Music composition

A Dream Half Lost released

I uploaded my latest piece to YouTube very early this morning:

I also went ahead with the contest idea. I had a tough time deciding whether or not to do it, because if no one enters (which is somewhat probable) I risk making myself look like a bit of a loser. But, if that’s the worst that could happen, I guess it’s not really that much of a risk. So I have details in the video description, and full details on my Hannifin Records blog. There’s a nice long deadline of four and a half months, so it will end on my first album’s one year anniversary.

It will probably be a good long while before I have time to write any more music. I wasn’t even planning to write this one. I’m just so unpredictable!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music composition

Composing through the pain…

Not emotional pain, just head-throbbing pain. I felt awful most of yesterday. I woke up with a migraine which got worse throughout the day, and by the evening my nose was all stuffed up as well. Made it hard to focus on doing anything very productive, but I was able to finish composing an orchestral lullaby called A Dream Half Lost, opus 62, which I will post to YouTube either tonight or tomorrow… or Thursday… or Friday… and I guess I’ll go ahead and give that aforementioned contest idea a try… nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?

In other news… there is no other news.

Oh, and thank goodness for pseudoephedrine; it has once again saved my nose, I can breathe again now.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music composition

Contest contemplation

After getting off work to yesterday, I did something I was not expecting to do… I started writing some music. I was just fooling around on the keyboard writing some melodies. Usually when I do that, I just end up forgetting the melodies and they are lost forever. But yesterday, as I wrote a lullaby-ish melody, I could just hear it harmonated and orchestrated so well in my head that I could not resist trying to get it into the computer and turning it into a full piece. It’s a very simple piece, just a calm melodic line repeated three times with variations. But to my exhausted mind it’s quite nice and relaxing.

I’m almost finished with it. I’ll probably post it on YouTube when I’m done. I think I’ll call it A Dream Half Lost.

I was also thinking about holding a small contest with it, the prize being a free [physical] copy of my album. To me the piece sounds very song-like, so the contest would be to write lyrics to it and post the singing of it as a video response on YouTube. Not sure how much interest there would be in such a contest, but I think it would be interesting to try… I’ve got nothing to lose, right? But I’m not sure yet…

By S P Hannifin, ago

Stuff I done gone and did terday

Hey, it’s my 300th blog post to this blog! In celebration, I will do nothing, because I do not want to seem arrogant towards those who don’t blog as much.

I finally finished reading Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, a biography of Walt Disney. ‘Twas quite educational, since I really didn’t know very much about him or the history of his company. I might dedicate a future blog post to some thoughts on his life and work, but not tonight. I will say he must be a goldmine for biographers. He had a lot of influence, there are a lot of different opinions about him, and he got his hands into a lot of things. There’s a lot to write about.

I also bought The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation from Amazon earlier this week, and have started reading through that. I read bits and pieces of it in college from the library, and I know I browsed through it at some other point in my youth. I am wondering if we have an older family copy somewhere (though I don’t think so) or if one of our grandparents or relatives had a copy. But I just know I browsed through it years ago before college. Anyway, it’s full of wonderful pictures and art. I really wish it came with a DVD or something so I could watch the examples, but I guess that would only double the price. Anyway, as I’m trying to learn computer animation, this book seems like one of the must-reads.

And speakin’ of animation, next Wednesday night I’ve got my first Animation Mentor thing. Classes don’t officially start until near the end of June, but the thing on Wednesday is I guess a bit like an orientation. It will allow someone to give an overview of the structure of the course and the site, and will allow us future students to ask questions. Not sure I’ll have any questions, but I do want to test out the technology and the experience of doing one of these Animation Mentor meetings. So I’m looking forward to that.

Music wise, I’m almost finished writing the music for a documentary. I’ve got one cut left, and it will be a fun one to write. I’ll share more info (and maybe some music clips) from that when the project is actually finished.

I’m participating in a long Facebook conversation about the problems of college and high school education. I was going to post the conversation here, but it is still going on, and it is very long. Our plan now is to, at some point, organize our points and disagreements and write a book on the topic. Probably won’t get professionally published or anything, but I think would make an interesting book.

Finally, movie wise, I just finished watching The Men Who Stare At Goats. It was … uh … interesting I guess. Had some funny parts, but by the end I didn’t really get the point of any of it. It was like a very long joke. If there had been just a bit more humor, it might’ve been OK.

I also watched Where the Wild Things Are a couple night ago, which was actually better than I thought it would be (I had low expectations), but it was weird (and I imagine one could really psycho-analyze the heck out of it if they wanted). The director’s soundtrack choices did kinda make me think the Wild Things were a bit like hippies at some points, which made it weirder. But there some other very hilarious parts (Bob and Terry are my favorite). Overall, though, it was a bit soap-opera like, because all the Wild Things want to talk about their emotions and feelings rather than do anything particularly adventurous. Which isn’t necessarily bad, I still found it engaging, but I can understand why some mind find it boring. (What I don’t get is all the debate about whether it’s too scary or adultish for kids, which perhaps was played out for publicity. Or perhaps because it was based on such a famous picture book. But the movie itself didn’t push any thematic boundaries.)

And that’s what I’ve been up to lately.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music composition

Can I learn character animation?

I guess this is a taste of how uneventful my blog will be whenever I get a full time job. Besides going to work (and constantly tweeting how many hours I have left), I’ve been spending the rest of my time working on composing the underscoring for a documentary, which I mentioned last week, which I think is going well, though I wish I could do it a bit faster (while not sacrificing quality, of course). And, of course, I wish I could do it full time!

I did post a new YouTube video the other day. That’s one of the cues I wrote for the documentary.

Um… yeah… not really much else…

Oh, I have been looking into this online animation school: Animation Mentor. I came across it exploring animations on YouTube. (I was researching stop motion animation with the ambition of buying a camera and filming some shorts.) It looks extremely tempting; I would LOVE to learn to do the kind of character animation they teach. The thing is… it costs quite a bit (like, $18,000). It would basically be like going back to college. But still… gah, does it look tempting. It’s a definite maybe. I mean, I’d apply right away if it cost less, so it’s mostly a matter of financial support… and even if I applied, I might not get in… though I think I meet all the requirements (there aren’t many), I don’t know how selective they are, or if they might have a preference for people who have studied art, animation, and drawing longer than I have… after all, I majored in Computer Science! But of course, I never had an opportunity like this… anyway, it’s feeding my daydreams for the week.

Things that look good about it:

  • Taught by pros from the big studios, like ILM, Pixar, Blue Sky, etc. with actual online interaction with them.
  • Very focused on just character animation, not diluted with software specifics, or how to model things, or do lighting, etc.  Just character animation!
  • Few requirements.  I don’t have to submit a portfolio, like many art schools require.
  • Very nice looking showcase reels from previous students.  (Though some students’ reels don’t look as good as others (some on YouTube look pretty awful), the ones that make it to the showcase are pretty spiffy.)
  • Very good reviews online found by Googling around about it.
The things that make me hesitate:
  • Price… $18,000 *gulp*

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music composition

Hey guess what?

Hey guess what I get to do this week?  I’m working on a score for a documentary!  I’ll post more info about it when I actually finish it, with some clips of my music of course.  I think it will be fun.  It’s not a huge-mega production, like a Michael Moore documentary, but it’s not a student wanting me to work just for experience either, so I think it’s rather nice opportunity.

Haven’t been working on much else.  I have been reading a biography of Walt Disney, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.  Pretty interesting book.  He seems like a guy I’d love to be like, but not to work with.  And with all he had going against him when he started out, it’s pretty amazing what became of his name.  I think he followed my business model for success: get lucky.

By S P Hannifin, ago

My album is finally out!

Though I think more people visit my YouTube page than my blog, I still have to blog it: my album is finally out!  It’s currently only available on my own site, at Hannifin Records.  I sent it to CD Baby right away, of course, but it will take them some time to get it up on their site and get it on iTunes, Amazon, etc.  It’ll probably get a bit more notice once it’s on CD Baby.  Anyway, I think the artwork came out really great, and it’s nice to see my own name on something professional looking.

So… I finally have a product!  Now perhaps I can put all that stuff I’ve read about in business books to use?  Yikes, I don’t even know where to start.

One thing I ask myself is: what do I do with my future music?  This is my first album; up until now I’ve just been uploading my music as MP3s to my site, giving it away for free.  Now I’m asking people to pay for it.  Will they?  Or will they not think it worth it considering all the other music out there that is free?  When I write a new piece, do I give it away like before, or save it for my second album?  What I’m thinking of doing is giving some of it away for free temporarily, until my second album is ready.  So I’ll have a constant flow of free music for people who like that.  Then it will be available on an album with other exclusive tracks.

Though maybe I’m just getting ahead of myself… this album took me almost almost 2 years (maybe 1.5 years; I can’t keep track of time these days).  It’ll probably be quite some time before my next album is ready.

YouTube removes my video for no reason

In other news, I decided to try out YouTube’s video promotion program to try to promote my album.  That might seem vain, and it is.  Selling an album of your own music is kinda vain, so I think if you’re trying to sell your own work you kinda have to get over being too self-conscious about it (while, of course, trying not to be “in-your-face” about it; you don’t want to turn into an annoying salesman who’s only interest in other people comes from seeing them as potential customers).  In away [“in away”?? I mean “Anyway” … that’s such an odd typo to make, I’m going to leave it and just add this comment], my video for my piece On the Edge of a Dream was my most popular video on YouTube that was on my album, so I decided to try to promote that.  So I signed it up to be promoted and YouTube said “disapproved” … and I said: “Huh?  Why?”  And it said that it couldn’t promote a video that nobody could watch.  And I said: “What?  People can watch it!  They just go here…” and I went to the video page.  And it was gone.  It said “This video has been removed due to violation of terms of service” (or something like that).  What?!  So I tried reuploading it, but they must’ve somehow blacklisted the video, and wouldn’t let me.  At first I was afraid my music had somehow gotten on some copyright checklist that YouTube banned from being uploaded.  (Which would’ve really angered me since I own the copyright!)  So I tried uploading a video with just the music track and it worked fine.  So I tried uploading a video with just the animation and no sound and it worked fine.  Then I tried both sound and animation together and … NO!  Didn’t work.  So I finally edited the video and cut off the credits and it worked!  It stinks to have lost all the comments and stuff from the original video, though, but at least the music is back up.  I still have no idea why it was removed.  It really didn’t violate any terms of service.  There’s something stupid somewhere in YouTube’s system, but I’m glad it finally let my reupload the video.  It was quite a headache though.

Well, I guess that’s it!  I hope you, yes you, had a happy Easter!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Computer music

Is there a different way to compose music?

I don’t have the answer, but I’m interested in the question.

Of course, I’m really interested in automated computer composition, but a few things are blocking my progress in that area. 1) The algorithms I’ve come up with are too computationally demanding. Oh the things we humans could do with more computer power. That’s always a problem when you’re trying to do something that’s never been done before with computers, isn’t it? And that’s part of the reason it’s never been done. 2) I lack an understanding of how we humans perceive music. I think most people do. We can’t create a program that writes music like humans if we don’t understand how humans do it. Without that knowledge, we’re basically creating algorithmic and/or recombinatorial music, which can certainly be interesting and sometimes convincing, but it’s not the Holy Grail of the subject (at least, it’s not my Holy Grail).

Anyway, earlier today I was daydreaming of creating a programming language (for fun), and then I thought, hmmm… what if I create a programming language designed to help with the composing process? And I thought, well… that’s just dumb. But I kept thinking, well, how could the composing process be changed? Currently, I just use Overture to click in notes. I think these days there are two main ways to compose music: 1) Write down the notes. Either click them in to a notation program on a piano roll or a blank staff. Or, be old school and use tangible staff paper and a quill pen. 2) Play the music on an instrument. Piano, perhaps. Or even sing it.

Now, some people say “no, I compose in my head!” Oooh, what a genius you must be! I don’t think. All composers compose in their heads. The “composing process” I’m referring to is a matter of getting that music out. You either play it (and perhaps make a sound recording), or you create corresponding graphical symbols (sheet music) to represent how to play it (for either the computer to play, or other humans). What can make composing completely in the head difficult is mainly memory, not lack of intelligence. Writing down or recording the music helps solve this problem. They are processes to aid you in your act of creation while you compose in your head. If you have a good memory and are able to compose a piece completely in your head, don’t look for any praise from me, I really don’t think that’s a very amazing feat.

(On a side note, I think sometimes the composing process is mystified and romanticized to inhumanly heights by people who just aren’t as interested in it. We once had an article in the paper about a local teenager who composed a piece of music for something, and the writer seemed very amazed that a 15 year old could *gasp* write music. Either the writer was just being gracious, or he didn’t realize just how many young composers are out there, and how good they can be. Really, in any art there’s always talk of certain artists being “geniuses” and “prodigies” but, in my opinion, it’s mostly just a romanticizing. Anyone can become “great” with enough practice (it might even be easier to learn when you’re younger, making prodigies even less amazing). “Greatness” is subjective, and fame is an emergent property. People say “we don’t have any Rembrandts today!” or “we don’t have any Mozarts today!” Yes we do, they just haven’t been dead for hundreds of years yet. These artists are put on such romantically high pedestals it seems impossible to compare them to non-famous artists today. But I think the skill level is definitely there. The fame takes time. And you can be “great” (though probably not famous) at any art you’d like… if you’re willing to put in the hours… and it will take some long lonely hours of practice and study. But I do believe that genius is mostly hard work, not a mystical God-given gift given only to a few fortunate fellows (maybe the desire to to do all the required work is… it’s a gift, and a curse… usually when one daydreams of being a genius, one dreams of it coming easily). I might’ve already said all this is some past blog post, but I believe it and it’s a view that not many people seem to share, I think… as far as I can tell. Really I think it’s because people don’t like to think of fame as an emergent property but rather as something that’s destined for objectively “great” people. And that stems from our natural psychological problem of induction, of trying to find cause-and-effect processes where they don’t exist, of noticing patterns and implying improper things from them. So really everyone should just read The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Awesome book.)

Where was I?

Ah yes, the composing process…

So, I’m trying to think another system of music representation. Sheet music is designed for a human to read and play the music back. Piano roll view is kind of an “easier to see” version for manipulating notes on a computer, but almost the same thing as regular notation. Both are really just a graph (or a collection of graphs) of time (x-axis) vs frequency (y-axis).

What if we add another axis?

That would be dumb.

But I’d still like to explore the possibilities of designing some other kind of representational system that’s designed for composing instead of for a human to play back. This system might be jarring for composers to use, at least at first. (“At least at first” hahaha… get it?) It would require composers to think in a different way. But that’s the point. Well, really the point is to allow composers to compose faster, and so the point is to experiment and see if there’s way to compose faster if we think about the process in a different way.

I have no specific ideas for this system right now. I’m at work, and I’m just blathering off the top of my mind to help the time go by. Two not-very-specific ideas I have for this system (I’m not sure if they’re any good):

1) Representing changes instead of just frequencies. What if we said something like “up 2, up 3, down 4, up 2” instead of naming notes?

2) Grouping notes. Right now, if you have 6 notes, you have to write all six notes. But what if we group these 6 notes, and then work with that group, and the changes that happen to that group? And then we can go farther and build groups of groups, and look at how those groups are different from one another, and how they’re the same. What kinds of patterns would we find and how could we work with them to compose new music?

I’m not really sure, and none of this may be very innovative anyway, but I am interested in exploring it and getting into more specifics about it.

The goals of the system would be to:

1) Compose faster (i.e. with greater ease). This would in turn allow us to…

2) Explore more possibilities while composing.

And, if possible:

3) Make composing more fun. And thus, attract more people to the act of composing, and help procrastinators and people with composer’s block.

Well, that’s my blather for today. I’ll continue to post my thoughts on this as I have them…

If you read all that, I have two things to say:

1) What’s the matter with you?!

2) Thank you, you are to be commended for your bravery and endurance.

P.S. It was nice to see Michael Giacchino win the Oscar for best score (even though the presenters had no idea how to pronounce his name).  I do love his Pixar film music work, he’s doing some of the best film music today, using those things called melodies.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music composition

Album continues to be worked on…

Just a little status update on my album…

I’m currently working on reorchestrating and mixing and writing an ending for my 15-minute piece Castle Sky, which will be the second-to-last track on the album.  In my humblest of opinions, it has some of my most delicious melodies.  (Is that humble?)  Then I only have a few other tracks to reorchestrate a bit, then the rest of this album work will be “post-production” I guess.  Almost there!

By the way, I did hire a fantasy artist to create the album cover image, and I think it looks awesome… there be dragons…

Oh, and on an entirely different note, I was playing chess on Google Wave yesterday and discovered that the chess applet really stinks; I couldn’t promote my pawn to a queen!  How is anybody supposed to play a proper game of chess with software like that?  Your pawn just gets stuck at the end of the board.  Very lame!  Whoever programmed it should be ashamed!  Though I realize Wave is still in beta, blah blah blah…  Maybe later I will post some of my games (and maybe some of my games from high school) with comments about them.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Computer music

Paul Williams writes article about nothing

Does music need “professional” musicians?

Paul Williams, the songwriter and current president of ASCAP, recently wrote this article.  It’s pretty short, but one thing is missing from it: a point.  The only point I can see is that “piracy is bad.”  Well, duh.

Anyway, I’m going to go off on a little tangent here.  I think at some point in the future (perhaps still hundreds of years away) people will no longer be able to make a living off of writing music.  One reason is quite simple: computers will write music.  People won’t need to.  People will continue to write music, though, because it’s fun.  People being able to make a living off of writing music is, from what I can tell, a pretty recent phenomenon in the history of human existence.  (As are the sorts of economies we have now, for that matter.)  The creation of beautiful music doesn’t depend on people making a living off of it.  The reason people defend and fight for being able to make a living off of it is because it’s a dream come true! Being able to make a living off of doing something you love is just fantastic.  (At least, I imagine; it still hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m working on it!)

So, I’ll whole-heartedly agree that piracy is bad, and I’ll defend protocols and systems that try to counter it (as long as they don’t get in the way of what us legitimate non-pirates want to do, which they do too often), but I won’t do this in defense of the music.  The music will always exist.  Piracy is bad for moral reasons, not monetary reasons.  Well, it is bad for monetary reasons, but I’m not against it just because I want more $$$$, like perhaps a number of other composers and publishers (and PROs?).

My automatic music generator

Recently, I’ve been continuing work on my computer program that will, if my daydreams come true, write music.  OK, it’s still such a difficult task that I probably won’t live to see (or hear) it work, but it’s still a puzzling challenge that obsesses me sometimes.  Anyway, I spent the day thinking about new algorithms to try out.  To help me do this, I began writing a semi-fictional dialogue.  In it, I appear as a character and I meet with William Wobbler, a character from my recently finished screenplay The Melody Box.  The two of us then contemplate how to create a computer program that can write music.  It’s a lot of fun to write, and if I ever succeed at my goal of creating this program and if it makes me insanely rich (a dream that motivates me), then I will someday release it to the public so that everyone can learn how it was done, and how my thought process worked while creating it.  Or if I die having failed (which is more likely), I can leave it for generations after me to perhaps have something to work with (though the possibility remains that it is and will forever be useless garbage, but, I don’t know, somebody out there might read it).

I guess that’s it.  I have to go back to work tomorrow.  Snow got me an entire week off, but the vacation’s over now!  (The week off did give me a torturous glimpse of what life might be like if I could ever make enough money writing or composing to work from home.  I risk becoming a hermit then, but it’s still something I cannot stop myself from desiring.)

By S P Hannifin, ago