John Baldwin Sounds

What's on the Menu?

It's been a while since I've made a post, and it's been an even longer while since I've put out an album, so let me give you an update.

I recently organized my current material into two upcoming albums, one electric and one acoustic. That's not the way it has to be, but that's the direction that I've started to lean in. I have three songs for each, and you've already heard them. I know that things are progressing slowly, but this is only because I am doing my best to choose only my best work for the next albums. I imagine that production will probably pick up soon.

I am also working with Joshua Jarman on a Nick Drake tribute album. We're already over the hump on that one. I am excited for its release.

And finally, I am making an online ear training website. It will be free and universally compatible with the latest browsers (I am taking advantage of the new JavaScript web API). It will be built with the goal of providing a customizable interface to meet a musician's needs. I haven't picked a domain name yet, but I've already made a few of the activities (or at least the bare bones of them), and the rest will follow soon.

867 days ago

The App is Finished

You can probably tell what this post will be about from the title. But yes, the app is finished. It's called U-bow, and it's available on the Google Play Store now for free (with no ads). It is as described in the previous post: a versatile bowed string instrument simulator designed for phone and tablet. You can get it here. I'll be making a video about it on my YouTube channel soon, so watch out for that.

So why am I going about making these apps? Because it's something that I can do and that I want to do. Computer programming has been a significant part of my life since I was about thirteen, and it just so happens that I am now finding a way to merge computer programming with music. Once again, I will assure you that these two passions are continuous investments of mine, and they will neither fade nor take over my life. I've got a number of unfinished works on my hands, and I don't want to give you any release dates, but just know that my energy is not going to waste.

973 days ago

I'm Making a Different App: General Update

It's been a while, and I owe the public an update. I finished the previously mentioned tuner app. It is called UniTune, and it is available on GitHub. It was my first real app, and as such, it had its fair share of mistakes, some of which I intend to go back and fix, but for now, I am focusing on a different app, one that I will publish on the Google Play Store. It's called U-Bow. It's a string instrument simulator. I am actually very nearly finished with it now, so close to being done that I only have to create an icon and finish the publishing process. So look out for that.

Meanwhile, contrary to what the last two posts may have suggested, I am not transforming into an app-making music defector. I have a job now (unrelated to the app-making), but nothing else about my music has changed so far. I'll keep you updated, but I have a few projects that I'm cooking up right now, and I reckon I always will.

994 days ago

I'm Making an App

I have decided to take on the challenge of entering the world of Android app development, and my first app is an oscillating tuner. The idea is that you can use the app to get a reference pitch for the main tuning notes of any instrument, and the tuner will play that pitch with a waveform in the approximate shape of the sound of the instrument. The tuner refers to a list of overtone amplitudes, emphasizing the tones that the instrument makes the most notable use of.

Why is this necessary? It isn't, really. In fact, it's kind of taylor made for my own personal use. I find chromatic tuners that analyze the pitch of a sound being played insufficient either due to the poor quality of the microphone, their overly sluggish response to pitch change, or indecisiveness, and I find my ears more effective in some cases. Not for tuning pianos, but maybe flutes or mandolins. Mostly, because I don't have to look at the needle on the screen while also doing something else with my hands. I'm almost done with the app. I just need to work on user-friendliness, brush up on a few Android-specific things, and finish making the resource file. The app will be open source if possible, and I encourage modification of the resource file to accomodate new instruments and improve on the existing ones. Stay tuned for more.

1067 days ago

It’s Easy to Imitate

As evidenced by the recent release of my electronic-beat song “Harvesters of Truth”, I have not quit electronic music. I do not intend to quit electronic music, despite my growing interest in physical musical instruments. But I have distanced myself from it a bit, and here’s why:

As a consequence of the ubiquity of information brought about by the internet, the ease with which music producers can imitate each other”s samples and styles is tremendous. If some new sound is in style, you can download it and work it into your music, whether it’s a “HEY!” sample to be used in Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell ’Em” or a snare to be used in Ghosts ’n’ Stuff by Deadmau5 as well as Dare by Gorillaz, or even the Amen Drum Break itself. It seems that while electronic music is branching out into a multitude of styles, these styles are consisting of stricter bounds. There is a recipe for success.

As someone who produces music, I have developed a taste for this recipe. I can appreciate the value of its nuances: the punchy stereo snare with a minute drop in pitch, the very-stereo autotuned vocals, the chorus-ed synth with reverb, it’s all good. It sounds good. But you know, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a simplistic approach to music, either. I think a mono snare can be quite refreshing. A strongly panned treble track can be nice, too. I think it’s all right to mix it up.

1101 days ago

Thoughts on the Piano

Pianos are very popular. They’re pretty much the ultimate musical instrument besides the human voice; if you play any musical instrument at all, then it’s probably a piano, right? Why is that?

Well, pianos simplify music. They take everything you could possibly need and place it right at your fingertips. All the chromatic tones from subcontrabass to piccolo are easily available within your reach, and to sound them, you only need to press a single key. That's amazing, isn’t it? How could anyone not be satisfied with that?

From the musician’s perspective, pianos are pretty amazing. But from the technician’s perspective, they’re a nightmare. Pianos are a brute-force solution to the problem of musical instrumentation, a solution that leaves nothing to the imagination. Somehow, the preferred method for achieving continuous chromatic range was not through clever usage of overtones like the clarinet, or purposefully tuned strings like the guitar, or even shared strings like the clavichord, but by carving out each note individually. This would make sense if the intervals between the notes were not all the same, that is, if we used anything but the chromatic scale, but the fact is that we do. We use a scale in which all musical notes are statically tempered to be one twelfth of an octave from each other, and the best solution we have for accessing each and every note is to lay all the notes out in two rows, arbitrarily separated by a diatonic/pentatonic scale of our mutual choosing, so that in order for a musician to play a tune in any key, all he must do is learn that tune in twelve different positions. Even guitarists don’t have to do that!

The problem of the modern piano is that the layout is deceptive: it suggests that there are two different types of notes, which might have once been true back when A flat was not G sharp, but is irrelevant now. Just look inside a piano. There is a single row of strings that are all tuned to the same relative intervals. So why, then, must we have a diatonic row of white keys and a pentatonic row of black keys? Two things come to mind: it’s easier to find familiar notes, and it allows the pianist’s fingers to reach more than an octave. The first reason is not really valid as it seems, because guitars and other fretted string instruments have markers to aid the eye, and no one complains that the frets are all the same. The second reason is somewhat valid, but it could be better dealt with. Imagine if we had instead, two whole tone rows of keys. The pianist’s fingers could reach further distances, scales would flow quite naturally, and every song could only be played in two positions. Something even more upsetting is that we use the diatonic-pentatonic layout for xylophones and metallophones for no other reason than that everyone is used to it.

I’m not saying that pianos are useless or impractical. For the master musicians who think in absolute pitch and note names, they are all that is necessary. A beginner will find their superficial dichotomy beneficial for learning scales. Their warm, clear tone is unique and cannot be replicated by any other acoustic instrument. I even use their soft timbre in my music from time to time, and I can enjoy improvising on one. But I do think that they can be taken too seriously.

1127 days ago

New Instrumental, More on the Way

A while ago, I uploaded a minimalistic mandolin piece I improvised to my YouTube channel. A shorter while ago, I added accompaniniment to that piece, and it is now the first musical creation of mine to be published via my website. I’ve got more instrumentals written, but the main hindrance to their completion is the recording process (I haven’t even been playing mandolin or bass guitar for a year now, give me a break). But you will see them soon, when I’ve worked up the courage to record them.

1131 days ago

The Website is Going Up

Greetings, web surfers. It seems I have a treat for your browsers. As of today, the website is up. I hope to be posting regular updates in the future. If I don't, feel free to get on my case.

I wanted a website because I wanted to centralize all or most of the information about the music that I make, and the free and easily accessable downloads are a nice perk. Furthermore, I imagine that having a website will make me feel more connected to the world in a unique way, which will give me motivation to create music and content for the world.

1133 days ago