Lazy Man Video

Increasingly, musicians seem to be using video hosting sites as places to show their wares; almost like "video, or it didn't happen". If you're like me, you don't have a video bone in your body and you wonder if there's a way to follow the herd...

One day, I was blissing out, staring at the iTunes visualizer when it hit me that I could be a cheap bastard and simply record that playing one of my tunes and I'd have a video.

The next question was how... Turns out that the Quicktime player app can record your screen and soon, after a couple of false starts, I got a video of the visualizer running in full screen on my tune Polyphasic. Next, I used iMovie to attach the audio to the result (and get it all synced). After I was happy with that, I had to wait forever while the whole thing rendered and uploaded to youtube. The result:


What Does It Want To Be

Every now and then I start on a piece, inspired by some idea or some process. And like many pieces it grows from there. And it grows and grows.

The ideas come fast and furious and just pile on.

Pretty soon it's a big blob of swirling, gurgling sound.

And I change from an artist with a blank sketch pad to a sculptor attempting to find beauty in a large hunk of rock.

Sometimes I despair that there is no beauty in the mound of sound.

Should I leave it behind, move on to the next piece? Will I be able to find this place again? Is this place even worth revisiting?

I have no answers. Only similar, perhaps more naive, questions that many, much wiser before me have asked.


Fancy New Machine Blues

I was planning on writing about my fancy new machine and how much I love my life. Instead I have an appointment with an Apple Genius to look at a dead hard drive. Boo. But let's start at the beginning.

Six days ago, I received a big, shiny, new Macbook Pro. Giant, bright 17" screen, smokin' i7 processor, etc. Awesome right? Would have been more awesome if I had received one of the improved models that quietly came out the Monday after receiving mine but I digress.

Awesome until you get to the migration assistant part. It demands that you leave your two machines alone to do their thing. Completely alone. Like, kill all your apps, disable the menubar. The only sign of life as it's doing it's thing is a changing estimate that occasionally veers into terrifying territory (I saw numbers as high as 20 hours). Nothing to do but cuddle up with a book.
It's worth pointing out that the old machine ran Snow Leopard and the new machine came with Lion. While I was in no hurry to enter the lion's den with the old machine, I figured it worth a try on the new one. So after dorking around for a while figuring out how to live with the new state of affairs (I'm still not sure about Mission Control) I figured I'd try some music apps.

For reasons I did not understand, I decided that MainStage was the first thing I'd fire up. This led to the gates of hell. Almost immediately, it asked me for my serial number/license key what-not. So I dig out my Logic 9 box and rummage around, find the paper and hand transcribe a very annoying string of characters (it's times like these you wonder how high the tech actually is at Apple). Then I'm told that this key was for an upgrade, please enter the original key. Seriously? Dig out the much larger Logic 8 box, and hand transcribe another string of characters. Annoyed but still calm, I watch as MainStage starts to check my plugins. Now this is the thing I was dreading and my dread was not ill founded. Soon I found myself re-authorizing and in some cases (AudioDamage) I had to re-download and re-install (as a way to do the re-auth)... For Native Instruments, I fired up Service Center only to find out that not only did I need to re-auth but that I needed to download a pile of upgrades (presumably fixes for Lion).

I don't remember how I noticed but I found out that many of the instruments that come as part of the Jam Packs were not present. Looking closer (using my killer UNIX skillz) I found that the new machine had 12,000 files in /Library/Application Support/Garageband and the old machine has 41,000. Clearly something didn't get moved. Ask the Googles and get told that I should reinstall Logic. I outsmart the Googles and install only the "content" but not the programs (since they'd been upgraded bunches of times by Software Update I didn't see any value in installing the .0 versions of everything). After that, I'm still a few thousand files short. On my list of crap to figure out.
A metric tonne of work for a program I have not used all that much... and short of loading every track I ever made with it and fixing the problems I don't know of a better way to ensure that old tracks continue to be loadable than brute force making sure I never lose any of the 1000s of files that are part of these packages.

So on to the program I do use, Ableton Live. It comes up, makes me reauth, tells me that I've just used up my last one and then starts checking VSTs (Logic only supports AUs we haven't had VST fun yet). For some odd reason, only 6 of the 12 AudioDamage plugins I own are visible in the library. Rescan doesn't. I send of the "WTF" email but it's Friday night and I'm not seriously expecting a response.  In the end, I solved this by blowing away the Live preferences file which triggered a "real" rescan.

Somewhere along the way, I saw a complaint about my Focusrite plugins. When I tried to reauthorize them, it would fail. Eventually I got to a webpage that told me that Focusrite would no longer hand out authorizations for those plugins. WTF?!? It did have a form to fill out which I did with minimum venom. I saved that for Twitter. This subplot does have a happy ending though. The following Monday, Focusrite hooked me up with their new plugins which are way way better. Good save.

So now I'm getting settled in, things are mainly working; I still have to figure out which 5,000 files I still need to migrate over from the old laptop's backup disk. Then I can reuse that disk to back up the new laptop. My stress level is receding.

That was until today. When I came back from lunch, unlocked my screen and was met with a grey screen of death. After letting that go nowhere for about 10 minutes, I power cycled. Only to be met with grinding noises from the hard drive...

My point in sharing this tale of woe was not really to make myself feel better (didn't work). Rather, it is to highlight some vulnerabilities that we have and think about ways to mitigate them.
  • if you buy software and you should, it is probably locked to your machine in some way.  When you get a new machine you may find yourself wrestling with licensing, begging for help. As much of a hassle as this is, it goes easier during the week. As a side benefit, you'll have your weekend free for making music instead of fuming about software licensing
  • software ages; that's not to say it gets old but rather that the people or companies supporting it decide for various reasons to stop or upgrade or go out of business
  • must of the music you produce in a DAW is not music at all but rather a pile of data. Some of that data is in the form of references to external sources like plugins, sample files, etc. Some of it is parametric data like automation, MIDI notes, signal routing. If any of these piece change or stop working, you will not be able to recreate your music. It seems that the only way to completely future proof tracks is to not simply save your rendered masters but also each track as an audio file (at least that way you'll be able to load those files into an entirely new DAW)
  • disks fail; back up all the fucking time. The odds of having a catastrophic disk failure in 5 years are pretty high. I naively thought that I was safe (6 days, come on!)  As it turns out, I get to repeat my tale woe because I did not have a backup of that 6 days of effort.
This just sucks.  Don't do as I did. Be smarter.
Photo by flickr user doegox


MBOX Pro Audio Challenge

Early this morning, while scraping the sleep out of my face and squinting at my twitter feed, I saw reference to this:

Think you know Mbox?  Take the challenge.

Being a sucker, I had to try it. I grabbed some caffeine and my best cans and sat down for a listen.

I'll spare you the suspense, I couldn't tell the difference, so I just clicked semi randomly on the test.  Got a B on the input test and an F on the output test.

After I got over the initial, "I must completely suck as a listener" and "this test is stupid, how they possibly expect to demonstrate anything", I began to realize that was the whole point. They wanted do demonstrate that they all sound pretty much identical while subtly reminding us that the Mbox is way cheaper than that other stuff.

But there's another conclusion I jump to. And that is that buying an audio interface using sound quality as your main criteria is wrong. And of course, if you've been playing around in this space, chances are that you have already intuited this idea.

So what is the criteria for audio interface shopping. Here's my list (in no particular order):

Basic features:
  • # of ins/out - I want at least 2 ins and 4 outs
  • the ins should be switchable between instrument/line
  • easily grabbed volume knob on the front (to save me from blowing my head off)
  • MIDI (to provide midi clock to my GT-10)
  • more front panel knobs the better, driving a separate mixer app with a mouse is a pain
  • two headphone jacks with separate volumes is a nice to have
  • special drivers? as a software guy (by day) that has done lots of device driver work, I am very suspicious about this one
  • latency? could you play live through this thing
  • are there timely updates to match your specific OS version
What's your criteria?  And does sound quality factor in or is it simply assumed?


Drum Programming Pro Tip

Ok, who am I kidding. Amateur tip. But here it is...

So you've got built an awesome groove, you've layered all kinds of superb music overtop, you've done your arranging, you take a break and you come back and you feel the whole thing is kind of muddy. Your super cool electro kick or snare are fighting with the synth pads. And you feel that familiar self-doubt creeping into your session.

Most mix tutorials concern themselves with making space in a mix in the frequency domain by subtractive EQing your tracks. This is still very important but...

A simple way to make a little more space is to shorten the drum samples. Think about it. If your big kick drum rings through for a 200ms, chances are it's eating a big chunk of your spectrum right up to time the next percussion hit is played. If you twiddle knobs on your drum software to make the decay faster then you'll can retain the sonic/musical characteristics of the drum hits while making space in your mix in the time domain. Now you have space between the hits for your musical genius to come through.


RIP Steve

I got the news this evening that Steve Jobs had passed. Hardly surprising, I coldly replied. I never had any dealings with him personally and the press was full of info/speculation about his health or lack of...  just another of the rich and powerful.

But that's grossly unfair...

As I sit and reflect on his legacy, I realize that his company's products have quite literally changed my life. That's not hyperbole.

Before my first Mac, I was a Linux guy. There were two Windows machines in the house (my wife's and my daughter's). One day, I received an email from my ISP saying that my machine was spreading viruses. That's impossible, I thought. I run Linux, dammit! So I setup a network trace and left it to run for a day.  Once every now and then my daughter's PC would email some virus to what read like a veritable who's who of open source (one of whom was the sender of the original complaint). I was mortified. And my response was harsh. From that day, the Windows PCs started running Debian. Oh the whining. Boo hoo, I want my Windows back. I can't play Windows Media. I can't this; I can't that. But I rulez with a ir0n f1st!

I am not a patient man. Supporting my family running Linux sucked giant donkey balls (thanks to my friend SM for that metaphor). But I soldiered on. Until one day...

I got a Mac. It gave me what I needed. A combination of a usable machine and terminal windows with a UNIX shell when things got weird (complete with useful developer tools).  Suddenly, I hacked on what I wanted instead of what was broken by a random upgrade.

It didn't take long to figure out that this was a supportable environment for the family. So as finances allowed, we became a Mac house. And I became a more relaxed patriarch; one with more free time.

Which leads to my profound finding of GarageBand on my first Mac... With that I again found a voice that I had thought was long lost. I am again making music. Started learning to play guitar. Pushed and enjoy my kids' playing (to the extent they allow [insert teen eye-roll])

And for that, I am forever changed.

To Steve and the incredible team that carries on, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I don't believe in heaven but if it's there, here's hoping that guys like Steve are shakin' shit up rather than resting in peace.


Random Surprise

Had a busy weekend came back to a message from a friend pointing me at this link, in which fellow alonetoner and great musician Joshua Wentz spotted one of my tracks playing on a website that mashes together police scanners from a user selected city with ambient music from Soundcloud.

Creative commons luminary Lawrence Lessig (and others) talk about remix culture. We typically think of that as something that is done deliberately by a human that carefully (or not) curates artistic sources for their  creative works. Personally, I hadn't considered that there might not be a human involved.  In this particular case, I think it works quite well. In fact, I've picked up my guitar and started making accompanying ambient noises...  a weird hybrid of a generative system and a human improvisor.  Neat.

Check it out for yourself at http://youarelistening.to/chicago.


Embracing Failure

Through the magic of twitter, I watched a video this morning that was by itself inspiring:

Milton Glaser – on the fear of failure. from Berghs' Exhibition '11 on Vimeo.

Even cooler is that this video is part of a series in which various accomplished people wax philosophical about the "fear of failure".

Now the specific wisdom imparted varied from speaker to speaker but one theme emerged and that was that failure was a good and useful thing that can aid in your personal development.  But as I watched these videos, I started reflecting on the word failure itself and how it applies in music (or perhaps in any art).

Indeed, how do you fail when nobody is listening?  Without an audience, how do you define failure?  Is it simply falling short of your "killer taste"? (thanks Ira Glass)  And let's say you invest some energy in finding and developing an audience.  Is failing to find fame and fortune a failure of your art or a failure of your marketing efforts?  I have no answers (but it's a good thing I'm not seeking fame and fortune).

When my thoughts start to meander on these big subjects, a little voice in my head says, "just shut up and make some music."  As for failure and the lessons it brings, I'll get back to you when I've learned something.


April Fools?

So I haven't really advertised them but I do have some basic principles for this blog.  One of them is to not be (too) negative. The world is full of haters and I don't need to add to it.

Today, I'm going to break that rule and perhaps simultaneously ensure my gear reviewing career never starts.

I receive a bunch of gear spam from a bunch of gear makers because I, like you, lust after gear. But today I got something very... well you decide:

(full product link)

Seriously? What the fuck. And iLok required?


Now that my jaw has recovered from its meeting with the floor I find myself asking, who is the target market for such products?

Really, I'm curious. Obviously, there's another corner of the planet that I never knew existed let alone knew anything about.


Radiohead - Part duh.

A while back, I wrote about the new Radiohead record (Of Limbs and Kings) and made the observation that it always takes a bunch of time to appreciate their material. Corollary to that it that appreciation can often come in surprising ways...

Yesterday I was browsing around in a used record store, on the shops sound system, Thom Yorke was singing. Was really groovy. The song... couldn't place it. Walked over the the section with the Radiohead CDs, thumbed through them. Only one expensive thing I didn't recognize. Already own everything else. What was it! It continued to drive me crazy and finally I approached the counter and asked the young hipsters there, "Okay, I feel like a complete loser even asking this so go easy on me but what are we listening to?" The answer was polite but shocking nonetheless. It was the last track on the King Of Limbs record. Gah! Something I pre-ordered, prepaid and downloaded the day it became available!

Sigh. #latetotheparty

My iTunes listening history did provide a hint. Prior to today, every track but the last two had received 7 listens. The last two had only 4. Hmmm.

Oh well, better late than never. Thanks to the nice guys at The Beat Goes On for not being too snotty about my mental acuity.


Sad Day

Today I heard some news that I knew was coming but was shitty all the same.

Yesterday, Derek K Miller, known to me as a co-host of the Inside Home Recording podcast, passed away after a knock down drag out brawl with cancer.

In the end he tapped but not without a touching farewell.

Death sucks giant donkey balls.

But That's Cheating!

The haters...  I've heard haters hating on singers because of their use of technology.  Not fair, really.  Why should instrumentalists have all the fun.

The video above, part of some marketing fluff (but interesting and cool nonetheless) by tc electronic shows what's possible in real time with vocals.  Holy crap.  I knew about pitch correction but real time harmonization (playable!).  Colour me impressed.

Hate all you want and when you're done accept that this is pretty cool.

Wonder what it would sound like on guitar?


When Two Worlds Collide

For a long time, I have had a split personality when making music. I either start playing with synths and go wherever that leads or I start with my guitar and explore that. Of course, guitar occasionally garnishes the electronics. But the approaches feel very different and separate.

Intellectually, I know this needn't be the case. Intellectually, I know that synths have oscillators (or some other sound source) that gets heavily processed. And I know something about that processing.

About a month ago, in a chat I verbalized that a guitar is really just six oscillators that get passed through a similar (but constrained by convention [and superstitions/biases/etc]) set of processing tools or modules.

Until recently I hadn't actually acted on that line of reasoning. One day I was fooling with Absynth (prodded by some tutorial ware that floated by in the RSS stream) and I remembered that you can use it as an effect. So in the preset browser, I selected effects, picked up the guitar and started exploring. Wow, some really out there stuff. A completely different and new pallette. I then tried the same with FM8.  And then Reaktor. And then my head exploded.

I have years worth of things to explore. And I'm stoked.

So look in again in your toolbox. Maybe there's a way to connect things that you hadn't considered before.


Funny Thing Happened

Thanks to the recommendation engine of emusic.com I recently discovered Arovane.  I liked it so much, I grabbed two albums and listened to them a couple of times each.

Thanks to the scrobbling of last.fm, it appears that I'm a top listener of Arovane's Tides album.

Of course, I didn't know that until I got a private message from someone in the UK saying that he noticed I was a top listener of said album and could I hook him up with a free copy.

Now I am a big fan of sharing music... with friends.  It forms part of the substrate of culture we share together.  This request from a complete stranger, however, seemed different.

So I said sorry and as politely as I could suggested that he support the artist by buying a copy for themselves.  Or asking the artist directly for a free copy.

What would you have done?


RPM Fail

It's March. I don't have an album done.  FAIL

I have been grappling (ok maybe that's overstating a tad) with whether or not to analyze this failure here. One the one hand, the reasons for not finishing are just a litany of boring excuses but on the other hand maybe there's something that I (or you) might be able to learn from.

My excuses fit into several broad categories:

Time. This February, there was a whole bunch of things that all conspired to "steal" time. An awesome visit from my best friend (good times, not too much drink, a bunch of awesome rockin and some glow-in the-dark eggs benedict), an opera with my mom (Nixon in China, super awesome and mind blowing), sports with my son, my own skate training and so on.

Music lessons. In my guitar lessons, we are working less on technical playing stuff and more on compositional things. My teacher (I'm thinking to start calling him my (composing) guru rather than guitar teacher) is encouraging me to explore form and composing a little more deliberately. This is really good but a lot slower than I have tended to work. It will take time to develop a process or processes that work for me. For now, it's a kind of practice.

Equipment. My looper is still not back. It seems stupid but it has become part of my headspace and learning to work without it has been a distraction. A good and necessary one.

Desire and expectations. Desire to complete, if I'm to be honest was low. Desire to make something good was high. With some experience, my expectations have gone up. The irony is that the RPM Challenge is entirely about breaking out of patterns of self censorship.  I now realize that I didn't really have a self censor and the "sudden" appearance of one might just be a natural development in an artists travels. Nevertheless, I am starting to resist the temptation to immediately publish my work. This comes from a positive but time consuming experience in which I spent a day working on a track. At the end of that time I didn't think much of the result. But taking the advice I've read and given countless times I walked away and returned later and made a bunch of changes. The result is a massive improvement. There is room for more but it got me excited about making better work slower. And it was here that I realized that if I took several days per track that the clock would run out on this years RPM effort.

These are just excuses, I know but since failure is a much better teacher than success, I'm just trying to be a better student and own up.


Of Limbs and Kings

Just having my first listen to Radiohead's latest album, King of Limbs and I'm having some thoughts...

  • I never like new Radiohead records for the first month or so; this one is no different, right on schedule to be my favourite in the April/May timeframe
  • it is really cool the way this record introduces the sorts of noises made by my fellow electronic composers and me to a more mainstream audience
  • it will definitely not be cool when somebody hears something of mine (or somebody else similarly DIY) and they say, "hey, that sounds just like Radiohead."


Hardware Sucks

Today disaster struck. I started unpacking a guitar and my looper (which had come with me to my guitar lesson) plugged it all in and was met with silence.

Debugging led me to determine that my looper (Digitech JamMan Stereo) was the problem. It was seeing signal but not passing it. More time lost determining that the metronome function was working but only coming out of the right channel. Plugged headphones into the headphone jack and found that the metronome was in full stereo.  Guitar was coming through the headphones but only on the left side. wtf?!?

It's a weekend so Digitech's support people are enjoying their time off. But I'm way behind in my third RPM Challenge. I need this like a hole in the head.

Lucky for me, I have a computer. With a host of looping plugins and apps. It's a pain in the ass but I'll find a work around.

So all the guitar players that swear by their stomp boxes and poo-poo all things digital... I've seen tube amps just stop working onstage, I've watched guys frantically trying to debug problems with their pedal boards. And I'm wondering, and admittedly I'm a complete beginner here, but why the fuck do you put up with this shit. Cause right now, I got a $300 door stop (maybe I'll get some warranty relief, we'll see) and I'm pissed and distracted from what I want to be doing, which is making music.

Update: I've taken it into Long & McQuade (a large Canadian music equipment retailer) and to my chagrin they're pursuing a repair.  Bummer.  A replacement/loaner would have been preferable but then I'm not a hissy-fit kind of customer (yet).  So hardware still sucks and I now I can't even hold the door open.


Taking Note

When I first started making music with my friend Ralph all those years ago, the recording process (8 track Fostex for those tuning in late) was onerous to the point that we didn't really take many notes. Our songs were scribbles describing sections on a single sheet of paper which as far as I know got lost just as quickly as they were scribbled. But then we were kids. Our ideas of rock and roll did not include taking notes.

Then when I started making electronic music I had a brief desire to take notes but I soon realized that pretty much everything is in the DAW session. And when I graduated from Garageband, I found that the "pro" DAWs had some kind of note taking facility. Which, frankly, I rarely used aside from noting some chord info since re-figuring out chords from MIDI piano rolls is tedious (but even that is gracefully handled by some DAWs).

Had I stayed electronic and entirely in the box the story would probably end there. When the guitar came, things changed. Sessions failed to capture chords, pickup switch settings, stompbox settings and so on. Then there was the issue of practice. I'm still not comfortable using guitar player and my name in the same sentence. It didn't take long before I wouldn't bother firing up a DAW for practice. Of course then I would tire of practicing and slip into exploring musical ideas and chord progressions. Ideas would get lost. Or they would morph from one day to the next because my mood would be different or I couldn't remember the exact rhythm I used the day before.

So I started keeping a notebook. And every now and then I would stop everything and scribble some notes. Of course, this can be hugely disruptive and you have to invent a language for yourself (it's one thing to write down Cm7 but quite another to write down a specific voicing and picking pattern and so I ended up leaving coded hints to myself).

Then I got a looper pedal. And my explorations would become multi-hour affairs where little to nothing got written down. Worse, I could not remember the first 4 or 5 layers of the loop I built. I was certainly enjoying myself but my recorded output went to near zero because there were no notes and because there was no time left (real life calling).

Many suggestions were offered but none seemed to really stick. My friend @sudara suggested video'ing my sessions. Put a camcorder on a tripod and give 'er. Mmm, good idea but I never did it for the usual host of reasons. Then one day, he tweeted about using Photobooth to record the video. Genius! For those that don't know, every Mac comes with a built in camera and an app called Photobooth which everybody uses for a little while to take some goofy funhouse style pictures of themselves until the novelty wears off. Well it can also record video too. Huh.

Today the RPM Challenge started and this evening I set out to work on what will be my third RPM album. I did not really have any ideas that I was working on and I was short on time so I figured I would just looper noodle. Before long, it was going and I suddenly realized that I should be at least taking video. So I fire up the Photobooth app, start recording and return to my noodling. After about 12 minutes I checked and the result was brilliant! Not only did I capture the sound (from my audio interface, so reasonably good quality) but I caught my playing visually too so that I'll be able to later see what I was doing even if I don't take written notes (which I did as well).

My process is still far from ideal (one improvement, filed under someday, will be to figure out how to add a mic to my setup) but this very simple hack will help me to take note of the notes. Very stoked.

Thanks @sudara!

The video above is a few minutes of the 12 or so I shot.  I missed the creation of the loop and I'll probably frame it better to focus on the hands more but hey, was my first time.

Cranial Vapour Lock

When I was younger I used to "roadie" for a bunch of local musicians who were busy on the wedding and corporate party circuit. While I was overworked and underpaid I did get a bit of an education. One of the things that I learned was that sometimes a good song was made great by an inspired performance. And while the players that I worked with were all phenomenal musicians, the sublime performances were rare and special.

Fast forward to my own performance Sunday at our twice yearly "recital"... To date, each time I played in front of the students and other family of my music school I have played something new. Typically built on a musical idea from the very week of the performance. This time, I decided to repeat. Of course, I very much wanted this performance to be better than the first one.

Instead, I got what what retired CBC hockey commentator called "cranial vapour lock." Early in the performance, I had trouble "seeing" the scale shapes that I was soloing from. At one point, after flubbing a transition, I even couldn't remember which buttons on the looper pedal to stomp. I don't think the performance was a disaster but because of the brain freeze, the bad has been maginified to biblical disaster proportion and the good? Was there any?

Explaining this to my friend Sean, consumate professional musician that he is just smiled and said, "just like golf."

I would end on that but for those that don't play golf, the lesson is this.  Golf can be a fun game even if you lack skill right up to the point that you start really trying.  Then it can quickly become maddening.  In short, just relax.

And so I take a breath and wait for the damning evidence to appear on youtube.


What do you mean there's no undo?!?

I had a disaster. I have been getting along nicely with my GT-10.  I even made my own preset. I loved that preset. It was becoming my sound. My precious.

The other night, I had a few. I decided I needed another preset and that I would derive this new preset from my precious.  So I poke at the buttons to copy the preset. Without so much as an are you sure, I copied the shitty preset I wanted to overwrite on top of my precious. Now I have two shitty presets and my precious is gone. Crack the manual, look in the index for Undo.  Futility in action.

Of course, because I'm a typical lazy-ass, I never actually used the supplied patch librarian software.  So it's gone. Gone. Gone. Sucks. Sucks. Sucks.

So today's lesson in the rock and roll school of hard knocks is make sure you have a backup. That may take different forms for different kinds of gear but when you need to get back something you created months ago you'll be thankful.

[Edit: minor typos]


Ceilings Count Too

Just a quick update on my acoustic treatment project.  In a previous episode, I had built 5 panels.  Until this weekend, I had only hung 4 of them.  I postponed hanging the last one because I had to do something with the ceiling light fixture that was almost directly over my listening position.

This weekend, I went to the Home Despot and picked up a few knick-knacks to finish the project.  These were a hanging lamp, some wood-screw eyelets, some hooks and drywall anchors.

First, I took out the existing ceiling light fixture, and replaced it with the hanging lamp (which incidentally was chosen because it was cheap at $30 not because I have any delusions about my interior design skillz).  I deliberately did not cut the length of the cord down, instead ran it over to a hook I anchored in the ceiling a few feet to the left.  Oh, and in case it wasn't obvious, I did this work with the power off.

With the light out of the way, I set myself to the problem of hanging the panel from the ceiling.  I had been mulling on the problem for a while but still only had a fuzzy idea about how this was going to work.  First, I drilled some pilot holes into the panel boards close to the corners and screwed in 4 eyelets.

Now, I had no confidence that I'd be able to put four hooks into the ceiling in exactly the right spot for these four eyelets.  It is one thing to be exacting with something on a workbench, it's quite another to be exacting while standing on a chair, driving anchors into drywall over your head while trying not to knock anything over (see I wasn't going to dismantle the studio again for this).  Anyway, I put four drywall anchors into the ceiling at around the right spots and put the hooks into the anchors.

Next, I took some wire (of the sort you find on the back of picture frames) and, consulting the interubez for knot tying lessons,  I made four pieces with loops on either end (about 10cm long).  One end loop on the eyelet, the other end to be hooked onto the ceiling hooks.

Can I hear the difference?  That would be a resounding yes.  Countless times have I read the words, "tighter sound" and wondered that actually meant.  Now I know.  Tighter is exactly the right adjective.



Gear acquisition syndrome. Seems to be a problem many people have but it is particularly pernicious among musicians. Magazines and other blogs telling us of new toys that feed the fantasy of musical magic. Different people lust after different things. Some lust after the perfect vintage guitar or amp, some lust after modules for their synths, others collect stomp boxes, and others (like me) collect software.

Of course, when you get a new toy, there is a kind of responsibility to learn how to best use it. Sometimes this is relatively easy (a new guitar will not pose a huge challenge) and other times it's a huge investment (as in moving from Garageband to Logic). In the latter cases, the siren song of GAS will start to call before you develop mastery over the new toy. Soon the new toy becomes an old-new toy, and eventually just an old toy.

I have been lusting after a new effect from Electro-Harmonix called Freeze (to say nothing of their other super sexy stompboxes). This lust has been growing for a few weeks now. Until this weekend. I was waiting for my computer to churn on something or other and I started pushing buttons on my GT-10 (Boss). I'll spare you the details but the GT-10 has whole bunch of effects (maybe 42ish) and one of them is called "Sound Hold". Played a bit with it and damn if it didn't do what (I think) Freeze does. Shit's been under my nose the whole time! The only thing to do is break open the manual (OMG where the fuck is the manual?!?) to figure out how to map one of the pedals to the hold function... Fast forward a few minutes and I have something close to what I had imagined.

Damn thing has been in my studio for more than a year.

So while you're all drooling over the press releases from NAMM, consider taking the ideas and possibilities presented by new gear and ask yourself if you can make something similar with the tools you already have. You just might surprise yourself and save a few bucks at the same time.

But really, who am I kidding.  I'll end up buying a Freeze soon enough.


I have become one of them

As I sit in a local Starbucks, shortly after sunset on New Year's Eve, waiting for my progeny to finish their progeny stuff it seems as good a time as any to write one of those reflective, retrosoective entries that fill the tubez at this time of year. Fuck that.

I will, however, talk about one really cool thing from the past year...

2010 is the year I went pro.

Actually that's not the cool thing. The cool thing is Ramen Music. Ramen is the brain child and dream of Sudara Williams and its aim is to deliver a curated feed of good music to subscribers all while giving most of the money to the artists involved.

One of the ways in which Sudara differs from me is that he actually gets stuff done. I know it hasn't always been easy for him but he's building something cool and deserves a lot of credit.

So as a New Year's gift to you, I offer my links to the first two issues:

Issue #1
Issue #2

Happy New Year!

The sharp eyed will notice that one of my tracks appears in the inaugural issue. Thus my "pro" remark.