A documentary of Woz's Us Festival

December 5th, 2016 9:00 AM
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Steve Wozniak is many things: a technical genius, an entertaining speaker, a movie character, a wax figure. But one of his many accomplishments is often overlooked: music festival organizer.

In 1982, Woz created the Us Festival, a counter to the previous decade's "me"generation. It was designed to bring people together and inspire them with some of the greatest musical names of that era, such as The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, The Police, The B-52's, and more. The event was even livestreamed to Russia, despite the ongoing Cold War. The event recurred just months later in 1983, archival footage of which is now available on iTunes.

But what prompted Woz, a known inventor and prankster, to bring his fame and fortune to bear on the music industry? Attending or watching the concerts won't tell you; for that, you need to go behind the scenes. And that's what filmmaker Glenn Aveni plans to do with his documentary, The US Festival 1982, now on Kickstarter.

This project is looking to crowdfund $60,000 by December 20, and it's on track to do so: at the time of this writing, it's more than halfway there. The funds will be used to procure rights to even more archival clips and finish production of the film, which includes interviews with many of the concert's surviving musicians.

I'll support almost anything Woz does. Not only is backing this documentary a way to belatedly support his concert, but Woz himself was interviewed for Aveni's movie. I look forward to hearing tales I haven't heard before about this side of Woz!

(Hat tip to Chris Torrence)

Steve Jobs dances to Jonathan Mann

January 25th, 2016 10:13 AM
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Jonathan Mann has been producing an original song every day for over seven years. That's 2,572 consecutive songs, a streak that's landed him in the book of Guinness World Records.

To create so many songs, Mann draws his inspiration from everywhere, especially pop culture. Apple is a popular source, producing not only one of my favorite songs, "That's Just the Woz", but also more infamously, "The iPhone Antenna Song"

Steve Jobs was never one to take criticism lightly, so you'd think this music video would've landed Mann on Apple's blacklist. Perversely, just the opposite happened: Apple opened their "Antennagate" press conference with Mann's music video.

What was it like when Mann got the call from Apple, seeking permission for this public performance of his critical work? And what could've motivated the mercurial Steve Jobs to own and embrace what he normally would see as a cruel jab?

In episode #7 of the podcast Welcome to Macintosh, host Mark Bramhill interviews Mann himself about his history with Apple products and the Apple community, his experience working with Apple to arrange this performance, and his theories as to why Jobs not only played his music, but danced to it.

Steve Jobs was a vision and a genius, and neither Apple nor the Apple II may ever have existed without him. Yet this genius was marred by incredible cruelty and apathy. In this episode, Mann puts himself in Jobs' shoes and imagines how Apple's co-founder might've felt to have the iPhone lambasted so mercilessly, and how Mann's music video might've reached past that into some human core of Jobs. It was a humanizing and empathetic perspective, and one I appreciated hearing. I recommend you listen to Mann's interview for a more complete picture of Steve Jobs.

(Full disclosure: I back Mann on Patreon)

The opera of Steve Jobs

August 31st, 2015 11:17 AM
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Since his passing (and well before), Steve Jobs has pervaded popular media, appearing in dramatizations, documentaries, and graphic novels. Now his memory is set to invade another artistic medium: the opera.

Russell Contreras of the Associated Press reports reports that the Santa Fe Opera has commissioned The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs for their 2017 season. Rather than the drama and grandstanding of Jobs' public life, the opera will deal with the character's more human elements:

The production will examine Jobs facing his own mortality and circles back to the events and people in his past that shaped and inspired him… the story of Jobs is a great intersection of creativity, innovation and human communication. His relationship with those who helped him along that journey also will help tell the story in the opera.

I'd expect a show like this to come out of San Francisco, not Santa Fe. But New Mexico makes a feeble attempt at relevancy to Jobs' life:

New Mexico in recent years has worked to honor it connections to technology innovators like Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. For example, a Route 66 motor lodge in Albuquerque where Bill Gates and Paul Allen lived while launching Microsoft Corp. is being redeveloped into apartments as part of a neighborhood revival project.

While Gates worked on his project, Jobs operated from in his garage in Los Altos, California, and with partner Steve Wozniak released the compact Apple II at the time Albuquerque was a technology hub.

It's unlikely such a show would remain limited to New Mexico; I predict a touring a company will launch within a year of the opera's debut. That leaves us years to ponder whether opera is the best venue in which to explore Steve Jobs. Unlike a musical, which intersperses song with spoken dialogue, an opera is almost entirely sung or accompanied by music. It need not be in Italian or another foreign language — Gilbert & Sullivan's operas, such as The Pirates of Penzance, were in English.

Unlike the unnecessarily dramatic soundtrack of the Ashton Kutcher film, perhaps some meaningful music will bring Jobs to life as we haven't seen him before. Says the Santa Fe Opera: "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs seeks to capture the buzzing creative realm of Silicon Valley with a kinetic electro-acoustic score, lush vocal writing, a compelling non-linear narrative, and a production as innovative as the man himself."

Anything is possible! Consider this creative reinterpretation of a traditionally tragic scene:

Bet you never thought of it quite like that before, eh?

(Hat tip to Showbits and Zachary Woolfe)

In ten years I'll be cool

August 24th, 2015 9:07 AM
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I don't remember ever not having an Apple II in my house — and our early acquaintance made for a rough childhood. My very small elementary school class was composed primarily of jocks who didn't take kindly to bookworms and computer nerds, producing an unwelcoming environment, to say the least. I often wondered, would it ever get better?

I didn't have to wait long to find out. Ten years after middle school, I was in a college where computer prowess was lauded; ten years after that, the things I was into as a kid were mainstream and cool.

So if you ever wonder if things get better, just wait ten years — that's the time in which geeks become hip, as detailed in H.P. Mendoza's music video, "In Ten Years", off the 2004 album Everything Is Pop:

And yep, that's an Apple II in the first shot — or at least, it appears to be. Says Charles Mangin, "It looks like a II or II Plus with the badge on the cover removed, or a close clone. The drive certainly looks like a Disk II with the Apple logo removed or covered." The first game of the video being King's Quest (with Sir Graham later getting jiggy) seems to cement the theory.

We shouldn't be surprised. Of course Apple II users are cool! Wil Wheaton would agree: it's awesome to be a nerd.

(Hat tip to Infamous Quests, with whom I appeared on a panel this past spring about point-and-click adventure games!)

The music of Silas Warner, part deux

October 27th, 2014 1:57 PM
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Three years ago, I published music by the late Silas Warner, creator of MUSE Software's Castle Wolfenstein. By taking obscure NoteWorthy files and converting them to the more accessible MP3 format, I hoped to not only preserve Warner's legacy, but expose a side of him that hadn't gained him fame, but of which he was doubtless proud.

Since then, blog reader Andrew Monti generously volunteered to contribute to that effort. He emailed me to say:

Wonderful site! I didn't realize that [Silas Warner] was a musician as well. I knew you did what you could to extract the audio from NoteWorthy, but the built-in sound on the NoteWorthy player is painful! I managed to convert the original NoteWorthy file to Logic, where I used the Steinway Grand Hall piano sample kit. I also cleaned-up the tempo and applied a few other changes, and voila – a new, better-sounding stereo mix of this lovely piece.

Monti's modifications raise some philosophical issues: how did Warner intend for his music to be heard? If NoteWorthy's inbuilt sound is awful, is that how he heard it when he wrote it? If so, does adapting it to other formats or sample kits distort the artist's intention? This is the same question at the root of how emulators play sound. Few emulators manifest the original software's audio as it was intended to be heard, instead settling for a best approximation. Do Monti's improvements similarly reinterpret the past — or is using today's tools to enable Warner to overcome the limitations of his era? Are these edits any different from my previous release of the songs in MP3, a format that didn't exist in Warner's time?

Such questions are not for me to answer, and in this case where the original files are still available, any answer isn't likely to be particularly weighty. Monti's MP3s do not replace the ones I previously published, so I offer the updated ones at the bottom of this post, which Monti produced via these steps:

  1. Find someone with a 'real' copy of NoteWorthy. In this case, my PC-based producer friend Keith fit the bill.
  2. From within NoteWorthy, export the file as MIDI.
  3. In Logic, import the MIDI file.
  4. Unfortunately, not all MIDI parameters made the trip; I had to manually set the tempo and time signatures at the appropriate parts in the score based on the original NoteWorthy file. There were also a few obvious 'spurious' notes that had to be reigned in after the conversion. These were mostly between the tempo transitions.
  5. I applied a stereo mix to the track based on Logic's Steinway Grand software keyboard based on what the performer would hear (high frequencies in the right ear, etc.).
  6. Lastly, I exported the track as a WAV file and compressed it though a high-quality Steinberg MP3 encoder.

The result is a new rendition of "Variations on Sonata in A by Mozart (K.331)", by Silas Warner:

and "The Heavens are Telling, from The Creation":

For that latter piece, Monti acknowledges that "string sections are tough without either special software or inordinate amounts of time in Logic to map the instruments to legato, pizzicato, bowing direction and speed, etc. when required… Personally, I don't think it's much better than the built-in MIDI sounds in NoteWorthy, but I may just be picky."

I'll let listeners decide how these songs should be heard.

Wade Clarke's Victris plays the Apple II

September 1st, 2014 9:27 AM
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Wade Clarke has long been unique in the intersection of musicians and Apple II programmers. Unlike chiptune musicians such as 8 Bit Weapon, who create music entirely from classic computers, Clarke is more free-range, drawing inspiration and instruments from synthesizers, real-world samples, video games, and more.

Since not all Clarke's music is based on the Apple II, it makes it all the more fun when the computer does pop up in his work. Recently, Clarke pointed me to the liner notes for his album, Victris, where he describes the song "Ai no kuni"

I play by ear, so most of my compositions from back then were only stored in my head. I did record some to cassette, but more often I transcribed them into music software on my family's Apple II computer … in the early 1990s using the Apple IIGS program The Music Studio. The synths I had playing these lines sounded bad, but in this case what I really valued was the composition itself.

These intersecting lines were good enough that even two decades later I didn't want or need to change a note when I had the idea to bring them into an Aeriae track. I'd just heard the riffs anew after rescuing my old Music Studio files from the decaying 3.5-inch floppy disk where they'd lived for twenty-something years.

The song "Heiress" also has ties to the Apple II, incorporating output from Paul Lutus' Electric Duet.

Victris is only the latest embodiment of Clarke's work in both digital and musical realms, as he's been fusing the Apple II with his musical pursuits for the better part of a decade. In 2007, he used Fantavision to create this music video for the song "Amay":

More recently, Clarke contributed his art to the Drift demo disk that was bundled with the June 2012 issue of Juiced.GS.

But even that disk was not Clarke's first appearance in the magazine. In Clarke's track notes for the Victric song "Nurse 2 Alyssa Type", he reflects on his experience with survival horror video games. It was this genre of game that inspired Clarke to develop Leadlight, the Eamon adventure that graced the cover of Juiced.GS's first color issue. Two years later, in Volume 17, Issue 2, he wrote a Juiced.GS article about his ensuing experience transitioning from Eamon to Inform for his interactive fiction exploits.

Survival horror, text adventures, synthesized music, journal articles — Clarke is truly a Renaissance man of the Apple II community! Catch him on tour in Australia later this year.