Tag Archives: Computers for music

My band all got sick and died at once (or; woes of moving to Windows 10)

OK, that’s a pretty obtuse headline so let me come clean first. For many reasons you can read about elsewhere I do almost all my composing and producing myself using computers. Therefore it’s really important to me that the system be working and all the software be playing nice together.

Transitioning from my Old music production PC (Colossus; ended up as a Windows 7 Pro system) to the New one (“Guardian”, Windows 10 Pro) has been an utterly frustrating ordeal. If you’ve got nothing but time to read about it plunge right on in.

History

In 2007 I bought a custom built computer in a 4U rack from a company that still exists (www.silentpc.com). It has served me well, from its original configuration as a Windows XP machine through Windows 7. After 12 years and many thousands of hours of faithful service it finally failed, and I realized I was going to have to replace it.

The problem is that current motherboards don’t support Windows 7, and Microsoft is only supporting it in legacy mode (probably because so many corporations around the world have hundreds of thousands of licenses and are running critical applications on it.)

On top of that, many companies that make the software I rely on have notified their customers that there won’t be any support for Windows 7 for new software. All my crucial software (Ableton Live, NI Guitar Rig, Fxpansion BFD, Omnisphere, etc.) still supports Windows 7 but not for updates or new versions.

Finally, and one of the most screamingly frustrating of all my problems, is the “64 bit vs 32 bit” problem which I’ll talk about in a minute.

In other words, I had little choice but to order my new computer with Windows 10 installed. This is a native 64 bit OS, there is no option to install it as a 32 bit OS. That’s OK, since a 32 bit application will run on Windows 10.

The problem is that music production almost always relies on a collection of software working together: generally a host of some kind (Ableton Live, Reaper, Apple Logic) using a host of plug-in effects and instrument modules (countless old and new applications such as u-he Zebra, synth1, Native Instruments Guitar Rig, and fxpansion BFD3.)

So then I spent the next month trying to find a combination of software that would allow me to keep working, since I have many files that go back 2 – 5 years that I need to work on. (I work real slowly since I don’t have any serious deadlines.)

So here is a typical issue I faced. I have a song that uses Reason 4 ReWired into Ableton Live, a BFD3 drum track, and the Perfect Space convolution reverb that used to come with Cakewalk Sonar.

Well, since Reason 4 only works in 32 bit mode, I have to use Ableton Live version 9.7 running in 32 bit mode, as must be the BFD3 plugin. Well, the last version of BFD3 that supports 32 bit is 3.2.3.3, so I’ve installed that. If you install 3.3.0.4 (the most recent version) it only supports 64 bit mode.

Prefect Space is only 32 bit mode. So now I have to decide whether I can spend to money to buy a reverb that supports convolution mode.

The song also uses the Arturia Analog Factory plugin which — guess what — is also only a 32 bit plug in.

Now another song I have uses Spectrasonics Omnisphere. This plugin like BFD3 is only supported on Windows 7 up to a certain point; if you want to upgrade it to get new features and performance options, you have to be running Windows 10.

Encrypting File System (EFS)

This was something I never imagined I’d have to worry about. Anyway, it appears to turn out that some free software I obtained cost more than I thought.

Several years ago, the Loopmasters company made a lot of loops and sample available as a promotion…I ended up with nearly 5 GB of material. Never used a lot of it but it was interesting.

In attempting to copy the files off the hard drive I saved from my crashed computer, I found out to my dismay that all these files were ENCRYPTED. I never noticed it before, since apparently the OS on the old computer had the proper keys to decrypt these sample/loop files on the fly. Now that the files are being read by a different computer, they are locked out.

From what I can clean in internet research, I should be able to use the keys from the old computer to decrypt these. I’ve been experimenting with the command line “cipher” utility in windows, and the certificate manager adminstrative snap in but I haven’t found the secret formula to be able to unlock these files yet.

Because I installed them 3-5 years ago, I don’t think I have the original download install packages to try to reinstall, and they’re no longer available from the provider. Somewhere along the line I might have a backup of the original install file, but it’s not looking promising.

It turns out that there appears to be some methods to recover these files in a situation like this by being an Administrator and creating a “recovery agent.” But experimenting with that didn’t help. Finally, I found a promising piece of software from a company called Elcomsoft. Running the downloadable demo, it appeared to be able to retrieve appropriate keys from my hard drive and decrypt some of my files. Because they’re in business to earn their money, the demo only decrypts a small part of the file to prove it can be done. To unlock the full version of the software would cost me $150. (I do not think this is unfair in any way if the alternative is to lose the files forever or spent another 100 hours trying to see if I can figure out the Windows EFS system.) So I had to ask myself how badly I wanted to retrieve this sample set.

Lesson: be aware of this pitfall and export your certificates if you’re running Windows; you never know when you’ll need them.

[2020-01-02] OK, I was lucky in this case. I traced back to when I got these sample libraries. It turned out that since I was a registered Novation customer, I was entitled to a promotion of these sample libraries. Contacting them and explaining my predicament, they graciously provided me with a link to re-download them (yes, I should have copied the files to a DVD after I first downloaded them.) So now I don’t need to spend the $150 on the recovery software.

Update October 2020

Update October 2020

Well, on one hand Windows 10 is mostly stable and I’ve found workarounds, updates or alternatives to software that won’t work any more. On the other hand I’ve been spending most of my time in the last couple years working on the piano. This is part of my long term plan as a musician, realizing that realistically I’m not going to be that effective a mixer/producer as my hearing gets steadily worse over the decades.

Piano evolution 2018 – 2020

In 2018 a dream I had for decades came true when a beautiful Yamaha G1 baby grand was offered to me for a low price. I jumped at this and enjoyed it for a couple years, but the reality was that my living situation was such that even a baby grand was impractical to play at any hour of the day or night, particularly to am adult (re-beginning) piano student. To my sadness and regret, I realized I would have to sell the piano and buy a digital one.

The quest for a replacement

I knew that I was going to have to settle for a digital piano. So I at least had the fun of researching them. I was delighted to find that there were many more options than there were years ago when I looked into this. I remember buying a 60-pound Fatar 88-key MIDI controller years ago and trying countless sound modules. I have to admit that for the time I did love the E-mu Proformance+ half-rack piano module, and later on the Roland “Session” expansion cards for JV-*80 rackmount synths. But I knew these were only placeholders, as many of my software and hardware synths were…

I hope this will be continued soon…!