Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Fan

The Fan is a short piece of music composed in NotateMe, "performed" in Sibelius and used as a soundtrack for a video of the ceiling fan in our sunroom taken in September 2009.  Like my previous video, Baby Elephant Seal Walk, the music was completely finished before I sought out any visuals.  I didn't select a title until I knew what the visuals were.

Astronomical scenes, flickering as if in an old movie.
Lunar landscape, vaguely changing focus.
Circumnavigating an unseen sun.

It must mean something.
Figure out what, exactly, by yourself.
Good luck with that.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Playing a C Major Scale with One Finger

Mixed Meters' readers with good memories will remember that I once composed all my music on a laptop PC while drinking coffee at Starbucks.  That era ended about four years ago when I acquired an iMac.  An iMac makes music making much simpler.  Alas, it's not very portable and I stopped composing at Starbucks.

A year ago I purchased an iPad Mini, my first ever tablet device.  I like it so much Leslie calls it "my precious".  I wanted it for two reasons: one was to waste copious amounts of time surfing the Internet and the other was to once again compose music away from my desktop.  The iPad instantly fulfilled my first goal, wasting time online.  That was simple.  Composing music, however, was a different story.  Finally, a couple weeks ago, I found an iPad app which seemed to meet my requirements for composing on the iPad.

Let me introduce you to NotateMe.  It lets you draw music using a finger, something you always have with you, or with a stylus, something you always forget to bring along.  It plays back whatever you write down.  It lets you keep changing things until you like the music.  When your magnum opus is finished NotateMe will export the piece so it can be imported into other music programs.

I've made two new videos for this post.  One of them shows me entering the simplest musical structure, a C major scale, into NotateMe using only my index finger.  The second one, a 30 Second Spot called Baby Elephant Seal Walk, has a musical score which I composed in NotateMe.  Let's do the second one first:

Once the music for Baby Elephant Seal Walk was as good as I could get it using only NotateMe I exported it to Sibelius using MusicXML (don't worry if you don't know what that is).  Using Sibelius I tweaked the sounds quite a bit because NotateMe sounds pretty tinny right off the iPad.  I changed a few pitches - not many - and adjusted a few tempi, but 98% (or maybe more) of the music you hear in that video is just as I composed it on my iPad

Once I had completely finished the music I decided to add it to a video.  I searched my recent videos for one of the correct length.  This one, showing a small elephant seal lurching across the beach, blowing sand out of its nose and settling down next to another seal (which I suppose to be its mother, although they all look identical to me), fit surprisingly well with the music.  Remember, I had absolutely no idea what the visuals would be while writing the music.

But enough about pinnipeds.  This post is about iPads.  Here's a video produced by Neuratron, the makers of NotateMe.  This is exactly what I watched before buying the app.  It will give you a good idea about the features of the app which seems to work perfectly in this video.

Using NotateMe takes some practice, both for the user and the iPad.  There is a "learning" feature that the program uses to recognize the handwriting of its master.  The help file warns that loaning your tablet to someone else will cause NotateMe to adjust gradually to their hand and forget about you.  As they used to say "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with."  Or something.

Needless to say, even after several weeks of regular use, my usage is not nearly as reliable as that shown in the Neuratron video.  That's why I decided to make my own video: more "real world".

I chose to enter a C major scale.  Just one octave.  Nothing else.  What musical structure could be more basic than that?  This task turned out to be a small adventure - both in using NotateMe (as you'll see, although in a previous take I did the scale without errors) and also in editing the video.  I photographed myself simultaneously from two angles and then tried to combine the videos.  I've never tried that before.    The video editing results are pretty basic: C major scale basic.

NotateMe may not be perfect but it works pretty darn well.  In fact, it works much better than I expected.  It already has potential for considerably more musical complexity than just a major scale.  For sure it can do more complexity than you can hear in Baby Elephant Seal Walk.  I wonder how far I can push it.

I am using it to write small pieces of music while drinking coffee in Starbucks (and elsewhere) and then exporting the music back to my desktop for finishing.  That's what I wanted all along and I am happy to have that much.  Since the current NotateMe version is listed as a "public beta" I trust there will be many improvements in features and reliability as time goes on.  

Neuratron is on Facebook too.

I shot the beach video at Piedras Blancas beach near San Simeon in Central California.  Here's another elephant seal link.

Here are two of my videos with music which involve coastal scenes: Going Coastal and Going Coastal 2.  The second one has a few quick shots of elephant seals in the waves at the very beginning.  You could also watch Flap which has a couple quick glimpses of sea lions amongst all the birds, but you've got to be alert to see them.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Carnivorous Plants

A few years ago Leslie acquired some strange little plants which get their nourishment by eating insects. She purchased these from a vendor at a local plant show. I was skeptical about them at first until I noticed that the number of flying insects in our yard had decreased noticeably.

The vendor is Don Elkins and he calls his company Mesa Exotics. Last weekend we visited his greenhouse in Arroyo Grande, near San Luis Obispo. While Don and Leslie talked exitedly about the care and feeding of these little meateaters, I amused myself by snapping a lot of pictures.

(Click on any picture for an enlargement. Hover over them for a bit of description)

Leslie was kind of like a kid in a candy shop.  We returned with a car full of bits of unusual and unfamiliar vegetation, all of it designed to make an insect's life a short one.

Outside, next to empty farmland, was a field of pitcher plants.  These plants have a long tube into which unsuspecting insects are attracted by some sort of smell.  Once inside, the little fly can't escape and it gets digested.  How does that work exactly?  I haven't a clue.

Leslie refers to carnivorous plants as CPs.  CPs come with a wide range of techniques for snaring their prey.  Here are some examples beginning with a Pygmy Sundew.

I thought the little droplets on this plant were actually water.  I was informed that it is slime made by the plant.  Somehow this attracts small insects.

This plant is called a Butterwort.  The leaves are very smooth to the touch because they're covered with tiny, slimy hairs which trap small insects.  This particular plant has been dining well lately.

The next two are from the genus Nepenthes.  These produce colorful pitchers suspended on long elegant vines.  The first picture shows a living pitcher, the second shows one which has died.

This is an extreme closeup of the flower of a Bladderwort.  The flower is very tiny.  It's called the Angry Bunny.

The most famous CP is the Venus Fly Trap.  Don had a lot of them in his greenhouse but I didn't snap any decent pictures of them.  Here's one of Leslie's plants which had captured a large scrumptious moth that couldn't get away quite fast enough.

Leslie had clearly found a kindred spirit in meeting Don.  They both have considerable enthusiasm and excitement for these curious species.  We'd like to thank him profusely for sharing his time and expertise and passion for these little carnivores.  Also, thanks for the cool plants.

There's been a recent spate of news about Sheep-Eating Plants. Here's an article which details these and other, even stranger, carnivorous plants.