Wednesday, December 28, 2011

JamMan Librarian - Development Progress

For the latest development status on this tool, go to my JamMan Looper Manager page.

(Editors note:  you can download the latest completed version of this librarian here.  For a glimpse at the tool when I was developing it, check this out.)

I've owned a DigiTech JamMan for a few years now.  It records mono WAV files and is a fun and useful device.  There are new "stereo" versions and who knows, maybe I'll get one someday.  Still, I like this device and would like to use it for as long as it seems useful (which could be a very long time).

You can glean a good deal of technical information about the JamMan online.  It's listed by DigiTech as a "discontinued" product but that doesn't mean much to me - my device still runs great!  The storage of the WAV files and associated data are easy to understand since the data is in XML format.  Still, ask anyone if they enjoy manually managing a myriad of loop files and the accompanying XML data by hand and they'll likely tell you that librarian software is a must!

Like many, I was using the LooperTools librarian software for my JamMan (and you may note that the domain isn't serving up anymore), but that software failed to work for me once I updated to Windows 7 (64 bit).  The "new" librarian software from DigiTech (to support the new stereo devices) does not recognize or support the "classic"(mono) JamMan devices (at least as of this writing) which deals exclusively with 16-bit, 44.1 mono WAV files.

So I decided to write my own JamMan librarian.  This blog entry simply captures what I'm calling my first "milestone" - importing the WAV files from my "classic" JamMan (previously managed with the LooperTools software) into my own library.

I actually started writing my own JamMan librarian over a year ago, strictly for personal use, just a fun weekend warrior type project, or so I thought, but I eventually moved on - it seemed sort of silly and there was music to write!  Like most programming tasks, they often seem easy, until you start getting into the details!  I was writing it using Visual C# and the target platform would have been Windows only.  But I recently started  dual booting Ubuntu and started learning  MonoDevelop using C# and reconsidered when it became obvious that, using MonoDevelop, I could not only write the librarian software fairly easily (at least a basic one) and have it run on multiple platforms (Windows, Linux/Ubuntu, Mac).  Plus, getting to know how to use GTK#, MonoDevelop has been a great learning experience!

My "JamManClassic" librarian (I probably won't come up with a more clever name than that)  is still a work-in-progress (I'm not currently offering anything to download until I can finish it and use it myself but stay tuned!), however, I hope to finish up the basic funcationality soon and suspect that it will be ready for 1.0 sometime in early 2012.  And yes, I will make it available - maybe not completely free, but perhaps pretty close.

If you are interested in this software and/or would like to be a tester once I'm closer to being finished, contact me.

Current and planned features for my JamMan Classic Librarian 1.0 include:
  1. Simple library management - all WAV files are imported into their own using library folder so your original WAV files are never modified.  This will hopefully make the concept of "smart sync" possible.
  2. Simple play/stop of library and loop WAV files.
  3. Simple properties editing - my data is also in XML so it's transparent and fully extendable.
  4. Backward support for LooperTools librarian files (LooperTools.xml).
  5. Simplified JamMan "slot" management - basically edit the properties as you want in the librarian and save to JamMan.
  6. Smart sync between the JamMan device and the library (slightly more advanced so we'll see how smart!)
  7. Option to convert imported WAV files to mono 44.1
  8. Load and edit the JamMan loops and JamMan properties directly (without a library).
  9. Search - a simple way to search/filter library files on name and description. (post 1.0, probably via "tags")
  10. Export WAV - a simple way to export or save any WAV file from the existing library to an external directory.
  11. Print Set List - this will probably be an HTML export of the JamMan loop files with name and optional other details.  That way the list can be quickly edited by the end-user and printed as desired.
Not supported or Another Day:
  1. MP3 or other file format imports - other software does this well so use those tools to convert files.
  2. Audio normalization or levelings - that's just way to geeky for me and nothing I want to embark on.  I'm leveraging some portable WAV library code now that detects WAV headers and converts to mono or stereo 44.1, but normalization and gain leveling is probably not part of the feature set for me.  Again, there are a plethora of other audio tools that can normalize and level audio files.  
  3. Everyone's special pet request.  This is a small tool for a discontinued product. I'm open to suggestions, but my first priority is to keep things simple and useful.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

My Long Month

It feels like it's been a very long month - it has.  The Harry Potter concert (if you were fortunate enough to go) was the culmination of a very busy month for me musically in October.  But just how long was it - 31 days?  No, for me it goes back to July - and maybe even back to last April for the Botti concert.  Anyway, I feel like November 2011 might just give me a bit more time for reflection.  For a couple months now I'm hopeful I can hunker down on what I'll just call "Project Blue" - a collection of new songs for sometime in 2012.

But before I move on, I'll indulge in a not-so-brief  blog post looking back on my "long and lazy month"...
July 2 - 5th and B played a fundraiser for the Majestic Theatre (the term "fundraiser" will come up often here) - love the causes, but boy is it tough sometimes.  Not this gig though - a chance to play on the Majestic stage for a full house with some of the best players around.  It was cool.  And we created a score for the Roscoe Arbuckle movie "The Garage" - the show was not without a hitch or two (our auspicious start still haunts certain players) but it was grand.

July 4 - Backup horn work with Caught in the Act for the Red, White and Blues fest in Corvallis. A great band and a lot of fun.

July 9 - The Svens played Bombs Away.  Playing sax?  What am I, nuts?  Guess so.  Oh, I played my Trumpet/Flugel too.  Sang a couple I think.  I'm pretty sure I messed up the lyrics but no one has ever called me on this so I don't usually bring it up.

July - creating an online Jazz History course for OSU e-campus.  Teaching an online course - really?  I'm in over my head but fortunately I've got great material.  And fortunately it all has to be done by August 4, so I'm almost there!

July 25 - August 3: summer band camp!  Normally 30 to 40 kids sign up.  But since I'm so popular in this field, well 14 kids actually signed up.  No worries though.  This band was awesome and the kids did a great job.  4 rehearsals, 4 gigs...very fun!

August 3 - I sat in on a couple tunes with jazz vocalist Halie Loren and her music director/pianist Matt Treder at Enoteco.  Halie was gracious enough to take a chance on a kid like me (ha!) - when it came to the decision of what to play, I suggested  "How Should I Know" - it sounded to me like a standard and nice tune to play on and one of Halie's tunes - it went well and so after that one Halie recommended "Sway" - which was nice too.  I'd get a second chance to play with them on a recording date - but meanwhile...

Around this time meetings begin about the spring 2012 pops concert...and then meetings start about the Harry Potter concert.  It all seemed so distant at the time - but the planning goes on...a real treat to work with Marlan, Ken, Erin, Tina and the many others involved.

August 18 - 20:  helped out with an OSU Jazz Camp lead by Dr. Dana Reason.  What a great time and all great people involved...I'm being lazy by not mentioning all their names, but they know who they are!  This event culminated with a short concert by the students in Benton Hall (which was amazing!) and then a concert at LaSells featuring Billy Childs and Steve Wilson.  I had the honor of introducing them - now how cool is that?  And if I was long-winded, well sue me.  These are some of the best musicians on the planet so I simply said what I thought needed saying.  It was sort of funny because I peaked in to their dressing room where Billy and Steve were just chatting like old chums (and of course they are great friends!) and mentioned that I was introducing them.  I asked them if there was anything I should or shouldn't say - Billy got all serious and said:  "Yea, Rob please say this:  Billy Childs is....the....(and I'm starting to take notes) ...the greatest...piano player ever..." - hey, I wasn't going to argue.  Steve wanted to check my notes and I said sure - he's amazed that so many people mess up his bio...but I'm a fan so that wasn't the case here.  My head is still spinning with the things they played.

August 27 - a Svens Beach party at at Starker Arts Park.  For the history books though, I'll just call this "Summer Jam 2011" - a mini festival of folk music and then The Svens.  It's such a beautiful park and nice to play - maybe next year we'll get the attendance up a bit.

On September 15th I sat in with the Creighton Lindsay Band at Cloud 9.  What a nice time that was.  Looking forward to more interactions - great players playing great music!

On September 17th The Svens played the Corvallis Brewfest at the Benton County Fair Grounds - holy smokes, was that event packed.  It seems that people really like beer and music- go figure!  Anyway, that was nice - playing under a tent like that.  And I sat in with the Plaehn-Hino group too - strikingly similar to the Creighton Lindsay band, but no, a completely different ensemble!  That was fun and just seemed like icing on the cake to sit in again.  Besides, it would mark the start of my Tom Waits listening bender, that still persists today and probably for some time to come.

At some point in here in late September I did something else pretty cool - I played on a "real" album! (Or at least what will be a real album in 2012.)  Halie Loren and Matt contacted me - they were literally finishing up and mixing their recordings for an early October mastering session and thought some trumpet and/or flugelhorn might work.  Never one to say no, I said a jubilant "yes" - it was a fantastic experience.  They were so nice and professional.  I played on three tracks and yes, I got a second crack at "Sway" - it's going to be a great record for them I'm sure!

September 26 - my online course at OSU begins.  And on a personal note (like none of this is personal) I pay $5 to get my dog into the Dog Day at Osborn - we're there 5 minutes.  My dog hates the water...I knew that but just needed to be sure.  5th and B rehearses here and I bring in a new tune, Väsen Dance - a relentless stream-of-notes-in-your-face-horn-line-thing in a triplet feel that tries to emulate the great folk band "Väsen" who I heard when they were in Corvallis.

And finally, I'm into October 2011 (now ancient history) but after all that, there's more fun.  October 4 marks the start of my Early Bird Jazz Band for 2011-2012.  This is my 9th season leading the group - hard to believe how time flies.  I've got a great band this year.  Very heavy on the saxes, but no worries there.  A new tune is brewing for them and I must write it down very soon.  I just need a title and that will get me most of the "way" there...

5th and B play a show at Sunnside Up on October 9.  One of the hightlights of my musical life is playing with Dave Storrs, Fred Berman, Ben Mutschler, Mike Curtis, John Bliss, Dave Leslie, and Page Hundemer.  I can't imagine it gets any better than that.

On October 12 I get the honor of guest conducting two selections with the Corvallis-OSU Symphony:  the first was my own arrangement of the Spanish folk song, "De Colores" - I dedicated it to the memory of Corvallis resident and composer Tim Misner.  There was a children's marimba group out in front and nearly 1000 5th graders singing along. It was quite a sound - and at the end I conducted "Harry's Wondrous World" as a sneak preview for the Potter concert.  And a good thing too - getting to rehearse that piece went a long way as it sort of got us into the "Williams" mode.  I don't believe there was any recorded documentation of this event which is too bad - it's not often I get to conduct an orchestra and 1000 kids singing - but unless I'm dreaming, it really happened and I recall it as being really, really fun!

On October 21 "Sideways Portal" re-united to perform a tone poem for the Magic Barrel event.  This year's event would bring in more donations than any other year.  I think our performance really gelled.  Despite all the different things we all do and the amount of time we do or don't get to play together, there's been enough "sweat equity" invested that we can actually just go out, find that gear and drive down the road.  And what a drive it is playing with Dave, John, & Page.  Never better on this one.  Although Dave had a cold and was probably feeling awful - that didn't affect his musical spirit though - not one beat.

The next night, October 22, I'm back with The Svens at Bombs to play my part in the great story by Viking: "Wade H. Dean - Businessman" - always very rich to play with Sticky, BasSven and Viking.  I'd miss their October 28 show since I had a rehearsal that night with the Symphony - I don't have any problem shifting gears from symphonic to surf...but it was not to be on that particular night.

Besides, at that point I was focused on pretty much one thing:  The Harry Potter concert on October 30 wherein I get the honor of guest conducting 8 selections from two different suites by John Williams of the music from Harry Potter.  Many nights of score study, planning, and wondering - afterall, this was hard music.  A relatively short rehearsal time frame.  Not only is the music sensational (I've loved John Williams since the days of Jaws, Raiders, Superman, Star Wars and everything since) but being able to witness what the team put together for the Diagon Alley lobby was absolutely amazing. It was an amazing concert.

As I look ahead there will undoubtedly be more gigs, concerts, shows, one-shots, recordings and collaborations.  But this period of time feels sort of like my "long month" - certainly not lazy. If I could spend most of November in my PJs and slippers just practicing every day, writing and producing little bon-bon tunes, I would.  But there's really no chance of that so I'll have to forge on the wee small hours.  And there's an even bigger chance that my long month is only beginning.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Timothy Scott Misner - memorial

The memorial service today for Tim Misner - very sad, but comforting to hear the stories about Tim from his family and friends.  Much healing and comfort will be needed for his family of course.  Ken Saul played a from-the-heart rendition of Danny Boy.  I saw many familiar faces.

I came to know Tim several years back through music.  We were part of a monthly "Corvallis Composer's Guild" - really just a rag-tag group of us that shared our works, methods, and encouraged each other.  I think that group lasted about 3 months but it was still a nice time.

Tim shared some of his production techniques with me and still to this day whenever I mix drums I recall how Tim did his.  He shared with me some of his early versions of his Oregon Trail suite and I was very impressed and proud of him for following his dream.

We were all handed beautiful flowers at the memorial - well, I think dandelions are beautiful - but these were a mix of sun flowers and other field flowers.  Perfect for fall.  Mine's wilting now even though I'm trying in vain to keep it going in a cup of water.

I've got a little bon-bon of an arrangement of a traditional Mexican folk song on my plate called De Colores.  It's just a simple song that pays tribute to the wonder of colors.  I'll dedicate it to Tim.  Now I just have to finish it...and I will.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

5th & B Play the Majestic Theatre July 2 2011

Join us for an evening of music with 5th & B and support the Majestic Theatre! This will be an entertaining evening of music and it's a great cause. The show is Saturday July 2 at 8pm.

Featuring their original written and spontaneously composed tunes, along with new music especially prepared for the 1920 silent movie "The Garage" directed by Roscoe Arbuckle and co-staring Buster Keaton. 5th & B are:

Mike Curtis - winds & percussion
Dave Storrs - percussion & brass
Rob Birdwell - horns & percussion
Page Hundemer - bass & percussion
Ben Mutschler - winds & percussion
Fred Berman- winds & percussion
Dave Leslie - keys & percussion
John Bliss - strings & percussion

Tickets $10 - wine, beer and other refreshments available for purchase.

This event is a fundraiser for the Majestic Theatre.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Constant Guard Security Messing up Composing and Music Tools

After a couple weeks of seeing weird stuff with my computer keyboard (typing in alpha characters and only seeing numbers) I was even more confounded when I attempted to compose some music this morning using Finale only to find I couldn't enter any notes because my keyboard mapping was completely foo-bar...attempts to enter notes through Speedy Entry were just producing random rhythms - very frustrating, particularly when my creative windows of time are very limited - if I'm bogged down with technical glitches then that pretty much spoils the mood and the ideas are lost in the wind.

So realizing that I'd recently updated my Norton Antivirus (from I deduced that one of those components was responsible - and simply by uninstalling the "Constant Guard" component I was able to get my computer back (although it did require a reboot).

Maybe there's a way to make CG behave nicely...but my feeling was that it was doing way more harm than good.

Now, where was I?  Dang, another lick lost...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Svens - Pendelton Show at Bombs Away Cafe

It was a pretty amazing Svens show at Bombs Away in Corvallis, Oregon (Saturday, May 21, 2011 aka "The End of the World As We Know It"...right!).  What a festive and fun audience - they really kept the band going...we pretty much played until it was useless (as Zappa might say).  Moods were light (in-spite of the absurd threats of doom and gloom, which never happened) and a great new story, Pendelton, was unveiled, wonderfully told by Viking.  Sven (and I'm talking "the" Sven, aka, Mike Rhodes) played his final gig with The Svens (but don't worry, he's done this before and he'll be back someday soon!) and that made it all extra special.  Here's Billy May's "Green Hornet Theme" or as we call it:  The Green "Flugel" Hornet:

The Svens are Viking (leader, guitar, narrator, sound clips), Saxy (sax/flugelhorn), BasSven (bass), StickySven (drums), Sven (guitar/keyboards)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chris Botti in Corvallis with the Corvallis-OSU Symphony

A show that took nearly two years of planning and hard work by so many folks is finally just around the corner:  "Chris Botti in Corvallis with the Corvallis-OSU Symphony" - wow, what a nice thing to be able to say!
The Corvallis-OSU Symphony will complete its final rehearsals this week and then on Friday, April 1, we finally get to put it all together with Chris Botti and the band! (And again on Saturday, April 2.)  It's a great honor for me to have this opportunity to guest conduct the orchestra and be part of this musical event.  What seemed like a somewhat whimsical notion back in June of 2009 (beginning with Dr. Marlan Carlson's intension to put together a "pops" concert in 2011) has manifested into a truly amazing reality thanks to a series of very fortunate events and many talented and dedicated individuals.

Seems like everywhere I go in town there's some sort of reminder of what's to come:  posters, radio ads, a "welcome home" banner over Harrison Boulevard for Chris Botti, articles, and a cast of many organizing, planning, collaborating and doing everything possible to make the shows the success I'm certain they will be.

Combining a 60 piece orchestra and Chris' world-class touring band is something you might not read much about, but it's something quite special - and rare.  Just about everyone has seen that sort of format before - maybe on TV, the Oscars, PBS, etc.  But how often do Corvallis area musicians get this type of performance opportunity?  I don't know the exact answer, but I do know about 60 or so musicians who will be able to tell you all about it very shortly.

Here's to whimsical dreams!

P.S.:  if you want tickets, you might still be able to get them - but you'll never know unless you try!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Virtual Trumpet - Try before you Buy

You can now try Virtual Trumpet absolutely for free before you buy!  Here's how:

  1. Launch the Virtual Studio Sessions page
  2. Click the "Try" button in the Available Sessions section.

The Virtual Trumpet session will launch in demo mode.  Some features will be disabled and you'll be limited in the number of notes you can play before running out of (virtual) valve oil! 

If you don't see the "Try" button then you might have to clear your browser's cache to get the latest version.

If you do decide to buy the Virtual Trumpet session, use this coupon for a 50% discount: VT-1930-10-30

Happy trumpet playing!

Rob Birdwell

Monday, March 07, 2011 Site Update and Virtual Studio has a brand new look and many improved site features!

I finally bit the bullet migrated my site content into a content management system using Umbraco, which is an amazing CMS tool!
All this geeky stuff can be fun (and a pain) but it ultimately equates to being able to devote more time to the important stuff (for me at least) - like music and creativity!  Much more to come, but this is a great start!

Rob Birdwell

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Beat Poet Robert Briggs at Corvallis Art Center

Robert Briggs answers questions from the audience after his wonderful and moving reading from his work "Opus One: The Beat Goes On"

This session was one of many in the "Between the Cracks" series and took place at the Corvallis Art Center on a warm and rainy Saturday, January 15 at 7pm.  The acoustics in the room were wonderful.

Dana Reason played piano (superbly of course!) and herded us cats together for this event, graciously hosting an initial rehearsal at her home so we could get to know each other musically and explore the material a bit.

Ryan Biesack, played the drums...awesomely I might add!  I added my trumpet and flugelhorn sounds. Michael Coolen served as the master of ceremonies, stunt pianist, and spontaneous sound and lighting designer! 

It was a very in-the-moment experience - blending Robert Briggs' live poetry reading with our interpretive musical musings.  Jazz- absolutely.  Although at times, for me at least, it felt just like we were painting "sonic colors" - at any given time they might be some combination of sharp, blue, edgy, melodious, ethereal...

Mr. Briggs read from his script (deviating now and then to add a little bit more here and there) and we were all transported through time by his poetry, with all its imagery, historical references, commentary, insights, and observations.  His script was peppered with cues for suggested music since he performs with a variety of musicians - and as with any suggestion, the moment rules.  So a request for a Charlie Parker riff might have yielded something altogether different musically.  That seemed to be okay though!

What a fun night and an honor to be involved - Robert Briggs is an inspiration!  His wife/partner, Diana Saltoon, was so friendly and supportive.  We'd hardly even met and she hugs me after our pre-show warm-up!  That said a great deal and made me feel that we were at least close to being on the right track!  And of course thanks to all our partners and friends who came out to support our work and hear the performance.

photos by Christel Birdwell