Tuesday, June 27, 2006

HEY, not a time for whining...

summer's here, and the time is right, for ee-lec-tur-onic beats...

no more motu issues, it was disk space, I'm convinced, so I was being a whiner.

and, my new midi controller electronics have arrived... this was a saga that I had not intimated to you, dear reader, as it was fraught with peril. It involved feverish dreams, foreign contacts, and ... well, several many kinda dumb questions.. BUT...

the MIDI Guitron has been made nearly reality.

I've wanted a midi instrument with the notes laid out like a guitar. I didn't want a guitar that was fitted with a MIDI pickup, I like when my guitar sounds like a guitar with some extra stuff (like effects and/or triggered synths). But I found that I had trouble playing the melodies I imagined on a keyboard, even though I can come up with some ok melodies on a keyboard with my right hand. But, I want to play melodic lines (including basslines) with just one hand in a guitar layout, because I feel the notes better, and I also wanted a simple way to activate on/off midi, so the small black buttons accomplish that.

The notes on the instrument range from E1 to E8. It is a somewhat wasteful midi instrument, in that many of the note assignments are repeated, but that's the way it is on a guitar/bass. It is double necked, four string, because the six string columns of buttons would be too wide, and because, truth be told, i've always had mental problems with that G to B string thing-- moving up the neck vs. moving across is fine for me. Also, this is by no means to supplant guitar, it is just a way for me to better navigate a wider range of the notes and sounds.

While the concept, for better or worse, is pure Utenzil, the circuitry is designed and built by Midiboutique in Varna. They have done some amazing projects and I was glad to have the opportunity to work with them.

So now I have to encase the electronics, which will take a while to completely complete, so it will be interesting.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

MOTU Ultralite issues ... resolved?

Having read more in-depth re: WinXP and IEEE 1394, all of the issues pertain to 1394b not being well supported, there are other patches that relate to removing firewire devices and such, but only the previously mentioned SP2 problem that canl cause problems with slow transfer rate unless the patch is applied.

What seems to have made the most difference is that I have run disk cleanup to get rid of a bunch of crap, including some huge error dumps that I did not know existed . I did not have to de-install any less-used programs, which was my next step(s).

So, now, here's what I see/can say...

With one live mic in, the CueMix DSP and Live running at the same time, 96k where samples buffering setting gives me 6ms latency, sound is good, monitoring is good, 2% CPU idling with input armed for record, couple of other tracks running things brings it up in between 10% and 20% CPU, this is much better. I have not yet pushed it harder, but this is much better than what I was previously seeing. This is much more like what other people have been saying, so I'm feeling a lot better about it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

random musing...

The whole thing with the MOTU, working with it more and watching the CPU meter from task manager/performance, it would appear that I have a penchant for CPU brinksmanship that just a few extra CPU percentage points makes a difference, so I'll work on the sets that suffer from this.

I had a teacher, long ago, who was a jazz bassist (upright) who once quipped "Rock and Roll is the professional wrestling of music". My quip, many years later, is "Laptop Electronic is the motor racing of music" -- the machine does most of the work, there is a great deal of preparation, reliance on reflexes and timing, and always the possibility of a crash.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Utenzil vs. the MOTU Ultralite

I found myself wanting a new combined Audio/MIDI interface with high quality. I'd seen the MOTU Ultralite used by several others very successfully, and had read good things about it in general. I was strongly considering the RME Fireface 400 which has recently come out and which has a great feature set, but the price is too high.

I currently use an Echo Indigo I/O, a small mixer, an M-Audio 1x1 USB MIDI or map USB/HID to MIDI. This has been an extremely reliable, good sounding setup for playback and improvisation. But the Echo Indigo only has 1 pair or L/R audio inputs and one pair of L/R audio outputs.

The MOTU sounds great, I'm happy. I adjust it to 96000 sampling, it sounds wonderful. However, it chokes on some of my more elaborate sets. I mess about with settings, increase buffer. Still choking on sets the Echo handled effortlessly. I am saddened. I set it down to 44.1, it's *still* dropping out, CPU spiking, more adjustments, I am greatly saddened. I notice that in MME mode, the little plasma gauges on the front indicate levels. In ASIO mode, they do not-- I'm starting to get pissed off. It still sounds great on minimal sets, but can't handle ones where I'm running MIDI into 3 or 4 multiple tracks at the same time I'm using 4-5 tracks of audio along with some other stuff. These 'elaborate sets' are between 10-16 tracks, really not all that much-- most of the CPU is being used by softsynths.

I download the latest driver from MOTU (a HUGE download). No real difference. I deinstall them.

Somewhere in there, I realize that everyone I've seen using the MOTU Ultralite was using a Mac. Hmm. Firewire was, traditionally, a "Mac thing". I post on the Ableton forum asking if anyone else using Windows has had similar problems. Some interesting information: Windows XP SP2 did something intentionally less well with the firewire port settings that SP1 did, because it looks like Microsoft had not fully defined what they were going to do with 1394b:
here is the page not containing their sincere apology.

I am not positive I have a Firewire 1394a or 1394b capable port, so I download this patch and install it. MOTU's tech support site recommends removing SP2 (!). Thats silly (however, the recommendation does slightly predate the patch).

I reinstall the latest drivers from MOTU. Eh, mebbe some difference now, maybe not. There is a firmware download on the MOTU site, for the Traveler-- does it also apply to Ultralite? Dunno. I emailed support at MOTU somewhere in there and asked them, no reply. I download it and try to apply it. Part of the instructions for applying it refer to pressing two buttons on the MOTU at once. The firmware update does not 'take', so it is in fact traveller specific. However, pushing the two buttons causes the unit's LED display to prompt 'do you want to reset to factory defaults?". I say "Yes". It asks "are you sure?" I say yes, because "f*ck you" was not an option.

It blinks, and resets to 48000/24bit sampling. There is a crackling sound, uh oh. I power it down, reboot, power it back up, restart, load a set.

It sounds wonderful again. I load some of the sets it had problems with. Not having those problems anymore. It does use more CPU, however (FW speed vs. Echo's PCIMCIA speed, also) so some of the larger sets are a little dicey. What it looks like is I'll be fine with 48000 sampling for playback, which does sound great because the converters are so good, and will be able to record individual audio in at 96000, which is good.

But still not ideally optimal, and not yet feeling as solid as my earler (far lighter, less expensive albeit much less flexible and still good-sounding) setup. Latency is not so good, 40+ ms. But for some reason I have a good feeling about it, I think because it lets me hear more in each sound, I will be able to explore 'in between' sounds better.

[edit] a;l of this transpired over several dis-contiguous days, so the story line is condensed, all in all, an aspect of the "adventure", I look forward to working more with the Ultralite interface.

Friday, June 09, 2006

photo from electro-music 2006

it was an adventure...

photo 2006 (c) Hong Waltzer

Philadelphia is not really that far away. I lived there a long time ago. It is a much different skyline now. It seems much, much larger than Baltimore which I drove by on the way.

I did not leave as early as I would have liked... no, actually, truth be told, I left the time I would have liked, but leaving at that time did not lead to arriving at the event at the optimal time.

The difference between this event (which was as much of a converence/gathering as a series of performances) and other performances is that

  • I had corresponded somehow (forum or email list) with most of the people there
  • There were chairs arranged in rows for everyone to sit in
  • There were just as many or more primarily into hardware synths as into computer-based music
  • Experimental/ambient was heavily represented
  • A significant percentage of people in the audience were far more likely to be into soldering stuff together than in dancing
  • I brought my guitar (which ended up not working very well) and a vocal mic (which did).

    The good parts of the whole experience far outweighed less good parts. I did a bunch of things I do not usually do, ran several smaller sets, gave little verbal descriptions of each, some of which were self-generating/modifying.

    There was an internet stream of the event, even heard some feedback from someohe in Europe (!) who liked my set.

    There were some really amazing performances, accompanied by meshing graphics. Lots of pictures and more on the site