I know I haven't been updating the blogo very often. Sorrrryyyyy... (Yeah, right.) Ok - fact is I've been busy with some stuff. I'm working on a book and software for software sound synthesis. Software synthesis (for those who don't know) is a way of generating sounds directly from a computer rather than recording them. A software sound synthesizer can create everything from imitation orchestras to spaced-out electronic effects right on your computer. No need for a recording studio, expensive equipment and all that. Once you learn how the thing works, you have your very own personal orchestra at hand whenever the computer is booted up. Cool, huh?
This is something that I started on back 25+ years ago when I was a gradual student at the University of North Texas. It is, in fact, what I would have done for a Ph.D. thesis if I had stayed in school. I got a little "distracted" from that, but I've never forgotten about it and have continued to study and play around with computerized music systems for years. So, here I am, writing my "Ph.D. thesis" without having to deal with a bunch of professors and duh-gree counselors (HAH HAH). Of course I won't get the ol' sheep-skin and fancy hood in the end, but so what? The point of the Ph.D. is supposed to be to learn completely about something and add to the body of knowledge in your area. I'm doing exactly that, thank you.
The book and software are intended to be a tutorial for people who want to create their very own customizable synthesizer rather than use one of the many commercial products available. In effect, I am documenting the process I went through in learning how to build a synthesizer program so that others can use the information I learned along the way. Of course, you might say, "Isn't it much more convenient to go buy a synthesizer program?" Well, maybe, maybe not. You see, that only works IF the commercial programs do what I want. I've looked at several of them and they are certainly good programs, and very convenient to use. But, quite frankly, convenience is overrated. If the program doesn't do what I need it to do, then in the end it isn't very convenient at all. It's just a constant source of frustration. Commercial music programs are designed for the commercial music industry. They rely heavily on MIDI (piano keyboard input) to provide the expressive parts while the computer does the automated parts. I am (for those who don't know) a classically trained composer and one of the things I was taught to do was to write music without using a piano or other instrument. All of the commercial programs force me to do what I worked very hard to be able to NOT do. So, there it is. I need something they don't provide, so I just have to do it myself, convenient or not.
But that's not the only reason for doing something like this. My attitude is that everything in life has a spiritual dimension. We cannot separate the spiritual from daily life and claim to be loving God and following Jesus. It's all-or-nothing; you live your life walking after the spirit, or, you live your life walking in the flesh (Romans 8:1). There is no jumping back and forth, sometimes spiritual and sometimes not. Everything we do can become a spiritual lesson if we are attentive and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. It's like this...
I could conform my compositional style to the way that everybody else does it. I would then be able to grab any number of software systems off-the-shelf and use them. But that would mean that the creators of that software were controlling the way I write music. I'm not saying that the way others do things is wrong, just that I don't do it their way and I won't be forced to conform to the way they do things. I have, and have always had this "attitude problem" where I do things the way I think they ought to be done, even if everyone else is doing it differently.
But beyond that "I did it my way" attitude is something else. I LIKE to create things. The God who created us gave us something of His nature, His image, and part of that gift to us is the ability to create. We can envision what we have not seen, explore what we do not know, discover how and why things work, and in so doing we have more than just a mundane experience of life. The point then, is not whether or not I can create a synthesizer better than the commercial products. The point is that if I write it myself I gain a deeper understanding of how it works, and that allows me to make better use of the synthesizer when I get done. If I can transfer that knowledge to others, then all the better.
True understanding comes from doing, not thinking about things. Thinking about stuff is good - I do a lot of that - but when you've done all the pondering you still don't know the thing until you have put it into practice. So there it is again - just like "faith" - knowledge comes in the doing not the believing you can do it.
Well, I didn't work on the software or book much this weekend. This weekend I built a computer. In order to fully test the software I needed another computer to run other operating systems (Linux and Vista 64-bit). The easy, convenient thing to do was to go buy one off-the-shelf. It used to be that people built computers in order to save money. However, with Walmart and other mega-retailers selling good computers for around $500, you really can't build a computer cheaper than you can buy one these days. The people who build computers sometimes do it to get a really high-end system for playing interactive video games and other such stuff. I didn't need to do that, and a typical business computer from the computer store would work just fine. What music systems need most of all is processing speed, and the current state-of-the-art systems have ample speed right out of the box. So, why did I do it?
I was in the computer store buying a memory upgrade for my laptop when I walked past a display that grabbed my attention. Nope, not the latest hi-res graphics, not the latest super-big hard disk, and not the fancy audio systems. It was a computer case. (A WHAT?) Yep. A computer case. Almost every computer you see, and almost every computer any hacker builds, is built in what is called a "Tower" case. What I'll bet most people don't know is where that idea for a tower computer case came from. You might think that computer manufacturers use that kind of case because it is better for the computer. You would be wrong in that. Let me tell you a little bit of computer history trivia in case you weren't messing around with computers back in the mid 1980's.
Originally, PCs came in a flat box type case. When the systems began to get bigger, especially when the first hard-disk drives came out, the box the computer came in had to get bigger, too. Most computer programmers work in a little cubical with not much more than a shelf for a desk. The standard AT cases took up nearly the whole desktop. So, what we did was to stand the computer up on its side. That way you got your desk back! It was much more convenient you see? It wasn't too much longer before manufacturers stared making all computers that way and today it's almost impossible to get a desktop system in anything other than a tower case. A lot of people like the little mini-tower cases, too. They have an even smaller foot-print and can be conveniently shoved out of the way.
But the typical tower case, especially the mini-tower, has a wee-bit of a problem. It's called "heat." The enemy of every computer component is heat. The faster the computer runs, the more heat it generates and the more power it needs. The more power you need, the bigger the power supply has to be, and the bigger the power supply the more heat you generate. Now, take the side panel off of a typical tower case and look at how things are stuffed into the box. What you have got is a disaster waiting to happen. All of the heat generated by those super-fast components is going to want to rise to the top of the box, right where the power supply is usually located. When power supplies get hot, they get inefficient and the whole system can halt because it doesn't get enough "juice." If you don't put some big, powerful fans in that box, it's going to "fry" your very expensive CPU and power supply. Big fans are NOISY. So, computer manufacturers have been doing all sorts of clever things to try and keep those high-end systems cool and quiet, and if you are going to build your own system, you better do the same.
The case I stumbled on isn't a tower case. It's a "cube." It is a really sharp looking cube, too. Nice matte-black finish with chrome accents. But that's not all. This thing is made with a metal front panel, not plastic, and with the exception of one piece, it has very heavy gauge metal throughout. Even better, all the bits and pieces of the case where you have to attach parts come out of the case for easy assembly and disassembly. (Try getting a CD ROM or motherboard in and out of typical tower case some time and you learn what "patience" really means.) It also has this big, very quiet fan on the back, and lots and lots of space inside for good air circulation. Now, THIS is what I call a good-looking computer that won't overheat, is easy to upgrade, and runs like the dickens (Intel Quad-core Q6600, 1066 FSB, 4GB-800Mhz RAM, 400GB disk):
Like I said, everything we do in life has a spiritual dimension. Here's the point (in case you didn't get it yet): life is not about convenience. Doing something because it is convenient will lead you down the wrong spiritual path in life. It is all-too easy to just go along to get along, compromise, be like everyone else, etc.
It's not convenient to write your own software when you can buy it, but you learn a lot more that way. It's not convenient to build a computer system instead of buying one, but you can end up with something that you really like.
It's not convenient to have to put up with all the evil in the world. It's not convenient to be independent and do things different from the way everyone else does them.
It wasn't convenient for God to send His son to die on that cross. But aren't you glad He did?