WEB SITE OF THE MONTH
One big question for any band maintaining a Web site is how to get return traffic. Typical methods include regular updates, photos, tour diaries, live recordings, and contests. But without the press muscle of a multinational corporation behind you, how do you substantially increase your e-mail list and drive new visitors to your site? AnalogX has an answer: offer freeware.
AnalogX (www.analogx.com) is a Web site, a band, and the Internet persona of songwriter and programmer Mark Thompson. The AnalogX site includes software utilities for programmers and musicians; movie, game, and music reviews; and, of course, music. The site is also completely free of banner advertising.
AnalogX has become so popular — it gets 12 million hits a month — that its creator was forced to hide his e-mail address deep within the site's pages. The AnalogX listserv has amassed 400,000 addresses in only three years.
Thompson has developed more than 70 simple-to-use software plug-ins and utilities for Windows, and normally, a new program is released each week on AnalogX. In the site's Audio category, for example, he has created a suite of ten DirectX plug-ins (including DCOffset, covered in the October 2000 “Web Page”), four WAVE utilities, three MIDI utilities, four utilities for the Ensoniq Paris system, and nine apps in the Misc Music Utilities category. Best of all, they're all freeware. “It's all free because it's hard to compete against free,” Thompson says.
For Paris, Thompson created a program for automating its MiniMixer's controls using MIDI. More generalized applications include Delay Calculator, which calculates delays in milliseconds from tempo and bpm; BitPolice, which measures the resolution of DirectX audio plug-ins; and Say It, a speech synthesizer.
Thompson also created PrePal (www.prepal.com), which tracks trends in used-gear prices by automatically monitoring newsgroups and auction sites. PrePal includes prices for more than 2,000 products — including keyboards, microphones, monitor speakers, and recording equipment — from more than 100 manufacturers. Besides the product name, the site gives you the original list price, the average used price, the number of used sales that have been tracked by the system, and resale popularity. Updated frequently, PrePal accepts visitor suggestions and corrections.
In the mid-'70s, the Odyssey, ARP's duophonic analog synthesizer, gave Moog's Minimoog a run for its money. With its 37-note keyboard and crisp sound, the Odyssey was a popular item on the road and in the studio and appeared on numerous recordings. During the eight years the synth was in production, three versions were produced, with incremental improvements enhancing each version. The Ultimate ARP Odyssey Information Resource Page (www.overacker.com/ody/index.html) is a great place to research the instrument's fine points. The site includes patches, schematics, modifications, history, and lists of parts, accessories, and technicians…. Speaking of ARP instruments, Cirocco Music Systems (CMS; www.cmssynth.com) provides service and upgrade packages for ARP 2000 — series instruments. CMS recently revamped its Web site, which also features its line of high-quality analog synthesizer modules…. Visit Jim Martindale's File Download Time Calculator (http://www-sci.lib.uci.edu/HSG/AATimeCalc.html) before downloading a large file, whether you're using a 56 kbps modem or a T-1 line. Simply type in the size of the file you plan to download; the site will calculate the download time for 32 types of connections, including various modems, fiber-optic connections, and wireless transmissions.
Cool School Online (www.coolschoolonline.com) is an interactive, Web-based learning center that specializes in desktop audio. Developed by Cool Breeze Systems, creator of Cool School Interactus Training CD-ROMs, Cool School Online offers courses on the most popular sequencing and editing systems as well as diverse recording topics.
The lessons include text, pictures, sounds, streaming QuickTime movies, interactive examples, and links to related Web pages. After each section of a course, you can take a multiple-choice quiz; at the end, you can test yourself with a final exam.
Recent offerings include DAWs 101, an overview of the concepts behind digital audio workstations; DA Storage Basics, which covers topics related to digital-audio storage, including archival tips, and FireWire and SCSI technology; Sessions, a series of courses covering recording sessions from start to finish; and introductory courses on Mark of the Unicorn's (MOTU's) Digital Performer, Emagic's Logic Audio, and Digidesign's Pro Tools.
Students who sign up with Cool School Online can post messages to course-related message boards, use the online glossary, and chat with other students or the instructor. Each course or movie library costs $49.95: you have access to courses for 30 days and movie libraries for ten hours a month for one year after purchase. Minimum system requirements are a 56 kbps connection, Netscape Navigator 4.0 or Microsoft Explorer 5.0, QuickTime 3.0, and Shockwave 7.0.3.
DOWNLOAD OF THE MONTH
Are you looking for a browser that takes up little space and is quick on the draw? Based in Oslo, Norway, Opera Software offers Opera (www.opera.com), “the world's fastest Internet browser,” according to the company. At 2 MB, it's relatively small compared with mainstream browsers. In addition, Opera adheres to HTML standards much more rigorously than other browsers, which means the program can shed light on sloppy Web-page design.
Opera is available for the following computer platforms: Windows, BeOS, EPOC, and Linux/Solaris. Opera is also available in beta versions for OS/2 and Mac OS 7.5.3 through 9.1, and in a preview form for Mac OS X. The freeware versions of Opera for Windows force you to deal with banner ads, which slow the program's performance. However, for $39 you can get the ad-free version and take advantage of the speed for which Opera is becoming known.
The latest version of Opera for Windows, version 5.12, includes Java and XML support and is available in 13 languages, including German, Italian, French, Icelandic, Afrikaans, and Russian (with support for Cyrillic characters). Also in the works are editions in four Celtic languages — Breton, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Welsh.
After downloading Opera, check out Opera Composer. Opera Composer lets you create a customized browser, so you can design a startup screen, add images to the buttons and toolbar, and design a new skin.
BAND ON THE WEB
Some bands have all the luck: Wetwerks (www.wetwerks.com) formed in 1998 after guitarist and vocalist Seth Warden and drummer Rob Parzek submitted a demo to a local modern-rock station's Next Big Thing contest. The demo won them a performance slot opening for Blink-182 and Everclear at a station-sponsored festival. To do the gig and to fill out the band, Warden and Parzek enlisted college chum Nate Giordano on bass, and the trio quickly wrote a set's worth of material. Since then, Wetwerks has continued to develop its blend of funky grooves; heavy, riff-laden chording; and rap-inspired vocals.
The band's eponymous debut showcases Warden's solid vocal presence. It was recorded in Parzek's personal studio in upstate New York, using an Ensoniq Paris digital audio workstation (DAW). The production is texturally rich and lends a major-label quality to the release. For example, the drum tracks combine samples of acoustic and electronic instruments with sequences and loops. Because of space limitations, the drum parts were tracked using Roland V-drums, and the guitars were recorded using amps and the Line 6 Pod. “The vocals were tracked in the bedroom using dirty laundry as sound-dampening material,” Parzek says.
To get the visibility it needs, Wetwerks put together an impressive Web site. It includes a number of fan-oriented items such as band-member bios, an automated e-mail list, a message board, concert announcements, and concert and studio photos. All of the album's songs are available in RealAudio and MP3 formats on the Tunes page. If you like what you hear, follow a link to Fulfill-net (www.fulfill-net.net), where you can purchase the CD and other merchandise, securely, online. A clever addition to the site is a specialized Wetwerks.com skin for the Winamp player, which you can use while listening to the band's MP3s.
“Our site not only lets people buy our disc, but it's also an image enhancer,” Parzek says. “The Web is the place where we can create a mood. It can provide current information about the band and deliver content to people everywhere, which gives us constant exposure.”
What could be more exciting to a composer looking to push the envelope than a universally accepted, platform-independent language combined with a powerful software “toolbox” for creating music? With the help of interactive-music software developer Phil Burk, composer and software designer Nick Didkovsky (aka Dr. Nerve) has united Hierarchical Music Specification Language (HMSL) and Java to form Java Music Specification Language (JMSL), an application that can be used to create Java-based algorithmic and interactive pieces for the Web and standalone environments.
HMSL is a Forth-based, object-oriented programming language developed in the 1980s at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music, in Oakland, California, by Burk and composers Larry Polansky and David Rosenboom. In 1997 Didkovsky began porting HMSL into Java. After some initial experiments, Didkovsky and Burk collaborated to completely rewrite HMSL using Java, and JMSL was born.
JMSL combines the hierarchical scheduling capabilities of HMSL with the many Java-development resources that are available. The combination gives composers a variety of tools, such as distribution functions and sequence generators. Composers can even use JMSL to schedule nonmusical events over time.
Built into JMSL is JScore, a programmable, extensible music-notation editor that has algorithmic features. “Because much of the computer music I write is traditionally notated for live performers, I needed something that would be a step up from the suite of interconnected HMSL composition tools and off-the-shelf notation tools I rolled together on the Amiga computer,” Didkovsky says. “JScore has gone way beyond that. You can add custom music transformation classes directly into the JScore menu bar with one line of code. I have mutation transforms in there, a hocket transform, melody scramblers, and a retrograde transform. The user can program custom transforms and add them in. JScore transcribes complex algorithmically generated music as well, so you can convert abstract algorithms to common music notation. JScore is like a music-notation editor on steroids.”
Additional application programming interfaces (APIs) supported by JMSL include Sun Microsystems' JavaSound (see “Web Page,” May 2001), Burk's JSyn (see “Web Page,” June 2000), and Grame's MidiShare. Each of those APIs can be used in a Web site in such a way that they are transparent to the user. For more information, visit www.algomusic.com.