From the Blog

I made some serious progress in the quest to write, record and mix a complete piece of music this past weekend. The catalyst was the discovery of a piece of software called Rosegarden, an audio and MIDI sequencer and music composition and editing environment. Unlike Ardour, which will play an important role when I want to mix my tracks, Rosegarden will allow me to record the parts for individual instruments using my keyboard and then make note by note adjustments to the score after it is recorded. This is critically important for someone like me, who did not pay attention to his piano lessons at all. It will provide me with the ability to express myself in ways I otherwise might not be able to, for lack of ability.

One thing about Rosegarden confounded me for a while. It does not have the ability to play anything back on its own. In my case I eventually discovered I could connect it to Fluidsynth and ZynAddSubFX in order to hear what I had recorded played back. This led to the discovery of Sound Fonts…which probably seems silly to someone who knows what they are doing. There are more details on this in their FAQs under the heading Playback and recording.

Another great resource I discovered is the Open Source Musician Podcast. I met the main host in an IRC where I was asking questions about Ardour. He can also be found on twitter at http://twitter.com/PipeManMusic.

I am getting closer and closer to needing a new computer. Sadly, the further I go the more I realize the old laptop I decided to use as the platform for all of this is not going to cut it in the long run. For one thing, it is too slow to handle the various software  demands. But, more importantly, I can’t get clean, latency free audio in or out of it and I can’t install a realistic sound card. As a result, I am looking for suggestions on what will work well. I have a tendency to outgrow ‘beginner’ configurations really quickly but I also don’t want to spend more than $600 or $700 on computer hardware if I can avoid it.

Feb
15
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The Space

Much to the chagrin of anyone who may have wanted my attention this past weekend, I was able to make some serious progress with my most recent endeavor to set up a DIY audio production studio in my spare bedroom. I may have to set up a separate blog dedicated to this topic….So much to say!

It was a long, long weekend but in the last hours before passing out last night I was finally able to create the introduction to a first attempt piece of music with multiple, recorded tracks. But before I ever got to the point where I could lay down a single track there were many interesting challenges. Getting everything to communicate seamlessly required a lot of patience and a desire to keep troubleshooting no matter how long it took in order to solve each issue. I am also going to need to figure out how to keep my cats off the hardware. They love sleeping on electronics that generate heat.

On a side note, although small I am really happy with the space overall. It’s comfortable and everything is well within reach. The room has a couple of windows to let in some natural light and fresh air. It’s kind of a Zen space for me. I’ve got to remember to make sure Jackie knows how much I appreciate the fact she let me take it over when we moved in together.

Friday night after work I went to the local Guitar Center and picked up a few things. I thought it might be interesting to keep a tally of my costs for prosperity…And taxes…Because of my profession a production studio is a legitimate business expense.  My memory is hazy so these figures might be off as much as +- 5%. Also, some of these hardware items are used and came from me…their cost is $0 and I am not going to estimate the actual value.

Item Cost
Roland TD-K Drums $1100
Yamaha P85 (on sale!) $550
Used Acoustic 6-String $0
Alesis 4 Channel Mixer w/USB $79
M Audio 2 Channel USB/Midi Interface $79
Samson Servo 300 Power Amp $300
Used Studio Monitors (Discovered at a Goodwill store) $20
Dell 18.5″ Computer Monitor $100
Keyboard Stand $50
Drum Throne $50
DW7000 Bass Drum Pedal $100
Drum Sticks $50
Assorted New Cables $100
Assorted Used Cables $0
Dell Latitude D800 (Circa 2002) $0
Ubuntu Linux Studio Version $0
Ardour Digital Audio Workstation $0
ZynAddSubFX Software Synthesizer $0
Suite of JACK Utilities $0
TOTAL: $2578

This is my first time seeing this total number but it is about what I expected. Music is certainly an expensive hobby but given what capabilities I now have I feel this price…Combined with 48 hours of effort to get everything set up and working together…Is pretty reasonable. If I was talented enough I could certainly compose, record, edit and digitally master a piece of music today.

Linux Workstation

Linux Workstation

The biggest challenge over the weekend was getting the various Linux software components to work with the MIDI instruments and each other. All the software was free but patience, diligence and the ability to understand computers is absolutely necessary. A little UNIX experience is also very helpful. In the end some interesting lessons were learned. For instance, I discovered I must turn things on and connect them in a specific order. The following sequence is to connect the keyboard to the software synthesizer:

  1. Power up the computer
  2. Run JACK control
  3. Start JACK server
  4. Run JACK Rack
  5. Start ZynAddSubFX
  6. Open JACK connctions
  7. Link Zyn Out to Rack in
  8. Link Rack out to System In
  9. Plug in MIDI USB
  10. Turn on Keys
  11. Open Jack Connections
  12. Link MIDI interface Out to MIDI through IN
  13. Link MIDI through Out to ZynSub IN
  14. Push MIDI pass through button.
  15. Voila!

Although this probably seems like a lot of steps it only takes about a minute. Ubuntu Linux runs very fast, even on an eight year old Dell with 512 Megs of RAM. I am ordering additional RAM very soon, this is one limitation that must be dealt with very soon. The system was getting pretty unstable as the length of the first project grew. One attempt to copy, multiply and paste 5 seconds of two tracks overshot the RAM, spiked the processor and locked the machine up tight. I had to kill everything in order to drop the CPU’s down and allow the fan to cool the processor before I restarted the machine.

Although I am really happy with the $20 studio monitors I found at Goodwill I am also certain I want to upgrade the sound. Producing music, even as a total amateur, demands high fidelity playback.