Archive for the 'Audio-Tech' Category

13
Aug
09

Les Paul 1915-2009

les paulThe story of electrified music is dotted with figures who have been blessed with broad inventive genius, equally at home in the worlds of hard engineering and musical aesthetics as if such a thing was easy or normal.  It was these people who gave us the tools that defined a century’s most lasting sounds. The biggest of these names was Les Paul, who passed away today at the age of 94.  Any survey of rock music or the modern recording studio would take less time to count the things that Les didn’t innovate, champion, or outright invent rather than what he did.  Overdubbing.  Sound-on-sound.  Delay.  Phasing.  Multi-track recording.  The solid-body electric guitar.  Every power chord played upon one owes him a debt.

When I was Editor of Gearwire.com in 2007, I got a chance to interview Les. Calling him at his New Jersey home, I found him to be every bit a sweetheart as he was an American treasure.  We kind of rambled around for a while, and Gearwire still hosts the audio.  Check it out.

Part 1: Les Paul Talks Guitar Tone (MP3 Audio)

Part 2: Les Talks The End OF Magentic Tape (MP3 Audio)

Part 3: When Les Met Django Reinhardt (MP3 Audio)

So long and thanks for everything, Lester William Polfuss.

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19
Jun
09

Shooting, Or The Shot?

yeltsin-tank

One (far less visually appealing) way to climb on top of a tank

The line has been drawn.  Last night, Iran’s Ayatollah Khameni cracked his whip and demanded an end to the mass protests roiling across the country all week.  With hundreds of thousands of blue-jeaned, Chuck-Taylored protesters in the streets of Tehran, a showdown is fast approaching.

Unlike at Tienanmen, these anti-authoritarian protesters are much greater in number and spread far wider.   Also, they are urban, pro-Western,  many are reportedly pro-American, and they are likely to face the guns of their own military tomorrow.  The stakes in this nascent revolution are huge for young Iranians, already bloodied and likely to shed more tomorrow. In that, I wish them the best.

The stakes are also considerable for persons outside the country who have the greatest stake in fomenting a distorted image of a Muslim enemy.

Something about looking at the vast swathes of citizenry in the streets tells me that Iranian army commanders aren’t looking forward to this encounter, and I have an intuition – – call it a hope — that tomorrow will be bloodier for the regime than for the people.

In that case, imagine one iconic photograph, surfacing this weekend or soon after:  A young Persian woman, perhaps without a headscarf, big-eyed and beautiful in blue jeans.  She is perched upon a tank, smiling and waving.  Her Chinese-made Converse Chuck Taylors bring a touch of the Ramones to the sandy beige of the painted armor plated vehicle. She waves to her countrymen, perhaps granted this chance by an Iranian army commander who has refused orders to fire on the crowd.

If we are blessed to see that photo, not everyone will cheer.  For those whose livelihoods are dependent on what we used to insanely call “The War On Terror,” such a photo means they are going to have a bad year.  Years of PR groundwork will have been trashed in the click of a digital camera.  They’ll need to hurry back to the drawing board to gin up new demons to jiggle in the faces of those who are most susceptible to boogeyman politics.  What else can AM hate radio or the Republican party do when their treasured “Axis Of Evil” is finally represented by a cute girl in gymshoes?  How will Israel’s Likud party continue to leverage Iran into its own bloodthirst in Gaza or its settlement fever when Israel loses their photographic monopoly on hot Middle-East women posing with weapons?  What will the Pentagon and the neocon hawks do when, as happened with the Soviet Union, the opposing team packs up and goes home?

Each would find new enemies, of course. That’s what paranoids do. But it would take time, and meanwhile, perhaps one repressive theocracy will have been relegated to the dustbin of history.

08
Jun
09

Invent Something Before Breakfast: Egovore

The arrangement view in Ableton Live 6.

For some reason, I woke up today thinking about digital audio workstations (DAWs) and how these exceptional programs nonetheless have basic similarities to any other software running on a system. A DAW, used well, simultaneously inscribes output and collaborates with the operator on the form of that output. Only the operator knows how much a musical piece or moment owes to inscription or to collaboration. This fact of life made me think about the submerged, “mundane” part of the DAW running a sequence. It chugs away under the hood, grabbing x disk resources, allocating y RAM, balancing z threads. These real-time values are resultant of the music in a real sense: could they not be themselves incorporated into the music, be presented as input for musical processing, which would change the underlying values slightly, which would alter the input, which would change the underlying values slightly, which would….ad infinitum.

So I sketched out a design and gave it a name. Egovore is an AU audio software plug-in design.  It runs as a AU plugin under a host DAW (Ableton Live, Reaper, Audiomulch) or under another plugin.

While executing a sequence, Egovore reads the host DAW’s own process space variables, including, optionally its own, and incorporates that data as input.  Egovore’s job is to process that data in realtime, musically, and output it as a musical element.

In this manner, a dynamic, self-referential, self-reflexive source of data concerning the music itself, as represented in the host machine’s process tables is incorporated into the audible portion of the music.

Example:  the running process’s statistical samples (ram usage, ticks, disk usage, process ID, address space ranges, number of threads, userid, load averages, swap, sharedlibs)

Example data flow:

main sequence---------------------------------------------------->output
       |                                ^    ^
       |                                |    |
       egovore(main())                  |    |
       |                                |    |
       |                                |    |
       pid                              |    |
       ram                              |    |
       threads                          |    |
       ...                              |    |
       |                                |    |
       |                                |    |
       -----------> midi ---> synth --->|    |
       |                                     |
       |                                     |
       ----------->SpeechSynth--->chopper--->|

In the above, Egovore loops n times, calling top(), reads the line corresponding to the host application as well as the data summary.  The columnar data are read into an input buffer.  Egovore operates on that data, looping through changes as time proceeds, and produces source data for input to processes such as a MIDI synth, or the system’s Speech Synth.  User-controllable parameters such as “Sensitivity” “Random Seed” “Random Amplification” “Scale” serve to tie the output to the musical milieu of the calling sequence as well as goose a range of results out of the processing.

Egovore’s output is both MIDI and audio.  The operator/programmer of the host DAW obviously controls Egovore’s mix position and routing posture.

Of course, the name Egovore comes from the fact that the design uses the “self” of the music as represented by the operating system as input.  In a conceptual sense, the music is consuming itself, hence Egovore.  Plus, it’s a near-Googlewhackblatt right now, showing only 200-odd results.

Surely there’s a DSP programming student out there looking for a cool plugin idea to bang on.  If that’s you, have at it.

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02
Dec
08

Well, Hello Audiotuts.com

audiotutsvsotherguys

My last job working for someone else was as Editor/Producer for a site that produced video and text content concerning an area near and dear to me: the audio and music technology space.  I still have friends there, so it should be made clear that I don’t mean to knock that site at all even as I find one that does some of what they do quite a bit better and generates a bit more traffic.

Audiotuts.com (thanks for the heads-up from Matthew Heusser by way of Andy Lester) is focused on video screecast tutorials in the myriad features and approaches of audio production tools, much like the kind I used to regularly produce.  The clips are well put together and have a high usefulness factor that serves as a showcase of the role of screencast media as software documentation supplement.

The difference is in the Audiotuts media strategy.  It’s dead-on correct: a blend of technical depth for the various software userbases with blogging added as SEO/SMO bait.  Alexa says the eyeballs and earholes are lined up at the door in excess.

It may well be that a 1-1 comparison of the two sites is unfair, as Audiotuts content is more narrowly focused.  And there’s no doubt quality content on both sites in spades.  Nonetheless, Audiotuts very greatly resembles the vision I had for the last site that I incessantly pitched to the site owners (to deaf ears). So while it smells a little bit like personal vindication, I’m just being petty and mean-spirited providing an interesting comparison.   

Now I have to find a hat just so I can take it off to Audiotuts.  Salut!

29
Oct
08

Johnny Marr Gives It Up To Bohannon and Bo Diddley

While it may not exactly have broken a lot of new ground, BBC One’s series “The Story Of The Guitar” has its moments, and here’s one: Johnny Marr lifts the hood on the riff from the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” and shows what led to what – electrically and culturally.

Watch also for the joyous clip of Buzzcocks where Steve Diggle is found ah-ah-ing in the vicinty of a Shure SM-81, an odd, if great-looking choice of microphone for vocals.

22
Oct
08

Pro Tools: “Everything You Want, And Nothing You Need”

At the 2008 Audio Engineering Society convention in San Francisco:  a slip of the tongue from the Digidesign presenter while demoing the new Pro Tools version 8 inadvertantly speaks to the radically altered landscape in digital audio workstation software.   (Gaffe occurs at 3:54)

Worth a chuckle, but certainly not at Mr. Jackson’s expense.  His employer, however, is another story.  Thanks to their business model, the slip has more than a hint of truth to it.   Digi’s rigid adherence to hardware bundling built an empire, but is part of a philosophy that has resulted in each new iteration of its DAW application being less and less exciting while competing titles are steadily eating Digi’s market share and capturing users by the thousands.

PT8’s Sibelius-scoring features and GUI face lift are a real shrug of the shoulders when put up against the kind of development work being turned in by the good people at Cockos with their REAPER DAW.  If you’re recording anything from any source for any reason and you’ve never checked out REAPER, it’s time.   REAPER is a case of everything you need and nothing you don’t want.

07
Oct
08

Bloodthirsty Florida Republicans Don’t Cotton To No Questions

(Seeking to leave behind the elitist machinations of Katie Couric, the State of Florida is outta here)

Dana Millbank in today’s Wanshington Post paints a portrait of the Florida conservative faithful at a Palin rally that can’t leave anybody feeling great about the future of representative democracy:

In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric‘s questions for her “less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media.” At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, “Sit down, boy.”

The reception had been better in Clearwater, where Palin, speaking to a sea of “Palin Power” and “Sarahcuda” T-shirts, tried to link Obama to the 1960s Weather Underground. “One of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers,” she said. (“Boooo!” said the crowd.) “And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, ‘launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,’ ” she continued. (“Boooo!” the crowd repeated.)

“Kill him!” proposed one man in the audience.

It is unclear if the gentleman with the above proposal was directing it at the black sound guy, Professor Bill Ayers or the next President of the United States.




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1984-89: Defoliants
1991-94: Buzzmuscle
2001-05: San Andreas Fault
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