Open-sourcing Variations

Now that the whole concert is over, and I’ve finished going through approximately all of the WWDC sessions, I’ve decided that Variations won’t be receiving any further development — it wasn’t going to be enough of a priority for me to do it any justice, and I’d hate to half-ass it.1 The app will remain on the App Store, for now, though if it breaks in future iOS versions, I’ll probably pull it entirely. Instead, I’m releasing the source code, as-is; if you’d like to look through it, it’s right here.
I had fun building it, and I like to think that it does some interesting things with the implementations under the hood, so hopefully somebody can find some use from it.

  1. This is, hopefully, a hint about some of my other projects that are a higher priority; announcements of those will, of course, show up on this here blog. 

Spring Concert Videos

Men’s Glee

  1. Ave Maria – Biebl (with Concert Choir men)
  2. Let It Be
  3. Bring Him Home
  4. M-O-T-H-E-R
  5. Hakuna Mungu

Women’s Vocal Ensemble

  1. Music in My Mother’s House
  2. Call of the Flowers
  3. Thulele Mama Ya
  4. Tell My Ma
  5. Ave Maria – MacIntyre (with Concert Choir women)

Concert Choir

  1. Dirait-on
  2. Missa Sancti Nicolai1Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

  1. Due to the limitations of my camera, this video was split into three chunks with slight gaps in between. 

“Cara Mia Addio”

This was a short paper I wrote about the titular song for a class on music technology, which I said at one point I might post. Here it is!
I’ve made two changes: the transitioning of my citations from a “available in my notes but not visible otherwise” to “accessible by all,” and the addition of this note.

I chose to partially ignore the “no YouTube videos” part of this assignment, because I felt that the video was an important part of the song. They were created together, after all, as part of an even larger multimedia project: Portal 2, one of the top-selling games made by one of the world’s most famous video game companies. The compositional arc of the game as a whole is fascinating: Valve’s in-house composer, Mike Morasky, wrote almost the entire soundtrack for the game1 while working closely with their programming teams. Though the soundtrack was eventually rendered down to a still form for the release of Songs to Test By, within the game they’re procedurally-generated MIDI, with pre-set starting points that are then algorithmically developed to match the gameplay in a way that’s almost guaranteed to be unique to the player. (Morasky once stated that one of the pieces only repeats itself every 76,911.3 years, roughly.)
“Cara Mia Addio” was not a procedurally generated song, though the exact method by which it was made did rely on MIDI audio. In the studio, Morasky gave McClain2 the music he’d written for the turrets to sing and a melodic line for her, and asked her to improvise the words. The resulting melody, based on what she referred to as “my terrible Italian” became the Turret Opera. Morasky edited that recording to ensure that it didn’t sound too human – the ‘singer’ within the game being a robotic gun-turret – and then fed the backing sounds into the game engine itself.
That’s what I found most interesting about this – though the scene was rendered as a video file, not running live on the game engine,3 it was built within the same game engine that ran Portal 2, Source. Valve’s in-house animating tool, now released to the public as Source Filmmaker,4 provides deep control of every aspect of the game engine. Morasky (and, presumably, some of Valve’s animators) used sounds that had already been implemented in the game engine to provide all the voices save the melodic line. If I had to guess, I’d say that the system running animation queues was based on MIDI, as that’d be the easiest way to sync the visuals with the triggered sounds.
And a final note on those triggered sounds: all of the ‘turret voice’ effects were based on McClain’s voice, meaning that she sang the full chorus and solo of the song. Quite an impressive range.

  1. A single song, “Want You Gone” was composed by Jonathan Coulton as a call-back to the piece he wrote for the first Portal, “Still Alive”.
    “Exile Vilify” was written and recorded by The National, though based on early materials given to the band by Valve, in order to match the scene in which the song would be played. 
  2. The game has very few voice actors involved – the main character, in a manner characteristic of Valve games, never speaks. Off the top of my head, there are only two other characters with repeat appearances, GLADoS and Wheatley. (A few other minor characters have lines, but nothing more than a couple of words at a time.)
    McClain, by contrast, voices GLADoS, a character who moves from ‘narrator’ to ‘ally’ to ‘antagonist’ and back fluidly, as well as providing the sounds that would be edited into the audio for all of the turrets throughout. 
  3. Citation 
  4. Citation 

The Pomplamoose problem

Artist Empathy:

If you look at Pomplamoose as a business instead of as a band, what’s the problem? When Jack Conte writes about Pomplamoose, he also endorses the company he co-founded, Patreon, because it is the tech savvy business model that allows them to go on tour and lose money. Patreon and Pomplamoose are both expressions of Conte, and they support each other. Even if Pomplamoose wrote their tour expense story with the sole purpose of introducing Patreon – a service that generates regular income for Pomplamoose from fans who subscribe in exchange for music videos –  what’s wrong with that?

The article’s a couple years old, and I actually remember when Pomplamoose first published their tour finances. It was a big deal then, and I still don’t really understand why. And I wonder if, these days, it’d be the same way – Patreon has gotten a lot more popular, and it’s more of an accepted business model now.

Perfect Loops


Vine, an outfit owned by Twitter, runs an online service for sharing 6.5-second videos that play in a loop. And Snap to Beat provides a way of adding music to these videos so that, when they loop, the music seems as if it’s never-ending—so that you can’t tell where it starts and where it finishes. Vine calls these “perfect loops” or “seamless loops.” Particularly skilled Viners have done this for a while, in an ad hoc way, but the company wanted to give everyone a set of tools that could pull the same trick.

The best part about this article? Trying to watch one of the examples to hear a ‘perfect loop’ and instead hearing a half-second gap each time because the Vine player doesn’t work right. Beautiful.


Still, there are traditions, and the fact Stradivarius instruments are renowned for their sound (even if blind tests and acoustical analysis has found no significant differences between Strads and instruments of comparable quality). For years scientists and luthiers have speculated on what exactly makes a Stradivarius sound like a Stradivarius. The wood has a special resonance, but theories have also bubbled up about the varnish used, or the effect that imperfections and modifications can have on a violin’s sound. A few years ago a radiologist in Minnesota decided to run one from 1704 through a CT scan to find out more about the instrument’s anatomy. Each was, like people, unique.

Musical instruments are one of those things that, at first glance, seem pretty simple, but get more and more complicated the further you look. Every aspect of the instrument changes the way it resonates, and thus adds something new to the sound. It’s a fascinating field, and I’m glad to see that it’s keeping up with the times.

Streaming Share

The reality is only some of your money is paid to the artists you listen to. The rest of your money (and it’s probably most of your money) goes somewhere else. That “somewhere else” is decided by a small group of subscribers who have gained control over your money thanks to a mathematical flaw in how artist royalties are calculated. This flaw cheats real artists with real fans, rewards fake artists with no fans, and perhaps worst of all communicates to most streaming music subscribers a simple, awful, message: Your choices don’t count, and you don’t matter.

Cuepoint makes a good point here. Even better, the article goes on to highlight a better way of doing things:

There is a better way to approach streaming royalties, one which addresses all of these problems, and it’s called Subscriber Share.

I don’t actually have a streaming account,1 but for those of y’all who do, I urge you to join in this protest they’re putting together.

  1. Other than Pandora, where my usage pattern is ‘put on some quiet post-rock when I go to bed,’ and thus is already following their advice. 

Prompt: "What are your favorite songs?"

This one is easier (and harder) than the one I did about my favorite TV shows. Interestingly, the first one is linked to that discussion, too. It’s “Running Up That Hill” by Track and Field. It played during one of the most powerful (in my opinion) scenes in Warehouse 13, and ever since then I’ve loved it.

Second, Coldplay’s “Yellow.” I’ve got a long story about the song, but suffice it to say that a) it’s beautiful and b) it’s a strong memory of a pivotal moment in my life.

Thirdly, although actually probably it should’ve been first, is “Your Hand in Mine” by Explosions in the Sky. This is, I maintain, the single greatest song in the world. Go listen to it. Now.

But now I’m going to take a different track, one that’s more fitting to my life. Namely, the life of a choir nerd and a music major. Songs that I’ve performed! Also an easy answer, for me.

“Prayer of the Children,” a piece written by Kurt Bestor, and arranged by Andrea Klouse (I’ll go ahead and admit that I had to look that up, I didn’t just memorize it) was a piece that we performed in my choir right after the Sandy Hook shootings. Understandably, it was a very powerful experience for all of us, and it wasn’t a coincidence of timing – our concert was about a week after the tragedy, and we learned the piece in just a few days so that we could perform it in honor of those who died. After we finished singing, the room – a packed (and I’m not just exaggerating to make myself feel better) auditorium – was silent. For minutes on end. The only sound I could hear was that of the occasional sob, all those people feeling the same way we did. It was, easily, one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I will never forget that, and when I tell the story in person it’s still quite likely to bring a tear to my eye.

This Month's Playlist

I use iTunes a lot.1 Like, a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever had it closed on this computer.

Why? you may ask. Well, I like music. Hopefully you’ve figured that out by now, since I listed a music textbook in the ‘what I’m reading’ thing earlier, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned how many music classes I’m taking somewhere.2 It’s what I use to play music on my laptop, and it’s what I3 use to keep my music library organized.

It’s a respectably-sized music library, at that: 2,100+ songs at the moment, and it’ll probably keep going up.4 So, what’s up with the title of this post?

Well, I make a new playlist every month. For a while, I just had one playlist,5 but I got tired of that after a while. 300 songs in one playlist seemed like a bit much, especially when I’d be listening to it on my phone, spot a song that I didn’t want on there… and then forget before I could do anything about it when I got back to my laptop. This way, it’s always fresh; a song I don’t like will be on my playlist for a month at the most,6 and whenever I get some new music I like, the smaller size of the list means that I’ll be able to hear it much more frequently.7

The other really cool benefit of this system, to me at least, is the fact that I can look back and see what I was listening to at any time. I’m a big fan of the whole ‘quantified self’ thing – my phone tracks my steps and distance walked, and I use an app to keep track of what I eat just because I like looking at the charts – and this is, to Grey-the-vague-audiophile a very cool thing.

Anyhow, readers, since I know there’s at least one of you out there – what’s your system for music? Pandora list? Thousands of playlists for every possible mood? Something I haven’t thought of because I only listed three ideas? I’d like to know, so hit up that comment box.

  1. It’s a much less terrible program if you’re using Mac OS X instead of Windows; I’m convinced that Apple was so intense about having it look like it was on OS X that they actually wrote the entire OS X windowserver system into the program and then run iTunes within that. 
  2. If I haven’t, I’m taking 6 music classes at the moment. That in addition to working for the music department at school. 
  3. As someone with not-actually-OCD-stop-calling-it-that, or “I prefer things to be organized, but I don’t compulsively clean them.” 
  4. The nice thing about the remixes that I’m partial to at the moment is that, thanks to copyright law, they’re generally free to download. 
  5. Titled “Main Music List” because I am super creative you guys 
  6. Just because I’ve changed tactics doesn’t mean I’m any less forgetful. 
  7. Handily increasing the efficiency of the whole “repeating a song until I can no longer listen to it because I hate it so much” thing. Y’know, like Owl City’s Fireflies


I recently had the chance to perform with the all-state choir. Second time I’ve done that, actually, as I went last year as well.

I’m throwing in a picture of the auditorium in which we performed. I don’t have a good one of the stage, lots of blurry people moving around in the ones I got, which is rather annoying. So you get a picture of the three levels of seating with the lovely purple wash that occurs when a light shines to brightly on an iPhone’s camera.
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