Thursday, April 23, 2020

The 11 Days of Bach: Tweaks and Reflections

It's been a few weeks since I finished up a major Bach blogging project with a down-to-the-wire demo of a new "Chaconne at a glance" page. I've used some vacation time this week to add lots of fun features, and I'm quite pleased with the result, though I'm sure I've missed some bugs. (One thing that is certainly true about any sort of coding project is that every new feature brings with it a seemingly exponential new range of "things that could go wrong.")

The major new features are:
  • Four-bar segments are now auto-highlighted, both as you search through the score and mouse-hover over them and as the music plays. This makes it easier to follow the score. (This may seem and hopefully looks simple, but getting this functionality going took a lot of experimenting and tweaking.)
  • Score navigation has several added features:
    • Arrow keys (on keyboard or on screen) may be used to jump forwards or backwards among the 4-bar segments.
    • The SPACE key may be used to play/pause, and clicking in the score will begin playback from the segment clicked. (Playback can also still be toggled via the Play button or by clicking on the larger 4-bar segment shown at top.)
    • In addition to showing the elapsed time, the counter in the upper left corner now shows which of the 64 segments is being played.
  • Functionality on mobile devices is much improved. I find that I can get around pretty well on my iPhone (though the arrow buttons are hard to hit, and the mouse-over feature doesn't work) and it's really satisfying on an iPad!
  • I've added an old "listening map" of the Chaconne which I made years ago for a class of non-music majors. For now, it just sits below the score, but it is also click-enabled to the recording. 

As it says on the site, this organization of segments is just a subjective suggestion of how one might hear Bach's ideas. The main point is to hear the music as something more than just 64 4-bar sets. At the bottom of the new page are some observations about the overall structure.

This whole project has been both very time-consuming and immensely rewarding. Though I'll never play this music on the violin, I could probably have learned at least the Brahms left-handed version of this piece to a passable degree in the time it took to do all this (we'll leave Busoni out of this). Maybe I should have! But the constant engagement with the music (I can't begin to imagine how many times I've heard this piece start up while testing things out) has been a different sort of playing, and I have something to show for it. Hopefully, someone else will enjoy holding Bach's music in hand this way.

More broadly, my 11-day Bach project itself was a fun dive into the kinds of work I love to do. You'll find there various levels of expertise exhibited in piano playing, music engraving, composition, arranging, audio mixing, programming, and graphic design, although somehow poetry didn't make it into the festival. Maybe next year. I wasn't at all sure what I was doing when I started out on March 21, and that's the most fun thing about blogging. You never know where it will lead. Here's a series review:

* If you're curious, the old version of the page is here.

No comments: