Awasu » 2010 » May
Friday 21st May 2010 11:28 AM [General]

A couple of people have asked how I produced the songs I posted the other day, so here's a quick run-down.

It all started back in the mid-90's :-) when I picked up a wonderful piece of equipment put out by Roland, the VS-880. It was a self-contained portable recording studio that went for around a grand and a great way for someone to start learning how to record. And while you can still get this kind of all-in-one box, nowadays most people do everything on a computer.

Fast-forward to today, I recently got myself a new laptop to build a studio around and with 8 GB of memory, 8 CPU's and a 256 GB solid-state drive, it was definitely not cheap :-( but audio and <foreshadowing> video </foreshadowing> is notoriously hard on computers and this system has been built for the long-haul.

On it, the main things I run are Ableton Live and Reaper and as you can see in the screenshot below, things have changed just a bit in the last 15 years :roll: Spread out over two 1920x1080 displays, I have on-screen waveforms, drag-and-drop editing, real-time monitoring of what's happening on every channel, so compared to how I had to manage with the VS-880's tiny LED screen, things are obviously much easier. I don't quite get to grumble to the kids today about how I had to cart my 8-track around everywhere, in the snow, up-hill (in both directions) but it's not far off...

Ableton is popular with people doing dance and electronic music and I rather suspect I might be blazing a bit of a trail using it for blues :roll: but it's great for what I want to do: prepare songs for live work. All the songs I posted can be performed live, and it's not just a case of simply playing along to a backing track. Using a MIDI foot controller, I can move around the various parts of a song at will and since I play a WX5 wind synth, I have even more control via that as well. For example, in Dancing In The Rain, I can trigger a thunder-clap or the sound of rainfall at any time by playing a particular note :cool:

The WX5 is a MIDI controller i.e. while it can play notes, it doesn't have sounds built into it and needs to be plugged into a sound generator and the unit of choice is the VL70-m. The sounds it comes with are OK but this guy sells a chip that replaces them with a new set that are simply awesome. There are a bunch of samples on the linked-to page as well as, of course, the songs I posted :-) While many synths work by sampling (i.e. they play back pre-recorded samples of each note as you play them), the VL70-m works by physical modeling, that is, it has been programmed with a mathematical model of a pipe and it figures out what sound would come out if you blow into it. Each different sound in the VL70-m has the pipe configured differently (length, bore diameters, twists, kinks and holes) and it's quite bizarre to think that by simply contorting a pipe in different ways, it can be made to sound like an electric guitar, a violin or a bass :blink: Loads of fun :-)

Reaper is a DAW (digital audio workstation, a recording studio application) and is, in a word, amazing. You may have heard kevotheclone raving about how insanely awesome Awasu is, well, I'm about to do the same for Reaper. It's produced by a company called Cockos, founded by Justin Frankel, the same dude that brought us Winamp all those years ago, and once described by Rolling Stone as "the world's most dangerous geek." If you've ever had anything to do with audio production, you'll know that the main players like Cubase, Pro Tools and Logic are typical, corporate-scale behemoths, laden with features but with a commensurate number of bugs that are maybe fixed in releases that come out once every couple of years, and a price tag in the USD 500-1000 range. Reaper, on the other hand, is an extremely powerful piece of software (with far more in it than what I will ever need), releases are every couple of weeks, betas are pushed out every couple of days :bigshock: and I'm somewhat embarrassed to report that what they are asking for this fabulous piece of gear is less that what we ask for the Pro Edition of Awasu, a measly 60 bucks. The big players would be well justified in feeling somewhat uneasy about what's happening here since Reaper is fast catching up to them.

Not only that, they have a policy of trusting their users:

We believe that technological enforcement of copy protection is not in the best interest of our customers.
We offer a good product at a fair price.

We don't spend money and effort on marketing, complicated piracy protection, or other things that do not directly improve REAPER and the user experience.

We think the good will generated by playing fair and being responsive to users is more valuable to our business than short-term profits.

If the fact that their product is bloody fantastic isn't good enough reason to buy it, then surely this is :clap:

But it gets better! I wish I could find it again but when I was sniffing around to find out more about Reaper, I stumbled across a long forum post from someone who was raving about its support. He had posted a suggestion for a new feature and was gob-smacked when the developer replied almost immediately and they had a conversation nutting out how it could work. But his gob-smackedness was nothing compared to what he felt when an hour later, he received a build with a prototype of new feature in it :bigshock: :clap:

And I thought it was only me who did that kind of thing... :roll:

Tuesday 18th May 2010 3:04 PM [General]

At the risk of disturbing the tumbleweeds bouncing by :-| a quick update on what's been happening these past few months behind the curtain here...

I've been back in the woodshed and also doing some work in my newly-pimped out studio, with some rather pleasing results. Dancing In The Rain is, amazingly, the first song I put together, and it's come out remarkably well.

If you can't see the audio clips embedded in this post because you don't have Flash installed (or Awasu has stripped them out :roll: ), you can also hear them here.

A bit more up-beat, Give It To Me.

Of course, I've been rabbiting on all these years about how I play sax, so here's a track of me playing a "real" instrument :roll: Back around 1875 when I first started studying jazz, I had a pair of Aebersold play-alongs, one with a bunch of Charlie Parker songs in it and the other from Miles Davis. The Parker one was too hard and since the first song in the Miles book was Four, that was the first jazz song I ever tried to learn and so naturally, it's the first cab off the rank here :-)

But have no fear, in amongst all this noodling around in the studio, I'm still plugging away on the next version of Awasu. By popular request, some big extensions to the API and search engine are in the works and the next release will be in a week or two...