In the Mood to DASH, Reloaded! (Updated 2015/08/04)

Aiyumi -

I'd already talked here on the blog about my interest in the Rockman DASH series (known as Mega Man Legends in the West), which unfortunately had its third game canceled and left its fans craving for more. Capcom hasn't shown any interest in continuing the series, but a few days ago, a light at the end of the tunnel came from somewhere else. Comcept, the company founded by Keiji Inafune (Rockman / Mega Man series' creator, who had left Capcom) launched a project to create a series that will become the spiritual successor to DASH/Legends. The project is called "RED ASH."

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Rockman DASH - "We are the Three Bonne Brothers" Violin Arrangements

Aiyumi -

Those who have read my other posts probably noticed that I'm currently obsessed with violins. It turns out that I couldn't resist and, in march of 2015, I began taking lessons to learn to play the real thing!

Three months have passed, and I continue my arrangements of the song "We Are the Three Bonne Brothers" from Rockman DASH/Mega Man Legends. Today I bring a few more versions, this time with violins, both the virtual one and the real one!

These where made for my fan fiction, "Trigger of Change," where the Servbots learn to play the violin. The piano is the same as the "Marimbonnes" version.

First, the virtual one, made with the Embertone Friedlander Violin VST.

Download/listen: bonnes-fvl01.ogg (OpenDrive) | bonnes-fvl01.mp3 (4shared)

And this is my attempt at playing it with a real violin. Warning: beginner level playing (just three months of taking weekly lessons), and the intonation is still quite off. Also, it's my first time trying to record an acoustic instrument (recorded with a Zoom H4n portable recorder).

Download/listen: bonnes-realviolin01.ogg (OpenDrive) | bonnes-realviolin01.mp3 (4shared)

Three violins version: until I arrived at the final result above, I had to record the song over twenty times! I didn't want so many takes to go to waste, so I selected the better three of my recording (mis)takes and glued them together. The result is a trio of clumsy and out of tune Servbots.

Download/listen: bonnes-threeviolins01.ogg (OpenDrive) | bonnes-threeviolins01.mp3 (4shared)

Three violins + Friedlander Violin version: the "trio" above playing along with the virtual one.

Download/listen: bonnes-threeviolins-and-fvl01.ogg (OpenDrive) | bonnes-threeviolins-and-fvl01.mp3 (4shared)

Rockman DASH - "We are the Three Bonne Brothers" Keyboard Arrangements

Aiyumi -

These are my keyboard arrangements of the song "We are the Three Bonne Brothers", also known as the theme song for the Bonnes, the charismatic air pirates from the Rockman DASH/Mega Man Legends series. Performed and recorded on a Yamaha Motif XF keyboard.

Download/listen:

Piano and flute version (shorter): bonne-brothers01.ogg (OpenDrive) | bonne-brothers01.mp3 (4shared)

Piano and flute version (longer): bonne-brothers02.ogg (OpenDrive) | bonne-brothers02.mp3 (4shared)

Update (2015/04/17): piano and marimba version: marimbonnes01.ogg (OpenDrive) | marimbonnes01.mp3 (4shared)

Gossec Gavotte - Friedlander Violin Cover

Aiyumi -

In my previous post, I wrote how I chose the Embertone Friedlander Violin virtual instrument to try to fill my violin sound needs, and how I got it to run on Linux. I'm feeling like the protagonist of the anime/game series Kin'iro no Corda (also known as La Corda d'Oro), who is given a magical violin that anyone can play! To "celebrate," I decided to make arrangements of the music featured in the series (mostly classical music), and today I bring you my first one: the "Gavotte" by François Joseph Gossec.

Download/listen: OGG (OpenDrive) | MP3 (4shared) | Youtube

Virtual Violins

Aiyumi -

Many times, I thought, "Ah, maybe this song would sound nice if played with a violin" and when I tried to reproduce the idea with my keyboard, it was disappointing. Partly because I don't play very well :P, and also because the violin sounds of the keyboard are horrible. Wondering if the problem was only with my instrument or was common to keyboards in general, I decided to check the state of the sampled solo violin sounds available.

Commercial Sample Libraries

I'm not a specialist by any means, but I found most of the commercial solo violin samples to be very disappointing. Even the ones from extremely expensive sound libraries (over 1000 dollars) leave much to be desired in my opinion. To me, they are so bad that it bothers me. No matter how simple the played part is, the timbre isn't smooth. It's weird, as if something was missing from the sound. And it isn't even the obvious lack of emotion (of course there's that too, but that's another story), it's something else. I don't know how to explain it.

Among the demos that I heard are:

Free Sample Libraries

From the free options, I found the collection of violin samples from Philharmony.co.uk. These have various articulations, but are in MP3 format, meaning that they suffer from quality loss, so they aren't suitable to be used for anything too serious. Another disadvantage is the license, which disallows distribution of the samples (be it for free or otherwise) the samples individually or in the form of "virtual instruments" (for example, you can't create a SF2 or SFZ file from them and put it for download). The license allows use of the samples in commercial works, but with the quality loss caused by the MP3 compression, who's going to do that anyway?

There're also these and these (recorded in 2012 and a bit better) samples from the University of Iowa. They are also in AIF format, include various articulations and, unlike the previous ones, they can be used without restrictions. The problems are that the notes aren't separated into individual files, and specially in the first version, several of them aren't sustained steadily or have a bit "scratchy" sound...

Finally, there are the violin samples by Ldk1609. To be honest, I think that these have a better timbre than the commercial libraries mentioned. They are in AIF format, so it's possible to convert them to WAV, create an SFZ file (an open sound library format) to map the audio files to MIDI notes and use, for example, in LinuxSampler, and it seems that work for creating a SFZ is ongoing.

And (just for sake of completeness) there's Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra, available in SFZ format. Actually, it's a collection of free orchestral instrument sound samples. The solo violins are the same free ones mentioned previously, but unfortunately they are drenshed in reverb (urgh)...

Embertone Friedlander Violin

This is a commercial library that I found when I wasn't looking for virtual violins. I was reading a thread while searching for something unrelated, and it mentioned this library. The thread had no link to the official page, but I decided to see if there was any demo on Youtube. I found this video demonstrating the features and also these official videos. I loved the sound right away. I thought, "A good instrument like this one probably costs thousands of dollars!" Google brought me the official website and I was stunned after listening to the demos... And checking the price... less than $150...! I wanted it so badly! What held me from buying it was the fact that it is an instrument for Kontakt (also compatible with the free version, Kontakt Player). The problem is that I googled about running Kontakt 5 on Linux and found nothing.

About a year later, by mid-2014, a thread appeared on the Linux-audio-user mailing list about recommendations of orchestral sounds on Linux, where one of the members said that he used Kontakt instruments on Linux via Wine. So I asked for more information and decided to try. Right at that time, an update and a sale for the Friedlander Violin came about, and I decided it was time and purchased it!

Soon, I was faced with an obstacle. Downloading the program required the use of a proprietary download manager app called Continuata Connect, where you enter the serial code gotten when purchasing the product and the software brings the files from that code (the direct links don't appear, meaning that the download can't be done via browser, Wget, Curl, ...). I tried running Continuata on Wine. It only ran in Windows XP mode. If I set Wine to "Windows 7," the program didn't even run and said that it had encountered a serious problem and couldn't start. The program ran with Wine disguised as XP, but that wasn't enough. It didn't work properly. The download always hung, the file parts got corrupted and deleted, then everything started all over again. In the end, I ended up installing the Continuata thing on my Windows partition just to download the library, and it worked with no problems on Windows (miracles happen :P). I moved the downloaded files to the Linux partition soon after, though. I don't know what causes this problem under Wine, but after a little research, I found out that other virtual instrument developers provide direct links to users who have problems with Continuata, or that can't download for whatever reason. I don't know if Embertone also does this. I didn't ask them since I had already downloaded everything, but it may be worth asking.

Kontakt Player installed on Wine just fine. I had some trouble setting Kontakt up, but it was related to my screen reader (software that speaks all the text on the screen, mostly used by visually impaired people to access the computer) taking over the soundcard and ALSA. People with standard setups (I.E. almost everyone else) probably won't run into this problem (but if you want more details, you can read everything that happened on this thread on the Linux-Audio-User mailing list).

The instrument is a "Powered by Kontakt Player" library, and needs to be registered through the "Add Library" button. This button is also present in Kontakt's VST interface, but it doesn't work (it prompts you for choosing the directory where the library is installed, but gives a "No library found" error. I don't know if that also happens on Windows). You must use the standalone Kontakt to add and activate the library (you need to do it just once). After added and activated though, the instrument also appears in the VST interface and works normally. I can use it with Dssi-VST and record the output in Ecasound with no problems.

Conclusion

In the beginning, I was afraid of buying the Friedlander Violin, then not being able to make it work. If that happened, my last resort would be to use it on Windows, like I'm doing with VOCALOID. Fortunately, everything worked out and I can use it on Linux, which is my preferred environment. As always, there's a catch. Kontakt isn't accessible at all (completely incompatible with screen readers), even on Windows! This means that I'd need sighted help to use it either way. Even so, for me, it was worth it. The sound is as good as I thought it would be, and my search for a decent virtual violin is finally over! If I need more than that, the next step is learning how to play the real thing! ... But that's another story...

Just a final note: Embertone just released a free library for Kontakt Player, which includes, among other things, a demo of the Friedlander Violin! It will be available for a limited time (I don't know for how long), but for those who want to test this virtual violin, this is a good chance! I downloaded the library, because I want to check out the other sounds it has. And this time, the download is a direct link. Here's the link to the newsletter with the release announcement, and the product page. Good luck!

In the Mood to DASH!

Aiyumi -

I began revisiting the Rockman DASH (Mega Man Legends) series, watching (read "listening") some playthroughs and cutscenes to refresh my memory (I don't have the games anymore), trying to finally understand the plot. I didn't know enough of either Japanese or English to be able to grasp it at the time I played, which was some 12 years ago. Turns out that I can't fully figure it out even now :P. I have the impression that the second game (the one with the major plot points) felt a bit rushed, some important things are mentioned only in passing and aren't expanded anywhere. After the cancellation of DASH/Legends 3, it's unlikely that we'll be seeing these answers anytime soon. I also noticed differences between the dialogue from the English version and the original Japanese (inconsistencies in the translation/usage of names and terms) which may affect how we view a characters personality, as well as parts of the plot itself.

Aside from that, I still think it's a good plot, albeit a bit confusing and full of unexplored potential. That calls to one thing: fan fiction!

After checking the playthroughs, then reading a few discussions and fan fictions to see how other people interpret the plot, I was inspired to write my own fanfic, intitled "Trigger of Change". And like I did with my Pokemon fic, I began making Japanese anime style audio dramas out of it. This prompted the creation of a new Rockman section on the site, with the page for the audio dramas here.

To conclude this post, I leave you with my VOCALOID cover of "Anata no Kaze ga Fuku Kara", the ending song to the first game. Enjoy!

Download/listen: OGG (OpenDrive) | MP3 (4shared) | Youtube

Aiyumi, DASHing off!

Accessibility, and How I Began Using VOCALOID

Aiyumi -

What is VOCALOID?

It's something that became quite popular in the last few years, but I had no idea of what it was until 2011. I just knew it had to do with music, and for a while I had thought it was the name of a band (hahahaha)! But no. VOCALOID is a singing synthesis software, paid and proprietary, whose engine is developed by Yamaha. The voices are provided by real people, mostly actors or singers. Each voice is represented by a character. The most popular one is Hatsune Miku (I don't like her very much) but there are many others. VOCALOID runs on Windows and Mac.

For detailed information on all VOCALOID voicebanks available, visit the VOCALOID Wiki (which explains all this much better than me :P).

Examples of songs with VOCALOID:

UTAU

UTAU (meaning "to sing" in Japanese), is the name of another singing synthesis program, however it was developed by a fan. It's also proprietary, but is free (technically it's a shareware, but one of the few "advantages" of paying are just some interface improvements and maybe access to earlier test versions before the "general public", but it works for free with no problems). The voices are also provided by real people, with the difference that anyone can record his/her own voice and put it in the program without relying on contracts, studios and professional singers. So it has much more available voicebanks than VOCALOID, but the downside is that the quality varies greatly depending on the recording quality, the voicebank settings, the intonation and the pronunciation of the person who made the recording. UTAU has a version for Windows, and also one for Mac called UTAU Synth.

Examples of songs with UTAU:

To learn more about UTAU, check out the UTAU Wiki.

Soon I began wanting to use the programs to make my own covers, and that was when the problems started.

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The Power of SlackBuilds

Aiyumi -

I love SlackBuilds, the scripts to compile programs and create packages for Slackware. I was amazed after reading a great article explaining the advantages of using SlackBuilds VS. manually compiling with "./configure && make && make install". Unfortunately, the page is gone (it was the site of a Slackware based Brazilian distro called GoblinX, which then became ImagineOS but sadly stopped being updated).

The other day, I got a message from a person trying to use my scripts for installing Orca on Slackware (which I updated to work with 14.1, by the way!), with doubts about SlackBuilds in general. So I decided to explain, and this was the answer I gave him:

Basically, a SlackBuild is just a Shell script that sets some common variables (like which architecture your machine is), applies some patches if needed, and specifies which options to pass to "./configure" (like telling we'd like the binaries installed in "/usr/bin" and the libraries in "/usr/lib", instead of "/usr/local/bin" and "/usr/local/lib" which are usually the defaults if you don't specify it in "./configure"). It copies the documentation files to the appropriate places, compiles the program, then packages everything into a ".tgz" or ".txz" (if you use, for example, "tar -tf packagename.tgz" to view its contents, you'll notice that it's like the directory structure of your filesystem, with "usr/bin" etc., compressed with Tar and Gzip). These packages are very easy to install with "installpkg". When a package is installed, a file with the name of the package minus the ".t?z" extension is put in "/var/log/packages" listing all files that were installed with that program. And (one of the things I like the most), they're also very easy to uninstall with "removepkg". If the program was compiled with just "./configure && make && make install" manually without the SlackBuild (therefore not packaged and not tracked in "/var/log/packages"), it's much harder to know which files were installed where, and for removing them, the easiest way is to go to the directory with the program's source (having to download the source code again if we don't have it anymore, do "./configure" with the same options we used to install it the first time - if we remember what was passed, that is :P - to generate the makefile again), then use "make uninstall" (and guess what? Not every program with "make install" also has the "make uninstall" option! So, can you imagine the problem?)... Whereas if we had installed it through a Slackware package, we could remove it just by doing "removepkg packagename", and Slackware's package tools would take care of finding and removing the files correctly. In other words, it's wonderful :D.

This occurred to me later, so I didn't send it in the answer. Some people like to use programs like Checkinstall, which monitors "make install"'s output to find out where the files ended up, then creates an installable package (it supports many distros, including Slackware), but personally I prefer using SlackBuilds (even though it myght be a bit more work to create a script if I can't find one for the program I want) because it serves as an organized way to document the options and steps to compile the program, very useful when needing to upgrade and compile it again.