The Improphone

Andrew Booker 2010-01-14 00:52:06

I love January. The mince pies are long since eaten, I have stopped singing A Spotless Rose and Adam Lay Ybounden to myself, and round trips on the M4 and M5 are over without upset. That is to say, without having to spend the night on the hard shoulder in a snow drift with a five-month-old baby boy variously referred to as The Little Booklet, Sweetie Pie or The Porridge Atomizer.

Since our gig last month at The Luna Lounge, I've been shut up indoors doing stuff, such as mixing six downloads from that gig. This is an above-average number of reasonably good bits, although some of these tracks are shorter than usual. After these, I have several more potential downloads waiting to be mixed and added to the list. There 124 already, and I am well past the point of remembering what they all are. I often pick items at random when I want to listen to stuff. I pick a gig I don't remember very well, play something from that, and... ahhh yes... eeeeuw... did I really play that?

I like to think we make background music here at Improvizone, and I often listen while I'm doing some kind of work. Thus, one slight problem I have had so far with playing individual downloads is having to keep selecting another track every few minutes. It's like having to play 45s all over again.

Well I've solved that one. Introducing the improphone, an automated player of a random selection of Improvizone downloads. All you do is go to the page and it will start playing once the first track is loaded. It uses the flash player on your machine. It's 2010. The whole goddamn world has a flash player installed on their machine by now. The improphone controls your flash player entirely in JavaScript using the nifty and proper useful SoundManager library, the technology behind SoundCloud and 8tracks.

Functionality on the improphone so far is brutally basic. I mean, really not much there. No volume control. No download progress bar. No playing time indicator. No pause, no fast-forward, no rewind. Just a skip button and a repeat button. Why so little, in a world of funky stylish widgets and dynamic thingies?

Well first, it's a player of background music. The idea is, you open the page, and then you go off and do something else. Secondly, and this is purely my own conscience leading me astray, it encourages me to actually listen to the music, rather than mess about with it. Let the tracks play. I put a repeat button in case you hear something you really like and want to have it again. And I put a skip button in case you hear something you don't like. Both of these adjust the scores of the tracks. The repeat button gives it a good score. The skip button gives it a bad score, and for fun I might make this depend on how far through the track you get before zapping it. Eventually the improphone will make its selection from tracks above a certain base score. For now it's making a selection from all tracks. As for a volume control, your operating system has at least one already. I use it for the ones where I mixed the bass a bit too high.

While a track is loading, the row appears in dark grey. Once it's loaded, the duration appears in seconds. If it's the first track in the list, it will start playing as soon as it's loaded. When a track starts playing the row is highlighted, and the skip and repeat buttons appear. As soon as one track starts playing, the next one in the list starts loading. When one track finishes, playing immediately moves to the next track, the track after that starts loading, and so forth. Tracks that have been played are highlighted in a dark grey.

The timestamp on the left is the original file when the download was added to the list. I could have put some proper track details, like the gig it came from, but I decided against it. One reason is that, unlike the podcast, the improphone includes tracks I uploaded from studio sessions before we started doing gigs, so there are no gig details, so there would have been an inconsistency and I'm a perfectionist and simply could not have lived with that. No way. Also I like not knowing what the track is. I like the feeling of having mixed so many of these things, I've forgotten what's in some of them. If you really want to know, the file id links to the details page for that track.

No pace like slow << | >> Spring 2010 gigs and yet another drum practice tangent