NWEAMO San Diego – Feb/Mar 2012

I feel really blessed to have this wonderful event just a few miles from my house. Sometimes I think it’s a pity that more people from the community don’t attend.

This year there is a very nice article, mainly based on an interview (with a handy description of the festival schedule) with festival adjuvant Dr Joseph Waters, that hopefully will raise the series’ profile. But unfortunately it is still 90% music students from SDSU attending.

Tonight the Partch ensemble is playing; I only hope it will not be sold out before I can buy a ticket.

Spotify and Pandora

Update 2018 Jul 11 

If you wait long enough lots of things happen. I revisited Spotify a couple of months ago and it’s improved enough that I’m actually paying the $10 a month for the premium version. What’s changed?

Even more zillions of tracks. Want to dig into regional 60s psychedelia? You can spend the rest of your life exploring there.

I didn’t think I’d punt Pandora but at the present Spotify has the edge.

I thought I’d hit the jackpot since Spotify Premium touts a download facility which allows you to keep tracks on your devices that aren’t network-connected. Well, yes and no: it downloads an encrypted file which you can only then play on devices that have a Spotify player. So it’s useless on my FiiO media player, for instance. I think it’s false advertising, since claiming you have download privileges but can only download an encrypted file seems like a lie to me.

Incidentally, check out the more incredible every noise at once website. This is apparently managed by one of the Spotify engineers and has a gigantic map of every genre that Spotify identifies, with a sample for almost every one. By pinning down the genre of your favorite artists, the theory is that you can find similar acts. It actually works quite well.

So I enter “Carbon Based Lifeforms”, one of my current cool discoveries, and I find out they’re classified as “psychill, downtempo, psychedelic trance, ambient, electronic”. Yup, I’d buy that. So I click on the psychill link and a page comes up with a big cloud of similar acts, some of whom I do know and like such as Eat Static and Shpongle, and some I have not heard of, life H.U.V.A. Network, Desert Dwellers and AES DANA. So…time to explore.

The free version will get you roped in, but at some point those ads are going to either drive you away or drive you to the paid version.

Update 2011 Nov 18

(This is old now, but I’m just going to keep it here to maintain perspective.)

I still had the free Spotify account. So this is supposed to be the future of streaming music? Well, let’s give it another spin.

I sign in and the first thing it wants to do is connect me with Facebook. Besides the fact I quit that service, I can’t understand why I should care what other people are listening to. Why on earth should I want to do that? Furthermore, why should anyone care what I’m listening to? Is this really such a big deal to people?

So I skip that screen. I say to myself, let’s listen to some Ozric Tentacles…one of my all time favorite bands. Search the name, wow, quite a few tracks and albums show up. Impressive. Wait a minute, “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” is not an Ozrics album! Yup, they have a Candlemass album (which happens to be a metal act I do love) listed as an Ozrics album. I submit a problem report.

Finally the song ends, what’s it, 4 minutes? A chirpy female voice comes on with some kind of long message about scrobbling. I don’t care about scrobbling, but I can’t listen to anything else until that message ends.

Spotify? You have got to be kidding. I’m so out of here. Premium service is better, you say? Well, then I’ll go back to Pandora. I would like to be able to specifically choose albums and songs, but not that badly.

Original post

I got an invite to sign up with Spotify this week. I’ve been hearing all this buzz about it, so why not?

It has a lot of tracks. Not everything but a lot. It’s nice being able to hear tracks from artists I’ve heard about for free.

Naturally being ad-supported, the free version has limitations.

It will only sync up the tracks on your local machine with an iPod. It might not work with generic mp3 players, but it any case I don’t care.

You can’t download the streaming tracks. Not too surprising.

You can queue up tracks.

However, after 10 minutes or so of listening it plays commercials. You can’t fool the commercials by muting or even turning the volume down low; the timer stops until you raise the volume. That’s mega annoying.

For my kind of listening Pandora was much better. It now has a big enough library that you get a good variety of new tracks once you set up a station.

I suppose Spotify is better if you know pretty much exactly the artist/album/tracks you want to hear, Pandora if you want to find out about new things (I stumbled upon Animals as Leaders, set a new channel up with that and have already learned about a dozen incredible new post-rock outfits.)

last modified 18 Nov 2011

Scary developments

update 2012/02/19

Well, that turned out to be a false alarm. I’m back to my version of black metal compositions for the time being.

I still reserve the right to do vocals some time in the future. Maybe I can be the Gordon Lightfoot/Leonard Cohen of my generation (*snerk*)

original post: 2011/07/27

OK, confession time.

Probably giving my age away pretty badly; in my rotation of CDs to listen to during my commute, I pulled up my old Talk Talk collection.

The embarrassing admission is that I actually sing along to them in the car. So what the hell? I thought. I hooked up a mic on an improvised stand (adapted from an old camera tripod I had), hooked it to my ART preamp, and sang along with a bunch of songs on “The Party’s Over” and “It’s My Life.”

So far, I am persisting in my folly but I’m sure reason will return before I make too big a dope out of myself. My plan at the moment is to take one or two tunes and cover them. Basically, I’ll gradually build the track back up using my own tools around my own lead vocal.

This is a lot of fun, even if the tracks never see the light of day. For instance, one track I want to slow down just a few percent which is not much easier with the better elastic audio tools available in most decent DAWs.

Meanwhile I’m also working on a couple other tracks I started as long ago as 10 years which I hope to finish before I get too old to know what I’m doing. Hopefully there will be more frequent progress reports than I’ve been making.

(posted 2011/07/27; updated 2012/02/19)

“The Producers Conference” notes: San Diego 14 May 2011 stop

See the description here

This was well worth the nominal $35 admission fee. It’s difficult to get good technical and business information about the music industry so these rare events are very welcome.

This seminar struck a great balance between technology and industry. The first two presenters, Matt Piper of Line6 (Reason’s US distributor) and Kurt “PEFF” Kurasaki (Reason expert from its earliest days) concentrated on technique, focusing on the Neptune pitch correction tool and advanced compression methods in Reason 5/Record 1.5. Even for producers not using Reason this was valuable info.

Ted Breuner then spoke about his journey into the innards of the music industry from his days as an amateur songwriter in his hometown band to working with L.A. A-list artists. At first I thought he minimized the business aspects in favor of “touchy-feely” concepts, but what he was trying to get across was that, if you enter the business to get rich it will be a miracle if you do, but with passion, commitment and persistence you will be rewarded. You could argue this point but I wouldn’t with someone as experienced as him.

Finally, dance music production wizard Jake Stanczak of Kill The Noise showed some secrets of producing monster tracks using Reason. But with his intensity and commitment, he could probably make fantastic tracks using a handheld cassette recorder and the contents of the average kitchen. Props to him for sharing so generously of his experience as well as his techniques.

I hope there are more of these sorts of events in the San Diego area.

It’s ironic how pop music production seems to have returned back to L.A. again just as it was decades ago…

Last modified (fixed page title!) 2012 01 12

Computer music pioneer Max Mathews dies at 84

The influence of Max Mathews on all aspects of electronic and digital music since its birth has been enormous. The seminal music programming system Max (originally sold by the now-defunct Opcode Systems was named for him. It has recently been rearchitected to work with Ableton Live as Max4Live.

Appreciation of Max Mathews at createdigitalmusic.com

NWEAMO festival in San Diego – Feb 2011

This year the two-day festival occurred on 25-26 Feb 2011. The performances were once again in the wonderful intimate Smith Recital Hall at San Diego State University. I saw two video cameras recording everything; hopefully these tapes will be made available for those who couldn’t make it in person. As in the previous years, the compositions and performances were stellar and most intriguing.
Here’s a PDF of the program:
NWEAMO 2011 Program

Review of the Korg Pandora PX5D effects unit

I don’t have a page in this site that this belongs on, so I’m just throwing this post out there for anyone who might be interested.

This model appears to be discontinued already (2012) but the replacement (the Pandora Mini) looks excellent and sells for only USD100.

Korg Pandora PX5D

My new favorite toy...

Review of the Korg Pandora PX5D

Processor, tuner, phrase trainer and USB interface for electric guitar and bass players.

Executive overview

Pros:

  • great sound
  • great guitar effects including difficult-to-model crunchy/heavy distortion varieties
  • numerous drum/bass patterns for practicing with
  • rugged (metal case)
  • very compact (the fingers in the photo above are average size)
  • runs (up to 7 hours) on 2 AA batteries (YAY)
  • USB computer interface to edit patches, or record from device
  • aux input
  • switchable display backlight
  • good features for bass as well as guitar
  • other useful features like a tuner, transposing of input audio signals, and audio interface mode

Cons:

  • small size (!) buttons and knobs can be a bit tiny to manipulate
  • no included A/C p/s
  • not dirt cheap (list is USD330, but most places sell it for less than USD200)
  • support software is for WinXP. No problem for me but many musicians do use Macs

Introduction

I felt the urge to replace my 10-year-old DigiTech RP100 pedal. As nice a device as it was, it wasn’t the most convenient for me, mainly because I don’t play live. I was tired of having to stick the pedal up on the table to edit things. And I thought I had got all the best sounds out of it I could get.

So my plan was to get a new efx processor for my guitar, but also soup up the axe by replacing the old pickup set with EMG active pickups.

Before I did any of that however, I paid the local guitar experts to set up and intonate the guitar. This was long overdue and made the instrument 100 times more enjoyable to play.

After a fair amount of research on guitar effects, I decided on the Korg. One of the things I particularly liked was the design for electric bass as well as electric guitar. Since I play both this was a plus. The smaller and less expensive PX4 model looked interesting, but for its additional features the PX5D was relatively not that much more in price–so that’s what I ordered. (I read somewhere that the “D” part of the name meant “dual”; i.e., guitar and bass.)

The Korg can be used live which I’ll talk about later but that is not the way I use it, so this review will be mostly aimed at the studionaut.

Effects use and editing

The simplest way to begin, once you tear it out of its box (batteries included!) is to plug in your instrument, connect your amp to its output and just start hitting presets. There are 100 presets and 100 user patch slots. The last 30 presets have names that begin with “B ” and are particularly optimized for bass.

There are 4 dedicated buttons A-D for your absolute favorite patches. The other way to access a group of your favorite patches quickly is to copy them into adjacent user slots. For instance, I liked patches P00, P02, P04, P09, P17, etc., so I copied them to user memory locations U00, U01, U02, U03, etc. You can then tweak those Unn patches, match their output levels, etc.

The tweakability of the effects is great. The effects structure is a chain of 7 blocks (plus a noise reduction block). The blocks are:

  • dynamics/pickup modeling (including octave, ring modulator, compressors, limiters, distortion, etc.)
  • amplifier models (15 guitar amps, 10 bass amps, guitar and bass synths)
  • cabinet models (11 types of guitar cabinets and 12 types of bass cabinets)
  • modulation and filtering effects (chorus, flanger, pager, pitch shifter)
  • delay effects (slap, echo, pingpong, reverse, with adjustable delay times)
  • reverb models (11 types)
  • noise reduction

The coolest thing is to hook up the USB connection and install the Pandora patch editor. This makes it simple to try patches, which you can then also save from and load to the device. If you for some reason find the 100 user patches too few, you can create your own banks and download them when you need them.

As is often the case in these type of devices, in a lot of cases they can only hint at the amp models they are intending to emulate. It’s fun to try to guess which models they are intending to refer to.

For instance “BTQ CLN” (“Boutique Clean”) is described as “clean channel of a high-end 100W hand-made amp.” Some of the other models you can choose from are (just listing the guitar ones):

  • BTQ OD
  • TWD1x12 (“Tweed 1×2”)
  • TWD4x10
  • BLK2x12 (Fender Twin  series?)
  • AC15/AC15B – they actually use the name VOX AC15 in the description
  • AC30/AC30TB
  • UKBLUES (“UK-manufactured vintage stack guitar amp head”) Orange, Marshall, Hiwatt?
  • UK 70s/UK 80s/UK 90s (UK-manufactured guitar heads from 1969, 1983 and the 90s)

Rhythm section

The next feature you need to play with is the Rhythm section. This consists of 120 rhythm patterns, including a number in non-4/4 rhythms, and 8 metronome patterns. The cool thing is that most rhythm patterns have 4 bass options: off, basic pattern, variation 1 (major key) and variation 2 (minor key) for your selected root note.

You can string up to 16 patterns in a Chain. Up to 20 Chains can be stored.

The rhythm set sounds OK but you can tell just one sample is used for the snare which becomes a little mechanical after a while.

Phrase trainer

This is a very powerful and handy feature. You select a phrase buffer length of 20, 40 or 80 seconds, and you can either record your instrument, and audio source or even load a loop into the device via your computer. Then you can play it back in a loop and work out your leads or rhythm parts with it. A cool feature is the speed adjustment where you can set the playback speed to one of 6 values from 50% to 100% of original. It’s not a high fidelity adjustment but useful for practice.

Summary

In a nutshell, this is an extremely feature rich, well designed, compact and useful device. The criticisms I have of it are so minor as to be negligible. I think for around USD200 or even less it represents and excellent value. Korg may not be the first name you think of when it comes to guitar effect but it’s well worth checking this out.

I just ran across a very detailed review of the PX5D on Harmony Central, and I hope they won’t mind if I throw the link here: Review of PX5D by Jon Chappell (April 2010)

Last edited 20110109

Life is like that…

I had really wanted to release another “on-line album” by the end of 2010, but it doesn’t look like I’m going to make it. I hate to disappoint all the tim p scott fans of the world, but there’s no help for it.
Meanwhile, this gives me a chance to consider the whole concept of an “album” in the 21st Century. It’s been pointed out that the model of mainstream pop music consumption has returned to the “pre-album” days of the 1950s and 1960s, when the unit of music purchase was the 45 RPM record with the “hit” on one side and the “B-side” on the other. Today, people still have their pop music favorites, but they are more interested in the individual song or track than in an album. Part of the problem was (once again) the “industry” where record companies (and even artists, I’m sorry to say) released their hit song on an album where the rest of the tracks were little more than filler. Or released what looked like and album with 5 or 6 remixes of the same one song. In combination with the artificially high price of records (and CDs), consumers got fed up with this and embraced the a la carte world that the internet age brought.
I hope I don’t get kicked out of ASCAP for talking this way, but it was the RIAA and its constituent company members that were primarily responsible for that boondoggle.
Meanwhile, I have a bunch of individual tracks I’ve produced since 2008, and those are mostly available easily for listening. Go to http://wp.me/PnrSR-nY to check them out.
Meanwhile I’m going to have some good new stuff out I promise, but my other work committments are weird and require travel and other strange scheduling stuff…

Crow Caw gets BFD 2!

We have used various versions of fxpansion’s BFD drum plugin product for a couple of years. Having played drums in a previous life, nothing I programmed ever quite did it for me. BFD is one of those plugins that basically is a sample playback engine with 10s of gigabytes of drum hit and drum loop and groove recordings.

The first time we tried this it was a free demo version that came in the software disc included with a copy of Computer Music magazine from a few years ago. It was a special version of BFD 1.5 but still had an amazing amount of functionality and a ton of grooves. I always wanted to buy the full version, both to support fxpansion and of course to get more!. So finally in July of 2010 I burned a candle to the gods of debt and ordered it.

[Note to software developers; yes people do steal software, but for me being able to try a well-working demo has led to a lot of purchases of good products like this one.]

It took a while to install. Depending on how impatient you are, the available space on your hard drive, or just how many velocity layers you want, the installer gives you three installation options: small, medium and large. Having just plumped for a 500GB drive I went ahead and installed the large version which takes up about 55GB.

One of the interesting features in BFD 2.1 is “load on demand”. This allows you to quickly create a part with only a few basic layers and articulations loaded, and then when you are editing the track or rendering it, the entire kit is loaded.

Overall, the sound quality and programmability of the software is superb. You can program many articulations of the more complex parts of a drum kit such as snare rim shots and various strikes on a hi hat. The internal mixer lets you select microphone locations and contributions from room, overhead, and close mics, along with plenty of signal processing and routing options.

The only complaint I have at the moment is that the GUI is awful hard to see and read due to the tiny font and dark color choices. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the GUI can be customized, and a post on the FXpansion support forum indicates the company is not excited about creating that possibiity. But with the use of the Magnifier accessory and a little experience, so far I’m a happy camper.

Somewhere along the line in 2010 they released 2.2 (I think 2.2.0.48 is the full number; in late 2011 they appear to be beta-ing a 2.3 version) It’s been stable enough for me that I haven’t seen much of a difference but it gives me a warm feeling. After spending actual money for it I might as well upgrade…

last modified 2011 dec

Remixing myself…

For some reason I’ve been resurrecting ancient song data files and seeing if I can still recreate them. I started with the data from Jack of Shadows, which was essentially based on MIDI files run through the Roland SC-88 and the Emu Proformance+. The sequencer used was “Metro” which was Macintosh only.
For this track (“Eaterrock”) I re-recorded the MIDI from a Roland SC-880, using it as well for the piano part. The main change is a layer on the bass organ part of a bass patch designed on an RGC Triangle II synth. This is mixed fairly low and essentially just to give a little attack to the bass part.
All the parts were soloed and then recorded as audio in Sonar 8.5.3 and mixed in the box. The other big change is instead of using the Alesis Quadraverb (which provided the reverb in the original) I used my current favorite reverb plug in, the Cakewalk Perfect Space device. (Which is basically a convolution reverb.) A company named Bricasti provided a whole bunch of free impulse responses which work fine in that device.

Below are players of the original version and the newly recorded version.

“Eaterrock” (original)
(6:09) from “Jack of Shadows”
©1995 tim p scott
https://ccmw.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/tim_p_scott-0103-eaterrock_192k.mp3%20
(click (triangle) to play)
“Eaterrock” (2010 version)
(6:11) from “Songs in Work”
©2010 tim p scott
https://ccmw.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/tim_p_scott-2103-eaterrock_192k.mp3%20
(click (triangle) to play)

Hmm.. on laptop speakers or earbuds, you probably won’t hear a lot of difference, especially if you listen to it in a less than perfect environment. For a limited time, then, I’m going to give links to the underlying audio tracks (192Kbps MP3s) for you to download if you like. (Depending on your browser, you should be able to just right click on the following links.)

Original Eaterrock version 2010 remixed version

Last updated 20100606