Sunday, 4 May 2014

Practise Makes Perfect


Around the same time as the guitar renovation project, I thought I’d carry out a long-desired modification to my guitar practise amplifier.  The Marshall Lead12 is perhaps unusual among guitar amps in that it features a headphone⁄lead-out jack socket.  (It’s much more common to mic guitar amps.)  To be able to play loud late at night in a built up area (and, to be honest, to mitigate self-consciousness while practising), I wished there was a switch to cancel the output to the speaker while retaining the output to the headphone⁄line-out jack.


As with the guitar customization project, once the kernel idea caught hold, I thought I may as well renovate the equipment while I was at it.  As with the guitar, I had long been fond of the amp but there were a few things I wanted to improve.

Over the years, the potentiometers had become inconsistent with use: the most used ones has practically no resistance left and would occasionally crackle just at my preferred knob settings.  The electrical contact from the jacks was not as clean as it should be.

I’d bought it second hand at the same time as the guitar and, although never abused, it had become just a tad tatty over the three decades or so of service.  I decided I was OK with this.  The guitar was sporting a home-made grungy look, so the amp didn’t have to look brand shiny new either.

Where to put such a switch?  There is not a lot of spare space on the front panel.  Beside the headphone socket would be the most suitable place.  This leaves only two realistic choices: either rudely cut into the Lead12 decal or squeezed into the space between the socket and the power switch.  Space permitting, I chose the latter.


I went for a rocker switch, similar to the main power switch (as opposed to a toggle, paddle or other kind of switch; unlike the power switch, it’s plain black and doesn’t light up).  It squeezes in snugly.

Even as a 12-watt practise amp, this thing was really built to last internally.  One can see that Marshall’s enduring reputation is not for nothing: every component is solid.

The plan was to have the switch replace the (impedance of the) speaker with some static discrete resistance.  I reckoned that rudely cutting the speaker out as an open- or short circuit could potentially harm the circuit board.  Measuring the level of power showed that it was too high for ordinary resisters though.  It was rather more cost effective to fabricate a “battery” of parallel resistance than to buy a single (high-) power resister.  In the photos, this home-made compound power resister is soldered together under heat shrink.

While I was at it, all the pots & jack sockets got replaced with new ones.  I couldn’t find a replacement for the particular switching-on-jack-insertion arrangement for one of the jack sockets.  With a little DIY-engineering, I was able to reconstruct it successfully though.


It works well.  With the new switch in one position, the amp is just like it was before.  In the other position, the main speaker is disengaged, replaced internally by a resistance bank, and the headphone⁄line-out socket works as ever.

I might do more, such as add another jack socket to allow foot-pedal switching between the low & high inputs, but these days I play much more often through an Eleven Rack, so this old amp is OK for now.


For replacement parts for guitar amps, I highly recommend the Hungarian online supplier Etronic.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Dusk Descends; Fryderyk Chopin gets the Blues…

Arrangement of Chopin’s Posthumous C♯-minor Nocturne #20


This particular nocturne was composed by Chopin in his youth and he
never published it.   Uncharacteristically, the piece is almost
entirely monophonic in both the right hand melody and the left hand
accompaniment.   Whenever I’d attempted to practice it, I found the
sparseness of the melody – with its slow tempo and prolonged trills
– elusive to phrase satisfactorily.


Remaining faithful to Chopin’s score, the nocturne is arranged for
electric guitar, harp and piano.   Guitar was chosen as a stringed
instrument to facilitate articulation of the slow notes of the melody,
unfolding as they play.   Received performance of the mid section,
comprising arpeggios in the dominant key, is often rushed through,
almost as if to get it over with.   Harp was chosen for its soft
timbre, in a bid to convey contrasting lightness, and for its
aesthetic timbre, in a bid to enjoy this section taking its time.

Piano is retained for the canonical nocturne left-hand accompaniment.

The intro is somewhat off-kilter with the main body of the piece –
its offset metre and dominant harmony perhaps alluding to the mid
section.   Giving the intro and coda to the harp hopes to frame the
piece as a whole.


Bluesy electric guitar asserts a heavier phrasing than the tone of
delicate refinement classically associated with Chopin.   Blues
phrasing brings out aspects of yearning melancholy in the melody.
Contrast with the harp highlights certain structural aspects of the
piece traditionally left implicit.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Next Big Thing

Susan Lanigan has tagged me for The Next Big Thing.   It’s been buzzing
charmingly around writer circles recently.   Maybe it can go

Susan Lanigan is a multi-award-winning creative writer.
Her short stories and poetry have been widely published and she is
currently revising her historical novel.   She somehow finds time to
provide literary advice and record music on the side.
Check out her blog at

Would it be self-deprecatory of me to wonder if composers are less
sociable than writers?   Nonetheless, pro forma, I tag Fergus Johnston
and Siobhan Cleary.

The questionnaire has been lightly amended (“piece” instead of
“story”, etc.)

1) What is the working title of your next piece?

For brevity, “Chop-Noc#20”.
Subtitled, “Dusk descends; Fryderyk Chopin gets the blues…”
It’s an unorthodox arrangement of Chopin’s Nocturne in C♯-minor (#20,
the one published posthumously).

2) Where did the idea come from for the piece?

It was a piece I’d tried my hand at, teaching myself piano as a kid,
one that was slightly beyond my ability to play properly at the time.
The problem was the execution of all the sustained trills and grace
notes – I just couldn’t phrase them satisfactorily.

It occurred to me many years later that keyboard might not be optimum
for the monophonic melody.   A string or wind instrument might allow
greater articulation of the ornaments as they unfold over the slow
nocturnal arpeggiation.

The idea arose to give the melody to electric blues guitar.   With an
arrangement then on the cards, I thought I’d go against the grain of
breezing through the triplet mid section.   Instead, I’d slow down and
give it to a harp to carry, with its sonorous and contrasting timbre.
Giving intro & coda to the harp frames the piece nicely (along the
lines I’d been thinking, at least).

3) What genre do your pieces fall under?

Fusion of electronic, classical, contemporary, rock, and folk.   These
days, blues seems to be a common, and perhaps unifying, theme.

4) What musicians would you choose to play the piece?

Anne-Marie O’Farrell played the harp part for me, and I’m very
satisfied with what she did.   She’s a pro.

For the guitar, in my dreams, I’d love the late great Paul Kossoff or
perhaps Johnny Fean.   I wanted to try a gritty heart-felt bluesy tone
to accentuate a sense of more urgent distressed yearning and for its
rich articulation.   Peter Green’s cleaner understated tone would
furnish a rendition more in keeping with received interpretations of

I played the piano and guitar parts myself.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your piece?

Alternative arrangement of Chopin’s nocturne #20.

6) How will the piece be published?

On SoundCloud initially, with links thereto.   Video to follow.

7) How long did it take you to get a first sketch of the piece together?

I’ve remained quite faithful the score, providing a part score for the
harpist only, so no significant work there.   Recording and editing has
taken a long time though as other life stuff has intervened.

8) What other works would you compare this piece to within your genre?

Jacques Loussier has been putting out jazz interpretations of Bach
since the late ’50s.   He also turned to Chopin.   His rendition of this
C♯-minor nocturne is more upbeat with less emphasis on the melody.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this piece?

Covered in Qn 2.   [The questions are closely related…]

10) What else about the piece might pique the listener’s interest?

In the conservative world of commercial classical music, Chopin is
customarily given a refined genteel performance.   The composer himself
is said to have played very softly indeed.   (Could this have been
aristocratic affectation?)   To conservative classical ears, this
version may sound vulgarly heavy handed.   This is not intentional;
trenchantly conservative ears are not my targeted audience.

If you happen to be familiar with the piece, the instrumentation alone
should be a tad surprising.   If not, well, you might recognise it
anyway when you hear it as it featured prominently during his
bicentenary, 2010.

Monday, 31 December 2012

What's with the Name, “Visionete Artdevel”?

The deeper intention was to encapsulate what the project is about:
graphic music videos whose visuals render an interpretation of the
musical structure of the accompanying sound track.

Nete was one of the three original ancient Greek Muses.   As these
classical femmes fatales lured voyagers — to their doom should they
succumb — by the charm of their art, Nete played the bass strings of
the lyre.   Regarded as the Muse of song, variously known as Nete,
Aoide or Cephisso, the lowest note of the lyre was named after her.
The bass normally plays a deep structural rôle in terms of harmony.
I feel irresistibly drawn to her…

Thus we have it, Vision–Nete, with elision on the N.   Classical
scholars may demur at the incongruity of Latin and Greek etymologies,
to which I can only counter, hey, this is word play, not a work of

On the face of it, I guess Visionete suggests a diminutive of
vision.   If the reader will pardon an element of self-parody, this
could apply to the realization of this project in its early stages,
compared to where it could potentially (hopefully…) go.   That said,
it could also be a concession to reality.

Artdevel, pseudonymous surname, is meant to be a contraction of art
of development (be it mathematics, code or artwork) or a nod to the
process of developing art.   Again on the surface, there may be an
askance allusion to art devil  — as in dæmon for art, or even Mann's
Faustian Leverkühn.   If so, I'd take it wryly with respect to mental
health caution as creative/artistic/original thought often involves
considerations against the grain of the mainstream.

† Incidentally, the word music derives from ancient Greek,
art/craft of the Muses, where the latter syllable, τεχ,
is the familiar stem in technique, technology, etc.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Here's One I Made Earlier

Lately, I've been busy Haskelling away, writing code that is, with a view to realising various music video projects in the pipeline. It's taking shape nicely, with increasingly more code factored out into libraries that can be shared or substituted in due course.

In the meanwhile, so as not to loose all momentum of posting here, a graphic music video I made (somewhat...) earlier:

Made with Macromedia Shockwave (later to become Flash), this was unusual for its time.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Just a Note!

How could an eleven-second rendition of a single note score five-figure hits on

A couple of years ago, I was developing the rendering end of a system for
producing animation from digital graphics.   As a means to test it, I tried to
imagine the simplest pilot project that could have real matching audio and video
content.   I wondered, “what could be done with just a single note?”

Devoid of melody, harmony, and rhythm, this struck me as an amusing challenge.
There would be only one main event: the attack of the note onset.   The decay
phase of the note suggested a waveform diminishing in amplitude.   Attack, decay,
and nothing else, might seem a little pointless, lacking in context, so to
induce some anticipation, a reverse waveform could precede the attack as some
sort of build up.

I wanted the decay to seem natural, like ripples on the surface of a pond
receding into the distance.   To render this in a 2-D frame, I imagined wave
projection onto the surface of a paraboloid - with apex closest to viewer,
damped oscillation would appear further, smaller, and denser as it emanates from
the apex.

Well, I never expected this offhand proof-of-concept pilot to turn out to be so
popular, with >11,500 hits to date.    The original has got 1000 hits in the last month
alone!    In response, the above is a revised version.   For best effect,
view in fullscreen at 1080p.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Divertimentino #1 — A Whimsical yet Listless 1-Minute Piano Piece


The requirement arose for a keyboard piece of about one minute in 
duration, one that would have visual appeal to watch being played, and 
with a varied, contrasting feel to it.  Accordingly, this short piano piece 
features crossing of hands, arpeggiated flourishes, use of the full range 
of the keyboard, and some fast and tricky passages.


The overall form is roughly ABA′, with A,A′ being of romantic era 
tonal harmony and B akin to jazz or blues. 
The opening and closing bars employ a Chopinesque use of 6th 
chords to perpetuate a complex harmonic tension — one which carries a 
rich scope for modulation and one which is only ever relaxed at macro- 
structural cadences.  Jazz/blues harmony emerges as an extension of this 

Orthogonal and complementary to this scope for harmonic freedom, 
the metrical subtlety offered by the compound 6/8 time allows a natural 
transition from classical triplets to jazz swing. 
While the opening and closing passages make use of lyrical runs of 
scales and arpeggios, contrast is achieved by the use of dissonant 
chordal jumps in the mid section. 

The opening bar lays down a pattern of harmonic tension and, via 
parallelism, opens space for the melody to fill in the third and sixth 
quaver beats of subsequent bars.  Although the piece aims to pack a 
range of motifs quite densely, overall coherence is maintained by the 
metre, by the overarching harmonic structure, and by the parallelism of 
the left hand pattern and the right hand melodic contour.


A hesitant, listless opening turns into a forthright, impetuous blues 
shuffle.  As the familiar chord cycle approaches its end, dissipation 
encroaches.  The melody continues searchingly and restlessly, almost as if 
to ward off a looming peripheral sense of dissipation, perhaps in a bid 
to avert the return of the initial listlessness.  Tension played out, the final 
cadence lays the piece to rest.