The Fungi from Yuggoth Project – Programmatic (and Problematic) Composition

I had never heard the phrase, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset” until I was listening to a lecture on poetry on CDs  with my son Jack. It made me think about this project of mine – creating an audio book of H.P. Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth. Not only was I recording my spoken version of it, but I was adding original soundtracks. And to put the cherry on this Geek Sundae, I was going to write code that would “render” the music for me.

The task was – and still is – daunting, and I’m uneasy about how it’s coming out. I can tell right now that more than half of this project will prove very difficult for a lot of people to listen to.

But you know what? To hell with it – this is fun for me…

My criterion for success is pretty simple: the project will be complete when all 36 poems are posted on Bandcamp.

The project consists of two versions of each poem – “compressed” and “uncompressed”. More on that later…

The music is created as the poem is typed. Each key pressed creates a note with a duration. Vowel keys and the space bar kick off samples or percussion instruments.

I’m using a programming language called ChucK for creating the music. I discovered the language while browsing for online classes at Coursera. The site had a class called “Introduction to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists”. If you’re interested in using programming to create music, I recommend this course – it’s well-organized and you learn something regardless of whether you start as a coder or a musician.

To use this language, you’ll need to install ChucK and its development environment, miniAudicle.
You can get them both here. I’m not going to get into the installation process – the ChucK website has a page devoted to that.

I use five scripts to create the music:

  • initialize.ck – this calls the master script, score.ck
  • score.ck – this calls three scripts needed to create and record the music
  • BPM.ck – this program defines Beats Per Minute (BPM) as well as named note durations (from whole note to 32nd note)
  • mechanical-typist.ck – this script is the heart of the music “rendering” system. It defines the rules and the instruments used. It also listens for the keyboard input that plays the instruments and effects.
  • rec-auto-stereo.ck – this is the recording script. It records until you shut off all the “Shreds” or pieces of code running in ChucK.

There is also a folder called “audio” containing all the audio samples used by the scripts.

Each of these scripts was based on either the examples used in the Coursera class or examples on the ChucK website.

I’m making  the files I used to create the music available as a zip file on my Google Drive, so feel free to play with them and create your own pieces.

Here’s an example of what a “rendered” composition sounds like:

I’ve taken these  initial renderings and done additional processing in Audacity.

Here are some examples of a “compressed” and “uncompressed” version of the poem, “Night-Gaunts”:

You may have noticed that the uncompressed version is significantly longer than the compressed version. I was initially at a loss for how best to present the poems. I didn’t want to use the rendered music solely as raw material – the rendering is the actual text of poem, just transformed into sound. Each rendering is a tone poem in a very literal sense.

That still doesn’t make it any easier to listen to, which is why I’m adding heavily processed version of the vocal track to the uncompressed pieces. As I progress in the project, I’ll think about what else, if anything , to add.

Stay tuned for more updates on the project!

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