Sunday, October 25, 2020

Akai Max-49 Gate problem Legato workaround

 I really like my Max-49.  It is a handy keyboard controller, with an extensive Midi implementation, and includes drum pads and several soft sliders.  The arpeggiator is very handy, and most importantly, it includes CV outputs.

The problem I have experienced is if I am not using the arpeggiator, and try to play legato, it will not retrigger the gate output when I play a new key.  The result is that you lose the initial envelope on that new key, and depending on how it is patched, you may eventually find the sound drifting away, i.e. if you are using AD envelopes, which I frequently do, because I like my Wiard Envelators.

The workaround is to use the MIDI out, in my case to the Cwejman S-1 monosynth, which not only has an extensive MIDI capability, but has lovely envelopes with individual outs on the front panel.  The only problem is that I have to use the workstation driving the MIDI interface to create a tunnel between the Max-49 and the S-1, which is easy enough with Midi Patchbay, though it does take a lot of equipment.

If anyone has figured out a way to convince the Max-49 to retrigger the CV gate on every note, I would love to hear about it.  My time spent puzzling over the manual, and paging through the configuration menu did not reveal a solution.

The other "workaround' is just to play staccato, if you wish.

Friday, October 02, 2020

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Monday, September 07, 2020

American History, and then some




You will hear, especially if you engage on Facebook with devotees of the Left, that America has a bloody and violent history.  You will be asked to deny, if you can, the enslavement of Blacks, and the extermination of Indians. Rather than quibble over language, if they happen to overstate the case, as indeed they likely will, it is better to acknowledge it.  Yes, American History is stained in blood.  Agree.

The problem is perhaps the context?  Is America really unique?  Let's take a quick look at the rest of the 


To keep it quick, let me mention just a few names.  Tamerlane, Stalin, and Leopold II of Belgium.  Tamerlane is a fellow who built mountains of skulls outside the cities he conquered, Stalin I hope you already know about, and Leopold was the brute who wrecked havoc and murder on the Belgian Congo.

Do Belgians attend struggle sessions where they force each other to apologize for the crimes of Leopold?  Never mind, they probably do, when they aren't enjoying strong beer, and mayonnaise on their fries. Which, along with the art and architecture are some of the fine things about Belgium so lets get to the 


Has American History been a mere cavalcade of blood and horror?  Of course not.  Never mind the Civil War that ended Slavery, and the Civil Rights movement that took the defining words of our founding and applied them fully to all Americans.  Think of some smaller stories, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo Code Talkers, and, why not, he is deservedly famous, Jackie Robinson.

I had the privilege of attending an airshow in Oshkosh Wisconsin a few years back at which some of the remaining Tuskegee Airmen were honored.  Was America still a racist country then?  Yes.  Did they suffer discrimination?  Yes.  Nonetheless they were given the opportunity to fly the finest aircraft of WWII into combat, and they performed heroically.  (Just btw, I am biased toward the P-51 Mustang, because I was fortunate enough to take my first flying lesson in one.  What a plane!)

The Code Talkers were young Navajo men who invented, implemented, and used under fire in combat, what is, to my knowledge, the only unbroken tactical code of WWII.  Were they mistreated, both as a people and as individuals before and even after the war?  Yes.  Nonetheless they were honored with a vital mission during the war, and in the years after the war, when the need for secrecy finally ended, they were honored publicly as well.   I recently read a fine book you might also enjoy: Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII.

Finally Jackie Robinson heralded the modern era of black celebrity athletes and entertainers.   Anyone who tells you that America has a racial caste system has to ignore a lot.  Not just the black millionaires and billionaires, but the poor whites who suffer depression and die from opioid abuse, not just in Appalachia but all over our country.


Why am I writing all this?  Here is part of why:

This slide was presented at a "Racial Sensitivity Training" for employees of the Sandia National Laboratory, in Albuquerque New Mexico.  I suppose, as a White Male myself, I should feel proud that my efforts to display a "can-do attitude" have been noticed, and are deemed worthy of discussion.  However, I feel it more important to note that essentializing a positive attitude as a White Male attribute is Racist, Sexist, nonsense.

I've learned a lot about "can-do", from women, starting I suppose with my Mother, who taught me at Telethons years ago (some of my readers perhaps recall Super Sunday, which is still a thing) the importance first of showing up, then of picking up your pack of cards, and then dialing the numbers.  "If you don't ask, you won't get". I've been privileged to work with other people, some not white, some not men, and some not either, who gave me further lessons, by their example, of how to get things done.

Returning to my Mother, apropos of nothing in particular, she was also the one who taught me, again by example, that when you see something wrong, you say something about it.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

The Wrong Kind of Binary

The Wrong Kind of Binary

Binary of course means two valued.  Ones and Zeroes.  Computer math.  Very useful stuff, but not the subject today.

There is another sort.

Politicians hate making choices.  To make a choice is to disappoint someone, and they want to make everyone happy.  Everyone except their designated enemies, but that is also not the subject today.

One way to avoid the appearance of making choices, even when one must be made, is to pretend that there is no choice.  Rather than explain the trade-offs involved in a decision, simplify to a binary option, where only one choice is the "obviously correct" one. 

In trade offs involving potentially fatal outcomes, there is an easy way to do this.  Simply say that "even one death is too many", and any course of action that might kill a single person is immediately off the table.

It is difficult to overstate the moral bankruptcy of this line of argument, especially because of its deep emotional appeal.  There is a kernel of truth after all, for the person who dies, and the family, of course that one death is a tragedy.  At the same time, it elides a simple truth: choices must be made, and we need to make them in a sensible way. Engineers learn early that there are always tradeoffs. "Fast, Cheap, Correct, pick any two".

However, if there are only two numbers in your number system: Zero, and "too many", you will be unable to make even the most basic computations. Two numbers aren't enough.

Even basic computations are not good enough.  A proper grasp of statistics and probability is essential to evaluate the various paths that are always before us.  How can you compare what you can't quantify?  By feel?  Not good enough. By appeals to emotion?  Definitely not good enough.

Maybe this is the time to come out in favor of replacing Calculus with Statistics in High School Math?  If Innumeracy was rare, the false choice arithmetic wouldn't hoodwink so many, and our leaders would maybe step up their game.

A man can dream, right?

Friday, July 24, 2020

My Perfect Minivan Ride, With the Gestapo

My Perfect Minivan Ride, With the Gestapo

Portland Oregon seems an unlikely place for the inauguration of a Fascist Police Force in America, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that the unlikely is likely.  When I first heard about the famous minivan abduction I was puzzled.  Why would the police read someone the Miranda warnings, and then just let them go?  What was he suspected of?

The short video that went viral was not much help either.  It took more than a moment for me to ignore the voice pleading with the officers to "use your words".  What was that about? A kindergarten teacher too terrified to return to class, yet comfortable attending a protest cum riot?  Who talks that way?

But that is not the point, I suppose.  The point is that the officers came up wordlessly, and took a man away, in a minivan, without, as many commenters pointed out, a warrant.

A warrant is not necessary to make an arrest, Probable Cause is, so my first suspicion was that he had been observed vandalizing something, or assaulting someone.  But that isn't what happened.  Apparently he was seen standing near someone who may have shined a laser in an Officer's eyes, and was wanted for questioning.  The officers took him away in the minivan because of the growing crowd, which made it impossible for them to speak to him on the street.

I hope there were more people there than "use your words" lady, because annoying as she was, she did not sound like a threat.

Let's be clear: there is no riot exception to the requirement that Probable Cause exist before an arrest can be made.  There is also no question but that being taken off the street by armed government agents is an arrest, contrary to whatever claims were made. The officers were wrong.

In the 80s the "Preppy Handbook" came out.  It  told you how to wear Penny Loafers and Polo shirts, what names and hairstyles were Preppy and so on.  It was followed by a slew of other handbooks, including "The Lawyer's Handbook".  I think I lost my copy, but I remember it had a section on different kinds of arguments you could make, depending on how much you were paid.  The most expensive one was the "bolt from the blue", which meant you could say anything at all, unless you were immediately struck down by the eponymous bolt.

Arguing that there should be a sort of riot extension to the Terry Stop requirements might not be that bad, but it is close.  Maybe the correct question is if the Judge would just yell at you from the bench, or would ask you to join him in chambers, so he could yell at greater length?

Speaking of Lawyers, can you imagine the one who came in to the office where they were questioning this fellow?  After hearing the tale of how he came to be there I suppose the officers heard: "Ok.  Now you will tell him he is free to go, and walk him to the door."

That said, it is also not exactly the sort of thing the Gestapo were feared for.  The problem was not that they would grab people off the street and release them an hour later, it was that they would grab people off the street, take them to an office somewhere, and then shoot them in the head, or trundle them off to a concentration camp. 

Now do you get the title?  I am falling between two chairs, the reflexively pro and reflexively anti-Trump.  I can't possibly get behind the notion that the deployment and actions of the Feds in Portland was "perfect", because, well, they clearly weren't.  At the very least some more training needs to be given to these officers so they stop coming up with creative ways of dealing with the difficulty of conducting street interviews during unrest. 

Should the officers wear better identification?  Sure.  Is it frightening that they are in military style camouflage?  Yes.  Am I disappointed in the way things are going in this country?  Of course.

And yet.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Mostly Peaceful

Mostly Peaceful

The city of Seattle recently conducted a Natural Experiment, or perhaps I should say allowed one to occur. It was well-timed, in that it tested a hypothesis that has been bandied about since the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer; the hypothesis that the police are the real threat to public order, and must be defunded.

One of the peculiar things about living in the modern world is that we are often unable to see the harms we prevent with our infrastructure, precisely because the infrastructure is working correctly. Anti-vaxxers still rarely see measles in the wild, so the notion that the vaccines are preventing a dangerous disease is foreign to them.

It is tempting to be harsh, and label them foolish, but honestly, what evidence can they see to support the conventional narrative? It is necessary to read some history, or learn some immunology to understand the value of a vaccine. Merely looking at the world and drawing conclusions isn’t enough.

Just so with policing. In fact, it is probably a worse situation due to the media environment. Police killings, especially of unarmed Black people, are horrendous. The stories are intensively reported, and covered thoroughly. This is natural. It is also impossible to blame the media for failing to report on all the people who were not murdered, because their potential killers were deterred by the presence of police, or by the fear of detection and punishment. By definition, there is no story to report.

Enter Mayor Durkan. When the riots over Mr Floyd became particularly violent, and the defense of the East Precinct required regular use of tear gas, she grew concerned. If I understand her reasoning correctly, she concluded that this was an example of the cure being worse than the disease, or rather the “cure” (the police) causing the disease (rioting). The order was given to withdraw from the precinct.

Once the police left, the local activists declared first an autonomous zone, then an Occupation. Whether CHAZ or CHOP it was now a self-governing entity, and the police were no longer welcome, not just in the boarded up Precinct House, but in the several block area around it. When the President urged the City and State to clean it up, they demurred. Mayor Durkan even suggested that we would see a “Summer of Love” in the area.

For a time, it seemed like that might be in the offing. There were dance parties, free food banks, public discussions, and so on. A Wall Street Journal reporter visited, and found optimistic people. Perhaps Mayor Durkan was right?

Rousseau is credited, apparently incorrectly, with the claim that the state of Nature was one of true human freedom and peace. A close cousin to this idea is that all of our miseries are the result of our civilization, and if only we were free of its confines, we would be Good, and Happy. An echo of this thought was heard in Margaret Mead’s story that the people of Papua New Guinea lived close to nature, and were thus happy and peaceful.

The truth turned out to be that they were indeed mostly peaceful, and there were only a handful of homicides every year. Unfortunately, due to the small population density, those few homicides resulted in a per capita homicide rate that was about the highest on the planet.

Just so CHOP. In the few weeks of it’s mostly peaceful existence, there were only two homicides. Unfortunately, on a Per Capita basis that works out to 1,216 per 100,000 -- the highest on the planet, by far. Of course it is a small sample, and the statistics can’t compare to actual countries, but the message is clear, it was a disaster.

Mayor Durkan recently bowed to reality, and ordered the police to retake the zone, which they did with little difficulty. Whether she, or any of the other supporters of CHAZ learned the larger lesson about the underpinnings of our civilization? That we shall see.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Abjad and Lilypond: Tools for Algorithmic Composition: First Look

Lilypond, which for some reason I keep calling Lilypad by mistake, is a TeX like tool for engraving beautiful sheet music.  Unlike Finale or Sibelius it does not use WYSIWYG mouse and keyboard input.  Rather you enter source code in a text editor, and use Lilypond to render it.

The advantages of that more than make up for the lack of point and click instant gratification.  What advantages?  Well there is the quality of the output, which is at least on par with those other programs, and maybe better.  More importantly for someone who wishes to do Algorithmic Composition is the simple fact that it expects a text file in a specific format as input.

Sounds like something that a computer program should be able to generate amirite?  Indeed, that is the purpose of Abjad.  Abjad is an extensive library of routines and objects that allow Python code to generate music that is in the Lilypond format, and thus can be beautifully rendered as sheet music for a performer.

I've been working on Electronic Music for some years, but only recently have I been given the opportunity to work with a live musician playing an Orchestra instrument.  It is one thing to program a sequencer to generate MIDI that is fed directly into another instrument, quite another to be able to hand some music to a musician with the expectation that they will be able to read and perform it.

Whenever I say "yes" to a project like that, it is always a bit like jumping off a cliff, and hoping that I will find water in which I can swim beneath.  Abjad and Lilypond are indeed sufficient water, and I have started swimming.  I don't want to go into much depth about them, partly because I still don't know much, but also because if you follow the links to the projects you will find a wealth of examples.  I found the Ligeti score example particularly helpful for my purposes.

One thing I do want to mention is some confusion with the word "Note".  That may seem silly, but bear with me.  A note might refer to a note in the scale: ABCDEFG, to a note on the piano keyboard: say A below Middle C, or to a  Midi note: Say note 66.  In Midi for example you can send a NoteOn and a NoteOff, but the notion of a quarter note is non-existent (though in Midifiles of course there are temporal delays, so duration can be represented).

In Lilypond and Abjad a Note is a combination of a piano or Midi type note, and a duration. It is possible to specify notes either by name, say c' or by number.  For algorithmic composition the number representation is much simpler.  Somewhat annoyingly (to me) the number assigned to Middle C is zero, so even if you are doing a simple piece of piano music you will have to deal with negative integers.  Yes I know that they were already well used by the 1500s, but if Leibniz thought they were "invalid", and Pascal "regarded the subtraction of 4 from 0 as utter nonsense" then maybe I am in good company.

In any event getting started is simple enough, the example at the Abjad front page includes these simple lines:
duration = abjad.Duration(1, 4)
notes = [abjad.Note(pitch, duration) for pitch in range(8)]

There is more to it, but you can see how easy it is to create an ascending chromatic scale of quarter notes.  Adding time and key signatures is a tiny bit more complicated, but the examples work through all of that as well.

tl;dr: Abjad and Lilypond are fantastic tools that let you create beautiful engravings of your musical ideas.  Strongly recommended!