thing-a-day 2: banjo loop

thing-a-day #2: banjo. for an upcoming music track (hopefully later this month!) I wanted a realistic banjo strum. Here’s the best I could manage in 1 hour or less. Sample is from Sweetwater’s Stratus Sounds collection (Volume 3). Lots of tweaking, a bit of FX, and you’ve got the loop you hear here.

What do you think?

P.S. Euphonix update coming soon, I promise.

thing-a-day 1: euphonix mc mix review part 1

Introduction

After my photography buddies insisted that 90% of photography is your digital darkroom workflow, and convinced me to switch to Adobe Lightroom, I’ve been struggling to get my studio workflow similarly streamlined. I grew up on studio production in the late 1980s, meaning large analogue mixers, one channel per input, and everything mixed down to 8 sub-mixes running to a 1/2″ 8-channel reel-to-reel recorder (Tascam 38). I naturally think in terms of taking everything down to 8 busses, then doing a final mixdown “live” from tape to 2-track. It’s a two-step workflow that I can do in my sleep. It’s also 20 years out of date – long due for an overhaul.

So when I saw this press release from MOTU (makers of my DAW, Digital Perfomer, and my PCI-based audio interfaces) touting a new “high-end” control surface – the Euphonix Artist series – I decided the time had come to make a change. (The forthcoming MOTU Volta plugin pushed me over the top.) I’d heard of tons of difficulties using Mackie Controls and HUIs with DP previously, so reading an honest-to-goodness press release from MOTU left me hopeful they would proactively work to make the Euphonix devices the best control surface for DP. So, I bought a cheap used MOTU 24i to accompany my 1224, and ran every device in my studio directly into the computer. Knowing some of the limitations I might experience being an early adopter, I spent the cash on the MC Mix. I figured that 8 tracks of full-motion faders and endless rotary encoders (MC Mix) would be preferable to 4 tracks + a touchscreen (MC Console), as I’m used to grabbing for knobs and only looking at a meter bridge. Later, I rationalized, I could add the MC Console if I wanted. Also, my friend dys4iK gave me a Shuttle Xpress, which I use as a jog/shuttle/transport device – meaning I don’t need another one just now. (Review forthcoming.)

Unboxing

The MC Mix comes well-packed in an attractive box. The device itself is well weighted, and feels solid in your hands. A big kudos to Euphonix for only using red, yellow and green LEDs; no bright blue LEDs blinding you from this device! The OLED track indicators are also quite attractive and understated, with very little lag and no discernible flicker in my incandescent-lit studio. If I had any complaint about the physical device, it’d be that the rotary and fader knobs are made from metallized plastic. I guess for the powered faders this is understandable – less mass to push around – but a bit surprising based on their look. Still, they slide nicely, and after the initial “plastic surprise,” I haven’t thought twice about the build quality. The box also includes a hefty power supply, and a piece of 6-foot Cat 5 Ethernet cable. This went straight into the second NIC of my DAW. I would have preferred a slightly longer cable coming from the line-mounted power brick to the MC Mix itself, but I can’t complain, really.

Setup

Installation was straightforward under OSX 10.5.6. Connect power and the networking cable to the MC Mix, then load the OSX driver. As Euphonix frequently releases driver updates (especially targeted at improving Digital Performer compatibility!) it’s best to download the latest drivers from Euphonix’ site directly, ignoring the packed-in CD-ROM. EuControl launches at boot with a spinning green logo in the Dock. After the EuControl driver detects the MC Mix, the logo stops spinning, and the 8 MC Mix OLED displays change from the Euphonix logo to 8 dotted boxes — a gratifying indication that communication has been established. The control panel for the driver has a large “Upgrade Firmware” button that does exactly what it says, trouble-free. There are also settings to fix specific tracks to specific sliders (“layouts”), as well as toggle various behaviour of the device. I left all of these on their defaults.

The quick start and user guide for the MC Mix are straightforward, and worth a good read. Five buttons on the left of the device select various modes – what the manual calls knob sets. Used in various combinations, you can access all of the features of a traditional mixing console, as well as settings for plug-ins / channel inserts. By selecting a specific channel in the CHAN mode, parameters for a single channel are spread out across the 8 rotary encoders, and can be paged through separately. This is a particularly nice feature, though there are some implementation problems in the current driver that cause difficulty with DP6 (see below).

One interesting shortcut mentioned in the manual – holding Shift and touching a fader – will reset it to 0.0dB. Looking at the silkscreening on my MC Mix, when zeroing the fader the value is actually about 0.5dB; it would be nice if there was a calibration feature in the driver to align 0.0dB exactly with the silkscreened position. As it stands, I’ll just look at the value on the OLED display or my monitor instead.

In Action – CueMix

Before jumping into Digital Performer, I figured I’d give the surface a spin with CueMix, using the Mackie Control and HUI emulation modes. Often I’m just jamming in my studio, and don’t want the weight (and intimidation!) of a full DAW. CueMix most closely matches the analogue mixer I used to use for just this purpose, letting me set pans and levels via faders and knobs, controlling the rest via MIDI routing. This requires drag-and-dropping the CueMix application onto the Euphonix control panel, selecting the correct emulation mode, and rebooting (!) Once you’ve finished that, you create a new Mackie Control or HUI device in Audio MIDI Setup, connecting the new Euphonix MIDI device to the Mackie Control or HUI device via one in and one out port. Be sure to set the manufacturer and device in Audio MIDI; CueMix uses this to determine the correct emulation mode. (The Euphonix MIDI device sports 4 pairs of in-out MIDI ports, presumably necessary if you link together up to 4 MC Mixes or 3 MC Mixes and 1 MC Control. I just used the first pair of MIDI ports.) Finally, you enable and configure the control surface from the Control Surfaces menu in CueMix. I checked the Application Follows Control Surface setting in the menu, in the hopes that CueMix would scroll horizontally as I paged left and right with the MC Mix. Sadly it doesn’t, even with EuControl set to Auto-bank to selected track and CueMix set to Application Follows Control Surface. (Incidentally, it’s disappointing that CueMix doesn’t get wide enough to shall all of my channels, even though I have the screen real estate. CueMix will show a maximum of 24 channels + 1 master horizontally. Fixing either of these two problems would result in a useful workaround.)

Immediately upon trying the Mackie Control emulation mode, I encountered a problem. The track titles displayed on the MC Mix OLED displays were actually the track title for the first channel, spread out across the first 6-7 OLED displays. Switching to HUI mode correctly assigned track names to each track, but there are still bugs: I can only display the first 3 letters of a track name, plus a single digit. As an example, a track named “CS-80 L” displays as “CS-” only. I also noticed that CueMix’s faders go from -inf to 0dB, while the silk-screening on the MC Mix goes from -inf to +12dB. Not a problem – EuControl maps +12dB (MC Mix) to 0.0.dB (CueMix), giving you the full slider length for use in CueMix. Support still isn’t perfect: the MC Mix shortcut of holding shift and tapping a fader to set it to 0.0dB still uses the (approximate) silkscreen 0.0dB level, which translates to -4.9dB in CueMix. Similarly, the gain for each track displayed on the OLED is with respect to the silkscreening, not the CueMix level (-inf to +12.0 dB). So, with the fader all the way up, the OLED displays +12.0 dB, but CueMix recognizes it as 0.0dB. This is a minor nuisance, but one I’d have not expected, especially in emulation mode. This is further complicated by the fact that live channel levels don’t display on the MC Mix – only in CueMix itself. (Sadly, this limitation still exists in DP6 as well.) The blame here may well lay with MOTU in their HUI control of CueMix; I’ve not used a real HUI with CueMix so I don’t know if it has the same limitations.

Of the other controls, mute and solo work as expected, except for the fact that the MC Mix has an “ON” button instead of a “mute” button. This is a strange choice on the part of Euphonix, but one I can live with – as long as I make the mental shift to expect the button to be lit instead of extinguished. Bank Left and Right, along with Nudge Left and Right, work as expected, shifting channels by 8 or 1 across the surface of the MC Mix. OLED displays and illuminated indicators shift along as expected. Pan works fine – though the rotary encoders are a bit jumpy with fast movements, they’re just fine at slower speeds. Oddly, trim mode won’t stay selected; after a fraction of a second, the rotary controls switch back to pan mode. This is a definite bug. Finally, none of the other knob set buttons have any effect. As a result there’s no way to access input mutes from the MC Mix, nor the CueMix talkback buttons.

This one isn’t documented, but is very helpful: switching CueMix’s console between output buses is accomplished using the Mix button and each fader’s SEL button. In this mode, each channel represents a pair of outputs, with bus muting working via each channel’s On button. Once you’ve switched to the bus you want to work with, use the Input button to return to channel mode. Once I discovered this, it was a snap to mix and assign my 34 inputs across the 14 outputs I have between my MOTU 1224 and 24i interfaces.

In short – despite its many small bugs, HUI mode for CueMix is functional, allowing me access to volume, pan, mute and solo across all available CueMix buses. Hopefully, MOTU will bring native EuControl support to CueMix as well, possibly updating the application to match their newer CueMix FX application for FireWire interfaces. (A girl can dream, can’t she?)

Tomorrow: the MC Mix under Digital Performer 6.01.

howto fix mackie onyx firewire under osx 10.5.5

After upgrading Waynemanor Studio’s Intel-based Mac to OSX 10.5 (10.5.5), I was unable to get the Mackie Onyx 1640 FireWire interface to stream audio successfully to/from the Mac. When playing audio from the Mac to the Onyx (just from the System Preferences Sound panel, selecting the Onyx FireWire 0838 output for system sounds and clicking the Purr sound – no DAW software), I’d get the spinning beachball for ~10s, then stuttering, clicking, popping sound would come out. Actually running my DAW made things worse; the application would hang, and Force Quit didn’t help. (Power cycling the Onyx allowed the Force Quit to work.)

Mackie lists this audio driver rollback (PDF) on their website, but the first try at it didn’t work. Here’s how I managed to finally get everything working correctly under Apple OSX 10.5.5:

  1. Sign up for an Apple Developer Connection account. It’s free, and required to download the software you need.
  2. Download both the FireWire SDK 26 for Mac OSX and the FireWire SDK 24 for Mac OSX.
  3. Mount both image files and install the package files from both (FireWireSDK26.pkg and the confusingly-named FireWireSDK23.pkg). This will create directories under /Developer on your system drive.
  4. From /Developer/FireWireSDK26/FireWireComponents, install the Leopard Final drivers. Reboot.
  5. From /Developer/FireWireSDK26/FireWireComponents, install the FireWireAudio 2.4 drivers. Reboot.
  6. Select Software > Extensions on the left-hand browser. Look for AppleFWAudio, and make sure it is version 2.4.0.
  7. From /Developer/FireWireSDK24/FireWireComponents, install the FireWireAudio 2.0.1 drivers. Reboot
  8. From the Apple menu, select About this Mac, then click the More Info button to start System Profiler.
  9. Select Software > Extensions on the left-hand browser. Look for AppleFWAudio, and make sure it is version 2.0.1.
  10. Go to the System Preferences > Sound panel and try sound output to the Onyx Firewire 0838. It should sound clear as a bell.

I don’t know why installing the latest SDK FW base drivers and the FireWireAudio 2.4 drivers first was required before the 2.0.1 drivers would correctly fire up, but it was. One warning: do not install the Leopard FireWire (not FireWireAudio) drivers from the 24 SDK. This caused my machine not to boot correctly, and I had to repair it using another machine.

Here’s hoping this helps someone out in the wild. I’d post it to the Mackie forum, but the moderators there have yet to enable my posting rights. :(

thing-a-day 2008 over

Here’s a photo collage of the most photogenic things I made for this year’s thing-a-day. Edit: If you can’t view the video below, the original is here.

I’d recommend thing-a-day to anyone who is looking to push their comfort zone and prove to themselves that they can be creative, and can produce something a day. It was eye-opening for me.

wohbits 2007.12

some neat tidbits from the past 24h:

canada: say no to a canadian dmca!

Anger. That’s the only thing I can feel when I see that Canadian elected officials are looking to introduce more ridiculous, ill-thought, completely-against-legitimate-use copyright legislation. And of course, because I’m so incensed with most of the news outlets that I don’t hear about this stuff except through trusted sources, I had to go digging in places I don’t normally look to find out about:

http://www.boingboing.net/2007/12/07/canadian-dmca-introd.html

http://www.boingboing.net/2007/12/07/canadians-tomorrow-i.html

http://www.cbc.ca/searchengine/blog/2007/11/last_chance_to_ask_the_industr_1.html

http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/2431/125/

Quoting Cory:

Tell your friends. Tell your family. If you care about the net, this could be the most important thing you do this year. Take action and save the country.

Quoting Michael:

The next 60 days are absolutely crucial. If Canadians speak out in large numbers, the government may rethink its current strategy of fast-tracking the Canadian DMCA.

Do everything you can. This isn’t just about trading CDs and movies anymore, folks. It’s about controlling your own words, your own music, your own actions. Write your MP today. And if you’re not a Canadian, yeah yeah, I know you told us this day was coming, but we avoided it for at least 10 years. Now’s our chance to learn from the mistakes of the US DMCA and enact some intelligent legislation.

musique for fall 2007

Catching up on Futurama I missed, before the new ones come out. Some of these are really, really good.

Seems there’s renewed interest in some of the music I’ve engineered/produced or written recently. Makes me want to get back into the studio.

Well, this weekend is a long one, so sure, why not! Any suggestions on what to do? I have one work in progress, 70s jazz fusion, so something contrasting would be nice. Something I can do without purchasing more gear would be perfect ;) And something that I can achievably manage in 3 days would be essential.

Long week ahead of me next week. Thanksgiving on Monday (if you’re in town and need a place to eat, email me and we’ll talk), then a team meeting in Chicago, and then over the following weekend to New Orleans to see my ailing grandfather. He had another heart attack. For some reason he’s not answering his phone. :( I should call the home to ensure everything is OK tomorrow…

joyous outerwear ballet

The OvercoatI am stunned. I generally dislike ballet and mimes. And yet I find the images of CanStage’s production of The Overcoat (based on Gogol’s short story & Shostakovich’s music) will not leave my mind. It was moving, well acted, immensely satisfying…and even had a “sad ending.” No matter; the show leaves you hungry for life, for meaning, for joy, and to listen to more classical music. Well done, CanStage. No wonder tonight’s 10-year anniversary production (& closing night) was sold out.

I really should do a proper review here, discussing how Peter Anderson’s The Man (uncannily looking like Jonathan Pryce) is at once a Brechtian Common Man and the protagonist of a Greek Tragedy, describing the brilliance of the choreography with Shostakovich’s more ambitious works, and the strength of the ensemble’s choreography and stage presence. I should talk about innovative rolling drafters’ desks that double as cabaret tables, scrims and sliding windows used effectively to separate scenes, and a suitably unifying wardrobe. I should mention the parallels to Chaplin’s Modern Times and Tati’s Oncle films. I might even describe in passing how similarly I’ve felt to The man when he dons his new coat (I even have a new purple coat in the same colour!), and how agonizingly upset I’ve been when a prized possession has gotten ruined.

But I won’t. I haven’t the time. ;)

CanStage Bluma, I’m expecting similar brilliance with next month’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Don’t disappoint! :)