End of summer 2021

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Welcome everyone and also some new readers of this blog!

What happened on El Hierro since my previous post in December 2020?

We had a fresh spring 2021 here on El Hierro, plenty of rain after the long draught, with winds from the ocean and not much sun. All very welcome for the vegetation and agriculture, and especially of course in our garden. Our red banana tree started to flower for the first time and produced two hands of small red bananas. After some months its flower dropped and I cut the fruits. I let them ripen for some days in a plastic bag and then they were really, really delicious, better than any banana I ate before. The tree died but had produced its offspring: two new trees. Maybe they produce more next year.

But gradually the weather changed during the summer, it started to warm up, and with a calima now and then we had a nice time. Further in July and august after the ‘opening’ of the Canary Islands a lot of tourists, even more than last year, were disturbing the silence they are searching here…, what a controversy. Impossible for making recordings of weak sounds. But let’s leave the weather and the tourist (for now).

What progress did I make this year?

I have done a lot of technical activities and improvements but also some new musical experiments. The technical improvements are written below in some paragraphs, the other steps follow here.

Experimenting with the new natural and artificial sounds

Because I am also a local collaborator and observer of landslides in the new international AGEO project for geohazard risk management, I want to make sound recordings of landslides. They happen now and then near my house (on a save distance…) and when I am fast enough I can grab their interesting sounds. I use them to report the events to the AGEO website (with this recordings, some pictures and geological data) but I can also use them for my project here. They also are sounds of El Hierro…

I did some experiments with the landslide sounds and they look very promising (look at the video below the last paragraph). I have to capture more and different sounds. Of course I looked on the web for these kind of sounds but they seem rather artificial to me. I have to look further… or record them myself.

Also more artificial sounds become available to use in my program with Ableton Live. Especially the Spitfire Audio plugins (LABS) are promising but I have to find out how to combine them with the natural sounds.

Contact with a Belgian sound producer

A Belgian sound producer asked me if my program could be used in a nice theatre production, to be performed in Belgium and France. He showed me some videos and I was convinced I could contribute to his work by giving him a (limited) version of my program. I took some time to prepare my program to work for a short period of time and only on one dedicated machine. Unfortunately without any reason or notice the contact was stopped between him and me …

Here people say “Es lo que hay”, it is what it is…

The La Palma volcano

And since a month on La Palma, our neighbour island, a very dangerous eruption of a new volcano is happening. Many people lost their homes, their work, their fincas, their schools… Of course this is very interesting for scientists who are able to fly their drones over the fissures with boiling lava, do measurements and distribute their pictures often in real time on the local and international news pages like Eldia or ElPais. I am interested in the sounds that this phenomenon is producing, but I can only record the sounds here at home from internet, at a distance of some 80km. And brushing away the very fine ashes that fall from time to time around and even inside the house.

Currently I am experiencing with these sounds, although they are not from El Hierro.

Internal technical improvements

Experimenting with new sounds brought to light new shortcomings in my software that needed a solution. I made a lot of internal improvements, not visible from ‘outside’ but that are only emerging in special cases. It’s a long list that does not need to be published here. Sometimes they take a lot of time and investigation, but of course a lot of satisfaction if there is a positive result. Many improvements are audible under certain circumstances and that is very positive. Also the internal streamlining of the user interface kept me busy for a great deal of time. And there was a severe problem that caused the program to crash while quitting.

The contact with external users made me think about how to distribute this software without all the hassle of property rights and Apple stores, Github etc. I think a time limited version for a dedicated computer might be an optimal solution. That is now implemented. I hope this will work on Macs with higher versions than OSX Mojave, be it that I dont have these machines here… I have to look for further appropriate solutions once there is an interesting partner to collaborate with. Writing a manual is also something to keep in mind…

Distributing this software made me also puzzling how to make it run even on an ’empty’ machine. As I use several external libraries, these and their dependencies have to be incorporated in the final application, this is a tedious process. Deploying software like this often looks like building a pyramid in historical Egyptian times, many dependencies are handled by deployment tools, but other are all hand work and require a lot of tedious testing. Fortunately in these times for every problem, big or small, you can find solutions in blogs on the web.

But here some important steps I made.

Using an iPad as camera

Free software (as Reincubate’s Camo Studio) is available to use an iPad, connected via USB with the Macbook, as external camera. This is really nice because the quality of the iPad camera is much better and faster than the Facetime camera of the Macbook. I hope someday they have, as they promise, a version that works via WiFi, like Epocam in the past. This makes the performers more independent from the more fixed desktop apparatus.

Implemented the use of movies

I added the possibility in the software to use videos in addition to the webcam. This also gives a good idea how and when this program is functioning at its best. I discovered that the detection algorithms often can work much faster than I previously thought. The camera of my Macbook is often the limiting factor in the whole chain, especially in poor lighting conditions. I can speed up movies to much more than 30 fps (frames per second) without disturbing the detection, while the webcam’s maximum is often about 15 fps. See also the next paragraph on streaming.

Implemented the use of RTMP streams

Although I had implemented a mechanism to use the webcam of another mac in a local network as input, this is not a generic solution. So I investigated time to explore rtmp streaming. With this another computer with streaming software (as OBS) and a special rtmp server (as Local RTMP Server) can function as input for my program. This is true for local and external sources. With this method I have to take into account some latency but that is not always a big problem. It even opens the possibility of using more computers with my software connected to the same camara stream.

New stereo effect on samples

In Ableton Live the use of samples is very flexible and still I am experimenting with its possibilities. There were some restrictions in generating stereo effects using them in ‘the simple mode’: only the ‘pan’ of whole sample can be manipulated this way. This gives rather unwanted switches of the pan because the noisy nature of object and motion detection. Now I use within one track 51 copies of the same sound sample, each copy is connected to one note and one pan position. This effect causes a generated sound (note) to be heard on its own pan position, while other sounds from the same sample can be heard at other pan positions. This gives a much more real ‘picture’. I am experimenting with the sounds of the landslides, and the result sounds promising. Here is a new example where you can hear the stereo effect together wth the sound of landslides.

sound of landslides on El Hierro, 2021

This was the news for now, written on my 70th birthday. I hope to give more new examples soon.

By the way, if you meet people who are interested in this project, give them the webaddress of this site!