If I hear one more commercial with a ripoff of Coldplay’s “Clocks”

Seriously, it’s been 7 years already. You’d think this would stop after 2, maybe 3. Was some sort of study done that shows that this song, or reasonable facsimiles, causes consumers to let their guard down? “Hey, this soothing melody sounds familiar, I think I’ll go buy a car”. Yeah right!

And on that note:

Drum recording for The Wax

So my indie pop/rock band, The Wax, has started recording a 6 song EP. We ripped through the drums in a weekend. Here’s what we used for gear:

  • Overheads: Samson C02 pencil condensors
  • Kick mic: Shure Beta 52A
  • Snare: Shure SM57
  • Audio interface: ART Tubefire 8

We didn’t have the best room so I tried out the Recorderman technique for the overheads. Overall I’m pretty happy with the results. Here’s a clip of an early mix of one of the tracks.

Bi-annual update!

Well it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything. I’ve been busy getting engaged, buying and moving into a house, recording, putting on shows, etc! I hope to start doing updates more regularly, mostly pertaining to my various music projects and what’s going on with them. So without further ado here’s the first one!

If you live in the Halifax region come check my indie pop/rock band, The Wax, at the Garrison Brewery on Thursday May 7th


We actually did a show there a couple months ago. Here are a few pics:

Choosing a delay pedal

I like delay, a lot, and when a like something a lot I generally get all obsessed with it and need to know everything about it – how it works, what the options are, how much they cost, etc. And so here we are!

Analog vs. digital:
In the audio world many seem to think that analog is better than digital. In some cases it may very well be, but in many it’s just “different”. I think delay is one of those cases. Some of the key differences between digital and analog delays:

  • Delay time: analog delays cannot achieve the same delay times as digital. Typical delay time for an analog pedal is around 500-600ms
  • Looping: to my knowledge there’s no such thing in analog pedals (tape delay is whole other world though)
  • Reverse delay: ditto
  • Tap tempo: a very useful feature, but rarely one you’ll find in an analog delay (and when you do, expect to pay a premium, i.e. Diamond Memory Lane 2 @ about $550)
  • Tone: with digital what you hear is what you get. With analog the delay is much more “coloured” – each repeat comes back a little “warmer” (less highs/more lows) and with less definition.
  • Cost: expect to pay more for an analog delay, and expect the price to increase alongside the delay time.

Other considerations:

  • Tone/filter control: very useful for making your delay warmer or brighter (boosting highs and/or cutting lows). In a digital pedal this will allow you to achieve a more analog-sounding delay.
  • Reverb: I’ve only seen this in one (digital) pedal (EHX Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai). It’s pretty handy for making the delays spacier and transparent. It also allows you to achieve some basic reverbs by rolling back the repeats and delay time.
  • Modulation: that is, modulating the pitch of the delays to get a haunting chorus-like effect.
  • Multi-tap: this can have different meanings. In some cases it means multiple delay times (i.e. one delay at 300ms, and one at 600ms), in others it means “repeat exactly X times”.
  • Expression pedal: some pedals will allow you to control certain parameters via an expression pedal. This can be handy if you like to play with feedback but don’t want to break your back in the process.
  • Stereo: usually stereo outs equates to ping-pong delays (repeats alternating back and forth between left and right), but in some cases you may have more control over it. Unless you have two amps or plug directly into a PA, this is really only useful for recording.
  • Self-oscillation: this is when the feedbacks build up and start to resonate, resulting in a wacky “spaceship” sound. You’ll hear this in some digital pedals, but it’s inherent in analog.

If you’re wondering, I personally own the EHX Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai. It’s a great pedal that can get some fairly warm and transparent delays via the filter and reverb knobs. My second pick would be the Diamond Memory Lane 2, but I don’t have $550 to drop on a delay. In a perfect world I would own both 🙂

If you’re on a budget and want a decent analog delay check out the MXR Carbon Copy. No tap tempo, but it does offer modulation (you’ll need to open it up to change the speed and depth though). For a good basic digital delay you can’t go wrong with the Boss DD pedals (they’re up to the DD-7 now).

I hope these points give you something to think about next time you’re in the market for a new delay pedal. Happy shopping!

Tuning your laptop for live audio

My current rig is a Novation X-Station + Toshiba Satellite. It’s taken a fair bit of work to get it to the point where it’s relatively stable. I wanted to document what I’ve done to solve each problem in the hopes that it may help others.

Software crashes
I’m running FL Studio as my host. From time to time it would hard-crash when loading a new project. I found that updating Windows and disabling all unnecessary services and start-up apps actually helped with this. I still have the odd issue (FL Studio reports the “file is corrupt”) but this may be due to a bug in FL or my hard drive flaking out.

Stuck notes
This one was easy: I updated the drivers for the X-Station et voila.

Noise (hum)
After doing a bit of reading I found that it apparently has something do with DC offset. I guess the DC being delivered through the adapter is not as “clean” as that of the battery. Anyways, I purchased a DI with a ground lift and the noise all but gone.

Pops & clicks in the audio
I started with the obvious things – disabling any fancy Windows UI stuff, adjusting my latency – to no avail. I’ve read that switching from ACPI to standard may fix it, though this seemed like overkill.

What ultimately worked for me was disabling all power-saving features whenever doing anything with audio. Even if the power saving features never kick in, they somehow seem to interfere with the USB bus.

Hardware issues
These can be the worst types of problems. If you’re running an older laptop like I am then the warranty won’t cover it, and I expect hardware repairs on older laptops just aren’t worth. Performance-wise I have no reason to upgrade and I really don’t want to have to go through hassle of re-installing all of my audio software.

My current issue is with the screen flickering/distorting from time to time. I’ve read this may be just due to a loose connection between the display and the board. Hopefully that’s all it is. If it were the GPU that would probably mean the end of the line for my laptop. I’ll update when I’ve had a chance to investigate some more.

Korg M50 first impressions

This review is from playing around with the 61 key version for a couple 30 minutes sessions.

Quality:
It’s not built like a tank, but it does feel gig-worthy. I noticed some weirdness (burn-in?) on the display. Normally this wouldn’t be surprising for a floor model, although in this case it’s a bit worrisome given that the store would have only had it for a few days.

I’m not as picky as some regarding keyboard action, so it felt fine to me. The knobs and buttons felt sturdy as well. I had no real concerns about build quality aside from the aforementioned display issue.

Expressiveness/sounds:
There are some extremely cheesy combi presets, that’s to be expected, but they are all quite expressive and show off the power of combi mode. If you like the “Korg sound” then I think you’ll be happy. It’s a big step up from the TR, sound-wise.

  • Keys: Warm and responsive. The amp sim adds a nice touch the EPs.
  • Drums: There are some pretty decent sounds in this thing. Maybe not enough to stand up on their own, but certainly to augment another source.
  • Pads: Warm and lush with lots of movement.
  • Orchestral/acoustic: The standard fare. Strings would be passable for live performance but I don’t think I’d use them in the studio.
  • Synths: A bit thin but some of the leads were definitely usable. To satisfy my curiosity I downloaded the voice list: it covers everything one would need to recreate most subtractive synth sounds – sync, PWM, etc. Of course you’re not going to get the same sort of flexibility as you would with a VA.

Features:
The effects section is quite comprehensive and easy to access. I was hoping that all parameters would be assignable, but sadly it seems only selected ones are. Along with the single stereo out, this is yet another limitation of the M50, but not a huge surprise given the price point.

The chord buttons could be pretty handy for live performance. Ditto for the tap tempo. I wasn’t able to check out the computer integration at the music shop, but if it’s stable then this would make a welcome addition to anyone’s studio.

Ease of use:
If you’ve ever used a Korg then the layout will be quite familiar. I was able to find everything I wanted fairly easily. I didn’t have a chance to try editing a patch, but I was able to find the edit mode easily. I imagine the touch screen and computer integration will simplify the editing process greatly.

The one gripe I have in this area is the arp. There were dozens if not hundreds of patterns and I didn’t see any sort of categorization to them. I spent a couple minutes just trying to find a basic “chord” mode, to no avail.

Overall impression:
An impressive piece of gear at this price point, and one that would be equally as useful in the studio as it would be on stage. It won’t replace everything I can do with my laptop, but it will come extremely close.

Update: I found out that the local music store has it listed at a couple hundred more than I was expecting. Probably not worth considering until the price drops.

Convolution reverb

It’s weird. All these years of writing music with technology and I’d never heard of convolution reverb or impulse responses until last weekend. I’m sure I’ve used it at one time or another without knowing, but never really knew what it was or how it worked. I was looking for a way to record my amp using the line out and not have it sound like complete crap when I came across some forums about cab impulses.

A couple freeware suggestions for trying this out:

Voxengo Boogex: this is intended as an amp sim, so it also has other features like drive and dynamics, but the speaker sim uses impulse responses. It comes with some default impulses, but it also allows you to load your own. If you turn of all the “preamp” stuff you could use it for reverbs too, although it’s mono.


Freeverb Impulser: the UI is not much to look at but it allows you to chain multiple impulses together, each with independent levels, filters, etc. This would be useful if you were trying to simulate a complex reverb scenario like say, a fly in a jar sitting on a windowsill beside a forest…


Speaking of which, I came across some impulse responses for small spaces like jars (“Claustrofobia”) . Check out these Impulse Responses by Fokke van Saane. I’m not sure what one would do with these exactly, but they sound pretty cool.

The more useful impulses I came across were the more typical ones – natural spaces, guitar cabs and the like. These are some of the nicer ones I found but there are tons more out there.

Update: in action

Here’s an A/B comparison of a direct recording with and without a cab impulse.

The signal chain is as follows:

  1. Fender Strat
  2. EH Memory Man (short delay with mod and low cut)
  3. Fender Vibro Champ XD (Blackface voice, mild reverb)
  4. DI box
  5. Mackie 1202 VLZ mixer
  6. Delta Audiophile 2496

Note: my DI has a speaker level switch so I was using the amp’s speaker out and not the line out.

The second sample was run through Voxengo Boogex with the “Fender SuperChamp AT4050” impulse from Beamsonic. Both samples were run through the Ultrafunk Sonitus compressor.

Shopping etiquette

You know what really grinds my gears? People with bad shopping etiquette.

Examples:

1. People who stop their cart in the middle of an aisle and stand right beside it. What are you thinking? You don’t park your car in the middle of the road. How is this any different? This hardly leaves enough room for one cart to get by, let alone two-way cart traffic. Observe:


I would like to propose that stores that provide carts also provide parking spaces along the sides of aisles. Anyone not using a parking space should be kicked the hell out.

2. Don’t stand so close to me. Everyone needs their personal space and if you’re standing one foot away from somebody in line chances are they’re going to be uncomfortable.

Diagram of Edward T. Hall’s personal reaction bubbles (1966)

Note that 1.5 feet or less is intimate space. Unless you’re trying to get intimate with me, give me my space (and if you are trying to get intimate with me, I’m already taken)

Implementing a logout function in Tapestry 5

I’m working on a couple Java projects right now and so I decided to jump in and give Tapestry 5 a try. So far I’m really liking it, although as many have griped with Tapestry in the past, the documentation is minimal.

As you might already be aware, Tapestry 4 had a RestartService that you could use straight from your page via a ServiceLink. I wasn’t able to find anything similar in T5, and a fair bit of Googling yielded no obvious results on how to implement a logout. Finally I found a way to get at the HttpSession, and from there it’s simply a matter of invalidating it.

Here’s the code for your page/component:

<t:actionlink id=”logout”>Logout</t:actionlink>

Here’s the code for your Java class:

import org.apache.tapestry5.ioc.annotations.Inject;
import org.apache.tapestry5.services.RequestGlobals;
import com.yourapp.pages.Index;

public class Border {
  
  @Inject
  private RequestGlobals requestGlobals;
  
  public Object onActionFromLogout() {
    requestGlobals.getHTTPServletRequest().getSession().invalidate();
    return Index.class;
  }
  
}

Hopefully this will save somebody a bit of time.

How to make NES music

I like video games, music and synthesizers. Nothing brings these three things together quite like the soundtrack from a NES game. Sure, there’s the C64’s SID chip, but alas, I never owned a C64 (side note: check out Quadrasid and Sidstation).

So then, you say you want to write some original NES music? There are some good resources on the web (here’s a starting point), but I wanted to summarize the two main approaches and my experiences.

Use synthesizers

There are a couple important things to keep in mind when using modern synthesizers to write NES music:

  • The NES had 5 channels:
    • 1 triangle
    • 2 pulse (with only 4 duty cycles to choose from)
    • 1 noise
    • 1 D-PCM
  • The NES had no effects or filters, although basic chorus and echo effects could be achieved by using two channels

The triangle and pulse channels are easy enough to simulate, but the noise and D-PCM take a bit more work. My earlier attempts at writing NES music were done mostly with my workhorse subtractive synth, NI Pro53. I also played around with Waldorf Attack to simulate the noise channel, and Bitcrusher to simulate the D-PCM channel, with varying degrees of success.

I recently came across the NES VST pack. It consists of 3 plug-ins: pulse, triangle and noise. The pulse plug-in has a switch to toggle between the 4 duty cycles. The noise plug-in has 2 noise modes and allows you to “sweep” the noise. All 3 plug-ins are quite faithful to the original NES sound chip.


Here’s a little demo I whipped together with nothing but the NES VST pack and the default FL Studio limiter. Update Sept. 09: by popular demand here’s the FL project (you’ll need FL Studio 8 to open it)

Use the actual hardware (or emulation)

If you’ve got a bit of money to spend, Wayfar makes something called the MIDINES. It’s basically modified NES cartridge that runs custom software and provides a MIDI interface to the actual NES sound chip! Check out the demos!

Otherwise, take a look at trackers like Famitracker or Nerdtracker ii. These allow you to create NSF (NES sound format) files which can then be played back with an NSF player. If you’re not familiar with trackers then these will be a bit awkward to use at first, but next to the MIDINES they will give you the most convincing results.