Category Archives: Music

Essays on music and MP3 recordings, most derived from my playing and my band’s.

ABC Files and Recording Music and Video

This winter I’ve been writing less and devoting more time to playing and recording music. It’s great fun, and I feel it is high time I documented my music after so many years of playing.

The software available for musicians is plentiful. I tend to use only FOSS software (FOSS stands for Free And Open Source), a trait which as time passes becomes more feasible and less a statement of religious conviction.

Some of my favorite and most-used pieces of software cluster around an ASCII-text file format known as ABC. Chris Walsh came up with the format back in the 1980s. He needed a way to represent traditional melodies without going to the trouble of drawing staves and using normal musical notation. ABC is musical shorthand. Notes are represented by letters, and various typographical symbols indicate bars, rests, and most other musical features. ABC is quite portable; it can be scrawled on a restaurant napkin or included in the text of an e-mail. The format has been most popular with musicians in the British Isles.

With todays gargantuan multi-gig computer hard drives the advantages of ABC have declined somewhat, but there are so many tune and transcription collections available on the net in ABC format. For a fiddler like me the files are a cornucopia of musical delights. So portable, too! Millions of tunes in ABC format can be stored on a CD or a USB stick.

Software is available which converts an ABC file to a printable Postscript file. The results are excellent. Here’s an example. This is an ABC file represnting the bare bones of a tune I came up with several years ago:

X:1
T:Goldberg Waltz
R:waltz
C:Larry Ayers
N:First played circa 2004 --
N:Notated January 2013
L:1/8
M:3/4
K:G
GA|"G"B2 BAGE|D2 B,2 D2|"C" E2 C2 E2|G6|"Em"E2 B2 B2| B2 B B3|
"D"ABA GFE|D2 B,2 A,2|"G"G,2 BAGE|D2 B,2 D2|
"C"E2 C2 E2|G6|"D"D2 d3 d|d2 d2 d2|"G"BA G"D"F "G"GA|G6||
|:"G"Bdg dgd|Bdg dgd|"C"ceg ege|ceg ege|"Em"B2 e2 g2|b2 b2 b2|"D"a2 ag fe|
d2 dc BA|"G"B2 d2 g2|gf ed cB|"C"c2 cdef|g4 ^g2|"D"a3 gfe|d3 cBA|"G"B2 G F G2 :|

A program called abcm2ps translates the ABC typography into a file which looks like this:

goldberg

The tune sounds like this (more or less, as I seldom play anything the same way twice!):

Goldberg Waltz recording

I’ve been using a multi-platform program called Audacity, which can be obtained here:

Audacity

It’s a very versatile multi-track recording and sound-editing application.

Videos are ubiquitous on the net these days due to the popularity of Youtube and, to a lesser extent, Vimeo. I thought it would be fun to make some music videos and upload them, but I had a problem. I’d never successfully edited video before, and the few times I tried I felt stymied. The software has been written by people who grew up editing video and certain user-interface assumptions are made by the developers which were not at all intuitive for me.

I finally figured out my problem, which was that I assumed that the editing paradigm used in text and audio editors carried over into video editors. This isn’t true. Video editors mostly have been developed using an analogy with film editing. Cutting and splicing film (with discarded strips of film falling in curls to the cutting-room floor) is used as a metaphor for dealing with streams of video frames. The computer’s cursor is exchanged for a knife or scissors which “cuts” the sequence of frames.

This may seem obvious, but it took me a while to embrace and be able to use that metaphor! I can be dense at times.

I’ve been using two video editors, Openshot and Kdenlive. They are both good programs, but each has its strong points.

I started out using the audio track recorded by the camera, a Canon G11. That audio was fairly decent considering the tiny microphone on the camera, but I wanted multiple audio tracks. Lately I’ve been recording and editing with Audacity, then substituting the Audacity track for the camera’s recorded audio. I also have been using an external microphone. Of course the audio has to be synchronized with the video, but I found that Kdenlive does that automatically.

Here are a couple of videos. This first one was shot using the built-in camera and mike on Bev’s Imac:

You can see Sage the collie in the background in that one. Pets wandering into the scene are commonly seen in Youtube videos!

This is a later one shot with the Canon G11 on a tripod, and with the audio recorded with Audacity:

One last video… this one shows me playing an Irish set-dance tune called “The Blackbird” on the guitar. I dubbed in a fiddle track as well:

All rather amateurish, I admit, but fun!

Larry

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Waves Of The Danube

Several years ago I happened across a tune, one of those melodies which crossed the Atlantic Ocean sometime during the 20th century. I can’t remember where I first heard it — probably the internet was involved.

I first knew the tune as “The Anniversary Song”. This tune was played as a fiddle duet by Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson, and I learned that the tune came from a song by Al Jolson.

Later I learned that the tune was written by the Romanian composer Iosif Ivanovici, and the original title is “The Waves Of The Danube”.

Here’s a sappy movie scene with that song:

I learned the tune on the fiddle and guitar, but then I was faced with the task of introducing the tune to the session musicians in Hannibal. The chord sequence is a bit more complex than the simple sequences in the fiddle tunes we normally played.

The tune became a favorite tune in the local sessions. I still enjoy playing it!

Larry

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Barn Dance In The Valley

Bisbee, Arizona, is located improbably in a narrow canyon just a few miles north of the Mexican border. The town wouldn’t be here if there weren’t substantial deposits of copper ore, but the mines closed down thirty years ago. The town remains as a tourist destination, many people coming for the ideal climate and the picturesque buildings.

I was invited to play the fiddle for a barn dance down in the Sulphur Springs Valley, a vast expanse of flat land between the Chiricuahua Mountains and the Huachuca Mountains. The area encompassing the valley and the mountains was the homeland of Cochise’s band of Apaches, and the county was named for that famed chief.

Before the music started I had an interesting conversation with Dennis, the co-proprietor of the ranch. He and his wife run 400 head of cattle on 30,000 acres of dry mesquite valley land. Naturally Dennis was concerned about the drought conditions which have prevailed in the valley for the past twenty years. I learned much from our discourse.

It’s been a while since I played fiddle for a dance. This dance was a good one, and luckily somebody shot video and edited this one:

I was invited to play by Mark, a skilled mandolin and guitar player.

Larry

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Wardell Gray With The Count Basie Orchestra

The year was 1950. Wardell Gray, inheritor of Lester Young’s musical legacy, was working with Count Basie and his band. Gray had impeccable phrasing and tone; he had taken to heart Lester Young’s musical advice: a solo should tell a story. Have a listen:

Larry

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Chaos On High Road

Bisbee, AZ is a hill town, a place which would never have been thought of as suitable for occupation but for one factor: the presence of abundant copper-bearing rocks, entire mountains resigned to their exploitative fate.

Many hill towns have an elevated road which offers a panoramic view of the entire town. Bisbee has one, as does Ennis in County Clare in the west of Ireland; both roads are known as “High Road”. Singer/songwriter Tim O’Brien wrote and sang this moody song of a lost love while “up on a high road, lookin’ down…”:

I’ve been working for a friend of a friend up on Bisbee’s High Road, doing some trim work on a house. Getting there has become a pain in the butt lately due to the presence of crews of predominantly Hispanic workers and their dump trucks. The road is narrow, perched on the side of a canyon as it is, and I’ve had to back up in order to allow a truck to lumber past me. The street has many sets of stairs which allow access to several of the houses, reminding me of a game of chutes and ladders, and the steps are often lined with a row of workers kibitzing their peers. In general the street feels inordinately crowded these days.

You might wonder what these crews are doing on a residential street. It seems, from what I’ve heard, that the mining company is attempting to curry favor with the city of Bisbee by replacing yard dirt contaminated by heavy metals and other poisonous results of decades of copper mining with new dirt of unknown provenance. The mining company would like to open another open-pit mine within the city limits, creating or adding to the garish moonscape on the south edge of town.

A few scenes up on High Road:

Above is a view of the 180-degree Hairpin Turn, a corner which demands careful driving. That’s how you get on the High Road. I cropped this view from one of Bev’s photos. The following photo is also one of Bev’s, a typical High Road house looking like a page from a Dr. Suess book:

Work crew scenes in the side yard next to the house I’ve been working on:

The workers seem to be unnecessarily numerous and many can be seen throughout the day looking like this:

I asked one of the workers where the new soil comes from. He tersely replied , “Cochise.”, which is the name of this county. It might be sewage sludge composted with sand and wood waste.

Larry

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ELO

Doesn’t this old song from the Electric Light Orchestra sound like a Beatles song?

Classic stuff!

Larry

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Musical Comedy

I loved this, a joint effort of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, a musical encounter between a Christian and a Jew:

Thanks go to my old friend Mark Nemoyten for posting this on FB!

Larry

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