47/52: trying out Lightroom 3

This week’s project was pretty straightforward. I’ve been interested in trying out Adobe Lightroom 3 for a while, and this week I downloaded and installed the free 30-day trial in order to put it through its paces and try it out.

47/52: Lightroom 3

I have been using iPhoto for many, many years as my photo library software, and overall I’m quite pleased with it. However, as I continue to build up my library of photos, iPhoto becomes a less viable option. In large part, this is because all your photos have to be saved on your computer’s internal drive – there’s no way to have part of your library on your internal drive and part of it on an external hard drive. Because I use a laptop, this means I’m perpetually crunched for drive space since my photo library is at least 100GB by itself, not to mention my music and video work.

47/52: Lightroom 3

One thing that became immediately apparent upon installing Lightroom 3 is that I would have to spend some time getting used to its paradigm. The interface is somewhat familiar since I use Photoshop CS3, but there’s a lot that’s different. However, I started to dive in and figure it out.

working in Adobe Lightroom 3

I quickly began to enjoy the way that I was able to unearth old photos that I’d taken but never seriously considered as usable before – the cataloging features of Lightroom really shine. I’m still getting used to the editing controls, but the ability to quickly switch from Lightroom into Photoshop CS3 and have edits in Photoshop automatically show up in a new version in Lightroom is pretty great. The ability to export with a watermark automatically added is also wonderful – saves some tedious work in Photoshop.

47/52: Lightroom 3

To finish it off, here’s a new background image I made with a photo I shot last winter. The cropping, toning, and watermarking with the chromedecay logo were all done in Lightroom 3. Click below for the full size (1280 x 800) on Flickr.

47/52: chromedecay background produced in Lightroom 3

46/52: harmonic study revisited (with iPad & TouchOSC)

I’ve used many tools and made lots of music over the years. This week’s project was a chance to merge the old and the new. One of my first “big” pieces of music was a piece entitled “harmonic study 1.3″, which was the B side of my City Centre Offices 7” release “Tones (for Sarah)”. I made harmonic study 1.3 using a PC with AudioMulch software, and its 10 harmonics device.

This week I decided to play around again with the idea of a purely harmonics-based piece, using the iPad and TouchOSC to create a custom control interface that would let me play the piece like an instrument. Audio and video below:

46/52: harmonic study redux – iPad/TouchOSC overview from chromedecay on Vimeo.

46/52: harmonic study redux by billvanloo

To create this, I used the TouchOSC app on an iPad to control a rack I built in Ableton Live, and aslo an instance of the HarmonyBox plugin.

46/52: Ableton Live - Harmonic Study Redux

46/52: TouchOSC Editor with Harmonic Study Redux layout

45/52: autumn colors in film and digital

For this week’s project, I wanted to pull out a creative tool I haven’t used in a few years: my Lomo Fisheye film camera. I decided to make this week’s project about the juxtaposition of shooting film and digital to capture the autumn colors and mood. My goal was to shoot all week, with both film and digital, and I think these images get across the feel of autumn in Michigan.

45/52: golden leaf in grass

Using the Lomo Fisheye was interesting. I have to confess, I have a like-hate relationship with film, which is why I haven’t shot any in a few years. I like the tactile feeling of holding a print, and there’s still nothing quite like getting an envelope of prints back from the developer, but the lack of instant feedback and high cost of getting film developed keeps me from loving it.

45/52: Kodak Portra 400 film for fisheye camera

The Lomo Fisheye is especially quirky, since it’s literally point and shoot – fixed focus, fixed shutter speed (around 1/100th second, from what I’ve read), fixed aperture. I shot everything on Kodak Portra 400, which is a good fit since a lot of the days were cloudy (the 400-speed film helps with that).

45/52:  lomo fisheye with leaf pile

45/52: backyard leaves

Along with the fisheye, I also shot lots of digital images, with a variety of lenses. Here are a few with the Canon 50mm f/1.8:

45/52: golden leaf, golden fence

45/52: backlit by the fading autumn sun

I also shot a few photos with the Canon 70-300 IS USM in order to zoom in tight or isolate individual leaves against the blue sky from Monday:

45/52: solitary leaves

45/52: telephoto leaves

A lot of the photos I shot with the Lomo Fisheye were done in the car, driving from place to place.

45/52: autumn leaves on lawn

This morning, the last day of the project, I decided to make a couple long exposures in the early morning light as my car warmed up in the dark.

45/52: leaves by taillight

45/52: early morning leaves

It’s funny – the last few frames I made with the fisheye ended up being strong favorites, even when I felt like I was out of time and just trying to use up the last of the film in order to get it processed.

45/52: a tree grows in Ann Arbor

45/52: flanked trees

See the full set of images on Flickr:


44/52: autumn piano music

This week’s project is the rough sketch of a new piano piece I’m working on. I came up with it on Tuesday evening and ran a quick video to capture the idea.

44/52: autumn piano music (rough sketch) from chromedecay on Vimeo.

I recorded a cleaner version with a condensor mic this morning, but it’s really just rough material still that needs to be composed and edited, so the rough sketch will suffice for now.

44/52: autumn piano music recording

This piece was inspired by the autumn season. I captured a nice photo the other day of beautiful orange-gold autumn colors that were interrupted by a short, gentle rain. All this while the sun was still shining…it was a beautiful scene that lasted only a few minutes before the rain was gone and the colors changed.

44/52: autumn rain and sun

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.