WEB SITE OF THE MONTH
Assembling an analog modular synthesizer requires careful planning. You don't just have to determine which modules you want and can afford; you must also design a layout that meets your ergonomic and structural needs. One challenge you'll likely face is modules that vary in width — determining the position of the modules in a 19-inch rackspace can be difficult. Andrew Parker's wonderful Modular Planner (www.modular-planner.com) provides the perfect solution.
Using a modified version of code originally written by Mike Perkowitz for a Doepfer A-100 planner, the Modular Planner calculates rackspace requirements and the price of your proposed system. Five synthesizer companies are represented: Analog Systems, Doepfer, Serge/Sound Transform Systems (STS), Synthesis Technology, and Synthesizers.com. Planners for Analog Solutions and Modcan are in the works.
For each manufacturer, the Modular Planner presents a concise list of modules and prices on one page, making it easy to plan your instrument. That is especially important for anyone interested in a Serge/STS system, because there are no online resources for Serge/STS's products.
Modular Planner lets you assemble as many as three rows of modules. Once you have chosen how many rackspaces you want to fill, which modules you want, and their order in the racks, the Modular Planner calculates how much space your planned system requires compared with the amount of space available. The planner shows you the layout and gives you the cost (based on the manufacturer's list price). If your proposed layout doesn't meet the rack requirements, simply reorder the modules and recalculate until your system fits.
If you're unfamiliar with any company covered in the Modular Planner, spend some time building a fantasy system with their modules. When the layout is calculated, you will be shown JPEGs of the modules. You can print the layout for reference or just marvel at the sea of knobs and switches.
The Rhodes Super Site (www.fenderrhodes.org) is an online resource for information about the ubiquitous electric piano the Rhodes (also known as the Fender Rhodes). Invented by Harold Rhodes (1910-2000), the instrument became known as the Fender Rhodes in 1959 when Leo Fender bought the company and released the Piano Bass, made famous by Ray Manzarek of the Doors. The Fender Rhodes has appeared on countless records and for years was the instrument of choice for artists such as Chick Corea, George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, and Pink Floyd's Rick Wright. The Rhodes Super Site contains the Rhodes service manual, the Stage preamp schematic, a variety of technical notes (such as those for repairs and modifications), a list of technicians worldwide, and sources for parts.… The sound of England's inexpensive electronic musical toy, the Dubreq Stylophone, has been re-created on the Web. The Virtual Stylophone V1.01 (www.reelsounds.com/styloflash.html) is a Flash-based interface that lets you play all 20 notes of the Stylophone keyboard. Although the Virtual Stylophone doesn't let you switch on the Organ or Vibrato effects, it does let you experience this popular, though somewhat cheesy-sounding, item firsthand.… Finding a name for a band or record label is one the most difficult chores musicians face. For online inspiration, visit WordLab (www.johncage.com). You can search the WordLab database by category (acronyms, cars, rock bands, romance novels) or by keyword. The results are word combinations that are sometimes strange, silly, rude, or completely cryptic. However, the results can be used free of charge (though there is no guarantee that someone else hasn't used them first).… Online comparison shopping for gear is the impetus behind Gearbeat (www.gearbeat.com). You can browse the site by manufacturer or instrument to find the best prices for the item you want. Gearbeat gives you results from four of the biggest online retailers: Mars Music, Music123, Musician's Friend, and Sam Ash. The site also includes links to reviews and lets you create a wish list and store it on the site.
The Internet has a huge amount of information, yet it often seems like few sites offer quality listening and viewing content. Nevertheless, a wealth of independently produced underground and noncommercial content, often focusing on the bizarre and obscure, can be found at Supersphere (www.supersphere.com).
Supersphere's site is divided neatly into seven sections: Clubtronic provides concert footage in a number of genres, including avant-rock, country, jazz, international, and hip-hop; Spherevision is a source for film and video footage; Radiomatica features DJs spinning their wares; Zinetropa has information about magazines and books; Spherepolitic carries political content; Europe covers events across the Atlantic Ocean; and Mediamix offers film and music reviews. The content at each destination is decidedly unusual, but the information presented is unique and sometimes controversial.
For example, Spherevision's list of hard-to-find low-budget films includes John Heyn and Jeff Krulik's classic documentary about Judas Priest fans, Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Imagine using your home-video camera to informally interview concertgoers in the parking lot before a local rock show. The result is more disturbing than you can imagine, but it is required viewing for anyone interested in 20th-century sociology. To strike a balance, Spherevision also includes Krulik's follow-up, Neil Diamond Parking Lot.
Other notable tidbits on the site include an interview with filmmaker Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization, parts I-III); concert footage of English saxophonist John Butcher, American power-instrumentalist Don Caballero; Dutch avant-punk band the Ex; and just about everything in Spherepolitic. Some will find Supersphere seditious and dangerous — you be the judge.
DOWNLOAD OF THE MONTH
Tired of dealing with the limitations and instability of your Web browser? The German company iCab has an alternative. ICab 2.5.1 (www.icab.de), short for Internet taxicab, is a Mac-only browser that is compact (it takes up 1.2 MB of storage space and needs only 4 MB of RAM), stable, and simple to use. It offers image and cookie filtering as well as the ability to bookmark frames.
Created by Alexander Clauss to run on an Atari computer, iCab uses Mac OS Runtime for Java (MRJ), Apple's implementation of Java Virtual Machine. That gives iCab greater stability than its competitors when it comes to running Java applets and showing Web pages. To prove its point, iCab has a browser test on its Web site to determine whether your browser can accurately display what iCab thinks are the most important aspects of HTML 4.0.
ICab's designers have ensured that the HTML support is rigorous. In fact, iCab lets you check whether a Web page meets HTML 4.0 requirements. For example, the browser includes a face in the upper-right corner: if the face is smiling, the page you are viewing conforms completely to the HTML 4.0 specifications; if a sad face appears, click on it to get a pop-up Error Report detailing each nonconforming aspect of the page.
The current beta version of iCab is free, though it times out in October 2001. However, that should give you enough time to explore its various features, particularly by checking out the heartiness of your own Web pages. When the finished browser is made available, it will have two versions: iCab Pro will cost $29 to download, and the lite version is expected to be available for free.
BAND ON THE WEB
Even as dime-a-dozen rock-guitar heroes come and go with amazing speed, Nels Cline (www.nelscline.com) remains one of the most innovative guitarists in the United States. Cline is as at home playing jazz as he is playing rock, and he is as likely to play his instrument with a toy ray gun as he is to play it with a pick.
His formidable technique and unique playing style have led to numerous important collaborations. For example, Cline has recorded with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, Minutemen bassist Mike Watt, and saxophonists Julius Hemphill and Tim Berne. His own projects garner unanimous praise from reviewers.
Although nelscline.com has the usual pages found in a well-designed Web site (News, Calendar, Links, Discography, Gallery), the content allows Cline's personality to shine through, which is something surprisingly few band Web sites can boast. In his Tech Talk page, Cline explains the development of his current performance setup and gives advice about creating your own sound. On his Lists page, he notes 200 guitarists he admires (in no particular order) and offers examples of his eclectic listening tastes. Cline names as influences England's Derek Bailey, studio legend Glen Campbell, blues master John Lee Hooker, Indian slide-guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra, and post-blues-and-funk genius James “Blood” Ulmer, among many others. On his Praise page, Cline offers a tribute to the influential American guitarist John Fahey (who has an interesting site created in his honor at www.johnfahey.com) and links to the pages of several living artists he admires.
Cline's Web site is designed and maintained by bassist Devin Sarno, Webmaster for Thievery. Although it lacks listening examples of Cline at work, nelscline.com serves as a fine example of a meaningful and enjoyable site. It's easy to navigate; the pages load quickly; and Cline's irresistible, no-nonsense personality comes through.
A number of Internet-related music-notation projects are in development, and the Standard Music Description Language (SMDL) is one of the most intriguing. Driving its maturation is the desire for score-related Internet resources that include more than just the notes on a page.
SMDL is built on the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) and the Hypermedia Time-based Structuring Language (HyTime), a pair of text-based markup languages that let you create a hierarchy of logical elements to describe a document. That also allows SMDL to store musical content independently from layout information.
For example, an SMDL document includes not only the usual elements found in printed sheet music but also bibliographic and discographic content that is useful for cataloging purposes. SMDL, however, is still in the works: a number of elements having to do with the description of articulations, dynamics, and tempo must be determined before SMDL is finished and can become an internationally recognized standard.
The most recent version of the SMDL draft divides musical works into four conceptual domains: logical, gestural, visual, and analytical. The logical domain includes structural elements such as pitch, note groupings, and duration. The gestural domain describes how the elements in the logical domain should be expressed in performance. The visual domain includes typographic details of the score, and the analytical domain includes commentary about and analysis of information in the other domains.
To get an idea of how powerful SMDL can be, consider that it lets you define the pitch of a note in more than one way: you can define it in terms of frequency, choose it from a predetermined gamut of pitches, or specify a particular interval from a reference pitch. That kind of flexibility is well suited for Just Intonation and other microtonal uses. In practice, SMDL is being used by the Thesaurus Musicarum Italicarum project to mark up the scores found in Italian Renaissance music treatises into an electronic form for distribution on the Web and on CD-ROM.