A Couple Of Semi-Audio-Related Things

A few notes of interest for the audio pros in the house:

Marathon has released a horizontal rackmount for G5s. When Apple unveiled the G5 at WWDC 2003, several sound editors were gathered in my office, watching the streaming Quicktime and drooling. But as soon as the specs came out we saw two big problems: only 3 PCI slots—4 slots is really optimal for Pro Tools systems, and a height of 20″. The standard size for rackmount gear is 19″. The new computers were an 1″ too tall. You couldn’t secure them in a rack with all your other gear. And all over 1 stupid inch! It seemed so ridiculous. Doesn’t Apple realize that the music and film industries are some of their biggest clients? Lots and lots of people in these industries like to rackmount their gear.

Well Marathon has finally released a solution. I figured they eventually would. Unfortunately the installation instructions include the use of a hacksaw.

This isn’t new but I just recently stumbled on to it:

Fxpansion makes a few audio wrapper applications including a VST to RTAS Adapter. This software allows Pro Tools and Pro Tools LE, software which only supports its own native audio plug-ins—Audiosuite, Real-Time Audiosuite, and TDM, to run VST plug-ins as RTAS plug-ins. What a great idea! And for under $100.

They also make a VST to AudioUnit Adapter which is nice for Logic users who might have been annoyed by Apple’s decision to drop support for VST and only support the native OS X plug-ins standard AudioUnits. (Of course in fairness to Apple, they have offered a VST to AU SDK. And I’ve read stories of the conversion only taking a couple of hours to clean up code.)

And they have a third adapter which is VST to Rewire. This one sounds very interesting. Rewire is an inter-audio app bussing standard. It allows you do do things like design some techno masterpiece in Reason and send the sound directly into Pro Tools for recording. All internal. All digital. In Pro Tools Rewire is a plug-in that gets activated on a track. So in essence its VST to Rewire might be very similar to VST to RTAS. However, Soundminer allows you to audition 5.1 audio straight from Pro Tools by running 4 Rewire plug-ins—2 stereo and 2 mono. Maybe you can do similar things with this adapter. It would interesting to check out.

Ender And The Net

I’ve started listening to my next audiobook, “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. I first read this book about 10 years ago and loved it. Enough time has passed since then, that I remember that I loved the book, and I remember the basic story but most of the specifics were gone. So experiencing it again but in a different format, audio, is a real pleasure.

Obviously the whole “children playing video games become the soldiers of tomorrow” is the primary focus of the book and part that I remembered from years ago. I don’t know who first came up with this idea. There was a speech that Reagan made when he was president which had the same basic idea. I’m not sure when that speech was. Did one of Reagan’s speech-writers read the book and appropriate the idea? Did Mr. Card use that as a basis for his book? Or was it some kind of convergent evolution?

The part that has struck me this time—and I should mention that I have not finished the book yet—is the story of Peter and Valentine, Ender’s siblings. This book was written 20 years ago. The Macintosh was just released. Personal computers were gaining in popularity but many homes did not have one. Modems existed but they certainly were only owned by a fraction of the computer-owning population which in turn was a fraction of the whole population. ARPA net existed and even though it connected many universities together, it wasn’t in use by the general college population. Usenet had been around for about 5 years or so but it relied on ARPA which meant again that there weren’t that many people using it.

The point is that some of the ideas computer-based communication were in place but they weren’t in widespread use nor probably even known about it by the majority. And yet in this culture, Mr. Card came with the ideas of the Nets. A communal posting area where all people can talk about their ideas. Peter and Valentine use it for specifically political purposes. And it dawned on me that’s really only now, 20 years later, that something like this exists. Ten years ago the internet was just learning to walk as far as the general public was concerned. The first image-based web browsers were just beginning to show up. The first large web entities like Yahoo were still a year or two off. Five years ago everybody knew about the internet and a large percentage of people were on it. Today it’s nearly universal. With the advent of cheap computers everyone has a TV, a phone and a computer in their home.

And now weblog software is easy enough to use and public awareness is large enough in the media that many, many people are finding their own voice on the internet. Not just being consumers of information but also providers. We’ve now entered the era of Mr. Card’s Nets.

I’m A Writer Because The Pizza Delivery Person Says So

I ordered a pizza for a little nourishment this evening and it was just delivered. Thin crust. I’ve decided it’s really the only way to go. I went to college in Chicago so I know how thick pizzas can really get but I have to say that thin is better. Thin and crispy.

But that wasn’t actually the point of this little anecdote. The point was the woman who delivered my pizza asked me, “Are you a writer for television?”

I was momentarily caught off-guard.

“What?”

“Are you a writer for television?”

“Oh! Uh, no.”

“Ah. Well, you look like a writer. See ya.”

“Bye.”

So there you go. The pizza delivery person says so.

Discount On BBEdit

I have talked about how cool I think BBEdit is. Bare Bones Software, the makers of BBEdit, is offering a discount on the software from now through Thursday, July 15. It’s $150 instead of the usual $180. Plus you get a free t-shirt.

Now’s your chance to pick up a great piece of software and save a little cash.

The Sound Of His Voice

I need your help. As you may know, I’m an avid listener to audiobooks. During the 2 hours of commuting I do every day, I typically spend my time listening to others read books to me. When I do get into the office, I’m a sound guy. I, along with the other people on my crew, make the movies you go and watch sound good. To do this I have all kinds of gear (boys’ toys) in my room.

You may remember when I mentioned an effort by Telltale Weekly to make audiobooks of the public domain works from Project Gutenberg. This got me thinking. Audiobooks—I like audiobooks. Sound—I’m a sound guy. I’ve got microphones and computers and whatnot. These guys are looking to record audiobooks. Hmmm…

So here’s where you come in. Today I recorded my first audiobook. (Did I ever mention that I used to be a radio DJ in college?) I haven’t played it for anyone yet. In fact I literally just finished the final mix on it. I haven’t submitted it to Telltale Weekly. I’m actually not sure if I can—the public domain status on this particular work is a bit tricky. I need some constructive criticism from everyone. I’d love for you to post comments or send me email letting me know what you think. I’d would like to emphasize the constructive part of that prior sentence. If you think I read too fast or my diction is bad or my voice is too nasaly, I’d like to know. Of course I wouldn’t mind a few “good job” emails either. It would be great for some opinions on the sound quality too. Not just the tone of my voice, but how is the recording? Too loud? Too bright? Too noisy? (I’m really glad that Telltale Weekly exists, but I do have to say that some of their recordings are a bit on the poor side.)

So without further delay, I present to you, “The War Prayer” by Mark Twain. (We can fight about my politics too if you like.)

Mackie 1604 5.1 Surround Layout

As I said before, I recently bought a Mackie 1604 mixer and added it to my Pro Tools workstation. I came up with what I consider to be the ultimate layout for the mixer. Obviously everyone has their own needs and their own gear so this won’t work for all. But it might give you a few ideas of how you can improve your own audio monitoring.

Ins

:

1/2     (Open)
3/4     Video Deck Out
5/6     DAT Out
7/8     (Open)
9-16    Pro Tools Out 1-8

Aux Returns

:

1       Computer
2       Ipod
3       Laptop
4       DVD

Outs

:

Main    L/R
Sub1/2  LS/RS
Sub3/4  C/LFE

Direct Outs

:

1-6     Pro Tools In 1-6

Aux Sends

:

1/2     Pro Tools In 7/8
3/4     Video Deck In
5/6     DAT In

Tape

:

In      VCR Out
Out     VCR In

There are a few key ideas behind this layout. The first is the use of Inputs 9-16 for the Pro Tools. This came straight from the 1604 manual itself. It has a layout for an 8-channel multi-track recorder that does the same thing. Typical post-production sound thought is to put your Pro Tools on 1-8 since it’s the single most important piece of gear. However, by moving it down to 9-16, it opens up the Direct Outs 1-8. These take the signal coming in on Inputs 1-8 and pass them out, post-fader, through the Direct Outs. This way you can send those into your Pro Tools and not use up your sub-outs.

The second key idea is Aux Returns and Aux Sends as additional Ins and Outs. Often these are thought of as paths to send signals for effects processing that then returning them to mixer. A channel insert will run an effect on a single channel like a compressor on a microphone. But an Aux Send and Return can be used to add reverb to many channels at once.

That’s all very cool for working with a band but not very useful for a digital audio workstation. So forget it. The Aux Returns are 4 additional stereo inputs. You can see that I used them to patch in my computers and what not. It’s mostly about listening to music. You can put anything you want here. It doesn’t have to be stereo. In some cases, especially Aux Return 1 and 2, they can be sent into a “record” path were they would go back into your Pro Tools. But for the most part use it for gear that you simple want to listen to on your speakers.

The Aux Sends give you 6 mono channels out to whatever you patch. They are accessed on the Input channels themselves. This is an easy way to do something like send a stereo pair from Pro Tools to be recorded on a DAT or a Video Deck. I also put Pro Tools itself on a pair of Sends. It’s for greater flexibility. I can’t see myself using it much but it would allow me to loop a sound out a Pro Tools through the board and back in. Maybe I wind up with some amazing analog reverb unit. It could be patched into a channel insert and sent right back into Pro Tools for recording. That’s the idea. As I said before about Direct Outs, it also frees up sub-outs.

You need the sub-outs for speakers. This is the third key idea. Typically I’ve set up 5.1 surround sound on mixers with 8 sub-out busses. Six for the speakers and 2 to go back into Pro Tools. But with this setup we’ve already handled all the paths back into to Pro Tools—and other gear for that matter. Put your left and right speakers on Main Out. Most other inputs like Aux Returns and Tape In all monitor by default on Main Out. Then use the four sub-outs for your 4 additional speakers, Left Surround–Right Surround and Center–Sub.

By using this setup I was able to extend the 1604 (16 ins, 4 sub-outs) to 22 Ins and 14 Outs. And I didn’t touch the Control Room Outs which could probably be used for something else. Plus I have 4 open Ins right on faders on my mixer.

Now if only my video path were so easy.

New Toys

Recently I’ve been adding some new audio gear to my Pro Tools system. A couple weeks ago, I upgraded my speakers. I won’t tell you what I was using before—it’s a bit embarassing, and I’m supposed to be a “professional”—but my new Blue Sky speakers are awesome. (In all fairness to myself, prior to this recent purchase if I had to do really critical listening, I would do it on headphones.)

I spent last weekend and a couple days this week assembling a phasing dialogue tracks for a show that’s just starting up. My friend needed a little extra help and I don’t mind picking up a little extra cash now and again. Phasing dialogue tracks—especially after a fairly good assembly with a program like Titan—is pretty much just hours and hours of zooming in close on waveforms and nudging production into sync. If you want to get it done fast, there’s not much actual listening going on. It’s all done visually. That means you can listen to music to keep your mind active. So I’ve spent several days listening to my favorite albums on the Blue Sky ProDesk speakers in my room and I can honestly say they sound fantastic.

I got the 2.1 setup—two 5″ speakers (that’s the size of the woofer) and an 8″ sub. They’re powered so there’s no need for a amplifier. Shielded so they won’t distort your video monitors. (I’m using flat panels so this isn’t an issue for me.) They aren’t full-range speakers. They shelve-off pretty steeply below 80 Hz but that’s what the subwoofer is for. They’re designed to work together, and they’re matched so well that I can’t tell that the really low frequencies are coming from under my desk. In the future, I can upgrade it to a 5.1 by adding 3 more speakers and Blue Sky’s own Bass Management system. The price is great too. Right around $1000 for the 2.1.

For years I’ve been using a little Mackie 1202 for monitoring. The ultra compact size was really nice. It didn’t take up much desk space. But it also didn’t have a lot of inputs and I kind of felt like I was sacrificing ease of use for a small size. With the new speakers and the potential of 5.1 in the future, I knew it was time to upgrade to the Mackie 1604. This is definitely the work horse of the digital audio workstation world, and I can see why. I spent nearly half a day plotting out my new audio setup with all the extra inputs and outputs. I think I came up with the ultimate setup. I’ll post information on it a little later.

Lots and lots of audio connectors

Of course after coming up with this great new audio setup, I had to patch it all through my new mixer. So I called up my buddy Sheldon at The Wired Kingdom to make me some custom audio snakes. His stuff isn’t cheap but the work is impeccable and the quality is outstanding.

About a month ago or so, I stumbled across a little blurb on a microphone that caught my attention—the Studio Projects C1. I started doing some research. I read lots and lots of reviews from people raving about this mic. Not every review was glowing—but you also have to understand audio people—everything they use is great and everything else sucks. There is very little middle ground. (You’ll get the same kind of responses when you talk to sound editors about the tracks on movies.) But at $200 it was pretty hard to say “no” to, especially since the microphone that most people compared it with, the Neumann U87, is a $2000 mic.

This just came in and I haven’t used it much. Just some test recordings of myself. I’m also not a record producer or engineer. I’m not laying down vocal tracks all day long. We mostly use mics to record sound effects. Every mic has different characteristics and very few are “bad”. Ok, maybe that’s not true. There are a lot of cheap and crappy mics. But the point is when you’re recording sound effects using different mics give you different sounds. And sound for film is all about have lots and lots of different kinds of sounds.

Studio Projects C1 Microphone

I made up an album of some of the pictures I took of my new gear and posted it to my .Mac account.

Time Is Of The Essence

It’s been quite a busy week for me, in fact it seems to have slipped right by me.

I read Terry Pratchett’s “The Thief Of Time” recently. (Or more accurately, listened to it.) A couple of the main characters of the story are History Monks. They’re responsible for taking care of time. The make use of devices called Spinners to adjust the flow of time. When someone is stuck in a boring lecture and time seems to crawl by, they can siphon some of that time off and use it areas where it’s needed.

Thinking back on this past week made me think of that. I could have used that extra time. Or maybe one of those monks siphoned it away from me and that’s why I can’t seem to remember it. Actually that’s not true. I remember what I did every single day this week. I’m just finding it remarkable that it passed so quickly.

When I was a kid I used to have this feeling that time passed so slowly. It seemed like forever until Christmas came around again or my next birthday. I thought it would take an eternity until I was finally able to get my driver’s license.

Now I’m afraid that time slips through my fingers like water. You cup your hands. Squeeze your fingers together as tight as possible hoping to seal all the cracks but it’s no use. The water still drains away. Still slides through spaces that might even been too small for you to see.

It is strange that the older we get the faster time passes before us. You blink and weeks have gone by. Stop and stretch and a year has passed.

I have spent 30 years on this planet and with any luck I’ll spend another 30 here—and hopefully another 30 after that. I just wonder how long it’ll actually take for those next 30 to pass me by.

ISO Macintosh Programmer

I’m looking to hire a good Macintosh programmer to help me develop a Carbon application that would run in both OS 9 and OS X. Interested people should send me an email by clicking the link in the sidebar. Include a resume and your desired salary. I’ll get in touch with you with all the details. You don’t have to live in Los Angeles, but I think you would have to live in the US. I don’t know how the whole international employee thing would work out. I’ll have to check on that.