Monday, February 18, 2008

The Music Machine

The music machine

A music machine? What on earth would that be?

Is it some thing like guitar, piano etc?

No, they are musical instruments.

CD Players, Mp3 players?

No, they are electronic contraptions converting bits to audible sounds which we know as music.

Sometimes, there are these little machines whose simplicity and utmost completeness enthralls you. We see so many advanced versions of these machines around us, without actually knowing what is happening inside them. The technological advancement of those inherent simple designs often introduces obscurity in their understanding. What if, for once, we encounter one such smallest complete design? How would we feel?

However, before telling about one such encounter I had, I would digress onto something relevant for a while.

When I was a kid, I used to hear that charles babbage was the father of the computer. He designed the first computing machine known as difference engine. I had also heard about these small prehistoric computing machines known as abacus. At that time, I never could have thought that these abacus were the precursors of computers, but we were made to learn this as a fact, which we would obediently commit to our memory. Only later, when I grew older, became wiser (supposedly), I heard about this amazing new form of mathematics known as Boolean algebra, where 1+1 was not equal to 2 and where one could express anything by means of zeros and ones. It was an amazing feeling, I was able to draw the connections between the abacus, the difference engine and the computing beasts that we have today. I knew the basic principles, which are the basic blocks for the advanced machines. It is a very satisfying feeling of knowing something in and out.

Enough of this coffeehousing for distraction, Now coming back to the point!!

Usually, my Saturdays are very quite, soothing and relaxed. I spend most of my time browsing through books in the local book store, or buying food supplies for the next week, or sitting in one of those 17th century courtyards and reading. Little did I know that this Saturday would be one of the most interesting of all other weekends.

I came across some new books, in the section aptly named “Hot off the press”. Its quiet nice to have these bookstores where one can go and read, without actually a compulsion to buy them. For people like me, who are barely able to mange to buy one book a week, it is a boon. After reading a very interesting section from a fictional account of the people of South Africa, I decided to go to the music section.

There it was, I saw it. It was a very small machine, size of two match boxes put over each other. A picture of Mozart adorned the top of the machine, and a small lever like structure was protruding out from the side. I took the machine in my hands, It wasn’t very heavy, although it felt a bit dense for the volume it occupied. I fiddled around with the lever. The picture of Mozart on top meant that some kind of sound was supposed to come out of it. The question was, how? Surely the lever had to do something with it. The shape of the lever clearly indicated it had to be rotated. But which direction, should it be clockwise? anticlockwise? , what if I might break it?

Apprehensively, I rotated this lever protruding out of that cardboard box, and I heard the sound, it was Mozart’s. The sound was so pure, so natural and so subtly wonderful. It was the similar feeling I had when I heard my first classical concert in switzerland. The sound of the metallic pegs hitting the tense metallic strings, amplified by the hollowness of timber of an age old grand piano. The vibrations would travel swiftly to your ears straight from the mechanical interaction. There would be music and your soul. Nothing else. No frequency spectrum corrections from the mixing board, no stupid aberrations because of the limited fidelity of the microphones.

This sound was similar to so many other sounds, the sound of someone playing a musical instrument right in front of you, the sound of snow melting and hitting the ground at 7 in the morning, the sound of a stream rushing through to meet its river. It was fabulous.

So, intrigued by its simplicity and its mesmerizing sound, I brought it home. I took off the cardboard box and saw this amazing machine. I was so impressed by the completeness and inherent simplicity in the design. It was a mechanical contraption producing such a beautiful music. I had seen some of the integrated circuit based toys with recorded music on a chip. The music signals, mainly data (zeros and ones) converted to voltage signals which are converted to audible vibrations by another electromechanical assembly known as speakers.

But, this one was very different. There was no integrated circuit, no bits and bytes, no electrical requirements. On the top of that, the machine had recorded piece of music, around 20 seconds long. The music could be played again and again by a simple rotation of the lever. It was different from the rattle toys for kids, as the rattle toys emit a very repetitive random piece of sound. But, here was this machine which had an intelligent piece of music recorded on it. I am not sure if the word “recorded” would be the right one to describe those protruding dots, but I guess it would suffice.

Now, the design of the machine: The lever protruding out of the cardboard box controls a metallic drum with small bulging dots on the top of it. There is no seemingly fixed pattern of those dots. They seem to be haphazardly placed, no visible pattern. The small gear assembly between lever and the metallic drum is such that every complete clockwise rotation of the lever would rotate the drum by a few degrees. Thus, it would need a number of rotations of the lever, to completely rotate the drum by a complete cycle. The second part of the machine is a small metallic strip which is clamped opposite to the drum. The metallic strip facing the drum side, is divided into 18 small finer strips. The length of strips decreases as we go from left to right. The width of the strips is same as the diameter of those bulging dots. The strips nearly touch the drum, there is a very little space between the bulging dots of the drum and the end of those strips. Thus, whenever the drum moves, the protruding dots would subtly hit the strips, lifting them by a very small amount and the letting it go. This results in vibrations of one or more of those strips and thus resulting in the sound corresponding to that note. However, since each note and the sound produced by it is only a small part of a bigger melody. The melody can be heard by repetitive rotating of the drum, thus a series of notes can be heard. And that’s the music stored in the form of those protruding dots.

I have shown a basic schematic of the machine below. As one can see the metallic drum with musical notes written in the form of protruding dots. This is where the melody (music information) is stored. The metal strips of varying lengths are also shown. The longest strips correspond to the notes of low frequencies, while the frequency becomes higher and higher as the strips become shorter and shorter. The lever is used to rotate the cylinder, thus the protruding dots come in contact with the metal strips and produce music.

For the sake of comparison with the actual machine, I am including the picture of the actual machine itself.

One can see that this machine can be used to play any musical piece. I am still not able to identify the reason for precisely 18 metallic strips. One simple explanation for this could be the following: The human ear can not identify between the notes with small difference in the frequency, one can do with a small set of frequencies. Each of this frequency is called as a note. There are 5 basic signature notes, E A D G B. To make music richer one often includes intermediate notes like Eb etc. Thus music can be expressed in terms of these finite set of notes. Probably for this machine, this is the optimal number of notes. One can do a more deep research into the significance of the number 19.

The significance of this machine is in its autonomous and simple design. This was one of the early inventions of Thomas Alva Edison, which finally culminated in the design of the phonograph. The technology of recording and producing music has changed in leaps and bounds over the years. From this kind of metallic drum with bulging dots, to the engravings on a circular disk of metal, to replacement of the engravings by magnetic signatures on a LP record, to finally the finer optical engravings on CD’s with music being represented in a sequence of zeros and ones.

However, According to me this still would the most purest and elegant way of listening a piece of music. The reasons are plenty. If we look at the present technologies used to record and reproduce music. The quality is degraded at various steps. The mapping of a continuous waveform to discrete samples while digitizing music incurs what is known as quantization noise. The fidelity of music speakers also contributes to the degradation. There are lots of other factors like compression formats, encoding techniques etc.

When I was in college, I and my friends used to compare the quality of various headphones. Which one has got the best bass response? Which one’s can reproduce all the notes present in a Beethoven sonata? Which one is capable of reproducing even the feeblest sounds present in the music?

Now just imagine, there are no headphones, no encoding and no digital storage. Only the music in is purest form and your ears. Won’t it touch your soul!!

I was discussing this with a friend of mine that probably, if we were to leave some kind of a machine for the future generations, a machine that could last for millions of years, so if incase there is another ice age, we can pass on our music to them. This could be that machine.

If we draw parallels with mathematics one can simply view this machine containing the eigen vectors (the metallic strips) corresponding to different frequencies. The dots on the machines are corresponding magnitude values for those frequencies.

One can draw as many possible parallels. Isn’t it.

In the end, some open questions?

1. Can this kind of machine be used to store human voice? What would we need to change in the design of this machine? More metallic strips (more frequency components)? More detailed markings on the drum? A mechanism to control the speed of rotation (to control the tempo)?

2. Improvement in design for amplifying the sound? Including a hollow chamber to amplify the vibrations?

3. Can this machine be used as a simple educational model for kids? I bet that even in our age, if we analyze the details of it, we can understand and learn a great deal about physics. Isn’t it.

4. A mathematical model for this machine? Could be an interesting work?

5. Can different materials be used instead of metallic strips? What could be their physical limitations? (Length factors etc).

Monday, July 16, 2007


Lazy sunday afternoon
some melancholy tune
our bodies entangled
the souls entwined

T’was so warm outside
but more warmth in her arms
i could just hide myself
by her side

i love you, i said
she smiled, kissed
its your imagination
was all she did mention

a whiff of chaffed thoughts
as fragile as the autumn leaves
sitting on the grass
gazing at all who pass

my love’s one such leaf
waiting by the side of the cliff
to catch a glimpse of you
to touch you .... once...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Spit, Shit & Quit

I slipped in the bathroom and sprained my ankle and hit my head against the tub.

My girlfriend broke up with me in the morning.

The internship where I could have worked in summer got canceled.

I got ripped in the exams as the results indicate that I have to do another year.

I burnt my hand with oil while making lunch.

The coffee tastes shit.

The food is uneatable.

I feel fucked.

I can’t write music, songs.

No love, what a day! , Should I quit?

I tie my shoes, wear something, untie my hair and turn off the phone. I put on my headphones and come out in the sun.

Click, song 1. Lamb of God, laid to rest

Explosive drumming, pinch harmonics, slaps and pops on the bass, and it feels as if the lyrics are talking to you. It makes sense, YES it does. It says:

“If There Was A Single Day I Could Live,
A Single Breath I Could Take,
I'd Trade All The Others Away.

Smother Another Failure
Lay This To Rest

Console Yourself,
You're Better Alone,
Destroy Yourself,
See Who Gives A Fuck.

Absorb Yourself,
You're Better Alone,
Destroy Yourself.

The eyes lit up with a shine that never existed before. It’s like a stare, killing intriguing pointing stare, not at anyone else but you. You can’t see anything else but the road, and your feet. You can’t listen to anything else but music. The fine hairs at the back of the neck stand up. The spine suddenly feels a chill down there. There is a smile on the face.

A smile or a smirk? or a grin for that matter.

Suddenly it feels like living in another world altogether, where you can just say ‘fuck you’ and move ahead. The actions have no aftereffects. You don’t have to repent for anything you say or do.

Welcome to the world of heavy metal and rock music. It doesn’t judge you. It doesn’t criticize you. It always is there for you. It always makes sense.

Welcome to the world with no false pretensions. Where everything is so true and hard on your face, that it seems like you have found a new best friend. Something that talks to you and allow you to talk back. Allows you to discuss. It doesn’t have any prejudices nor does it shun your views. It makes you feel that your ideas, identity have some respect. They matter, they fucking matter.

I have been listening to this music actively since last 8 years and it has never let me down. It has been consistently stereotyped, dismissed and condemned. This music confronts what we often ignore, celebrates the things which we rather deny. It indulges in what we fear most. I have been defending this music since i was young. I do like other art forms, all other kinds of music, which makes me feel beautiful. Music which allows me to appreciate and love the beauty around me. Which adds to my vocabulary of emotions. Something which adds warmth to my feelings. Something which allows me to feel happy.

But, what about the other part of me. The other part of me which is evil. The other part of me which is so sick that just thinking about it can evoke suicidal tendencies. How do I live with this? How do I explain this which is in me, for that matter, (in all of us)?

What about vanity, jealousy.

What about unfair competition. What about the hatred generated from the media reports on war. What about the feeling when I saw a death happening in front of my eyes. What about when I see someone I love, fornicating with someone else.

What about that.

This music allows me to give a language to define these things. It tries to help me to find a solution. Sometimes, it tells me that the solution is not required at all. Let it harm you, you will learn.

Whenever I feel blue and I am choked, and I can’t write, and I can’t make music. I dig a small den, put on this music and forget about everything else. As headphones keep on blaring, I am immune to reality. I am immune to life. It’s the best anesthetic for all kinds of pain.

In the arms of it, I find love, warmth and comfort. I feel like cuddling and sleeping and never getting up.

Never Ever.

But one has to wake up. To worry about the girlfriend who broke up. To take care of the ankle which might be blue by now. To fix the exams, to fix the internship. To put some sugar in coffee. To put some silent butter on the olive bread.

One has to wake up to start up the actions again that might have shit repercussions, but who cares, as it would be another chance to dig a den, and look back at yourself.

It’s pretty hard, when someone tries to show the mirror back to you.

Isn’t it.



Tuesday, July 3, 2007

now you think i understand
she said, your truth, your lies
all my senses are spies
of your disgraced thoughts

pull me up close to you
she said, your warmth holds me
ramblings are untrue and sad
oh, you were right, my bad

last light as they say it is
find me a sun of my own
the heat of it makes me moan
strangelove seeds are being sown

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

some song..

It had been long time since i've written a song..
so wrote this love song.. (not so good, but still... its good to start with something again)

Key of E ... and 1 4m b3 b7

E Am in verse 1 2 and 3
G C in chorus

Verse 1

So cold is the spring air,
So clear is sky
Why don’t you come with me
And lets go fly…………………

Verse 2 ----------- to be written later


I just want to be with you
In this cold cold night
Please come, come back to me
I’ll hold you tight

Verse 1 again…

So cold is the spring air,
So clear is sky
Why don’t you come with me
And lets go fly…………………

some song..

It had been long time since i've written a song..
so wrote this love song.. (not so good, but still... its good to start with something again)

Verse 1.

E Am

So cold is the spring air,

E Am

So clear is sky

E Am

Why don’t you come with me

E Am.

And lets go fly…………………

Verse 2 ----------- to be written later



I just want to be with you


In this cold cold night


Please come, come back to me


I’ll hold you tight

Verse 1 again…

E Am

So cold is the spring air,

E Am

So clear is sky

E Am

Why don’t you come with me

E Am.

And lets go fly…………………

Friday, June 22, 2007


it splits and forms back again
the same, the same like before
just a little bit of warmth
and look, its ain't cinch no sore

A backyard old garage
small stinky bowels of squirrels
a small little old gramophone
oh, i want to listen records

listen , until it makes sense
so, i don't pretend to be you
someone else, like some rock star
or pretend to be shit