A Song A Day

My dear friend Artemis has encouraged me to take part in Song-A-Day 2016. The goal: write a piece of music every day for the entire month of February. Or, more accurately, write, record, and post 29 pieces of music. I’m looking forward to the challenge and working to put a bit more discipline and routine into my composition. It’s time to build some new habits.

The idea notebook is started and I’ll be going over the studio this week to get some bugs ironed out. My additional goal for all of this is to have at least one album or two EPs up on Bandcamp and available for sale by mid-year.

No Sound from the SQ-80?

Just a short post that I hope will find its way into the search engines in the hopes that it helps someone in the future. My Ensoniq SQ-80 stopped making any noise a month or two ago. As it turns out, I ran into an RTFM error. Except that I bought this synth second hand and didn’t have TFM.

The SQ-80 Master Settings Page
The answer was right in front of me…

Earlier today, I was on the excellent Buchty.net Ensoniq Resource page and found not only a PDF of the original Musician’s Manual, but several other manuals and schematics as well. Had I been smart, I would have scanned through it first. I went the long way, but in the interest of Internet time, here’s a choice bit from page 18 of the user guide:

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you don’t have a CV Pedal plugged into the SQ-80, you should NOT leave this parameter set to PEDAL=VOL when you turn the unit off. If you do. the next time you power it up, the SQ-80 will set the “straight synth” volume to zero — it won’t make any sound. To get the volume back to normal, just go to the MASTER Page, select this parameter and set it to PEDAL=MOD.

Of course, I took the long way around and, in fairness, would not have turned to the Master Settings page information first. But once I knew where I was looking, there it was!

It’s been a long time since my Ensoniq OS chops were strong, but I’m glad to have this synth back in the mix!

Zen Meditation 1 Revisited

Three years ago, I posted Zen Meditation 1 to my Soundcloud page. As outlined in my initial blog post about it, the piece almost didn’t exist as anything other than a stream of consciousness noodle, soon to be forgotten. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t see a lot of value in it and assumed that nobody else would either.

 

Over the last several years I’ve come to realize that the music I’ve written only for myself, the tracks that I didn’t think anyone else would connect with and that had no identifiable market or audience, is the music that people almost universally latch on to and enjoy most. I suppose it may be the most “true.” That truth comes through in the music in a way I don’t necessarily understand.

When looking at my page today, I noticed that Zen Meditation 1 had a play count of 500. Five hundred! It’s not a platinum album. It’s not even a blip on a chart. But for something that I didn’t think would be listened to at all, 500 plays is nothing short of amazing. It also has the widest global distribution demographics in my listening stats.

It is the single most-listened to track I have on Soundcloud.

Clearly there’s a lesson here, not just for me, but for anyone creating something that they want to release to the world. Write things that are true. Paint things that are true. Create for yourself, because those are the things that will connect. Maybe not with the audience that you thought you were looking for, but with the audience that’s looking for you.

Cable Hell

The physical placement of gear and furniture is complete and I’m now starting to wire everything up. This is where my studio ceases to be a lovely catalog photo and becomes the cable equivalent of the paperwork monster from Brazil that swallows Robert De Niro whole.

It would probably be easier if I didn’t have this neat-freak-anal-retentive-OCD desire to keep everything looking nice and neat. Worse, I’m not able to do everything at once this time around. The new layout is going to require additional cable purchases, different power distribution, more line level shifting from -10 to +4, a couple of long midi runs, and tying together two different sections of the room so everything lands in the computer.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with music gear, most of what’s in my studio has the following things to connect and route:

  • Audio (anywhere from two to 16+ cables)
  • MIDI (typically two cables)
  • Power (one cable)

On the surface, not so bad, but multiply that by 40 or 50, then add in wiring patch bays so that things can be routed to different places and the computer interfaces and it starts getting a little overwhelming. The cherry on top is that it’s really best to keep all of the power cables physically separated from the others. That might not be so bad if power was always in the same place on each piece of gear, but of course it is not.

It’s kind of like playing Tetris with cooked spaghetti.

Today, I’ve been learning that some of my gear that I thought had unbalanced outputs actually is balanced. Ordinarily, that would be great, but it screws up the patch plan I had already worked out in Excel. To make it worse, some of the units don’t have anything definitive in their specs, so I’m relying on Internet knowledge for some of my decisions.

I’m kind of at the point where I’m saying, “screw it,” and just hooking a couple of things up. My goal for today is to have the master keyboard and left side of the composition station hooked up, the computer running, and sound coming out the mains. I’m going to try working without a subwoofer for a few weeks and see if that helps with mix translation.

One additional thing I’ve decided to do is start creating pages on my site for key pieces of gear. This will mostly be my personal reference area where I put all of the links and documents I’ve found useful, but if it helps others, great! I’m considering using the pages as homes for my “isolated gear” music experiments, where I focus on only writing and recording with a single synth. As I’ve written before, I want to get to know my equipment much better than I do now, partly to stave off gear acquisition syndrome, and partly because I think that may help with my instrumental work.

The Studio Version 11.0

This is the eleventh major time I’ve set up my studio after a move. I’ve come a long way from Version 1.0 which consisted of an Ensoniq EPS and an HR-16 drum machine, run through a Radio Shack mixer into a cassette deck. (The alpha version was a Korg Poly-800 and a two cassette decks where I’d overdub by using one channel for the previous dub and the other for the new synth part… how different things are now…)

These days, I’m trying to wrangle multiple synths, effects units, midi, power management… I haven’t added it up yet, but I’m fairly certain I have over a kilometer of cables waiting to be connected.

MIDI Madness

 

Just laying out what gear is going to go where in the room was a headache this time. I recently moved into a much smaller house (46% smaller) and, while I like the new house very much, moving equipment that had been in a room the size of a two car garage into a typical suburban bedroom was a bit of a challenge. Additionally, over the last few years, I’ve purchased a few more pieces of gear, and decided to start using my 32 channel mixer again – there’s something inspiring to me about having faders under my fingers. And while it’s mostly a style over substance thing, but there’s nothing like a dimly lit studio with a gazillion blinky lights showing the music to your eyes.

So my secret weapon for the last four or five studio overhauls has been Excel. I have a workbook that includes a database of all my gear (including inputs, outputs, serial numbers, replacement value, etc.), all of my available rack spaces for deciding what gear sits where, and separate sheets for audio, midi, and power distribution. While it might seem like overkill, I have a worst-case possibility of over 100 channels of computer audio i/o and 64 midi cables alone. When you add in patch bays, multi-channel snakes, balancers and line level shifters, power strips, and foot pedals, it can get overwhelming quickly.

Additionally, my time in IT has taught me that spending a few days mapping out exactly what’s going to happen (like, say, 900 ethernet cables and patch bays for the 3rd floor offices and data closets) can save you massive amounts of time and money. You don’t buy things you don’t need and, if you’ve done a halfway decent job of labeling your cables, it becomes trivial to know what cable goes where. No more digging through spaghetti trying to wiggle that one midi cable to figure out which port it came out of.

Here’s part of the Version 11 audio patching plan:

Excel Madness

Even though this room is smaller, the restriction I have on where things go actually makes some of the cable runs longer. Rather than having one big blob of a studio, I now have two discrete areas. I didn’t want giant audio snakes running across the doorway, and have figured out a way to place the computer, midi, and audio interfaces so that I think I’m only going to need to run one firewire and one USB cable. The downside to this is that I knew I’d need to buy some more patch bays and level shifters. I was figuring six or seven new patch bays and at least 5 level shifters to get everything smooth and happy.

Excel to the rescue! First, it helped me figure out that I didn’t have enough rack spaces in the studio furniture to even start down that path. Then, I realized that I was making things overly complicated (surprise!). In the end, I only need three patch bays and two level shifters. There are three pieces of gear that aren’t in the wiring plan, but only because I’m not sure if they’re going physically fit anywhere. But once I figure that out, I’ll know exactly what patch points are available.

I haven’t started on the power supplies or specific midi routing, and I know I’ll need to buy some additional audio cables, but the hard part is over.