972 – logic prevails

First up, a thank to Simon Thornton for a way out of yesterday’s troubles. If I can get OSX 10.10 onto the iMac, that’s enough of a stepping stone in the river of chance that everything old and new will still work. Phew.

Tonight, I did a bit more detective work, and I’ve managed to level the playing field slightly between my two possible music packages. Until 9pm the scores on the doors:

ProTools

  • Extremely efficient layout
  • Easy to play two different plugins with two different keyboards simultaneously, like someone who was used to physical hardware might
  • I know how to use it, to a medium level
  • Built in instruments are ok, but I mainly use external plugins anyway. No decent sampler implementation though.
  • Doesn’t run a few of my older, favourite plugins, such as ImpOSCar or the Korg Legacy Collection
  • A lot of sunk cost

Logic

  • Looks bloody horrible, wastes space left right and centre, no coherent design
  • Really don’t know how to use it
  • Can’t play two different plugins with two different keyboards simultaneously
  • Really good built-in instruments
  • Runs all the plugins
  • Was quite cheap

I really like ProTools. And I still think Logic fundamentally feels like a bit of a toy in comparison. But then…Logic runs every bloody plugin.

And tonight, I cracked the multiple keyboard thing. (Project settings, Recording, Split by channel)

This might seem like a weird thing to some people, but being able to play two different sounds at once is really important to how I write. It’s the interplay between two textures I’ve created that often sparks the beginning of a new musical idea, in a way that just layering up from one keyboard at a time doesn’t really.

So this evening I had a sound I’d made from scratch using ImpOSCar, and a sound I’d made from scratch with Massive. Together, they were uniquely mine, and I had great fun noodling.

And there are aspects I couldn’t have done in ProTools.

This makes me sad, because I really like PT and pay for an ongoing subscription. And Logic is pig-ugly and still a foreign land.

But for now, regrettably, if I want to just get the musical muscles flexing quickly again – it’s looking like Logic is the lesser evil.

Bum.

973 – fighting for my legacy

I’m waging a battle.

It’s one I’ll eventually lose, by accident. And I’ll lose a lot else in the process.

I’ve fought similar battles in the past, but somehow managed to remain victorious. This one, I’m not so sure.

Every single day, I’m being asked – nagged – by Apple to install iOS10 on my iPhone and iPad. “Later” doesn’t mean “I’ll tell you when I’m ready” – it means “unless you actively cancel this I’m installing tonight”.

I’m sure iOS10 is lovely.

But iOS10 needs iTunes 12.

And iTunes 12 needs a very recent version of OSX – ideally Sierra.

Which means that the iMac that all my music and photos live on will:

  • no longer have a shared photo library that both Vicky and I can look at independently which contains both our photos, because the new Photos app is crap
  • no longer have a photo library that supports ‘events’, because the new Photos app is crap
  • no longer support the rather fancy Digi002 ProTools audio interface that is plugged into it, and for which I can’t afford an equivalent replacement.
  • probably break a load of other legacy shit as well.

And yet, there it is. Daily, My iPhone and iPad trying to trick me into pressing that button that will break everything. All it takes is one slip and a large chuck of my digital world will come crashing down.

 

Gits.

974 – just resting

Did yesterday’s post make sense? I’ve no idea. It was written on the tube in notepad and then I sat at Southwark tube station trying to hack it into WordPress. Somewhere along the line, while trying to put the album cover for It Bites’ “Once Around The World” into the post, I ended up pasting the whole post in again – and well, it never really recovered. It’s probably a metaphor or something.

Today? Today was busy but domesticated.

And it mainly focused on changing this

A wrapped chicken from The Ginger Pig - price £27

into this:

The ginger pig chicken, beautifully roasted and looking golden and crisp

…and then eating it.

I must admit I’ve never bought or cooked a chicken quite this expensive before. There were three options in the butchers – normal, corn fed and 100 day. £7.50, £8.50 and £10 per kilogram. Of course what I’d not reckoned on was that the 100 day chickens were considerably larger than the rest so it all went a bit geometric-progression.

Bloody delicious though. Whether it was worth it probably comes down to how much of the vast pile of leftovers we actually get through.

After that, I did something I very very rarely do. I went back to bed and had a doze.

It didn’t start that way. I was supposed to be meditating and then having a read. But by about five minutes into the Headspace session it was becoming increasingly unlikely I’d last the remaining fifteen. Somehow I managed to get to the end, and dragged myself into bed – where I lay, completely dead to the world, for about three hours. The family wandered around me, occasionally very loudly, and it made not a jot of a difference.

I really don’t tend to stop and rest. Collapsing in front of the formula one of a Sunday is tempting, but never seems to happen. Somehow it’s always seemed easier to just keep on doing things, and there’s never any shortage of stuff to do. So I’ll carry on pushing through, in a slightly catholic way, until I collapse into bed far too late. And, in a catholic way, with probably at least one more glass of wine in me than I should have.

But perhaps with great age comes great responsibility. And one aspect of that is to remember to actually look after myself a bit more.

(I’ll feel guilty about the lack of music progress tomorrow)

975 – form factor

Today was largely about tasks and kids. Nothing to report really. Although after some frantic bike riding to Westfield to pick it up I can tell you that Lego Dimensions’ take on Adventure Time is rather marvellous. As I popped in from having had my hair done Loughton-style, Milo was rescuing penguins for the Ice King, playing as WonderWoman. As I left for a party, Milo was a Cyberman trying to crack some other puzzle for BMO. I do love their fanfic mashup style on all this – expecting GLadOS to turn up too before the level pack is exhausted.

I suppose the only other thing to note is that Milo’s unboxing experience for the level pack involved kicking off an eleven gigabyte download to get all the new content.

eleven gigabytes

For one game. And it came down in about two hours.

It’s staggering. But it makes you realise that we are starting to get games that won’t even fit on a BluRay. That’s potentially a new sort of game indeed. A game you couldn’t have shipped before.

I think it’s fascinating not when we go through these fundamental changes to a medium, where it stops having to be like the medium it was before.

I remember when CDs started having tracks that simply weren’t on the vinyl version. (It Bites “Once Around the World” was missing live masterpiece “Old Man and the Angel” and that’s what led to my first CD player.)

More recently there was Max Richter’s “Sleep”. It is eight hours long, and continuous. It’s designed to be a piece of music where you don’t have to get up (in all senses) to change a disc at any point. A piece of music that only works in the download age.

Binge watching – something many of my friends with fewer children and fewer time-consuming hobbies seem to love – still borrows heavily from the tv formats of old.

What will video be like when it finally grows into this new medium?

976 – the dullest mid-life crisis ever

As a gentleman gets towards fifty, he may show signs of trying to recapture some (possibly aspirational) aspect of his youth. This might take the form of buying an unnecessarily powerful motorbike, having an affair with a younger woman, taking flying up hangliding or whatever.

Here I am, with 976 days to go until I hit the big 50, and I am painstakingly reading the manuals on how my software synthesisers work, imagining how I’d use this or that parameter to make some brand new sound.

Just like I did at 18.

It’s bloody brilliant.

977 – whitespace

Had a listen to last night’s efforts this morning, while making the tea. A bit 90s I guess, a slight hint of library music in places, but if it was only a break in something else you’d not really notice. So that’s good. All progress, isn’t it?

What’s even more amazing is being able to fire up a session from last night in less time than it takes to boil a kettle. While everything has gone more complicated in some ways, my goodness I don’t miss the effort involved in firing up countless bits of kit – in the right order.

While Milo was having his breakfast, I also tried firing up ProTools for the first time in – well – probably ever, for the new iMac at least.

Continuing the “seven thousand installers” experience of the other night, it didn’t want to start up because of some problem with the licence that’s stored on the little USB iLok dongle. (Which – incidentally – spent at least a month at the bottom of the bag I take to work every day. I consider myself quite lucky to still have it). For some reason I needed to migrate my “subscription” licence to a “perpetual” licence or some old pile of toot. I only worked this out by randomly pressing buttons and bailing out of anything that looked proper destructive – some of the worse comes and UX I’ve seen in quite a while.

Anyway, got it up and running eventually, and this evening was a bit of a general noodle. Nearly didn’t happen at one point, but I was determined to keep on ‘just turning up’. No particular writing inspiration in the air, so there was a lot of plonking my way through presets, but it was still useful to spend a bit of time remembering how to tweak basic things within ProTools. Also – rather joyously – had success in (re)working out the midi settings so that I can play on two keyboards at once, making different sounds with each. This setup seems nearly impossible on Logic, which is infuriating for someone who spent so long playing and writing with a wakeman-style rig of many independent sound sources. ProTools makes this routing fairly easy – although it/s Avid. They still finds ways to make it lightly unpredictable, of course.

Now, the downside to ProTools 12 is the bloody AAX plugin format.

It may be lovely, but it  rules out all of my G-Force plugins, the Korg Legacy collection, and a few other AU/RTAS/VST-only things I own. They work just fine in Logic, thank you. So perhaps that’s a bit more appealing after all…

The DAW battle continues. Hey-Ho.

Tonight’s plugin du jour was the Matrix-12. I love this one, particularly because when Dad and I went to collect my Roland D-50 from Rod Argent’s Keyboards in Denmark St in 1987, someone was demoing a Matrix 12 next to us. I still don’t know quite how Dad managed to not come home with that instead. It made such a beautiful sound, was gorgeous, and did things its own way.

Eventually this evening I got frustrated at myself for still not having any ideas after all this poking around, even on the lovely Matrix.

You know when you’re just treading old ideas and cliches? When you’re absolutely indubitably just not going anywhere…or at least not anywhere that you wrote. At this point it’s time to do something terrifying – particularly within the average 2016 audio plugin. What I finally force myself to do varies from instrument to instrument, but somewhere somewhere buried deep in the menus will be something like:

“New blank template”

This is the deep end. You are on your own here. It’s just you, a single sawtooth wave, and what you’ve managed to learn about how the damn thing works so far. Can you take those raw materials and take them all the way to something nobody else has heard before? Being more frank, do you even have the faintest clue what all the buttons do?

The blank page.

In sound design I really can’t recommend it enough.

978 – dance like nobody’s listening

I had some right old fun tonight.

The mundane-but-important task of the evening was applying for a secondary school place. For my son, not me. Big enough that nothing else was really properly on the agenda for the evening. By the end of that, dinner was cooked by the excellent Mrs D so EATING THEN FREEDOM.

Firstly I have started trying to get my head back round how Absynth – one of my favourite music plugins – works. Typically for a soft-synth it comes with about 83,000 presets – which is actually so many that you can’t really commit to anything. Perhaps inspiration will come if you carry on playing this weird ethereal bell-strings mix, or perhaps just move to the next one – an ethereal choir-arpeggio texture, or the next one…

I like Absynth a lot. Mainly because it isn’t trying to be something else. A Minimoog or a Prophet 5 or Jupiter 8 are all lovely and sit well in the mix, but we’ve heard them before. Yes there’s lots to tease out of them over time, but they’re still the same plugin and presets as everyone else has, with the same underlying architecture – sawtooth waves and filters. The moment you step away from the presets, Absynth is, well, just a bit weird. I like the impOSCar plugin for pretty much the same reason – it doesn’t do the same thing as other synths.

Of course, half the fun in any instrument is trying to get it to do things that are off-message, and after a good old bit of poking around I’d got a sort of wowing distorted bass sound that was Pure Evil. Loads of drawing waveforms and tweaking envelopes – I felt like the tweedy version of Nick Rhodes in the video to The Reflex.

Lovely as said sound was, it was going to be a bit of a palaver to fire up ProTools or Logic to actually write a track around it. There are only so many bits of software you can remember how to use of an evening, you know?

So I drew out a random Oblique Strategy from my brain…

Use toys.

Or Be naive. Or something like that.

OK, I admit it, it really wasn’t one of Brian Eno’s cards at all, I just wanted an easy life and I decided that I was going to deliberately see what it was like to have my hand utterly held – the opposite of what I was facing as my next move.

So I turned to GarageBand. The Tonka Toy of music production.

iMac running GarageBand, on top of a piano, with other keyboards in the background

I decided I was going to try and change absolutely nothing in the template, using the default sounds, and just see what I could make.

The answer turged out to be 1’12” of rather jolly nonsense. Nothing earth-shattering, and not an expensive chord in sight (for a change), but it

  • was definitely mine
  • evolved over time
  • was fun to then play the piano over afterwards.

For an evening of “just turning up” I got my hands properly dirty with a plugin (depth work), and filled some time with new music (working horizontally). Which I’m rather pleased about.

All about making enough pots, isn’t it?

979 – a desktop of one’s own

This evening has been a pretty good one. I was home at a sensible time, ate at a sensible time, and got the kids towards bed at something approaching a sensible time. That left something inexplicable and unusual in my path:

Free time.

I’m genuinely not that used to this.

As ever there were a bunch of annoying fiddly tasks that popped up, documents to scan and emails to send. But mainly it was nearly two hours of gently noodling at the piano. Sometimes practicing, sometimes experimenting, sometimes hacking through songs of my youth (not quite sure where the Level 42 track came from though).

And alongside that, the grind of getting a computer readier for actual use while making music.

I’ve previously had a good old whinge in the past about the experience of picking up an AAA game on a console during a snatched hour, hoping you’ll be able to remember the controls of something you’ve not played for two months, only to see that hour be spent watching a small green bar tick across the screen.

It’s bloody annoying, but at least you just go and leave it to do something else.

Tonight I’ve upgraded Pro Tools to 12.6, updated some more Avid plugins, and had the entire Arturia virtual instrument suite need an update. I’ve spent so much time kIcking off downloads and clicking around that bloody Apple package installer that I was worried I was getting RSI. (Seriously, why has nobody made that bloody installer journey keyboard controllable?) And all the time having to be there, in attendance, waiting for the next button to click or progress bar to kick off.

But on the back of that I’ve been able to start settling into the new iMac. I didn’t realise just how little I’d touched it since it came out of the box. There’s tons of software installed, but I’ve done nothing to really make it “mine”. Possibly because there’s often a child watching Netflix or YouTubers instead, but hey. Anyway it was just a boring old mess; it still had MS Messenger left in the dock from when Office was installed, for goodness sake.

But not now.

A tidy apple dock at last

Look, Scrivener and Sonos and Evernote and Mainstage and ProTools and EarTrainer and who knows what else I (used to) use every day all actually accessible! This is the beginning of an actual workspace.

And finally, after all those plugins were updated, I made this stack.

An 9 x 5 grid of music plugins

This is what I reach for when I want to muck about, but can’t be bothered to set up ProTools or Logic, when – as this evening – I want to start doing some sound design or just playing along to something in my head.

For all that we talk of hotdesking in this day and age, I do think that people have a need to make a nest when they work, to have everything just as they need it. A desktop of one’s own, that they can just get on with without thinking.

Because of this I remembered how much I loved Native Instruments Absynth – even thought I’ve largely forgotten how to work it.

And I can’t wait to come home tomorrow night to do more.

980 – events, dear boy (and non-events)

So, partly thanks to Holborn tube being rammed, the 9-to-5 didn’t actually work out as planned. On the upside, limiting the number of things I actually told myself I was going to do during the workday proved to be a success – no items from today got postponed into tomorrow. On the downside it took about an hour longer than planned to get there. Hence missing my window for a nippy escape.

Pah.

The other item that took up most of the evening was slightly more exciting, but wrapped up in a cardboard broth of dull. Tomorrow our builder comes to pick up the specification for the new loft. Sadly we only have one copy of this rather large document, and he absolutely definitely needed to get it tomorrow, So tonight involved a preposterously long time unpicking staples, feeding countless sheets of technical drawings into a flatbed scanner, and doing my best to re-staple them again using a stapler that decided it was made of plasticine.

Scanning. Bloody scanning. It really is my worst thing.

There’s not actually enough time between each sheet being ready to do anything else. You just have to sit there and wait. Perhaps you might get two moves done in Dots&Co, but no more. You know it’s not really worth refreshing Twitter since last time. You can’t even play along with any music you’ve got on because you know that if you get distracted too often this hour-long task is going to balloon to three.

Just keep scanning, just keep scanning.

Not even time for the mind to wander.

Just keep scanning.

Keep scanning.

Scanning.

Ning.

Ing.

Ng.

G.

981 – hours in the day

Another busy weekend flies by, and it’s back to school tomorrow.

We’ve had a good and productive weekend – laser printers up and running, air cleaners installed, brief for the new shudio started (with a bit more bloody insight than last time), even managed to make it to the fabulous Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children with the kids this afternoon. There’s not too bad an ironing backlog, the house is pretty tidy, and there’s a bit more stuff sitting in the boot of the car ready to go to the tip.

So why does it feel I haven’t actually achieved anything?

(And I’m skirting over a possible rant about what a crap experience it is running a separate installer for every single bloody pro-tools effect. Avid, seriously, you can put the flanger and distortion and chorus all in one installer – really we wouldn’t mind!)

At Mind the Product on Friday, Tim Harford talked a bit about “attentional filters” – the ability to focus on one thing, to the exclusion of others. I’m really really bad at this – particularly when I’m tired. The good news is that scientific studies show that poor attentional filters help with creativity. The bad news is that there’s no point being creative if you can’t actually sit down and do the bloody work to deliver on your idea. It needs concentrated time, a chance to build up a bit of flow.

[PS If anyone knows good ways to improve this filtering, do please let me know]

So I’m currently writing a blog, meditating, trying to read more *and* trying to manage two musical projects with others while starting up a new thing of my own.

Something’s got to give.

And I think it might be the day job.

 

I’m not being entirely flippant here.

We’re currently running quite a small team, and I’m feeling quite responsible for getting a lot of things to happen on quite an abstract project where we’ve not got all the roles filled that we need. That translates to not enough lunchtime, staying a bit late too many days, fretting in the evenings. Perhaps that’s not sustainable. Particularly for a project that’s low on tangibility. Perhaps I need to take a small holiday from caring as much as I tend to – so that I can get to do slightly more of the things I work for. That might give me more perspective on the day to day as well.

Tomorrow’s mission: 9-to-5 means 9-to-5. Let’s see how that goes?