"Ah, that shows you the power of music, that magician of magicians, who lifts his wand and says his mysterious word and all things real pass away and the phantoms of your mind walk before you clothed in flesh."

Mark Twain - Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

The original "Songbird" was "Songbird Software", a company I started more than 25 years ago, when the MIDI standard was first implemented. Prior to that I had implemented programs to generate music on early home computers, the best of which was a program on a Commodore-64 that improvised the blues. I felt that the widespread adoption of the MIDI standard would create a huge demand for music software.

I was right. However, at least 40,000 other people had the same idea, and many of them had a lot more time, money, and marketing skill than I did.

I noodle around on keyboard and guitar. A few years back I built a clavichord from a kit, and I have been slowly working on a couple other instruments in my spare time -- You can see a picture of the painted soundboard of a harpsichord on this page.
. But progress is slow, and instrument making isn't my forte; a few years ago I bought a clavichord made by Gary Blaise, and I'm slowly learning to play it.

We have a Yamaha baby grand, a couple of clavichords, and an old DX-7 synthesizer. I have several guitars, including a wonderful old classical guitar made by Antonio Marin Montero, his 255th guitar, made in 1980.

Here's that guitar in a very lo-fi .wav file, of a Courant, by J S Bach (1.6MB).

And here's another file, an improvisation called, with sincere humbleness, "Kent's blues" (1.3MB)

One thing that MIDI allows you to do is to play weird things perfectly. I have created quite a few of these weird things -- I say "things", because they are not really music -- I think of them more as "sculptures in sound". Frequently they are generated by some mechanical algorithm -- for example, here's a piece that is generated from the source code to an encryption algorithm. It's called "rsa". [Actually, I wrote a program that will convert any text file to sound. This particular text has an aesthetic appropriateness I won't try to explain at this point. Anyone interested in the algorithm can view the source here.]

Sound sculptures can be based on music, but there is a subtle static quality about them that is hard to describe. Here, for example, is a partially complete version of an old Cole Porter Tune, "Love for Sale" (This was an exercise in a music generation language I called "aml", a pure text representation of music. The "source code" for the song is here. The aml compiler converts the text to a midi file, which I then converted to an ogg. Unfortunately, this was all done so long ago that I am no longer sure I could reconstruct what I did :-( .)

Here's a bit of algorithmically generated "music", called "y". You will need a bit of patience to listen to it.

I took piano lessons for a number of years, then decided to focus on the clavichord. I haven't had a teacher -- my pedagogical plan is to learn every keyboard piece by JS Bach, in approximate order of difficulty. I figure that all his children must have learned clavier technique on a clavichord, so the simple pieces he wrote must have worked on the clavichord. Common sense tells us, therefore, that as teaching pieces they would have had to be written with the characteristics of the clavichord in mind. Here's a couple of terrible recordings: bach 1 and bach 2. I think it's the Gary Blaise clavichord, because the tone is pretty clear, but I can't remember for sure. (These recordings were made several years ago). Clearly, I still have a very long way to go...