43/52: new video – “a bliptronic day”

I realized something partway through last week’s project with the Bliptronic 5000. One of the things that makes the Bliptronic such a fun musical toy is the fact that you can take it everywhere, thanks to its built-in speaker. Within a few days of having it, I’d used it in my studio, in the living room sitting on the piano, and in the dining room while playing guitar. Therefore, I decided to make week 43’s project a video that showed me using the Bliptronic throughout the day in the normal places I go.

43/52: a bliptronic day from chromedecay on Vimeo.

I started out on a beautiful, crisp autumn morning, with just the Bliptronic and a bench.

43/52: a bliptronic day, video still 1

During my late-morning coffee break, I set up the Bliptronic on my desk and played for a few minutes.

43/52: a bliptronic day, video still 2

Later in the day, I retreated to a great space in the school I work at to play for a few more minutes. Since my school used to provide a full range of services, including hearing tests, there are a pair of soundproof rooms, complete with ancient hearing test equipment!

43/52: a bliptronic day, video still

After band rehearsal at church, I snuck in a few minute of playing volume-pedal guitar along with the Bliptronic.

43/52: a bliptronic day, video still 4

I pulled over at a gas station on my way home and rolled down the window to get some night ambience along with the Bliptronic’s tones.

43/52: a bliptronic day, video still 5

Upon arriving home, I propped the Bliptronic up on our piano and accompanied it with some dark minor-key chords.

43/52: a bliptronic day, video still 6

I ended up in my studio, where I brought things to a close. This was a really fun video, made possibly by Kent Kingery’s generous donation of a Bliptronic 5000. Thanks again, Kent!

42/52: Bliptronic 5000!

Last week, my good friend Kent Kingery blew me away by sending me a Bliptronic 5000, which is an incredibly fun little synthesizer+sequencer. This week’s project is an exploration of this great little box.

For starters, here’s a quick proof-of-concept track I made with the Bliptronic.

42/52: bliptronic 5000 test run by billvanloo

To make this, I ran the Bliptronic into Ableton Live, recorded a loop, and then processed that loop in a couple different ways and added some simple drum programming. For example, the bassy part is actually the same loop sent through one of Michael Norris’s excellent SoundMagic Spectral Plugins.

Here are some photos of the Bliptronic arriving and getting put into action. I was surprised at first by just how small it is – even in its box it was only 8 inches square, and the actual machine is smaller than that – maybe 6 inches square!

Bliptronic 5000

I started out by just using the internal speaker (a nice touch – lets you use it anywhere!) and then ended up plugging it straight into the mixer so I could hear it through my studio monitors.

Bliptronic 5000

Blinky lights!

Bliptronic 5000

Before long, I started itching for ways to process it and expand its tonal capabilities. It has 8 built-in sounds, and lets you sequence 8 notes in the key of C major across 8 steps. The limitations of this are actually quite good in many ways, but I wanted to see what I could do with some processing.

I ended up running it into Ableton Live and building a couple of Effects Racks to process the sound. I recorded the audio output of the Bliptronic into Live, then started playing with ways to filter, delay, and otherwise mangle the sounds. It was great fun!

Ableton Live session for 
Bliptronic 5000

I have a few things planned for this box already – a video project is in the planning stage, and there are lots of future possibilities, including turning it into a cheap Monome clone, circuit-bending it (as my friend Michael Una has done), and so on.

Thanks again, Kent! This was a great, fun project!

41/52: The Press Delete

For this week’s project, I drove up to Holland, MI to shoot promotional and live concert photographs of The Press Delete, a great band that my cousin Jamie Pierce plays in.

The Press Delete

The Press Delete were playing a show at the Park Theater in Holland, and we intended to shoot some promotional photos they could use for the band, as well as live photos of their set. The theater had some interesting armchairs that were pressed into service for a quick pre-show shot:

The Press Delete

The band’s live set was great – they sing mellow, introspective songs that have great layers and atmosphere.

The Press Delete

Joel, lead singer for The Press Delete:
The Press Delete

The Press Delete

Jamie, lead guitarist for The Press Delete:
The Press Delete

Joel, lead singer for The Press Delete:
The Press Delete

See the full set of photos here:


40/52: chromedecay wallpapers

This week’s project is a set of downloadable wallpaper, sized for desktop computers, iPad, and iPhone. All feature photography by Bill Van Loo, with post-processing and formatting by fellow chromedecay artist Joshua Schnable.

Download the entire set of wallpapers here:
https://www.chromedecay.org/downloads/40-52-chromedecay_wallpapers.zip (27MB ZIP file)

A few months ago, Joshua Schnable hipped me to fiftyfootshadows, a site featuring beautiful atmospheric photography offered as downloadable wallpaper. I’ve been enjoying the wallpapers for a while, and was inspired to create some of my own for chromedecay. I shot most of these images on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

40/52: chromedecay wallpaper - fence (desktop)

Shooting photos for this project really made me think about what makes a good background image – it has to be visually appealing, but ultimately can’t have too much detail or activity or else the icons get lost against it. I decided on heavily textured, dark images for most of the set.

This was one of the first shots I took on Tuesday evening that I felt really captured what I was going for:

40/52: chromedecay wallpaper - brush (desktop)

This is another shot from Tuesday:

40/52: chromedecay wallpaper - pavement (desktop)

The photo below was actually the last photo I shot on Wednesday evening. It’s the wall of a gas station around the corner of my house. I love the stark simplicity of it – the light above the air compressor acts as a spotlight for it, and I smile every time I see it.

40/52: chromedecay wallpaper - air (desktop)

Finally, this last image came from photos I shot this summer (part of 27/52, “vacation colors“).

40/52: chromedecay wallpaper - paint (desktop)

Many thanks to Joshua Schnable for taking my photographs and post-processing, editing and formatting them for the different wallpaper sizes!

39/52: a foggy day’s field recording

This past Thursday was a beautiful foggy morning, and it yielded this short video. It’s sort of a poem, in a way.

I recorded the video using my Canon T1i DSLR, shooting in 720p HD. The lens was a Yashica 55mm Macro ML, mounted using a C/Y to EF adapter. This allowed me to manually control the aperture and do nice, smooth focus changes. Audio for the video came from the on-camera microphone plus additional field recordings using the rig below.

I have access to an Eee PC netbook running Windows XP, along with an Audio-Technica AT2020 USB condensor microphone. This is an amazingly competent little recording rig, able to easily be carried into the field and run off battery power for quite a while.

39/52: field recording rig

39/52: field recording rig (in cases)

Since the AT2020 is powered over USB, one cable is all that’s needed to connect the microphone to the laptop, and Audacity (free open-source recording software) handles the audio recording nicely.

39/52: AT2020USB microphone

39/52: recording rig in the field

38/52: camp photos

This past week, I spent 4 days at a beautiful camp in Michigan, as part of my day job teaching at Honey Creek Community School.

While I was there, I had the opportunity to take some photos. I hope you enjoy them.






37/52: Bill Van Loo live performance

The documentation for this project is a little late, but better late than never. On Sunday, September 12, I played a short live set at Bethesda Bible Church’s “Praise in the Parking Lot” event. It was a short 15-minute set, but it was a lot of fun.

Bill Van Loo - Ableton Live set

This was an outdoor event – here are some pictures of the stage and crew:

stage setup

Irvin & Dave: Sound Techs

Stage pass & schedule

Event schedule

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos or video of the set, but I did want to post a link to one of the tracks I played. It’s a remix I did a few years ago from Village Thrift. My take on it pushes it into some kind of broken-beat/dub techno thing. Here it is, for your listening and downloading pleasure.

[audio:https://www.chromedecay.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Make-Me-Feel-bill-van-loo-remix.mp3|titles=Make Me Feel (bill van loo remix)]
Make Me Feel (bill van loo remix)

35/52: Depot Town Cars with a friend

On Thursday, I had an opportunity to go out shooting photographs with a friend of mine, Irvin. We met up in the Depot Town area of Ypsilanti, and, as it happened, the Thursday night car show was in full swing. Every Thursday during the summer, the section of Cross Street that makes up Depot Town is closed off, and filled with vintage cars:

35/52: Depot Town Cars

With such a huge selection of interesting cars to photograph, Irvin and I were on our way, exchanging ideas and enjoying the chance to hang out.

35/52: Depot Town Cars

35/52: Depot Town Cars

35/52: Depot Town Cars

As the sun set and the light started to fade, I realized I might have an opportunity to pull off a shot I’d had in my head for quite a while now. I really enjoy making long-exposure photos (see some examples on Flickr), and I’d been interested in combining that with my interest in portraiture. Irvin agreed to participate, so we hiked up the hill to Huron Street, and Irvin graciously allowed me to use his extremely nice tripod (thanks again!). I quickly got a baseline exposure of 5 seconds, which let me see the light trails from passing cars as well as some natural light from the skyline:

35/52: Depot Town Cars

I’d brought along a small hotshoe flash and my radio triggers, so I combined a CTO-gelled flash (to match the orangey light of the background scene) with a 5-second exposure, and turned out this portrait:

35/52: Depot Town Cars

The flash froze Irvin as he stood there, and the long exposure time let the light trails burn in nicely. I did a couple more long exposures as Irvin tried some of his own, and then we called it a night.

35/52: Depot Town Cars

See the full set of Depot Town Cars on Flickr!

34/52: DIY bottleneck slides

This week’s project was a fun one. I’ve been playing lap-slide guitar for a long time. After college, I put it down for a while, and then picked it back up again 10 years ago or so when I was strictly making electronic music, as a way to make some music that was much more immediate. While my heavy Shubb-Pearse bar works great for a real slide guitar, you really need a hollow slide for playing electric guitar, and I didn’t have one anymore, so I decided to make my own glass bottleneck slide this week.

34/52: DIY bottleneck slide from chromedecay on Vimeo.

If you decide to try this at home, PUT ON EYE PROTECTION before you do anything else! I wear glasses, and I still put a pair of safety glasses over them so I’d have side shields and shatter protection in front of my eyes.

34/52: DIY bottleneck slide

To make my DIY bottleneck slide, I took an old wine bottle, gently clamped it in a vise, and used a Dremel with cutoff wheel to score all around the neck.

34/52: DIY bottleneck slide

34/52: DIY bottleneck slide

34/52: DIY bottleneck slide

34/52: DIY bottleneck slide

After scoring it all around the neck, I gently tapped the body of the bottle with a hammer, and the neck broke off cleanly.

34/52: DIY bottleneck slide

34/52: DIY bottleneck slide

The edges are quite sharp still at this point, so I swapped a grinder/sander attachment onto the Dremel and went to work, smoothing and grinding down the sharp edges so it would be comfortable on my finger.

34/52: DIY bottleneck slide

I made my first one of these on Tuesday night but didn’t take any photos to document the process, so I made another one this afternoon and shot the pictures you see here. I’m planning on giving one of them to another friend who plays electric guitar. Here are the finished products!

34/52: DIY bottleneck slide