Saturday, 26 March 2016

The things you find...

...when you start looking for other things.

I'm trying to find an old CD with some software on it. It's been knocking around for a decade, and may well be scratched to badly to be used, but first of all, I have to find it.

I got as far as a disk labelled "Old D Drive" and wondered what was on it.

What was on it was a load of old music I'd made back in the day. I've shoved a couple of things from it onto soundcloud.

This first one is based loosely on a Phil Collins song I think. The drums, piano and bassline are sequenced. The guitar is played over the top of them. 

The second one is multitracked. Apart from the drum track, which was recorded from an old yamaha drum machine, it's all live, and recorded against itself. Two guitar takes overlaid, and two vocal tracks harmonising. I waxed philosophical, and there is some stuff I'm really pleased with towards the end of the song. I even did some whistling!

And that's as far as I got with tidying up.

Much of the software I was looking for is now old enough to be abandonware, and I've managed to download some of it.

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must be the aftershave!

Male pupils this week:

Andy, Sam, Melvin, Andrew, Geoff, Alan. (6)

Total hours: 10.5

Female pupils this week:

Catherine, Sarah, Lorraine, Gemma, Emma, Heidi, Steph, Helen, Debbie, Melissa, Becka, Kirsten, Mia, Erin, Lauren, Stacy. (16)

Total hours: 25

So women outnumber men by almost exactly 2.5 - 1 in both quantity and time.

Overall, that's 22 pupils doing 35.5 hours, which works out at an average of about 1.5 hours each.

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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Driverless cars

I can't see it happening myself, and a good thing too, in my opinion, and not just for simple pragmatic matters of my chosen profession.

Technology both gives us something, and takes something from us, at the same time.

A few hundred years ago, for example, new fangled things like steam engines and looms were taking us into an era of unprecedented abundance, while at the same time, taking away the means of untold thousands to put bread on the table.

But they did more than that. They made a complex skill largely obsolete.

I heard recently that London Taxi drivers will no longer be required to acquire "The Knowlege". The satnav has made it superfluous. 

I think there is a beauty in seeing an expert at work.

I see an elegant suspension bridge, forged from nothing by the skills of a master architect or engineer.

I read a poem by some gifted wordsmith that makes me somehow thing of something I've never thought of in that way before.

I listen to a tune that causes the hairs on the back of my neck to rise, the way they did the first time I heard "A day in the Life" by The Beatles.

The maker of the tapestry, the delicious meal, the sleek sports car. The constructed proof of the philosopher or the mathematician.

And I myself can construct a thing of beauty. I can drive a car in a beautiful, flowing, smooth, safe way that to a passenger feels somehow nicer than they could ever get from your average driver.

Perhaps we can get machines to do all of these things, but in doing so, we will be losing a part of ourselves.

Is that what we want?

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A year or two ago, I bought a MIDI guitar controller. This comes in two parts. One is a reciever that plugs into a USB port on a computer. The other is a pickup, converter and transmitter. It picks up the vibrations from the guitar strings, converts them into MIDI information, and transmits them via the reciever to the PC.

15 years or so ago, I had a set up that worked well for me, but trying to duplicate that setup on my current system was unsuccessful. The soundcard I tried to put in wasn't compatible with anything later than Windows XP, the onboard sound card that I did have would not allow me to record what I was doing, and the software that came with the MIDI controller wouldn't work with anything earlier than Windows 7.

After getting nowhere much with it, I put it on hold for a while, but recently dug out the MIDI controller, and tried again. Same issues, but this time, I had an idea. - Buy an old computer with XP on it, recreate something like the hardware and software setup that worked well back in the day, and send the sound output from my modern PC to it.

So from left to right, Signal comes from guitar and into posh fast modern PC. Outputted through audio out or headphone socket to old XP PC, and from there it can be multitracked and sequenced etc. And between the two PCs, there can be other things. I have a Boss ME-5 multi-effects unit that might make for some interesting sounds.

So how far have I got? Well, I bought the PC for £40 from ebay. An old Dell Dimension, that comes with windows XP and a valid serial number. I had to put a new CD/DVD drive in it as the old one wouldn't work, and since the hard drive had been formatted prior to sale, this caused me a lot of head scratching and question asking on support forums. (Clue: It was the jumper settings on the newly installed DVD drive that were screwing everything up.)

This can work as a standalone unit, since it comes with keyboard, mouse and monitor. I intend to keep it unconnected to the internet, and could possibly use the XP disk with my laptop, which currently has a hooky copy of windows 7 on it.

I've put the old successful soundcard into it, and it's associated breakout box but cannot yet find the lead that connects the two within the case of the PC. The disk that contains the drivers for the card is scratched to buggery. I downloaded a modern version of Creative Wave Studio, which is a very simple sound player that allows you to play/record several things at once, and put that on there.

What is left to do?

Well first of all, tidy up. Organise things so that things will fit optimally in a confined space. This is a big job, but necessary. Part of the reson for tidying and sorting things is so that I can find some of the things I need. The lead between the soundcard and the breakout box, for one. A compact disk containing loads of old music software, for another.

Second, put everything where it needs to be. Leads going to and from where they should. Software installed where it's needed.

Third, test it all, and spend hours days and weeks trying to work out why it's not working the way it should.

Fourth, get my head around how to use the modern software, which is baroque in it's complexity, and rediscover how to get the best out of the old software.

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