Arts and Music: Seeing and Hearing

Here we are at the penultimate day of the year, and as of this moment I’m about twenty-seven hundred words from one hundred thousand.  Getting that amount in the next two days is doable, so I’m gonna have to get with it if I want to hit my mark.

Now, I’m about to get technical–yeah, I know, some of you don’t like that.  You want magic and morte spells and kissing and possible love triangles, but given that one of my characters is an esteem nerd of the highest caliber and can chat the lingo when needed, there are times when the story is gonna get down with the techspeak.  And this is one of those times.

So hang on…

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

Annie and Kerry followed the professor the short distance down the corridor to the famous Keyboard Room, were nearly all of the schools usable keyboards were kept. Matthias headed inside and headed down one of the aisles, finally stopping before group of instruments that looked nearly brand-new. “At the end of the last school year I put in orders for some of the newest equipment from both Korg and Roland. These came in at the beginning of August.”

He lay his hand across one of them matte black keyboards. “This is a Korg KROME workstation. I managed to pick up five of these: one 88 key version and two each of the 73 and 61 key versions. It has a very nice action, lots of processing power, and you can use the MIDI function to upload and download sounds as you need them.” He turned to Kerry. “For your performance what do you want to use and how?”

Kerry had his answer ready to go. “I want to use two keyboards. I’ll use the bottom one as a piano/synthesizer and the top one as an organ/synthesizer.” He looked at Annie and smiled. “Really simple set up, you know?”

Annie was half laughing as she turned toward Matthias. “I’ve heard about this several times, including once when we were in Paris.”

“He interrupted your time while you were alone with this?” Matthias shook his head. “He must be serious, then.” He ran his fingers over the KROME workstation. “This is a good machine, but it’s not quite the top-of-the-line. However, I would suggest using the 73 key version as your organ/synthesizer: it would be perfect in that role.”

Kerry appeared satisfied. “That works for me. So what do I use for the piano?”

Matthias took three steps to the right and touched another matte black keyboard with wood finish on the sides. “This: the Korg KRONOS. This is the successor to the OASYS and improves have upon that workstation significantly. This is basically everything that Korg wanted to do with the OASYS that they couldn’t because they lacked the technology at the time.

“This is DAW ready, has MIDI inputs and outputs, and allows you to select a nine different engines, including three analog modelers and one of the best piano engines in electronic keyboards today.” Matthias activated the machine and began pressing icons as soon as the display panel was active. “How’s your playing?”

 

This section above is the result of about two weeks of off-and-on research trying to not only figure out what sort of systems would be profiled for Kerry’s pleasure, but what all this stuff means.  I mean, I went through different sites and watched videos, and once I’d figured out what I wanted to see, I had to check if they were actually available in the fall of 2013.  All for about four hundred words within the story.  Believe me when I say I care to get things right, kiddies.

Now, what does all that stuff mean?  Let’s go through it:

Keyboard Workstation is a particular kind of keyboard with the processing power to allow you to take pre-generated sounds and modify them, usually as MIDI files, for later playback.  You can even used a keyboard workstation to layer different digital samples together for a combination of sounds that are later used either in a recording or a live performance.

Kerry is using two workstations.  The first is the 73 key Korg KROME, which is a nice system that is affordable (about $1,000) to anyone serious about performing.

At least Kerry is getting his keyboard for free.

At least Kerry is getting his keyboard for free.

There is actually another Korg keyboard similar to the KROME called the KROSS, which is considered a more mobile system (that means it’s lighter) good for live performances.  Start doing your research and you discover there are a lot of “KROME verses KROSS” discussions out there, and while they don’t usually get too heated, you quickly see this becoming the “Star Trek/Star Wars” debate for the keyboard players.

As for his main keyboard, Kerry’s going with the 88 key Korg KRONOS:

A lot of keyboard sweetness right here.

A lot of keyboard sweetness right here.

This is considered one of the top workstations today, the successor–as pointed out by Professor Ellison–to the Korg OASYS (pronounced “Oasis”, because if you sound out the acronym it’s O-A-SYS.  OASYS actually stands for Open Architecture SYnthesis Studio), which showed up in the mid-2000s and was replaced after four years due to advances in technology.  The reality is the KRONOS is what Korg wanted the OASYS to be, but they didn’t have all the needed technology until about eight years later.  It’s more expensive (about $3,500) but a lot more powerful than the KROME, and has one of the best piano engines in the world.  And “engine” is something I’ll touch on below…

Action is how the keys feel.  The KRONOS feels like you’re playing an actual piano due to the weighted keys, while the KROME feels a bit more like playing an organ, and this is the main reason for Professor Ellison’s suggestion on setup and usage.

Daw is Digital Audio Workstation, which is the standard for recording these days.  It’s often a computer tied into a keyboard workstation upon which composing is done and downloaded as a digital file.  There are a whole lot of programs out there, some of which are open-source designed to run on any computer, which means just about anyone can begin composing and recording anywhere.

Engines are the keyboard’s built-in software used to process the sound samples and allow them to be reproduced when the keys are pressed–or as we’d say in the business, “triggering an effect”.  (Least you get too confused, triggering an effect means that when you press a key something happens.  In a work processing program on a laptop computer, pressing the key marked “C” makes the character c, while pressing the middle-C key on the KRONOS produced a middle-C sound as sampled.  Both are examples of triggering an effect.)  One of the KRONOS engines allows you to emulate just about any kind of piano in the world, and since the keyboard is a workstation you can change those sounds up however you like.

Analog Modeling is used in some of those engines:  that’s a fancy way of saying you can take a clean, digital sample and run it through various filters to make it sounds like a warm and fuzzy analog synthesizer sound.

And yesterday Kerry said something about Splitting the Keyboard, which is something you can do on both these machines.  The software in the keyboard can segment the keyboard so you can play one set of sounds with your left hand while playing something else with the right, or so something like add cellos to your lower register keys while you play piano with both hands.  If you watch video of Roger Hodgson, formerly of Supertramp, playing the opening bars to Hide in Your Shell, you’ll see a good example of splitting the keyboard, as he plays a combo piano/electric piano sound with his left hand while playing a combo organ/synthesizer sound with his right.

So now that I’ve gotten ALL THAT out of the way, it appears Kerry is interested.  The question is:  does he feel like giving the keyboards a spin right now?

 

Kerry made a back and forth motion with his right hand. “I suspect I’m rusty. I didn’t feel like playing a lot over the summer.”

Matthias glanced at him. “I think that’s gonna change as soon as you play this.” He stepped away from the keyboard. “Give it a go.”

Kerry gave Annie’s hand a squeeze and then stepped up in front of the workstation. He surveyed the control panel before seeing that the display was set for piano. He ran through the intro of his A Level performance, Lovers in Japan. He not only felt how the keyboard reacted much like the P255, but that it had an even richer sound than that piano. He stopped after close to a minute of effortless playing. “Wow. This is incredible.”

Annie moved up alongside. “You should have seen your face.”

He slowly turned toward her. “What do you mean?”

“You looked fabulously pleased while you played. It was like seeing you back on stage for a moment, though you seemed far more satisfied with what you were doing this time.”

“That is certainly true.” Matthias stood just beyond the the right edge of the KRONOS. “Care to satisfy my curiosity?”

Kerry stepped back away from the workstation stood alongside Annie while facing Matthias. “What do you have in mind, Professor?”

“I want see how rusty you actually are.” He nodded toward the keyboard. “Play the intro to Firth of Fifth. I know you practiced it last year because you told me.”

Kerry’s eyebrows shot upward for second. “Yeah, but I haven’t played it since then. That’s been over a year.”

“It’s not like I’m asking you to play it at 9/8 tempo.” The instructor chuckled. “Come on, dude. You know you want to give it a shot.”

 

All I can say is you gotta love it when one of your instructors calls you “dude”.

 

“I…”

Kerry was about to hesitate again when Annie whispered in his ear. “I would like to hear you play.”

He touched the left side of his forehead to her right forehead and spoke in a low voice. “That’s what you said to me the first time we came here.”

“And you were hesitating then about playing Ostara.” Annie twisted her head around so she could see his eyes. “Professor Ellison is right: you want to do it and you know you can do it.”

Annie stepped back as Kerry turned to face the keyboard. She said nothing, for she didn’t want to do anything that would affect his concentration. Like Professor Ellison she waited for Kerry to remove the doubt from his mind and play.

She watched as he let his hands hover over the keys. She noticed the imperceptible motion of his fingers and knew what was happening based upon the few times she’d sat in on a few of his rehearsals: he was imagining playing the first few notes and his hands were reacting appropriately.

He started playing without saying a word. His fingers touched the keys and music emanated from unseen speakers. Annie wasn’t watching his hands, however: she was watching his face. Whenever he wasn’t certain that what he was going to play was note perfect the tension was reflected through a series of facial tics, frowns, and grimaces. But when he knew the piece he was performing, his face grew relaxed and his hands danced over the instrument.

Right now his fingers dance with great freedom. If Annie had been unaware of Kerry’s statement, she would’ve assumed he’d last performed this piece the day before.

A little over a minute later he slowed the tempo, touched the last few keys, and removed his hands from the keyboard. He took a step back from the instrument and glanced toward Annie. “How was that?”

A smile slowly formed upon her face. “I’m not that familiar with the piece, but it sounded perfect to me.”

“It was perfect.” Matthias stepped up to Kerry and patted him on the shoulder. “Pretty impressive for someone who hasn’t played that piece in over a year.”

 

As for more research, I looked around to see if there was any video of someone performing the same opening.  Fact:  there are a lot of videos of people playing the intro to Firth of Fifth ’cause it’s a good piece to show off your chops, and people love to show those chops.  It only took viewing about a dozen videos before I found this one, which the person in question performed on a Yamaha Clavinova CVP 301 electronic piano, first built in 2004.  Though one person says there’s a small mistake in this performance I’m damned if I can hear it, so I say this is about a perfect as you’re gonna hear it without going to the original recording.

In short, this is pretty much how Kerry would have played that day in the Keyboard Room:

It looks like Kerry has everything he needs–however, there may be just a bit of a problem…

Getting Science All Up In Here

I don’t get out my these days–that’s sort of clear to a lot of people.  And one of the things I don’t get out to do is see movies.  Most of that is due to having sort of a high standard when it comes to seeing a movie, and that’s to be entertained without having too much of my intelligence insulted.  That’s why I’d only seen Mad Max:  Fury Road this year of 2015 and nothing else.  I’m just a cranky bitch when it comes to film.

Yesterday, however, not long after posted on my blog, I headed out to see The Martian, the movie based upon Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name.  One reason I wanted to see the movie was because it was science fiction, and from everything I’d read of the novel, pretty accurate science fiction, with the emphases on science.  I will say now that I have not read the novel, but I’m probably going to pick it up and give it a read just to see the differences between the printed and visual versions.

The interesting thing about the novel is how it came about.  Weir wanted the novel as scientifically accurate as possible, and did a lot of research on the surface of Mars, on botany, astrophysics, space craft design, and orbital mechanics, going so far as to write is own program so he could track the orbits of the ships in his novel.

Which is something only a few crazy people do for, say, a game.

Which is something only a few crazy people–like the one who wrote this a few years ago–kinda sorta do for games.   Crazy.

Weir had been writing since his twenties, and The Martian was his first novel.  He shopped it around, and when none of the publishing houses showed interested, he started publishing the book for free on his website, going thought chapter by chapter.

That's insane.  What sort of nut does that?

That’s insane. What sort of nut does that?

After a while people asked him to put out a Kindle version of the story, and he did, and he sold the book for $.99, the lowest price one can offer for a work on Amazon.  After he sold thirty-five thousand copies in one month, Crown Publishing Group approached him and asked if he’d like a sweet deal for his book.  The deal made him another one hundred thousand dollars and got him a movie, so it sounds like he got what he was looking for.

If you’re asking, “What’s this about?”, it’s about a guy who, through no fault of anyone, gets stranded on Mars and has to find a way to stay alive until he’ rescued.

If nothing else, fall back on a meme that says the same thing through Apature.

If nothing else, fall back on a meme that makes you wonder if Aperture Science runs the space program.

That’s the story in a nutshell, and without going into a lot of detail, it’s what the movies shows.  What I loved was the attention to detail and how everything was so . . . sciencry.  As I indicated I haven’t read the book, but there were things in the movie that because of my knowledge of Mars and space stuff in general, I got right away.  (There was a scene in the movie where the main character was looking at a map, and the minute he realizes something and was hit with a light bulb moment, so was I.  Geeks, I know.)

The movie is magnificent in appearance.  The Mars stand-in was Wadi Rum in Jordan, which has stood in for Mars in a couple of movies, and one of the locations used in Laurence of Arabia.  With the help of a little CGI you feel like you could be there on the Red Planet.  All the tech looks workable and has an authentic feel.  And the spaceship Hermes and the Mars HABs . . . Oi.

Magnificent spaceship porn, yo!

Magnificent spaceship porn, yo!

I can look at the ship above and see stuff that’s supposed to be there on a real spacecraft, and that makes me happy.  There are things I saw happening in the movie that shouldn’t have happened (when you decelerate in space, your engine is supposed to be pointed towards the forward edge of your orbit, thank you), but they were minor and nitpicky.  Even Weir admits that he made the storms on Mars more visually impressive than they would be in real life because, you know, sometimes you have to do that.

The characters are good, though I think NASA in the middle of the 21st Century would be a tad more diverse than shown, and in one major instance, a character was completely whitewashed. The moment I saw the character’s name I thought “Shouldn’t she be Korean?”  This, again, came without reading the novel, and after a little investigation last night I discovered I was correct.  It isn’t impossible to find an actress of the proper ethnicity these days,  so Hollywood, you need to stop that shit right now.

There is one scene in the movie that got a huge laugh out of the audience I was with–and with me as well–and without going into detail:

When you see the scene, you'll get this completely.

When you see the scene, you’ll get this completely.

I came out really happy, not only because I saw what I’d say was a real science fiction movie, but because there was a scene involving engineering that was done while ABBA’s Waterloo played on the soundtrack.  I mean, come on:  that’s something I’d do in my stories, so you know I was smiling like crazy and bouncing in my seat as the scene played out.  And in a moment of disclosure, in a game I was running some twenty years ago, I’d planed to use Waterloo as a song-over during a scene were some people were preparing in invade a planet.

See?  Great minds think alike.  And so do those who know what makes science fun.