Empathy for the Revel(ation)

So the Masthead Pic is the original, Old Skool MPC – Roger Linn’s Linn 9000. More info at Roger’s Museum Page.

I had one of these way back in the day, and it was a great combination of quality drum samples (with optional Sampling capability) and MIDI Sequencing in a fairly portable box that didn’t require you to lug around a computer to gigs. It also had a nasty tendency to crash at the most inopportune moments – usually right in the middle of a tracking session – and happily took all of your work with it unless you had managed to remember to save everything to floppy disk. The technology was so new at the time that the bugs killed Linn Electronics as a company. Roger was enticed by Akai to take his technology there to let their massive R&D Department work out the issues – the MPC 60 was the lovechild of this relationship.

I mostly used mine for traveling programming jobs, relying on my trusty Mac Plus running Passport’s Master Tracks Pro for everything else where the 9000 got relegated to ‘MIDI Triggered Drum Unit’. The Linn and the MPC’s that followed used Event List editing (single line text and gobbledegook for each MIDI note or function) to correct mistakes that the real-time Quantizing didn’t catch. It was slow and tedious compared to the linear sequencing that MTP gave me. If you use Logic or Cubase, or Pro Tools you are absolutely familiar with linear sequencing – it’s that common today for a majority of DAW’s. It also used the Pattern/Chain/Song technique for creating and organizing parts and fleshing them out into complete works. MPC’s still work like that to this day. I’m not a fan of this construction method having dealt with pre-MIDI (and even post-MIDI) sequencers and drum machines. Just not my speed when linear works so much better for me.

When the latest batch of MPC’s came out I took another (more on this shortly) shot at trying them out. I opted for the MPC One since it seemed to tick all the boxes (h/t AudioPilz) and then some. I also found it in great condition for a decent price on The Bay.

I don’t do reviews (that’s what The Tube of Yous is for) but compared to the MPC’s I’ve owned in the past (in numerical order: 60v2, 500, 1000, 2000, 2500) the One just looked like they had finally evolved: big color touchscreen, CV/Gate outs, USB MIDI, network capability, Virtual Effects and Instruments, and a matching (at additional cost) software version that would allow you to move and edit projects easily between machines.

There’s just one big problem – that big, bright, colorful touchscreen.

It provides a lot of information, yes. It makes using the sequencer so much easier, indeed. And it makes tracks and sample manipulation a joy compared to its older siblings. But it’s not like using an iPad or decent Android Tablet. You will make mistakes – a lot of them – because it doesn’t have the screen resolution haptics of those devices you are probably used to. Typing names always misses a character or three. Trying to edit a short note (or a single note out of a cluster of them) will drive you to a lengthy stream of cursing. Clicking on a box to change the value will have you pressing multiple times to ensure its selected. Yes, it’s a big leap above the multiple button presses and Data Knob twirling the older ones had, but it’s a real slowdown when you’re in the middle of The Creative Process. From what I’ve researched this is common across the entire One/Live/X range. You can connect a USB computer keyboard to alleviate the typing process, but it doesn’t allow for any other input device to select or choose things – plus I’m not giving up my lone USB port for this ‘convenience’ (yes, I know USB Hubs can be used but the potential for noise and interference increases with ’stacking’ USB devices).

So after a year of toying around with it I kind of gave up – until I had a revelation about a week ago: yeah, the sequencer is crap (to this day I still can’t find the damned Event List Editor on the thing), but the rest of it is actually very, very usable if you think about it as a ‘MIDI Triggered Sound Unit’ and ignore the internal Sequencing.

To accomplish this I initially thought to set it I could just drag Josephine over and just use Reaper or Logic to sequence it. But then the light bulbs started heating up as I realized that the thing I bought an iPad to do might actually be this thing… At first, the MPC as the centerpiece of my ‘analog setup’ triggering an ARP Odyssey module and a Behringer Pro-1 as sound sources while the MPC handled drums, sequencing, sampling, and audio inputs from the modules. Unfortunately, my small space here at APITE Labs meant I either had to get rid of things at the ‘Analog Station’ to make everything fit or rebuild my main ‘DAWspace’ to accommodate. The Odyssey got relegated to the back of the Junk Closet as I was not about to tackle redoing my main Workspace. Then the Pro-1 joined it as more light bulbs began arcing up. Yes, the iPad would be serviceable as a MIDI Sequencer based on the numerous Apps I had purchased over the years (certainly one of them would do the trick here) and the MPC would be the sole MIDI Sound Module. Simplicity at its finest…

Again, the MPC has built-in Virtual Instruments as well as Sampling and Multisampling (and Auto Sampling!) capabilities. It has an Odyssey, a Solina String Synth, a Mellotron, and it also has a really nice Drum Synth… So everything got relegated to the Junk Closet except the MPC, a MIDI Controller keyboard, and the iPad. The iPad is running a basic MIDI Sequencer (no AUV3’s or Audio Tracks to complicate things). A single $15 ‘1 In/1 Out’ MIDI Interface connects the MIDI Controller to the iPad to input MIDI notes into the Sequencer and sends the MIDI Data out to the MPC. In essence the MPC is a Multi-timbral MIDI Sound Module. I’ve set up Templates on both the Sequencer and MPC so all I need to do if fire them up, load the Templates into each and start creating. I also have a surprising amount of space left for future ‘expansion’ or dragging out a synth to use/sample.

Okay. Yeah, I hear you – that ‘Analog Station’ isn’t so Analog anymore, is it?

This whole experiment is part of that ‘Old School DAW’ concept I was talking about a while back. I had planned to use a few synth/drum modules with a simple Sequencer to see if there was anything to be had by going back several decades in music tech. I poked around with a few Arturia devices (both Beatstep and Keystep Pros) and the Analog modules and a Eurorack system. I didn’t take long for my little setup to become a mess of wires and teetering hardware and I was spending more time connecting things (and preventing them from falling over) than actually making anything useful. Argh.

I next decided to use the old Daniel Miller ‘one or two mono synths’ technique. That’s where the Odyssey and Pro-1 became the main focus for sound creation. The Arturia’s did the job well enough I guess (it’s that Pattern-based structure I don’t care for), but now I required a mixer to sum the audio, and getting anything usable off the Arturia’s into a DAW was cumbersome at best. The MPC was ushered back in to fill that void. It not only could sequence the modules, but record parts as audio or samples that could be saved to its SD Card and easily transferred to a computer. The first problem popped up when the MPC couldn’t be prized into mono-summing its audio inputs for monitoring (it’s just a stereo in and something plugged into the left channel will always be heard on the left – and ditto for the right channel) and after that the whole slew of inanity I ranted on above reared its ugly faces again, leading me to look to a more simplistic setup…

So this is where I’ve stopped, and for the time being I’m happy with it. When I can find time to build/modify the setup to hold more toys I will probably expand this into what I envisaged the ‘OLD Skool AnALoG DreAM SEtuP’ to be. But there are no real answers here at the moment. This is just cataloguing my continual Experiment Fail Learn Repeat method of breaking paradigms and trying new things, even if I’m robbing from the past to get there.

Everyone has a preferred way of creating and working, and this work in progress here might never come to to its true fruition. The winding road of finding simplicity has many a fork in it, although I still think it’s worth exploring as many of them as helps you find the path you need. That old Proverb of ‘It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop’ will be your guide. Keep searching.

Until next time!

Edit: as I was just about to post this WordPress is continually telling me that a cadre of Redditors has somehow found the last post on ‘Everything’s Been Done Already’ – crazy! A welcome to all and hope each and every one of you finds something thought-provoking and useful to your art scattered around here somewhere. Stay creative! 🙂

Life Slips By (and I Want You)

(Image Credit)

Hi everyone – still here, still extraordinarily busy with EduCorp®, and still (mostly) doing well with the M1 Macs. Waiting on Monterey to drop before the next TNSS post so I can give you an idea of how everything is jacked up yet again. Stay tuned…

In the meantime, I wanted to drop a few things from the past week I found significant.

The passing of Richard H. Kirk from Cabaret Voltaire/Sandoz/too many other Projects to list here was the kicker for me last week. Kirk has been a long-time influence on art, music, and music technology for me since I started dabbling with it in the early 80’s. So although I’ve spent the last few days reminiscing by listening to a bunch of his tracks, about all I can say is thanks for the influence Sir and you’ll be very much missed in my little world.

High point for the week: I have no idea how I’ve missed this for so long, but I just discovered it Friday and now you should too.

For the uninitiated, Martyn was the founder of The Human League back in the late 70’s before being tossed out. He and HL bandmate Ian Craig Marsh went on to form the British Electric Foundation and eventually to notoriety with Heaven 17

I’ve been pouring through the interviews, and they are just addicting. Yes, there’s a lot of music geekery in there (tech heads rejoice!) but there’s also a lot of history about the early electronic music scene and behind-the-scenes of who did what and how and where and when. Hearing Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson (both original CabVolt founders) wax on about early days and current affairs riveting listening, and although Martyn says he wanted to but never got to interview Richard Kirk, I have a feeling that Kirk’s penchant for solitude would have amounted to nothing ever being recorded anyway. 🙂

This is one of those ‘must listen’ audiocasts, even if you were just a fan of the music and care nothing for the business or tech behind it. He’s up to 57 episodes as of this writing, so get cracking… 

Until next time…

Happy Dynamic Range Day 2021!

Been listening to the livestream, and as usual there’s some great tips, tricks, and mostly a lot of positivity. You can catch the info and check out a replay by going here:

https://dynamicrangeday.com/dynamic-range-day-2021-live/

I must say that after several years of jamming Loudness Units and True Peaks and just not slamming everything into the Bus Processing as hot as possible, they *are* getting it.

And I still agree that you can be more creative dynamically rather than just making things loud.

Anyway, all good things – go check out the site above.

Before I go disappear into the eternal void of work and self-distancing I will say that I have the next installment of The New Shiny-Shiny coming up very soon. Progress is being made!

Hope all of you are staying safe, and have a fun and informative Dynamic Range Day!

…This Weird Trick

Here’s a Thought Experiment based on some of Laurie Santos’ work. You can find more like this at her audiocast The Happiness Lab. Well worth checking out…

Step One: Think about all of the things in your technology world that are actively trying to eliminate personal interaction with other living breathing Human Beings. We’re talking in-person, face-to-face, actually having to speak to another one of us here.

Step Two: If you can’t eradicate that technology because reasons, then how can you disrupt that technology so you can personally communicate IRL? 

You’ll be amazed at how deep that Rabbit Hole goes…

Amazon Music Loudness Normalization Arrives

From Saint Ian’s website – caught this on the Tweet Machine this morning:

Amazon Music Loudness Normalization Arrives – Production Advice

In related news I was dropped this the other day. The takeaway quote:

The least predictable (but not entirely surprising) resistance to externally mandated loudness controls seems to come from new, emerging “producers” and “mastering engineers.” In this new production paradigm/workflow—one mostly lacking a traditional professional infrastructure of managers or “gatekeepers”—these new “mastering” practitioners interact only with their respective artists. Many decisions in these relationships are invariably one-sided.

And that’s the disconnect: It’s not an overreach to say that artists are preternaturally insecure. After all, their job, if you will, is to absorb the heartbeat of the current culture … to translate this matrix of influences, not limited to affairs of the heart and politics, and blend in ideas, often abstract and ephemeral, then render it all musically. Does “accountability” have a place in the artistic zeitgeist? Does actual technical competence? What about an artist doing technical advocacy?

Loudness Normalization is the new Normal, so not making your mixes conform will only work against you and your art in the long run.

Learn, practice, and understand your craft if you want to have lasting appeal and longevity in the game.

Or just go for the Brass Ring, turn everything up to 11, diversify into anything and everything, and bitch about why you’re broke and unsuccessful after a year or so. The choice is yours.

Welcome back to pokeintheear.com! (finally!)

pexels-photo-125457Photo by Mabel Amber from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/nature-sky-sunny-clouds-125457/

Looks like WordPress, Hover, and Squarespace have made nice and my web addy now happily redirects to the new home. Took some time, but I have to say that WordPress made it pretty easy to accomplish.

Okay, so with a ‘new’ site comes a new post: a ‘What I Did Over My Summer Vacation’ catchup piece. Enjoy. 🙂

So the new Course here at EduCorp® is running smoothly, and my cadre of engineers are doing surprisingly well mixing a song over a few weeks, and then trying their hands at mastering for the remaining fortnight. Of course there are the usual suspects of mixing solely on headphones so the bass is close to nonexistant (they get decent monitors as a part of the program, btw), and many of them are pushing the highs to swishy, eardrum-dissolving nastiness (all hail the EDM 10k Bubble!). And there are also still a few who believe that hypercompression and pushing the bus processing into sausage-factory mode is the way  great songs are made.

But in all honesty, I am amazed that most of them keep the levels pretty low and the dynamics mostly intact for their mixes. It’s the vast majority of what I get back.

Since we are the second to last class in the Program, I know they have some experience doing what I’m asking them to (they even get a passing glimpse at mastering half way through) and my being the Top Banana in the Shock Department, banging the drum for LU and Dynamics, and chanting ‘Death to Overcompression’ at every company function has (hopefully) pushed the needle with some of my colleagues into understanding the absolute necessity of bringing music back to a listenable (dare I say ‘enjoyable’?) state again.

And from the back end of it all, I can say that it looks like it’s working…

Mastering is a completely different animal though, and although I continue with the ‘Experiment Fail Learn Repeat’ model that I use with mixing, even passing expecations of making one of them persue mastering as a career choice is limited at best and wishful thinking at most. I try to demystify the process, show them the very basics of how to do it (with limited processing – the ‘Old School Way’), and what the outcomes should be in case they have to do it themselves. The Prime Directives are always first, always get a Mastering Engineer and second, if you have to master it yourself then keep the artists intent as gold and just make it sound the best it can. Simple and honest. Thanks per usual to Saint Ian for showing me the way forward on this. 🙂

And they’ve all been doing a seriously great job here. After letting them go crazy with whatever they want on the first pass, the second try after they see that just simple gain, EQ, and compression are all they (mostly) need is eye opening, and the very definition of ‘less is more’.

For those interested, I’m enforcing the -1.0 dbTPFS point for secondary (corrected) mix and master peak levels, and have settled on the -14 to -16 LUFS range (Integrated) for overall level. Saint Ian and Jon Tidey just did a podcast on mixing for LU where they say that -14 is *not* the level to aim for, but my reasoning is 1) we are only working on a single song destined for streaming (a.k.a ‘single’) and 2) we are still getting students up to speed with the LU concept. My cohorts here at EduCorp® are using -16 LUFS for their delivery specs, and I want to keep that familarity but also allow them to ‘stretch’ a bit by beign able to take the overall loudness up a few dBLU if they choose. Just that ability can show them how to change as specifications and standards so often do. Once you understand the rules of the game and how to get there (good metering and lots of listening) you can take the level to wherever it needs to go. As this will fluctuate a bit more before it settles into a ‘standard’, working at a unified target level across an entire program helps retention. And as that ‘standard’ moves, we can just as easily. 🙂

Again, I’m super impressed with how the course is doing, and just how dedicated and determined the students are. I am expecting great things from a lot of them, and hope to be hat-tipping a few of them here in the coming months and years.

That’s all for now everyone. I’m off to do a bit of maintenance and backup and then take a stab at trying a bunch of these new software goodies I’ve acquired over the past few months. Now that my ‘cold, flu, and busy season’ is over I’ve got a bit of time to catch up on technology.

Welcome back!

 

 

 

The Theatre of the Mind

Happy Post-Thanksgiving everyone! Hope yours was deliciously food-comatastic and every conversation was thought-provoking and positive. 🙂

Every Thanksgiving I have to watch ‘Turkeys Away’ from the classic TV show WKRP In Cincinnati. Much like the MST3K Turkey Day Marathon has become, it’s a holiday classic before the traditional holiday classics, and something to put a lot of giggles into your day while waiting for the graze-fest to begin.

After I watched the episode (and man is it still a laugh riot after almost 40 years) I did a bit of a deep-dive into some WKRP history and trivia and in the process found something very cool: http://wkrp-relived.blogspot.com. Roy Penney goes episode-by-episode of the Complete Box Set DVD’s, does a quick rundown for the uninitiated, and adds some analysis and twinkly-eyed nostalgia for those in the know. This is another reason why the Interwebz® are worth rooting around every so often to find the gems in the ever-growing pile of dirt.

Anyway, as I was looking up his account of the Turkeys Away episode, I found this statement:

“The second important aspect is that the magic of this episode mirrors the magic of radio itself: it’s all about the theatre of the mind. Radio is a medium that paints pictures with words. We see it performed in spectacular fashion on three separate occasions, kicking off the second half of the show.”

Wow. Never thought of this before, and as an Old Time Radio nerd I really should have. In that sentence he encapsulated why I have loved this show after all these years, and have always considered it one of the best television programs both written and performed. So I popped in one of my AirPods, cued up Turkeys Away, and just listened to it as I would any other OTR show, and it totally works as an audiocast.

Yeah, there are a few sight gags that get lost in translation, but to hear a show that was designed for a purely visual medium work comedically as audio alone is a testament to the producers, writers, and the actors. I can’t tell you if that was the idea the writers had initially, but if it was then it’s sheer genius. Even if it wasn’t intentional, it’s still an impressive feat and just fills my mind with ideas on how I can implement this into what I do in Audioland. And of course, now I have to see how well some of the other episodes (and possibly any other series’ as well) work as ‘radioplays’. Like I don’t have enough to do already… 🙂

Regardless, it just fortifies the concept of ‘The Theatre of the Mind’ and why I am so compelled towards creating and manipulating music and sound. Not only because of the camaraderie and creativity, but because it’s such a perfect way to impact the most powerful resource we have as emotional beings – our imaginations. Being able to turn physical auditory vibrations into feelings of deep sadness, resounding joy, or unseen landscapes full of awe and wonder is a positively magical thing. Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy so eloquently put this into words some 150 years ago:

”We are the music-makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams.

World-losers and world-forsakers,

Upon whom the pale moon gleams;

Yet we are the movers and shakers,

Of the world forever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties

We build up the world’s great cities,

And out of a fabulous story

We fashion an empire’s glory:

One man with a dream, at pleasure,

Shall go forth and conquer a crown;

And three with a new song’s measure

Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying

In the buried past of the earth,

Built Nineveh with our sighing,

And Babel itself with our mirth;

And o’erthrew them with prophesying

To the old of the new world’s worth;

For each age is a dream that is dying,

Or one that is coming to birth.”

Our world here in music and sound is a powerful force, so how are you going to affect people with your Theatre of the Mind today?