Sunday, January 20, 2019

I Can't Sing

My first post of 2019.
Sorry it's taken so long, I've been having trouble with my domain name supplier.

I've spent the last couple of weekends finalising my studio work flow. The forthcoming tracks will start life in Seq24. It's a simple MIDI sequencer but very useful for getting tracks off the ground in a very short amount of time. One advantage of Seq24 is that it exports the short patterns that make up a song individually. This is also useful for building styles on my Korg Liverpool.
The exported MIDI file gets loaded into Qtractor and the song is constructed there. I can then export the Qtractor MIDI file straight into the Korg and re-voice it ready to record into the R8. All good.
I want vocals on some of the tracks but I can't sing. There are auto-tuning options galore these days but the result wouldn't fit what I do anyway. I do like the sound of a Vocoder so I bought the Boss VO-1. It's rare that I don't rip something out of its packaging and play with it straight away but I'll wait until I'm recording vocals before messing with the Boss. I think I'll record special harmony tracks while I'm in Seq24 but they'll only be used with the VO-1.

I'm currently sequencing some D&B drums but I doubt I'll be recording much at 185bpm. They sound really good slowed right down. I'm also experimenting with chord sequences again, probably my favourite part of building tracks. It does take a long time because I constantly change the chord structures but I always end up with something I'm happy with so it's definitely worth the effort.
Due to the limited time I have don't expect a flurry of tracks soon but there should be a decent collection of work by 2020.
I want to get this right.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Somewhere In The MIDI

There are 3 modes to MIDI.
1. It works.
2. It doesn't work.
3. You have to patch it to make it work.

I've just spent an enjoyable hour and a half in mode 3. Sometimes mode 3 is a nightmare. No matter what you do it's always in mode 2 or trying to resolve itself to mode 2. When you finally get to mode 1 it's best to get your ideas recorded in the fastest possible time before you change a voicing and find yourself back in mode 2.
I say enjoyable because I went from mode 2 to 3 and then to 1 and messed with voicings and managed to stay in 1. All good.

I've spent the last few months rebuilding my late lamented studio. A few years ago I sold a lot of hardware because I was writing music in FL Studio but it's now been about 3 years since I owned a Windows PC and so I've been without both hardware and software.
I had a couple of choices. Firstly I could spend a significant amount of money on a new Windows PC and get FL Studio up and running or I could replace the hardware with updated kit for about the same price.
While I'm competent with both set-ups I went with the latter. I just thought it'd be more fun. I was right. Tonight I programmed my Yamaha MIDI sequencer and re-voiced the tracks with a Korg keyboard. It sounded great and while messing around I opened a few more sequencing doors. I've added some new ideas to my workflow.

In case you're interested the kit list is:

Yamaha QY300 - MIDI Sequencer and secondary sound bank.
Korg Liverpool (MicroArranger) - Sequencer and main sound bank.
Zoom R8 - 8 track recorder, sampler, drum sequencer and guitar fx.
Squire Precision Bass
Zoom B1on - Bass multi FX and looper.
Blue Moon electric 6 string guitar.
Ashbury baritone ukulele.

What I'm hoping to produce is some kind of techno bass jazz but we'll see about that.
Making music has never been a precise art.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Alternative Radio

UK radio stations on the whole are terrible.
Most FM stations are a complete waste of time. Radio 4 is an exception but only sometimes. AM is sparsely populated and so hit or miss as to be worth very little of my time. LW doesn't fare any better, RTE 252 is decent but reception is limited.

This is of course my opinion. Many people love listening to the same tunes on a roll interspersed with adverts. People like to phone into shows and give their opinion of the events of the day however irrelevant. They also like interacting via social media if only to listen back to what they've just typed. That's a little harsh but not wide of the mark.
What I'm looking for is educational material, in depth analysis and good investigative journalism. The BBC has this covered for the most part on Radio 4 but it seems to be dumbing itself down in recent years.
Radio 6 Music is OK most of the time when I have a digital radio nearby which tends to be only at home.

It's a sign of the times that we all want and to some extent expect personalised content. When I'm in the truck at night I listen to podcasts, occasionally Radio 4 or nothing. What I miss is the radio as a tool of exploration, of discovery, of surprise, shock or delight. At home I have so many radios that when one type runs out of options I switch to another and carry on the search. Even that's getting more difficult with digital noise deafening the bands.

What I needed in the truck for when the podcasts ran out, which they frequently do, was a scanner. I've spent these last 2 nights programming in frequencies to my new Uniden UBC125XLT. Scanners are great radios. Like fishing you prepare your rod, line and bait and then wait. Sometimes there's nothing to catch, other times you can be overwhelmed. The surprise element is always possible. The anticipation is probably the best part and if all else fails there's always aviation to keep you occupied. That's what the books behind the scanner are. One is a totally nerdy guide to Air Traffic Control for radio enthusiasts. The other is an official study guide for radio operation when learning to fly.
They're both probably a bit overkill but I do intend to understand what pilots are going on about when that's all there is to listen to.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Another Lubuntu Win

Well that put a stop to the music making.
And I'm not even bothered.

The RAM for the old (read ancient) computer turned up early so I've spent this evening / morning getting everything working. I knew the PC had had Ubuntu previously installed so I added the new 2GB RAM and powered up. I was surprised to find a fresh Ubuntu 14.04 distro waiting for me. Even with the new RAM it chugged. So much so that simple screen animations took forever. I started to doubt how good the new memory sticks were. It was no wonder that I hadn't done anything productive on it.
Fast forward through a long install of Lubuntu 18.04 including one mistake and backtrack to correct it. I had wanted to boot straight into Terminal because the PC is so old but I wasn't given the option. I didn't have high hopes for the GUI desktop when it appeared after the first boot.

How wrong I was. This modern distro flies on this old machine. More likely than not because it's an old Lenovo with an AMD Sempron chip inside. Both of these things favour Linux OS even today. I then spent a decent half hour installing the extra software I really need, Emacs, Vim, Imagemagick etc. This is still going to be a barebones PC.

So there it is, a modern, fast PC. If you have one gathering dust somewhere or you're offered one take up that offer. The RAM is cheap, the distro is free and well worth your time.
This takes recycling to a whole new level.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Lots Of Little Jobs

I've had a weekend of sorting out the small things that are always at the bottom of my todo list.
My list is purely mental. If I had a list of things written down somewhere I'd probably be put off starting it in the first place.

Job number one was getting my Raspberry Pi Zero W loaded with Raspbian and running a VNC server on it so that it can be controlled by my Android phone. I can now remote into the Pi desktop which is odd but very satisfying especially on a smartphone. All done and quite a simple exercise too. What should be a straight forward task usually isn't. This time was fortunately different.

Next on the list was to play my electric guitar for a while to get the strings stretched enough for it to stay in tune. New strings are better these days but there is that initial play-tune loop to go through. I had a lot of fun jamming through the Zoom R8 and trying the effects. That's all now ready for a bit of a marathon recording session which will hopefully happen next weekend. That's if I can leave my computers alone long enough.

That's going to be difficult because task three was to find some old RAM for a very old PC. A long time ago I installed Ubuntu on it so I know it works with a Linux distro. The problem was the 512MB of RAM that was trying to run everything. To give this old box its dues it managed admirably albeit slowly.
After falling for the lightweight Lubuntu last week I was tempted to install that straight away but I came to my senses and went down to the computer shop on the hunt for retro memory. The shop owner was all smiles in a 'helpful / what does this idiot want that for' way. I did try to explain that Lubuntu would handle the old PC without any problem but I think Mr Computershop is all about Windows so the word Lubuntu fell on deaf ears.
He did however suggest going onto eBay and buying my RAM there, so I did. For the princely sum of £10.95 there will be 2GB running my revived PC.
That's if I don't add more jobs to my todo list in the meantime.