Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Evan, a software engineer at Jellyvison, had a CD release party at Schubas, for his self-released album, 'One Pair of Shoes.' He had a steady stream of guest performers join him on stage. His brothers, his neighbor, Thea, who used to work at Jellyvision (and plays with the band Let's Get Out of This Terrible Sandwich shop).

The album itself is good. He's been described as "a cross between Leonard Cohen and 'Weird Al' Yankovich" by the Onion and his ex-girlfriend's mother. That's a pretty apt description.

My favorite song on the album is 'Breaking Up,' a sort of cell phone break up song.

Evan: That's everybody's favorite. It's because my brother's girlfriend sings with me on it. She has a great voice.

She does. But I also really love the lyrics.

"We used to get along
Our signal once was strong
When I had four bars, you had four bars too
But now there's only static
Your voice comes through erratic
And I think I'm losing you
I'm losing you"

In improv we sometimes call that "mapping," taking the language of one thing and applying it to a different situation. It's really just another way of saying "extended metaphor." They're my favorite kind of scenes to do, because they involve word play but also open the door to talking about relationships.

That's why I love that song. It's funny to realize that the language of a cell phone connection "breaking up" can be related to a failing relationship. But it's also just the right kind of heartbreaking to hear a beautiful voice croon, "I'm losing you," and to know how that feels.

It works better as a song. Listen to it here.


Lacy said...

fantastic shot, Arnie. Really cool framing.

Shaun said...

I like how you use The Onion and Evan's ex-girlfriend's mother in the same sentence, like their reviews are equivalent in stature.

Arnie said...

I should also mention that near the end of his set, Evan brought out a Wii Guitar Hero controller that he had somehow programmed to actually play music. He used it to play a Shakira cover.

Pretty amazing. Even the other software engineers in the audience seemed impressed.

Buy his album.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure that's not Josh Groban in the picture?

Arnie said...

Here's what Lacy wrote about the show on her blog:

"My friend Evan packed Schuba's last night, then proceeded to charm the pants off everyone.

Evan: (exuberantly, between songs) THANKS! For all the CLAPPING!"

Arnie said...

Evan explained a little how he rigged his Guitar Hero controller to be used as a real musical instrument on his blog:

About a month ago, while utterly dominating ZZ Top on Guitar Hero, I got a dumb idea. Everyone loves Guitar Hero, right? How cool would it be to play a Guitar Hero guitar during a live show? Okay, bad question, but I intended to do it anyway. I couldn’t just play the game on stage, however. That would cross the very narrow line from geek-cool into Lamesville, USA, Population: The nerd playing Guitar Hero on stage. No, I’d have to play an actual song… so I did, and “Underneath Your Clothes” never sounded so dumb. The sound guy at Schubas seemed to get a kick out of it, though.

Several people have asked me how the dingus worked, so I will explain it below if you’re interested.

Wii controllers are actually bluetooth devices. Bluetooth is most commonly used for those wireless borg-esque cellphone ear-thingies but it can send other types of wireless signals as well. So the first step was getting a bluetooth receiver for my computer. (Thanks, eBay!)

I then found a little C# library written by Brian Peek that reads and processes the raw wireless signal from the Wii controller. It needed a little wrangling, but the software was soon reacting to button presses from the Guitar Hero controller.

The next step was to make those buttons do something. I figured out all the chords I would need to play the song and mapped them out to combinations of buttons on the controller as shown to the right. Single buttons were used for single notes and multiple buttons represented chords. I then recorded all of the guitar strums and plucks. The “up” strums were short and choppy, while the “down” strums were longer and more sustained. I did three versions of each sound so that repeated strums wouldn’t sound too, well, repeated.

Then, using the managed DirectSound library, the application plays the appropriate sound file based on the buttons that are being pressed, cycling to the next version each time a sound is played.

He has links to sound files and helpful other stuff to allow you to at least try to do it yourself over at his blog. Check it out here.