Meet Chippy: a synth I wrote

I’m excited to share a long-burning project of mine that I’ve recently completed.  Chippy is a chiptune synthesizer, written as a Max for Live device.  It has lots of cool features.

  • 16 voice polyphony
  • 5 preset waveforms
  • 1 custom draw-able wavetable
  • interactive scope
  • vibrato
  • bit-rate destruction
  • low pass filter to negate bit-rate destruction

Chippy 2.0

I’ll probably add some features along the way, but for now this is what I will be using in my class for the chiptune assignment.  I’ve posted the device on maxforlive.com for all to enjoy.

Readers will recognize this as an extended version of the device built in the Chiptune chapter of Interactive Composition.  At one point in the chapter I actively decide not to go the path of writing the polyphonic version of Chippy – polyphony in Max is not a task for beginners or most intermediate users of Ableton or Max for Live.  Describing the process would almost warrant its own chapter, so I decided to skip it.

Enjoy Chippy, and I appreciate any feedback you might have!

Download Chippy

Speech Given by Yours Truly at the 2015 TI:ME National Convention

I had a great time visiting sunny San Antonio last week in the dead of winter (read: 70 degrees).  This year I was fortunate enough not only to give two workshops, but also to speak on behalf of the organization as the recipient of this year’s teacher of the year award.

For those interested, here were my remarks upon receiving the award:

Good Afternoon

I am humbled and honored to receive the Mike Kovins TI:ME Teacher of the Year award.  TI:ME is an organization I respect greatly and I am sincerely grateful for this recognition.  I truly have no words.

And now for some words.

For those who don’t know me very well, here is my story.  It’s a bit unconventional, but I imagine many in this room have taken a path unlike our peers in the music education world.

At one point I aspired to be a great band director.  In fact, my interest in music technology began in part by writing marching band arrangements.  When I actually started teaching, however, I realized this way of life wasn’t for me.  I became disillusioned at the fact that no matter what I did with my band, it had probably been done before.  In that world, you can have success, you can have fun, you can build a program, you can make a living…but I didn’t feel like I could do anything truly new.   I’m not a follower – it’s very difficult for me to do something that has already been done better by someone else.   Realizing this I made plans to leave the teaching profession shortly after I had gotten started.

In 2006, everything changed.  I received a phone call that through some strange turn of events I would be teaching a class that had been fortuitously titled Music Technology at the High School.  When I say titled, instead of planned you should know – that was all the planning – no meetings had taken place, no equipment had been purchased – there was only a class title and a room.  All it took was that title.

What they didn’t know was that since high school I lived and breathed electronic music in my spare time.  I spent years absorbing the music of Aphex Twin, the Prodigy, DJ Shadow, and early Daft Punk.  It wasn’t possible to buy equipment yet, but I devoured all the music I could – teaching a class on the topic of electronic music was like a dream come true.

So on the first day of Music Tech class, what I found surprised me.  I had three classes of seniors who needed my class to graduate – they were the type of people who waited three and a half years to get their fine arts credit.  How do you teach music to kids like this, and make them enjoy it?  So there is the secret to my success – at the very core of all my curriculum decisions is the memory of a room full of eighteen and possibly nineteen year olds staring at a recently transferred elementary teacher wondering what in the world the class could possibly offer to them.  It turned out great because it simply had to be.

I won’t go on with specifics about my classes – I have a session on that Saturday.  Suffice to say this core belief has enabled my program to grow to a full course load that trains over 350 students per year to be creative with music using the latest tools available.

I’ll use this opportunity to address those in the room – TI:ME – people I see as the chief innovators of music education.  Keep using your work to spread the idea that music learning is a personal endeavor.  Never be tempted to compete with each other, or compare to each other – everyone’s method can and should be different.  The freedom to experiment with teaching methods and curriculum is what makes the arts the last bastion of individuality and culture in your school – don’t forget that, and don’t let it go.  Let your instincts and your interests guide what you do, not what someone else says will get you recognition or a high rating.

I’d like to thank Barbara Freedman for her tireless work in nominating me for this award.  She’s been a great mentor and friend over the years, and I’m proud to share this honor with someone as successful and influential as she.

I’d like to thank VJ Manzo, the smartest man alive, for also nominating me but also for approaching me to work on our new book, Interactive Composition.  For a guy like that to take a chance on a slob like me means the world, and I hope you have as great a time working with me as I do with you.

And finally I’d like to thank my children Annelise and Ethan, who told me I wasn’t allowed to go on this trip and who I miss very much right now, and especially my wife Jennifer.  There’s not a thing I’ve done that she hasn’t been there to see me through – I wouldn’t be anywhere at all without her support and her guidance.

I’ll do my best to live up to the expectations that come with receiving this award.  Thank you!

I Shot A Music Video With Slow Motion and this is How it Worked

Part of what I do is produce awesome videos for our school and the community.  This time, I’m doing a music video for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop – a parody of Shake it Off but about cookies.  Without going into tons of detail about the entire process, I want to call attention to a technique I’ve read and watched a lot about but hadn’t gotten a chance to try until now – using slow motion footage for a music video.

Spoiler: Here is the finished product:

Slow Motion

So here’s the idea: a normal video is shot at 24 or 30 frames per second, and played back at the same speed.

Slow motion video is shot at 60 or more frames per second, and played back at 24 or 30 frames per second.  If something’s happening at regular speed and shot in a high frame rate, it will look slow when you play it back.

Thus, If something happens at a faster than normal speed and shot in a high frame rate, it will look normal-ish when you play it back.  Audio is usually played back at regular speed for a video shoot, and the singer will just sing along with the track to keep it in sync.  We then throw away the audio from the shoot, and use the perfectly synced motions of the singer in our video.  In this case, we’re making the singer lip sync quickly to the song and slow down the footage later to allow this rapid motion to play back at regular speed with the song.

Why do this?  Because it looks awesome!  It takes away the awkwardness of the singer just staring at you singing and really sells the action.  It makes the whole thing feel a big bigger than life.

Slow motion, Fast music

To do this, I took the song that was to be used for lip-syncing, and made a 160% speed version using Ableton Live.  My camera, the Canon XA25, converts 60fps footage to 24fps.  Knowing these facts, it will take me speeding up the resultant video to 150% in Final Cut Pro to get something that lip-syncs with the “correct” original song.

Here’s a video showing the difference between the three versions of the speed:

I’ll update this post with the full video when it’s finished.  Expect cookie-themed costumes.

Video of My Speech at the Cincinnati Symphony Community Educator Workshop

I had an amazing time speaking at the Cincinnati Symphony Educator workshop the other day.  The event was well-planned and hosted in the exquisite Corbett Tower, and the coordinator Logan Kelly was very helpful and great in leading the discussion afterwards.  Check out their other events – it’s a very cool program.

It’s a long watch, but it’s the best video I have right now of this session.  Enjoy, and of course feel free to skip around.

Buy Today: Interactive Composition by V.J. Manzo and Will Kuhn

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If you want to learn how to use Ableton Live to make the sorts of music that Ableton Live users make, Interactive Composition is your starting point.  It’s both a book of tutorials as well as a snapshot of electronic dance music and production styles and culture.  Look for mini-versions of lessons from the book in the months leading up to its release on this page.  The book contains 11 amazing projects and many more techniques and sub-projects to explore in your classes or personal work.  Each project is dense with techniques like synth-building, patch programming, sampling methods, and more.

You can order the handsomely typeset physical copy on IndieboundAmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-Million and direct from Oxford University Press.  Buy a set for your class today!

You can also read it on iBooks, Kindle and Google Play Books, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Watch the book trailer:

Chiptune sample set for Disquiet

Hello folks, you might be interested in checking out my latest Disquiet Junto tune: Mighty No 139:

The technique I’ve developed here is really used for my high school courses on music production. The idea is to write harmonically complex music without having to learn a ton of music theory. To this end, I’ve modified a few existing M4L patches to make an “EZ Scales” and “EZ Chords” patch set that students of all levels can drop onto a track to allow them to play roman numeral chord progressions just by playing the root scale degrees. The result is layered riff-style music writing that can befit many different styles.

Download the Ableton Set and play around with the patches: www.dropbox.com/s/kgizcn6lzjnup57…0Project.zip?dl=0

Also in this patch is the “Chippy” M4L Instrument I wrote. It’s basically a waveform generator that can produce a smooth glide and vibrato with a few basic pulse widths. It’s a monophonic synth, and instead of writing a poly version I simply sample a note from it into Simpler.

I hope you enjoy this Mega Man – inspired chiptune!

Ethan Hein: Everyone Can & Should Be Making Music

Ethan Hein: Everyone Can & Should Be Making Music

A long treatise, but worth the read.  Some big thoughts that are obvious to too few of us in the Music Ed world:

Not everyone needs to be able to play or appreciate classical music. Maybe people just need to be able to sequence basslines for their hip-hop tracks, or play three-chord rock, or understand a little music theory, or play rumbly ambient one-chord drones. The kids who want to dive deeper and move on to more challenging material can still do so. If everyone else is engaged actively with music, the pros will find they’ll have a much bigger and more enthusiastic audience. And maybe America will be a little less emotionally barren.

 And also:

If we want music not to be “dumbed down” we need to be honest about where sophistication lies. If you want to learn about functional tonal harmony, by all means go to the classics. If you want to learn about rhythm, go to Africa, the Caribbean, India, Indonesia and American dance music. If you want to learn about timbre and space, go to electronica and hip-hop. Pretending that all the answers lie in scores written by men in powdered wigs is the real dumbing down of the music curriculum.

 What I don’t get is why there aren’t more people getting out there and saying these things.  What worries me is people my (and Ethan’s) age still bristling at these ideas.