Posts Tagged stylophone
I was giving a talk last week at the Boston Music Tech Meetup about hacking on music. I was showing some of my recent music hacks, one of which is the Saddest Stylophone – a web app that generates a Stylophone auto accompaniment to any song.
In my build-up for the demo I think I described the stylophone as “the worst sounding musical instrument in the world”. The demo went well, and the audience had a few good laughs at the stylophone’s expense. All good, until after my talk when I saw this tweet appear on my feed:
I never would have imagined that there was such as thing as stylophone devotees, nor that I would one day offend the premier drone ambient stylophone composer. But, then again, I was in Cambridge MA, where no niche is too fringe. I was worried that I had gravely offended someone. I was steeling myself for an awkward conversation, but it turns out I had nothing to fear. The premier drone ambient stylophone composer was Rev. Johnny Healy (i.e. the tweeter), and he was not offended but was just giving me a good natured ribbing. He really is, however, the premier drone ambient stylophone composer. And he can make that “worst sounding instrument in the world” sound really interesting. Here is some of his work:
Last week, I ventured to Gothenburg Sweden to participate in the Way Out West Hack 2 – a music-oriented hackathon associated with the Way Out West Music Festival.
I was, of course, representing and supporting The Echo Nest API during the hack, but I also put together my own Echo Nest-based hack: The Saddest Stylophone. The hack creates an auto accompaniment for just about any song played on the Stylophone – an analog synthesizer toy created in the 60s that you play with a stylus.
How does it work? The Sad Stylophone takes advantage of the Echo Nest detailed analysis. The analysis provides detailed information about a song. It includes information about where all the bars and beats are, and includes a very detailed map of the segments of a song. Segments are typically small, somewhat homogenous audio snippets in a song, corresponding to musical events (like a strummed chord on the guitar or a brass hit from the band).
A single segment contains detailed information on the pitch, timbre, loudness. For pitch it contains a vector of 12 floating point values that correspond to the amount of energy at each of the notes in the 12-note western scale. Here’s a graphic representation of a single segment:
This graphic shows the pitch vector, the timbre vector, the loudness, confidence and duration of a segment.
The Saddest Stylophone only uses the pitch, duration and confidence data from each segment. First, it filters segments to combine short, low confidence segments with higher confidence segments. Next it filters out segments that don’t have a predominant frequency component in the pitch vector. Then for each surviving segment, it picks the strongest of the 12 pitch bins and maps that pitch to a note on the Stylophone. Since the Stylophone supports an octave and a half (20 notes), we need to map 12 notes onto 20 notes. We do this by unfolding the 12 bins by reducing inter-note jumps to less than half an octave when possible. For example, if between segment one and segment two we would jump 8 notes higher, we instead check to see if it would be possible to jump to 4 notes lower instead (which would be an octave lower than segment two) while still remaining within the Stylophone range. If so, we replace the upward long jump with the downward, shorter jump. The result of this a list of notes and timings mapped on to the 20 notes of the Stylophone. We then map the note onto the proper frequency and key position – the rest is just playing the note via timbre.js at the proper time in sync with the original audio track and animating the stylus using Raphael.
I’ve upgraded the app to include an Under the hood selection that, when clicked opens up a visualization that shows the detailed info for a segment, so you can follow along and see how each segment is mapped onto a note. You can interact with visualization, stepping through the segments, and auditioning and visualizing them.
That’t the story of the Saddest Stylophone – it was not the hack I thought I was going to make when I got to #wowhack – but I was pleased with the result, when The Sad Stylophone plays well, it really can make any song sound sadder and more pathetic. Its a win. I’m not the only one – wired.co.uk listed it as one of the five best hacks at the hackathon.
Give it a try at Saddest Stylophone.