincible, so then I had the idea of generating the noises in the software from waveforms triggered by incoming MIDI, partly so that I could learn how MIDI works in Windows. Yes I am a weirdo. Trouble is, at the rate I have got on with this, I figure I'll have something interesting and original to play at gigs just in time for the next ice age.

So I'm thinking a better approach might be better to modify existing samples. Alternatively, to generate MIDI output for controlling external effects, again, based on input from my drumming, but leaving all the audio in the domain of outboard units.

In other work, I'm slowly starting to organise the drum practice page. Now that I take the dictating machine into every session, patterns are starting to pile up. It takes quite a while to get through a backlog but I'm catching up. The end result is a load mp3 snippets of me playing drum practice patterns, not very well. If I could play them well, I would not need to be practising them. Many of the patterns are connected by common themes, and I need to organise the page according to those themes. So far I have added a tree structure using the nice YUI Javascript library, which, by the looks of things, does not work in IE. Anyway I will be uploading a lot of patterns over the next week. After which I might completely go off the tree structure. If patterns are related, theirs relationships are more of a network than a tree. Maybe I can use some kind of HTML Canvas code to draw up a network diagram of node patterns. Facebook for drum parts, illustrated, except that HTML Canvas does not work in IE either.

My trusty digital dictating machine, which I've had for a few years now, and never use for actual dictating (my older tape version is much better for putting together a speech), is also an mp3 player, and while copying my drumming files off it, I found a whole load of unused download mixes from the 28 Aug 2007 gig with Nick, Simeon and Achilleas. Had totally forgotten about them. Some of them I guess I didn't use because they were quite rocky (Mainly Noisier Or Busier Stuff part II, maybe?), but there are excellent bits on there I can definitely upload. Before then, I am looking at the gigs page, sorting the downloads by count, and working my way through some of the previous gigs where I've only added one or two tracks. Sure enough, I have been finding some more gems in those recordings to add to the list.

Drum notation for a practice log << | >> 27th gig: 05 Dec 2009 at The Luna Lounge