Got a New Toy

Santa Claus gave me some money, and I hadn’t bought a new
instrument for a while, so I gave Amazon $300 for an EWI-USB.

It’s a MIDI wind instrument controller that doesn’t have its own
battery or sounds, so it’s cheaper and lighter than serious wind
instrument controllers have been in the past.

My fantasy was that I would plug it in and immediately start
wailing away on Gershwin and Duke Ellington without having to buy
and learn to play a saxaphone or flugelhorn.

This hasn’t happened yet (I got it Wednesday afternoon) for two
reasons:

  • The fingering is called flute fingering, which is
    similar to recorder fingering and I did play modern flute for a
    while in high school. So I expected to just be able to pick it
    up. Within one octave I can, but to go into the next octave,
    you do a different thumb movement than on the recorder, and the
    fingerings, instead of being different for a couple of notes, go
    right back to being the same as the first octave. So using
    recorder fingering notation, and ignoring all the extra keys
    that are used for producing accidentals without forked
    fingerings, c is “2”, and D is “12345”. (With the thumb up on
    the next roller). I’m sure I can learn to do this eventually,
    but not yet.
  • I knew I was going to have to boot windows to run the
    software that came with it; what I didn’t know was that even
    when I did that, the software was going to be useless for
    playing anything. I think the name for what I hear when I load
    an instrument and play is “dropouts”. In any case, what happens
    is that several times a second, whatever sound is playing stops,
    so the effect is something like a vaguely pitched vacuum cleaner
    motor. If you listen real hard, you can tell the saxaphone
    vacuum cleaner from the tuba vacuum cleaner, but I don’t think
    anyone would be able to identify them from scratch. Or enjoy
    listening to Gershwin with those sounds. Note that no other
    MIDI synth I’ve tried, on either Windows or Linux, has this problem.

So what I’ve actually spent pieces of the last two days on is
figuring out how to load a soundfont from hammersounds into a LINUX
synthesizer and play it. I think I have that pretty much solved,
so the next thing is to figure out how to move the fingers. So it
will probably be a couple of weeks before it’s ready to amaze my
friends with. But maybe it will work out some day. And when it
does, it will be something I can join pickup rock bands with, if
the opportunity ever arises.

For the record, the LINUX setup is qjackctl; start jackd; start
qsynth; load soundfont if different from last time; connect qsynth
to EWI-USB in qjackctl connect window, alsa pane; select the
instrument you want in qsynth, and play. If you want to record
what you’re doing, you also start rosegarden. The default
connections may work here, or maybe you have to connect rosegarden
and qsynth. I have made this work, but I’m not yet playing well
enough to want to record it for posterity. But when I am, it will
be an alternate way to input music for transcription in lilypond.
(That’s another post.)

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