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).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sorting Out the Synclavier

Keeping in mind that I'm dealing with a very complex vintage computer music system, it is no surprise when things need to be sorted out. The vexing problem has been background distortion and ghost notes. Since I've been a Synclavier guy since the 80's, this is by no means new to me. I worked on my own system a lot over the years, and even built one for John McLaughlin to use at the 1987 AES show in NYC when his was suffering some problems. So, I dove in and sorted the voices out today (An all-day job).

One thing you need is good lighting. Oh, and dig those 5.25" floppy drives!

Then, I needed to remove all of the voice cards except those for voices 1-8, which you can see at the left of the bin.

Here are the removed cards. Each row of five cards is for 8 stereo voices. Today, all of this could be on a single chip! However, without the incredible digital to analog converters, you could not duplicate the sound, even though these voices are 8 bit!

After booting up as an 8 voice stereo system, I used a sequence to torture test them. Voices 1-8 turned out to be fine.

So, I went on to the next step, which was to install voices 9-16. Before doing that, however, I used a pencil eraser to clean the backplane contacts.

Here is the upper bin with 16 voices, which also tested fine.

On to 24 voices then, which also tested fine. I was certain by this point that the problem was with voices 25-32.

Sure enough, when I reinstalled voices 25-32, the distortion and ghost notes were back.

Here is the culprit voice card set.

This was an easy sort out, all things considered, since it was the final set that was causing the problems. So right now, I have 24 good voices, but that's enough to start working on Fuga Electronica!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Fuga Electronica 2: v1.0 MIDI Files Complete

Another couple of weeks, and another milestone. This week I got the v1.0 MIDI files complete in Encore for all nine of the fugues. All I have done for these first versions is to get all of the staves in order so that the MIDI files will end up in the top tracks of the Synclavier's sequencer, and I put articulations in so that the durations of the notes is what I want. I will wait to do dynamics until I have the first Synclavier versions recorded and saved. Here are the first pages for each score/MIDI file.

Here is the opening Allegro. It was originally a Sonata-Fugue for two guitars, so to make the transcription process easier and less prone to errors - I spend a LOT of time fixing transcription errors - I used 8vb treble clefs. There are 5 because in the development area five voices are used briefly, and the new sound is used for the following canon as well.

The Lament was originally for string trio, so I just had SAB clefs before. I added a contrabass track to double the last statement in the bass an octave lower, and I used Alternate Bass and Contrabass tracks to fatten up the final cadence.

Track 3 is the Valse Macabre, which was originally a three-voice fugue, the subject of which is a twelve-tone row, for wind trio. So again, SAB is what I had before, and I just added a Contrabass track to fatten up the last bass statements by doubling them an octave lower.

The Andante was originally for string quartet, so I added the CB track to make it like a string choir, and I use one Alternate Alto track to bring out the only statement in diminution that is in the piece. I'm trying to make the Synclavier "orchestrations" as basic as possible to save voices for the sound effects I want to develop and employ. I'll do traditional orchestrations for this and a few others in Logic Pro X to add to the Synclavier's synthesized timbres, but that will be later this year, after I have the Synclavier versions perfected.

Track 5 was originally a very elaborate Ricercare for wind choir functioning as a wind quartet with very wide part ranges, using auxiliary instruments to accomplish the range shifts, and leaving out the contrabassoon. All I did was add the CB clef, and the setup for the Jubilate was fine.

My Scherzo Comico was originally for chamber orchestra, so this one needs all 8 tracks; SATB plus Contrabass, plus alternate alto, tenor and bass tracks for the hilarious final cadence.

This little Allegretto was originally a solo guitar piece, so it has the 8vb treble clefs, and I only needed an alternate bass part, and nothing in the contrabass octave at all.

The penultimate Adagio is the epic five-voice Ricercare for symphony orchestra I completed last year - which finished all of the music I needed for this album - and I was able to just delete the wind and brass parts that duplicated the string parts, and cut-and-paste those into the string section that weren't dups, to end up with the "virtual string choir" version here.

For the Finale, which was originally a Ricercare for one, two, or four guitars, I had to use seven of the eight available Synclavier tracks. This is mostly because the final thematic statement/cadence is a series of five and six-voice guitar chords. The seventh track, then, is just for the contrabass doubling of the late bass statements.


Okay, now I will spend some time in the Synclavier documentation to figure out the best workflow. The process is actually pretty straight forward: I set the Synclavier up to record the correct number of tracks on the right MIDI channels, activate MIDI Sync, press record, and simply play the Encore files into the Synclavier's sequencer from my Mac (Ive done this many times before, but it has been many years!). Once the raw MIDI tracks are in the Synclavier, then I will develop and assign sounds. Since I have bunches of disks - 5.5" floppies! - of timbres I've programmed since 1984, it shouldn't take too awfully long to get initial versions, actually.<.p>

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fuga Electronica 1: Synclavier Transcriptions Complete

I have been highly motivated to get these done, so it took less than two weeks! Using the templates mentioned in the previous post, everything went as planned. With just a generic string section sound, I was able to work out the tempos and the number of staves for the final versions. Here's how it looks now:

I was figuring about 40 minutes total, and I'm 30 seconds short of of that, which is fine. The pieces range from 0:55 to 9:55, so there is nothing longer than ten minutes, which is also perfect. The next step will be to set up individual templates with the correct number of staves, so that all the tracks will begin with Track 1 in the Synclavier's sequencer. Then, I can sync the Synclavier directly with Encore and record the MIDI tracks into it in real time. After I assign timbres, I'll have the initial versions!

I figure another two weeks and I'll have the individual versions ready to record into the Synclavier.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Tale of Two Templates

As I prepare to record my new album, Fuga Electronica, I have been working out how to transcribe the various fugues for the Synclavier. Since there are basically two types of fugues - those written for chamber groups or orchestra, and those written for one or more guitars - I came up with two different Encore templates that will make the process logical.

With a 32 voice Synclavier, a stereo timbre program takes at least two voices, so that means, in real terms, that I'll be working with a maximum polyphony of 16 voices. However, If I want to get a natural reverberation effect, I'll have to set each track's polyphony to two, meaning that the max polyphony will only be 8 parts. Given that fact, I set up two different templates with 8 staves.

For the chamber ensemble fugues, I'm just going to put everything in a string section system, marked ARCHI here, with three additional tracks of ALTernate timbres possible, above. This will make the three, four, and five voice fugues a snap to transcribe.

Then, for the guitar fugues, I set up a six stave system, as that is the maximum number of simultaneous timbres a guitar can produce. Under that, a stave for a contrabass octave doubling and sound effects. One of the things I got best at with the Synclavier was creating sound effects. Once, I met Al DiMeola, and mentioned to him I programmed some of the sounds that came with the Synclavier. He said, "Not the sound effects?!" And I said yes. His reply was, "Those are amazing!" One of the nicest compliments I ever got. So now, after all these decades, they will finally find their place in my music. I'm psyched.

Once I get the fugues into the Synclavier, I will MIDI synchronize it with my Mac Pro and do additional orchestration with the native samples in Logic Pro X for some of them. That will give me an additional 16 MIDI channels to work with, so I made a third orchestral template for that. I think only three or four of the fugues will lend themselves to this treatment, so most of them will be pure Synclavier.

Here's how the album layout will be:

Fuga Electronica: A Symphony of Fugues

01] Alegro: Four-Voice Sonata-Fugue in E Minor (Orig. Guitar Duo), 2011 - 3:00

02] Lament: Three-Voice Sinfonia in D Minor (Orig. String Trio), 1990 - 3:30

03] Valse Macabre: Three-Voice Fugue on a Tone-Row (Orig. Wind Trio), 1995 - 3:00

04] Andante: Four-Voice Fugue in F Minor (Orig. String Quartet), 1994 - 5:00

05] Jubilate: Four-Voice Ricercare in F Major (Orig. Wind Quartet), 2006 - 6:30

06] Scherzo Comico: Three-Voice Fugato in D Minor (Orig. Chamber Orchestra), 2005 - 1:00

07] Allegretto: Three-Voice Fugue in A Minor (Orig. Solo Guitar), 2005 - 2:00

08] Adagio: Five-Voice Ricercare in A Minor (Orig. Symphony Orchestra), 2013 - 10:00

09] Finale: Free-Voiced Ricercare in E Minor (Orig. Solo Guitar), 2007 - 5:00

Total Time: 39:00

So, three of the fugues originated on the guitar, while the other six were various chamber and orchestral groups. I start the transcriptions tomorrow!

Happy New Year, everybody.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Epic Vacation in my Ferrari 456M

Finally took a much needed break from all things music. Basically, it had been over nine years since I did anything like this. Last time was on a BMW K1200LT motorcycle, but this time it was in the Ferrari. I left at 4:30 AM on the 24th and got to Roswell, NM the first evening. Some nice areas of Texas, but familiar to me, so I didn't take any photos. Left from Roswell at 4:30 AM on the 25th, and went through 200 miles of rain and wet roads in the dark. Quite an intense adventure, actually, and the Ferrari was perfect. This was all on US380 across the state, and then I hooked up to I25 on a jog north to Socorro, NM, where I hit US60. West of Socorro the rain ended and the sun came up.

Into the sunrise on US60 west of Socorro.

Away from the sunrise on US60 west of Socorro.

Just a few miles down the highway is the VLA - Very Large Array - radio telescope. This has been used as a set in several science-fiction films, one of which was 2010 that had a scene where Roy Scheider's character was sitting on one of the dish towers.

At the VLA radio telescope.

Took a scenic detour via NM12 and into the Gila National Forest. It was beautiful, but it was a two lane road with no shoulders and no places to pull off, ergo no pics. Fantastic drive, though. After snaking up through the Apache National Forest in AZ, I rejoined US60 to head down through the Apache reservations. This is a very famous road with miles of switchbacks, esses, and sweeping curves. There were plenty of RV's - it was Friday - but I still had clear road for a few good stretches (Passing RV's in a Ferrari is amazing fun. It just takes a couple of seconds. lol! Only a motorcycle could do it better). Probably needless to say, the Ferrari is the awesomest car on the planet for that kind of driving, so my cheeks hurt from smiling by the time the road straightened out. That road was the thing I wanted to do on this trip, and it was as near perfect as one could hope for. Here are a couple of pics on US60; the first where it started getting interesting, and the second in the Apache reservation right before the really serious stuff.

US60 in northern AZ.

US60 in the Apache reservation.

That was some tiring driving (!!!), so I was happy when I got down to Tucson and met Peg and Tim. Peg used to book gigs for me out west, and so the three of us headed out for Mexican food and Margaritas. I love Tucson. I'm tempted to move there, but I know I belong here.

Peg and Tim ready to order and drink!

This next stunt would be impossible in any two-seat Ferrari: The three of us headed up to Prescott the next morning. So glad I got this model for my first Ferrari. I want a two-seater someday, but not today!

Tim and Peg, waiving the peace sign (We're old hippies!)

We stayed at the historic Hassayampa Inn in Prescott, which is walking distance from their famous Whiskey Row of bars (This was the point). Old people think ahead before doing a bar crawl!

The beautiful Hassayampa Inn lobby.

The famous Whiskey Row. We hit 'em all!

Next day we went back to Tucson via Sedona, and north AZ is very beautiful coniferous forest.

Near Sedona, AZ.

Left Peg and Tim to head to Alpine, TX, where I used to live. Just hung out with a few friends for my last night away before coming home.

Ready to head back to Texas.

Prada Marfa. A local artist's gag.

An almost deserted Railroad Blues, Alpine, TX.

Last call tequila shot. Next morning home.

It was awesome and I needed it bad.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hexaphonic Guitar System: 3

I got the adapters I needed yesterday, so I was able to get everything connected solidly. These little puppies are very useful, and I didn't even know they existed until I started poking around on eBay. What they do is, they take an insert jack - which is usually used as a loop to insert compressors or effects units, hence the name - and they make them into direct outputs. Evidently, live sound engineers use them a lot to get direct outputs from their boards for live multi-track recording. The RMC Fanout Box has an insert jack for each string, so if you want to use them as outputs, as I do, you need these adapters. Otherwise, a regular mono TS guitar cable won't make proper contacts.

I expected them to be from some exotic manufacturer, but no, they are made by Hosa. I got eight so I'd have these extras. For those interested, it is called a DOC-106 INSERT DIRECT-OUT ADAPTOR. They must be fairly common if Hosa makes them.

Here's one unboxed. As you can see, it has a male stereo TRS jack on the right, and a mono female TS jack on the left. The male TRS makes all of the proper contacts, and the female TS accepts any old guitar cable. The female return jack was just left out of the wiring. Very cool.


I set all of the units up to provide distortion for every string, and it really doesn't sound like six different guitars, and complex harmonies still sound mushy, just not as mushy as with a mono or stereo system (There is some crosstalk between the strings). Mixed into the background of the clean stereo guitar sound, though, it's very spooky. I'm going to need the winter to mess around with it, but one thing I know for sure, and that is that the solid state preamp in the Lexicon MPX-G2 does not have a sweet enough overdrive sound. I knew this would be the case, as I've been spoilt by over thirty years of MESA/Boogie tube amps. But since I've proved the concept with the Lexicons now, I'm going to build another hexaphonic system with six MESA/Boogie preamps. Since the ones I want are discontinued, it will probably be a while before I can scare up six of them. In any case, this has been a marvelous project and I'm learning a ton from it.

Now that I have all of the elements sorted out for my main recording studio, I'll be able to turn my attention to the Synclavier and the Fuga Electronica album. In my down time from working on that, I'll explore the hexaphonic possibilities. First, though, I'm going for a week's vacation out west in the Ferrari! I haven't been away from my house in over three years, so I'm hitting a wall with my motivation and I badly need a break.