A whole new world

I have this old laptop, Celeron CPU and Windows XP sticker, that I haven’t been able to make myself get rid of. It still works and has a pretty decent display, but it is too slow to be much fun with games and such. Yesterday morning I installed some soft synths on it, and after some tweaking it actually worked. It worked so well that I made a trip to town and bought a cheap MIDI-keyboard to go with it.

Lo and behold my minimal couch studio.

I haven’t used any soft synths before, and spent all morning installing free ones at random and just doodling. Two that I liked were Minimal and Meteorite from Psychic Modulation, and the doodles resulted in this little clip.

Except for Windows itself everything was done with free software. So if you’re curious it shouldn’t be very hard to set up your own stuff.

I used

  • VST Host – It doesn’t make any sounds by itself, but it provides an environment in which the soft synths can run. It also allows you to use the computer’s keyboard to play notes, if you don’t have a dedicated MIDI keyboard.
  • ASIO4all – At first I had a noticeable delay from pressing a key and hearing the sound. After installing the ASIO4all sound card driver that problem disappeared, just remember to enable the new driver in VST Host.
  • Psychic Modulation – The site where I got Minimal, the drum machine, and Meteorite, the synth sound.
  • Audacity – I had used this before on Linux, but I installed it on the laptop as well, so I could edit the recording a bit.
  • Miditech I2 Control-25 – The cheap MIDI keyboard, optional really. But I’ve been wanting something like it for a while, and this was a good an excuse to get one as any.

Playing with multiple tracks

I had decided to do some multi track recording when I noticed that my LEM RDX 82u mixer feeds back the sound from the computer into the recorded track. This lead to a Matryoshka doll of recording, where the fourth track contained the third, which contained the second track, which contained the first track. The track also contained the second track, which contained the first track. And the first track, all mixed together with increasing delays. This was not what I had hoped for.

I ended up buying an M-Audio Fast Track Pro, which should work in Linux, both with custom drivers in Debian, and as a plain old USB-audio device under any OS.

However, it didn’t work that well with my Ubuntu 11.11 machine. Actually,it didn’t work at all at first. It took a lot of trial’n’error and searching the interwebs for me to figure out how to get it running.

Techno mumble follows…

In the end I managed to get the board running with the following command line start of jackd.

jackd -v -R -d alsa -C hw:0,1 -P hw:0,0 -H -s -r44100

Note that I use different subdevices for input and output (this should be configurable within QJackCtl, but it seemed to me like the settings never really propagated from the GUI to jackd. I found that some audio applications didn’t work with any other sound card than the first one (the 0 card), so I hacked /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf to allow snd-usb-audio to take the position as the first sound card.

I did a proof of concept recording this evening. It’s mostly random key mashing over an arpeggiator track, and all tracks but one were done on the Yamaha CS1x. The last one is the viola da gamba (the drone track in the back of the mix).

Download: No bubbles here.mp3

Doodle with CS1X, EM-1 and SH-201

Back in March I finally managed to sit down with the sound toys for a while and did my New Year’s resolution recording. Today I got another chance, and I managed to figure out how to sync the Electribe with the arpeggiator on the CS1X.

Some time I must find out how to program my own arp sequences, but this time I settled for random notes over two octaves.

Wetdog, another tune composed by random doodles on the keyboard.

My New Year’s resolution

I’ve been on a shopping spree since last year, getting second hand synths and equipment. And I then put it all into a corner, ready to be used but not actually played with all that much. I have been too busy with my other hobby, game design and hosting potluck conventions. But today I sat down and completed my New Year’s resolution: To use some of the stuff I already have and record something that uses at least three “instruments”.



It’s nothing fancy, just doodling on the keyboard, the important thing is that I actually sat down and recorded anything at all.

The three instruments

  • Roland SH-201, used to play the windy sounding stuff in the background. Mostly done by a slow arpeggiator playing a filtered noise generator patch.
  • KORG Electribe EM-1, used for the faint heart beat sound in the background.
  • Roland JV-1080, the factory patch LetterFrmPat (User 103) was used both for the lead and the slow stuff in the background.

I named the file after the patch, Letter.

More gamba samples

I got into a discussion with Jimmy Peggie about preamps for the Ergo gamba and piezo pickups in general. In the end I promised to record a sample with and without a preamp made for acoustic instruments.

  • Sample 1 First I connected the gamba directly to my LEM rdx 82u mixer. The mixer has USB out and acted as A/D converter, I did the recordings in Audacity on the computer.
  • Sample 2 Then I connected a Behringer V-Tone Acoustic ADI 21 preamp between the gamba and the mixer.
  • Sample 3 Just for fun I connected my Behringer Virtualizer PRO between the preamp and the mixer. This is the setup I usually have when playing.

The method of the test is questionable, I pretty much used the settings on everything that happened to be dialed in when I started, very little adjustments took place. No doubt I can tweak a better sound on all setups. But I did not have the time for that this time.

I might get back to this project later and redo the recordings when I have a bit more time on my hands.

Back to the gamba

It has been about a year since I broke the low A on my electric viola da gamba while tuning, but a week ago I got around to ordering a replacement. Feels nice to have the instrument back in order. And I hope I don’t break more strings any time soon, just the A costs more than a full set of guitar or violin strings. The Super-Sensitive Sensicore perlon strings I use are cheap when compared to the alternatives, but still it took me a year getting around to ordering that replacement.

I hooked everything up and even managed to record a short sample. Not any real melody or anything, just doodling. When I was looking to buy the instrument I looked for sound samples of the Ergo gamba but could not find any. From now on there is at least ONE sample online. The second part is just open strings. There are some effects in the loop, I might redo the whole thing with the raw signal if I find any good way to record it.

Judging from a post on Inner Focus Music Jesse has started making his gambas with tied frets instead of the hammered metal ones that are on my older model. Perhaps that has changed the sound somewhat…

www.tasset.com – Belgian music store that has free shipping on strings, and they carry viola da gamba strings.

– Ergo Instruments

And two for one…

I have been trading, and I traded two for one…

Recently I have gotten the urge to get back into playing folk music. Mainly in the form of going to sessions and other meetups. I used to play the recorders, but they drown under the more commonly used instruments in Swedish folk; fiddles and nyckelharpas. It is kind of hard to play when you can’t hear yourself. I could start bringing my electric instruments and all the other gear, but that would be a lot of work. And it would really be a bother if we were to play outdoors. So I have traded two old electrics for an accoustic one.

Two old violins

Two old violins

The two violins that I traded. An Arirang EV-20 and a Fender FV-1.

My new violin

My new violin

It is a Guarnerius 1734 model one, built by Lennart Lundmark in 2003. If I hadn’t lost all my violin playing due to guitars, cello and gamba the last year I could have posted a sound clip too, but that will have to wait for a while.

I’ll have to put some money in between the trade, but it is well within the budget for a travel instrument. And I managed to cull my collection, so now there is room for that neat guitar I saw on the Internet…

www.fender.com/products/search.php?partno=0950010281 – Fender FV1 product page.

dinfiol.se – Din Fiol (Your Violin), the company/luthier where I did the trade.

Electric viola da gamba

My electric viola da gamba is finally in working condition. When I got it from ErgoInstruments it was unplayable, the frets had unseated in shipping and fixing them was way above my skill level. I spent half a year looking for a luthier that could fix it, and now I have found one. A local wizard of all things technical went over it and hammered the frets back in position, filed and polished them for me. Better than new.

However, as I talked with Jesse Blue at ErgoInstruments about the problems I got the feeling that he thought that the gambas were more work than they were worth. Getting those very wide frets right on the curved neck of the gamba right is not easy. The frets on my Ergo gamba are not tied like on an ordinary gamba, but metal inserted in the neck like on a guitar.

Now I can finally play it, and it sounds great. Way better than I had expected. I run it through a Zoom B2 multieffect, the thing with the highest input impedance (1 MOhm) than I have access to. I tried my Korg AX1500G first, but it sounded very strange. I can’t find any spec sheet stating the input impedance on it, but I assume it is much lower. I tried to find a page for the AX1500G on KORGs web site, but it has become obsolete since I got it, the new model seems to be called AX3000G.

Gamba and friends

Gamba and friends

Also I have rearranged the furniture to move all my music gear away from the window, less crowded in the play area, but a bit less spacey around the dining table. On the picture above the gamba is in the middle, on the left is my Krappy tapper (now with fret markings) and on the right is my cello, also made by Jesse Blue. Strings must be my addiction, twelve on the Krappy, seven on the gamba and five on the cello.

www.ergoinstruments.com – ErgoInstruments, where I got my gamba and cello.

www.krappyguitars.com – Krappy guitars.

www.zoom.co.jp/english/products/b2/index.php – The B2 page at Zoom Corporation.

In the greater pyramid scheme of things

Remember back in February when I started playing a tapping guitar? No? Well, anyway, I am learning how to play a tapping guitar (check out the February post for a neat YouTube clip). In my case it was built by Kevin Siebold of Krappy guitars.

However, playing tapping guitar is way harder than playing the violin. The violin I taught myself in a few evenings staying in a hotel room on a business trip. Same amount of time spent on the tapper and I can’t even play Twinkle twinkle little star. So I started out trying to learn from a book instead, Easy Touchstyle Basics. While I sort of but that project on the shelf for a while since I got myself a Playstation with KillZone 2 I still find the book pretty neat. And it can be had for free as PDF if you sign up to the Megatar newsletter.

This morning I got one such newsletter, introducing a new exciting way to get also the second book for free. It all revolves around a pyramid scheme, I refer six people and get a book, they in turn refer six each people and they their books, who in turn refer 36 people and get their books, who in turn refer 216 people and get their books, who in turn refer 1286 people and get their books, who in turn… well, you get it.

Still, free is free, and the link also shows how to get the first book (no pyramid scheme necessary).

megatar.com/english/freebies/Free_Book_2/free_book_2.php – How to get the second method book for tapping, for free.

www.krappyguitars.com/touchstyle.html – Krappy guitars tapping guitars.

Starting all over again

After two years of playing the violin and one year of cello I rushed on to my next instrument, the tapper.

It all started, as usual, with YouTube. It always starts with YouTube. Curse the YouTube.

I googled it and those Chapman Sticks are expensive. Way too expensive for just another toy. There are cheaper instruments available from Megatar, same principle, different implementation. But while I hesitated whether I could afford a toy at that price point the recession hit and the Swedish Krona dropped against the dollar. No Megatar either.

Then I ran into an personals ad about a cheap tapper from Krappy Guitars. It had already been sold, but Kevin offered to make me another one for the same price. After many e-mails and two months of waiting, I have my own tapper.

I managed the violin by myself, just picked it up, tuned it and after an hour the horrible noises formed into a horrible melody, no such luck with the tapper. After almost a week I still can’t play a single melody straight. I will learn this instrument from a proper book instead. I will be following Easy Touch-style Basics by DuPont and Topaz.

I have already completed the first exercise, gluing fret markers on the neck of the guitar so that I will find my way in later lessions.

Krappy guitars tapper.

Krappy guitars tapper.

www.stick.com – Chapman Stick

www.megatar.com – Mobius Megatar

www.krappyguitars.com – Krappy Guitars

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