Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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Mastering with Focusrite VRM

February 12, 2014

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the privilege of working on the final stages of a new album – Kiss of Grace – by Lorna McDougall.

The recordings of the tracks arrived with me for mastering and preparing for production.

So the question arose – the tracks sound great on my speakers: but what do they sound like on others…

Big budget studios and mastering houses do this the brute force way – playing the tracks through arrays of differing speaker types in differing acoustic spaces… which mere mortals like me can neither afford the space or the finance to achieve.

Thats where the Focusrite VRM comes in.

Focusrite VRMThis neat little box is a USB audio interface providing a headphone out (and SPDIF in – but more on that later), a sweet volume control and an application that simulates different speakers in different acoustic spaces…

So – with a good pair of headphones you can hear what your mix ‘may’ sound like across a range of pro to domestic speakers in a ‘studio’, ‘bedroom’ or ‘living room’.

Add this to your desktop or laptop and off you go – where ever you are mastering the sound of your recordings is a doddle.

I’ve got to admit that since this has arrived my headphones have been ‘superglued’ to my head… the sound is just so good… at least to my tastes…

The range of speakers and environments is very useful… and some extreme differences between speakers/environments can be interesting to work on mastering against.

VRM Speakers

In use…

The music I was working with was in Studio One, on my old iMac core duo.

My iMac has been my workhorse from 2006 – I use it for everything… and I was interested in what effect the VRM would have on the system…

I created an aggregate audio device with my Presonus FW mobile (used to route FX via SPDIF to my TC Electronic M350)  and the VRM… and routed the ‘main’ out to the VRM.  The outs of the FW mobile went to my speakers as a cue mix.

And it worked – first time, no sweat… badda bing!

Studio One VRM

A screen capture from using VRM today!

Working on the final mix today – the Focusrite VRM has been great.

Now I have it and understand some of its limitations – I will be using this almost constantly from now on.

If you get one of these – and I don’t see why you shouldn’t at £49, from Absolute Music – register it and get the updated software – the 1.0 software… well… sucked!  the 1.4 is significantly better…

Pros

  • Price
  • Convenience
  • Great sound – speaker emulations sound fab.
  • Built like a brick shed – I’d be happy to throw this in a laptop bag knowing that at the ‘far’ end that it would be functioning perfectly.
  • The volume control – very useful, very sweet to use- always by my right hand.

Cons

  • The VRM software takes up CPU cycles and increases latency from the DAW.
  • If there is a load on the computer – or there is a particularly memory hungry application running the VRM starts to crackle.
  • The volume control – there can be noticeable ‘steps’ in volume than would be expected from a purely analogue control… (but I’m being extremely picky)
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Christmas Telecaster Nocaster’51 project

January 2, 2014

Over the holidays I took the opportunity to upgrade the pickups on my 2003 Mexican built Fender Telecaster.

The original electrics had been becoming noisy over the last couple of years, pots were noisy, the jack plug un-sure.  The sound rather thin and anaemic.

Things had to change or the Tele had to go…

I got myself a set of Fender Custom Shop Nocaster’51 pickups at a bargin from Thomann, and found a great wee Guitar builder seller on ebay that supplied all the wiring, pots, caps etc…

IMG_9753On taking the old electrics out what amazed me was the really poor quality of the cabling used… it was really not surprising the sound was poor… even if everything else was perfect the cable was really sub-standard.

The replacement cable was AWESOME – wound and tinned it’s whole length, enclosed in two layers of woven shielding… a joy to use!

So the pickup cavities were stripped…

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I started with the neck pickup… attached to the pickguard…

then the bridge pickup… note I added an ground wire from the bridge to the control cavity… in the old electrics the signal ground wire from the bridge pickup was grounded here an a then extended back to the control cavity… I didn’t like that arrangement… as I was planning to use a 4 position switch to allow the pickups to be wired in parallel and series…

followed by the jack plug…

IMG_9766

I assembled the pots, and switch mechanism..

and wired the pickups in the following configuration…

tele4way

There are a huge number of options for wiring a telecaster – it is such a simple guitar… I was really tempted to drop the tone control to use it as a blend between neck and bridge pickups – but I am extremely glad I didn’t.

Creating spaghetti…

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Reassembled control area..

Fitted a new set of Elixer lights .010’s

and we have tone!

Volume control and tone control are unbelievably better…

The general sound is thicker, has more body to it… it’s great.

having the option of the pickups in parallel & series gives another ‘feel’ in the sound (which I am enjoying immensely)

Lessons learned:

I wish I had done this earlier – my poor Tele has been languishing over the last few years… I’ve been disappointed in the sound… NOT NOW!

I am amazed at just how poor the quality of the wiring was from the original manufactured guitar…

Single coil pickups are noisy… they are susceptible to electrical interference… when my fingers are on the strings, or my palm resting on the bridge – the guitar is pretty quiet… but when not in contact with either of these – it can be a bit noisy.

I should have spent some time shielding the cavities, and especially adding shielding to the rear of the pickguard.

But I don’t know if I would quite go the length of this article…

Noise reduction for SC pickups

which seems the ultimate in noise reduction.

In summary

If you have a stock Mexican Fender Telecaster – replace the the pickups… it’s easy and well worth the couple of hours it takes to do.

Sources

Thomann – Nocaster’51 set is unfortunately no longer stocked!

Guitar builders on-line – Fender USA Wiring kit (four way switch)

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Musical playpen…

November 27, 2013

Over the past few years I’ve dabbled in music… attached are some of the rough messing about I’ve done… enjoy

 

This tune is my Telecaster, VOX amp… with everything cranked to 11

I acquired a 12 string electric guitar and this is a recording of what it sounded like through my VOX amp

Playing with Loops and synths in Ableton…

My trusty Suzuki W400 and M-Audio Oxygen 49 and Keyrig…

Telecaster.. loops.. and Keyrig again…

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Fun with photography… creating a 120 megapixel image

August 12, 2013

Last Saturday we visited Ullapool and Gairloch on a family road trip.

I didn’t plan to take any photo’s but found myself taking a series of portrait photos with the idea of creating another panorama using Hugin…

10 x 18 mega-pixel (RAW) images where used to create a panorama of the beach at Gairloch…

As Hugin processed the image it claimed to be processing 18635×6345 pixels.. generating a roughly120 mega pixel image…. BUT

the final dimensions 17934×3429 pixels… 61 mega pixels..  losing 50% due to alignment & projection losses above and below the composite image (next time use a tripod).

This is a 15% thumbnail image of the output – (the original is a 156Mb TIFF image).

(C) Andrew Gregg, 2013

(C) Andrew Gregg, 2013

Canon EOS 550d, Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.4

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Expanding the impact of a Blog

February 17, 2013

I saw this recently and although somewhat off topic for this blog I hope it will be of use to all of you who have your own blog.

30-ways-to-promote-your-blog-posts

Original post can be found here.

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Blue Flame – Furnace – Barn Church August 2012

November 3, 2012

Earlier this year in August Blue Flame was invited to run a Furnace event at the Barn Church in Culloden, Inverness.

Photo by Karen Beaton

Blue Flame is a grouping of Christians from a number of churches in and around Inverness who explore the use of creativity and the prophetic in the worship of God and outreach to those seeking him.

Photo by Karen Beaton

Furnace events  are primarily events for the group to engage creatively together – in music, in art, in dance. A place to be creative, and for this event in August the creative juices were starting to flow for me.

In planning for the event I felt that the building at the Barn Church offered an opportunity for a temporary multi-media installation – and so for one evening only we devised and installed Jacobs Ladder…

The inspiration for this installation can be found in John 1:51 Jesus says this “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

The ladder on which Jacob saw angels ascending and descending to and from heaven was the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man.  And it was this that I felt stirred to create for this event…

The installation was to use back projection and lighting that could be colour mixed allowing a consistency of colours, tones and intensities throughout the structure.  The back projection would display ambient images and video clips prepared before the event.

The construction started as a rough sketch on my iPad…

This gave me a ‘shopping list’ for what we needed to build the installation…

Kings Fellowship kindly allowed me to borrow, a DMX lighting desk, a disused projector and four LED PAR 64 stage lights…

Blue Flame had a 60m length of Muslin perviously used at the Belladrum Festival as part of the ministry there…

Charity Boman-Webb supplied her “Heavenly Portal” sculpture to be included in the installation…

I added some cabling, DMX terminators, VGA amplifiers, projector, iPad and time to build and test the technology.

And on the night it all came together and looked like this…

Photo by Karen Beaton

Close to 10m high and 8m wide Jacobs Ladder dominated one end of the Barn Church.

We deliberately did not explain what the installation was, or what it represented – and were amazed at just how many people were able to identify what it was.

It became a place of rest and peace as people soaked in the presence of God in the church that evening.

…and now I’m presently working on the next installation for Kings Fellowship… watch this space…

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For the Right Reasons…

February 13, 2012

I met an absolutely superb bunch of people today at For All the Right Reasons.

FATRR… Is a charity that faces up to the problems of drug and alcohol addiction in the Merkinch area of Inverness.

These folks provide a safe place for those in the community actively looking to come off drugs.

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They run a charity shop and a really good quality Print Shop. The print shop gives volunteers experience in working in state of the art digital printing service. Learning skills of real commercial value, and being supported by people who really know where they have come from.

Today I dropped in a print job, that I had left way to late as I needed it for tomorrow – and those guys printed and cut it to size in a couple of hours and charged a very competitive rate.

I don’t know if you ever use outside printing services for your church or business, but if you do – please consider using these guys.. You would be helping make a genuine difference to people trying to escape from a life of addiction.