Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easing Easter Ears

It's nearly 4am and my ears need a break.
After deciding that what has for years been a ballad would now be a Drum & Bass track I've quit Bitwig Studio for the morning / night.
It's always good to challenge how one sees one's own work. It's like walking down a path and promising yourself that you'll only take the right hand forks only to end up back where you started. Writing music is like that. One can develop a style and sit comfortably in it for years. That's probably good if one wants to be associated with a certain genre but for me, I'm not going to be widely known for anything so I'm allowed to experiment.
If I were to be pigeon holed it would be for electronic music but there are so many sub-genres in that space that it's easy and productive to wonder off course. That's how I've been spending my Easter so far.
The only thing about music creation for me that isn't so great is that the time I get to work on it, usually between midnight and 5am. That means headphones and after a few hours of sound design and composing it's time to call it a night no matter how far I am into a track.
I'll be doing some monitor mixing next Saturday, the day after I buy my new studio monitors. I hope the neighbours understand that the loud(ish) classical music that will be emanating from the house for three hours next Friday afternoon is totally necessary. New monitors need breaking in.
Hopefully the neighbours will be at work.

Sunday, April 14, 2019


Here is the start of something new.
As I've mentioned before my inspiration usually starts with either bass or chords but not this time. I was trying to create a multi-layered instrument, which I did, but to test it I threw some fairly random notes into a loop and voila! A weird thing that when played on my keyboard came out sounding like some 70s inspired acid track. Not old skool acid but more modern, along the lines of Luke Vibert. Anyway, I liked it so much that I saved everything as a preset and started a new track. That's the second one this weekend.
I haven't attempted any beats for either track because I'm not inspired at the moment but it'll come. I know roughly what I want but the ideas need a little maturing before committing them to Bitwig.

Sometimes I think that a little ignorance goes a long way. Take the example above. If I'd known exactly what I was doing I'd have missed this serendipitous opportunity. There would be a preset saved somewhere without an idea to utilise it. I have learned something along the way and that will pay off at some point in the future but simply messing around a bit has actually got me somewhere.
It'd be a good thing if we could all do something that required us to just have a go without having to learn and follow the rules.
Life has too much regulation already.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Enjoying Myself

It's a rare thing for me to get a decent amount of time to actually enjoy myself.
I've taken some time off from work between hospital check-ups and managed to fill it with stuff I like doing.
In that time I've struck a deal on a pair of studio monitors in a local music shop. Worked on my current track in Bitwig Studio. Had time to browse second hand books and found a few gems. There's also been time to kick back on a couple of evenings and enjoy some fine food and drink. All this with no pressure to fulfil and specific duty the next day.
Of course it couldn't last and I have my final appointment tomorrow and also have to swing back into a pattern of sleeping during the day. I'll use the long night tomorrow to arrange the track I'm working on and do a stereo mix.
It's also good to know that with Easter coming up I won't have to work a full week again this month.
April has been a good month.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Plenty Of Time

I don't think that it matters that I've just lost an hour, I've gained a track.
The best thing to do with it now it to leave it alone for a week and go back to it with fresh ears. All of the main elements are there, the blocks that hold the track together, but it's far from finished.
Next weekend I'll do a rough arrangement and export a copy. That'll be a backing track to listen to so that if I get any ideas I can subtract or add other elements.
With all the pieces in place I'll leave it alone again and work on other tracks. At some point I'll mix it all properly and drop it into a folder. When that folder has a few tracks in I'll master them all and release an EP.
I find it fairly easy to write tracks. The track above was started my me experimenting with a synth. I found a great bass sound and played until a riff emerged. The rest of the track has been built around the bassline. Sometimes it's a chord sequence. I suppose it's 50/50 when starting a new track. Bass or chords, the starting point is one or the other.
So far I'm enjoying using Bitwig Studio a lot. As far as Linux DAW's go it has to be the best and a suitable replacement for FL Studio.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Back In Business

It's been a hectic week.
I've been off work since Tuesday because my car needed an MOT and I didn't know how much work needed doing. I decided that not going back to work until next week was a good idea because I had plenty of other things I wanted to do.
The first job was getting Bitwig Studio up and running. That worked fine until I tried to boot my new PC on Wednesday and nothing happened. It took me most of Wednesday night / Thursday morning to get the PC to work. What I think happened was that one of the dependencies I added to try and get some plugins working didn't want to play with the NVidia drivers and that argument borked the system.
It's all good now and I've been experimenting and writing tracks. Rather than rely on using plugins, as good as they are, I've been watching loads of YouTube videos to learn how the built in synths work. I've learned enough to design some decent sounds of my own and I'm saving presets along the way.
I've also downloaded a Soundfont creator so that I can build my own multi-sampled synths. I have plenty of synths around so that shouldn't be a problem.
Another thing I'm doing is carrying around a small field recording kit. Nothing special but enough to record sounds without it being too obvious that that is what I'm doing.
I just wish I had more free time so that I could visit places with interesting soundscapes but who knows what I can create from the mundane sounds that are part of my world.
I think I'm about to find out.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Heart Of The Machine

As has been mentioned on this blog many times before, when Windows went so did FL Studio.
I'd been looking for a replacement DAW for some time and quite a while ago found Bitwig Studio. Not having a decent enough computer to run it on stopped me diving into the world of Bitwig earlier. Things are different now.
Tonight I bought BWS and so far I've worked out quite a bit without reading the manual. One third of it is very similar to Ableton Live which I had used a long time ago. This is no surprise as this is where the developers came from before starting this project. The only thing I can't get to work so far is native Linux VST's but I imagine I'll work that out at some stage.
BWS is now the heart of my new studio. It'll eventually run the QY sequencers and the Korg synth. I can then pipe everything into the Zoom R8 multitrack and take the files into Audacity for mastering. That's a lot of sound options.
It'll take a while to get stuck into BWS especially with an update imminent. In the meantime I'll keep experimenting and creating like I've always done.
AmpUT is back in business.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Long Live The Flaneur

Picture the scene.
Saturday afternoon. I'm out and about and have some time to kill. I usually find a coffee shop and do some writing. I like to support local businesses and with a recommendation I head to a small business. I order my coffee and a cake, the woman behind the counter takes my money, rings it in, gives me my change and says "I'll have to give you your coffee in a takeaway cup because we close in 10 minutes." It's 3:50pm.
This isn't the first time this has happened to me. Not at this place but at 2 other small and local to me businesses. If I'd been told they were nearly closing before they'd taken my money I would have gone somewhere else. If I'm out for coffee I don't want to have to rush through my purchase. If they're closing soon just let me know or put your opening times on the door.
It would seem that small businesses have a lot to learn about how to communicate with their customers. The corporates seem to have this covered and I'm leaning towards them at the moment which is a shame. Yesterday my sit in coffee option was Greggs. The coffee isn't bad at all and I can get something lite to eat for me and my girlfriend for the same price that I paid for what I had today.
It would seem that in this smartphone age I'm expected to have full details about where I'm going via the net before I get there. So long serendipity.
The flaneur in me is discouraged from places with poor communication skills. That's not what I want when interacting with the community.

Saturday, March 23, 2019


It's been a long time since I played with Lego.
Probably about 39 years I reckon. I didn't have a lot of Lego. A few road base plates, some mini figures, vehicles and enough bricks to built a very small town.
For a whole summer holiday I made up my own adventures in Lego. I had just moved house and didn't have any new friends so I stayed in and played. I taught myself how to draw Superman too by copying from an annual I'd been given.
Not long after that summer I moved again but my Lego didn't move with me and since then I've thought about building worlds to escape into.

Eventually I got a computer and played with 3D. Bryce 3D was my weapon of choice for a long time but that disappeared with Windows many moons ago now.
With the arrival of my new PC I've once again found avenues to wander down. With a decent graphics card and a world of free software I've opted for Blender and LeoCAD.
Blender is about as good as it gets for 3D and really needs no introduction. On the other hand LeoCAD is new to me. I'm so glad I found it. As many free bricks of all shapes and sizes and all the mini figures one could ever want.
They're both free. What more could I want.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Full Speed Ahead

This is my first post from my new PC.
It's a bit of a powerhouse. That's all you need to know, I won't go into the specifications.
It's taken me all night to sort everything out. I've had cables in then out and back in again. I've re-arranged stuff so many times that I probably won't recognize this room tomorrow.
Some things didn't work as expected but most things did so overall I'm pleased with the outcome.
The one thing I can't find is my outboard sound card. I'll have to look for that tomorrow. I've seen it recently but where I've put it is anybody's guess. It's not a small thing and I need it for MIDI stuff. I've no doubt I'll find it.
It's just a case of when!

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Something Old

Well here's a blast from the past.
I went into the loft today and dragged out my old Yamaha PSR-240. It's probably about 5 years since I last turned it on. I needed a bit of a wipe down and the rubber feet had perished so cleaning took well over an hour. Nevertheless it powered up and still plays nicely.
One good thing about limited keyboards is that with only a few sounds you'll ever use one spends more time actually composing because there are few distractions. After skimming through a PDF manual I noticed that in the MIDI section it recommended hooking up to a QY70. I don't have one but I do have a QY100 so guess what I did? The answer is nothing. I can't remember where I've put my MIDI cables. At 4am it's way too early/late to start rooting around and making a noise so I'll do that tomorrow.
The great thing about the PSR-240 is that it's already set up to talk to the QY series. The MIDI channels don't need any configuration. I'm looking forward to tomorrow night.

In other news, I'm writing this post on my Pi-Top laptop. The touch pad is quite big but not ideally suited to dragging windows around the screen so I bought it a wireless mouse. The Logitech mouse was cheap and cheerful and works right out of the box with Linux which is why I use them pretty much exclusively.

I bought a QY10 last week which MyHermes managed to lose so no new QY to play with. That's a real shame because I wanted a portable, carry anywhere sequencer. Oh well another time, I have bigger things to concentrate on, talking of which...

I'm hoping that in about 2 weeks time to bring you some exciting news on this blog about my music studio. I'm saying nothing at the moment. I'll wait until everything is in place.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Pseudo Random Numbers

If you aren't interested in random numbers just skip this post.
Keep in mind that there is content here and log it for later. At some point in the future random numbers will be a valuable commodity.

The reason I made that last statement is that privacy is increasingly important and that privacy depends on good and absolutely random numbers. So why am I blogging about pseudo random numbers? After all, they're not really random. There may be times when you may not have true random numbers available to you. If pseudo random numbers are all you have they'll be better than nothing. This post shows you how to create PRN's on a cheap calculator. The calculations can be done with pencil and paper but a calculator like the one above will be quicker. I recently bought a similar one in a charity shop for £3. An even cheaper non scientific calculator will work for this also.

If your curiosity has got you this far I'd recommend watching a really good video on YouTube. It's just under 15 minutes long. The calculation used for the Linear Congruential Generator wasn't explained in simple enough terms for me so that's what I plan to do here.

How would you interpret the equation in the video so as to resolve it on a calculator? Here's how.

First the equation: 
(seed · a + c) mod m

Where seed = starting value, m = modulus, a = multiplier, c = increment.
The values in the video would make the equation as follows.

(4321 · 378 + 2310) mod 7829

On your calculator press the following keys:

4321 x 378 + 2310 =

The result will be 1635648. Write this down or just leave it on screen if your calculator lets you calculate an answer. We'll be using this figure for the mod part below.
Let's just say you've cleared your screen, key in:

1635648 ÷ 7829 =

The result is 208.922. Next subtract 208 from the last answer as follows:

208.922 - 208 =

All we did there is to subtract the number before the decimal point which in this case was 208. The result is now 0.922.
Take this answer and multiply it by your modulator which in our case is 7829.

0.922 x 7829 =

The answer is 7216 which is the same answer in the video linked above.
This number is now the new modulator. Just keep repeating the steps above until you have enough pseudo random numbers.

The numbers used above can be whatever you like but as mentioned in the video the higher the modulus the better.
I'll be covering other methods of obtaining pseudo random numbers soon and later methods for true random numbers. Pseudo random numbers are fairly easy to create and can also be used for creating true random numbers.
More on that another day.
If you've made it this far, well done.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

More Latex

I made a promise to myself to write this year.
The main object of that resolution was to get back to being creative. So far I've been doing alright. What I write doesn't matter. It could be music, fiction, non-fiction or just scribbles in a notebook. I'm covering all four so far and then some.

As mentioned last time I'm just getting into using LaTeX. It's basically a markup language which I'm very comfortable with having learned HTML in a text editor many moons ago. LaTeX is much more that HTML. It's the equivalent of HTML plus CSS with a bag of tricks thrown in.
I've just spent a few hours practising in the Atom editor, which in itself is a joy to use, and produced the layout for a work of non-fiction including a table of contents, chapters and footnotes. All I need to do now is add the content. Even before I've really started it's looking professional and that is encouragement enough.
It won't matter that it won't be published by someone like Penguin, I'll do it myself with a creative commons licence. My fiction will probably go the same way as my music has before. Like it or loath it, it's all free. I'll just be happy that my written words will look good and I'll leave readers to decide on the content.

What matters to me most is that I'm really enjoying my writing this year and that I have enough projects to bounce between. I like that when the ideas for one project dry up I can move on to something else until inspiration strikes that topic again. Talking of which, I've run out of things to say here.
At least until next time you know I'll be busy.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Atomic Latex

I absolutely love text editors.
I'm easily distracted when it comes to the simple task of inputting text into a document. Linux offers a plethora of text editors. From Nano to Atom, I love them all.

It's not so long ago that I discovered Atom. I won't explain its capabilities here, you probably have better things to do with the rest of your life. What it is, is extensible. I use it for simple .txt files, python, markdown and now Latex.
Latex (check online for pronucciation) is a way of creating professional .pdf files. It uses a it's own syntax for layout but its power comes from the fact that it is ideal for mathematical and scientific papers. This is down to its ability to correctly render equations.
I'm not going to be writing anything so complicated soon but I will need the capability as I continue my search for some kind of accessible way to create random numbers or at least pseudo random numbers.
I have a calculator app that will let me enter Latex syntax equations. I'm looking into whether actual programmable calculators have the same option.

In the meantime I will learn the Latex syntax and try and produce something worth looking at while my mathematics education steers me to more complex calculations.
It's all good fun even if I don't understand completely what I'm doing.
My destination is a long way away but the journey of learning is what I intend to enjoy. Besides I only have to understand what is going to be useful to me and from this angle that isn't a lot.
However I do understand that looks are deceptive.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Lot Of Tonespace

Here's something I've been messing with all night.
It's free software called Tonespace and it's very interesting and extremely useful. It's main job is to play chords which it does very well. The way it plays the chords can be adjusted in a wide variety of ways. What I found so inspirational is the way it will randomly re-voice chords. Just choose the setting and it jumps around your selected chord and adds or moves appropriate notes within your chosen scale. That could make a simple 3 chord song sound very interesting and varied. It's particularly good if you MIDI it into a decent string or orchestral sound.
A lot of this evening was spent patching it into various other bits of audio kit. I'm still getting used to routing everything through Jack. Jack is kind of intuitive but sometimes things just won't play well together and a fair bit of trial and error goes on. Having said that, once you've worked out where you're going wrong and fixed it you can save your MIDI patch for next time.
I expect I'll be orchestrating a few more songs than I thought I would.
Can't be a bad thing.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Something Different Maybe

I'm probably one of the few remaining people still using Google+.
This blog used to get pushed to G+ but that has now been stopped. I've rarely published directly to G+ but I use it every day as a news aggregator for stories about crypto and Linux. I'll miss it.

It has made me wonder how long Blogger will be around. The Android app is terrible and I don't have a use for it because there are no user definable layout options. So what happens if Google decide to retire Blogger?
Strange as it may seem Github may be an option. If one has a Github account one may have a Github Pages site. It's a little more involved than Blogger and requires use of Jeykll to publish markdown pages as HTML. The markdown part is OK, I already use the Atom editor for my markdown which is in itself a Github product.
Initially I like most people had reservations about Github after it was bought by Microsoft but Microsoft seem to be moving in the right direction with open source and that is encouraging. Things could and probably will change, they always do.

For now I'm sticking with Blogger. I've been using it for years and I like it but I do think I'll be experimenting with Github Pages soon to see if it could be a viable solution if this blog's home goes south.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Flesh To Bones

This is a step closer to the first of my new music.
It's the scratchpad before all this MIDI information gets sent to my QY100.
The basic elements of the composition above were created in Seq24 which in itself is a wonderful musician's playground. This phase in Qtractor is all about seeing if the elements work together well enough to form patterns that will create the backing track for further work.
My next step is to add all the elements to the QY100 and create the patterns. I'm going to try to save the MIDI file to my SmartMedia card and see if I can extract the bits I need. If that doesn't work I'll record each phrase one at a time. It's all still a learning curve but at least it's not too steep.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Hacking MIDI

It's been a long night.

I've been messing with the QY300 and associated peripherals for about 8 hours. The first job was to fit it with a virtual disk drive. It was advertised as plug and play which it certainly is. It's saving all the data into virtual drives so that I don't lose hours of work. The weird thing is that the drive isn't showing any files when I plug it into my Lubuntu laptop. In all fairness they are both using totally different file systems. That does't matter though because I've managed to get my laptop talking to the QY300 over USB to MIDI cables so it's all good.
The idea is to create new patterns on Seq24 and add them to the QY300 which will be the backing for my songs.
While I'm on the subject of QY's, the QY100's SmartMedia card is read perfectly well by Lubuntu so there's always the option of doubling songs back onto that before re-voicing with the Korg. It all sounds very complicated but it isn't really and bouncing MIDI files between devices (including my phone) gives me endless options for creating music. I have an OTG adaptor for my phone so I might try driving the QY300 with that tomorrow.
Now I know everything works it time to get down to the business of writing some music.
If only inspiration was as easy as MIDI!

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.