Archive for the ‘diy’ Category

and some days things don’t work

I wanted to post about the cool second-generation crystal microphone today BUT NO IT’S ALL STUPID AND NOISY AND I DON’T KNOW WHY but it sounds like either a really bad cold solder joint (please be that) or a bad transistor (@&*$&!!! special orders please don’t be that) and I don’t know which.

It’s too bad because I came up with a nice little jury-rig jig (say that five times fast) and so the backplate of the housing came out really well and I was looking forward to showing that off. Fingers crossed this is some sort of Surprise It’s Easy! fix – that would indeed be a surprise, to be honest about it, but a pleasant one.

In the meantime, enjoy this video of Overwatch players in custom game mode making some genuinely gorgeous Genji Beams. These are effects created by lining up opposing teams of Genji players opposite each other, in continuous-shot-deflection mode, and hitting them with various weapons. The shots bounce back and forth between the teams, and you get some really neat graphics interactions. It’s pretty cool and occasionally hilarious. Enjoy:

cyberrrrrrrr mondaaaaaaaay

It’s Cyber Monday, apparently, which means LET’S PUT EVERYTHING ON SALE. I’m doing my part – I’ve put out four singles this year, so I’m putting all of them on pay-what-you-like.

It’s funny, but the most recent one – We’re Not Friends (The Future Has a Place) – has really changed on me since the election. Particularly with Mr. Pence involved, it’s stopped being a celebration, and has turned into a declaration of defiance.

Fortunately, I’m real good at defiance.

Here’s the 2016 tracks. I think they’re real good. Pay what you like – and thanks.

orycon this weekend, with show and tell

I’ll be at Orycon this weekend! I have panels and workshops and a concert on Sunday afternoon, so please come out for it!

They’ve actually given me a panel on building old-technology microphones, which is pretty cool, and I’ll let people record themselves on a 1920s-ish carbon mic and a 1940s-ish crystal mic, so hopefully that will be fun. People really seemed to enjoy it when I had the setup running at my dealer table at CBCC.

I need to find time – somehow – to wedge in building a new amp board for the microphone panel, because I don’t want to take apart the existing crystal microphone for show-and-tell, and I think it’ll be neat to show that off. Later today. Hopefully. Assuming nothing else explodes.

Like, Monday, right? Things Happened, and then I got to spend the afternoon pulling unimaginably gross material out of a fluid pump system while going, “oh gods, oh gods, I hope this is only cat litter, please let this just be cat litter,” and when that’s happening, you have officially reached what one might call a BAD SCENE.

Not “darkest timeline” bad scene, but: bad.

so disgusting

Anyway. Thank the gods that’s over. See you this weekend!

as of 2:30am saturday morning

As of 2:30am Saturday morning, I had a digital audio workstation again, lost partitions recovered – or, well, the important one recovered, the swap was damaged somehow but who cares, it’s swap.

It’s a good thing I was able to stop Tech Sport 7 from making trying to make the free space “active,” who knows what that would’ve done.

But, like a fool, I’m still trying to fix the Windows side, so I’ve been making a backup of the current Windows partition (validation pass just finishing up now) and then I’ll restore from a July backup, made before it stopped accepting security updates. Getting that out of the archives took 37 hours because yeah I’ll be re-evaluating my backup system. (It’s fine in theory but anything that involves making 1T images is probably not the best solution.) But it’s out, so as soon as validation of the backup of current Windows passes, we’ll be ready to try it.

What a mess.

i kind of had a plan for today, but

i was going to post the more than vaguely punchdrunk tweetstorm from my 13-hours-and-counting marathon run-in with Microsoft technical support about why windows hadn’t been letting me install security updates since AUGUST directly into the blog, because some of it is pretty funny

and i’m gonna do that anyway

but the seventh (7th!) tech sport did something i specifically said we cannot and must not do and destroyed my desktop machine, which drives all my audio software

(seriously, completely levelled it, i’ve got partition recovery running right now)

(broken boot table, no more linux system partition, no more swap partition, can’t even get to windows loader because grub2 is 100% made of “wot?”)

so i just storified the twitter rant instead of making a fake collection here (it’s pretty ragehappy) and then played the hilariously stupid current special brawl in overwatch, which is all pharah and mercy (phamercy brawl! <3) and double TriplQUADRUPLE kill Play of the Game until i felt better.

because it turns out i get pretty good at smashy brawls when i’m, like, really mad and have rocket launchers.

so, yeah. fun? enjoy my ranty goodness while I’m rebuilding my machine, again.

mod report: oktava mk-012/mc-012 microphone

Oktava has some great microphone designs. But the quality of the components can be pretty random, particularly in the used market, since a nontrival number of those were made in the early post-Soviet era. My two 012s sounded pretty different – one in particular rather unpleasantly harsh – so I implemented Recording Magazine’s recommended component upgrade* on the harsh one, which we’ll call Nr. 1.

Nr. 1 may have been modded a bit before. It’s certainly been opened before; one of the three screws was stripped and useless, the other was jammed badly. I had to drill both out, so I’m hoping I can order replacements. The third was fine.

As soon as I had the microphone open, I saw what Recording meant by random components. The key transistor was a make so old that it had a metal shield ground cap, and separate lead to that cap, something I haven’t seen in gear made after about, I don’t even know, 1978? I also saw what they meant by “fragile circuit board,” because wow, you could lift these circuit board traces with an overly-aggressive hair dryer. Take care!


Still, it was mostly a matter of being methodical and not rushing things, and in good time, I had the key components upgraded, with no surprises other than the transistor’s extra lead.

These are three unmodified before/after snippets in one recording – recorded under identical conditions other than the internal microphone electronics – of Oktava mk-012/mc-012 nr. 1 in my studio. Even on laptop speakers, I can hear the harshness, particularly in the first sample. In all cases, it’s pre-modification first, then post-modification after:

Oktava MC-012 nr. 2 sounded very different to nr. 1, before; opening it, I could see that the components used were of a significantly more modern variety. It may well have been made later, which would be part of that. Now, the two microphones sound much more like each other, indicating that nr. 1 really was meaningfully different in component quality.

Here is a recorded comparison of nr. 2 (still factory) and nr. 1 (upgraded). These recordings were made simultaneously, with the two microphones right next to each other. The differences are much subtler, but I think the upgraded nr. 1 has a bit more presence – or maybe sense of stage – than the factory nr. 2. Despite being mono recordings, it’s almost like there’s a slightly better stereo image in the modified nr. 1… but give a listen and hear for yourself, see what you think.

You’ll definitely need headphones to have any chance of hearing anything interesting here. Factory nr. 2 comes first in all cases:

So, all in all, very glad I did this to nr. 1; pretty sure I’m going to go ahead and do it with nr. 2 as well, though I expect a much less dramatic change.

The only thing I’m thinking about now is – there’s a bank of capacitors in back. They’re good ones – Philips, not generic, which have a good durability and spec-compliance record. (I don’t know whether they’re original; some Oktava 012s shipped with quality caps already in place, and their track record has improved with time.) So I shouldn’t need to upgrade them – and the article at Recording Magazine says not to bother if you already have “improved” capacitors.

But I don’t know how old these are, and electrolytics have a lifespan. That’s measured both in calendar time (years), and in use – tho’ the latter is in tens of thousands of hours, and these mics are certainly nowhere near that.

The small downside is time spent, the large downside is the possibility of circuit board damage, which wow I don’t want. The upsides would be 1. possible sound improvement if they are aging already, and 2. Never having to think about it again, in practical terms.

So I dunno. Get it out of the way, or leave sleeping caps lie? Hm.

*: errata for the linked article: Capacitor “C6” in the parts list is actually capacitor C1; there is no “C6” in the build description or circuit diagramme; I assume this is a typo.

Also, some of the items in their parts list are no longer made, but they have exact replacements. R1/R2 exact replacement part number as per my October 2016 Digi-Key invoice: MOX200J-1000ME-ND. Capacitor C1 (listed as “C6” in parts list, see previous paragraph) current part number: 445-4737-ND. Capacitor C2 current part number: 399-1418-ND. Capacitors C3 and C4: 4073PHCT-ND. Capacitor C5: 4047PHCT-ND. Mostly, the substitutions are lead-free versions replacing earlier versions with lead.

hard, hard candy

I made a thing! It’s called a focus knob. It’s quite simple and normally you’d built it into an electric guitar as a guitar mod, but since I don’t have an electric guitar, I built it as a pluggable external box.

Basically a mild high-pass filter that serves to pull out ‘boominess’ from instruments, it puts a bit more of an edge on an instrument’s sound – the more you turn it up, the greater the change. As effects go – on my zouk, anyway – it’s pretty subtle. But it’s also the kind of shift that is multiplied by later effects added in, and changes how later-in-chain boxes like distortion pedals work.

As you can see from the instructions here, the wiring takes all of about 20 minutes’ time. But it’s good warmup for making a bunch of component upgrades to my Oktava 012s, and I already had all the parts from the Great Radio Shack Lootfest of 2014. Plus, hey, cool hard candy tin!

So I have a a HARD CANDY knob now. It goes from Hard to Candy. Yum. 😀

This Is Neat: the Collidoscope

Several months ago, I saw online a prototype of a sampling synth with waveform editing and a uniquely cool physical user interface. I don’t remember whether I blogged about it at the time or not, but I certainly talked about it on social media and such.

It’s not so much that it does anything you can’t already do; you can do everything it’s doing with a modern digital audio workstation, for example. But the physicality of the interface looked delightful, and that sort of thing really, really matters in instruments. Including synths. It made sample synths look fun to play in a new dimension – one far more instrument-like than I’d seen before.

Collidoscpe v2

I wondered at the time if they were looking for a commercial application, to build them to sell. But if they were, they’ve ditched that: it’s gone open-source. Not just source code for the software, but instructions and 3D CAD files if you want to build one yourself to their physical specs.

Admittedly, the case-build instructions are… a tad sparse. But that’s half the fun, right? Component-wise, it’s basically a cakewalk. (Silly me thought the waveform display was some fancy custom thing HAHAHAHAHAHA NO IT’S A STANDARD LCD MONITOR BEHIND A FRAME HAHAHAHAHA etc. But that’s the smart way, so.)

Anyway, yeah! Project!

h/t: Klopfenpop for the link

not so bad after all

Well, that was neat – the “warmup” storm was the big one, the big one swerved north at the last minute and weakened, mostly missing us, and then surprise-collapsing over Victoria. Still, we did lose power and were offline most of a day, so if you missed Friday’s post about recovering damaged recordings – a bit of a geek-out, really – that’s what happened.

I took advantage of the unexpected uptime to finish up that project, by the way. It was interesting, and I learned stuff, like usual. The condition of the tape (and damage in the recording) varied all over the place, and arguably too much even to try to split it up into a million shards. Though there was a lot of this kind of crap:

This is one phrase of lyrics

That’s a combined automation of level and compression ratio. Here’s what it looked like over a larger area, about 3/4 of the way through. Yes, meaningfully more got added to this:

And the sad thing is, that’s just me trying to attain listenability throughout. I’m not trying for “good” – that isn’t attainable, but less noise and less distortion and fixing dynamics over time, that I can do.

Some of the tape wasn’t really that bad! I mean, it’s a 23-year-old cassette recording made on some sort of portable device set on what sounds like two different autolevelling schemes – it changes once when the recording was stopped briefly, I suspect the operator changed modes and I really wish they hadn’t – so “not really that bad” comes with a lot of caveats. But still, not that bad. Lots of hiss, lots of tape rumble, small dropouts, and so on, but not unintelligible. Fatiguing to listen to over time.

Here’s a short sample of “The Crawl,” early on, direct from the tape. Hissy, some sort of mid-band distortion that isn’t too bad in short doses (but really gets annoying over time), off-centre sound placement. But otherwise not that bad. You can hear stuff.

So I ripped the hiss off, did some work to improve dynamics, pulled out what I could of the distortion, threw on EQ to bring back out the low end, re-centred and smoothed it a bit, and here y’are.

Then there are other sections. After that mode switch got thrown, the whole recording got weirder. “The Profiteers” was particularly bad. Here’s the original. I know the lyrics and I still can’t make them all out here. But I can in the restoration. It’s not good, but you can make things out. This is where I needed that whole stack of plugins I talked about on Friday.

And just as importantly – and something short samples like the above won’t give you – it’s listenable over time. Some of these problems are really hard to tolerate over the two hours of this recording. They’re not bad in short doses, but they grate.

Like, the original seems to have more high end, right? But it’s not real. Eventually your brain figures out it’s just hiss, with your audio centre filling shapes into it, and it’s wearying. In short comparisons, the brightness is attractive, and the restored version sounds kind of dull in contrast at first – but as with light, your ears adjust to recordings, and that goes away with listening.

Similar are all the damn-autolevel-to-hell level changes. They’re not necessarily so bad in short doses – some of those are like punches to the face, but most aren’t. But even with that, EVERYTHING REALLY LOUD PUNCTUATED BY surprise underlevelling is also wearying.

So the restoration maybe doesn’t sound good, on any kind of normal scale – but I got it to the point where, particularly on laptop speakers, it sounds pretty okay. I can listen to it. Occasionally – just occasionally – it even sounds musical. And there’s enough there there to remind me how much I miss this Great Big Sea.

There was one thing I couldn’t fix though, no matter how I tried. And that’s during “Excursion Around the Bay,” wherein early in the song, some fucker orders espresso at a George Street bar. And so you get that espresso machine foam blast noise right in the middle of a verse.


Gods damn you, espresso man – gods damn you.

visual artists do this all the time, why not musicians?

Lots of artists (including a few I follow) livestream their drawing sometimes, usually showing their desktops so you can see what they’re working on. A fair number of them do this on Picarto, which is pretty visual arts focused, but says it’s for creators in general.

So I decided hey, maybe music? And they even have a category for it. Yay! And I’ve set up an account here on Picarto, and will stream sometimes, probably announcing on Tumblr and Facebook on the band page.

I’ve only tested it once and it was a little weird but I think it worked most of the time? The wifi in the part of the studio where I have to put the laptop is a little wonky tho’, and it cut out at least once. If people come by I’ll work on fixing that.

It’ll mostly be rehearsals/practice but might occasionally be me mixing something or writing something. I dunno! I’ll probably turn it on later today, I completely upended my planned VCON set and I’ll want to try that out this afternoon. And I’ll check the chat window every so often, too.

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The Music