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!

The Fungi from Yuggoth Project – Origin Story

Why am I sitting at my desk, banging my head, trying to create a hard-to-make, hard-to-listen-to album of H.P. Lovecraft’s poetry?

For my peeps, that’s why.

Let me explain: I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of H.P. Lovecraft stories in both written and audio form for a few years now, and I started wondering whether there was some common ground between T.S. Eliot, Franz Kafka, and Lovecraft…but that is for another post.

Then one day I discovered that Lovecraft had written poetry as well as prose. The Fungi from Yuggoth consists of 36 sonnets and embody more or less the same elements of “cosmic horror” that run throughout his stories. There have been a few print editions of the poems, the most recent one was done in 2013 and is illustrated by D.M. Mitchell.

There have been a few audio recordings done as well. The most recent that I can find is from 2009  by Pixyblink & Rhea Tucanae. They used electronica soundtracks and soundscapes for background music to wonderful effect. I bought it, and I thoroughly enjoyed their version – but it only covered eleven of the 36 poems.

There are some older audio CDs of the complete set of sonnets – I found one by Colin Timothy Gagnon in the Internet Archive – and there are more than likely others. The poems are in the public domain, so there should be quite a few versions out there.

So I got this idea in my head to make my own version – and I was going to use my programming skills to create the music.

I also needed cheap birthday/Xmas gifts that were made from the heart…for my peeps…

For the sake of keeping this post short, here’s the high-level overview of what I hope to do:

  1. Create a program that turns a poem into a musical piece as it is typed.  I’m calling this the “rendered” part.
  2. Record the spoken version of each poem.
  3. Combine the rendered part with the spoken part.
  4. Perform additional audio processing (I’m using Audacity) .

As of this writing, I’ve already worked on ten of the poems. I’ll talk about how they came out in a later post.

Welcome to Intimate and Intricate

Hello, and welcome to Intimate and Intricate. I am your host, Bryant O’Hara.

This is a blog that will feature my thoughts about – and experiments in – science fiction poetry, music, programming, making, and the intersections of these subjects.

Currently I have a SoundCloud page where I post my music and poetry, and this blog will serve – at least initially – as a “behind the scenes” look at what goes into the making of the pieces. Going forward I hope to start describing what I’m doing as I do it.

I look forward to all feedback.

Hope you enjoy!