Buy Fish Or Learn To Fish

In the life of the home recordist, there are many temptations.  They come to us via emails, websites, magazine ads and reviews.  All selling gear.  Software synths, sound libraries, hardware synths, control surfaces, better preamps, outboard effects, the list goes on.

All of these things are super cool and I'm sure they are great.  But here's my New Year's Resolution.  Learn to use the things I have better.

To that end, I have three recommendations.  In no particular order:
  • there are a bunch of really useful videos by SFLogicNinja that will help you get the most out of Logic.  These are freely available on youtube.
  • another bunch of really useful videos for users of Ableton Live from The Covert Operators.  These videos are not free (subscription service 5 Euros/month) but they are really awesome in that the techniques they show actually inspire creativity.  I've been a subscriber for 4 months and I am very happy.
  • music lessons; stop talking about how you don't play an instrument well or how you're lacking in music theory and fix it!  For my part, I'm gonna finally take guitar lessons.  Watch out world!
Of course having said all that, I'd really like it if Santa brought Kore 2 + Komplete for me :-)


24 Hours, 24 Minutes

On December 13th, I took part in something special.  The community at alonetone set us a challenge.  To produce an album in a day.  The rules were simple, with no prior planning, make 24 minutes of recorded music in 24 hours.  Sleep optional.

For me this would be particularly difficult as I had myriad other things to be doing all of which were beginning to sound like excuses...

I started at 10am and by lunch I had my first track.  I started with some electric piano and a couple of chords.  Then I started looking for some drum sounds which I ran through various beat repeaters/slicers.  Then in a fit of tradition, I added a synth bass.  Not really being happy with it, I took a sample from a talk by Suzanne Jeffrey entitled "What Makes You Working Class".  Time did not permit me to really listen to the talk, I was just looking for a texture...  Having found it, I reversed it and put it through Live's Beat Repeat effect...  The result had the perfect devilish incantation quality...  A bit of arranging and and an un-reverse at the very end.  Hmm, drums sound like crap.  Perfect!  That's the title, "Would You Think Less Of Me... [if I told you I can't program drums to save my life]"

Then the interruptions began.  Take one kid here, take another kid there, do some shopping.  Before I knew it, 5 hours were gone and it's dinner time.  I was screwed but I pressed on.

Still hung up on the electric piano sound and pressed for time, I played around with some chords that have been bouncing around my head since I was a teenager...  Then I grabbed some drum clips I had kicking around to get a groove going.  Then I changed the chords a bit, created a bit of melodic part over top.  Surfing around for samples, I found some vocal samples on a Computer Music DVD (an excellent UK magazine that comes with a DVD full of samples and other goodies).  I sprinkled then in here and there.  Arranged, effected, automated, and generally rushed until I was "done".  I named the track after one of the samples, "Baby".

To this point, I had resisted using my new favourite toy, Elysium.  But it was 8pm.  The pressure was sapping my MoJo.  So I broke it out and created a pattern that I fed into a guitar-ish sound.  I recorded it into a long loop.  I had record quantization on because it doesn't have any MIDI sync ability.  But I failed to press stop at the right time so as the loop recording came around out of sync I got this weird syncopation which actually sounded cool...  Now I fleshed that out with some synth pads, some more choppy synth pads, some drums.  Nice!  But was missing something on the low end.  So I found an arp-y bass synth sound.  Yeah baby yeah.  One I get a good groove going, it's always fun to spend a little bit of time wanking/jamming over top with a lead synth sound.  That wankery gave birth to the lead melody...  The only thing left to do was to arrange it into something resembling a song (a major weakness for me).  Still not satisfied, I slowly brought in an autofilter towards the end of the Elysium part of the track which forms the ending...  I had no idea what to call it and no time to dwell on it so "La La La I Can't Hear You" is what I settled on.  Maybe I was talking to the voices telling me that this whole exercise was nuts.

I was now at 16 minutes and it was 11pm.  I had to be done that night.  I had to be up early...  I was done.  And I said so.  Somebody in the chat room that we had set up for participants told me to just jam for 8+ minutes before giving up.  That was the pep-talk I needed.

So in response to the happy vibe that was La La La, I decided to go dirge-y...  Seem to fit the time of the night and the desperation of the situation (can't believe I just wrote that).  Not much to say here.  Just lay down a couple of chord progressions using a dark pad sound; solo-ed on top.  Sprinkled drums in.  Sprinkled effects.  Generally made noise.  The soloing got a little plaintive so I glommed onto the title "Sorrow".  Dramatic, perhaps but it was 1am and I was done!

This was a great experience for me.  For many reasons that I'm fully able to express.  You'll understand when you try something similar.  To be sure, I'm not totally happy with my results.  I am totally stoked at the process.  I look forward to the next one.  Developing as an artist is no different from developing as an athlete.  It's a journey and in our low attention span, quick to judge world that's easy to forget.

Finally, it is very important to acknowledge that I was not alone.  There were others and their astonishing work is here.  In particular thanks to sudara and sandbags who convinced me to give it a shot.


Speaker Stands

Quick one today...

Got speaker stands (for my studio monitors) last week as a bit of a carrot to force me to clean up my office. I knew that they'd improve things but I had no idea how much. Well, I'm happy to report... HOLY CRAP!

Unbelievable.  My advice to all of you that haven't done do already, get your monitors off your desk!  Your ears will thank you.



Yesterday, I started playing with a super cool new MIDI note generator called Elysium.  A few hours after getting it installed I posted my first track made with it, Glockenfunmachine.  Sudara over at alonetone asked me for a screenshot, I obliged which led to more questions around how I did it.  Seemed like a good topic.

First I played with Elysium and built layer one and trying out various sounds.  I'm still learning here and have no plan but eventually a cyclical pattern emerges.  So I move on to create a simpler pattern on layer two (sending the MIDI to channel 2), again auditioning sounds and other playing around.  Lastly I create a third layer that just alternates 2 notes on a pad sound.

I leave Elysium playing and here there's a some screwing around in Live, trying sounds, trying effects racks, twiddling knobs.

Eventually I recorded that for about 30 bars into clips in session view. (Rather than worry about syncing Elysium and Live, I just set the record quantize to 1/8th notes and hit play on Elysium at the right time).

Now I've got all the midi data now, so I'm done with Elysium.

Next I figured out an appropriate loop point in each of my 3 clips, reducing them to 24 bars. Now I press play and let it run.

There's a lot more screwing around at this stage, trying sounds, try effects racks, twiddling knobs. Developing a sense of what's gonna work.

Part of what I'm thinking about is how to start the piece. I like to build so I copied the clips so I had something like this:

      3   Scene 1
    2 3   Scene 2
  1 2 3   Scene 3

Then hit the master record, clicked the Scene 1 launch; waited 4 bars, scene two launch, 4 bars, scene 3. Now play with knobs (which gets recorded as automation). After some time goes by, stop.

Switch to arrange view and tweak automation to clean up some rough edges, add more than I had hands to do live, etc.

Then I think about how to end it. I figured I'd just go with an abrupt ending. I had to do a little extra to catch the delay tails.

Now export to aiff.

Once exported, pull it into itunes, setup all the info, find a photo, etc. Then convert to mp3 and aac and start uploading.  

Obviously there's a bunch of knob tweaking, preset selection, etc here that I've glossed over. Surely nobody is interested in that.

So I leave you with the important stuff. The music...


Impulse Buy

Sounds. A musicians, we shape and direct them but they also have
suggest where they want to go, who they'll play nicely with.
Electronic musicians with sound design skills make their own. The
rest of us rely on them to provide us with useful presets...

To now, I've resisted paying money for sound banks, sample libraries
and the like (aside from those included in DAWs) cause I'm cheap and
I'm proud. But having previously got free stuff from Puremagnetik,
when I saw their Big 08 collection announced I was overcome with a
sense of what-the-heck.

Big 08 is a 3GB collection of samples, clips, instrument and effects
presets for Ableton Live. The only thing that I don't particularly
care is the old Atari video game sounds (I'm old enough to remember
the original and I'm not very nostalgic). But basically, from my
minimal experience, I gotta say this collection is Awesome.

Still much to explore but I have made two tracks based on the included
sounds to give you a taste.


<a href="http://mmimusic.bandcamp.mu/track/awash">Awash by MMI</a>

<a href="http://mmimusic.bandcamp.mu/track/waiting">Waiting by MMI</a>



I have long been interested in the work of what academics call the minimalists (Steve Reich, Phillip Glass being the two obvious examples). I never fully understood how it was that they could compose such brilliantly complex pieces. Also never truly understood why it was called minimalism.

All that changed one day when I stumbled across this video. That started me on a series of pieces. The latest of which starts as a simple canon.

A simple 4 bar melody in C minor across 4 different keyboard-y sounds. That MIDI data is simultaneously feed to other tracks with other sounds that I bring in, adjust and arpeggiate.


&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href="http://mmimusic.bandcamp.mu/track/phases-5-canon"&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;Phases 5 - Canon by MMI&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;


The Project

In the late eighties our band, Two Infant Children, recorded our works on an 8-track 1/4" deck (Fostex Model 80). For years, I wondered what those old recordings sounded like. Now I have a chance to find out. My band-mate Ralph managed to dig the Fostex gear and a few reels of tape out of a closet it's all been living in for the last 20 years.

I'm transferring the tapes to an old G3 running ProTools (the 8 tracks going into a Digi001). From there it'll go a faster machine running Logic where the archeology will really begin.

Of course, while doing the initial transfer, I couldn't help but have a listen...

My first impression was that perhaps memories should stay memories...

Stay tuned.


Better Late Than Never

Ever bought a CD (or downloaded a bunch of tracks) and never really
listened to them. Or perhaps you didn't like them at first? And then
just move on relegating that music so the unheard/skipped part of your
music collection...

Today, my iTunes "Party Shuffle" shuffled onto "Part Two" by the Pat
Metheny Group (from The Way Up release). I was busy working and
paid no attention when it came on but somewhere in the middle (it's a
20 minute opus) it just grabbed me. Hard. This is great! wtf?!?
What is it?

To my amazement (and shame) it's a CD I bought in February '06. So
for over 2 years, I've been ignoring this album. Stunning. Better
late than never, I guess.

Seems sad that people slave over their music and even their ardent
fans don't pay attention.

So a challenge for you. In your music player, order your music
collection by the Last Played date, with the never played at the top.
Press play and be amazed.


All I want for Christmas is a New iPod Feature

My adult professional life has been spent involved in making computer
software in one form or another. Back in the '90s I ran into a little
program that played mp2 files. Not mp3 but mp2. A little more
digging yielded program that would convert CD data into an mp2 file.

At the time, this was mind blowing. A song as a file on a disk?
Little did I know.

I've always had a substantial music collection so I busily set about
writing scripts to convert my CDs to mp2 files. The encoder was crazy
slow. It would take about 20 minutes per song. So my scripts ran
multiple encoders on various idle cpus in the office. Eventually, I
(and my colleagues) had built a collection of about 16GB. Peanuts by
today's standards but we did this on disk that was priced at more than
a dollar per MB.

Now the mp2 player was not like what we have now. It was a command
line thing that just played a single file. Which meant I had to write
a program that would allow the user to play music from our collection.

I set out to write the simplest thing that did what I wanted. It
would have a pause/play button, next, previous. It would play tracks
in a random order. It would not repeat. That was the first version.
Basically a very oversized shuffle (a file server, my workstation and
some networking gear). (For the language geeks, I did this GUI in
dtksh which was essentially ksh with hooks to the Xt toolkit)

Now listening to your collection in shuffle mode is fine but
occasionally something comes on from the middle of a great album work
like, say, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. You didn't know it
until that moment but you want to listen to the whole album. So I
added a button called "This Album".

Clicking "This Album" would stop shuffling and play the album from
start to finish and then resume shuffling at the song after the one
that caused you to hit the button in the first place. The
next/previous buttons now moved through the tracks of that release.

Fast forward a decade or more and I have that much music and more on
my iPod which normally lives in my car and plays in shuffle mode. I
am stunned to think that in all that time nobody else has had this
idea. Why do I need to risk a car crash when I decide that I want to
listen to all of Radiohead's OK Computer, just because Let Down just
came on planting the idea...

There are those asking today if the album is dead. Perhaps "This
Album" might help.


My Brand New Monitors

w00t! I finally got real monitors.

This week I finally took the plunge and bought myself some real studio
monitors. To this point, I have been mixing on a collection of
headphones with an occasional mix check in my car. Sort of funny
because what I've spent on various headphones would have bought some
pretty nice monitors.

Suspense killing you? Well ultimately I decided on the Samson Rubicon R5a.

Picking monitors is hard. Really hard. In the modern age of on-line
shopping, a decent store with a big selection for you to listen to a
bunch in a decent acoustic environment is a hard thing to find. The
economics probably don't support a store "doing it right". So I've
been going really slow. Reading reviews in magazines (Computer Music,
Future Music and Sound on Sound being my faves); dropping into stores
and having a listen to something; getting confused; repeat. I've had
occasion to visit a Guitar Centre in San Jose and they have an OK
selection and you can listen to a bunch... of course, unless you
bring music with you that you know well you'll soon be confused. I
likened the process to choosing a wine. Within a price range, most
are good but each has its own character... Lucky for me, I live in
Canada and making an impulse buy in California was not in the cards.

My first criteria was price. My mental limit was $500CAN. I got to
hear some really nice Dynaudio monitors that were more than double
that and I just ruled them out. Many people rave about Genelecs, I
never even tried for reasons of price. Maybe I'm wrong, whatever.

For that price range, I could have got some M-Audio BX8a's.
Initially, I was lured by bigger speakers. I read somewhere that
unless I had a big room, they'd likely overpower the room. Knowing
what I know now, I'm glad I went small.

But I went to hear them in several places and each time they sounded
different... Basically, the acoustics of the store you're in play a
huge role in your perception. Distressing for sure. Eventually I
decided that I couldn't really trust the store experience and I should
just make a decision. I'd probably learn to love whatever I chose.

Now, presumably the guys writing for the magazines know at least a
little bit more than me and until I know enough to thumb my nose at
them, I might as well look at what they like. The Rubicon's have been
Future Music's Editors' Choice for a while so I thought seriously
about them. I found a place in the city where I could hear them.
They sounded awesome. Not hugely better than any other speaker but
"just right". Now here's the part I feel guilty about... I bought
them from another store that was closer to home cause was too lazy to
drive into the city (carrying a monitor box on transit is not my idea
of fun). The reason I feel guilty is that the store in the city did
everything right. The store I bought at is staffed by lovely people
but their economics just don't support a wall o' speakers for
customers to sample from.

So finally I have real monitors. What's it like?

One word. Awesome.

But I have some observations.

First. They're loud. They go to eleven but I'm running them at one.
I'm so glad I didn't get 8 inch units. My room isn't very large and
turns out it doesn't take very many watts to make 80dB SPL in such a

Second. I put my old computer speakers, which weren't completely
terrible on top of the monitors. That raises them off my desk by about
13-14 inches. Wow what a difference! You might save yourself a ton
of money just by raising your crap speakers up off your desk to ear
level (form an equilateral triangle with your head at one corner).
What this tells me is that I really really really need speaker stands
for the Rubicons.

Third. The low bandwidth (128) mp3s in my collection sound like ass on
the new speakers. Up to now I've been suspicious of the various
claims that mp3s (and all things digital) suck. You've heard it too.
Well, they are right. It's just you need to invest in some decent
playback equipment (and a quiet room) to hear the difference. But
little by little we've been sold increasingly inferior audio gear.
And we've been buying it. I am not an audiophile. And I'm definitely
not a snob about this stuff. But it's possible that I'll become

This last point actually creates several problems. One is disk space.
Now I'm thinking that I want everything in lossless formats. Who can
afford the disk space. My music collection is something like 9500
tracks (small by some standards, I know) weighing in at some 60-70GB.
Multiply by 10 (approx) for a lossless format. So now I need a
terabyte iPod? Pretty sure that el Jobso isn't working on one of

The other problem is how to think about my own mixes. I've
re-listened to some of my previous mixes with the Rubicons and my
feelings are, well, mixed. Some stand up but alarmingly others suck
large donkey balls. They were good enough through my iPod headphones
and in the car. Now I gotta redo them. Is it worth the trouble?
Paraphrasing McCain, I'll get back to you on that.

All this after just two days...


Living Under a Rock

Sometimes you get your head so far up your own rear end that you miss things... really cool things. A friend emailed me a blog link which lead me to "discover" the amazing Zoe Keating. I'm in love.

Seems I'm late to the party... oh well, least I made it.



Somewhere along the way I "grew up". I gave up playing music in
favour of pursuing a career (in technology) that would support a
family. Not that music couldn't have done that it's just that I never
figured out how... that and the realization that I probably just
wasn't that good.

Fast forward many years and I got my first Mac computer. I had the
thing for over a year when one Sunday afternoon I decided to fire up a
program that's been included with Macs for a number of years now.

Within a couple of hours I was hooked. I had created my first track
in decades. And what a revelation. All this time, on my little 12"
Powerbook, I had a multitrack recorder, synths, drum machines and a
sample/loop library.

Holy crap! back in the Two Infant Children days, we had an 8-track
reel-to-reel rig, a drum machine, our instruments and whatever we
could think to rent... It could take a week to finish a song...
Mobility, forget it. Editing. Not so much. Uphill both ways. (And
we loved it!)

Anyway, the track I made that afternoon was made up of stock Apple
drum loop slowed down a ton to 74bpm. I then played around with some
synth presets settling on Circuit Dialog and Samoa Sweep. Recorded
that. Then I started looking for other loops to see what stuck. They
were Disco Pickbass 01 & 02, Funky Electric Guitar 03, Orchestra
Strings 03 and Nordic Keyed Fiddle 02.

The track isn't that great but it sure beat spending the afternoon
getting a high score in a video game and it marks the start of the
current leg of my journey.

Of course so excited by my creation was I and so eager to foist it onto an unsuspecting public that I didn't bother coming up with a decent title. Instead, I called it 'you decide' and you can hear it here:

you decide

It All Started One Night

It's a little fuzzy... all those years ago... I would've been 17. I
remember going to a party. Hooking up with a girl, Peggy; she had a
voice; we went with a friend of mine, Mo to his friend Ralph's house
after some kind of sleep deprivation... Ralph was (and still is) a
guitar player and had a four track (yeah, one of those cassette jobs)
so we recorded, we jammed (I played flute, she sang).

Peggy disappeared as suddenly as she appeared but wanting to be more
involved, somehow I volunteered to learn how to play bass...

Soon after we were all at a cottage (belonging to Ralph's parents)
outside the city making noise, perhaps music. One of the bigger
decisions we faced was what to call ourselves. Mo and Ralph went for
an evening walk, exploring while I did whatever. On their walk they
found a small graveyard, very old. There they found two unnamed
graves. One marked, "Mother" and the other, "Two Infant Children".

They rushed back to the cottage to tell me the story. Such a
ridiculous rock-n-roll cliche, we had to go with it.

And thus the band, Two Infant Children, was born.


Bad Tech Week

Rather than work on anything productive, I've been stuck. It all started when my machine started hanging for sometimes brief, sometimes long periods. Because I'm a geek, I was able to correlate these hangs with an error message in the logs which lead me (with help from Google land) to conclude that I had a dying disk drive on my hands.

Now I don't trust my machine to keep my data safe. So I'm not making anything new. Made a little bit easier by the fact that it's the beginning of July (which means day(s) off for most North Americans).

I wait here for my new harddrive, fretting about the restore process which will surely leave me with a slightly broken install of Logic and Live, slightly broken songs, links to samples that have strangely disappeared or been slightly corrupted.

What kind of geek would I be if I only had one machine? Of course I had another machine. And of course, it also self-destructed in some weird way which led me to install a different OS onto the thing... then a power failure took out the VPN to work as well as some other server bits.

This sux. But maybe having my journey detour like this is will provide some time to pay attention to the blog...


The Obligatory First Post

Many years ago, while rooting around the internet looking for stuff on Robert Fripp I discovered his online diary. He and many of his colleagues had taken to keeping online diaries. The reasons for this activity were interesting, even if I didn't understand completely. I just knew that I enjoyed reading them. I knew nothing of Robert the human being. I came upon his writing because I was interested in his music.

This activity is now common place and many people share pieces of themselves in what we call blogs. (I had always thought him a man ahead of his time)

I am somewhat reluctantly entering into the blogosphere because part of me feels that it's an act of extreme hubris to engage in this activity. Who really gives a rats ass what I have to say? I don't know. Possibly no one.

That said, in the last couple of years, I have reconnected with my youth in a way that still surprises me and I'm starting to think that they journey might be worth sharing. This journey hasn't been and will never be linear and as such I make no promises about how it'll replay in these pages.

So welcome and may you find something here worth the time you spent reading.