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)

KFest Funk

July 13th, 2015 12:40 PM
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Today is the eve of KansasFest 2015, the annual gathering of Apple II enthusiasts in Kansas City, Missouri. This year's event marks a milestone: it's the first to feature a keynote speaker from the LGBT community and a code of conduct, and it marks half my life I've been attending KansasFest.

It's the attendees that make KansasFest such an exuberant event, and one of the people I most look forward to seeing is Steve Weyhrich. Author of the definitive history of the Apple II, Sophistication & Simplicity, Steve is also a KansasFest committee member who puts plenty of time and energy into making the event as fun and zany as possible. One year he did so by filming a series of on-site vignettes that he, parodying the role of CSI's David Caruso character, investigated, concluding with a series of silly zingers.

This year's addition to Steve's video repertoire is no less ridiculous. I'm not cool enough to be familiar with the song "Uptown Funk" by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson — I was only the 789,569,005th person to discover it since its YouTube debut this past November. Steve, being the hip daddy-o he is, took that hit song and adapted it to be about KansasFest. Introducing the music video "KFest Funk":

My thanks to Steve, the committee, and all the attendees for making every KansasFest unique, special, and fun. I can't wait to see you all tomorrow!

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.

The music of Silas Warner

October 24th, 2011 1:05 PM
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Apple II users are, almost by definition, a talented lot. We take rudimentary materials and turn them into tools of wonderful self-expression, producing works of art that are beautiful technically, visually, and aurally. This artistic value often carries over into other media as well, though we rarely have the opportunity to share that side of our lives with other Apple II users — save the rare scenario where Stan Marks pulls out his guitar at KansasFest to sing about growing up on the Mississippi delta, or the Shepherds happen to be in Boston the same weekend I'm performing in Kiss Me, Kate.

It was with some surprise that I recently stumbled across historical evidence of a renowned Apple II user's musical talent. The late Silas Warner, best known as the creator of the classic Apple II game Castle Wolfenstein, was also "a published author and talented musician and composer in the classical European style", says Wikipedia. No links to his published writings are provided, but a pair of his musical works is available for download: the original composition "Variations on Sonata in A by Mozart (K.331)"; and Warner's arrangement of "The Heavens are Telling, from The Creation".

Although I was eager to experience this side of the programmer, I was stymied by the files being available only in NWC format, used by the musical composition software NoteWorthy. I had neither the commercial product nor a Windows environment in which to try its free player, and my quest for alternatives or converters proved fruitless.

Finally, classifying this as an Apple II project, I turned to my fellow techies for help. Kelvin Sherlock was the first to respond: "I found this python script which can convert [NoteWorthy files] to lilypond format (lilypond is used for generating music scores but it can also generate MIDI files). Sadly, lilypond complains about a handful of errors in the converted file."

Andy Molloy then spoke up with a less technical but more effective workflow which he has generously outlined here:

  1. Download and install the free Noteworthy Composer Viewer for Windows.
  2. Run the Viewer, click File > Open and select the NWC file. Don't press play until you have Audacity ready to go.
  3. Download and install the free Audacity 1.3.13 beta for Windows.
  4. Download the LAME MP3 encoder plugin for Audacity and follow the instructions for installation. This will let you export an Audacity recording as an MP3.
  5. Run Audacity and follow the instructions to configure it to capture streaming audio. Since I was running Windows 7, I also had to first follow the Control Panel instructions.
  6. On the Audacity Device ToolBar, I set the Output Device drop down box to 'Digital Output' and the Input Device box to 'Stereo Mix'.
  7. Push the record button in Audacity, and switch back to Noteworthy Composer Viewer and push the play button.
  8. As the piece plays, you should see Audacity start to record the track.
  9. When Noteworthy finishes playing, press the stop button in Audacity.
  10. Save the MP3 in Audacity by clicking File > Export and change the 'Save As Type' to MP3.

Andy has provided the output of his efforts for embedding here. Published in a widely accessible format for perhaps the first time ever, it is an honor to present Silas Warner's "Variations on Sonata in A by Mozart (K.331)":

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

Rest in peace, Silas Warner. It's a pleasure to hear your notes again.

UPDATE (27-Oct-14): Alternative versions of these songs are now available, courtesy Andrew Monti.

Orchestral Apples

June 23rd, 2011 11:17 AM
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In case you haven't already seen it on A2Central.com, Engadget, TUAW, or Make, I'll do my bit to spread the word: Jason Torchinsky is assembling Los Angeles-based Apple II users into an orchestra, with their beloved retrocomputers as the sole instrument. Their debut concert will be in just two days, at 8 PM on June 25. How much more impressive this performance might be than the works of established chiptune musicians such as 8 Bit Weapon is to be determined, but audience members can judge for themselves by watching a live stream of the proceedings, or the tape-delayed recording of same.

What hasn't been reported elsewhere is that this effort will be reproduced next month in Minnesota, at the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis. If you miss this opportunity to participate in a live concert of Apple II hardware, you'll get another chance soon.

Finally, the image that the Machine Project is using to promote this event? That's from an advertisement for the ALF Music Card. The featured guitarist is Bill Fickas, who found this blog a few months back and emailed me the details behind that photo. Now that's a full-fledged interview waiting to happen!

Apple II music videos

May 2nd, 2011 1:43 PM
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I ended a recent blog post by asking, "Will the Apple II ever have its own music video?" Although not quite what I had in mind, there's actually been an Apple II music video for nearly three decades. It was released in April of 1984 as part of Apple's official "Apple II Forever" event.

I suddenly feel the need to wear a stuffy suit and shake people's hands over a keyboard.

Perhaps better known is the song "Apple II Forever" a song released on the disc Developer Helper Volume 1: Phil And Dave's Excellent CD (with the titular Dave being David Szetela, KansasFest 2007 keynote speaker). It's been set to slides and published as this music video:

Is a thirty-year hiatus from the music scene enough? How can we build on this sterling record to create what's sure to be the next Apple II chartbuster?

(Hat tips to Steven Sande and Steve Weyhrich)