music, man

life of lia

music, man

Lia Ditton takes you deep in her world…

With the announcement of sponsor #1 coming in early August, the ‘Open Boat Orchestra’ (OBO) is now a registered company – OBO Project Ltd and has a page on Facebook. There is still a way to go on the funding side though, so if you work with a brand that might like to be involved with a unique round-the-world racing campaign, that will create its own soundtrack – please don’t hesitate to get in touch. www.OpenBoatOrchestra.com

On the music development front, the OBO team welcomed a new addition at the beginning of the month – British guitarist, programmer, sound engineer and record producer, Mark Ty-Wharton (born Mark Tinley), who worked with one of the most successful bands of the 1980′s – ‘Duran Duran’ for over 15 years and has worked with Adamski (on his #1 chart hit ‘Killer’ with vocals by Seal), with Gary Numan, Guy Farley, The Dandy Warhols and other internationally acclaimed recording artists.

An expert in music technology, Mark was an integral part of ‘Duran Duran’s songwriting and production team, working intimately with keyboardist Nick Rhodes to create unique and unforgettable sounds and to capture the magic of serendipity with synthesis. 

Famous for making sound recording possible in any environment, Mark is a particularly good fit for the ‘Open Boat Orchestra’ project having on numerous occasions made make-shift studios in hotel rooms – most notably in a garden gazebo in a villa in St. Tropez for the newly-reformed original line up of ‘Duran Duran’ and the recording of their ‘Astronaut album.’ In Mark’s words, “I bring the studio to the band, rather than the band to the studio!”

Mark’s father, George Tinley was a keen yachtsman, a 1979 Fastnet survivor and a member of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club since 1957. Having grown up around boats and been introduced to sailing from birth, when presented with the opportunity to marry sailing with sound, Mark was openly excited. “I am taken with the idea that the main driver behind the music will be an egoless entity. While the project itself will be based on unique compositional rules, no individual person will be writing the music. The boat is the composer and the rest will be decided by the elements.”

Mark – ‘the Technical Director of Music’ for OBO and I have set out to document the journey so far, in creating the music of OBO. For the next stage of OBO’s music development, we invite your input! (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Open-Boat-Orchestra-OBO/116729861706530)

On a basic level, the difference between sound and music are a formal set of musical rules used in the music’s creation. We learn to separate music from sound as small children, as we also begin to associate emotions with different musical modes and scales – for example all children’s music is played in a major key and is always happy. The technical challenge behind the OBO project is one of creating a mapping system to be employed by the composer (the boat), which will translate the marine electronic data into something musically meaningful.

POINT ZERO: Playing the data as it is
Using a piece of software we took the data packet and without any intervention, turned marine electronic data (NMEA) into music data (MIDI) and it sounded like this.

STEP 1: Turning data into literal music

1) ‘Heading for Piano
Taking the ‘heading’ or direction data from a current IMOCA 60 racing boat, we considered 0 degrees and 360 degrees as one and the same and then divided 360 by the 88 keys on a piano. The odd thing here of course is when the boat transits through due North, the note goes off the scale of the piano and starts again at the bottom.

2) ‘True Wind‘ played by the Miroslav Philharmonik at the Dvorák Symphony Hall in Prague’Through a sound workstation called Miroslav Philharmonik,
Mark mapped the strings section to the TWD (true wind direction), woodwind to TWA (true wind angle) and brass to TWS (true wind speed), the three data streams have been converted directly into chromatic MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) note values, with a fixed velocity and duration. Brace yourself! It’s not a particularly pretty sound!

STEP 2: Software
There are three stages to the development of OBO’s Music software.

  1. The first stage is in creating a table of ideas – the instructions for the synthesizer.
  2. The second stage is in programming the MIDI synthesizer to respond to the boat’s (NMEA) data output, according to the table of ideas.
  3. The third stage will provide a user base with the musical output from the boat in a format that will enable you to remix your own OBO tunes, gain entry to competitions and an OBO chart by submitting your own compositions to the website. We are partnering with an iPhone application developer as well as creating a web based interface similar to Audiotool.

For the first stage, Mark began looking at the software created by artists such as ambient forefather Brian Eno, Koan/Noatikl as well as Nodal and the more well-known Max/MSP.

STEP 3: Compositional rules
From a list of my top ten favourite tunes, as an example, Mark was able to find similarities – musical rules that cropped up time and again. We then discussed why I liked each piece of music – what was its effect? From this exercise we began to explore the idea that these embedded musical rules were akin to moods and that the moods were why I liked each piece of music.

Using the Beaufort scale – an empirical measure for describing wind speed based mainly on observed sea conditions (wiki), we are now looking to isolate musical rules (by that we mean the key, scale, chords, or harmonic or rhythmic patterns) to reflect the mood of each sea ‘state’/weather condition that the boat may experience.

As an exercise, I went through my music library looking for music which was either evocative of or embodied the energy of the different Beaufort, wind/sea states. Do you agree that these songs summarize the energy of each level on the Beaufort scale? Can you recommend other songs that we should look at?