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Follow the path around the central cyan shapes

I have always been a bit of a walker and one of the first things I would do when going somewhere on holiday was to buy an Ordnance Survey map of the area and a book of walks. Sometimes the walk was good but often it was only ok. There was never a bad walk. The quality of the writing was sometime mediocre and often the illustrations and maps left something to be desired. And often I got lost — but I got better. And better, and better at choosing a good book from a bad one.


… when collaborating online.

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If I was collaborating on a software project right now (even during lockdown) the team would be “agile” —a term (and explanation coming shortly) that has been hijacked (mainly incorrectly) in other business areas. Because software projects have failed so spectacularly in the past, smart organisations have adopted an alternative methodology that makes such catastrophes less likely. I will argue a similar approach can be applied to musical collaborations.

In an ideal world, bands would be able to rehearse/record together merely using a Zoom link. In practise the sound delays between the players’ computers make this impossible. Here is a diagram showing three interrelated processes used in software production. …


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Persistence not persisting

Imagine you have 7 buckets in a line, each one representing a day of the week. Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday are full of water reminding you when to call your mother. Unfortunately all the buckets have small holes in them so you have to keep topping them up otherwise you will forget the schedule.

Ok, so this is probably not the best way to remember things, but it is the basis of how memory works in computers — welcome to the world of “dynamic RAM”. Some memory (c.f. static RAM) holds its information as long as the computer is turned on, and some works even when the power is turned off (e.g. …


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Where the River meets the Sea

Lockdown topic number three came from a song by Simon and prompted David to paint the picture above and me to get some inspiration from a walk along Shoreham Beach where the river does indeed meet the sea. I was already thinking about how the sound of a river could be cross-faded with crashing of the waves on a shingle beach.


Week one of Jeff Schneider’s improvisation course went well enough — play a blues in Bb. And then we started week 2 and I realised that once I was out of my comfort zone, I wasn’t finding it too easy. Yes, week 2 and another 4 to go. The assignment was to create 2 bar phrases using the notes of the blues chords in various rhythms. Worse still, I was listening to the recordings of other players and they were sounding pretty good.

And then I got sidetracked — could I compute random 2 bar phrases to play according to the Schneider method? This turned out to be harder that actually playing the damn piece. At one time, this would have been easy for me— I would have all the computer resources at hand and knock something off in a couple of hours. Well I did it, but it took me three weeks (in part because, together with a group of friends, I have been working on multimedia projects based on our feelings of being locked-down. Examples here: Zoom / Reach for the Still / Empty Skies — Empty Spaces. Also had to learn how to use Magic Music Visuals, but it is a great bit of software). …


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Is it all in the mind? What’s going on in my head at the moment? When will that accordion be ready?

Here’s a progress report as we head into December. There are basically 4 areas that need to be completed before the instrument can be played. These are the piano keyboard, the button board, the bellow replacement and the control systems. I am going to tell you what is going on in each of these areas


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Assembling 8x8 prototype 1, with 3x3 Acrylic prototype 2 inset

The accordion I am designing has an 8x8 button board, a departure from the standard 20x6 layout (aka 120 bass). The “6” part of the traditional layout allows for 2 bass notes and 4 chords (maj, min, 7th and dim), whereas the “8” of mine will give 3 rows of bass and 5 chords. In the 20 direction, notes and chords follow the Stradella (cycle of fifths e.g G C F Bb etc) pattern which I am sticking to. …


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Mk 1 button board with mk 2 on right (accordion setup on waistcoat) plus potential Alesis on left

There are 3 previous stories in my accordion saga and if you need any background on what I am doing, here’s a good place to start.

  1. And just where is your new accordion?
  2. The August Accordion
  3. Accordion Button Board (update)

Also I have made 2 short videos which show a) what the accordion looks like when played, and b) a closer look at the components.

So what’s been working and what hasn’t? Starting with the latter, I have completely explored an image-processed decoding of the button-board. Whilst it worked in principle, and in practise too, having to incorporate the camera in a box, looking at the buttons (and even with mirrors) would make the instrument too bulky. In fact, it wouldn’t be as bulky as an acoustic accordion, but in the building of the new buttons, I am seeing a huge potential for a very slim and lightweight device. The downside of something totally lightweight is there is a) something comforting about the bulk of the instrument and b) it lends a rigidity to the playing surfaces, that I will need to address in a different way — or to paraphrase, no one likes a floppy instrument. …


In my previous post on the button board, I described a novel way of providing an alternative for that on a traditional instrument. Here now are some details for making a laser-cut version. I’m going to try it initially in 3mm plywood but will go on and either make from plastic, or a combination of plastic and 3D printing.

6 pieces of ply form the “block” that holds the buttons — and in the cutting of these layers, the pieces for the buttons are also created. There are 5 of these and are held together with M4 bolts (it is possible that the bolts could hold the pieces together just while they are being glued — or become an integral part of the button — something to play with). …


“You’ll be very tempted to open up your accordion — but don’t” was the advice given in the accordion tutor book that I bought along with my first instrument. Of course, I did! And it was fine — masses of rods and levers to connect the buttons with the reeds.

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From accordion.co.uk

It’s like an old typewriter on steroids, and as the typewriter has gone from mechanical to electronic to a mere computer appendage, I have been thinking that, with no need for button mechanics in the accordion, that a different approach to the button board might be interesting.

About

Richard Vahrman

Inventor, musician and tai chi teacher

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