Archive for November, 2012

art of others

It’s Friday! I have people coming over to record stuff. Enjoy three pieces of art by other people; one written, two video.

This first item isn’t what you’re going to think it is. I’m going to tell you what it is, and you’re going to go, ‘what? unlikely’ and not even read it, even though you should.

It’s part crackfic, it’s part hard-SF singularity story, it’s kind of creepy, it’s kind of epic, and it’s also quite funny at parts, particularly if the term “paperclip AI” means anything to you. It’s one of the most amazing fanfic efforts I’ve read, and I’m not even in the fandom. Please enjoy:

My Little Pony:

Friendship is Optimal
Caution: self-modifying code.

And if that’s a little too out there for you, please instead (or in addition) please enjoy two mashups.

From an art standpoint, I’m just really impressed by how well this actually just works as music. It’s the kind of mashup that kind of makes sense from the start – it may be R&B separated by time and great distance, but it’s still a collision of two R&B-oriented artists. Please enjoy FAROFF’s PSY vs. Ray Parker, Jr., in Gangnambusters:

This last one’s pretty silly, two rather opposite 1980s pop acts slammed against each other. If you know anything about Billy Idol’s punk era and George Michael’s solo pop career, seeing the high-makeup punk crowd headbanging to George Michel’s high-accellerated crooning is both hysterical and somehow appropriate. It’s not bad musically, either; it sounds too fast at first, but there are reasons – they had to speed up both tracks just to get enough energy into Michel’s singing.

Please enjoy Wax Audio’s Bill Idol vs. George Michael, Careless Rebel:

We’re finally going to see Wreck-it Ralph (a.k.a. Sugar Rush) this weekend. What’re your plans?

an inflection point in monitor technologies

Criminal Studios’ workstation desk has had a usability problem.

Ardour, my digital audio workstation (DAW) software, has an editor view and a mixer view. Both are really useful for different things, and Ardour will happily display both at once. But both want lots of screen space, making you toggle between them, which is a pain in the ass. Avoiding that requires huge tracts of land, and those big monitors are spendy.

Last week, I realised I could cheat. First, Linux, Windows, and OS X all support multimonitor/multicard displays. Second, for the last year or so, everybody’s been dumping 4:3-ratio LCDs, even newish ones in good shape; nobody wants them. Pretty good ones go for $20ish; I spent $16. Third, old-school 4:3 ATI Rage cards are $15, new in box.

Combine these facts, and $31 buys you:

Huge Tracts of Land

The blue field on the left display is part of the background graphic, made by modifying a standard Ubuntu Studio desktop. There’s no actual special functionality; it’s organisational notation. “Files left here need sorted.”

2560×1024, aw yeah

(Click on either to enlarge.)

By themselves, neither display is good, by any modern definition. I mean, lol 17″ 4:3 LCDs. Would you want to play games on this? Hell to the no. FPS would be wretched, you have this screen divisor bar where the monitors meet…

…but that’s totally irrelevant.

All you need for a DAW is to match screen resolutions and have enough oomph to draw sound level metres moving. That’s about the same graphics power as you need for something like, oh, Word. Getting that functionality cost, I repeat, thirty-one dollars.

It’d’ve been $16 if the old graphics card sitting in the parts box hadn’t been the wrong slot type. Do you have an old PCI graphics card sitting around? Thought so.

After all of two days in this configuration, the usability difference is tremendous and obvious. Being able to have all this extra data in view at the same time is really useful when recording other people, and there’s actually a lot less mousing even as I do more things, because I’m not having to change views and move windows around to get to tools.

It’s so useful, I’ve decided to shell out another $44 for a cheap dual-monitor bracket. But you don’t need that; you can just sit the monitors on boxes to get them to the right height. But I need screen mobility.

See, the studio desk is double-sided. I set things up on the outer side when I’m recording myself or rehearsing. It’s for best access to the DAW controls from the recording floor:

Note location of chair and keyboard; recording floor is to the right.

When recording others, I set up on the opposite, further side, so I’m out of the way, and can see everything they’re doing:

Flipped about

Needing to move the monitors every couple of days? That’s worth a pair of monitor arms. If you don’t have that, don’t bother.

This situation won’t be last forever, because all the good old 4:3 monitors will go away, or get old, or become rare enough to be more expensive. But for the time being, it’s pretty cool. And dirt cheap, so you can spend your money on things that matter.

Like microphones.

welcome Old New Thing visitors

Hi, visitors from The Old New Thing! Nice to meet you! Welcome to rage-driven acoustic elfmetal.

I know you’re here for the triple-rainbow pictures and the aftereffects of the Rainmaker 68000, but if you get a chance to listen to our music or watch any of Dara’s solo-performance video, that’d be awesome too.

We’re currently in studio working on our new album (Din of Thieves), a second project involving a book soundtrack for a fantasy novel series, and a couple of side-projects with other bands. Lots of planning, lots of plotting, lots of mayhem, hopefully lots of sales! Ah, a supervillain musician can dream, can’t she?

Anyway, no rest for the wicked and all that. We’ve moved a bunch of wires around so more of you should be seeing this. Thanks for coming by, and thanks to Raymond for the link. ^_^

unexpected side effects

Looks like the Rainmaker 68000 has some unexpected side effects.

I can deal with that. 😀



Welcome, visitors from The Old New Thing, and welcome, visitors from’s comments sections! There certainly are a lot of you!

I’m Dara, I’m an ex-software-geek turned musician (hence the links from Raymond and Gawker) and this is my band website. In addition to the albums, we have a bunch of full-fidelity free downloads over here, so download away! You don’t even have to hand over your email address. Enjoy!

it may surprise you to know

It may surprise you to know that Thanksgiving (both First and Second) are big holidays here at the lair. That’s because food is yummy. No, wait. That’s because supervillainy is awesome. And because food is yummy. You didn’t know there was a connection? What, don’t you remember Cooking with Shego and Baking with GlaDOS?

No? Well, here, I’ll scan a couple of old programme guide listings. That’ll jog your memory, I bet.

Ah, nostalgia

Nothing? Really? No CBC12 or CBC 8 for you, then. That does suck. Ah, well.

Anyway, no update on the missing instruments and electronics; we’re kind of presuming them gone at this point. No time like Black Friday to terrorise some malls and steal some merch, tho’! At least there’ll be some fun out of it.

Happy Second Thanksgiving, and, as always, try not to die!

we run a very polite lair

Studio washroom:

no, really – the sewer rats are radioactive

Also, the Rainmaker 68000 is working great. Of course, the Lair is in a mountain in a rain forest, so it’s easier here. Still: very promising! I’m looking forward to the field testing – have you ever seen Vegas in a rainstorm? Hilarious.

going to get the car

Going to get the stupid car today. The shop in Kelso can’t find the problem – or even recreate the problem so far – so we’ll be driving north in a tiny convoy, and I’ll have AAA on speed dial.

So here, have a Friday amusement. Seattle’s big passenger rail depot, King Street Station, is being restored. It’s been a huge undertaking and I’m really excited about it as someone who rides Cascadia Rail a lot.

Where it’s built faces two substantially different street levels; King Street is low, and Jackson Street is rather higher. So there’s an upper plaza while the rails, ticketing, and waiting rooms are down on the lower level. Originally, the Grand Stairwell connected the two, and you had entrances on both levels; the stairwell has been closed for decades, but they’re restoring it.

I just found out today that the Grand Stairwell was originally narrowed – but not yet closed – in 1949, to add escalators. I’d never even known those were there, as they’ve also been closed for decades. And following some threads on the construction update I was reading, I found this:

[sadly-deleted picture of a large art deco neon sign reading ELECTRIC STAIR]


I’d steal it but according to SDOT in this thread, it was gone by the time they took over the station. So sad.

The station took the most damage in the 1960s (…of course…) as it was “modernised” with drop ceilings and and and. Thankfully, in the main waiting area, they did not rip out all the ornate plaster and marble work, but instead hid much of it, semi-intact, behind new material. More of it had to be removed – temporarily this time – for the seismic retrofit, but it’ll be coming back, along with repairs and replacements for the 1960s damage.

There are about eight zillion photographs here, and notes here.

Find some of the pre-restoration photos of the station if you can. That was just sad.

This weekend for me, assuming we make it back in one piece: more recording with Leannan Sidhe, then prep for Second Thanksgiving at the Lair. What’ve you got?

a few micing examples

First: there is no joy in birdtown, my instruments (and electronics and backpack) are still lost. See here for details, if you haven’t.

But that aside: I’ve posted a couple of pics recently about mic setups – I’ve been doing a lot of recording of other people lately, and will be doing more, both for my own projects and others – so I thought I’d talk about them.

First, you should know that there are at least as many schools of micing as there are possible combinations of microphones. On one end, there are old-school extremists who insist you should mic an entire band or orchestra – mostly orchestra, this is almost entirely a classical thing tho’ you occasionally see it in jazz – with exactly two microphones, because you have two ears. The intent is to recreate the listening experience.

In that view, the main job is finding the right hall in which to record, and the proper setup of the band. And while I see what they’re saying, I also think that’s kind of nuts… except some amazing recordings have been made that way, so what can y’do?

At the other end are the people who want to mic every individual performer three or four different ways at the same time. I… don’t get that, either. You need to stay out of performers’ faces. I hate being tied down to mics, as a performer, and…


yeah. No. Most people are in between those extremes, of course, tho’ as mics have become cheaper, and with the switch to digital, I’m personally seeing less of “less is more” and more of “No, more is more.”

If you’re multitracking, the arguments start about whether instruments should have exactly one microphone (because there is one instrument) or two or many (because there are many points from which sound emerges). That argument hasn’t budged, as far as I can tell.

And those are decisions made before you even decide how to do whatever you’ve decided to do.

Personally, I’m too new at this to have a coherent philosophy. But I do have a method: I get inappropriately close to peoples’ instruments and listen for parts that sound cool. Then I figure out which mics I have that I think would do best at capturing those sounds, stick mics there, and try it.

So, some examples! Let’s start with a guitar. This is Mickey Phoenix from Leannan Sidhe:

AKG Perception 200 large-can condenser; Sony ECM-957 small-can condenser

The Perception has kind of a bad rap out there right now, and prices reflect that. It’s well-regarded for certain purposes (drums, female vocals) but you can find a distinct lack of fondness for its musicality.

And I have to say I do not know why. I’m having it do a good job not just on female vocals (as generally agreed) but a lovely job in getting low-end resonance out of acoustic stringed instruments of all sorts.

That’s what it’s doing in a few of these photos. On Mickey’s guitar, above, it holds the instrument’s “sweet spot” really well, nicely grabbing all those low tones and harmonics – things my other mics are not going to grab as well. Meanwhile, the Sony – which has weaknesses but is really good at transient sounds – is aimed right at the fingers, getting all those little “this is an organic instrument” finger and string sounds – and high-harmonics – that give acoustic guitar recordings life.

Mickey has been quite fond of the recordings we’ve been getting this way. He says it sounds like the guitar does to him, which he doesn’t usually hear in recordings. As a zouk player, I empathise with that.

Here’s Jeri-Lynn Cornish on Cello:

AKG Perception 200 large-can condenser; Sony ECM-957 small-can condenser;
small custom interface circuit mostly because reasons

Same two mics again, similar arrangement, but arrived at differently. I tried the Nova first here, as the mic closest to the U87 that I own, and… it just wasn’t right. It lacked the warmth I expect out of cello – and, honestly, while people have realised exactly how good a cheap mic the Novas are (and used prices reflect that, too), it’s not a very warm microphone.

So out popped the AKG again, and Jeri-Lynn liked that; it sounded like she expected recordings to sound. And that’s good, but I could hear something was missing, even if I couldn’t entirely find it. Not at first, anyway; I knew something wasn’t there, but didn’t know what. Whatever it was, it just wasn’t available to be picked up where I had the AKG, so I knew we were going to need another mic again.

Then she started playing a little snippet that I recognised as Bach, and specifically, that made me think of this performance by Yo-Yo Ma of Prelude, Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major – particularly the first 15 seconds.

Yes, I know it from Master and Commander, that’s how I found the video. That movie was awesome, deal with it. XD

That memory comparison told me what kind of tones I was missing. I didn’t even really hear it in the room, so I went looking for it, and when I got my ear in a position to hear what tones were bouncing up off the bridge of the cello, I found it.

I added the Sony first because I’m fond of heterogeneous microphoning, and because, well, this was calling out for a small-can cap. My Oktava 012 isn’t here yet – it should arrive today – and I rather think I’ll be using it more instead of the Sony in future. But for now, the Sony does well enough as a stand-in.

Immediately, you could hear the cello come to life in the recordings. The cello is often compared to the human voice, as a living, almost vocal instrument; part of that is the way it almost seems to breathe. With only the AKG, that sense of breath wasn’t there.

Getting the bounces off the bridge and bringing them up a bit in the mix put it back. Everyone heard it and understood what I’d been seeking.

(This was for a live-in-studio recording; if you want to hear it, it’s streamable here. These are virtually raw recordings; the only seasoning is in second vocals, there’s nothing at all added on the cello. The stream will be 128k mp3, which loses subtlety, but gives you the idea. If you want higher-quality, you can download it. ^_^)

Finally, I posted this picture a couple of weeks ago, but without much explanation; Ellen Eades, of a bunch of different groups, on hammer dulcimer:


This is the largest number of microphones I’ve ever used on a single instrument. The hammer dulcimer is technically a percussion instrument, so acting on indirect advice from Ellen’s previous album’s engineer, I decided to treat it like one and immersive-mic it like a drum kit. On the Free Court of Seattle soundtrack album, I want it to sound like this thing is all around you, and in these test recordings, it does.

The AKG perception 200 is on bass bar. All the lowest notes use that as the bridge, so the low tones are heaviest there. An M-Audio Nova on treble bar, to pick up all the high harmonics. Both mics get a lot of both, but the emphasis changes in each ear, because AKG is one ear, and Nova is the other. This means you can hear the tones moving subtly around you as the notes go up and down in pitch. You can also hear the hammers moving back and forth across the strings, just a little.

To level it out and get a general comprehensive feel of instrument, you have the small-can cap Sony again, overhead, like a drumkit overhead mic. That’s mixed to centre, to link the sides, and potted pretty far down. It’s filler sound that ties the bars together.

But I still wasn’t getting enough of the low harmonics I knew the instrument could put out, so I threw another AKG down at the very bottom of the bass bar, at one of the instrument’s sound holes, and mixed that back to centre. And they popped right in. A nice, immersive, dimensional recording. (And I’m not looking to swap out the 957 here; it did a fine job and there’s no need to mess with what works.)

So, that’s how I do this so far. I wouldn’t use two mics where one would do, and I certainly wouldn’t use four where two would do, but, well, I want it to sound right. There are downsides to multimicing instruments – not just noise, look up “phase cancellation” if you’re curious – and you have to work to avoid those. But it can also pull in a lot of great sounds.

if you missed it

This weekend was kind of a disaster. I’m still trying to pick up pieces. My car is in Longview, Washington, hopefully having its axles reattached. Anna and I are back in Kenmore.

And I am missing musical instruments. 🙁

Please click and share this post about the missing instruments. I’m also missing electronics, but those I can re-buy. I can’t re-buy flutes I’ve had for 15 years that I made myself.


lost instruments: kelso/longview, washington

Just had the weekend from hell: driving down to Portland for a show, my car decided it didn’t like its new front axles and tried to spit them out. NOT FUNNY.

Along the way to getting a tow from Sears (in Three Rivers Mall) and making it to the train station, my backpack went away. I’m pretty sure it actually made it to the train station, but disappeared after that. I’m suspecting specifically it got left on the bed of the truck, which means it flew off somewhere between there and the towing / service company lot.

There are electronics in it that I care about, but MUCH MORE, I lost two musical instruments which were inside, including the first bamboo piccolo I ever made, which has been kind of a constant companion ever since. Seriously, I am pretty fucked up about this. I wrote so much music on that thing it isn’t even funny, and now it’s just gone.

The backpack is red and grey with black straps. The black straps are a bit worn upon examination. Hanging from the zipper in back are Squid Girl and the bassist from K-On. The flute is in a case made of a red rose ribbon and green backing fabric. I can describe other contents in some detail. This is an old picture before I had anything hanging from the zipper:

The blurry ribbon-thing at the bottom is Popcorn’s sleeve. Here’s a picture of Popcorn:

If you know anyone in Kelso and Longview (all this was within Kelso, not over in Longview), please ask them to be looking out for it. I am offering a reward for the bag and contents, if that helps. Once I have a working car again – which should be Tuesday – I will pick up. Comment here, or contact via the contacts page. Thanks.

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