This past weekend we joined forces with Alex from Haiku Interactive and went up to Dundee for a Game Jam. For the uninitiated, a game jam is when a bunch of people get together with the aim of making a fully working and playable game in some absurdly short timeframe, usually with some theme – in our case, the length was six hours and the theme was “Pew Pew Lasers”. There were a bunch of other supremely talented game makers there, and we had a brilliant time making Droopy Lasers, a 1v1 battle game where you use your voice to control a laser robot.
Check the video for a demo:
Thanks very much to the organizers and everyone involved, we hope to do more events like it! In fact, Jon was so excited that on the way home he initiated a one-person “Train Jam” where he made a playable game on the 75 minute train journey back to Edinburgh. EXTREME GAME DESIGN.
This past weekend we got the chance to participate in Culture Hack Scotland, which was pretty great! In a nutshell, developers and designers were given loads of data from various organizations around Scotland, along with copious amounts of food and coffee, and had 24 hours to make something out of it all.
We here at Lucky Frame decided to take the footfall data provided by the Edinburgh City Council and use it to generate video and audio in real time. This is how it turned out:
The video represents one year of data. Each bass drum hit denotes one week has passed.
We used Processing for the visuals and Max/MSP and Ableton Live for the sound. All Processing and Max/MSP patches are available here:
The Live session, if you’re interested, is available here:
For our efforts we won the “Most Beautiful” award! There were some really amazing people and projects there, though, I think everyone was a winner. Many thanks to the organizers and everyone involved, let’s do it again sometime!
A post in our occasional series which could be subtitled Lucky Frame: Origins
Jon and I have known each other for about ten years now, we met at Carnegie Mellon University where we were both studying and I believe our first conversation was about the Casio SK-5.
Before long we were hanging out pretty frequently, together with a whole crew of equally geeky friends. We started playing music together, forming a trio with Alberto Almarza. We would get together in my tiny apartment and make crazy noises with Alberto’s latest miniature saxophone or drum or shakers and experiment with electronic software and hardware. It probably sounded awful, but it was loads of fun and in the process Jon showed me a world of music software I had never seen – Ableton, Reason, Reaktor, Buzz, and more.
Eventually some friends of ours moved into a house near the CMU campus, and to their astonishment discovered that the previous tenants had abandoned a Ludwig knockoff drum set and “Premier” tube bass amp in the basement. The gear must have been at least 50 years old and was completely falling apart, but we saw an opportunity. Around the same time, Jon had started making music using a Nintendo Gameboy, using tracker software called Little Sound DJ. I bought a bass for $5, Alberto decided to play drum kit for the first time, and Handface was born.
We started out by using a somewhat forced model, where Jon would write a song on the tracker and Alberto and I would play along with it. It worked fairly well, and we recorded our first album in my living room. Here’s one of the tracks from “Handface Album!”
We even managed to get a show at the cafe on campus, so we burned a bunch of CDs and spraypainted a logo on them. We decided to package them in ziplock plastic bags and sell them for $5. The day of the show I heard about a charity sale at a church where you could buy clothing by the bag, $1 a bag. I gave Jon a garbage bag and told him to pick up as many shirts as possible. He did so, and we spraypainted our logo on them too. $5 per shirt.
We played the show, which through some odd coincidence was attended by a large group of local high schoolers. They loved it. We sold every single one of our CDs and shirts. I’d like to say we learned some sort of business lesson from that, but I’m not sure what it would be.
In any case, it certainly encouraged us onwards. As we began to play more shows, we started having to play longer sets and the song-based approach was less and less viable. Add to that the small problem with writing music on a Gameboy – the memory was extremely volatile and every few days we would lose all the songs. We thus began to develop a fully improvisational system, where all three of us were reliant on each other as equals, with the roles constantly shifting and developing. I ditched the bass, and started to play “guitar?” with a question mark. It was a $15 guitar I picked up from a yard sale, together with a system of pedals and cutoff buttons for sonic mangling. I would split the signal from the guitar and run one instance through a pitch shifter to bring it down an octave, with a cutoff pedal for switching it on and off. The other instance I would send to another amp but send though distortion, ring mods, flangers, etc etc.
With this system we recorded an epic 17-song album in my apartment, entitled “Handface…and you”. Immediately following the recording of the last song, the Gameboy (true to form) erased all of the stored material, and we were never able to perform them again. We had the recordings, however, and we even made some packaging (which included our faces pressed up against the library photocopier).
We continued to play shows and our popularity grew in the underground scene in Pittsburgh. We had some devoted fans, including that amazing group of high schoolers who came to every single show we played.
The dynamic of the group is really fascinating to me. Alberto definitely came from a very organic musical background, he was interested in traditional drumming techniques and folk instruments from around the world. Jon’s background was electronic music, techno, and obscure digital techniques. Traditionally the drums are seen as the timekeepers in the band, but in Handface this did not apply, since the tempo would normally be set by the unforgiving digital clock of the Gameboy. Alberto’s musical character, then, was not to be the metronome but a new type of meter we called the “emotionome”. He crafted and guided the rhythmic emotion of the music. I often saw my role as the bridge between these two worlds – a bridge that was represented by my odd hybrid two or three stringed guitar running through a collection of digital manipulation devices. In the snippet from the radio show below you hear Jon referring to it as the “Mellow Machine”.
This is from a one hour show we recorded live for WRCT. At the beginning you can hear our surprise at actually having a caller for our giveaway – the prize was a signed broken drum head.
Handface is a project that I am extremely proud of – and I hope I don’t sound too pompous when I say I think we were ahead of our time. The chiptune sound hit the mainstream (Beck was one notable example) a year or so after I moved away from Pittsburgh and Handface was forced to come to a close. It’s also hard to imagine that, though this was not long ago at all, this was before bands had any sort of standardized presence on the internet…we had no myspace page, no facebook page, youtube wasn’t even around yet. Internet marketing is so crucial to bands now, and a group like Handface would have really benefited from that.
Nevertheless, we did have a certain degree of success in the underground music scene in Pittsburgh. We managed to play some pretty decent venues like the Warhol Museum and the Rex Theater (that gig is a whole story in of itself, it was booked by a man named Wolf Snipplechips and we dressed up as a set of cutlery for an audience of vampire goths), and most importantly managed to create a performance and composition style that was a true fusion of our musical and personal characteristics. Most of our shows were in basements and living rooms, with sweaty dancers jumping around us and shaking the floor. One guy showed up at a show having spent the day in a boxcar from St Louis, and was planning on hopping the next train out of town after the set.
The spirit of Handface lives on in Lucky Frame, even if Alberto is now a sensible family man in Pittsburgh. Maybe the Lucky Frame ideals were created in cramped Pittsburgh basements, with Jon and Alberto and me crowding into each other, heads bobbing to an electropunk dance beat.
To celebrate this nostalgic look back at the origins of Lucky Frame, please enjoy these full Handface albums:
Handface and you!
Handface – Did you mean Hand Face?
Handface – Dinosaur Farm
Handface – Live in Budapest
Handface – [not actual size]
One of the first questions I always get when I say I run a small company is “What’s it called?”. After saying it a few times and spelling it out, the inevitable question arises – why? Well, there’s here’s an easy answer for you…
“Lucky Frame” comes from a scene in The Shmenges: The Last Polka, a severely under-rated film with John Candy and Eugene Levy documenting the last concert by a pair of Lutonian brothers whose meteoric rise in the world of pop polka leads to fame, fortune, and scandal.
In the scene, Yosh and Stan explain how they got their start in the world of television with a polka-themed bowling show. Once every episode the the contestant had the chance to win a $5000 prize by bowling a strike or a spare in the Lucky Frame. Of course, since they were putting the money up themselves they had to make sure no one ever won…
I think the metaphor is somewhat apt for starting a company…sometimes it can feel like poor Rocky Timmins – you have only one chance to make any money, but the people holding the purse strings will do everything they can to make it difficult for you. Other times I understand Yosh and Stan, who desperately want the publicity and need to make it to the top, but have a really hard time parting with their hard-earned cash.
So there you have it, the origins of Lucky Frame. It seems as fitting as ever, and we are in the process of slowly evolving our brand identity, originally created by the amazing folks at Stereographic, to reflect our new vision and direction whilst staying true to our roots with Yosh and Stan.
On a related note, The Shmenges has provided names for a few other projects…
I am very proud to announce that Lucky Frame has secured project funding from Channel 4 and Creative Scotland.
This has been a very long time in the making – we first applied to Channel 4 back in December 2009, through what was then 4ip. Apparently our application caused a slight kerfuffle, with some people on the selection panel loving it and some not loving it so much. The wonderful Melanie Hayes and Lucy Wurstlin from Channel 4 eventually contacted us and invited us to talk about it a bit more.
We will eventually tell the longer version of this story, but for now I’ll just say that we worked with Lucy and Melanie to turn our core idea into a powerful and potentially groundbreaking marketable project. They also brought Creative Scotland on board via the Digital Media IP Fund, eventually resulting in the final contracts being signed recently. The project has now officially kicked off and we are very excited to get going.
But what’s the project?! Ah ha, well for that you will have to stay tuned. For the moment I can say that this is a one-year project that will combine several of Lucky Frame’s core interests into something really awesome. Over the coming months Jon and I will be blogging here about the motivation behind the project and probably dropping some sweet little hints and tidbits along the way.
Lots and lots of things. That’s what we have been up to. A couple of examples:
– We were heavily involved in the incredible Love Music Festival Scotland which recently ended with a blow-out concert day in Inverness. This festival was a totally groundbreaking approach to bringing world class music, musicians, educators, and technology into schools around Scotland for a highly focused series of workshops, together with curriculum resources, and culminating in a series of concerts in seven venues from Shetland to Peebles. Lucky Frame was brought in it to look after all of the musical software and technology side of it. Yann ran workshops about sound recording and production, Yann and Jon worked together to build original software for the festival, and Yann even got to go on tour and create interactive musical installations and activities for each venue. You can find out a lot more about all of this on Yann’s Love Music Festival blog.
– We’ve also created two iPhone apps for Belgian digital agency Happiness Brussels. The first, Stretching With Elodie shows you how to prepare for a run by stretching with famed sprinter Elodie Ouedraogo. The second, Slow Down, makes you more aware of your current driving speed by slowing down your music if you go too fast. Both apps are available on the app store for free now.
– Going back even further, we had a lot of fun creating a custom Wiimote sound installation controller for Klankmaat over the summer.
– Jon somehow managed to find the time to build and release his very own iPhone app, wiresq. It’s the app store’s first Turing complete sequencer, and it’s totally brilliant.
All of this work has meant that we now have a few more people on board! It’s been a great pleasure to be working with Johnnie Walker and Christopher Ross on some of these projects, and we’re looking forward to more of that.
Phew. Back to work.
LuckyFrame is up to some very fun things these days. In a nutshell:
– We are very excited to be involved in the Love Music Festival, a brand new program of live music for children that will happen all around Scotland this fall. Yann is in charge of the interactive multimedia side of the festival, which will mean running tons of workshops from Ayrshire to Shetland, and building lots of very fun interactive musical installations in the various venues. It is all very much in the planning stages at the moment, but more information should be coming out about it over the summer.
– We have several more iPhone apps in the works. Here’s a teaser image of one of them…introducing: KLANGKRAFTER!
Mujik Classik is a free introduction into the wonderful world of Mujik, where fireflies inhabit a musical library full of books and balloons…a curious world which you can explore to make your own music in a fun and lovely way!
Go and download now! It’s free! And lovely!
The release of Mujik 1.1 was very exciting all around, and we’ve gotten tons of really positive feedback! We also, unfortunately, heard from some users who were experiencing crashes.
Not to worry, JonBro was on the case, and he managed to track down the bugs that were causing the crashes. Three cheers for Jon!
So I’ve just submitted the updated, “Now Crash-Free!” version of Mujik to the app store, and if all goes well it will be approved and released in the next couple of weeks. Many apologies to anyone who was affected by the crashing!
Hooray! After weeks of waiting, I’m happy to announce the release of Mujik 1.1. This update has all sorts of awesome new things, such as three brand new loop packs by the wonderful Nick Janaway, Surachai, and Dave Meckin (aka Dave the Machine). Other new features include the ability to save your creations, and the appropriately named AutoMujik function!
This update is once again the result of lots of hard work by the Lucky Frame team – myself, Jon Brodsky, and Mike Greer. If you already own Mujik the update should be available in your iTunes account now…if you don’t already own it you can go now and get it for yourself!