Pianoteq demo review
David Ellis linked me to Pianoteq, a brand new VST instrument from French team MODARTT. What Pianoteq apparently achieves is particularly satisfying for me, as I had often wondered whether (and when) such a thing would be possible on a PC.
Pianoteq is a piano virtual instrument, but not in the same vein as the likes of Native Instruments' Akoustik Piano and Steinberg's The Grand. Rather than playing back recordings of individual key strikes on real pianos, Pianoteq is a simulation - it models the horribly complex vibrations of the strings and soundboard when a key is struck.
This has all sorts of cool implications - the obvious one being that the vibrations of different strings can interact properly. You also (finally) get realistic sustain pedal response - you can half-pedal, quarter-pedal, or 1/128th-pedal, or depress the pedal after releasing a chord, capturing notes during their decay.
Whether the "nice" pianos Pianoteq produces are as good or as "real" as those of sample-based instruments will be open to debate. I tried the time-limited demo, and the treble range sounded slightly weird to me, but being a decidedly average pianist raised mostly on digital pianos, I'm hardly an expert judge. Try it and make your own call!
Besides, the potential for customisation is where I think this product will shine. You see, with the default patches, the lower treble ranges were rather overpowered by the bass for my liking, but altering the hammer hardness quickly improved things. Then, when I tired of my concert grand, I adjusted the unison width slider (which controls the difference in frequencies across the multiple strings that combine to play a single note), and increased the octave stretch. I immediately had the reassuring sound of a homely beast that hadn't been tuned in a while. You do not get this kind of control with a sample-based digital piano.
Indeed, an eternal limitation of sample-based pianos (both hardware and software) has been that everything they can create is derived from the same set of samples of some huge, expensive, "perfect" grand (or three). But the Steinway sound gets boring, and isn't necessarily what you want if you're trying to be Bill Evans. Native Instruments included a wonderfully mellow upright in their Akoustik Piano package, which was a step in the right direction. But with Pianoteq you can create your own instrument, from the massive concert grand to the cantankerous pub stalwart, via faithful reproductions of tinny early proto-pianos.
That appears to be the beauty of Pianoteq - there are no right answers for everyone, just a big array of variables you can tweak until you find a piano that suits your taste and mood. You can alter dozens of parameters which affect how the "piano" sounds and responds - with the potential to create some entirely new and alien instruments. In that sense, Pianoteq has the synthesiser's spirit as much as it has the piano's. It's not hard to see a future in hardware synths and digital pianos that have piano modelling technology built in.
In case you can't tell, I want the full version, but I'm holding off on an immediate purchase, as I haven't tried playing it through the X8 yet - only the V-Synth, with its decidedly non-piano-like keys. That, and I don't have a job!
Quest for the Celestine Spatula
Download: Quest for the Celestine Spatula.mp3 (MP3, 18.7MB).
Blurb:Quest for the Celestine Spatula tells the story of a perilous journey to find a lost kitchen implement of interminable power. It was written and recorded at our student digs in Leamington Spa in Feb/March 2006, in my final year at Warwick University.
Guitar: Hywel Bennett
Keyboards: Paul Roberts
Vocals: Ollie Curnick, Hywel Bennett, Charles Gill, Paul Roberts
M3 physics video fun
Here's a video of some new explosion shockwave physics that I've been working on in Millennium 3. It shows a large ship exploding and taking a load of nearby ships with it. The shockwave travels out and eventually hits the ship that the camera's looking out from. The video's off a cheap digital camera, hence the ghetto image quality and awkward file format, but the effect is quite cool regardless!
What to do?
There are two things preventing me from getting this site back on its feet.
The first, perversely, is the existing content. So much of it is out of date and/or embarrassing it's, well, embarrassing. It's easier to pretend it doesn't exist than to try to sift through and streamline it. But it does exist. I still advertise it in my email and forum signatures. It's still standing up here on the web providing ever more new people with a window on my life as of, uh, three years ago. To begin to rework the content, I need to confront what's already here, which I'm fatally reluctant to do.
The second involves SPAM. Around 100 'comments' are left on this site every day. Typically, 99 of these are garbage - links to gambling sites, ads for replica Rolexes (Roleces?) and doomed attempts to send actual spam emails through my comments system. Back when the influx was a little gentler, I was manually deleting them as they appeared, but pretty soon I decided I didn't want them appearing on the site at all. So I made comments stay hidden by default until I 'approved' them. This worked for a while, but the signal to noise ratio soon decreased so far it became very time-consuming to identify the occasional genuine contribution. I stopped trying. This has meant that while the site appears peacefully dormant to the casual visitor, a cancer spreads behind the scenes, as I have a burgeoning database of junk and neither the time nor the inclination to act as a human spam filter on the whole lot.
So, if I can bring myself to hack a captcha into my comments system (remind me why I thought writing a blog/CMS from scratch was a good idea?) and to filter a five figure quantity of comments, then we're halfway there. Then I'll attack the rotting mass of Younger Paul's attempts at content. Should I come out the other side with something that, at this point in time, I consider relevant, then great! Now, that's a lot of conditionals right there, and I know we've been down this road before. But since it's that time of year when I have lots of arguably more important things I should be doing, it just might happen :-)
Stealing news from Slashdot again
So much for one entry a day, but moving on... Some MIT grad students created An Automatic CS Paper Generator, which is cool all by itself. However, this brilliant piece of work it spat out got accepted as a "non-reviewed paper" to the WMSCI 2005 conference! Priceless.
Tempted as I am to reference "Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy" in the final report for my third year project, I can't find a vaguely relevant context in which to cite it. [Edit: Maybe I'll just bury the citation in an appendix that the markers probably won't reach anyway. Come on, fellow comp scis - let's start a "Rooter" citation cult!]
The students say their next goal is "to go there and give a completely randomly-generated talk, delivered entirely with a straight face."
Procedural content generation one, academia nil.
Here's a link to the Slashdot story.
I was in HMV in Stratford today and spotted several copies of Darwinia on the shelves, priced £29.99. Darwinia is the latest offering from hip indie developers Introversion Software, mildly famous for their previous game, Uplink, which they marketed and sold themselves via their website (i.e. without going through a publisher like EA). I didn't realise their new title had been released, let alone distributed to physical retailers.
I couldn't find a publisher's logo on the box, so I guess they made some kind of direct deal with the distributors. Which is cool. Introversion are now proof that it's possible to get an original PC game to full price retail without a 50-man team and a seven figure budget. In 2005.
As an aside, I spotted a familiar box on the shelf below - Agassi Tennis Generation! Priced at a modest fiver, mind, but still occupying valuable shelf space several years after I worked on it.
Anyway, good work, Introversion. I have yet to try the Darwinia demo, but I ought to wait until my dissertation's in and the exams are over...
I'm selling my Roland SRX-02 Concert Piano expansion board, which has been living inside my Fantom synth since I bought them both. Thing is, I want to retire my trusty but ailing Yamaha P80 stage piano and get a new, lighter, synth-weighted controller keyboard for live use with the XV-2020 sound module, and since I haven't been making much use of the SRX-02's admittedly pretty sounds, it's an asset I can't justify hanging onto when I want money for new gear.
Roland are supposed to be bringing out another piano expansion board, the SRX-11, which may tempt me in the future if I get sick of the onboard pianos in the gear I've got. I shall be understandably wary, though, of buying another SRX board that I might just end up eBaying again. Still, I get to try out lots of cool gear this way :-)
So, in the highly unlikely event that you have a Roland SRX-compatible synth or module (XV-2020, XV-5050, XV-3080, XV-5080, XV-88, VR-760, Fantom, RD-700, and others) and fancy some new piano sounds, check out my auction.
To those of my readers who aren't similarly obsessed, I apologise for this brief detour into synthesiser geek land.
So, the university tried to direct debit £1,133 from me for this term's tuition fees and rent. Painful, but anticipated. Indeed, I'd already transferred sufficient monies into my bank account to allow the transaction to proceed without quite hitting the overdraft limit. Hadn't I?
I realised my mistake when I saw £35 had disappeared from my bank account with the suspicious annotation of "CHARGES". Of course, I'd transferred funds into the wrong account, namely my old "current account" instead of the student account I use most nowadays.
I know that banks make a lot of money from user stupidity like mine, so I was rather crestfallen but not exactly surprised by the damage. I sent a swift and apologetic email to the relevant university department, begging them to retry their direct debit sooner rather than later, lest I accrue their late payment charges as well. A friendly reply informed me that if I phoned up and paid by card by 31st January, I wouldn't get any late payment charges. Yay. However, they would be charging me a failed direct debit charge of 2.5% of the original amount, or £28.33.
A grand total of £63.33 of hard-earned cash frivolously donated to these two mighty institutions means I'll be more careful which account I transfer to in future...
Does anyone read this any more? I thought not. Can't say I blame you.
Nevertheless, this is just what it seems - a no strings attached, bona fide update, albeit a short one. Easing back into the blogging paradigm is going to be a gradual, careful process. Don't want to strain my fingers.
The reason I've finally come crawling back to this website (besides the accumulated shame at its stagnancy) is that I suddenly noticed it was becoming snowed under by the latest scourge of the blog-enabled intarweb generation - comment spam. My beloved, neglected m3fe.com had become gaily festooned with dozens upon dozens of illiterate ads for wholesome stuff like "online poker" and "replica Rolx watches" [sic], and I decided that enough was enough. After deleting all the spam accrued to date, I improved clunkyblog with a new blacklisting system, which should help me tackle future infestations more swiftly.
I also now get a notification email when someone leaves a comment somewhere on the site, so I have no more excuses for taking ages to reply to them :-)
Finally, I've added an all-new section featuring a couple of informal piano MP3s recorded on my finance-shatteringly wonderful new keyboard. I'm going to fill this one up with similar recordings as I make them.
More updates will follow, with some kind of consolidated news on general happenings from the last six months. Honest, guv.
This has been all over the web for a few days now, but just in case... if you're working in (or interested in working in) the games industry, then read EA: The Human Story.
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