22 December 2005

you talkin' to me?

hi, there...

comment moderation has been disabled for this journal - it was on by default, and i didn't realize it until someone pointed it out to me.

so fire away.

hope to be recording drums next week...that might prompt some "stronger than PG-13" posts, so be warned. :)

13 December 2005

casualties of computing

nothing is ever as easy as one would have it be.

so yes, i re-assembled everything after completely removing the motherboard, putting the four screws through from the back, installing the grommets that the fan would eventually bolt onto from the top...and then replacing the motherboard, re-inserting the PCI cards, reconnecting the ATA cables, et cetera, et cetera, so on and so forth...

and when i fired it up? nothing.

so i guess the conclusion i can draw from that is that whatever CPU protection that the motherboard apparently offered was for SHIT. so - scratch one $200 Athlon XP 3200 processor...it has officially shuffled off this mortal coil.

i initially replaced it with one that i had marked down as suspect from work, but hadn't had an opportunity to test yet, and i got the same result from it...so i guess there's no reason to suspect that it works at this point. the third one was the charm - the one that i had bought to replace my daughter's charred XP 1700 processor in her computer ended up going in it, because i knew it was good, as it was still boxed. and it was...it's an AMD sempron 2200, and it's not in the league of the one i had, but i got a POST beep from it and it finally booted, after two weeks of flatlining.

the first thing i did after i got it up and running was to install motherboard monitor - it's a program that runs in the system tray that monitors the temperature of your CPU and gives you a constant readout of what it is. does it use up some system resources? yeah, it does. does replacing a $200 processor eat up some financial resources?

yeah, it does.

i mean, for something that should not have been subjected to what it was, that's just a total waste. that $200 could have gone for outboard gear, for mics, for mic stands (which i actually need right now) - for an electric space heater (which i'll soon be needing down there), for extra soundproofing (which may be necessary over time)....for whatever.

i don't mind spending money, but i hate wasting money.

anyway - computer up and running, work capable of being done.

so on this particular night, as this work was being done, jayda's producer was over and waiting for me to get the PC up and running so that i could lay down a guitar track for him for a new track he was working on - it was a barchata track...kind of a pseudo-salsa flavor, and he wanted a guitar track for it...something of a mutated flamenco thing. anyone who might have a passing familiarity with barchata music knows exactly the guitar tone that i'm talking about...and i chose to use my metal-bodied dobro for it, as that was the closest thing that i had available that was close to that particular tone.

since byron is a big fan of acid pro, i downloaded and installed version 5.0 to use to record his tracks...i wanted to make sure that he was able to use something that he was comfortable with so things would go as smoothly as possible. we mic'ed the resonator with an mxl 991, about six to eight inches from the cone, and away we went. i turned over the mouse to byron and picked up the guitar, and not even 45 minutes later, we were done.

it was really nice to have a little instant gratification after having been down for so long.

now, though, it's time to get back to work on the tasks at hand. i think i'll be doing some more work with 2Much down the road, but i have an album project and some more importing to get cracking on.

i talked to blake allen earlier today for a bit, and told him that i'd been importing a lot of the tracks from his ADATs into samplitude and isolating things and doing some rudimentary rough mixes. one track in particular, "whisper", i singled out for possibly laying down a drum track. that's the main thing about the track that seemed to bother him - the loop that's holding down the rhythm section of the song - and i'm thinking that i have some ideas for it that might loosen it up a bit from its current feel.

and if the new audix drum mics i bought arrive today as they should, i can get crackin' on that within the week.

i still have more scratch tracks to put down for the poco project, in addition to possibly importing the ones i did to ADAT while the computer was down - although i might just re-do those. in fact, i'm pretty certain that i will...in order to negate a rookie mistake i made when i was tracking them.

over on the tape op message board, there are a shitload of threads that gave me a lot of food for thought over the weekend....one that i thought was absolutely brilliant was concerning some phasing problems a guy was having recording drums - and andy hong revealed a formula for measuring the distance between the mic and the source and how to set up a delay to compensate for potential phasing problems...it was one of those things that i just know is going to come up for me at some point in time, and i hope i remember where i saw the solution when that day comes.

ok...i'll report back when i have more to report....which hopefully won't be long.

05 December 2005

return of the studio jedi

(maybe it's time to retire the star wars references in the titles, huh?)

so when we last checked in, we had finished setting up the drums, replacing the heads and conditioning the drums for this particular project...and we'd spent a little more cash than we'd wanted to on building custom-sized baffles around them to deaden the leakage into other parts of the house.

we stayed up all night running cables, wiring outboard gear into the patchbay, and snaking ADAT connectors behind the console...then subsequently, we sat for some time peeling little, tiny stickers and labelling the patchbay connections.

we put up this kickass shelf that holds the computer monitors and the studio monitors, that has the added benefit of making the desk that the console sits on portable to the extent that it can be pulled out for access to the back of the console - this is a huge benefit, in that as much as we'd like to believe that we think of everything when we set things up initially, there's always something to be changed or repaired over time.

we ran an eight channel snake from the mic inputs on the console back to the drum room, to facilitate mic'ing the drums and recording them through the console to either the ADATs or directly to the computer.

oh, yeah - the computer.

the computer in the studio was custom built by yours truly for audio recording. i bought the ASUS A7N8X deluxe motherboard and set it up with an AMD XP3200 processor. the motherboard i chose uses the NVIDIA chipset, which had gotten pretty high marks for recording in a number of user forums that i frequent, and i chose it for that particular reason. it also supported serial ATA, and i bought two serial ATA drives and set them up in a RAID configuration, striped, for maximum speed. i put in a DVD burner and an external IDE hard drive bay, to facilitate moving data between the studio computer and other machines without having to transfer the data across my home network. i built the whole system into a 4U rackmount case, and put it into the same rack as the ADATs, on the left of the console.

the issue of what soundcard to use is something that most recording engineers labor and languish over - and certainly, i was no different. i approached it a little differently than maybe a lot of people do, though, because my needs aren't typical...at least i'm not sure that they are.

since i had history with my ADAT machines, and they were likely to factor into future projects, i opted for a card that would interface with them. ADATs utilize what alesis calls lightpipe technology, which is essentially a digital connection that carries all eight channels through a single connector. all ADAT machines came with a lightpipe input and a lightpipe output connector that uses fiber cable to transmit the data digitally to whatever it's connected to. so, if properly equipped, you could connect a digital mixer to an ADAT machine with two cables, instead of the analog method of running a single cable for every track, both in and out, to the machine.

frontier design sells a card called the dakota that utilizes the lightpipe technology to interface ADAT machines with the computer with two sets of ins and outs, a sync connection, and MIDI connectors as well. the way the dakota works, you could use the ADAT machines as analog-to-digital converters (or A/D converters for short), interface the ADATs with the dakota card to get the audio into the PC, and then record the audio directly to disk once it's in. the beauty of this card is that with dual lightpipe ins and outs, you could record or playback as many as sixteen tracks at a time. for me, that could easily be enough for an entire mix - so i could mix completed songs "in the box" (everything inside the computer itself, with no outside processing) or "out of the box" (bringing all the audio tracks out of the computer, through the ADATs, into the console - with full access to all my outboard gear).

whether i went with the dakota card or not, that method seemed like the only way to go for my particular operation. as soon as i saw a dakota card on ebay, i jumped on it...16 bit critics be damned.

now, it could be said that i made the mistake of not choosing some of the components as carefully as others, as i came to realize as i booted it up and brought it to life...i had removed a couple of case fans that the manufacturer had included, simply because they were mounted in an odd place, and they were cramping the PCI cards i had installed in the box - so out they came. i used the stock heatsink and fan that came with my processor, and the power supply that came with the case...so that, combined with the fan in the removable hard drive bay, created an unacceptable noise floor. the removable hard drive bay was an optional component - it only needed to be operational when i was using that particular drive - so it wasn't as much of a concern as the other two components. but still i knew that once i started recording anything other than the scratch tracks i'd been laying down for the poco album project, that the noise was going to be an issue. i'd been working thus far by putting a click track down and recording a scratch acoustic guitar and vocal to work to as a foundation, so it hadn't really bitten me yet.

nonetheless, i ordered a fanless power supply, and started researching low-noise CPU fans. the one i settled on had the lowest dB rating of any of the ones i'd seen - a whisper quiet 16 dB!

an yet -s it was on backorder when i placed the order and didn't show up for almost two weeks. so i worked on various stuff while i waited for it that didn't require complete quiet - including importing some of the unreleased tracks from the blake allen record from ADAT into the computer so that i could edit them and do some rough mixes in the box of things i'd played on that i wanted to preserve. i even did a couple of rough mixes of some of the songs - there were two in particular that i slaved over, in terms of coming up with parts that i wanted to take a swing at...specifically to use for an edit mix of instrumental parts that i'm putting together as a new audition clip for the website.

i remain quite proud of the work that i did on that album....but i digress.

once the fan showed up, i rushed it home from work, eager to tear into the box and install my new components and spread a hush over the room - the power supply was a piece of cake, but the fan on the new heatsink assembly was so large, there was no room to install it - not because of the depth of the case, but because of the proximity of the CPU socket to the power supply - there was no way it was going to mount flush on the socket with that gargantuan fan.

so i sent it back and went and bought a fan at a local outlet for $20 that came with an additional 4 dB of noise at no charge. it did, however, have an attenuator built in to it that allows the user to set the fan speed.

after i installed the fan and the power supply, i booted up the system with the case reassembled - and marvelled at how quiet it was for a few minutes before i took the occupants of the house out to dinner - it was sunday, so we went to cousins' in shoemakersville for some football and the best burgers in the county....

...and when i came home, the PC was dead.

the light on the front of the case was on, but it was completely unresponsive. i tried restarting it - nada.

i couldn't believe it - first i was pissed at myself for leaving it on and leaving the house and not monitoring it after installing all this new stuff...i had assumed that my CPU was barbeque, although it later occured to me that the mobo had a COP feature (Cpu Overheating Protection) that may have saved me from having to invest in another chip - but i still wasn't sure what the source of my problem was.

until i opened the case.

the heatsink/fan combo that i'd selected screwed into a backplate that had to be mounted on the back of the board (which involved completely removing the mobo from the case - or, in other words, taking the entire computer apart. roughly the cyber-equivalent of a head gasket job on your car) and attached to the backplate via four long screws that pass down through the fan, through the holes in the mobo, and into the threads on the backplate.

two of the screws hadn't been threaded into the backplate as tightly as i thought they had, and they'd popped loose from the backplate - so the heatsink wasn't making proper contact with the CPU chip.

i took out the CPU and examined it for scorch marks or any other visible signs of damage, and saw none...so i decided to use the standoffs that had come with the fan, run a short screw through the back into one side of the standoff, and then run the screws down through the fan into the other side of the standoff. at least that way, i was assured of a solid connection - provided all the screws were the proper length.

and there was no reason i shouldn't be able to count on that, right?


well, maybe not.


01 December 2005

the studio strikes back...or, installment two...

boy....i take longer between installments than george friggin' lucas. ok, anyway....

the whole reason i had moved into this house was to take advantage of the basement and begin using it to record. and after the first flood, i was spooked. i worried about whether or not there'd be another flooding incident, and whether or not it would be worth the effort invested if the basement wasn't as watertight as i'd thought it was. so i left the basement in its fallow state for quite some time. i used the equipment as i'd set it up initially to finish my parts for blakes' record, and that was about it. up until i started back down the road to getting it fully operational, i'd done more actual recording at the old house than at the new one.

but this past spring, i had a brainstorm.

a dear friend of mine, george grantham of poco, suffered a stroke onstage in massachusetts. as of this writing, he still hasn't returned to the band, and has been in physical therapy ever since to regain the full use of his faculties. when something like that happens, after the initial shock wears off, your first thoughts go straight to what you can do to help.

i don't know why it took so long to occur to me, but at some point, i thought to myself - "why not record an albums' worth of poco tunes and release it to raise money?" i mean, i'm not so full of myself as to think that my name in and of itself would bring cash in hand over fist, but it's really the only thing i could think of to do...i mean, what else was there, really?

so, having settled on the thought, the next thing to do was to approach rusty about it - so when i saw the guys in new jersey this past summer, i made a point of taking rusty aside to tell him what i wanted to do and ask for his blessing, and he was actually very enthusiastic about it.

as it turned out, that was the easiest part of the process.

having this project that i'd now committed to meant that i had to rid myself of the "one of these days" mentality and actually get to work making the space a functional, working studio. and i wanted to be able to do everything - at least as close to everything as i could. i decided i was going to install some freestanding baffles in the basement so i could do drums there, i pulled a narrow table into the second room and put it against the wall where i'd be recording guitar to keep the amps up off the floor - i wanted the room to be legit...even if just as a solo operation.

the first thing i did was to rip everything apart in the control room. i'd never been terribly fond of the layout, and since the piano had moved on to greener pastures in the interim, i decided that i'd move the console and center of operations to the wall against the stairs, with the equipment racks to my right, as i sat at the console. i also wanted to get the equipment racks up off the floor, so i wouldn't have to reach right down to the carpet to adjust anything that was racked at the bottom of one of them. to do that, i bought a couple of 1 x 12's and cut them into a sandbox-type pattern and painted them black - not only because the stones said so, but because they matched the racks that way. eerily enough, with the sandbox underneath the two racks i had on the right side, they were now the same height as the patchbay rack, which was freestanding and had casters on it. it sat at a 45 degree angle to the console, between the console and the gear racks - which couldn't have been more perfect, since it had to reach both of them with equal ease, as per its function.

the only rack not in the immediate area was the rack containing the two ADATs and the PC. that rack was situated on the other side of the console, since the RAXXESS cables were long enough to reach from the patchbay rack to where they were with no problems.

i also wanted to eliminate the old means of shelving the monitors and the speakers, which needed to be over the console - but that meant finding some means of attaching the shelf to the wall itself. this was a considerable source of paranoia. the monitors themselves probably weighed close to 150 pounds - add the alesis monitor ones to that, and whatever else might end up sitting on that shelf, and you've got the potential for some 300 plus pounds. whos' crazy enough to put that much weight on a shelf?

well, that'd be.....uh, ME.

actually, i consulted one of the smartest men i know - dave eggert, the maintenance supervisor where i work during the day. he gave me some invaluable pointers on how to properly bracket them so they'd hold as much weight as i could potentially put on them, so i followed his instructions and i have to say - they haven't budged a hair since the day i put them up.

so the monitor shelf gave just enough clearance for the console to slide underneath it, which was just about perfect, as the monitor height would have been uncomfortable to look at for extended periods of time had i gone any higher. i had moved the credenza holding the tv/playstation/etc down the opposite wall from its old spot, so there wouldn't be too much human coagulation at the console, and all that remained to do was to wire it all up.

which i did in one night.

one long, sweaty, frustrating night that lasted until 5 AM, when i collapsed into bed after a wiring frenzy supplemented with diet coke and super seventies internet radio until such time as i'd done what i could and stumbled up to bed.

to answer your unspoken question, yes - it was a school night.

in the midst of all the rearranging, the moving components from place to place, the measuring and cutting....

...it happened again.

it had been raining nonstop the day before, and it rained through the night. i had went down the night before just to take a peek into the front room to see if any water had come in and none had...i had actually managed to convince myself that the previous flood might have been a one-time fluke at some point, and i had no reason to change my mind at this point. i sat down at the kitchen table and made myself a "to-do" list for the weekend and went up to bed.

the next day, i slept in - and when i got up, i ambled downstairs to take a peek and see what was going on, and sure enough - there was a small, depthless pool of water emanating from the corner of the front room.

"ok....no need to panic," i thought. "this isn't much, and it's probably all that's coming in."

well, to make a long and previously told story short, i was wrong. i ended up taking my "to do" list and crossing all the items on it off with a pen and writing in its place, "SUCK WATER".

between a lot of back bending, elbow grease, baling, and wet vac use, we managed to contain the damage this time to a small, circular area in the big room that we've taken to referring to as "the scrotum stain". in fact, when jon visited on the way out to seven springs resort in champion, PA with us this past weekend, he asked to see the Famous Scrotum Stain before we left.

this time, though, i wasn't of a mind to let something like this derail me. i had a project that i had committed to, even if only to myself, and i wasn't about to be interrupted. we got the water out, got the room ready to proceed, and proceed we did.

i had gotten a bead on some cubicle dividers that i'd planned to use to encircle the drums and absorb some of the sound from the kit, but they disappeared on me, and i had to do some improvising. i ended up buying some lightweight plywood and using some damping material to build my own. i'm actually happier with what i got than with what i'd wanted in the first place, and they do a great job of soaking up the drums. for this particular project, i wanted a seventies-style mellow, somewhat deadened drum sound. i used my old "cap tape" trick (someone, somewhere, makes a material called "cap tape" that you use to put around the bed of your pickup truck between the bed cap and the actual body of the truck. i haven't seen this stuff in decades, so i found a material that's even better in the time since that has adhesive on one side of it, but it's only a half inch wide or so...great for muting drum heads.) i put fresh heads on the drums, tuned them up, and set them up within the confines of the new baffles i'd build - from upstairs in the house, all you can really hear is the snare and the kick.

now we're ready to record, right?




tune in for our next installment. sorry.