Monday, March 16, 2009

In Memory of Ryan Graham -- 9/16/1984 - 2/27/2009

Ryan, you were the best younger brother I never had. I found this audio footage of us during your trip to Poland that I recorded on my cell phone. It is not perfectly audible, but what can be understood beautifully captures your spirit.

You came to San Francisco, MY city at the time, in August, 2005, bright-eyed and excited to start a new life. For a while, it became OUR city, as you helped me rediscover and appreciate the sparkling city anew.

When I decided to move to Poland, knowing that I was leaving you behind in California was the single most bittersweet element in my decision to move. Bitter, because I knew I would miss our frequent outings, discovery of new culinary experiences, and your tireless optimism about a city that I was starting to feel jaded about. Sweet, because I knew that you would be one of the first people to visit me in my new home.

During your stay in Poland, you immediately won the hearts of my friends and even made new friends who became MY friends. We will always think of the ease with which you made this foreign place your home. We all looked forward to your next trip here, and I hoped that you might one day consider making Europe your home.

I debated a long time about whether to write this next paragraph at all. It is heartbreaking to think of the future you might have had; however, I feel that I need to write some things with regard to these possibilities which now no longer exist. I still believe that living in Europe would have had a tremendously positive influence on you. My vision of our future had us reconnecting here at regular intervals, a trip from Krakow to London (or Paris, or Ibiza, or Hvar, or any of the hundreds of other places in which you would have felt at home) being as easy to plan as a hop between any two major US cities. I know that I am not alone in feeling this, as I have heard the same sentiments from some of the many friends you made during your journeys overseas.

Wherever you are, I hope you know that the list of people who love and miss you dearly is longer than you know. We will meet again sometime, somewhere, in another life, enriched with the wisdom we gained from this one.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

I'm inventing a music synthesizer!

For those of you who don't know, and for the further edification of those who do, I am applying for two patents in the field of music synthesis. The first patent is very general and relates to Digital Signal Processing (DSP). The second is probably more interesting from a musical point of view.

Highlights from the second patent:


An input analog signal is first digitized and then processed by a DSP whose clock frequency is an integer multiple of the fundamental frequency of the analog signal. The signal is then decomposed into its individual harmonic components. Each harmonic is subjected to a selected gain or attenuation, and then the modified harmonic components are summed to reconstitute an output signal with a different harmonic profile than that of the input. The final result is converted back to an analog signal with a D/A converter."

"It is expected that creative selection of a signal source, and of the values of the [gain coefficient]'s, will yield interesting results. For example, if the input source is a human voice, and the harmonics are modified to resemble those of a violin, the output signal will have the attack and decay, in other words, the dynamics and agility/versatility of the human voice, but the harmonic timbre of a violin. It is evident that this method can be applied to transform the sound of any instrument into any other, or actually into the sound of fictitious instruments that don’t actually exist in material form."

I am working on a prototype of the synthesizer which will allow it to be demonstrated in real-time. What happens next will depend on how much interest I can generate via demonstrations at trade shows, etc.

I am really excited, because I came up with this idea about ten years ago but I had no idea how to implement it. Thanks to working as an analog design engineer in the real world for eight years, I have finally solved all the implementation details.

My first prototype boards for my synthesizer arrived on Friday, June 2, and I assembled one board and verified that it works! This circuit is just the analog portion of the synth, and doesn't really convey what the full synth will do. I created two sound clips demonstrating what the circuit does. I recorded myself playing trombone (badly) to see whether the synth will be capable of processing the trombone sound. Here is the first clip:

The original, unaltered trombone is on the left channel and the synth output is on the right channel. Use your balance controls to alternate between the two channels so you can see what it's doing. Essentially, the synth is stripping out all of the harmonic content of the sound above the fundamental and converting the fundamental into a square wave. In order to do this, the circuit uses an adaptive tracking filter which self-adjusts its cutoff frequency until it passes only the fundamental. The circuit also has a test mode to disable this adaptive tracking filter. This second sound clip has the tracking filter disabled:

You can hear that in this clip, the synth output sounds "dirtier" than in the first clip. This is because the higher frequencies are passing through to the output. The synth in this test mode behaves more like a classical "distortion" effect, and while it might sound "interesting" at this early stage, this mode won't be useful in the final synth implementation.

The next step could take several months, but I will continue to work on it after I move to Europe -- in fact, I may have even more time to do it over there, so it could be completed earlier than expected!

The test board is shown in the photo. Now accepting pre-orders! Ha!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Unreal City!

Whatever visions remained from my last trip to London circa 1992, they were all eclipsed by my last five days there. Art and artists were the primary themes, as well as the obligatory moments of quiet in which to study my various Polish verb conjugations.

I had been eager to see the National Portrait Gallery ever since my undergraduate days, when I remember being introduced to the dreamily surreal portraits commissioned of Elizabeth I. In addition to the Tudor portraits, I was excited to find a special exhibit, "Searching for Shakespeare," which collected artifacts and supposed portraits from which to reconstruct a picture of the bard's life. I pored over the will for a long time trying to locate the infamous bequest to Anne Hathaway of the "secondbest bed," but in vain, as the 16th Century notary's scrawl was no more decipherable to me than Arabic. One hallway at NPG contained a chronological gauntlet of my literary heroes, Sterne and Swift, Smollett, Richardson, and so on. Then along to the National Gallery. I looked at almost everything, but what moved me most was Hogarth's series Marriage a la Mode, which I had only seen in miniature black and white, a scathing indictment of upper-class loveless marriage for money and the tragedy which necessarily ensues.

That evening, Amanda and I had cocktails and dinner with former MP Tony Benn, one of Britain's most radical statesmen. The premise was to discuss Benn's experiences with Paul Robeson and other towering figures of 20th Century history, from Gandhi and Churchill to Saddam Hussein. But Benn had a knack for turning what might have been an interview around, and genuinely sought to understand our own backgrounds, religious and cultural, as well as how we had come to know each other. He gave the impression that our own lives were as interesting to him as his to us, and though many fellow diners and waitstaff recognized the Right and Honourable, his celebrity seemed to have never disturbed his grounded and sincere character.

The next day, upon returning from the Tate Modern Gallery, replete with my beloved Rothkos, Magrittes, Ernsts, and a showing of Un Chien Andalou, Amanda met me on the way out the door, having just received an invitation to appear on Rachel Fuller's internet broadcast, "In the Attic." While seated in the waiting area, I met Rachel and friends, including her partner, Who guitarist and vocalist Pete Townshend. At one point, Pete sat next to me and we conversed, mainly about our respective interests in writing. Occasionally he would pick up an acoustic guitar and fool around. But "fooling around" for Pete Townshend sounded like what I would have to practice for days to achieve. And I was awestruck that he seemed to be able to compose in real-time as naturally as others breathe.

After returning home late, I would have to wake before 5am to catch my flight to Krakow. As I bid goodbye to British soil, I pondered what might lie in story for me on the continent...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Z-Man and Lance

[Z-Man attempts to seduce Lance Rock]
Lance: Pfft – Bwahahaha! Hahahahaha!
Z-Man: I have never before been spurned. Superwoman.
Lance: You wanna know something? You're right! You wanna know something else? I'm gonna take a downer and crash.
Z-Man: You varlet! You serf! You buggering knave! How dare you cast aside my alabaster charms? My capacious love? My undying troth? Yes, I vow it. 'Ere this night does wane you will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!
[Lance, now hog-tied, struggles]
Z-Man: How now, jungle lad? Why so helpless and why so frail? Where is your much-vaunted muscular prowess?
Lance: Hey, I don't know your story, and I don't wanna know it. All I know is these goddamn ropes are cuttin' the hell out of my wrists and I want out now!
Z-Man: Growl, vassal! You spoil Superwoman's sport when you whine and succor me. Jungle lad should be silent and mighty, not a groveling ant creeping across the malodorous moat! Besides, methinks you miss the point. You are doing what I want. Exactly what I demand, sir. At last the king of the jungle comes under the imperious rule of she who is inconquerable: Superwoman. How it excites me! Your legendary strength rendered impotent as you grovel before the greatest superhero of all time!
Lance: The man's out of his gourd...
Z-Man: Methinks you remind me of certain things. Don't move, you churl! Don't move a single muscle of that finely-fleshed body!
Lance: You're a freak, Barzell! You're a stone freak! I'll get you back in spades, Barzell! I'll get you, you mother!
Z-Man: [wielding Excalibur] The vorpal blade goes snickersnack! Ah, yes, jungle lad. Meet my friend Excalibur! Mightiest sword of all time! Wrought by Woden, the god of time, legendary blade of King Arthur! Hurled into the lake, it sprang forth again all shining and pure! And now, now it is wielded by she who will eclipse all their deeds, Arthur, Lancelot, and even mighty Coeur de Leon – Superwoman!
Lance: Listen, Ronnie – you see Ronnie, this whole thing has been a big game, right? A big put-on. We've been puttin' each other on, man! You see, the trouble is that, that you think it's for real. But it's not! Now we're friends, aren't we? Remember, Z-Man? Put the sword away. C'mon, Z-Man, put it away, you don't need it.
[Z-Man sheathes Excalibur]
Lance: Yeah.
Z-Man: Z-Man? There is no Z-Man, varlet! And indeed, it is not a game we play! I am Superwoman!
[Z-Man reveals breasts]
Lance: Oh my god, no! You've been a broad all along, right Barzell? A goddamned broad! A goddamned ugly broad, Barzell! Hahaha! An ugly broad! Hahahaha!
[Accomanied by Twentieth Century Fox theme music, Z-Man charges, Excalibur raised]
Lance: No Ronnie, no!
[Lance is decapitated]

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Saragossa Manuscript

Finally finished watching Wojciech Has' three-hour opus, "Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie (1965)," or "The Manuscript Found at Saragossa." B&W, in Polish with English subtitles. Yes friends, that's right -- it says "In Dedication to Jerry Garcia." And what a long strange trip it was! Can you imagine Borges on film? Stories within stories within stories, so much that you forget whose story you're witnessing at a given time. But then you realize that it doesn't really matter.

The action centers around merchants and noblemen of Inquisition-era Spain and the ghosts and hauntings that plague them. A pair of beautiful harem girls vow their hand(s) in marriage to the lead character, Alfonse Van Worden, played by Zbigniew Cybulski. What a lucky guy! That is, until he finds himself waking up after their supposed first night of conjugal bliss on a barren hillside beneath a gallows with one hand on a pile of skulls and the other hand on a dead man's decaying face! This plot twist recurred many times, reminding me of ancient Buddhist cautionary stories to ward against the temptations of sexual desire.

Van Worden discovers a book which seems to hold the key to the mysterious goings-on. The two women, the gallows, all are portrayed vividly inside. But his attempts to discover what images or hints lie on the following pages all meet with various forms of defeat.

At the end, he meets with a literal reflection of himself cavorting outside with the two women, and remains stuck on the other side, perhaps a prisoner of his own intellectual insistence on the rationality of things, or else of his reluctance to act.

Oh, and if a three-hour B&W film containing philosophical musings on the nature of infinity doesn't float your boat, there is also the brilliant score by Krzysztof Penderecki (composer of "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" as well as the the soundtrack to Kubrick's "The Shining"). And if that doesn't float your boat either, there are also at least a half dozen stunning Polish bombshell actresses to admire.