Silly Rabbit, Picks Are For Kids

I have had in my possession for a whole three days now a thing of wonder. Now that I'm playing guitar (or attempting to) and I find myself looking hither and yon for "talent enhancers". I had heard about E-Bows when I was a teen but never seen one so it seemed perfectly logical that I should buy one on impulse.

Now the sales guy warned me in a heavy southern drawl, "now when you first use an E-Bow, you're gonna suck!" Strange both in the directness and that here in the Toronto area we don't hear drawls like that. I was taken aback but I bravely plowed on and said, "well I make experimental music so it's ok if I suck."

Once I bought my new treasure home, the Southern Man turned out to have hit the nail on the head. I did suck. Was it broken? Did I need a new battery already? Should I take it back? You mean I need to read the instructions? You mean I might need to listen to the included CD with a players guide? The buyers remorse lasted a good 15-30 minutes.

Somewhat fortuitous for me, sandbags had recently posted Rytme Shifter 1 which seemed perfect to E-Bow along with. Soon enough things were getting completely out of hand. I felt like Fripp! Perhaps I should have recorded all that but I didn't. Instead I played and played late into the night...

The next morning, I woke up and decided it was time to record and in a much mellower mood, I came up with this:

Of course, the training wheels are off now and I'm working on the next track and all thoughts of taking the thing back are gone. I even went back to thank Southern Man for his warning.



Good Friday my ass. My MacBook video died just like a certain religious figure.

This means no music beyond what's already on my iPod. No guitar (why have an amp when you can have a computer that fails).

Good thing I have other things like this iPod Touch that offer a backup connection to the world and my data.

But let's explore this a little shall we? In this digital age (for lack of some other pretentious label) are very dependant on machines costing a big chunk of our change. We are all told about backing up our data but what happens when the machine dies? Some people point at the cloud and say that's the future. Maybe. But right now could you replace your main machine on a moments notice?

For me, this has ceased to be a hypothetical question. This is the second major failure on a holiday weekend (you may have read about my drive failure) and it has me thinking. No big ideas, just thinking and fuming.

This time I got very lucky. My local Apple store has a new motherboard in stock and I bought AppleCare so it shouldn't cost me any $$ right? Almost. Apple has this extortion racket called ProCare. For another $99 per year you can get expidited service. Or you can wait longer for them to get around to it. Obviously I paid the ransom but I feel like I've negotiated with Somali pirates.

Now I sit outside the store waiting for my Precious... Hope it's ok.


So the above was from my iPod Touch. This is from my (newly repaired) Precious. Driving home from the Apple store I thought that I was perhaps unfair. Yes it's expensive. Yes it's unfair. But how many other computer companies will repair your gear same day for any price? This is not my first time dealing with the store as well.

My wife's Macbook logic board was replaced.
My son's ipod touch was replaced.
My harddrive was replaced.
My logic board was replaced.

I know from experience that failures with other manufacturers gear involves me taking shit apart and replacing parts myself. Mother/logic boards would be pretty much impossible too.

So all in all, I'm $99 poorer but infinitely happier.


Help! I've Been Kidnapped By My Guitar

My guitar lesson count is now at lucky number 13.

I've been swallowed whole by this thing. I love playing. I still suck. But I love playing.

I was given the intro to finger picking a couple of lessons ago and I could spend entire days doing that.

So what's wrong? Well nothing except that I'm not spending as much time recording as I might. And even when I do, I lay out a track pull out the guitar and start jamming with the track. And jamming. And jamming. And jamming. Without the record button on (cause I still sound way better in my head than the reality).

I've grown my fingernails a little longer on my right hand. I've established a relationship with a nail file and it still feels weird to type (hitting the . key with my nail instead of my fingertip, for example).

The other thing it has me wanting is foot pedals. Mouse clicking and guitar do not go together. The new looper in Live is awesome but it's not entirely hands free.

And did I tell you my fingers hurt? The callouses are coming along nicely but...

In lesson 13 we started playing with weird chord voicings which led to drop tuning first the 6th string, then the rest of the guitar. And again my head explodes with new possibilities. I think I'm going to be stuck here for a while.


Live 8 Tip -- EQ + Spectrum

In the Live 8 beta forums there was a bunch of discussion about having some kind of spectrum analyzer built into the EQ plugin. Many other DAWs have this, and the Live 8 beta seemed like a reasonable place to ask for this feature.

It occured to me (and I posted to this effect) that you could get what you wanted by making yourself a rack. Here's how:
  1. Starting with an empty set, drag EQ8 onto an audio track (not a preset).
  2. Right-click and select group (or hit Cmd-G). You now have a rack.
  3. Drag a Spectrum and drop it on the EQ (it'll slot in behind the EQ in the chain).
  4. Click the Macro button, click Map Mode.
  5. Click the Spectrum On/Off button and then click Map under the first knob.
  6. Right click the title of the first knob (or hit Cmd-R) and rename the knob to Spectrum On
  7. Click Map Mode again and you're pretty much done.
Now you can rename the rack (Cmd-R is your friend) to something like EQ+Spectrum and you can drag the rack back into your library (in the Audio Effects Rack section) for use in other sets.

Confessions of an Eno Imitator

Whenever I get new music software the first thing to explore is new presets. With synth sounds, I usually start in an orderly fashion and play around with each sound for at least 30 seconds (sometimes several minutes). At some point there will be crossing point where my interest level wanes and the musical idea I'm currently playing with takes over and I decide to go with it and make a track.

In the new Live 8 library, under Instrument Rack there's a section called Ambient and Evolving. If you like strange and wonderful pads, don't go in there. You may never come out.

No Endorphins For You came from exploring this area. I'm ambivalent about the track but I'm still not at the point in my journey where I'm willing to walk away from tracks that I don't care too deeply about. But that's a topic for another post.

If you're not interested in how the track was made, we're done here. Thanks for stopping by.

Track 1 is the Alien Riches preset. Just me slow arpeggiating a Cmin chord with the occasional Bbmaj thrown in. I just free played for 4 minutes.

Track 2 is the Melonoise preset. I also free play here accompanying myself from the first track.

Track 3 is me and my guitar. I play around with a bunch of ideas for a while and again I record a single long take. It sucks. I started off with GTRSolo, tossed that. Settled on a ridiculous chain that starts with the new Overdrive, Guitar-Rhythm Doubling, Guitar-Guitar Space, Abstract-Synced Phaseverb plus an EQ. All but the EQ started off as a preset but I twisted the knobs until I got something I liked. The guitar was sufficiently chopped up by all this that the quality of my playing was irrelevant.

Next it was time to tame the synth pads. I added some auto filter and auto pans to give them a little more movement and I EQed them so that they fit together better.

Still felt the thing was too abstract and I needed a title so after a couple minutes of thought I came up with the title. Which then led to my use of Vox Machina to capture one of the MacOS voices speaking the title. I put that through some minimal processing (preset male vocal chain plus some reverb).

Mix a little, adjust pan positions a little.

I notice that the tails on the tracks is going to be a problem. By tails I mean the sound that carries on after the recorded material ends. This could be reverb, delay repeats, whatever. The problem is that those things always get cut off when you render your track. Annoying. What I typically do is create an empty MIDI track and place an empty region at the end of the track. Then on the master track I add volume automation to fade out the track. Now when I render, Live renders to the end of the empty midi region which I've lined up with the fade out. This is pretty basic stuff but I put it here in the hope that somebody points out that I'm doing it wrong and offers up a better way.

Another new thing in Live 8 is the limiter and multiband compressor. This has made possible a bunch of new mastering presets. I tossed one of them, shockingly called Mastering Suite, onto the master track liked what I heard and rendered the track.

I wonder what Eno thinks of the ease with which his imitators can explore his sonic ideas.


Ableton Live 8

As has been reported widely, Ableton released Live 8 this week. I, having become attached, nay hooked, to the beta simply had to upgrade.

The upgrade went swimmingly. During the beta, I left my Live 7 library alone (mainly out of fear). I suspect this was a good thing because the upgrade did it's thing on the Live 7 library without any drama. As it should be.

I was asked by a friend what sold me on the upgrade. I have to admit that while I was able to answer I wasn't fully satisfied so I'll definitely be making a point of exploring all the new toys (and there are more than a few). But the funny thing is that having done my RPM Challenge album on the beta I was pleased that none of the changes got in my way and I was able to work the pretty much the way I always had. As a software developer, I have a pretty good understanding of the need to remain compatible with the past while also wishing that customers would discover all the cool stuff you added...

Anyway, for posterity, here's how I answered the question:
  • price, as a Live 7 Suite owner (having arrived there upgrading from Lite 4 to 6 to 7), the upgrade price was tolerable (there are others that feel the Suite price is too high and I'm inclined to agree)
  • out of the box support for my nanoKontrol (a little thing but made me happy)
  • new instruments and sounds
  • I happen to like the Library organization improvements
  • I love the multiband compressor
  • Looper (admittedly I am nowhere close to knowing how I'll use this but it's very fun)
  • Groove. I hated (read: didn't know what to do with) the old swing thing. Groove grooves. It's huge. I'm quite the n00b with beats and I managed to do something useful with it.
Pretty weak, I know. Much exploring to do.


Fun With SMS

I an SMS from my daughter this morning. Odd, given that we were both in the same house. I open the message to see:

Goddammit can you bring some toilet paper upstairs?

So there's your pro-tip for the month. Always bring your cell phone to the washroom with you. You just never know.