Archive for category Things To Listen To

The Impossible Journey (a song)


With The Terrible Trivium being a little too tedious for the judges’ tastes, The Quantifiers were eliminated from round 2 of SpinTunes #16, but the competition encourages ‘shadow’ entries from people not competing, so we wrote a song for the next round anyway. The challenge was:

Write an uplifting song to sing for a Graduation, Dedication, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Funeral, Baptism, or similar event.

We decided to continue writing songs about The Phantom Tollbooth. Joey came up with the idea of writing a song for the ceremony at the end of the book celebrating the protagonists’ rescue of Rhyme and Reason. I thought we could recap the events of the book in such a way that the lyrics could also be interpreted to be about any celebration of somebody’s hard-won achievements. Here’s the song we ended up with:

Here are the rest of the entries:

We got the challenge on Saturday morning (in my timezone), with the deadline being the following Sunday, and the next Thursday we were both flying to Minnesota for MarsCon 2020. Usually I start off by writing a full draft of the lyrics over the weekend, and then I sit back while Joey writes music for it, sings it, creates instrumentals, and mixes the recording. We didn’t want to take time out of MarsCon mixing a song, so I thought we’d probably end up recruiting some of the musicians at MarsCon to perform a live version.

Instead, while we were discussing it over videochat on Saturday morning, Joey immediately recorded a trumpet tune and sent it to me. That afternoon, I sent lyrics to that tune as a chorus, and suggested writing verses abstractly describing the things the characters had fought through. I planned to read the book on the plane so I could have the lyrics written by the time we met in Minnesota.

That night before I went to bed, I sent Joey a recording of myself singing a couple of possible lines for the verses, in a tune I’d made up based on the chorus tune. On Sunday evening, Joey sent back a recording of my chorus lyrics with extra trumpets, just as you hear it in the final song.

On Monday, I felt like I was way behind in my part of the song, so that evening, I skimmed through the book and wrote a line for each scene, unrhymed, and a final eight resonably rhymed lines about the scene where Rhyme and Reason were rescued. I arranged the unrhymed lines in quatrains with the fourth line of each a little shorter, and choruses between them.

By Tuesday morning, Joey had already recorded a great ‘quick and dirty’ version of the song, with more instrumentation than our previous songs had. It had fewer choruses than I’d imagined, and the last four rhymed lines were cut. I submitted that one as a ‘safety’ in case we didn’t manage to finish a better recording, but I also pointed out some small things which could be improved.

On Thursday morning, I got up at something like 4a.m to go to the airport, and Joey had sent an updated recording, so I quickly updated our Spintunes submission before getting ready to leave. That was our final entry, and I like it more than the songs we spent the full week on. I probably should have taken the time to fix the slightly shorter lines that were once at the ends of quatrains though — one of the judges commented on how they didn’t fit properly into the tune.

The final four lines, in case you are interested, were:

Your every action has a tiny effect
To never fail would be a sorrow
What one day seems useless will later effect
the wonderful secrets of tomorrow

‘The wonderful secrets of tomorrow’ being a direct quote from the book.

The prompt for the fourth round of Spintunes was:

Write a song about something that seemed a good idea at the time, but ended very badly. Maybe you should have given it a little more thought…

We did not submit a shadow for it, since we were busy on JoCo Cruise (and yes, we considered writing one about going on a cruise during a pandemic), but here are others’ entries:

The world was quite different when we got back to port, with all future cruises and many flights being cancelled, but as far as I know we all made it home, and nobody on our cruise had the virus. I’m now staying at home, like most of you, and uploading my 29 hours or so of JoCo Cruise videos — so far, the New Monkey Orientation and part of the first Red Team concert.  Subscribe to my channel if you want to see the rest, but be warned that there will be a lot of uploads over the coming months, so they might flood your recommendations or notifications.

And now for something completely different: I’ve also uploaded a guided tour of Space Shuttle orbiter Atlantis, recorded a few days before the cruise:

I recommend watching this immediately after the full pre-show video I uploaded earlier, if you haven’t seen that already. Joey and I also sang a few things at a song circle at MarsCon, but perhaps I’ll put those in a different post.

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The Terrible Trivium (another song!)


With Dining in Dictionopolis, Joey and I came eighth over all in Spintunes #16 round 1, and with all the rankings close to the extreme ends, were apparently Marmite for judges. This means The Quantifiers were indeed qualifiers, making it to round two of Spintunes #16, though we would probably have written a song for this round anyway. The challenge was:

Your lyrics must prominently feature counting. How and what you count is up to you – you can count up or down, by ones, fives, tens, logarithmically, exponentially; you can count steps in a process, miles in a journey, hours in a day…

Which seemed like an invitation to stay in the Phantom Tollbooth universe, and sing about Digitopolis. We ended up writing about a scene from after Milo has visited Digitopolis, in which a demon known as The Terrible Trivium engages the protagonists in easy but worthless tasks, in order to keep them from their goal. As before, I wrote most of the words (though Joey suggested the scene) and Joey did the music, most of the singing (I sang some additional vocals), and the arranging. Here’s the song:

Click through to see the lyrics or download the song for free. Milo ends up using the magic staff (a pencil) he got in Digitopolis to calculate that the tasks would take them 837 years to finish, so they escape thanks to the power of arithmetic, although that part didn’t make it into the song.

The rest of the songs submitted for this challenge are in this album:

Commenters at the listening party surmised that we would end up writing a Phantom Tollbooth musical, which is probably the case, although despite one person’s suggestion, it probably won’t be on ice.

The next challenge will be due while we’re at MarsCon, so rather than spending a lot of that time mixing a song, we might recruit some of the musicians there and record our song live. I’ve already put my copy of The Phantom Tollbooth in my carryon luggage.

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Dining in Dictionopolis (a song!)


Joey Marianer and I knew that it would be ridiculous to enter into SpinTunes #16, what with the deadlines for later rounds falling just after times when we’d be busy at MarsCon or on cruises, so obviously we entered. I’ve been passively following SpinTunes and its participants since before it even started, with its inspiration Masters of Song Fu, and this is the first time I’ve teamed up with someone musical enough to actually join in the fun. We called ourselves The Quantifiers, based on what we wore to MathsJam 2019, and filled in the rest of the entry form with the first things that came to mind. We continued to foolishly use the first things to come to mind as the contest started.

The first challenge was, “Write a song based on a scene from a book or movie”, so I thought of one of my favourite books which Joey has also read, and one of my favourite scenes from that book, and started coming up with lyric ideas while Joey was still asleep in another time zone. At some point Joey wrote some music and made a first recording while I was asleep. Joey also contributed lyric ideas, and I contributed music ideas (and one line of singing) but mostly the words are mine and the music and singing are Joey’s.

The book is The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, and if you like puns, you would love it. The song is about the scene where the protagonist, Milo, is invited to a banquet lunch with King Azaz the Unabridged, of Dictionopolis. As guest of honour, Milo must choose the menu, and he gets exactly what he asks for.

Click through to see the lyrics or download the song for free.

The rest of the songs submitted for this challenge are in this album:

I haven’t listened to them all yet, but I’m listening to them in the SpinTunes listening party right now and following along with the comments. The actual listening party for this round starts at around 53:10. The other songs have more instrumentation than ours, and it generally sounds like the artists have more experience with this kind of thing, which they do, but one commenter described our song as “A less trippy early Floyd”, so I’ll take it. I don’t know what possessed Joey to do this with me, but my main goals were to have fun making the song and make a few Phantom Tollbooth fans smile, and we did both. If this inspires you to reread the book, consider reading it in another language or in another version of English — I know there are a few sections that are noticeably different between the edition I have and the one my nemesis in the US has.

If you’re familiar with The Phantom Tollbooth, you might think it a bit weird for two people dressed as mathematical symbols to write a song based in Dictionopolis, but we’re both into maths and linguistics, so let’s just say I’m the Princess of Sweet Rhyme and Joey is the Princess of Pure Reason, although I believe this song was actually edited in Cubase.

Here’s hoping we have just as much fun in the next round, whether we’re still in the competition (in which case, The Quantifiers will be Qualifiers!) or we just decide to submit a shadow entry.

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I Love Your Body is a song again, and other news


Remember how I wrote a poem called I Love Your Body, and Joey Marianer sang it, and then I wrote another version/parody of the same poem? Well, Joey also sang that version:

In other news, I’ve recorded myself performing at open mics a few times lately, but I’m mostly focusing on uploading JoCo Cruise footage first. I did, however, upload this video of myself performing Mike Phirman‘s song Chicken Monkey Duck:

It’s always a crowd pleaser, and this video also pleased Mike Phirman himself, so that’s great. He deserves to be pleased!

I’m wearing an official Back to the Future hat that I bought from Universal Studios in the year 2015 (the future!) and some leggings made with Chicken Monkey Duck fabric designed by Jade Gordon specifically to go with the song.

On the subject of merchandise, I’ve made my They Might Not Be Giants poster available on Teechip, as that seems to give a better price and shipping than the other platforms it’s on. Ignore the ‘Last day to order’ warning; the campaign restarts automatically. But hey, do order soon if you want to get the poster soon. That’s how causality works, you see.

I’ve also finally started a Bandcamp page — everybody else is doing it, so why can’t I? Right now it just has my ‘Why I Perform at Open Mics‘ rap, but I intend to add many of the other recordings that have been either on The FuMP Sideshow or my long-neglected podcast, just as soon as I gather together lossless versions of everything. The podcast was a pain to update, and I think Bandcamp will be a much easier way for people to find and download all of my recordings.

I’ll also add the recording of They Might Not Be Giants I did for the poster video, and any further recordings of poems, raps, or robot choir or even human-choir songs that I happen to make. Some might feature my musical friends. Most, if not all, will be pay-what-you-like.  If you want to know as soon as I add anything, click the ‘Follow’ button on my shiny new bandcamp. Do you have a favourite poem of mine that you’d like a recording of? Let me know, and maybe I’ll make one.

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≥3 (a poem and song)


A while ago I wrote a poem about love, and how much more complicated it is than mathematics, and how the <​​3 heart symbol is a little oversimplified, or at least misleading to any mathematicians such as myself who come to believe that love is a strict inequality. I didn’t publish it here but I did perform it at my show in Café Concerto, while Johanna Van Tan improvised backing music:

I also performed it at A Bunch of Monkeys Read Some Stuff on JoCo Cruise 2017.

This is one of those poems that was always secretly a song in my head, so while we were on a train to Minneapolis I told Joey how the tune went, and when he was back in stationary accommodation he sang it to a slightly better tune:

So in a sense that’s two (which is less than three) musical versions of it! I can barely come up with anything coherent to say about this. ❤️

Here are the words:

Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Accessible’ and ‘Back to the Future Song’ as actual songs


I’ve been away in the Bay Area, on JoCo Cruise, on trains, and at MarsCon, and too many things have happened for one blog post, but here are a few of them. Just before the cruise, Joey Marianer sang ‘Accessible‘, my parody of James Blunt’s ‘Beautiful’ about accessibility:

Joey sang a few other songs of mine during and after the cruise, but I’m going to save them for other posts so that this one is less of a mish-mash. If you would like a preview of those along with a recap of other things I wrote that he sang, here’s a playlist.

But Joey is not the only person whose name starts with ‘Jo’ who has sung words that I wrote! A while ago, my friend Joseph sang ‘Back to the Future Song‘, my parody of Moxy Früvous’s ‘Gulf War Song‘ as part of his Patreon. Lately he’s been opening up older posts to be visible to non-patrons, so now you can also hear Joseph singing Back to the Future Song. I changed that one line that I didn’t like very much.

You can also hear the cover of Moxy Früvous’s ‘Downsizing’ which Joseph sang for me after I lost my last job. If you like these covers, check out some of his other covers, short stories and poems on patron, and become a patron; I’m sure he’d appreciate the support, and you, too, would be able to request things like this.

I’ll post a few more times to update you on some other cool things, and who knows, perhaps I’ll participate in National Poetry Writing Month again. As is usual at this time of year, I’m spending most of my free time lately uploading videos from the JoCo Cruise, so if you want me to entertain you in some way and you can’t wait for the next blog post, subscribe to me on YouTube to see my latest uploads.

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They Might Not Be Giants: now a song!


The other day I discovered that the ukuletrically charged Joey Marianer has once again set something I wrote to music! Truly, a Joey is an exciting kind of friend to have. (No, not a joey. Not everybody‘s got a baby kangaroo.) This time it’s They Might Not Be Giants.

On the subject of people who could conceivably be called Joey, and who make music, my friend Joseph will be singing a parody of a song I wrote on his patreon some time soon. I’m looking forward to it! If you support him on patreon you’ll see it as soon as it comes out — check out some of his recently-unlocked older posts to get an idea of what you’re in for. The patreon is his only source of income at the moment, so your contribution would mean a lot to him, as well as being good value for you.

On the subject of They Might Not Be Giants, I recited it at the MathsJam Annual Gathering last weekend. It was my first time at a MathsJam and it was great fun. At MathsJam, anyone can give a five-minute talk about anything mathematical, and newcomers were especially encouraged to, so I decided to present The Duel, a more mathematical poem than I would usually do at open mics. I even made some slides depicting what was going on. Eventually, though, I started to think The Duel wasn’t very good and I should do They Might Not Be Giants instead. After reciting both to a focus group of order two a few hours before my talk, I made the switch. With my remaining talk time, I showed some of the haiku I found in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics. It seemed to go down well. I had brought along a few of my posters in case people would be interested in them, and came back with none.

The rest of MathsJam was amazing, and I’m sure I’ll be back. There were all sorts of talks, including another mathematical poet, as well as magic, coin-floating, robotic cube-solving, juggling, puzzles, balloon animals, fancy yarn spinning, mathematical song parodies (I also sang Tom Lehrer’s Derivative Song for the people at the MathsJam Jam, since they hadn’t heard it), mathematical cakes, and a competition competition!

I won an origami double-stellated tetrahedron in a competition competition competition. It might not technically be a double-stellated tetrahedron, but the competition was to name it, and, inspired directly by the talk by the shape’s creator (Kathryn Taylor), that’s what I named it.

I was a bit worried that it was going to be a pain to get that home without damaging or losing it, since it would get crushed in my bag and I’m not used to carrying something in my hands constantly. At first it had a string or rubber band around it which had been used to tie it to the competition box, so I tied it to a belt hook. At some point it fell off and partly came apart, but I was having dinner with other MathsJam attendees at the time, and one of them knew enough modular origami to fix it (Kathryn had run a table devoted to modular origami on the Saturday night.) After that I held it by hand, until I realised that it could be suspended quite securely in the Acme Möbius scarf I was wearing.

I heard, repeatedly, that there’s a magazine called chalkdust which I should really be submitting some of my mathematical writing to, so I’ll do that. First, though, I will read the copies I picked up at MathsJam.

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Why I Perform at Open Mics (now a rap song!)


A few weeks ago Alfred Ladylike was a featured act at a special edition of Open Phil, an open mic I perform at regularly. She heard me perform my poem/rap ‘Why I Perform at Open Mics‘. Last week she performed in Vienna again, and we spent an evening at my place with a bottle of wine and a collection of fart noises (a combination I fartily recommend) producing this recording of it:

Feel free to download it! If there is interest, I could also put up a karaoke track so you can perform it at your own open mics. The backing track is Galaxy by Free Rap Beats | Hip-Hop Instrumentals. Sound effects are all from freesound.org, by IFartInUrGeneralDirection and others.

It will be featured on The FuMP Sideshow tomorrow. If you like funny songs, raps and occasional sketches, I recommend subscribing to The FuMP (a podcast which publishes a couple of free comedy songs every week) and The FuMP Sideshow (more of the same, but generally by more amateur-level comedy songwriters, like me. Given that this one was produced by an actual professional, perhaps I could have submitted it to the main FuMP, but I’m not that sure of my sh💩t yet.)

I thought about adding a donation button (mainly because WordPress told me I could) but I have some decent freelance work right now so I’d feel weird about asking for donations. Maybe buy something if you really want to encourage me. And if you really like this track’s production value, head to Alfred Ladylike’s or her band Donut Heart’s bandcamp, and throw a dollar in her general direction.

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Better (Robot-to-Human version)


I’ve been thinking of getting my robot choir (an app I wrote to make my Mac’s speech synthesis sing) to sing Jonathan Coulton covers for a while, but as many of his songs involve robots, singing them with a robot voice forces a change of perspective. I rewrote Better to be from the perspective of a robot whose partner is becoming human, rather than a human whose partner is becoming a robot. Here‘s a rough recording of it using the Trinoids voice and the karaoke file for the song:

Here are the lyrics:

Where did we go?
When was the moment that we came unplugged?
I think I know.
In fact I am sure ’cause I’ve had your chips bugged.

I remember the first big surprise,
the day you came home with your infant-bred eyes.
I looked inside them and lased you a note
but your return signal was smoke.

But it’s not smoke, it’s fire,
and your burning desire
to turn into something
that I don’t require.
You used to be OK
and I liked you that way,
but I don’t think that I like you better.
No I don’t think that I like you better.

Started out small:
some lungs and a heart and your lasers unwired.
Now you’re just six feet tall.
Even when fully charged your organics get tired.
And I’m tired of the evenings I spend
making small talk with your new human friends
and their stupid insistence on blocking my lasers
when they know I know the three laws.

And you climbed the wrong way out
of the uncanny gorge.
You went from bad data
to bad Geordi La Forge.
You used to be OK
and I liked you that way,
but I don’t think that I like you better.
No I don’t think that I like you better.

So that’s how it goes.
Tap my interface once if you still understand.
No data flows.
Wait, are your digits just five on your hand?
I can tell by your insider art
There’s more than a pump in your chimpanzee heart.
I tried to reason, but something’s gone wrong.
Why am I singing a song?

Well, I like to think different, but it’s not quite the same.
If this is a trojan, I know who to blame.
You used to be flawless; now you’re F-ing lawless,
and I don’t think that I like you better.
No I don’t think that I like you better.

Some lines stay close to the original when I perhaps should have struck out and gone with something completely different. If you have any suggestions, let me know; the beauty of robots is I can change the words and make a new recording in seconds.

The tune is based on Spektugalo’s UltraStar file for that song. I had to make some changes to the robot choir to handle the one-beat gaps between notes, and I made a few tweaks to timing after that, which probably messed up more than they fixed. When I started writing this parody, I assumed I had the source tracks of the original song to work with, but it turns out that song is not on JoCo Looks Back, so all I have is the karaoke version with some backing vocals. I’ve turned the volume of my vocals way up, both so they’re easier to understand and to obscure the backing vocals more when the lyrics are not the same. Consider this a demo.

Now that I have the tune done, I’ll probably record the original song and my entitled hipster parody of it soon. Maybe not too soon, though; I have a cruise to go on!

On the subject of cruises, I’ve just had some copies of my They Might Not Be Giants poster printed, and I’ll bring them with me on JoCo Cruise Crazy. If you are going on the cruise (or will just be in the area the night before) and you would like to buy one from me for less than it would cost through Zazzle, let me know and I’ll make sure I bring one for you. I can’t sell them on board the ship due to the cruise line needing a cut, but I can do so at the hotel before the cruise, the cruise port or airport after, or we can work out some kind of trade involving upcharged food or drink on the ship. They are A3 sized (just a tiny bit smaller than 11×17 inches) and printed beautifully on 300gsm silk-coated paper.

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Recording: Te Harinui


When Europeans colonised New Zealand, they brought not only mammals to drive many of the native birds to extinction, but also their religion to exterminate the native theodiversity. This began with Reverend Samuel Marsden on Christmas Day 1814, and there is a Christmas carol about it called Te Harinui. Since it just turned Christmas day about an hour ago in New Zealand, here‘s a recording of Te Harinui I just made.

It’s sung by the voice Vicki from my robot choir (an app I wrote to make my Mac sing using the built-in speech synthesis.) It has a couple of little glitches, and I couldn’t get it to pronounce the Māori words exactly right, but otherwise, I think this is the best Vicki has ever sounded. Usually I switch to Victoria because Vicki’s singing sounds weird. I made a couple of tweaks to the time allocated to consonants, and I think they helped. I used the music in the New Zealand Folk Song page, with a few small changes to the ‘glad tidings’ line to make it sound more like how I remember it.

You can see the effect of widespread hemispherism in the fact that the song opens by saying it isn’t snowy, as if being snowy were the default state and any deviation from it must be called out.

Now, I must get some good Christmas sleep.

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