Archive for October, 2012

the big board

To my surprise, people responded to an earlier post about process asking to hear about the Big Board, which is the organisational system I use for album recordings. Well, then, okay! Welcome to the Big Board:

Not the Big Bird

(Many of the photos in this post can be clicked upon to enlarge them.)

The Big Board is based somewhat on kanban, an inventory control system based on moving cards around to trigger ordering supplies. In my case, I’m moving post-it tags around to trigger actions and show status. If you look at one implementation of kanban to management of processes, you’ll see something that looks similar – the heijunka box.

The colour codes indicate actions needed. Orange means recording. Yellow means verification and/or adjustment. Blue will mean we’re happy with that individual track. Nothing at all means nothing at all needed; we’re not planning on that instrument on that track.

Since they’re paper tabs, they can carry notes. For example, an orange tag which is scheduled will have the date and artist’s name written on it. An orange or yellow tag in an “other” column could list the relevant instrument(s).

The album side in a little more detail shows ALBUM (in all caps), underneath which are tracks. The next columns are all instrumental parts expected for each track.

Also not the Snuffleupagus

To the right of the album section is the artist section. This is a list of artists, a column showing very general availability, and then their next scheduled date in studio:

And not the Big Band

There is also a corresponding Big Book. The Big Book has pages for each track and each artist. The pages are plastic protector sleeves, into which colour sheets are inserted. The colour sheets for each song page correspond to the tab state of the songs on the Big Board; notes are made either by putting them into the sleeve in front of the colour sheet, or just taping them onto the plastic cover.

Orange means the files are set up, but all recording is needed. Note the album and song title in upper right:

Orange you glad I didn’t make another muppet reference?

Predictably, an orange page has no notes on it. Yellow means, “we have some recording but need more work.” Here’s a yellow page, with a couple of notes attached:

Tweety is a right bastard, he is. Just sayin’.

Blue means “we’re basically done with this.” There will still be mixing changes and tweaks, but the heavy lifting – and all recording – is over. I have no blue pages yet. ^_^

The backs of all the song pages are blue, because I pre-stock all the plastic sleeves with all colours, in order; then it’s just a matter of removing a top layer – first orange, then yellow – as the work progresses. Since they aren’t written upon, they can and should be reused.

Artist pages are green, and each artist on the Big Board has an artist page. This is also for notes. On Ellen’s page, I have a post-it showing mic choices, locations, and distances for her hammer dulcimer. I also took photos, for backup, but I hope not to need them.

Notes about Kermit’s banjo can go on ANY page

I’ve used systems like this before, when I was a small-press publisher. I didn’t have the book part, back then; it wasn’t necessary because there just weren’t as many notes. But that version of the Big Board was huge.*

I tried to do a smaller version of the board with Dick Tracy Must Die, just on paper in a binder. When that didn’t work, I tried again in spreadsheet software. That was a total disaster, combining too little space in front of me with too little need and too much trouble, since I was doing all the performing and could just, you know, remember. Plus, I hate spreadsheet software. Worst of all worlds, ahoy!

So now we have my new Revision 3. I’m really liking it so far. It’s uncomplicated, but flexible enough to let me add anything to the notes file without having to retype it or scan it or make it fit into a spreadsheet cell or link a document or write any code, while nonetheless being physically small despite still having a big board that I can check at a glance. I’m pretty fond of this revision.

But we’ll see how it goes in practice as more people get involved. I really do need something, with all the different work going on at the same time, and being second-studio in collaboration with Fae Hollow/SeaFire down in Oregon. It’ll be more than worthwhile if it just helps us keep everything in sync.

So, that’s how it works. Any questions? Fire away!

PS: The Big Book also has my cable inventory chart. I don’t need one for mics yet, but will if I keep buyin’ the damn things:

Some of these are VERY custom

*: No, I mean seriously, huge. I’d take it down and put it up because it was too big to leave out. Imagine a physical implementation of page preview for an entire magazine. Yes, actual full-size page drafts in an 8×7 grid. With notes. It needed an entire wall (or more often, floor) and was kind of nuts, but it worked.

progress must progress

Anna’s home from the hospital and feeling better; she worked from home today.

Meanwhile, upstairs, first test recordings for the Free Court of Seattle book series soundtrack, at last.

Taking notes from Steely Dan’s drumkit micing

Might write about that more on Wednesday. ^_^

Keep safe, Maritimes, New England, Atlantics. Good luck.

nwcMUSIC event cancellation

Due to a family medical emergency, I’m having to cancel this weekend’s planned nwcMUSIC Housefilk and Cypher play event. We’ll reschedule a new one, probably January but possibly earlier.

It’s not me. The prognosis is fine so far. But… yeah.

fine-tuning the room

I’ve been fine-tuning the studio in preparation for work on the soundtrack, plus I have some other work coming up for Leannan Sidhe – their Roses and Ruin project and some second-studio work on their next full studio album. (Having their main engineer and studio be in Oregon when they’re in Seattle is problematic from a scheduling standpoint, so I’m helping out.)

And I have to tell you something: before the latest round of adjustments, I would never have put the words “Bose” and “precise” in the same sentence together. Not without also including the word “not,” anyway. I even dragged Anna upstairs and into the room to listen and she was all, “…<blink> wow.”

Remember my Bose? I’ve talked about them before. They’re old 301s, from this post where I talk about how terrible they sounded in the living room because of the room’s odd shape – see the link, it’s relevant. They sounded much better in the studio – a rectangular room – but still not the way you’d think they should.

Turns out, the way to get their best performance is to put them in a finely-tuned recording studio. IS THAT ALL? WHO KNEW!? ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻

But I put on a test track and was suddenly transported back to my radio days, because they finally sounded like pro gear. I was… not expecting that! It’s not even that they’re just high-end precise; they’re unexpectedly crisp in the low end, too. You particularly hear it in percussion and bass guitar; suddenly, I’m hearing things I’ve never heard before, which means they’re worth having as monitors. For special cases.

Anyway, here’s a video showing the current state of studio tuning. It’s short, and annotated heavily. Enjoy!

Oh, and since people have asked, I will indeed talk about the Big Board, probably next week. Or the week after, I have another topic queued up also. Advance reading (or spoiler, if you prefer): “Heijunka box.”


This post is part of The DIY Studio Buildout Series, on building out a home recording studio.

the bbc radiophonic workshop

You have, of course, heard of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, yes? If not, you’ve heard their work, assuming you’ve watched much television from the BBC, pioneers of electronic music, of noisemusic, of textured sound, of sequencing – absolutely amazing work. They’re probably best known for the Doctor Who theme, in North America, but that’s only one small part of their legacy.

There’s a lovely documentary called The Alchemists of Sound, about the Workshop. (Thanks to Paul Johnson for referring it and providing the YouTube link.) It’s totally worth your time if you’re interested at all in these early electronic and noisemusic sounds and how they were made.

(Parts two and three.)

In Part II, there’s a demonstration of looping – using, you know, actual loops of magnetic audio tape – and live-synching of components across four tape machines. Delia Derbyshire, one of the pioneers of the shop, takes you through it. Hard. Core.

There’s been a bit of a revival in oldschool sounds like these, too. Really, it’s a direct parallel to chiptunes. BoingBoing has an article you may enjoy up on hauntology, the art of retrofuturist music, as specifically applied to pre-8-bit electronica revival.


of all the (boring horror movie titles)

On Twitter, around midnight, I saw:

James Urbaniak ‏@JamesUrbaniak Rosemary’s Tumblr #boringhorrormovies
Danny Zuker@DannyZuker Paralegal activity. #BoringHorrorMovies

Aaaaand we’re off:

Solarbird Bakula. #BoringHorrorMovies (Scott)
Solarbird The Mommy #BoringHorrorMovies
Solarbird Interview with the Umpire #BoringHorrorMovies
Solarbird Invasion of the Bawdy Catchers #BoringHorrorMovies
Solarbird Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Slide: One All-Star’s Search for Recovery #BoringHorrorMovies
Solarbird The Fandom of the Opera. #BoringHorrorMovies
Solarbird The House of 1000 Bourses #BoringHorrorMovies
Solarbird The Abominable Jackson Fives #BoringHorrorMovies
Solarbird The Common Centipede #BoringHorrorMovies
Solarbird ‏Children of the Koi #BoringHorrorMovies
Solarbird Prints of Darkness: Photographic Processing in Film Noir #BoringHorrorMovies
Solarbird Stephen King’s TWIT. #boringhorrormovies

I’m pretty pleased with The Abominable Jackson Fives, I have to say.

Colin Birge (@WoS) and S. T. Rev (@St_Rev) were also playing, along with a lot of Twitter.

Your turn!

sometimes diy is about working on the next goddamn album

Once upon a time, I was a software developer. Actually, for a while. One of the slogans when I worked at Previous Borg1 was, “Real artists ship.”

Which also means “real artists work on their art, not just their tools.” Most of these DIY posts are about tools, not the art itself, and really, for me at least, tools are awesome but actually using them to make something is moreso.

So I’ve posted a lot about DIY equipment-making lately and will do so more in the future – but not today. Because some decisions have been made, some plans have been finalised, and it’s time to stop working on tools. It’s time to put up the Big Board2 and start making some recordings, because we are finally getting underway with the Free Court of Seattle soundtrack album.

Now, that’s really as much about DIY as anything else, since, after all, I am doing this myself. Therefore, there will still be DIY posts. They’ll just be process instead of toolsmaking. I’m not abandoning you. ^_^ Plus, I have a tools-making DIY post coming up from a guest writer in another month! So watch for that.

And that’s all for now. On the way out have some poster art I did for another band who have a Seattle show coming up in a couple of weeks. Visually, they’re way more about the light psychedelia than I am – I’m kind of the opposite of that, aesthetically – but they like the art so much they’re thinking about doing a T-shirt of it. That’s gratifying. ^_^

Leannan Sidhe Show Poster, Wayward Coffee

1: Previous Borg: Seattle always has a Borg, which is to say, the employer or industry into which you will be assimilated at some point. Once it was timber. Then it was the gold rush supply business. Then it was Boeing. Then it was Microsoft. Currently, it’s Amazon. I worked at Previous Borg.
2: Is the Big Board worth talking about?

an nwcMUSIC event in northshore

Hopefully I’ve talked about nwcMUSIC enough that you know, but if you don’t: it’s a geekmusic festival held at the Norwescon SF convention, and I run it.

We’re having our first ever away-from-convention event in two weeks, on Sunday, October 28th, from 2-8pm. It’s a play event; what filkers would call a housefilk, what nerdcore people would call a cypher, and not entirely unlike what Irish musicians would call a session, but with people taking turns instead of everybody playing all at once.

However you count it, it’s a chance to come and play with other musicians across geekmusic genres. Or that’s what I’m hoping for, anyway. Relaxed and fun, and there’ll be snax. 😀 You can also come just to listen, but it’s not a stage show, so don’t expect anything that formal.

Email me for details! RSVPs are requested but not required, because I want to know what snax to buy. I don’t want to post the address because, um, it’s my house. We can’t afford to rent a venue yet. XD

Relatedly, remember how I posted the 80s stage fan musical Wrath Side Story a couple of months ago, recovered from dying VHS videotape?

There was a sequel. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, also recovered from ancient VHS videotape (but with far better sound and marginally better video)…

Star Trek III: Spock Pacific

Again, the sight gags are broad enough that they work okay even with the video, and most of the humour is in the dialogue, anyway. It’s very, very silly. Enjoy. ^_^

on the space jump

Having just watched the space jump – the skydive from near-orbit, the edge of space – I have to say one thing on an old topic.

People talk a lot about things from science fiction coming true, most particularly Star Trek. Star Trek kind of holds the record on that, arguably, and you can quibble about whether that’s prediction or cause (since it inspired so many scientists and engineers) but no matter how you count it, all that’s fair and good.

But this? This space jump from near orbit?

This one isn’t for Star Trek. It’s for that show’s predecessor, Lost in Space.

Nobody remembers this, but for one year – the black-and-white year, which generally isn’t in reruns – Lost in Space was hard SF. Not always very successfully – arguably, not often very successfully – but very much intentionally. They were trying.

And in the very first story arc, in Lost in Space, protagonist Dr. John Robinson made this jump.

Wherever you might be, Irwin Allen: at long last, that’s one for you.

useless machines

Since the optical theremin I was attempting to build blew up, I thought I’d first link to the base circuit from which I had expanded:

Build a Photo Theremin from 7 Parts

And introduce you to:

Useless Machines have a Debate:

And Useless Machine II: Useless Machine ANGRY! (Wait for it, it’s worth it)

(h/t Paul Johnson for the first.)

In other news, the rains have returned to Cascadia; it’s time to go buy cake vodka! Are these related? CLEARLY. Because I said so. Yay! Cake vodka!

And now since Useless Safari already decided to force-refresh every browser window on my once while writing this tiny post, I’m going to go ahead and post it before it’s et again.

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