Every Inside

So a while ago I got a Kurzweil K2000R on ebay, after trading my RM1x for a Tascam MM-1 mixer. It was a good trade, but i do miss the RM1x. Anyway, the K2000 is really quite a lot more capable (even if the RM1x has a more intuitive interface!), and as a test of its “mettle”, i tried creating an entire track just using the K2000. “Every Inside” is the result. All sequences, sounds and samples are coming from the K2000R.

More soon.

I’m not dead…

So this is my first post in 2012.  Of course much has happened in this time, and most of it is not worth documenting here, but suffice it to say that I have had a LOT going on.  For one thing, in June (on my birthday) we had a new baby girl named Evelyn!  She is great and everyone in my house is happy and healthy.  Except for the cat, Gibson.  He is healthy but not really sure why we brought another of THOSE noisy things into his house.

It is all so very tiring...

The last post I made on this blog was about a “new musical direction“.  That has mostly happened, but with one change.  The RM1x is in fact the center of my studio now, sequencing to all my other gear, but I have not completely removed the computer from the picture.. I have turned it into a “virtual rack case” which runs audio effects (the audio interface is setup so that the inputs run “through” the FX plugins directly to the matching outputs) and also a sampler.  The sampler is of special interest and importance, since so much of my gear (such as the Moog Opus 3 and Yamaha DX7s) is difficult or ill-advised to move, that it is more sensible to record samples of the sounds I make and sequence those in my music instead.  Doing this job beautifully is the TX16wx sampler plugin.  It is a model of the similarly named Yamaha sampler from the 90′s, but offers an incredible amount of power and flexibility, including actual sampling right in the plugin!

TX16Wx Sampler

TX16Wx Sampler

And in terms of things I am sampling with it, I have also acquired another new piece of gear.  In fact it is the ONLY brand-new musical instrument I have ever bought.  It is a brand new analog synthesizer from Arturia called the Minibrute.  This is a pure -analog monosynth.  This synth has been generating a ton of buzz since before it was even released, and early pre-orders (including mine) waited over 3 months.  In the end, though, the instant I unboxed it and hooked it up, I knew it was worth it.  This thing has POWER inside its small case, and with no menus, sub-functions, or screen, all of the sound-making capability is immediately accessible.  You just move the knobs and sliders until it sounds the way you want it to.

Arturia Minibrute

Aside from music, I am also working on an ebook for Kingdoms of Legend, which I will write about more later..

New musical direction?

As many who know me are aware, I spent much of 2011 focusing the limited time I get for making music on my band Kether.  In that time Kether has released two singles, played three very-well-received shows and been featured on the excellent TC Electropunk volume 6 compilation. Definitely time well spent!

But what of my other music? By this I refer to 17hex, which is my “solo” project and the namesake of this blog.  The plan had always (or at least since 2005 or so) been to finish and release an EP called “the Roots of Coincidence” (after the Arthur Koestler book of the same name), and that is still the plan.

So what is changed?  Well, for starters, it is almost 7 years later and I still haven’t managed to release even a 7 song EP.  Even going slowly, that is one song per year! Secondly, what has (ironically) changed is that Kether has done well, but more specifically, we have defined a set of working parameters using Reaper (and the DX7s) over the scope of two years that has helped us “get our sound”.

The net result is that if I want 17hex to not just sound like “kether without guitar”, I need to do something differently. After playing shows using a fairly “state of the art” computer setup, it has become apparent that:

1. Regardless of.. some peoples’ opinions.. computers can be used to a great effect in a live setting. We have (*knock on wood*) has ZERO issues with freezing, crashing, or any of the reasons that people can actually come up with when you press them for why they don’t think computers are fit for live use, save for…

2. Having said all that, if you are going to use a computer for live performance, you have to make sure there is actually a performance involved, and not just someone standing behind a laptop.   There is a LOT of room for creativity here, and it is definitely not so black and white as “so no laptops on stage”.  Have it onstage off to the side doing something while your band plays.  People will see the band not the computer, and it will work just fine.   Or, if you in one way or another “play the computer” live (as in, not from a MIDI controller, but from the computer keyboard/mouse/trackpad/touchscreen), maybe you should have a camera aimed at it so people can see what you are doing, or maybe just run a copy of the computer’s video out to a projector so people can see that there’s more going on than just a backing track playing on the screen.

It’s this second point that prompted me to change.  The computer works live for kether because we are a BAND, in which we play instruments and dance around on stage and perform as a band.  Even though all of our music is synthesized live (no iPod backing tracks for us!  iPods are computers too, anyway!), as far as anyone seeing the computer sitting onstage is concerned, there’s no difference, so we keep the computer off to the side. 

The Yamaha RM1x

But for 17hex, it would just be me.  There’s no whiz-bang guitar player to watch.  Just me doing my best to run a sequencer live and make it interesting.  For this scenario, I decided to not use a computer for 17hex at all anymore.  Instead, I got a Yamaha RM1x.  It is an amazing sequencer/synth/drum machine with LOTS of potential for live use.

Basically the songs will all be cut up into loops and then triggered and mangled from this box, which will also send MIDI to outboard synths (and possibly a circuit bent Alesis HR16B if I can get it working).  It will be more gear to carry to live shows, and likely my music will end up sounding a lot “grittier”, but I hope the result is more interesting live…

Kether playing the TC Electropunk Volume 6 Release show!

My band Kether is playing a really fun show this Saturday, Dec 3rd 2011.  We were asked by the very awesome Todd from Avenpitch to be on his TC Electropunk compilation!  Along with that, we get the opportunity to play at Club Underground for the release show with some of my favorite local (or otherwise!) bands!

How cool is that?!

To top things off, since the comp is FREE, you can download the whole TC Electropunk Volume 6 as a .ZIP file, or stream or download it right here (via Bandcamp):

An Electronic Must-Have List

Recently I had someone ask me for some “must have” electronic records. Now, this is a rather tall request as the genre “Electronic” covers a very wide variety of musical styles, from Industrial to Hardcore to Techno and on and on. Because of that, I thought that instead of creating a “Top 10 list” (this isn’t Digg, after all), I’d try to create a list of records that I feel “speak to me” in some way and convey something about not only the musicians who made it, but something deeper about what that style of music has to say. I’ll just list them (un-numbered) and in no particular order with no descriptions, but I’ll include Amazon links for more info.

I know there are tons I am leaving off, and this is by no means a complete list, especially considering just how many disparate genres and countercultures it cuts across. Not all the music on this list is especially easy to listen to, but then again, one commonality amongst all the artists who made this list is a need to create something which is more than a genre-influenced “sum of its parts”.

Looking back at this list, it leans heavily toward 90′s era electronica, but considering how electronic music has always (for very practical reasons) followed the development of electronic equipment and modes of communication, and the explosion of both of these things in the 1990′s, it is not really much of a surprise. Also worth noting is that for every album on this list, there are several more “if you like it you’ll like this..” records in the same genre which perhaps could have/should have made the list too.

But hopefully, for someone who is new to the boundless expression which electronic music offers, this is a good place to start…

A few small changes

There have been a few small changes since I posted here last…   Let’s see..  there’s the new job, new computer, holidays, Lily turning 2, musical progress, progress on my book..  Although I can’t even begin to discuss everything here (or at least have no desire to), I’ll try to cover the basics.

New Job:  In December I left my job (of 4 years) at Hopkins and went to work (doing Systems Integration) for Community Action.  It is a good organization with a great mission (to fight poverty) and a lot of things going on.  They (like most such non-profit organizations) have never had an IT department at all up until recently, so there is a lot of work to be done!   But it is rewarding and fulfilling and pays more than my last job (just with a slightly longer commute), so I can’t complain.

New Computer:  I finally broke down and bought myself a music computer.  It is an HP dv6-1361SB.  For those who care about such things, it runs Windows 7 Professional and gets an Experience Index of 5.9.    This new computer has made a huge difference in my music making productivity, and it is really nice to finally have my own computer to do personal things (like blog posts and web design and music production and writing)  on.

Holidays:  We had some crazy holidays this year running around and visiting everyone, but it went well and was nice.  Read all about it on the other blog.

Lily turning 2: In December our daughter Lily turned 2.  That has been a fun adventure for all of us.   Again, see woyak.com for all the details.

Musical progress: My band Kether has made quite a lot of progress.  Check out our site for more details.

Progress on my book:  I’ve done a little bit more on my book.  In case you didn’t know what that is about, check out the Mythos site.  Note that most of the work I’ve done hasn’t been published there yet, but the story line has progressed quite far now, and sometime soon (after I finish the web design project I’m entrenched in) I’ll try to write a draft of all of it online.

As you can see, I’ve been very busy, just not on this blog.  Hopefully I’ll have more to post here soon…

Don’t fear the Reaper

Sorry.  What a terrible (and overused in this context) post title.  Anyway, I realized I hadn’t posted in well over a month, so I thought I’d post about the (technology) thing that’s been eating a lot of my time: Reaper.  I’ve posted about Reaper here in the past, but it is worth mentioning that they’ve recently released version 3 of this great DAW, and with that, brought tons of features that are huge, and better than I have seen in any other music software.  You can read the Big Picture Changelog to see everything they’ve done in v3,  but I wanted to highlight a few specific features that I personally use a LOT:

1. Multiple  Tabbed Projects.  This means you can have multiple projects open at the same time.  There is a great amount of flexibility here, allowing you to either layer multiple projects playing simultaneously, or set “background” projects/media to “Offline” and use tabs as a “playlist”.  The latter method is the one I use, loading up a show’s worth of projects in set-list order, and then stepping through them using a button on my Axiom49 controller.  This means I can run an entire live show without having to touch the PC and without having to worry about songs playing before I am ready.  Cool.

2. FX parameter controls on track and mixer control panels. In english, this means that you can make a button show up for any plugin parameter (like Filter Cutoff on a softsynth) right on the track panel, so you can tweak the things you tweak a lot on your plugins without having to have the plugin GUI open and taking up screen space.  Especially on laptops, this can be a HUGE productivity boost.  This also covers the fact that there is a “MIDI learn” button that shows up on any assignable envelope’s “lane” (more on lanes momentarily), so you can assign any plugin parameter to any hardware controller in 2 clicks now.  Reaper is definitely not the only DAW to attempt to tackle the “why is MIDI learn a pain to use?” problem, but I think that Cockos’ implementation is quite nice, and feels very well integrated into the program.

3. Automation lanes. This addition alone would have warranted a new version release of the software, as it so radically altered how it is used.  Automation lanes mean that each parameter you want to automate (like the aforementioned Filter Cutoff) has its own “row” on the track screen, so that you can easily create envelopes that span multiple clips and drag/rearrange/add/delete/alter envelope points right from the “main screen” of reaper.  The behavior of automation lanes is quite intelligently constructed, and greatly extends the capabilities of the program.  You can even (as of v3.01) click a button to control whether envelopes follow clips as you drag them around, or stay where they are (in case, for example, you want to swap in a different vocal take, but want to preserve the timing of your vocal effects on the track).

4. Track MIDI controls. While the majority of studio engineers (recording “traditional” instruments with microphones and line inputs) likely will not ever care about or use this feature, those of us who rely on MIDI for our synthesizer and effect hardware love what Cockos has done here.  There is now a whole separate Track MIDI settings window that lets you define custom track lists for your synths, send FULL SYSEX to/from them, and define custom interface knobs to control parameters (effectively levelling the playing field between MIDI hardware and VST/VSTi plugins).  This has made my life a lot simpler, and for that I am grateful.

While this is just a sampling (pun intended) of the new features, I hope this prompts someone out there to check out this software.  The “demo” of the software is completely uncrippled unexpiring shareware.  This means you can use it forever for free with full functionality, but that after 30 days they do expect/hope you will pay the $60 for a noncommercial license or $225 for a commercial (which they define as making more than $20,000/year) license.  I paid for my license (a rarity for someone who loves Open Source software for its freedom) because I greatly respect the developers (only 3 of them AFAIK) at Cockos and the community of respectful and helpful users they encourage by such an open usage/licensing policy on their software.

Pretty soon I hope to have time to actually post some of the music I’m making in Reaper, but in the meantime, you can go to Kether’s Last.fm page and see some music I did post (made in Ableton Live before I used/knew about Reaper).

flowers and ponies and spiders and web(s)

So it was the Easter weekend, and I got to take my family down to my mom’s house and spend time with them. A big part of this is that Lily got to ride the pony “Jessie”. As many people are quite aware, “little girl + pony = love” is so consistent that it could just about be a law of mathematics. Check out our family blog for more on all of that and where the “spiders” come in..

As for the (inter)webs, I’ve been getting Drupal training at work from the very cool and talented Drew Gorton of Gorton Studios. I’ve been using this knowledge to (aside from more work related activities) enhance my band website, Ketherband.com. The website is still “in flux”, but it’s come a long way, and it’s all done in Drupal now with a builtin player so you can listen to our whole record for free right on the site. I hope people like it. I’ve certainly learned a lot and had fun making it.

Raven on a Rainy Monday

Somehow this feels appropriate. It’s a chilly, dreary Minnesota Spring Monday, and I’m trying out a new blogging software called “Raven“. So far it seems slick and not prone to many of the bugs that plague a lot of other blogging software. I wish it themed the input area like your blog (like Windows Live Writer does). As for why I’m not just using Windows Live Writer, it just “felt clunky” to me. No actually concrete reason. I haven’t tried the 2009 version yet, and maybe I should, but so far I like this Raven program. Oh yeah, and I really like Open Source, which Windows Live Writer is not, and Raven is.

I could also make an Application Shortcut to my Post in WordPress page, or use the “WordPress This” bookmarklet, but an actual client is nice because it provides a way to go to one spot where I can post on ALL the blogs I have (four, not counting Twitter).

I’ll keep you posted (No pun intended) on how I like it. I’ll also make a post soon with an update on “everything else”.

Up and over…

Due to reasons I cannot even begin to explain here, 17hex (and indeed everything that was on the server with it) had to be moved to a new server.  Along the way we got a MUCH larger array, faster computer and a good reason to upgrade to WordPress 2.7.   There were some “technical difficulties”, but they are now resolved, and 17hex is back and better than ever.

Thanks as always to Jamie for his continued free hosting and support.

arachnid

I made a drum machine.  It’s a free 8 channel stereo drum sampler that I made in Synthedit.  I wanted a fun drum machine to use with Reaper that was easy and uncluttered but still could get some interesting sounds.  Please click Arachnid on the top of the site to see if I was successful or not. I’m giving away not only the plugin but the source code too because I really hope someone will make an even BETTER one…

behind, between and forward

So over the last weekend, I built a deck behind my house, with the help of my two brothers in law and my father in law.  It’s been really nice to do some work with my hands again, after quite a long time of investing my brainpower totally in technology issues and SQL programming.  Doing all this work outside also gave me a great opportunity to reorganize my workshop (shed) to be functional for such a project, which is a very gratifying task to complete.  I just hope I can keep it organized…

Otherwise I’ve been working on music steadily, and last week Dave and Tomtom and I had Kether practice as a band, which went very well.  Tomtom had to leave early (to practice with one of the other bands he plays in) and Dave and I took the time to fix a slew of technical problems we’d been having, which was also gratifying.  I’ve very firmly switched to using Reaper as my main (and pretty much only) music composition/editing software.  The cheap price (free until you decide to pay for it, then $50 for a noncommercial license), ease of use, regular (sometimes quite significant) improvements/bugfixes, and huge amount of interoperability (supports VST and DX plugins, MIDI, ReWire, and more) make it pretty compelling.  Oh yeah, and it’s rather fun to play in ;-)  My wife could definitely attest to the amount of time Reaper has sucked away from my life..

Speaking of sucking time away, work is insanely busy right now, as the new school year just started on Tuesday, and now is the time of year when everyone wants their data RIGHT NOW.  Overall this year has started much smoother than previous years, and between moving our server infrastructure to VMWare and moving our Website (to Drupal) and Moodle to being hosted offsite, I think we have plenty to look forward to.

That, at least,  is a nice change.