Thursday, November 30, 2017


Well, it's been awhile since I posted here, but 2017's not getting away that easily. This will be brief, but I've got a few more tricks up my sleeve before the new year.

I mentioned in my previous post from June how a Facebook discussion led me to do a quick mashup of music by Samuel Barber and The Who - because my pianist friend Tim is a passionate fan of neither. The same Tim wrote this week in response to a poll about "favorite string instruments":
...after spending thousands upon thousands of hours of my life with violins, violas, and cellos - my vote for best string instrument goes to Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Number One" Fender Stratocaster
Because I know that Tim's disdain for Barber has a lot to do with his having accompanied that composer's Violin Concerto thousands upon thousands of time, I thought I'd try to do a quick mock-up of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing the fiery final movement. (Same movement I paired with The Who!) Admittedly, my knowledge of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Stratocasters can basically be summed up as "electric guitar sounds," but Barber does most of the talking here anyway. The result is more prog rock (think ELP's Musorgsky or Yes's Brahms) than Stevie Ray, but I found that Barber's gritty, manic perpetual motion machine sounded "right" with the distorted guitar. It really does sound like a wild man riffing away, almost out of control, with a backing band that can barely stay with him.*

I only made a 30-second demo, and then posted that audio on Twitter - where it attracted zero attention because Twitter isn't any fun anymore. (That's a whole other story.) I figured maybe I could blog about it, but also figured I'd be better off putting it on YouTube since social media algorithms love video. And, yeah, I could've just added a random slideshow of Barber photos as is done here. But I thought it would be more fun to...well, things kind of evolved, and when I had the idea of animating Barber himself playing the guitar, I couldn't resist the challenge.

Honestly, doing this was more a proof-of-concept experiment than anything else. The syncing of animation and audio is far from perfect and I'm sure Virtual Barber's guitar technique is far from authentic, but I still think it sells the idea well enough, and I got to toy around with some basic animation concepts that have interested me. So, in the spirit of those great Switched-on-Bach records from the 70's, I present Switched-on-Barber:

What more can I say?
  • If nothing else, I feel like I'm perhaps the only person who would've done this - not just re-imagining the notes on guitar (easy enough), but pairing it with this sort of homemade animation. 
  • It's short! (But you won't be able to resist watching it at least a couple of times.) I don't see any reason for a full transcription as this gets the idea across.
  • If you're curious about the method behind my madness, I was able to get a quick start because someone out there has posted the MIDI for the piano accompaniment. I'm not sure it's all that accurate, but I just dumped that into Finale, then entered the violin notes (easy, because all the same rhythmic value) from this score video
  • To make the video, I used Scratch in a fairly crude re-working of the animation program I created for this Bach fugue. It was a big relief to remember that I'd written a Python script (even though I barely know Python) which imports notation from a Lilypond text file. I just exported the Barber notes from Finale to Lilypond via Music XML, ran the Python script, and I now had the notes needed to drive the Scratch animation. [I was just trying to write the geekiest paragraph in MMmusing history there. Hope you enjoyed it.]
  • If you like this sort of thing, here's a more complete electricalization of some Brahms

* For the record, I do really like the Barber Violin Concerto, although I've always found the final movement to be the least successful, like it's trying a little too hard to be edgy. So, naturally, I set out to make it edgier.