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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:

T:Goldberg Waltz
C:Larry Ayers
N:First played circa 2004 --
N:Notated January 2013
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:


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:


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!




Filed under Essays and Articles, Music, Uncategorized

Calvin And Hobbes Revisited

Many years ago members of my family enjoyed reading the best, most philosophical, and funniest of the newspaper comic strips, Bill Watterson’s “Calvin And Hobbes”. Compilation paperback books circulated freely amongst the motley crew of the Ayers family, a heterogenous mix of Christian believers and shameless atheists.

In 1995 Bill Watterson decided to quit writing the Calvin and Hobbes tales. He felt that he had explored his comic realm thoroughly and had nothing else to add. Fans just had to accept this decision. Years later a blogger had the temerity to write and draw some sequels to Watterson’s stories. I got a kick out of these comics, and you might like them too!


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A Lovecraft Pastiche

I realize that not everyone shares my liking for the florid and overwrought prose of the early-twentieth-century fabulist and writer of horror stories H.P. Lovecraft. Now you don’t even have to crack open one of his books — in this parody James Warner captures well the peculiar flavor of Lovecraft’s stories: the hinting at horrors that can’t be described, the fear and paranoia which infects the unhappy man’s ravings, and the suggestions, never fully adumbrated, of evil elder gods which nobody would like to encounter. This piece I found to be quite entertaining:

Lovecraft As Advice Columnist

Thanks go to science-writer Jennifer Ouellette for bringing this piece to my attention.



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Flight of the Dictionary Demon

As some of you may recall, way back in early January, Larry abandoned me to my own devices. For awhile, I read and slept, secretly hoping for his return, but as the days gradually stretched into weeks, it became apparent that I was well and truly on my own. I could either remain in the midwest, or strike out for southeast Arizona to rejoin my lifelong friend.

However, there was one complication and that had to do with my books. After some experimentation, I found that my safe carrying limit was two – one in each clawed hand. Any more and I risked dropping one or more valuable tome. Such a decision! As I hunched over my small hoard, I reflected upon Larry’s recent difficulties as he chose which books to take and which to leave behind. From my lair, I had watched him carefully packing up his fiddle and other music books, his bound edition of Thoreau’s journals, and various other favorites from his collection. As the box filled to the top, he occasionally removed one book, gently replacing it with another. Now I was in much the same predicament.

At last, I settled upon an irreplacable first edition of Franz Passow’s Handwörterbuch der griechischen Sprache, and a 1612 first edition of Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca. Sadly, I left behind a number of other cherished volumes. I admit to shedding a tear or two, but comforted myself with the knowledge that most are now available online as scans, or in reprints. As an aging demon, I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that when the time comes for me pass on to that nether world where all good demons eventually go, I can’t take everything with me. Time to begin letting go.

With little else in the way of preparation, I set out upon my southwest journey. For the first few minutes, the steady flexing of my wings felt exhilarating, but after the first half hour or so, I came to the rather painful realization that I’m not quite the demon I used to be. Long years of putzing around on foot had resulted in a gradual atrophy of my flight muscles. For the first few days, two or three hours was just about my limit. Even at that, my flapping became quite feeble towards the end. I would then drop to the ground to forage about, chasing down the odd opossum or armadillo. When not feeling up to the hunt, I confess to resorting to scrounging about in garbage cans in the parking lots of several fast food outlets. Sometimes I even managed to snag a burger or two, abandoned by a patron alarmed at the sight of a lumbering winged demon emerging from a round of dumpster diving.

After several days, I progressed beyond the snowy croplands of the midwest, then onward over the rangelands of the Great Basin. In time, I found myself in a strange land of mountains and desert. As I approached the Sonoran region, Saguaro and other cacti dotted the rugged landscape. I was struck by the warmth of the landscape, and also by the intensity of the sun. Of course, lacking experience in desert travel, I neglected to slather on SPF 30 UV protection lotion and paid the terrible price of sunburnt wings.

Just about the time I was feeling close to giving up, a familiar scene loomed into sight – the dragon rock formation a short distance from Larry’s southern abode. I had managed to cop a peek of one of Larry’s recent blog posts on an iPad abandoned by a fleeing restaurant patron.

I dropped down to roost upon this stunning outcrop, surrounded by curious vegetation such as Manzanita and Agave, and other plants which will require some looking up. Exhausted, I curled up, racking my brain for desert terminology as I drifted off for a brief slumber.


Awhile later, a dashing collie who goes by the moniker of “Sage” sprang up the slope and smiled in what I hoped was a greeting and not a prelude to a nip at my wingtips. In that universal creature language that is shared by so many (except man), she let me know that I had indeed arrived at the right place. She promised to send Larry up to visit me posthaste. And so my journey came to an end – but one that is actually as much a beginning as an ending.

Dictionary Demon

* click on all above images for larger views.


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2011 in review

18,000 views! I had no idea. It looks like John Fitzgerald’s wonderful eagle photo was well-liked!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


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Spiders And Silkworms

Here’s something cool from science writer Ed Yong:

Genetic Engineering

For a long time I have wanted a shirt woven from spider silk. An unrealistic desire, I know, but I’m a dreamer!



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Quote From A Cephalopod

I love the poetry of this anonymous possibly human entity!

More here:


The third time is a charm, they say,
And so, to test that quote,
I thought I’d read some entrails
So I sacrificed a goat.
I’d heard it said, with skill and care,
My future could be seen
In length of small intestine
And position of the spleen.


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