Bokaro P ni Naritai, vol. 18

(Images used for review purposes only.)

I want to be a Vocaloid Producer, vol. 14, 1,500 yen, plus tax.

New magazine features:
In the 4-panel comic, Rana has gotten lazy during the Golden Week break, and wants to keep sleeping. Robo-panda rouses her by announcing that everyone else that entered the school at the same time as her has been uploading finished music videos to Nico Nico. The classroom section then goes on to describe 10 of the videos already online. There’s also descriptions of 2 new accessories – Rana’s headphones, and a Trance version of Morio (Robo-panda). The next music genre article is for Trance, and the interview is with Hana Soumen. The SSW tutorial includes more detail on using the Alpha Delay and SSWGMS Autopan effects. MMD mentions the stuffed toy accessory file, and lists all of the visual effects packages included on the DVD. The final page talks about the UR12 USB audio data capture box from Steinberg, and this volume’s pick-up artist, Daiki Ogawa.

New DVD Features:
Pick-up song: Word and World. This is a simple J-pop ballad that sounds really auto-tuned. The instrumentals are ok, but the vocals are distracting.

Lots of stuff for MMD, including the stuffed toy and 10 effects plug-ins. There’s a copy of the Live Stage model, for anyone that missed buying the earlier volume that had that on the DVD. Oddly, instead of the headphones, we get Rana’s guitar accessory again. I’m not sure if this was intentional, or if the publisher screwed up (we never did get the other instrument file that was spotlighted in the magazine months ago, the keyboard sax, I think). We’re now also missing the Trance Morio model.

(MMD page with Beemuman-P explaining how to use effects in a Rana video. The scan came out muddy; the original page with the ColorShake effect in the left-middle doesn’t look this bad.)

Simple continuation on music theory, focusing on creating melodies following fixed patterns, such as having a 4-note sequence repeated 3 times, and then adding a variation of the sequence for the fourth sequence, repeating this full section a couple times, and then changing to higher, longer notes for the “B melody” section. Not a lot of content, but possibly useful to people new to the idea of writing canned music.

The SSW tutorial discusses drum fills and synthesizer effects as used in Trance music. Initially, this is just a matter of opening up the phrase list window, picking the Trance genre and Drums instruments, choosing which pre-written rhythms you want to use and then dragging and dropping the desired phrases into the A:Fill track where you want them. For the synth sounds, two of the pre-loaded tracks are for arpeggio and SuperSaw (SuperSaw was a waveform provided by the Roland JP-8000 synthesizer back in the 90’s.) In the Mixer, send the SuperSaw output to Alpha_SSW9, and attach the Delay effect to the Alpha_SSW9 channel. Set the Delay Balance to 22.5 to get a popping sound. Next, Arp goes to the SSWGMS channel, and we set that to Modulation -> Auto Pan. Done. The last part of the tutorial is a playback of the finished demo song, “Identity”.

(Screen cap from the demo video from the DVD showing AutoLuminous, LiveLaser and WorkingFloor. Note that the model file for this tutorial keeps crashing my laptop’s video card, so I can’t render the finished file myself.)

The first half of the tutorial is just instructions on where to copy the files from the DVD to various folders on the PC, plus a run-through of the finished project file. This is followed by a step-by-step breakdown of the effects (ColorShake, ExcellentShadow, LiveLaser, RanaToon, etc.) used at each stage by their guest artist, Beemuman. For the most part Beemuman breaks the stages up into applying the Base Effects, Kime (grain), Makeup, Camera and Lighting, then Preview. AutoLuminous, RanaToon, ExcellentShadow and PostAlphaEye are the base effects, adding lighting to white objects and making Rana look more 2-D. “Kime” includes ColorShake (applied sparingly for when Rana stops after big, sudden actions) and LiveLaser (for the laser show sections).  “Makeup” consists of WorkingFloor, SoftSmoke, SoftParticleEngine and PostMovie. WorkingFloor provides a spotlight effect, while SoftSmoke and SoftParticleEngine can haze out the harsher lights or add smoke pots. PostMovie is applied to the guitar for various tweaks. Once the affects are applied, Beemuman sets the keyframes for animating the camera movement and lighting, then goes through a preview-tweak loop phase.

The DVD does come with a pre-loaded movie data file, but the .x and .pmx files are all in different directories than what I’m using. I spent several minutes browsing to the correct folders, only to have the movie crash windows before I could save the updates. I restarted my laptop, and tried again with all of the other windows closed, and I got hit with a series of “display controller stopped working, has restarted” messages before MMD crashed. I guess there’s just so many effects running at one time (or that one of them is 64-bit) that my little 32-bit laptop can’t cope with it all. In any event, I can’t complete this tutorial.

Additional comments:
I’d mentioned in the past that I kind of dislike the need to buy every other volume in order to get the serial numbers for extending the lifetimes of the different software packages. Lately, though, this hasn’t been as necessary. I think the last set of serial numbers came out close to 2 months ago. So, that part’s getting a little better. The missing accessories, though, like the sax, and Trance Morio and the headphones this issue, do highlight a certain sloppiness on the publishing side. Having MMD crash my laptop HARD was also a double-plus ungood. The fully rendered MMD demo music video on the DVD looks really nice, though, and I’m getting ready to make my first background sound file in SSW for a time-lapse video project I’m working on.

CD Comments – Trans Europa Express

(Image from Amazon, used for review purposes only.)

Kraftwerk: Trans Europa Express (Kling Klang Studios, 1977)
While Computer World came out 4 years after Trans Europe (or, Europa) Express, it sounds much more primitive and concept-focused than its earlier brother. TEE does have a connecting theme, as does CW, but it’s a bit more relaxed here – technology and transportation. The lead vocals are sung, rather than simply spoken, on several of the songs (the primary exception being The Hall of Mirrors). There’s real music, with harmonies and melodies, on Europe Endless and Franz Schubert. The instruments are still electronic, but they sound normal, along the lines of electric guitars, clavichords, etc. There are a few places where we get squarewave boops and beeps, or frequency filter sweeps, but they don’t dominate the songs as much as with CW.

The lyrics are a mix of simple repeated phrases and more story-based collections. The Hall of Mirrors talks about an actor that sees himself in a mirror and eventually gets lost in his own reflection, combining spoken word with rudimentary singing. Showroom Dummies is as close to a fully-sung song as we’re going to get with Kraftwerk.

Trans Europe Express is one of the exceptions to the non-electronic sound theme of the rest of the album, featuring a lot of squarewave instruments, frequency sweeping, sequencing, ADSR amplitude envelopes, and excessive vocoding. Metal on Metal is a karaoke version of TEE, with the addition of reverb and more metallic effects. MoM segues into Abzug, with a similar rhythm, but with the return of the short clavichord-like morse code effect plus the “Trans Europe Express” lyrics. Franz Schubert is a classical concert piece that’s rather dream-inducing, with note glides, echo, panning, and slow attack envelopes. FS turns into Endless Endless, with a simple vocoder effect on the phrase “Endless Endless”.

TEE is kind of a short album, at 45 minutes for 7 songs (Endless Endless is only 57 seconds long), but the Trans Europe Express/Metal on Metal/Abzug trio works out to about 13 minutes of listenable electronica. From the viewpoint of a student of synth music, TEE is a good look at one approach to building synthesizers into the song, rather than the other way around. With the exception of Hall of Mirrors, it’s also a good album to listen to as background noise when you’re working on something else (unlike CW, which I find more distracting).

Happy Birthday, Robert Moog!


Building a better Anomalocaris

The Gakken Metal series kits can be divided into 2 sets – the insects and the dinosaurs. For the most part, the metal dinosaur kits are just a bit too easy-looking to me, and not particularly interesting. The one exception is the anomalocaris (AKA: The “abnormal shrimp”). The anomalocaris has been found in Chengjiang and Burgess shale (shale deposits located in Chengjiang county in China, and  British Columbia in Canada), dating back to the early- to mid-Cambrian period (541 to 485 million years ago). The other dinosaur kits are 1,100 yen ($10 USD) apiece, while Annie is 1,300 yen (not a big price difference).

(First body section.)

Like most of the insect kits, this one has 30 pieces, not including the nuts and bolts. I had intended to track how long it took to finish, but I forgot to check my watch at the end. I’d gotten about halfway after 45-50 minutes, so I guess I needed 90-100 minutes total from unpacking to taking the last photos. As with the other kits I’ve built, I haven’t seen a recommended assembly time in the instructions.

(Second and first body sections.)

The metal is all very soft sheets, so it’s probably tin. There’s one pre-formed piece, which is the little garbage collection tray shape that represents the mouth. Several of the pieces are connected together like trees, and need to be snapped apart. This is actually the first time I’ve used the included sheet of sandpaper – to sand down the protrusions where the “tree connections” had to be broken. However, the metal is so soft that I was able to cut it with my pen knife scissors (those scissors have gotten so badly misused over the years that I need to get a new pen knife, eventually).

(The two body sections and tail, assembled.)

The instructions are mostly easy to follow, with the exceptions being the steps for folding the pieces for the tail, and the lack of a step for pre-folding the strips that shape Annie’s back and side lobe fins. While the two mandible extension pieces look complicated, they’re really just two small sheets with tabs that wrap around each other. Additionally, the extensions just force-fit into place in the two small gray rubber caps located at the bottom of the head assembly.

(Left – the finished body and tail. Right – the core section of the head, showing the underside, with the mouth, and the 2 rubber caps that hold the mandible extensions in place. Middle, the makings of the head exoskeleton.)

The stand is one sheet with two slots at the end. The neck of the stand is bent to a 90-degree angle, then curved to bend over the new “foot”. The slots of the holder plate match up with the 2 slots on the bottom of Annie’s stomach section. If you want Annie on the stand, just set her in place. The finished model is 11 cm long (4.3″).

(Finished model.)

The booklet has a 2-page chart on pre-historic periods from the Cambrian to the Cenozoic era, 2 pages on the creatures from those periods (trilobites to dinosaurs), one page on Annie (artist’s conception, plus fossil evidence) and one page for the artist’s conception of what other Cambrian sea life would have looked like.

I’m finding that these kits have a limited appeal with some of the school-aged students I work with as an English teacher. Personally, I’ve built the kits that I like, but if I pace myself at one kit a month, I could be convinced to build a few more of the insects (specifically the wasp). They are kind of bulky and I don’t have room to store that many of them. If the students had more interest in them, I’d give them away as learning projects. I’ll have to see how things go in June.

Bokaro P ni Naritai, vol. 17

(Images used for review purposes only.)

I want to be a Vocaloid Producer, vol. 17, 1,500 yen, plus tax.
New magazine features:

In the 4-panel comic, Rana has been studying really hard lately, so Robo-Panda takes pity on her and they take a short vacation in the Island Stage room for the Golden Week holiday period. The classroom section introduces the creator of the first Hatsune Miku demo song (Hoshi no Kakera (Star Fragment)), Eiji Hirasawa. There’s a short interview as Rana asks for composition tips from Eiji, and then a brief description of the Island Stage. The featured genre is R&B, and the artist is Sat P. The main article talks about using SSW to arrange an R&B song, and goes into more detail regarding setting up the bass/drum rhythm. The MMD section illustrates the Color Shake effect plug-in. The magazine concludes with a piece on the use of the Maika package in Spain, and a write-up on the pick-up artist, Raven Works.

New DVD Features:
We finally have a new pickup demo song again, “Teisatsuki” (Recon Plane), a peppy little J-Pop piece by Raven Works. Plus, there’s the Island Stage MMD model, and effects plug-ins for Color Shake, Live Laser and Rana Toon.

(The magazine section on R&B arrangements using SSW.)

This tutorial is pretty short and simple, talking mainly about changing the timing and length of Rana’s vocals to get more of an R&B synchopation. The demo song is “涙色” (Namida Iro – Color of Tears).

Vol. 17 marks the start of the SSW tutorials on arranging for various music genres, beginning with the drum and bass tracks for R&B. There’s a bit of theory regarding timing (i.e. – the idea of the note leading or lagging the timing grid by a small amount), but mostly the practice is on copy-pasting existing notes or entering new notes for the drum section. In essence, we’re just being told what rhythms to make.

(Rana in mid-dance on the Island Stage, plus use of the LiveLaser effect.)

Because there are so many effects plug-ins for MMD now, it’s hard to know which one to use, or how to use it. So, the publishers picked 3 post-effects modules (ones that apply the effect after rendering) for illustration. The first one up is ColorShake.x, which, according to the readme.txt file, makes it look like the RGB planes are being hit by an earthquake. The effect is running even when you’re not playing back the video, which makes the screen really hard to look at. The accessory “Si” setting changes the amount of shake, with 0 being “none”, and 0.1 being “a small amount” (the default is 1.0). The suggestion is to put a small amount of shake right at freeze poses to accentuate them, but I consider it too distracting.

ColorShake, being an .x file, is treated as a regular accessory, such as with the dance stages, and microphones. LiveLaser.pmx, being a .pmx file, is more like the Rana and Robo-panda character models, and is treated as a model when dragged and dropped into the workspace. What this does is to give you a particle effect collection of laser beams that can be moved and rotated around the x-, y- and z-axes. The only gotcha I’ve found so far is that when you’re building up a dance video from scratch, it helps to import the motion files when the correct model is selected in the workspace (having LiveLaser selected and then bringing in a dance motion for Rana causes MMD to try to apply the motion keyframes to the laser instead of to Rana. Sigh.) Changes to the laser for positioning and rotation need to be registered as bone manipulation, while colors, brightness, shape and spacing are registered as “facial expressions” (ie. – the “mouth”, “eye” and “eyebrow” sliders are repurposed). Interestingly, you can drag in as many LiveLasers as you want and treat them as separate, multiple “banks”.

The third effect is RanaToon.x, which makes use of ExcellentShadow to render Rana with 2D shading to get more of a comic book look (2D shading on a 3D model doesn’t really look good, in my opinion.) The tutorial ends with a video of Rana playing guitar with every effect so far turned on. It’s a real mess, and highlights the old adage of “less is more”.

CD Comments – The Private Music of Tangerine Dream

(Image from Amazon, used here for review purposes only.)

Electronic, and synth, instruments are interesting in one aspect, in that they don’t have a really long history, as we see with pianos and flutes. In fact, synthesizers have only been around for one life-time, assuming you were born close to the same year as Gershon Kingsley (1922). (Ignoring electric pianos and single-frequency oscillators, which came at the end of the 1800’s; Leon Theremin created his device, which acts like a detuned radio, in 1920). We don’t really see something that resembles what we consider a “modern synthesizer”, having multiple oscillators and a filter circuit, until the 1930’s, with the introduction of the Warbo Formant Organ. Even then, electronic music didn’t enter the public consciousness until the 50’s, with the multi-track recordings of “the Chipmunks”, and the appearance in the 60’s of musicians demonstrating synth machines on variety and game shows on TV (Ray Kurzweil, at age 17, on “I’ve Got a Secret“, 1965, of Kurzweiler organ fame; and Perrey and Kingsley, also “I’ve Got a Secret”, in 1966).

What this all boils down to is that we can see the evolution of electronic music over just a few short decades. This takes the form of “what does this thing do?” and “how can we turn this into a song”, which shows up on The In Sound From Way Out (Vanguard, 1966). Then, “what songs can we make that use this sound”, which we can see extensively in Tangerine Dream’s very early works, including The Virgin Years. Finally, “let’s write music and use those sounds that contribute to the over all effect we’re after”.

We can see this final stage in Private Music (1992) a compilation CD published by Peter Baumann’s Private Music label (Baumann being a former member of Tangerine Dream). Many (if not all) of the tracks come off of albums released by Private Music from 1988 to 1990, including Optical Race (1988), Lily on the Beach (1989), Miracle Mile (1989) and Melrose (1990). The synthesizer elements don’t stand out anywhere near as much as in Rubicon and Ricochet. Tangerine Dream had moved past the New Age-y feel of the music into more of a 1980’s “Miami Vice”-like (I don’t know of any other way to describe it) cool jazz realm. It’s nearly impossible to separate out the fully electronic instruments from normal acoustic pianos, flutes and brass. Two voices that do still stand out as electronic are the rolling drums/electric bass that’s featured heavily on After the Call, and the “breathy chorus” in After the Call and Beaver Town. Over all, the album is very similar in feel to the stuff produced by Animusic (composed by Wayne Lytle).

From a learner’s view point, it’s becoming much more difficult to separate the individual voices from the song and say “this one was created on a synth with such-and-such an envelope”, or “there’s that frequency filter sweep again”. A lot of the rhythm tracks (drums and bass guitar) are too precise and mechanical sounding to have been made by a live musician, so it’s easy to point to those and say, “that’s a sequencer or rhythm machine”, but they could just as easily have been laid down by a really good drummer using electronic drums. The bottom line is that as a student of synth music, at some point you kind of got to say “it’s not about the patches, it’s about the song”. And that’s what you get in Private Music.

Bokaro P ni Naritai, vol. 16

(Images used for review purposes only.)

I want to be a Vocaloid Producer, vol. 16, 1,500 yen, plus tax.
New magazine features:

In the 4-panel comic, Robo-panda takes Rana to the main auditorium, which is designed like a concert hall. Rana panics when she learns that she’s going to have to stand up on this stage and perform solo as part of her graduation performance. The classroom section continues talking about downloading Job plug-ins from the Vocaloid store, and introduces the V3KeroPitch (speak like a frog) plug-in. There’s a brief discussion of the Guitar Rock genre, and an interview with Neru. The section supporting the SSW tutorial gives more detail about the track composition of the demo song, and describes how each instrument ties in to each segment (intro, A, B, C sections) of the time chart. The MMD section talks more about applying visual effects to the video, including AutoLuminous, for adding camera flare. The final page focuses on Ion from Ciel Nosurge, and shows some of the images from the video game that are on the DVD.

New DVD Features:
Lots of new content this time. First, we have 25 voice files with Ion speaking various full phrases. Then there are 7 Ciel Nosurge .png image files that can be imported into MMD for use as backdrops (think: “travel announcer standing in front of a green screen in a TV studio”), and an Ion-themed MMD model file for Rana. Plus, there’s the school auditorium concert hall model accessory folder. No Pick-up Artist song, though.

(Ion and Ciel Nosurge.)

The idea here is to start practicing composing melodies by inserting simple lyrics (la-la-la) into the Musical Editor based on chord and non-chord tones, and syncopation.

Ok, this one is going to be difficult to describe. SSW is a song composition/editing/modification environment. When you open an existing song file, you get the instrument tracks, as well as some support tracks. One specific support track is “chord”. If you hand enter the chords you want along the timeline (Am at 3:100, G7 at 3:300, etc.), you can then go down to the Arrange window and pick specific song genre arrangements to use with the chords you entered. Examples include Techno, Trance, Traditional, and so on. Choosing various arrangements gives you wildly differing resulting songs. The tutorial walks you through the chord data entry process, selecting an arrangement, and then playing it back. When you’re ready, you can select the part of the arrange data you want to use for the intro, melody part A, whatever, and click PTN ONLY and SET. This copies the appropriate notes into the MIDI tracks in the main song editor for the instruments you’ve chosen, while also matching the arrangement to the tempo of the rest of the song.

Miku Miku Effect (MME) is an art effects package that can be used on other image files, not with just Miku Miku Dance. The next 3 tutorials will cover various aspects of the package. The first step is to download and install it on your PC (you need to match the 32- and 64-bit versions to whatever you have for MMD). (The tutorial adds that because the Bowl Roll download site has various Vocaloid accessories and stage models available, that you should bookmark it for later.) This gives you a zip file, and you copy the files from the zip into the folder where you have MMD. Run MMD and an MMEffect button should show up in the upper right corner of the main screen.


(Rana in the Ion outfit in a dance pose on the concert hall stage, with AutoLuminous set to “1” (weak reflection off anything white on Rana)).

The first effect is AutoLuminous. This has been preprogrammed and is available from the vocaloid wiki, in the AutoLuminous4 folder. Download the zip, uncompress it, and put the AutoLuminous4 folder into a new folder you name “Effects” in the MMD directory. Once all of that is done, run MMD, import the Rana model, and drag the “AutoLuminous4.x” file into the workspace. The result is to add a glow to anything white. Making adjustments to luminosity is now the same as making mods to any MMD accessory. Switch to Camera Mode, and enter values to the “Si”, “Tr”, “X”, “Y”, or “Z” fields, just like you would with the crab foamhead gear, or the earrings and microphone. Click Register to set the keyframe. “X” changes the flare arms, so “2” gives you a cross flare, and “3” creates a tri-spike. Rx rotates the flare the specified degrees. Rz sets a strobe effect, where Rz is given in integer seconds. The tutorial then ends with a pre-rendered video of Rana and the cast dancing on the concert hall stage (looks like the dance from volume 10, with the crab foamhead), with the AutoLuminous effects turned on.

Additional comments:
Lots of good information this time. I’m going to need to sit down and start practicing this stuff now.

Jump Papercraft 1

A few days ago, I had some time to kill during work, so I swung by a konbini to get some can coffee for a snack. I glanced over the latest issue of Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, and discovered that there was a papercraft project this time. (Note that this was issue 22-23. May 1-7 is the Golden Week holiday, so there is no new issue now.) Normally, the manga magazines are sealed to prevent people from standing around and reading them for free, which is why I missed the last two papercrafts. This issue was 260 yen ($2.40 USD).

I like making papercraft stuff and this one was pretty fun.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

The project is Trafalgar Law, which is part of the “Dessaroza georama”. Since back issues of weekly magazines are hard to come by, I doubt I’m going to be able to make the earlier figures or building-scapes.

Actually, there’s one more project in this issue – a fold-up stand for holding your smartphone when you’re not carrying it. You can choose which side to have facing out, since both sides of the paper have different designs.

Finished projects. The holder took all of 5 minutes, including the time needed to punch it out of the page. Law required maybe 15, 20 minutes, mainly because of how the tabs in his hat interlace to be more or less circular. Those were a bit finicky.

The edges of Law’s back weren’t completely lined up for the photo. That was a simple thing to fix.