Better Late than Never

Well, at long last, album #2 has been released.

My previous release, Fruit of the Steel Tree, was my best effort to realize the music that Walter and I wrote back in the 1990’s.

This new release, The Inevitable Obscenity of Autonomous Weaponry, includes a few tracks from that same period. I’ve perhaps taken more liberties with them this time, relying on my own vision.

The other tracks are all “new” in the sense that they are based on material I wrote since Walter and I stopped collaborating on music, from 2003 to 2019.

You can find out more at the album-specific pages I created (see the The Inevitable Obscenity link in the blog top menu above).

I used CD Baby as my manufacturer/distributer and due to COVID-19 related circumstances, I’m not sure exactly when and how this will be made available to purchase. It *should* appear on Amazon at some point, and although CD Baby has closed their online store, they do have copies in their warehouse for distribution.

The physical package is nice: an eco-sensitive cardboard wallet:

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The artwork came out nicely but I acknowledge I used a sub-optimal font point size on the smallest text. It seemed ok in the PDF but I should have realized that white-on-black in print would be harder to read. Oh well, no big deal. The information (and more!) is all available online (see link above).

Digitally, the album is now up on Spotify and probably other streaming services as well. Yay!

Okay, so the timing for this release isn’t great: as I write this, we are still under a County Public Health “Stay At Home Order” due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the economy is taking a nose-dive. Folks just aren’t going to have the disposable income (or the will to spend it) that they did a couple months ago.

Originally I’d planned for this to be out in 2019 which would have been nice, but it didn’t happen.

Since the last blog post, “Final polishing” of the tracks took longer than expected because I kept finding little things I wasn’t totally happy with. This is actually an infinite process because there will *always* be things that I think I could improve, and my tastes change over time so it’s a moving target. The trick is to apply the law of diminishing returns and identify when it is time to Let It Go.

At this point, I think I chose appropriately. It’s out there now, anyway.

What’s Next

I’ve uploaded two videos on YouTube to accompany the release: A studio “play-through” for Paradigm Shift and a second one for Cathedral with “behind the scenes” text captions.

I intend to create a third video for The Toks Invade before putting the project to bed.

I’m going to be preparing a Bonus CD (well, EP maybe) with alternative versions of some of the tracks. I’ll make this available digitally via BandCamp, no physical CD for this.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been working on new lyrics and some musical ideas and it really does look like there will be an Album #3. But that’s for later.

March 2020 - The Inevitable Track List

I’ve completed recording. I’ve been mastering the tracks in Presonus’ Studio One, because it has this great “Project View” that I haven’t seen in any other software.

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This allows me to set volume levels, frequency equalization, and cross-fades across all tracks, to ensure that they sound like a unified collection.

I still need to burn a CD and play it in a variety of locations but I think I’m close.

Next steps will be to finalize the artwork for CD duplication, and also upload to Bandcamp and/or CD Baby for distribution. This is going to be primarily a digital release but I do want some physical CDs to give to friends and family and anyone else who really wants one.

About 50% of these tracks are old music that Walter and I worked on together, and the rest is all (relatively) new.

Track List:

1. EULA (0:31)

2. Working the Paradigm Shift (8:42)

3. Listen (12:52)

4. The Toks Invade Bogland (4:57)

5. Cathedral of Hosts (3:27)

6. Enlightenment (6:06)

7. Omnipotence in 17/8  (2:58)

8. Priority Interrupt (2:07)

9. Head Crash (5:18)

10. Cathedral (reprise)  (1:12)

11. Introspection in G / Tubular DLLs  (6:57)

Tracks 5-10 are a continuous suite, so there is a choice to be made here about whether to break it up into separate tracks or keep it as one long track, for digital distribution. On an audio CD you kind of get both as it cross-fades between tracks cleanly. (usually).

I guess the right answer is “both” which is actually feasible, to have two different versions of the album up on Bandcamp. Or maybe just an additional bonus “EP” for the single-track contiguous version.

I’ll mull this over. In the meantime, stay safe folks. Don’t go viral.

Dec 2019

When the heck was my last post? October? Ouch. Well, I’ve been busy, working on the album. Much progress has been made.

Also, I’ve created a new Cakewalk Theme called “SteamPunk” to inspire creativity and in the process, written a how-to guide on theming.

Here’s a picture of the introduction to the final track on the upcoming album:

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I realize that gives nothing away but does give an impression of the new UI theme: Slate, oiled bronze, leather, with gilt highlights.

Steampunk.sth

Young Lady's Illustrated Primer on Themeable items in Cakewalk.pdf 
(updated 03/2020 to version 0.9.5)

Back to the studio; this album’s not going to finish itself.

VIVALDI’s USB ports

Front Panel:

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My nomenclature, from left to right: F1 – F4

Rear Panel:

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My nomenclature, from left (top) to right (down) : R1 – R7

Type (according to XPS 8930 manual):

 ID   Description                 Speed    Connected 
 --   --------------------------  -------  ----------
 F1   USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type C         5 Gbps  
 F2   USB 3.1 Gen 1                5 Gbps
 F3   USB 3.1 Gen 1                5 Gbps
 F4   USB 3.1 Gen 1                5 Gbps

 R1   USB 2.0                    480 Mbps  Keyboard
 R2   USB 2.0                    480 Mbps  Mouse
 R3   USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C        10 Gpbs
 R4   USB 3.1 Gen 2               10 Gpbs  Scarlett 6i6
 R5   USB 3.1 Gen 1                5 Gbps
 R6   USB 3.1 Gen 1                5 Gbps
 R7   USB 3.1 Gen 1                5 Gbps  MIDISport 2x2

Here is a report from USB Device Tree Viewer 3.3.6:

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Quite by accident I seem to have connected the Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 to its own dedicated high-speed USB hub, which I’m guessing is optimal.

However, we should remember that the USB port on the Scarlett is only USB 2.0. So we’re hopefully gaining some isolation or immunity from interference, but no throughput gains. Chances are we may have another device that could leverage the 10 Gbps speeds…

Timeline Editing in Cakewalk, Reloaded

This is an update or re-write of an earlier post from 2014, titled “A work-around for Sonar’s Timeline Editing behavior: Slippy Clips”. It was really more of a case study than a work-around…

Since then, Cakewalk’s SONAR has been reborn as Cakewalk By Bandlab and includes many updates and new features, including “Ripple Editing”. This makes timeline editing much more convenient, and therefore I think it is time to revisit this case study.

So I have this project that contains a mixture of 7/8 and 4/4 bars. For example, in this section I have a series of 7/8 bars followed by a 4/4 at bar 26.

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Whilst practicing the keyboard solo, I realized that one of those 7/8 bars needed to be 4/4 also. However, if I change bar 24 from 7/8 to 4/4 by inserting a meter change at bar 24, this happens:

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All the measures following bar 24 are no longer aligned on the beat. In fact, the meter of all bars following 24 have changed from 7/8 to 4/4, until bar 26 and 27 which have explicit meter declarations of 4/4 and 7/8 respectively, in the timeline.

This suggests that we also need an explicit declaration of 7/8 meter on bar 25 so that only bar 24 is affected by our initial meter change:

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Of course we still have our clips offset from the underlying measures… The easiest way of correcting this is to enable “Ripple Editing” for all tracks and slide the clips into alignment.

First, to enable Ripple Editing we use the control in the top right of the track view to toggle it from “Off” to “All”:

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Then we can simply drag the clip at bar 25 into alignment:

The Ripple Edit setting automatically includes all other clips in the timeline (on ALL tracks) along with the one we’re relocating. Handy! The Snap To Grid feature is very helpful to ensure that the clips move exactly 1/8 note to align to the start of the measure.

Before we do anything else, however, we should restore the Ripple Editing setting from “All” to “Off”, because if you forget that it is enabled while moving clips around, you can very easily mess up your project.

These kinds of edits are much easier with Ripple Editing! Thanks to the Cakewalk Developers for implementing it.

Using a MIDI controller with Guitar Rig VST in Cakewalk

I’m writing this post mostly to remind myself how it’s done.

Overview: I’ve got a nice setup in Guitar Rig, including a virtual volume pedal,  and I really want to be able to control it using a MIDI controller foot pedal.

Step 1 – Add an audio track for our guitar, to capture the guitar performance.
You’ll also want to select the appropriate input channel on your audio interface.

Step 2 – Put an instance of Guitar Rig in the FX bin, and select our super-awesome patch:

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Step 3 – Using the VST2 drop-down menu in the plugin header, select “Enable MIDI Input”:

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Step 4 – Add a MIDI track to capture the MIDI controller data.

Step 5 – Assign the appropriate input channel for the MIDI track.

In my case, MIDI control data will be generated from my Roland A-80 controller keyboard with various pedals connected to it, connected to the Midisport 2x2 In A, so I assign the input channel thusly:

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Step 6 – Assign the output channel of the MIDI track to the Guitar Rig Plugin.
This is possible because we enabled MIDI input in Step 3 above – we get an option to select the plugin as the destination for the MIDI data in the output channel list:

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Step 7 – Define a controller inside the Guitar Rig plugin

Go to the Options > Controller tab in Guitar Rig, and click on “Add Controller”.

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At this point, a “New Control” module appears in the Controller list in Guitar Rig.

Step 8 – Click the “Learn” button and wiggle the controller’s foot pedal:

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Notes:

  • Obviously the controller must be turned on!
  • Assuming the foot pedal has been assigned to CC#4 (which is typical), you should see the controller number appear against the control definition in Guitar Rig.
  • For diagnostic purposes, it helps to have the meters in Cakewalk displaying incoming MIDI messages.

Step 9 – Assign the controller to the Volume Pedal

In the controller list, click on the Menu button and select Volume Pedal > Pedal

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At this point, moving the expression pedal should be reflected in Guitar Rig’s UI as moving the volume pedal level:

ExpPedal_Volume

If we now arm both tracks for recording, we can record the guitar audio and the MIDI controller data at the same time, capturing the performance.

Guitar Amplifier Simulators – Introduction

The “Producer” tier of Cakewalk’s SONAR has included bundled 3rd party plugins over the years. Some of these were “limited” editions, and some were full products. It’s had some kind of amplifier simulator plugin ever since version 8, I think it was Guitar Rig 3 LE (limited edition).

Most recently prior to Cakewalk’s BandLab acquisition, it included a special “Cakewalk edition” of Overloud’s TH3. Now that Cakewalk (formerly known as “SONAR”) is distributed at no charge by Bandlab, it does not include any bundled 3rd party plugins.

At some point I installed IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube 3 which could be downloaded for free back in 2011. (It’s now at version 4.)

Since then I must have taken advantage of one of the periodic bargain upgrade prices for Guitar Rig, because on my DAW, the full version 4.0 was installed. This week I upgraded Guitar Rig to version 5.

These are all good products, but I haven’t really explored them in detail because I tend to use hardware FX for guitar and bass recording, specifically the Line6 POD 2.0, with which I’ve always obtained good results.

But creativity is fostered through experimentation and playing around, which brings me to this month, in which I re-wired my bass in stereo, and started playing around with amp simulator plugins. Specifically, parallel effect chains for the stereo bass signal.

I got interesting results with the time-limited demo of the full version of TH3, but the Cakewalk edition that I have installed is too feature-limited. The full version TH3 is no longer supported, and it costs more money than I’m comfortable with to get to the current offering, TH-U.

I’ve had more luck with Guitar Rig 4, partly because it is a “full” product. When I checked the Native Instruments web site, I saw I could upgrade to the latest version 5 at a very nice price, so I did – even though it hasn’t been updated since 2011.

Guitar Rig (like its brethren) provides a container in which you can build a series of virtual effect units and amplifiers and speaker cabinets into a customized signal chain. This is pretty cool, but it does lack the interactivity of a physical pedalboard, unless you pair the software up with a special hardware controller, such as the Rig Kontrol:

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This physical pedalboard plugs into your computer via MIDI or USB and can talk to the virtual effect rack. You can enable or disable effects in the chain, or manipulate volume or wah pedals.

Unfortunately, it is no longer supported, although you can find them on ebay, reverb, etc.

On the plus side, if you have a MIDI controller in your studio (such as a keyboard with an expression pedal) then you can use that instead. Which is what I’ll write about next.

Diagnosing a randomly changing patch in a VST instrument

This is going to be a somewhat random post but I want to record this before I forget what I just found out.

I was playing around with Arturia’s CS80V when the patch I was playing suddenly changed: the release time increased. Also I could see the patch had changed because an asterisk appears in the patch name.

I reset the patch by selecting it in the browser, and continued playing. Suddenly, it happened again!

This time I watched the GUI of the synth to see if I could see it happen:

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Sure enough, about a minute later the patch changed sounds and something caught my eye – a slider had changed positions:

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Moving the slider back restored the original sound (although of course, the patch was still “changed” as far as the environment was concerned).

OK, how to diagnose this? I’ll cut a long story short and say eventually I set a track to record MIDI data from my controller, in case something funky was entering the MIDI event stream, and played a few notes.

A short time later, I had this:

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Those vertical lines are Continuous Controller (CC) events:

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I was recording on Track 2 and that’s three events for Continuous Controller 83 that I can’t explain.

I need to find out why my Roland A80 master keyboard is emitting these controller events. Is this new behavior, or has it always happened?

Normally they are harmless, I guess, but the default MIDI Controller mapping for CS80v  has CC# 83 mapped to this VCA envelope release time slider:

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So that explains the phantom finger on the slider. The ones in RED have been set to respond to a specific CC#.

It’s easy enough to fix – we can use the MIDI Mapping feature in Arturia’s software instruments to load an “empty” controller mapping:

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Now the patch remains unchanged even when I play back the track containing the controller data.

Next up, find out why the A80 is emitting those random controller values...

Another Way to Skin an FX Send

Modern digital audio workstations offer a plethora of ways to solve your mixing and routing problems. Inspired somewhat by Craig Anderton’s latest column in Sound on Sound, I discovered a new way to apply reverb selectively to multiple tracks, in Cakewalk By BandLab using the Sonitus Reverb VST. Here’s my use case:

I have Lead and Backing vocal tracks, and I want to apply a long-tail reverb to portions of the verse and chorus phrases. (The main sustained notes provide a wash of reverb in the background, but keeping it clean and un-muddled by fricatives and fast syllables.)

In the past I have created a “VOX FX” Buss, put an instance of Sonitus Reverb on it, and directed it to feed the “VOX” main buss. Finally, I add a Send on each vocal track to feed the VOX FX, and use “Send Level” automation on each track:

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This works well, and allows the automation curves to be adjusted per-track.

But what if you have more than two tracks, and per-track envelopes isn’t needed? Could there be a way to send audio to the reverb using a single automation curve? I experimented with using an Aux track, intending to add a send on each vocal track to the Aux track, then use the “Automated Send To FX Buss” trick described above.

However, I realized that I could simplify things by putting the reverb effect on the Aux track itself, and then automating the “VST Input Level” instead:

From the Edit Filter selector (displaying “Clips” by default) we can drill down into the Sonitus Reverb and select “Input” from the automation choices:

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Now we can draw the automation envelope (only one is needed) to control the amount of audio from all tracks being processed by the reverb:

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This gets the job done, and no need for a general purpose fx buss.

As I mentioned above, there are good reasons NOT to do it this way – but it is nice to have the option.

UPDATED 27 Sep 2019

It seems you can’t “freeze” an AUX track, so if you find yourself in the resource crunch and the FX bin on the Aux track is CPU-heavy, well, that’s another good reason not to use this technique.

April 2019 Progress

So much for keeping a regular Studio Diary… where did the time go?

In my defense I will say that the 2019 brought a long-awaited, real-world landscaping project into being, and that has taken a lot of attention.

On the other hand, since the last update I have completed two new tracks:

“The Toks Invade Bogland” was finished up last year and sounds pretty good. I’ve moved on to the song sequence titled “The God Program” and just finished up the first piece in the sequence, a solo piano overture of sorts, called “The Cathedral of Hosts”.

I really wanted to be able to perform the piano part right through from beginning to end, and to record a complete single take, and I almost did it. The truth is that I did end up tweaking a few bum notes (bad velocity). This took a lot of practice!

This quiet, contemplative track contains many musical themes and motifs that are expanded on in later sections of the song sequence:



The first sound you hear is the Roland VK8 keyboard, a “virtual clonewheel” that emulates a hammond organ. I’m using a shimmery patch as a background pad.

The piano is Modartt’s Pianoteq 4, using the “D4” model. The latest version of Pianoteq is actually 6, but they’ve tweaked the piano model and replaced it with a Steinway-endorsed “Steinway D” model. I tried using the more recent versions and ended up going back to version 4, which for some reason has a nicer character for this track.

At about 1:30 you can hear the FingerFiddle IOS app with which I perform the strings (violin and cello). This is a very cool app that requires a fair amount of practice to sound decent, almost like a “real” instrument.

At 1:55 there are some “Ahhh” vocals padding out the sound, and shortly after that a Marimba that is actually a combination of another instance of Modartt Pianoteq (version 6 this time) doubled with Native Instruments’ FM8 for extra DX7-ish bite.


The new DAW is running well. Cakewalk by Bandlab, the re-branded Digital Audio Workstation software formerly known as “SONAR” is probably the most stable it has ever been, with regular updates that focus on bug fixes rather than new features, although there are some of those as well.

Recommended, as ever.

Next: taking the demo of “Enlightenment”, the second part of God Program, and turning it into a finished track.

Onward!