Saturday, April 15, 2006


Over the past two weeks, I've been stealing small moments here and there to score an original piano piece (nothing new - a piece which was completed 8 years ago save for very minor tweaking) in a new package of software. The experience has been rewarding and revitalizing, and is one of the few even semi-creative works which can be done in such a halted fashion and in brief episodes.

The software in question is "LilyPond." This is actually a phenomenal front end to the LaTeX typesetting engine. Neither of these are intended for general audiences and take some time to work with well - programming knowledge of the PostScript standard helps too. A number of front-end GUIs are available for either, but being the geek I am I forewent these crutches and dove straight to the markup by hand.

I'm rather glad I did - though challenging, there was at least one issue I encountered that I don't think any of those front-ends could have coped with. As of last night at entirely too late an hour I finished transcribing the notation. I still have the articulation, dynamics, and other general expressions that I need to insert, and then crown it all with a few minor tweaks to the layout and non-musical content and it'll be ready for prime-time.

To clarify, I already had this music written down. Eight years ago I used an outmoded (even then) piece of software originally designed for Windows 3.x, and on my little Frankenstein laptop (a whopping 12mb RAM and a 540MB HD running a pre-release of Windows98) plunked through to at least get something down on the page. The results were somewhat cartoonish and unfortunately proprietary - I didn't have PDF rendering capability at the time. Eventually all that remained of the effort was an old inkjet print-out which is showing its wear. I have no idea what the current state of the laptop or its original contents is now - I handed the entire thing off to my tech buddy Mat. I doubt any of it survives to this date, but now I'm off topic.

I've taken that original print-out, and making several improvements to the quality of the original notation (some styles were changed previously to accommodate failings and conveniences in the software) have inserted it into the new source. The output is of higher quality, definitely more to my liking, and produces PDF by default making it much more likely to survive the digital advance.

I'll be showcasing the piece on my site once it has reached maturity. The current state of the project, which may or may not match the inarticulated state mentioned above, can be seen both in its source text file (with comments): or print-ready Acrobat document: Epic.pdf(341K).

Please save artistic criticisms for a different forum - I know the piece isn't for everyone and may have its issues. Here I'm still just geeking out about the technology behind it.

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