Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Synclavier Finally Sorted Out

It took thirteen months, but the Synclavier is finally 100% operational. Unfortunately, the Mac Mini that I use to record it - a 2010 version with a Superdrive, which I need - decided it was a good time to die. lol. So, I have one last series of tests to do for John, but it will have to wait for the replacement to show up. Fortunately, 2010 Superdrive Mac Minis are common and inexpensive on eBay these days, so no problem.

I wish the cooler Pericom terminal had worked, but at least VT-640's are more common.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

1985 Steinberger GL2T

The only steel string electric guitar I regret selling was a 1985 Steinberger GL2T-GR, which I bought from Ned Steinberger himself when I worked at Manny's Music on 48th St. (1984-1986). The GR was for the Roland GR Guitar Synth pickup that was on it, which I used with my Synclavier back then. Well, GL2T-GR's are very, very rare, so it will probably take me a couple of years to find on in acceptable condition. Meanwhile, I jumped on the first 1985 GL2T that came up on eBay that was in 90%+ condition, since I want to get back into playing steel string electric again. To be honest, every guitar made of wood feels primitive to me now, after playing the Steinberger back in the day, not to mention the carbon fiber Blackbird Rider classicals I've been playing for the past five years. So there was really no choice, since, sadly, Steinbergers like this are no longer manufactured.

There has never been a higher tech steel string electric than the Steinberger.

The Blackbird Riders look like acoustic versions of the Steinberger.

I was going to do a final Synclavier test today, but my AT&T service cannot connect to my hucbald.com site right now. It is hosted by Lunarpages, and they say other providers can connect just fine, so it's an AT&T problem. Hope it gets sorted out soon, because it's very frustrating.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sorting out the Synclavier 5

Just a short post this month. Tested the other remanufactured SS1 card John sent, which I had to put together, and it functioned perfectly.

Used the same methodology - GarageBand, no effects - and here are the new tracks, with fadeouts this time.

Reference Track (Old SS1)

Test Track (New SS1)

Did not know GarageBand played tracks to the end of the recording, even with a fadeout, so sorry for all the dead air at the end of the Reference Track. The Test Track is much better. This does tell me, however, that I can record the entirety of the Fuga Electronica Synclavier tracks in GarageBand before doing the orchestrations in Logic Pro. Good to know.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sorting Out the Synclavier 4

This is a good news/bad news post. The good news is great, so let's start with that.

The good news is, John has begun to remanufacture some of the Synclavier cards, and he sent me a couple to test! Now that I have all of my voices sorted out, no problem. In fact, this sort of thing is big time fun for me.

The two cards he sent me to test test are new SS1's, which is the first card in a voice card set for 8 FM/Additive voices.

The new SS1's are vintage 2013, and the old SS1's are vintage circa 1980, so there are over thirty years between these cards in age! Long story short, the new card functioned perfectly, so that is great news. So John could listen for himself, I recorded two test tracks; a Reference with the original SS1, and a Test with the new one.

I just recorded the stereo outputs of the Synclavier directly into a Lexicon FW810s, and used a single stereo track in GarageBand to record it: The very simplest possible solution. There is no EQ, compression, reverb or anything; the tracks are totally dry. I rendered the tracks as uncompressed AIF files, so they are large, but they are also CD quality resolution (Which is better than the Synclavier!). Here they are:

REFERENCE: Old SS1

TEST: New SS1

My 56 year-old ears can't tell any difference. Oh, and sorry for no fadeout: These are test tracks.

So, this first test being successful sure is a good feeling! I've only ever been a virtuoso on one instrument, and that's the Synclavier, not the guitar, so it's awesome for me to see new life being breathed into it. This sequence is vintage 1986, by the way, from when I was a guitarist in a techno-rock band called B-Rock. I prepared it for a studio album that never happened.

Okay, now for the bad news part.

After many months of wrestling with a Mac interface and getting the voice cards sorted out, I decided to return to my original setup with a Pericom dumb terminal - basically a VT-100/640 with a bigger screen - and when it finally arrived - the last piece in the puzzle before I could start recording Fuga Electronica - it was damaged in shipping (Note the broken base). What a letdown. So, there are only two other Pericoms known (!) and I'll try with another. But I'll also go ahead and get a VT-100/640 as they are more common.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sorting Out the Synclavier 3

John finally got time enough to send me a replacement SS2 card, so I got the Synclavier back up to 32 stereo voices, and for the first time since I got the machine last August, it's working 100% correctly.

I used hockey pucks to raise the keyboard up so I can program it standing.

Here's the replacement SS2. It's vintage 80's.

Finally, 32 happy stereo FM/Additive voices.

For the first time in ten years, I can listen to all my old sequences.

Next month I'll get the Pericom terminal, and then I should be in beeswax for Fuga Electronica.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: Bach, Music in the Castle of Heaven, by John Eliot Gardiner

John Eliot Gardiner is a giant in the early music/period instruments world, and he's basically been active all of my life. He's one of those musical animals I don't understand, though; a conductor. So, I want to get this out of the way right up front: This is a monumental work, but it is not aimed at composers like me. In fact, I'm not sure who the target audience for this book is. Musicologists - another breed beyond my comprehension - perhaps. There wasn't anything for the theorist in me either, and I can't help but think that even an educated connoisseur would be completely baffled by this book.

He's English and I'm an American - US and Canadian dual-citizen, so I mean American in a broad sense - so there are the usual u-phillic/z-phobic English spelling fetishes to deal with, but barriers to this book go well beyond that. Since it's a book about music, he employs the curiously English crotchets and quavers terminology - something I refused to even learn because it's so patently ridiculous - and he has this vast classically-educated vocabulary, which I find tiresome, frankly. His approach seems to be, why use, "assistant" when I can whip out the, "amanuensis?" Since my writing and composing philosophies can both be reduced to three words - economy of expression - I don't like this at all. I found myself having to leave the well-ordered comfort of my wingback reading chair to shuffle off to the computer to look up some obscure word quite often, and I have a Master of Music degree!

Then there is the sheer length of the book - over five-hundred pages - so it took me over a month to slog through it. Seriously, I could only stand to read some several pages at a time. A large part of the problem is that the book is filled with subjective opining on Bach's music, and even though I'm a Lutheran, and so open to theological rationale, I didn't agree with much of it. Another huge, gaping maw is the utter absence of musical examples - I think there was only one - to back up any of his opinions with technical analysis.

You know what this book reminds me of? Ulysses by James Joyce. I know it's great, but I get very little out of it (Some of the details of Bach's day-to-day life were nice, but most of the book is describing the passions and the B Minor Mass). So, I guess I'd recommend this book to hearty souls, but your basic, b-flat musician would probably enjoy James R. Gaines' Evening in the Palace of Reason or Christoph Wolff's Bach: The Learned Musician much more, as I did. I couldn't put either of those down.

Bottom line is, for me, this book would have been twice as good if it was half as long and chock full of musical examples

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sorting Out the Synclavier 2

In the previous post, I identified voice card set four - voices 25-32 - as being bad (There was distortion and artifacts in the waveform). Well, I decided to take a break and enjoy my Synclavier as a 24 voice machine for a while, as I just wanted to play with it. I soon got frustrated with running out of voices though, so today I identified which specific card in that voice card set was causing the distortion and artifacts. This was just a matter of replacing the cards in voice card set 3 - voices 17-24 - with the ones from voice card set four, one at a time: When the distortion and artifacts returned, I'd have the culprit singled out.

As you can see by all the floppies everywhere, I have been hard at work recovering ancient sequences and timbres. Some of the sequences go back to my techno-rock band days in NYC from '84 to '88. It's almost spooky hearing those after all these years (Though I did have to mute the FX tracks to keep it within 24 voices). Some of these are very, very good, and I guess I'll release them at some point.

Here's the view from my couch: The Mac Mini is running a 65" Plasma TV, and that's the Lexicon FW810S mixer. I have a bluetooth keyboard and Magic Trackpad on the coffee table as remotes. Besides being my recording studio, his doubles as my home theater too, as I have a DVD Mac Mini and a BluRay player. The sound system is a Bryston 2B-LP Pro running Turbosound monitors. It's quite amazing sounding.

Below is the bad voice card set I identified last month. I just systematically swapped them into the voice card set for voices 17-24 until the problems returned. Left to right, the cards are called, SS1, SS2, SS3, SS4, and the stereo output double-card.

Here's a look at the upper bin again, and the card set for voices 17-24 is on the right. All I had to do was introduce the suspect cards one at a time until the troubles resurfaced. Needless to say, I've done this many times over the years... decades.

It turned out that it was the SS2 card that was bad. As soon as I introduced it, the distortion and artifacts returned in the exact same manifestation as when I had all four voice card sets installed.

I went ahead and tested the SS3 and SS4 while I was in there, but they were fine, so I didn't bother with the stereo output dual-card. Output problems and wavetable errors manifest in completely different ways.

Now, If I can get John to stop globetrotting long enough, I ought to be able to get a replacement SS2 from him, and then get the monitor issues sorted out (Yes, there is even more to do).