Category: ‘Media reviews’

No More BIAS

July 26, 2012 Posted by Milena D

Having upgraded to Peak 7 LE a few months ago after frustrating incompatibility issues between Peak 6 and Lion OS, I was frustrated once again looking for an MP3 and MP2 encoder, not to mention an AAC encoder for Quicktime for making iPhone message tones. After a few unsuccessful tries to find and download said encoders, I cleverly clicked on the cached link to the Peak site, and discovered that BIAS Inc is no more! Yikes. My first response was outrage at having NO support for a product I was just pushed into upgrading to by a tech person (telling me straight up Peak 6 was incompatible with Lion forever) and since they don’t include documentation for easy access to additional encoders, THANKS a LOT, I am stuck. However, my second response was sadness and embarrassment at my very consumer-like response to what is obviously an economic downfall with very human dimensions…Steve Berkley, BIAS CEO’s cryptic explanation implicates strained employee relationships, conduct and morale issues…remding all of us somehow that behind every business/company are actual people, with actual problems and good days and bad days. I hate to think I too have bought unquestioningly into this idea that the customer is always right, and corporations are somehow there to be always, without fail accountable to me, and nice to me, and working for me, and that is somehow my right as a customer. Eeeesh.

So, a proper good-bye, I’ve been using Peak since 2001, Peak 2 or 3, somewhere around there, and the first Peak I owned by myself was Peak 6 with Sound Soap. I’ve enjoyed, recommended and used Peak for over a decade! Sad to see this company not be able to adapt to the “changing audio software market” as many have pointed out (see article link above)…this is no doubt yet one more move towards a global obliterating of medium-size business and vertical mergers into bigger and bigger corporation monopolies.

Now, let’s watch what happens to RIM next.

Pitchfork – Intel Soundplay

June 27, 2012 Posted by Milena D

Someone sent me a link to this a little while ago so I’m not positive if this is a game sound engine by Intel, run by the Unity browser, or just a catchy product title, but the two features audio game projects on the Intel site are quite wonderful. To call them games is really a stretch because one is a free-flow mouse-trajectory based ambient exploration (with a basic obstacle-avoidance course) and the other one is an interactive narrative. Both feature a musical track as a base soundscape making them more interactive game-based music explorations, sort of vehicles for music promotion. Not unlike, I’d like to muse, RJDJ being a mobile music promotion engine, providing interactive musical experiences.

Below are screenshots from one of the interactive pitchfork projects, We Were You:


Review – Project NOW

May 15, 2012 Posted by Milena D

And to follow up – my review on RJDJ’s latest app, in beta testing, Project NOW – the “perfect music for every moment”. Basically it is a fancy, glorified version of iTunes shuffle/genius, compiles your musical preferences by your own feedback of whether they #win or #fail. The catch – it selects music based on its estimation of location/environmental/directional/motion conditions. So it reads the calendar, clock, weather, ambient level, motion, location, etc. and spits out a song selection that is “perfect for that”.

Technical note: I am using this app on an iPhone 4. Don’t bother using it on anything less than a 4, it will eat your battery like cake for breakfast in 10 mins flat.

To start, I must admit, I am not a big iPod listener (I only listen in very limited situations – now I drive, before I found transit way too loud to listen) and not a big music listener at home – as in, not constant, only when I am already in the “mood”. So, with that in mind, here’s what I found to be Project NOW’s most critical features:

  •  it is a HUGE battery drain. constantly scanning location makes listening to music – what should be a very low-bat experience – a very “expensive” one
  • too much babysitting for the app to “learn” my preferences, too ongoing. I’d rather spend some time to initially set it up, asnwer some questions, rather than constantly babysit it.
  • the changes to the environment “modes” are too sudden – in fact, several times i was happy i finally found a song to listen to and i guess i moved, and it went away….replaced by another song that was apparently “more perfect” for that next moment. Errr?#fail

Overall, pretty interface, easy to use, interesting idea vagely reminiscent of tinkering with your own Sims music universe (and all the nerdy goodness that goes along with it), but it adds up to a very battery-and-intervention heavy experience that i can replicate much more
simply by making a playlist. And ultimately, the “perfect” music for a moment in time is not so much determined by environmental factors, more so by mood, imho. And that would be very hard to do in an app. Yes, quiet/loud, still/moving can connote some different genre choices but not necessarily. Many times I saw what the app gave me for say a calm/still selection and I thought to myself – “i can totally see why it chose it, but I don’t feel like listening to this right now” And here’s an internal conflict – app asks you to rate a song selection by #win or #fail, but when I press #win and get ready to listen, if any of the monitored conditions happen to change, that’s right….the app phases out my current song – the song I was most happy to listen to – and cues in another song – a song that I now have to go back and rate, and decide if I want or not. getting back to the song I was most happy to listen to becomes an ordeal. Makes for a veeeeery disjointed listening experience. Well, what does it sound like you ask? I took the liberty of recording a small progression of songs, using Project NOW, take a listen here:

Update note: Just wanted to add a further reflection I had on Project NOW. Stumbled upon the project now twitter hashtag (and I swear, I’m not stalking RJDJ to kvetch about it! it was a coincidence, I barely even tweet) and was amazed at the feedback – everyone is just ecstatic to be getting random, weird music selections, they seem to be delighted by the randomness or pleasantly surprised and impressed by the choices. I would assume these folks are European so all of a sudden I felt kinda sad that I’ve found this app so dissatisfying, for the reason that it doesn’t read my mind. It’s like in north america it’s not ok to not get exactly what you want. If it doesn’t instantly satisfy, boom, it’s out the door. Europeans somehow have a much higher tolerance for experiences, for unpredictability, for suggestion. I mean, Project now is still too finicky for me, but I wanted to add this reflection because I think there is a real core cultural aspect to the design that might not be that well suited for a north american market, but well aimed at the european and developing world cultures. Oh, neo liberalism. You truly cripple the imagination.

From the Walkman to RJDJ

May 4, 2012 Posted by Milena D

A recent interview I accidentally came into with Co-op radio Soundscape programme hosted by Brady Marks urged me to rediscover my previous work with RJDJ. Since I’ve been driving, it’s been honestly less enticing to use soundtrips and such, and work hasn’t allowed me that much time for playing around with interactive music and process composition. While preparing some new recordings for the broadcast I came to appreciate it once more – and was especially excited to discover a ton of new user-generated scenes. I kept forgetting they show up under interactive and not soundtrips. This is a short one I did in a nosy area near my house walking to the taco place. I am having to upload these sounds to Soundcloud, because honestly, I feel like RJDJ has completely abandoned what I thought they stood for, which is building a community around creating, composing, sharing and exploring reactive music, augmented listening and such.

Perhaps I was wrong all along, but after Inception – which I’d still applaud for its clever and aesthetically/musically striking design (a little boo for using Hollywood commercial music) – after that, it’s all been downhill in my most humble opinion. The scene uploading, the RJDJ app, the RJC1000 software are no longer (or not currently, for a while) being updated due to developers being busy with other projects – Dimensions and a brand new project, called Project Now. Those however, to me, are the components that made RJDJ a community, an open-source mobile music movement, and not just a company for apps. I was expecting a newer, better RJC1000, with more options to create more striking augmented soundscapes. With Dimensions I was expecting an auditory treasure hunt – a geo/art cache app with sounds. Perhaps because of my foundations in soundscape listening and composition, and acoustic ecology, I had been wrong all along, and RJDJ is actually just an alternative music label, a support platform for delivering commercial music, I don’t know. But I do know that they started something maybe they didn’t even expect, that has now been dropped by the wayside. if there seems to be any spite in my words, it’s only passion because I care. Or I did. But I’m just one person.

Groove Coaster! A proper Guitar Hero for the iThing of your choice

May 1, 2012 Posted by Milena D

Groove Coaster is a not so well known iPhone beat-matching game I heard about on … of all places, Feminist Frequency. Unlike the few other imitation Guitar Hero’s out there, like Rock Band, GH, Tapulous, etc. Groove Coaster is reminiscent more of the rhythm-point stylus game Osu! (original Japanese title Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! for Nintendo DS) and later reincarnated as Osu! the PC social network. I was an early adopter of the online Osu! and subsequently acquired the Japanese Nintendo version (which highly disappointed btw). But back to Groove Coaster. Don’t be fooled by its bit-art icon. I mean, I do wish they made a better one. But the game’s graphics are simple and beautiful with a simple 3D aesthetic, and the beat matching is inuitive. The tracks are fun and campy, kinda dancy, so far I’ve unlocked a bunch of content with more to come in-game (that’s right! you don’t have to immediately go purchase in-game content) and the game is pretty challenging to play.

Audioboo: People Watching

June 18, 2011 Posted by Milena D

And here is an audioboo of a brief thought I had while sitting in front of Tinseltown. It actually doesn’t have that much to do with sound, other than it was a moment of un-mediated observation happening in an unmediated acoustic environment as well. The boo is me reflecting on the fact that watching people in this way felt all of a sudden like “more” than what it was, important enough to reflect on. Reminded me of the way i grew up, culturally, people watching was such a dominant way of socializing outside. I think the thought I had was that is feels so much more consentual and organic as a social transaction than watching media (tv, etc.). We all participate in it and at different moments we are the observer or the observed, no one occupies a  permanent objectifying position. Anyways, here goes.

People watching (mp3)

Review – Finally…My Wisdoms on Inception, The App

April 2, 2011 Posted by Milena D

Inception The App

I downloaded Inception the app almost right away when it came out, because of course, as an RjDj fan I knew about it. At the time I had a 3G iphone and had a really bad experience with it. It essentially wouldn’t play for me at all…It downloaded – so I assumed it would work, since I had been using RjDj, and then it didn’t. Dismayed, I posted a bad review of it on the Apple site. Then, I tried it on my iPod touch 4, worked like a charm, fast and furious, but I didn’t really see much point in using it. I was at home at the time…not much going on. This was similar to my early RjDj experience…you just really have to take that baby out and about to experience the magic. So, recently, bored with my usual soundtrips, I turned on Inception on my new iPhone 4G and rather than trying to tinker with dreamscapes, just hit enter…

Fast-forward a week…I’ve been listening to it almost every day, for long periods of time, on my too-long commutes, and reflecting on this experience. It’s just a week past my sound course’s “ipods and headphones” lecture when we all talked about our headphone/ipod listening habits, desires for retreat into a musical world, for orchestrating our own accompaniment to life. I try not to be a hypocrite. I’ve never told my students listening on the ipod is bad, or escapism is bad. I don’t even think it is. But, only *i* know when i do it, and I certainly sometimes do escape. RjDj has already been a fresh change, and I’ve written about that, but Inception is interesting in yet other ways, and I’ve become somewhat obssessed.

One of the things I talked with my class about is how you don’t have to carry huge books of CDs like before, now you have all your music on a tiny ipod, all the variety you need…because who can stand to listen to only one album all day? We’ve also been talking about film sound and how it evokes certain moods or expressions (or rather, as many of my students say if it’s a happy scene and the music fits ’cause it’s happy – surely, we’ll never know why that is… but i digress). So Inception in some ways is like listening to the same album all day, for days on end in fact. Except, its “interactive” nature makes it sort of random when the musical score would appear and take charge so in that way it’s not really predictable as an album, but nevertheless, it’s the same soundtrack.

The voice modulation at certain points of the experience is also pretty dramatic and sophisticated. Coupled with the deep, raspy tones of the tuba inside the lavish orchestration of the Inception Main theme, I caught myself wanting to whisper dramatic things like “One Day… (one day… one day…) …. When This is All Over (all over…all over….) … We Can Start … (start….start….start…) Again (ehn…ehn….ehn…). I get that  urge every time and am quite saddned there is no recording capability…I presume for copyright purposes. Of course I will soon get around that and post a file on my Soundcloud…but for now, reflections.

The last of which being the Action dream. It cracks me up. It is an un-intended parody of everything I’ve talking about in class in the last three weeks. Once the ipod senses you moving, and taking in mind the rate of displacement, it starts the action sequence music, which is basically, as I recall, the “action shots” music score from the movie. It is a fast-paced minor-pitched staccato rhythm, rising a half tone in building suspense every once in a while. What makes it hilarious is that instead of shooting at subconscious agents trying to kill me or driving a van off a bridge, I am demurly walking down the street with the usual mundanity surrounding me – buses, people, clouds. It is funny how so many people (many of my students too) like rhythmic music to give them energy and accompany their travel/walking. This music though, fully orchestrated, rather than musically mixed, infinitely clashes with the mundane mise-en-scene, and in so doing brings attention to the fact of how “constructed” film music is; which brings me to ask myself – why is other music ok? Why does it feel more “natural’ to walk around or ride the train with lady Gaga on – it is just as much a constructed soundscape? is it that its spatial or contextual connotations are more open, and therefore it is easier to imagine oneself being anywhere or doing anything with this type of music backdrop on?

To continue on this meta-level, it was also interesting in itself to be reminded of the functioning of the Inception app itself – “You are active” – hah, like I don’t know that. In a sense pulling me out of the cocoon of the ambient, film-orchestrated score I was immersed in, I become aware of its built-in functions, the limitations of its “intelligence”. Yet always, the dramatic, culminating parts of the movie soundtrack seem to come at the “right” moment, or at least seems to make the moment right, giving that scene just the pomp-and-circumstance to make real life movie-like.

RjDj Soundwalk

March 13, 2011 Posted by Milena D

After a brief hiatus where I was busy with who-knows-what…Oh, yes, being obsessed with the Harry Potter series and already planning my next Severus Snape halloween costume, ahem; I am back to RjDj with ideas for a new scene. And I’ve re-discovered three scenes I didn’t give a decent chance before – Aware and Unowis, and KDSP’s Replay Atlantis. Now, I’m having some trouble uploading to RjDj’s web interface (Error 413?) but I’ve made mmm, at least 5-6 new recordings. The trouble is really, it’s so easy to accumulate recordings, and I always have trouble thoroughly listening to them again…

The other great news is that I’ve successfully now proposed a soundwalk with RjDj through the Vancouver New Music 2011 Spring Soundwalk series. This is an excellent initiative that has a long history, and is associated with the WFAE and CASE in Canada, part of the worldwide acoustic ecology movement. I have to confess I’ve never actually attended an official VNM soundwalk, and I know the usual folks are used to some techno-geekery but I don’t know how exactly walking around with headphones in is going to pan out!

Really, the only thing I wish is that I had some more time to look at all the PD utilities and tutorials and make a new scene specifically geared towards the soundwalk, a scene that hopefully goes a bit beyond the RJC in sofistication…Next time!

Since RJDJ have now closed their product and all associated website support, including their embedded player, I can’t actually link to any of my recordings there. But thankfully, the recordings of the soundwalk (some samples anyway) can be accessed via the Interference Journal, where I published a piece with my collaborator and colleague Vincent Andrisani.

Interference Journal: Aural Cultures Vol. 1, Issue 1.


Audio gestures for gaming?

January 16, 2011 Posted by Milena D

Audio Gaming – a company who develops costom sound tools for game developers (?) has a new toy called Audio Gestures which is a plugin for the Wii or something like that where gyroscope info is  used to drive somewhat continuous sonic parameters. Now, experimental musicians and electronic music students have been doing this (badly) for years now, hacking a Wiimote to use its “gesture”-like characteristics to make it into a tangible instrument. Suprisingly – becuase it’s the first thing that comes to MY mind – I haven’t seen so much sound parameter dynamics using the Wii – engineering and computer geeks tend to use their own bend sensors and other gizmos. So, interesting culture-differences.

So, great idea, nice little video demo, happy to see this out there. I guess the only thing that’s grating on me is their suggestion that this tech will “cut down over 40% of sound design time” – did I fall asleep and the industry change and become game sound focused all of a sudden? I mean, I’m sure sound design takes a bit of time for any developer – oh, like 1/100 of the time it takes to do video and graphics design and animation?

Still, the possibilities of motion-controlled parametric audio change are only just beginning, and have to say that is an area that has always been of real interest given all my past work! I mean, the Kinect could be essentially the commercial version of socio-echo that we worked on back in 2004. I want a job there.

Improvisation Across Abilities: Adaptive Use

December 2, 2010 Posted by Milena D

Just a quick note to promote this initiative, set up by the Deep Listening Institute, a software that helps severely handicapped people, even ALS patients, create and improvise with music. The intiative needs to raise 15,000 dollars for training music therapists, teachers and other practitioners.

Improvisation Across Abilities: Adaptive Use.

This is one of the best initiatives I’ve seen for bringing arts to communities of disability.