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Archive for the 'Music' Category

A new amplifier

F4 (4).jpgI’ve been away from the world of hi-fi and DIY for a long time. Before I went back to school I started building a power amplifier designed by Nelson Pass, but I never finished it. Until now.

I feel as though I finally have my commute worked out, and the work routine under control more or less, and so I pulled out the bits a couple of weekends ago and got it all finished off.

F4 (1).jpgMetalwork (the enclosure and heatsinks) are always the hardest part. In this case I used a mix of plywood and redwood strips, combined with a cheap extrusion and a couple of surplus heatsinks (originally one piece: cut in half on the table saw).

It came together pretty quickly. Self-tapping screws to hold the transistors down, and wood screws or machine screws for much of the rest. The amplifier draws a lot of current, and I was pretty nervous turning it on, but with some great advice from online, and a lightbulb as a current limiter, it all worked out fine.

The sound is great. It’s super-clear, and a pleasure to rediscover a lot of music. It’s also completely quiet: no audible hum or noise at all. If you want to learn more, Nelson provides information on another of his websites: www.firstwatt.com.

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Rock, Paper, Scissors

Rock, Paper, Scissors

I wrote a play some years ago, exploring the relationships and perspectives of three very different people, caught in wartime Afghanistan. At an early stage, my friend Michael Sanie expressed interest in writing an opera based on the play, and after several years of delays and struggles, here it is.

The opera is in three acts, each providing a platform for one of the characters. There is also a fourth character: an Afghan boy. It seems to me that we rarely hear the perspective of the people over whose lands we fight.

You can get your copy here.

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Music for everyone

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design—it’s a community and a conference, held in Monterey each year. Their tag line is “ideas worth spreading”, and they publish videos of many of the short (under 20 minute) talks from the conference each year. This one is about music, and shows some work from MIT’s Media Lab that makes music much more accessible to everyone.

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Music is more than…

I came across this (thanks, Stephanie!) this afternoon: it’s a group of people who get together to explore home-made musical instruments, many of them combinations of mechanical and electrical or electronic components. Some of them are played in conventional ways, some make music under computer control, and some combine multiple techniques. 


What’s nice about this is that it describes a group of people who get together to share their ideas, and to have a good time together. It’s a long way from a conventional concert, but just as rewarding, and perhaps more so.

There’s a lot going on in electronic music—tonight the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (that’s right) is playing and I’m hoping to go. There’s also a group in the Bay Area that get together regularly to learn about electronics, computing and music. A week ago I went to a talk at UC Santa Cruz that presented some algorithmic music—I’ll try to post separately about that.

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Home again

We’re back from our whirlwind trip to Seattle. Today we went to the Boeing museum close to the Sea-Tac airport, which has an old Air Force One (707), and a BA Concorde. Also a great exhibition of first world war planes, the Blackbird, and a simulator that the boys enjoyed (twice!).

Yesterday I met a friend at Amazon and had the chance to see one of their buildings – beautiful art deco exterior, with amazing views of the mountains all around. We were pretty lucky with the weather – one rainy day and three fine, with two blue and clear. At one point I could see Mt. Rainier, the Cascades, and the Olympic mountains, all clear and cloud-free.

We did go to the Experience Music Project yesterday – the building is famously by Frank Gehry and the project funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen. Lots of great interactive displays (recording studio, instruments etc.), and we all had a good time. I was disappointed by the building – it seemed a bit arbitrary on the outside, and frankly dingy and rough on the inside. I think the passion and intensity of the music it houses and describes could have been more effectively expressed. But still, it was the first Gehry building I’ve seen close up, and it was interesting to see how he used the power of CAD to create shapes and textures that would have been too difficult previously.

I didn’t take any pictures of the EMP – there are enough out there already and I had a camera-free day, just enjoying the sights.

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