Steve Jobs vs. Dennis Ritchie . . . FIGHT! December 20th, 2011 by b-knox

Some time has passed since these two computer history icons passed themselves into the afterlife. They both died the same week last October, both legends, or at least their work will span following generations. But one of these bad boys was overlooked during this period by the media.

In fact, if you were to listen to the media from that period you might come to believe that Steve Jobs was an unbelievable wizard who single handedly created home computers and Pixar movies, all the while inspiring folks to “think different”. It is true, Jobs stood for an amazing standard in entrepreneurial theory and practice. If he had entered God into it all, Apple and it’s purchasers could quickly garner cult status. The thing is, Jobs was not a developer, he was a designer. I don’t want to say he didn’t understand “under the hood” stuff, but it wasn’t his concern. “Make it do this, you know, for the kids.”

So, who is this Dennis Ritchie? He developed the C programming language and was a major proponent of the Unix operating system. After C came C++ and a whole league of similar languages. After Unix came Linux (which this website is running on). Ritchie defined a standard for high level programming languages, languages that make programming much more accessible. Without them there would be a lot less software in the world. A computer is practically useless without software.

…and now a bunch of related links that have cluttered my browser for months now…

Where were you when Apple II? – one of the last machines I think of (had one) when people mention 8bit due to it’s lackluster graphics and sound during it’s era

Foxconn – Jobs might have helped build Pixar, but Apple outsources labor to an abusive firm

The Oatmeal – Apple Products – great comic about Apple diehards and the lack of upgrade options

Serving at the Pleasure of the King – an argument about Apple’s app store not nurturing it’s developer community

On the Media Reaction . . . – industry experts from O’Reilly Radar discuss the adulation of Steve Jobs

Remembering Dennis Ritchie – much less controversy, much less articles about his passing :(

Opening for MC Frontalot August 17th, 2011 by b-knox

I’ll be honest, I first heard of MC Frontalot when he played Ann Arbor’s Top of the Park summer festival a couple years back. I missed The OneUps opening up, but even weirder was the house music between the acts was Battle of the Bits Winter Chip II compilation. Somehow the website I built was featured, it was Eli’s fault. That whole night was Eli’s fault. Eli who selected me to judge a grade school LEGO competition. Eli who I will prolly see tomorrow night.

Oh, yes, tomorrow night. I need to rehearse! ^__^;

This will be my 2nd time opening for Frontalot at the Pig. I think I only get this gig because I work there, but It also seems I’m a good fit. Let’s rock the paw out this mutha!!!!

$15 – All Ages
Doors at 8pm

The Ann Arbor District Library’s main branch has a 17-unit computer lab. That’s where I was invited to host a couple 3 hour workshops on How to Make Chip Tunes (using Famitracker). It happened many weekends back; I’ve had plenty of time to reflect.

Having done a one hour workshop at Blip Festival years ago, and a 30 minute battle demonstration at 8static, I thought I already had this thing in the bag.  This workshop, however, differed in one major way – it was interactive; all participants had a machine and headphones to follow along.  Instead of doing a presentation I was going to be instructing.  Plus, there were two sessions at 3 hours a piece all starting at some time in the morning I’m not at all used to.  :D

So, I figured I’d make some kind of handout.  I put all the famitracker effects commands on there, and info about the different voices and their instrument settings.  I also included a “musical keyboard to computer keyboard” graphic like so –

I have a hard time believing that no one has made one of these online, but I couldn’t find one.  The way that the notes map to the keyboard tends to be a huge learning curve for seasoned musicians.  After a decade of tracking, it becomes second nature.  I can play on it better than a piano.  :D

I started the class with a 20 minute crash course in sound chip history. I talked about Atari’s TIA and Pokey chips, Commodore’s VIC and SID chips, Nintendo’s 2A03, how the Gameboy’s Motorolla CPU builds the sound, and a few examples of FM chips; playing back examples from Battle of the Bits as I went.  I did my best to describe their differences and advances, making special notes about which chips could attain correct pitches and which ones were dedicated solely for audio.  Really, I would have rather had everyone watch the following video –

…but the workshop wasn’t meant to be a history lesson on chip music.  Today is another day!  Let us create in the now!

I went into this whole thing thinking it would be cake.  My other workshops were cake. But this, as I stated previously, was an interactive workshop, not a lecture or demonstration.

So, after this workshop’s history lesson, we jumped into Famitracker.  I broke down the interface, we built instruments for each of the channels, I made a pattern, and then I set them loose, pacing around, ready to answer questions.  And many questions I answered.  Next, we made a second pattern, and I showed them how multiple patterns build together into a song.  Then I set them loose again for 40 minutes or so with more pacing on my part, answering questions as they came.

For the first of the two workshop sessions, I had library staff member, Matt, and one elementary student.  It felt kind of like a practice run.  There was good dialog, trivia swapping, we didn’t get too off track. …or maybe I just didn’t feel that much pressure.

The second group contained Matt, my girlfriend, two friends from the bar, and three younger folk.  During the final hour with this group, I realized my “let ’em loose” strategy for leading the workshop was naive.  Of the three younger folk; one was paralyzed after playing with and deleting the patterns we made together, one made a bunch of wild noises and then logged into newgrounds, and one was already familiar with Milky Tracker and felt she wasted her time.  Everyone else seemed to have a good time and entertained themselves.

I used the last 30 minutes to show everyone how to convert their song to an .mp3 by exporting to .wav and using a free online conversion service.  Then I talked about various websites they could meet other chiptune artists and/or share their music.  I was pretty exhausted after that.  :D

Milky Tracker girl left the following track on her desktop –

When I get to do this again I’ll be a little wiser about it.  Demonstration is key.  I didn’t talk about music theory, I didn’t talk about song structure, about hard and soft changes, about holding a solid groove and layering on top, about playing in the pocket, or anything that really had anything to do with the music itself.  I only demonstrated the software itself as if everyone was already a musician ready to compose for a five piece band.  Slight error or epic fail?  I’ll know for next time.

I’d like to thank Matt Dubay for setting this event up and inviting me.  I’d also like to thank Eli Neiburger for networking Matt and I together, and a thanks to Kip DeGraaf for setting an entire Mac lab to run Famitracker on VMware.

famitracker workshop handout PDF download

Kind of Bloop got Kind of Screwed July 9th, 2011 by b-knox

This is a crap story. It’s just one more bubble in my suds of cynicism. If you make the limelight, you can expect to be scrutinized on every angle.

Kind of Bloop is an 8-bit tribute to Miles Davis’ most successful album. It was curated by Andy Baio who’s been blogging and posting links forevers at, and is a cofounder of kickstarter. Baio did everything he could think of to make this a legitimate and lawful release. With the help of kickstarter, he raised the needed funds to pay the licensing fees for all tracks on said album. It turned out to be an awesome stroke of cross promotion; being covered by Time Magazine among others.

Kind of Bloop was released nearly a year ago. I listened to it a couple times, it’s fun; Shnabubula’s “All Blues” is all over the map. I do wish, however, that all the classic jazz lovers who abhor this conceptual tribute would give it a solid listen. I understand some folks can only tolerate acoustic music, but I wish they could also appreciate the skill, effort, and detail that make these ‘computerized’ renditions so organic, human, and unique. It’s all jazz — even when Hannibal, of the A*Team, is forming a plan.

So here’s the crap — the cover of the album has it’s own copyright holder, photographer Jay Maisel. He never gave consent and claims he never would have if asked. Even though Kind of Bloop’s cover is an 8bit translation, it apparently failed to diverge enough from the original. Maisel, with money and lawyers, managed to pin Baio for a mere $32,500. Maisel is an artisanal juggernaut, people pay him $5k for weekend workshops. Jay Maisel is the man.

Campbell’s Soup never sued Andy Warhol for making their cans look like vomit. I’m kind of worried about Campbell’s masculinity.

I’d like to make an analogy using a Mr. Show skit from the perspective of the legal world. The guy with the bloody ear is a younger generation of artist who flirts with mashups and chipmusic covers. The donut clerk is the court. The seated acquaintance is the elder established artist, the hipster from the 50’s bronze age of jazz.

Fair Use has always sounded like a trap to me. Yeah, you’re in the clear as long as you make no money. But what if you had something that went mad viral, containing copyrighted material, and it launches your artistic career? Can that copyright holder, with enough lawyer power, find a way to garnish your new professional wages? In most lawsuits, the court sides with the established juggernaut mother.

Please read Andy Baio’s account on the situation.

Stuff of Legend May 21st, 2011 by b-knox

It is not only my birthday. This is the rapture on my birthday. Level up! I am a 33rd degree Beard now.

I tried to read the pamphlet but there was all this math all over the place!  Isn’t numerology the work of the devil?  For those who mysteriously disappear today, they are heaven bound, the rest of us are left enjoying an every day heaven on Earth.  Tis really said, tis it is.

But a 33rd burfday on teh rupture isn’t enough.  Do you know how many 33rd burfdays there are today?  A lot.  Let’s backtrack a few weeks in the Metro Times —

Yeah, Best of Detroit vicariously hosted by pictures of the Detroit Roller Derby gals.  Betty Biretta (on the far right) is an awesome lady; she’ll knock you out with a fist of over easy half beef and another with double bacon!  So will Lisa!  Lookout!!

I humbly decline that the beard reference is entirely my fault.  There are, and have been, many beards working the door down there.  Still though, many coworkers assure me (both sacrastically and not) it’s all my fault.  On another note, the alleyway lights have been replaced; it’s not dark anymore.  :(

Many thanks to so many folks who have made this a blessed day already!  And to everyone who thinks they are flying away to Heaven’s Gate this evening, can I have your money?  I don’t really need anymore stuff.  ;D

Between Roiners – my new ep May 19th, 2011 by b-knox

Whulp, I’ve been busy again.  After a nice vacation in California with my parents to visit my grandfather and sister, I came home to a request for betamod a release.  I said, “Why not?”  I used all my spare time for a week to compose a hundfull of originals, touching up a few OHB tracks; presenting to you all . . .

DOWNLOAD FOR FREE HERE (link on page reads “ZIP FILE”)

. . . or preview a track here —
bediddle stump thrusters by Baron Knoxburry

“Between Roiners” was made possibly by a short stack of circumstances.  The biggest being the recent notion : “b-knox must be prolific.”  If I want to be playing more gigs then I need more people to hear the music.  I’m a smart beard.  I can do this.  Pacing.  It will require pacing; bouncing away from web development more often.

I’d like to be a musical asset rather than another hungry mouth.

Mad props go out to Tony Gallo who runs betamod, writes teh random melancholy text for each release, and invited yours-truly to join his roster at the right time.  Check out his video, though I’m not sure that’s him, it is cute as shit! Now, if I could catchup and honor the four or so other netlabels that have asked over the last two years.  If anyone wants to float me some cash then check out my previous release – Nova Plain, Slopped, and Salted from 2009.  zOMG.  I have work to do!  ^___^;

Classically speaking, I typically master a track separately from whatever sequence software I use.  Over the past year I have been heavily focused on equalization, filtering some instruments to make them fit a frequency pocket, and how that all affects the final mix.  Of course, much of the time, I over do it; mostly because it’s an experiment.  In the end, I’ve found, respecting an instrument or sample’s core timbre is the simplest way to go.

Speaking of simple, why should anyone have to compose in a full digital audio workstation with mastering later in mind?  That’s just silly!  But that’s what I have been doing for the past five years or so, ever since I was introduced to software like T-Racks and Ozone.

I want to introduce a new friend of mine —

The TLs 4032 Pocket Limiter.  Remember I said something about simple?

Up to ca 6db you kan get very transparent results (if you got some dynamics to spare that is..) where you don´t need to add too much knee. The harder you push equals more knee if you want to avoid heavy distortion. Simple operation with superb results straight out of the “pocket” !

. . . is what the readme.txt file says.  The key word is ‘limiter’, though, with the gain pushed up much at all, it’s also an awesome compressor.  Now, while trying to get a mix balanced, I have learned a gate on individual channels will typically help more than a compressor.  So I put this pocket bugger at the very end of the audio’s chain. And doing so seems to replace my need for that extra mastering step where I would normally achieve “Final Quintessential Volume”.  Mastering software shouldn’t be a fix-all for polishing a turd.  If you need stereo widening, apply it to instruments individually instead of a whole frequency band.  Make it all round and shiny from the get go!

Download Pocket Limiter from Tin Brooke Tales Software VST archive or here or google it. :P

Ensonique SQ-80 and SQ8L VSTi February 13th, 2011 by b-knox

Like most synthesizers, I don’t own this one. And, while searching for soft synths, I am usually disappointed by the VST’s that I find. They typically do one thing very well. Even if that one thing is sounding like a crummy 80’s digital synth.

I’d like to introduce to you Ensonique’s SQ-80 —

SQ80 in the snow

Yeah, it has both a disk drive and a card reader.  It also has a nice range of sounds utilizing a hybrid of analog and digital circuitry.  From breathy pads to strings to moog / commodore 64 growls to percussion, this guy has very unique, fat and warm timbres of tonality.  But, instead of finding recorded samples (check out a John Carpenter movie soundtrack from the early 90’s), I found a soft synth that emulates it.  =)


Download SQ8L Soft Synth VSTi here.  The page also explains the ongoing process of recreating the synth’s famous sound.  It’s suggested that a proper emulation of the filter chips is what sets this VSTi apart from Moog and Roland synth clone software.

Listen to some examples if you don’t believe me —

[audio:|titles=sq8l exmaples]

Mostly, I’m playing Dmin with the various stock patches. Download and remix.  I dare you! . . .or your money back!

Transformers G1 Music Score February 12th, 2011 by b-knox

I was looking for laser sound effects and stumbled upon a few with names like ‘autobot laser fire’ and ‘decepticon laser blast’.  I though, “hmmmmm…. perhaps there’s a source to all that?”  And so, I set out, looking for an archive of ripped Transformers sounds.  I wound up at TFcog, where I found a huge .zip of 332 mp3 files.  Lasers!  Explosions!  Metal clanks and clunks!  Sounds of transformation.  Light sabers?

[audio:|titles=Primes blaster]

After I donloaded that, I checked out the homepage where there was some news.  The latest update?  “.:Lots More G1 Music Added!:.”  67 tracks 156mb 90min of Transformers original cartoon music.  The project seems to be mostly curated by a person that goes by Grimbot.  I can only imagine, and contemplated doing, that Grimbot watched endless episodes, cataloging the themes, and putting together chunks without voices or sound effects.  You do hear sound effects now and then, but I must commend this effort!  This is some great work by a true OCD warrior!  KUDOS!!

I tried to pick the three most memorable themes to share —

[audio:|titles=Factories are Busy] [audio:|titles=Plan] [audio:|titles=Survival]

Man, this stuff is such a rush . . .

Although we know Vince DiCola did the score for the movie, the tv series’ music seems uncredited.  I would guess that Sunbow and Marvel opted for production music licenses as some of the music was shared with G.I. Joe (same production companies).  But it has got me thinking about other classic cartoon background scores I would like to have : He-Man and Thundercats.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe had Shuki Levy and Haim Saban for composers.  Those are huge names for kid show music; think Inspector Gadget and Power Rangers.  But, besides the open and closing themes, mostly unavailable.

ThunderCats was scored by Bernard Hoffer and there is presently an online petition to have the soundtrack released on CD.  Warner Brothers offered a $14,000 price to find the original tapes on their archival shelves.  But, according to this forum thread, ‘[a] cue list Bernard sent Sonia along with the tracks’ suggests some civilians have copies.  There are a few tracks here but they are direct recordings from the show with voices and sounds and the quality isn’t good either.

TFcog is a great example of a classic fan site.  Except for the forum, it feels like 100% manually updated html with frames.  Does this put them under the radar or is TFG1 worth ignoring?  Damn, that new movie sucked.  =(

FAWM – first two tracks February 12th, 2011 by b-knox

February Album Writing Month is hosted by and a wonderful waste of time!  So, let’s see if I can get caught up.  The goal is 14 songs averaging 3 minutes in length.  That’s a 42 minute album.  Not bad.  I have two tracks and 16 days to go.

My first attempt at writing a ‘song’ was more of an exploration of my “studio”.  I’ve decided, for this project, that I would multitrack everything and try to keep it as live as possible.  I had a lot of fun with the circuit bent drum machine that Toast is letting me borrow.  Things eventually get rather noisy.  This track will probably be the last track on the album, so you don’t have to listen to all four minutes if you don’t want to.

[audio:|titles=b-knox – winter creep]

Next, I took a stab at something with pep and vocals, Wizard Strike.  I need a Radio Shack so I can stock up on cable adapters.  Getting the VIC20 to run parallel delay stomp pedals quickly became quite a puzzle without them.  And then I wrote lyrics.  This song is less than two minutes.  I better watch the lengths!  :o

[audio:|titles=b-knox – wizard strike]