an unexpected audio production rabbit hole

This tweet sent me down an unexpected audio production rabbit hole:

R. Derek Black – 6 May 2021:
I think I love every one of the like 15 different versions of the song Valerie I’ve ever heard

I went to listen to the Amy Winehouse version first, and look for some of the others, but I saw on Wikipedia that Steve Winwood co-wrote it originally, and listened to the ’87 version that was a hit, but also…

…someone had posted the original 1982 release, from his third album according to Wikipedia, and listening to it, I’m like…

…how the fuck did this get released as a single by a major label in 1982?

It’s not the song! It is a good song. But the production is garbage.

And I’m not talking, like, artistic garbage. I’m talking about “basic mistakes in recording by first-time artists working in a bedroom” garbage. “Oops, hit the mic stand there and it’s really loud, oh well we’ll just compress it out” levels of “let’s record a demo” bullshit.

(There are also questionable artistic decisions, particularly the synth someone set on “saxophone” – but it’s ’82, I’ll cut them that slack.)

But… jeez. Even the vocal track is recorded badly. Plosives, hand noise, all sorts of crap, all clearly audible in the single.

And if there was a thing called dynamic range in ’82, that engineer hadn’t heard of it. It’s like the loudness wars, but kinda weirdly… quiet.

They smoothed over most of the recording fuckery in the ’87 remix. There’s a nasty plosive on a B that they couldn’t completely fix despite their best efforts. But it’s a nice salvage job. Plus, a real sax, unburying the guitar, restoring dynamic range – good work.

Shame about all the heavy gate reverb on the drums, though.

But, well, it was still the 80s. What do you expect? xD

i have no idea what i’m doing there

A few people had been asking if I had a Patreon, and I haven’t. But since yesterday was the last day to set an account up there under the old, better-for-creators terms, I did, so now I do.

I have no idea what I’m doing, really. It’s mostly about the fic I’ve been writing, I guess? Na, that’s not a guess, it just is. But I’ll probably put music stuff on it too.

I did set a goal, at least: “stop feeling embarrassed about having a patreon.” I do not expect to hit it. (⌒▽⌒)

my real life encounter with the metric inch

Hm. That’s … not a half-bad album title, is it? File that one away… (⌒▽⌒)

Anyway, as you might tell from the last post, I’ve been doing a fair bit of studio maintenance lately, getting rid of redundant/obsolete cabling, finally making second-tier stuff that wasn’t working actually work, all that. And a very small part of that work has been fixing an issue I noticed when I started using the new sound-engineer position that I made viable a few months ago.

It’s not complicated: the studio computer monitors are on a post, mounted to the edge of the desk. It’s been fine. But when the monitors are rotated to face the new engineering location, it tilts a bit, and I’ve been thinking maybe it was tilting more lately. The edge of the desk is sturdy and there’s no damage that I can tell, but there is a gap between the overhang the clamp attaches to and the side of the desk, and what’s happening is that it’s flexing, and over time, it will break.

So the obvious solution is to get some wood to fill the gap. Then the edge won’t be able to flex, and the monitor post will stay straight up.

The funny thing was when I measured the gap, it was just under an inch. That’s a very annoying number for a variety of reasons, but I was like, well, whatever, I’ll sand something down.

And I went down to the shop to find some wood and was poking around seeking something close, when I noticed some old fake-wood recycled-plastic decking samples that I’d got and not used for anything, and when I measured them, they were 25mm exactly – just under an inch.

And measuring it in metric and getting 25mm exactly is what made me realise that it was one metric inch. (TL;DR – it was an old USSR standard for converting stolen technology, particularly computer technology, to make the math easier in conversion to metric. Instead of 25.4mm/inch, it was 25.0mm/inch exactly.)

So I sanded down a bit of the faux woodgrain (not included in the 25mm measurement) and checked the desk again and the gap was, in fact, 25mm, and with a little tapping with a hammer, the fill block I cut fits perfectly.

The post no longer leans, and I now have had a real-life encounter with that historic oddity, the metric inch.

That’s a checkbox item I didn’t even know was on the list and didn’t really need to be checked, but goddamn if I haven’t checked it. Go me. I guess.

more adventures in computing

So, my digital audio workstation. The hub of any small/personal recording studio, the thing what lets you record and multitrack and all that.

I built this machine into an absolutely antique Compaq case, right? It was originally for an HP Compaq Presario SR1010NX, though nothing inside the case is original anymore. I used it because it was what I had and I had zero moneys when I started building this monster, and the studio as a whole. And the front panel USB ports and audio ports haven’t been working for a while.

Part of that has been the nature of the build. The front-panel audio hasn’t worked since I built it; the front-panel USB ports did work, until – for reasons I’ve discussed extensively in the past – I needed to disable the on-motherboard USB, and go with a higher-performance/different-chipset USB card.

I tried connecting one of the front USBs to an internal header on the card, got no result, ran a USB extension cable to the front, and didn’t bother digging further. Similarly, I’m not using the onboard audio for any actual work, so I’ve never bothered addressing that, either, except to run a 3.5mm microphone lead extension cable to the front, similar to the USB port.

And it stayed that way until last night, when I pulled the box out to install a long-cabled USB hub so I could have more than one front-facing port, and was reminded of exactly what a clusterfuck the cabling was back there. The rest of my studio’s cable management is quite tidy, really, but… behind the tower… wow, yeah, no. And when I pushed the machine back in place, I’d lost a monitor and my trackball to cable disconnects.

I’d also recently found a fanless Nvidia 1030 chipset card, which makes gaming on this machine… not an excellent experience, but a functional one. That means getting to more than one USB port started to matter – hence, the new USB hub.

And so, between all that, enough was enough. So I went at fixing the cable mess, got re-annoyed at all those extension cables thanks to 1) that’s just fugly and 2) that’s more cables, and decided I’d just do my damnedest to fix everything.

Cleaning up the cables was – well, tedious, but it let me position a sound baffle better, and that’s always nice. No more cables popping out when I slide the machine around. Problem one sorted.

After digging up more old documentation, I was finally able to get one (1) of the front-panel in-case USB ports going, off an internal header on the card. It turned out there were four(!) ways you could get this silently wrong, and I got it wrong in one of them. Now the upper built-in front port works fine, and – even better – is a true root device.

The second front-facing USB case port, I covered in electrical tape in a way that makes it effectively invisible, which is perfect. And the aforementioned new USB hub – which I plugged into the card, in back – is also up front, and looks much better than a straggly cable connected to the front of the case with endlessly-sticky velcro.

endlessly sticky velcro is just… ugh. i hate it so much.

Then, I figured out – with yet more ancient documentation pulled from websites – what the bloody hell was happening with the front audio panel.

So get this: this Compaq case, which shipped in the late 2000s, shipped with a front-facing audio header that used the AC97 header standard. That’s a standard from 1997, a.k.a. the previous century. They did that instead of using the HD Audio spec.

My motherboard, of course, uses the HD Audio spec.

So it’s utterly unsurprising that it never worked. The two are different, even thought the internal connectors are identical!

so mad. But!

There is a hax to deal with literally this, and if you dig enough, you can find it. It’s not even complicated – it’s a single registry edit in Windows 10, basically telling it to ignore the plug detection system because AC97 didn’t have that. But first, you have to figure out what the hell is going on, and that’s not so easy, because nothing in software will tell you what’s happening.

And I set it, now the front panel just works. It’s there, it’s active, and you can use it. Or, well, I can.

Very little of this matters, like, at all, for this machine’s primary uses. I don’t use the onboard audio for anything, really – though that’s changing now that I’ve got some Windows 10-based synth emulators, but even then, the onboard sound would be only for previews, and any music made will be straight to WAV files and imported over into the Linux DAW, never touching the onboard card. Because ugh.

But it’ll sure make BASHY BASHY easier in PC Overwatch, particularly with Overwatch’s weird issues talking to my microphone. I can just plug into the front panel and bypass the problem entirely.

And I think we all know that’s what really matters. (⌒▽⌒)

what even is this

Let’s talk about wifi.

Let’s talk about the wifi in the recording studio.

Historically, I haven’t cared very much about the wifi in my studio. I don’t need it for much. I have a network connection, but it’s always been stupid and kind of broken. Part of that is not being able to put a wifi driver in a low-latency kernel without issues, so instead of a wifi card, I use a corded card and run to a wifi bridge. This shouldn’t be an issue.

The key word being “shouldn’t.”

I have discussed before how completely fucked this building is, on so many levels, when it comes to RF. I have talked about picking up FM radio on house wiring. I have talked about the many ways I have tried – eventually, with reasonable success – to get decent wifi working here at all.

I haven’t talked about the utter shitstorm and freakshow which is the studio space.

Here’s where I’ve historically put my little wifi bridge. (Well, this was after pulling it up for reasons, but basically here. A few centimetres from here.)

I get 0-300KBPS here. That’s garbage. The zero part, particularly. It’s fast enough, as long as you don’t try to move too much data, at which point it throws its hands in the air and surrenders, dropping to zero, where it stays for a while until it rests up and feels like having another go. When I didn’t actually have to use networking for much, that didn’t matter, and I moved large things around by putting them on USB keys and going to my laptop in another room.

That’s no longer quite as viable, with all the Intel CCS foolishness, and running multiple OSes, some of which like their network very much, thank you, and even kind of require it.

(And since I finally got a better graphics card, playing networked games needed some help, too.)

So, while running a very large file transfer that couldn’t be done with sneakernet and was going to take about a week to complete, I started fucking with it. First thing I did was pull the cords out of the baseboard (see above photo) and toss it to the side while I pulled some other wires.

This is when I noticed transfer went from about 80KBPS to 1.3MBPS. Instantly.

It still swung around a lot, but it stayed in a wide band of, oh, 500KBPS to 1.3MBPS as long as it sat there, which is to say, kind of near the door, in the centre of the walkway. And then it’d drop to zero for a while to rest up, but not often, and even with that, everything became dramatically better.

So I pulled cables around more so I could move the bridge a bit and see if I could get something more reasonable that was not in the worst possible place in the room, like, say, over by the couch, less than a metre away.


Okay. How about over by the wall to the left of the door? Let’s test it by…

…no. I see.

I tried a lot of other places. None of them were better. Many were worse. Some much worse.

So let’s recap, shall we?

You can draw a bigger circle around that golden spot and you get basically the same numbers. It got worse moved further away. And those were the best places, other than the original, the Golden Spot, and one place partly down the hall which wouldn’t actually work out.

I have more than one of these bridges, of course. Swapping bridges did not help. Neither did swapping out cables, or power cords. All behaved exactly the same way, and all of these results were eminently duplicable.

So I got a really long pair of cables and ran the bridge to the other side of the couch, across the room, just to see what would happen.

what. the. fuck.

Mind you, that’s a second Golden Spot. I can move it round there and get worse numbers again, but they’re all dramatically better than the original spot or anywhere near it. In no cases do I get the kind of garbage I was getting on the other side of the room. But I could find – within half a metre – consistent 500-700KBPS, 1.5MBPS(ish), and so on. This was solid transmission numbers without data flooding issues (no buggering off for breaks), with very low packet loss rates. Still more packet loss than there should be, but it’s low enough you don’t really notice.

(Before you ask: this is further from the wifi hub, which is one floor below.)


I kind of have this sorted. Heavy traffic no longer shuts down the connection, and ping times are sane – good, even, a mere 1-5ms to local servers, usually 1-3ms.




Who designed this place, Ivo Shandor?

oh hello

Been a while, eh?

Doing some work in the studio lately with Leannan Sidhe recording vocals for her solo project. I also rebuilt some physical infrastructure around the sound baffling that gave me back… well, not a tremendous amount of space, but enough that I could create an actual separate for the recording engineer, which, in this case, means me! I had to composite a photo from parts, but this gives you the idea.

It’s a small space? But it’s really nice, and it’s also nice to be able to face the person you’re recording – it’s just way easier to signal them if something is up. I don’t have a chair for that location, but I can lean against some of the corner sound baffles and it’s surprisingly comfortable.

found speakers, improving same

I got a pair of abandonware speakers, so I’m making them better. They’re going to end up as another musician’s monitors – I can’t make them true reference, but I can make them a lot closer – and better – pretty cheaply, basically by adding a tiny dome tweeter and a crossover circuit.

I ran a frequency sweep through the factory stock speaker (one on the left is still factory) and found that the single driver started dropping off pretty naturally at around 6000hz, so set the crossover there, first. That didn’t sound quite right so I moved it down to 5000hz so it wouldn’t have to strain, and that was much better.

(For the geeky: single-stage crossover, 7.8uF film cap on the tweeter, .27uH inductor for the primary driver. Sound is… it reminds me of an upgraded Minimus 7, with more low end.)

This is just a phone recording, so don’t expect much – it’s real light on bass, it recorded some, but not much of it, and not well – but still, it’s a before and after and at least gives you some idea about how much these things opened up.

Recording starts with “before” (factory stock) and after several seconds swithces to “after” (added tweeter and crossover circuit), then proceeds to alternate between the two.

nwcMUSIC 2018 sneak preview!

Well, it’s a little past that time, but mostly, it’s that time – it’s the nwcMUSIC 2018 sneak preview!

click to enlarge

I think first-year showrunners Steve Perry (panel programming) and Dr. Owl (concerts) have done a really good job putting together this year’s show. Lots of fun workshops, a really great concert lineup, no overlapping events. So everybody, turn out to support both them and music at Norwescon, and just to have a good time.

I’ll be playing with Leannan Sidhe on Saturday, so I hope to see you there!

now, where were we?

And that was 2017. For the most part, the less said, the better, let’s be honest.

I did hardly anything musical. The band has been on hiatus. I’ve done a lot of politics, because hey, guess what, it’s fight for personal survival time again. Isn’t that just fucking awesome.

But while I haven’t been able to make the music happen, I have been writing. Not blog posts – as is clear from the blogroll this year – but fiction, instead. Kind of crazy amounts, for that matter – just over 130,000 words since April, a good… I don’t know, five times my previous total fiction writing history? And I actually got published once, back when.

And it’s all Overwatch-inspired fiction. I’ve never written fanfic before, but I am now, and it’s a torrent, and a lot of it – more than I’ll ever talk about – is deeply personal in different ways. Confusingly – to me at least – I’ve been told by several readers that they aren’t Overwatch fans, and don’t really know anything about the lore, but it works for them despite that. So that’s neat.

(I’ve also had a few people say variations on “for the love of god file off the serial numbers and sell this,” but I’m like, “Why?”)

Regardless, this seems as good a place and time to make a checkpoint tally. I also just put up a new short story – one that’s part of a series – that’s basically my New Year’s Eve story. So here are my works from 2017:

Novellas and novels:

  • on overcoming the fear of spiders, a complete 35,000 word novella, kind of an origin story for Amélie “Widowmaker” Lacroix and Lena “Venom” Oxton, professional political assassins, and, over time, lovers. The story’s neither grim nor dark, but it is deeply political. Start here. After all – I did.
  • Old Soldiers, the sequel novel, still in progress. It’ll be a short novel when completed, and isn’t one yet, but I’m pretty confident it’ll break past the novella size limit before we’re done. This is also a very political novel, but entirely through allegory. Lots of generational politics here – a couple of my characters are direct stand-ins for reality-orthogonal Boomer political insanity, but it’s nowhere near as simple as that.
  • The Armourer and the Living Weapon, still in progress, about 33,000 words at the moment. This one’s about getting everything you ever wanted, and how that might work out for you. It’s also about making choices that may be necessary but may not go where you’d hope – or even survive. Read the tags. No, seriously, read the tags. This will either be a very long novella or a short novel.
  • And Just Like That, She Was Down. 13,000 words, it’ll probably be another novella, but it’s also the third in a series of stories collectively called the manic pixie murder machine. I thought the first chapter was a standalone short story, but then my characters had other ideas and it wasn’t. A novella about identity and the ethics of power, underneath everything, I think.

Short works and collections thereof:

  • It’s Not Easy To Explain, She Said, seven short stories, all quite short – the longest is 1900 words. These are mostly about how an artificially-created personality thinks. It’s also about how people around them might think, particularly in relation to her, particularly when trying to have a relationship with her. The most recent addition, “‘That seemed to go well,’ she said, making the effort” is my new year’s story. This series will never go dark.
  • the web of time, a series of short stories set in the on overcoming the fear of spiders universe, containing – amongst other things – a couple of continuations of events started in the founding novella. (In one case, we follow a couple of American agents outside of a room, to hear their conversation; in another case, we have a short story which is basically Chapter 26.5 of fear of spiders, but which I moved to standalone for various reasons. It’s still canon, though.)
  • the manic pixie murder machine – two short stories that set up the novella And Just Like That, She Was Down, and the novella itself.
  • the deadly neurotoxin homebrew club,” a silly short story wherein GLaDOS from Portal chats up Widowmaker from Overwatch about their mutual interest in deadly neurotoxin and parallel problems with teleporting annoyances.

I have no idea what 2018 will hold, musically – but the only way out is through. Let’s hope we get lucky.

And that’s where I’ve been. How’s about you?

Kennewick! It’s on the way to Pasco!

Loading out for a weekend set of shows in Kennewick with Leannan Sidhe – if you’re in the area, here’s the Facebook event, c’mon out! Leannan Sidhe is a trad- and trad-style band, so playing a renfaire is something they do on the regular, even if very little of the music is actually Renaissance-specific, and the weather is supposed to be great. See you there!

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