Introducing Grease

Something that has really bothered me about software music players out there is just how poor their performance is.  Whether it’s iTunes or Songbird or even Foobar, it seems like I would wait forever for them to start up and run through all the things they need to do.  So I decided to do something about it.  I built my own music player that I’ve been calling “Grease”.

As I was thinking about this, I thought about how exactly I use these mp3 players.  Usually, I just pull them up and have them play random songs from my library.

I decided that this is *all* Grease would do.  Embracing the Unix philosophy of “Do one thing well” as inspired by onethingwell I set to work.grease

After a few hours,  I had something I was able to start using personally, and after some polish, it’s ready for it’s first general release.  I’m calling this somewhere between “Alpha” and “Beta” quality.  There are still some issues, but I thought I would release it to see what the response is.

How to use Grease:

  1. Click on the folder to select a folder full of mp3’s.
  2. Grease recursively walks through that directory finding any MP3’s (and m4a’s).
  3. Click play, and enjoy.

It will remember your directory, so you don’t need to select it every time.  It will load up your music files on startup the next time you open Grease.

I definitely wanted keyboard short cuts, so here they are:

Space-bar: Play toggle
Left arrow: go back a song
Right Arrow: skip to the next song
Down arrow: volume down.
Up arrow: volume up.

That’s all there is to it.  It’s a WPF application, and I’ve only tested it on Windows 7.  If you try it out, please let me know what you think!

It doesn’t require installation.  You can just unzip the binaries and run them.  The source code is on github if you’re interested in that.

Grease: Source Code | Binary Zip

EDIT: I have discovered a bug where keyboard short cuts don’t work after clicking the folder icon.  I’m not sure why this is, but if you restart the application, the shortcuts will once again work.

Summer Road Trip

Yesterday I learned the importance of having paper maps instead of only electron maps that depend on cellular networks to download data.

Two days ago, my sister and I attended an event that some of my musical colleagues consider heretical (in a kind sense, I think).  What was this event?  The Drums of Summer, in Broken Arrow, OK. It’s part of the Drum Corps International (or DCI) summer tour.  It’s a competition for drum and bugle corps comprised mostly of college students.  Put another way, it’s hardcore marching band.

It was amazing.

This was the first time I’ve ever seen a DCI World Class-level corp, and I was not disappointed. The music, sound, technique, and showmanship made this one of the most entertaining musical events I’ve ever attended.  Imagine a human kaleidoscope that creates it’s own music and is executed with pin point precision both visually and musically, and you will begin to approach the drum corp experience.  I’m already looking forward to the next time I can attend one of these events.

The trip down to Broken Arrow was pretty much without incident.  The roads were clear, and we made excellent time, Oklahoma’s insane way of showing road construction signs aside.  The trip back, however, proved much more trying.

It started with a trip to Goodyear in Broken Arrow, and three new tires on my car.  A few hours (and a few hundred dollars later), and we were finally ready to leave.  I wasn’t very familiar with the area, and followed the signs, only to discover I had entered a turnpike with no immediate exits, going south, when I was supposed to go north.  Getting off at the first available exit, I was over 50 miles away from where I was supposed to be.  This set the theme for the trip back.

There was an unbelievable amount of problems I encountered as I neared Warrensburg, MO, where I was going to drop off my sister.  The first route I chose took me out of cell phone range where I discovered the highway was completely closed.  I had no choice buck to back track several miles and head north.  This route nearly had the same thing happen, as the state highway ended abruptly.  Luckily, the road continued, however, and I was able to find a connection to another state highway.

Once we got into Warrensburg, I had visions of a quick trip through town.  It’s not very big, and I thought there would be no issues.  But it was not to be.  A fatal vehicle accident earlier in the day blocked off the road, forcing me to return to the high way and find another route.  Once I finally got back on track, a funeral procession pulled out in front of me, holding us up again.  After the funeral procession, we came to an intersection that had a traffic light that had been plowed over, stopping traffic again.  Finally, I routed us around all that, and made it to our destination.  Total added time: nearly three hours.  When I finally arrived back home to my apartment, I felt very relieved.

Some might say that this series of unfortunate events was retribution by Apollo for my musical heresy.  Since I like to play up the Odyssey-esque journey back home, this explanation is not without appeal.  Over-all though, it was a great trip, and I’m very happy I went.

Where was I Eight Years Ago?

Today is google’s tenth birthday, and as part of the celebration, they’ve made their search index from January 2001 available.  It is very interesting to go through and see the results for some terms.  The comments at reddit cover quite a bit.  I played with it for a few minutes, and then decided to google myself.  Sharing a name with an Actor tends to put a crimp in my google ranking, but never the less I discovered something associated with me on only the second page: My Young Composers entry.  I was surprised that it was even still available.

The page contains a picture of me from my Junior year in high school, and two musical compositions that I was working on during that time period, both of which has been lost to time.  Variations was my major opus for the year, but it’s the other work “Song” that I was really interested in.  “Song” is the title of a John Donne poem.  As part of my Music Theory I class, I had set the first verse to music.  The file is a midi representation of the Finale Music file.

What’s interesting about this work is that I did not stop working on “Song.”  Over the next several months, I set the rest of the poem to music, transcribed it into a different notation program (Sibelius), and entered it into a composition contest being sponsored by SMSU.  To my astonishment, I was selected as a finalist, and had my composition performed by the SMSU choir.  There was some drama about this, as the letter that informed me of this had sat on a desk unnoticed for several weeks while I wondered when I was ever going to hear anything.  Luckily, it was discovered before the performance.

I walked into the performance nervously with my family.  In the hallways, I started to relax though, as I walked by actual choir members rehearsing my music.  This was actually happening!  It was a feeling I cannot forget.  I sat in the back and suffered through the first performance of the night.  It was some unaccompanied solo oboe piece that gave me a serious headache.  Then the choir marched out and began singing.  The experience was overwhelming.

The final piece was a work for wind ensemble.  As soon as they started playing, I began to doubt if I would win.  The piece was really great.  When they finished, the judges conferred.

A side note:  If you click on my Young Composers Entry, you’ll see that one of my favorite compoers at the time was David Holsinger.  Holsinger held demi-god status to me.  I bought his CD’s, jumped at opportunities to play his music.  I kept hoping he would come out with a Euphonium Solo I could perform.  As it turns out, Holsinger had been tapped by SMSU to judge this composition contest.  My composition was being performed for my contemporary musical hero.  Could this night have gotten any better?  Well, yeah, if I won.

The judges returned and announced their decision.  The Wind Ensemble piece won the prize.  I can’t remember what the prize was; it just wasn’t important to me.  The big thing was that the piece was being performed by actual people.  Nothing was said about 2nd or 3rd place.  The event was over, and it was time to go.  My band teacher had come for the performance, as well as my Music Theory teacher (who was also the choir teacher).  At the time, I had no idea what to feel, but they both shook my hand.  A number of people in the audience did, but I was still feeling a bit overwhelmed and numb.

Suddenly, I found myself in a bear hug, then being dragged off over to the side.  As I came to my senses, I looked to see who it was:  David Holsinger.  I blinked, not really understanding what was going on.  He had a thing or two to say to me.  He didn’t want me to feel bad about the outcome at all.  He felt the piece had been incredible and demonstrated a lot of talent.  There were a few things that I could do to improve the piece (check the range of the soprano part, for example).  I was nodding my head, thanking him, and wondering if I could ask for an autograph.  I never did ask for his autograph.

In the following months until I graduated High School, there was some talk about getting the music published, but I never looked into it seriously.  Perhaps I should have.  I started school in the fall at the UMKC Conservatory of Music, but I haven’t finished a serious composition since I wrote “Song” (later, I renamed it to reflect the first line of the poem – “Sweetest Love I do no Go”).  I’ve started several, but haven’t finished them.  Well, that’s ignoring were silly things like putting “Green Eggs and Ham” to music.  I’ve done a few arrangements, but nothing too serious.  Going to the conservatory really burned me out on music.  I finished my degree in it, but it got to the point where I couldn’t stand it for a while.

Never-the-less, that night is one of my proudest achievements.

Brass Band Concert

Last night, I went back to my old stomping ground and attended a concert by the Fountain City Brass Band. It was a very good decision to make. This band is crazy good, and listening to them live is auditory bliss. They played the program they performed in their tour of the other side of the pond, which they completed last June. They are the highest placing American Brass Band ever in the British Brass Band Championships. After hearing them, I can only imagine what the best over there might be like.

The highlight of the evening for me was a performance of Sparke’s “Music of the Spheres.” It’s a great piece, but must be a real chop buster. The last minute and a half, I just had to laugh. The technical virtuosity required borders on the absurd. Sparke said about this piece that he feels like it presses brass bands about as far as possible, and it’s easy to see why. This piece is a must hear at some point.