This is my piano practice log. My goal is to substantially improve my musical thinking speed, so I can ad-lib pieces closer to the quality that I could do if I took time to compose them. I figure if I have to routinely post excerpts from my practicing, it will put the pressure on me I need to improve :)
The general rule is that I am allowed to choose what part of the practice session I post, but I'm not allowed to edit it in any way. I can't write the song ahead of time, and the entirety of the song has to have been ad-libbed in that session unless I explicitly say otherwise.
To make the pieces more flavorful, and to keep me having themes to which I can ad-lib, I pick a fanciful topic for each session and I include a writeup in the post. If you have topic suggestions, feel free to let me know!
I finally gave up recording MIDI on my PC altogether. It just doesn't work. I've decided that MIDI on Windows is pointless.
I opened up my old ThinkPad, which has Ubuntu Linux on it, and figured, why not? I did a search for MIDI recording software, installed it via the package manager, and hit "record".
Worked perfectly. First time. This piece is my test run.
I am happily getting quite close to being able to do everything on Linux. If I had a good way to process my MIDI through Ivory on Linux, I would be left with only 3D stuff that I still need the PC for. I've heard good things about WINE... maybe I'll give that a try soon.
Lately, nothing around me seems to be working.
My Ivory stopped working, then my MIDI stopped working, my credit card was stolen (on line) twice in a row, my iPhone stopped working with my computer so I had to do a clean reinstall, a stray cat sprayed my car while I was on the way to the vet with her and even after two details it still stinks, it took two trips to Fry's and two trips to BestBuy and countless calls to Comcast to get internet working at my apartment, the POS DRM on my 3DSMAX stopped working so I couldn't do any artwork, and the list goes on.
But you know what? I bought a Roomba, and damned if the thing isn't rock solid. It vacuums my apartment three times a week while I'm out, and it never has a problem. We're talking about a robot, with moving parts, that has to traverse an apartment its designers never saw, picking up actual debris and bringing back to its little home base where it waits for me to empty it.
So I hereby dedicate this song to the one thing in my apartment that works: my robotic vacuum cleaner.
Charles Bloom, a friend of mine and author of an excellent blog, among other things, recently explained that the problem with board games is that "there is no pretense for taking off your shirt".
Charles prefers to do the majority of his recreational activities without a shirt, such as shirtless biking and shirtless Frisbee. But when a more strategic endeavor is on tap, clothing is almost always expected (if not required). For example, our board game nights are often held at establishments that carry an implicit "no shirt, no shoes, no service" policy.
So in today's Piano Practice, I attempted to give Charles what he has been dying for: a shirtless board game experience.
At the opening, we join a game of Parcheesi already in progress. Frankly, the players are not up to Charles' caliber. All the table talk! Back and forth and back and forth. Is there no end to the chatter? Why can this be a man's game, without all the whining?
And then, clarity. He knows what the game needs. Or rather, what it doesn't need. Shirt off, game on!
But things don't go as planned. After the first few moments of topless elation, Charles finds the other players reacting more with confusion than delight. He retreats, emotionally, and wonders if he has made an error in judgment. Maybe not everyone is ready to take Parcheesi to the next level, physically?
Then Charles remembers something. Parcheesi comes from a gaming lineage dating back to Indian royalty. And in those days, the high society of the day played the game on life-sized boards with muscular dancers as pieces. His mind travels back in time to the majesty of it all. Surely their elaborate costuming was designed to accentuate the male form. Surely they would be shirtless at the very least! This is how board games were meant to be played.
Confidence thus renewed, Charles stands defiantly and leans over the board. Hello ladies, it's time for me to make my move!
This piece is pretty terrible. There's really nothing else I can say about it than that. I didn't have anything in particular in mind when I was playing it, and it's just generic and boring. And long. And it highlights the fact that I have no rhythm. I really have to get a metronome.
Anyway, I have named it Sucktacular so that there won't be any confusion.
After a bad spate of Ivory acting up on me (how I love DRM-based software!), I am finally able to create audio mixdowns of my practice sessions again.
This is a little song about the nasty creature that lives under the bridge of engineering, waiting to spoil any good-natured attempt to cross. No, he didn't build the bridge, and no, he doesn't ever try to cross it himself. But he figures as long as he was the first one to walk by and squat down underneath it, everyone should have to pay the toll.
And pay they must, at least as long as our country continues to forget its own constitution and the intent thereof. But lucky for the troll, as a nation, we're quite good at doing just that.
Normally, the entries here in the piano practice log are created by excerpting a small segment from a longer improvisation session. For this entry, however, I thought the entire session came across well as a single piece, so I have posted it in its entirety.
When I first moved to Seattle, I was eighteen years old and I lived by myself in lower Queen Anne, by the Space Needle. I worked downtown at 3rd and Lenora, so my walk to work each day would take my through Seattle Center.
I have never been particularly interested in the Space Needle, but nearby to it is a rather wonderful lesser-known landmark, the International Fountain. While not as spectacular as its counterparts at, say, The Bellagio, it is far more remarkable due to its inviting and open structure. People of all ages can walk in and among the fountains parts, free to make up their own games of dodge-the-water with the ever-changing patterns that flow in time to the music.
Watching people interact with the fountain on a crowded summer day is a sight to behold. But equally compelling is the contemplative solitude of a walk through the fountain at night, alone.
At night, the fountain shuts down, and runs only a few heads at a trickle to keep water flowing through the system. It is just enough to cover the fountain's surface with a thick coating of water.
This is a song about a visit to the fountain in Winter. The walk down into the basin of the fountain is long and slow, curved along the side of the huge hemispherical crater. It is dark enough at night that the park lights only dimly illuminate the brushed metal surface of the fountain at its center. I have been there so many times, when I approach, I can recognize the smell and the sound. Although I go infrequently now, I still do the same ritual whenever I pass through alone at night: I stand next to the fountain, and I reach out my hand and press it against the surface to feel the water freeze over my hand.
And then, when it's time, I take my hand away and warm it in my pocket while I walk back up to the park above.
Topics: ritual, International Fountain, Seattle Center, winter, water, cold, hands
I assume that there is only one place in the world where three roads all named "Bellevue" meet at a single intersection. One would assume that it would be in a town called Bellevue, such as the one across the water from Seattle. But such is not the case. Instead, it is here in Capital Hill, as one can see from the helpful three-high roadsign at the intersection of the corner of Bellevue Circuit East, Bellevue Place East, and Bellevue Avenue East.
Presumably, the preponderance of streets named Bellevue in this vicinity is due in large part to its being perched on the downward slope of Capital Hill, from which you can see out across the entire city and Lake Union. It is a beautiful view indeed.
I was in the mood for something sweet and straightforward tonight, so as the title suggests, this is a simple song about the sunset as viewed from nearby.
Topics: Bellevue, Capital Hill, sunset
As those of you who read Kotaku or similar gaming blogs may be well aware, the unscrupulous Tim Langdell has reared his ugly head and interfered with a group of independent game developers and their otherwise well-meaning iPhone game. For those of you who haven't heard about this, I'd encourage you to read the TIGSource summary. It's quite thorough and has all the relevant links.
Rather than try to express the depth of my distaste for people such as Tim, I chose, instead, to focus on the positive. And so I come to this fourth installment in my ad-lib series.
This is a love song for the person in your life who balances out the beauty of the world. Whoever makes you remember that no matter how unfathomably ugly things seem when you read about people like Tim, there is beauty close to you that is many times as wondrous.
Topics: Tim Langdell, grotesque, beauty, balance, edge, iphone
Stephen Wolfram has been in the net-news again lately due to the release of Wolfram Alpha. This half-calculator, half-search-engine was billed as a massive breakthrough in informational computing, but as everyone quickly found out when they tried to use it, it really can't do much of anything useful.
So in honor of the "launch" of his recent whatever-you-want-to-call-Wolfram-Alpha, I dedicated this third installment in my ad-lib series to Stephen.
Night has fallen in the forest clearing. The quiet blue light of the moon illuminates the playful spirits that only come out in the dark, as they dance among the trees and the lilypads. The sky is clear. The stars wash across the sky in intricate patterns.
And then it appears! The first glimmering light at the horizon. Strong and cold, it builds in intensity as it emerges from its daytime sleep. Larger and larger it grows, as it crawls upward towards the apex of the night sky, until the glorious full form of Stephen Wolfram's majestic ego assumes it rightful place there in the heavens for all to behold.
Topics: Stephen Wolfram, ego, night sky, stars, eclipse, majesty, radiance, lack of self-awareness, nocturne
One of the resident foster animals is a wonderful Manx named Rabbit Rabbit. She has the most dog-like disposition of any cat I've ever known. She is the alpha dog even among the dogs of the house, often going so far as to steal the dogs' rawhides directly from them, just so they know who's boss.
Unfortunately, she also eats like a dog. I decided she needed to go on a diet to avoid the common diseases that afflict overweight cats, so recently she has been on a low-calorie diet. This did not sit well with The Manx. First, she figured out how to open the dry food bag on the counter. Then she figured out how to open the closet and get the dry food bag out from where it'd been hidden. Then she started eating my breads, croissants, and cereals off the counter if I forgot to put them away. And last but not least, I found her head-first in the dog treats bowl on more than one occasion.
So here in this second installment of the ad-lib series, I try to imagine Rabbit Rabbit's dream scenario: a brief solo sojourn down Broadway Avenue. It's a luscious Friday afternoon, and the college kids are strolling about. The Manx works her way down the ave, delicious food smells pouring out of the open-air restaurants that surround her on both sides. So many places to eat, how is a Manx too choose? She nods to the avenue regulars... of course they all know her!
But then, the unthinkable happens! Distracted by the prospect of limitless gastronomic delight, she has run herself smack into one of those blue-shirted street solicitors.
"Do you have a minute for the children?"
The Manx knows nothing of children. She stares at the solicitor blankly, and wonders if the droning pitch will ever stop. She tries to meow a brief lie, and say that she already gives to this particular charitable organization. But nothing helps. It is as if she has pressed play on a mobius tape recorder.
But as swiftly as luck plunged her into this predicament, so too does it deliver her. For just as the sales pitch as reached its crescendo, a crowd of people passes by, and due to her small stature, she slips out under their cover.
Free once again to take in the promenade, the Manx rejoices at the wonders of the day.
Note: One of the rules of this game is that I am not allowed to edit anything, since it's ad-lib practice. I actually rather like how this came out, but there's one note that I hit wrong, and I knew it at the time, and it just kills me. It's killing me right now. I hit wrong notes all the time, but when there's obviously the one right note to hit at the time, and you know it, and you hit the wrong one because your brain just hasn't caught up to your fingers... well it's just so aggravating! I apologize in advance for this note, above all the other mistakes contained herein.
Topics: Manx, Broadway, food, solicitor, paradise, wonderful, delicious, exciting, cat, freedom, exploration
I have decided to start recording and posting my ad-lib piano practice sessions. I figure this will provide good incentive for me to improve, because it's easy to continue to suck when you know no one is listening :)
However, I thought it might be too dull as a series of posts if there wasn't a theme. So I've decided that I will try to think about something in particular each session, after I start recording, so I can be on the same page as the listener as to what the music is trying to convey.
For this first recording, I chose a topic that I had recently hypothesized about with some friends at dinner. As many of you know, 3D Realms, the developers of Duke Nukem Forever, recently closed up shop. In their heyday, they made quite a bit of money with Duke Nukem 3D and Max Payne, and it was somewhat well known that company co-owner George Broussard rather liked to go to the strip clubs and spend copious amounts of money.
But now, with his company shutting down and no prospects on the horizon, I decided to put myself in George's shoes, and imagine a late Friday night street corner in the Dallas red light district. Without the necessary cash on hand to hit the clubs in style, George walks slowly past the neon and the animated signs, wishing that the good times had never left.
He is solemn at first, but memories of the late nineties comfort him. For a moment, he's back at his favorite table, his wad of twenties so thick he'd had to split it in two and use both pockets. The future holds nothing but promise, and around him are starry-eyed young developers excited to work on what will surely be the next great first person shooter. But just as he reaches out for that sinewy thong of the past, crisp bills between his fingers, the back of his hand catches the street lamp, and the fantasy dissolves.
He looks at his watch, and heads for home.
Topics: George Broussard, strippers, money, Duke Nukem Forever, 3D Realms, closed, canceled, sadness, reflection