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Thursday, March 20, 2008


Sometimes I come across interesting articles and file them away for later, for a rainy blog day perhaps. Well, the sun is shining here in North Carolina, but I'm breaking out the fine blog china for you today!

I have played an Ovation guitar for many years, and while they seem to be making strides in improving the Ovation sound, my late 80's model pickup (I think it's the OP-24) has always sounded brittle to me. I read this article online about a new DSP (digital signal processor) application from Fishman Transducers, where they condition the signal from your acoustic pickup to sound like you have a bazillion dollar microphone in your gajillion dollar studio.

Fishman's digital acoustic imaging algorithm works by comparing the sound of a guitar under perfect conditions—in an ultraquiet studio with a variety of expensive condenser microphones placed at various distances in front of it—with the signal you get from a piezoelectric transducer or pickup, which Fishman places under the bridge saddle. The transducer senses the originating excitation of the strings, but is not sensitive to the sound hole resonances. And it doesn't hear the mix of phases in front of the instrument as various frequencies radiate differently off the top, sides and head of the guitar.
In practice, Fishman records each instrument with a half-dozen well-known studio-recording microphones, then offers those sounds as selections to the guitar user.

So now your cheap ass guitar will sound amazing! Unfortunately, if your playing sucks, it's still going to sound like crap, but it will sound like gold-plated crap.

In other cool news (OK, not so new, but maybe new to you!), Time magazine ran an article on Princeton Professor Dimitri Tymoczko's work describing the geometry of musical composition.

Borrowing some of the mathematics that string theorists invented to plumb the secrets of the physical universe, he has found a way to represent the universe of all possible musical chords in graphic form. "He's not the first to try," says Yale music theorist Richard Cohn. "But he's the first to come up with a compelling answer."

Tymoczko's answer, which led last summer to the first paper on music theory ever published in the journal Science, is that the cosmos of chords consists of weird, multidimensional spaces, known as orbifolds..

Tymoczko: "composers have been exploring the geometrical structure of these maps since the beginning of Western music without really knowing what they were doing." It's as though you figured out your way around a city like Boston, for example, without realizing that some of your routes intersect. "If someone then showed you a map," he says, "you might say, 'Wow, I didn't realize the Safeway was close to the disco.' We can now go back and look at hundreds of years of this intuitive musical pathmaking and realize that there are some very simple principles that describe the process."

Here is Tymoczko's homepage.

Now for today's editorial: Bit Torment. BitWorks Music artist Unit Vector was lamenting the poor performance of the distributed peer-to-peer download application BitTorrent. He says it should be called Bit Drip. No, it's definitely Bit Torment. For the unfamiliar, BitTorrent breaks up huge files into smaller chunks and allows you to download them from many different servers at once. This can give you amazingly fast downloads of popular media files, because it's like having 100 waiters serving you dinner all at once. You can eat your entire meal in 3 seconds! The problem with BitTorrent is simple. The performance of BT is tied to how well seeded a given file is, essentially how many "waiters" there are serving you, and how well they are performing. In the case of media files with poor seeding, maybe you have a few waiters claiming they will serve you, but they are "on break". Also, by default, BitTorrent tries not to overload any given peer (what I'm calling a "waiter" or server here), so if you only have a single server for a file, performance will be sloooow. Here is more on the issues with BitTorrent.

That's all for today's episode!

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