Big Day

I finally bit the bullet and bought a full copy of Pro Tools 10 yesterday. Mr. Smartypants also inadvertently bought a second iLok license dongle. Apparently there was already one in the box but I didn’t realize that. Whoops. Please see me if you need an extra dongle.

So what prompted the purchase? I’ve badly wanted to be able to run Pro Tools on my laptop without needing any of the hardware plugged in. Pro Tools finally added this feature in version 9. Prior to that, you always had to have an official Digidesign audio device tethered to the computer, which made portability a real drag. The audio device essentially acted like a license dongle. Although I wouldn’t typically record audio using the laptop’s line-in jack, it sure would be nice to just work on mixes while on the road. And I will be going to New York next week, so that’s a perfect opportunity!

The price for version 10 is pretty steep, and so I’ve been waffling over this decision for at least a year now. I found some guy on eBay selling copies for $275, which is half the price that you can find it anywhere else. But it felt kind of sketchy. Actually, it was very sketchy. I think he was laundering educational copies of the program. The idea of buying an educational copy had tempted me already. I could probably get my little brother to do the deed for me. But over the last few years, my conscience has grown heavier and heavier about software piracy, etc. Maybe it’s because my job has to do with building software (albeit not really the consumer-type) that I’m more sympathetic to actually paying for software. At any rate, I decided to just do the right thing and buy the real copy.

I realize I still haven’t really explained why this came about. I’ve had an Mbox and a copy of Pro Tools 7 for years. The Mbox only has two inputs and outputs, which makes it really awkward to send a couple recorded tracks through outboard effects while I’m also monitoring the song. Earlier this year, a friend lent/sold me a Digi003 rack. I’ve been really happy with it, and the 8 input/outputs are great. But a couple weeks ago, it started acting up on me. Pro Tools would freeze up and wouldn’t respond to the mouse or keyboard. The MIDI stopped working on it. After that happened enough times, I unplugged it and went back to the Mbox. But going from 8 to 2 outputs is really difficult. So I’ve slowly begun admitting to myself that it’s time to buy a new audio interface. Moving to version 10 is the first step, since that will let me use anything on the market instead of being stuck with using Digidesign’s increasingly suspect hardware.

Oh, I should have just gone with Cakewalk years ago…

Dwarf Mountain Alphabet

I just got finished listening to Joy Electric’s new album, Dwarf Mountain Alphabet. It is a person conviction of mine that first impressions are usually the worst impressions, so I won’t try to summarize my thoughts right now. The mere existence of the album is a pleasant surprise, since many people thought that Ronnie Martin was retiring his near twenty-year run of Joy Electric several years ago.

So, listen to this song, and pre-order the album if you like it:

Ye Ol’ Minimoog

I just got back home tonight. I was in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving and thus have very little to show for myself. So I’m going to reach back in the archives for this little nugget.

The summer after my high school graduation I took all my graduation money (plus a couple hundred more) and bought a Minimoog off eBay. I could barely afford one, but this one had been painted a hideous white and the seller had a low feedback rating:

I bought it for $1200. I refinished the wood during that first summer before college. With great fear and trembling, I started to dissemble the most expensive thing that I had ever bought. I sanded everything down and then re-stained the wood.

It was actually a great synthesizer. It’s a late-model Minimoog. This means that Robert Moog had finally figured out a stable oscillator circuit that drifted very little in its tuning. Some folks would rather have earlier-production Minimoogs, since these are supposed to be a bit bigger in sound. I’ve played with a couple Minis for 1974 and 1975, and I don’t really hear a big difference. Mine is from 1979 or 80, which is when the Mini was reaching the end of its line. Now that I’ve seen a couple others, I realize that this one is in great shape and works really well. I’m momentarily having some problems with the keyboard mechanism (I think I need to re-plate the buss bars) and the tuning (flipping the octave switch throws the tuning a bit off), but this is small potatoes. I’ll soon have it fixed back up.

Meanwhile, here’s an old song I did a few months after I got it all fixed up. I think this was all on the Minimoog:

[pro-player TYPE=”MP3″  image=”http://thecompleatsynthesizer.com/media/images/toystore.jpg”]http://thecompleatsynthesizer.com/media/audio/Toystore%20Rebellion.mp3[/pro-player]

 

A syncing feeling, part 2: Dr Click, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love DIN Sync

I started to write a post about syncing my TR-808 to MIDI clock and I wound up philosophizing too much, so I decided to split this into two posts. This is the non-philosophizing post.

After hunting around for a way to keep my TR-808 in sync with MIDI clock, I decided to just be a total cheapskate and build a MIDI-to-DIN Sync converter that I found on the internet:

http://www.colinfraser.com/m2d/m2d.htm

About half a year ago, I rounded up the components and assembled them on a breadboard. I hadn’t had much success with building electronic circuits in the past, so I was rather skeptical. Plus, this one had an extra complexity: it contained a PIC microprocessor chip that needed to be programmed. I’ve always thought PIC chips sounded interesting, but I had never actually learned how to use/program them. So this project would be a first.

I put everything together, checked the wiring a couple times, programmed the PIC, and…

…it worked! I was shocked. I think I wept.

But then things went downhill with my homemade MIDI to DIN sync converter. It started acting flaky. Sometimes my 808 would suddenly just freeze up. Or even more nefariously, sometimes it would continue to keep playing but would slide slowly out of sync with the rest of the song. Eventually I got frustrated and decided that I’d had enough.

I bought a Garfield Time Commander off eBay, supposedly in perfect working condition. I figured that this would forever put to rest any sync issues that I might have. I’m sure that if you get a working unit, you are immediately ushered into sync heaven, filled with rainbows and ice cream and ponies prancing around at exactly 112 bpm. I however, got a non-working unit. It took me several weeks to ascertain this fact.

So in my disgust, I turned my attention back to the home-made sync converter. I was talking with my buddy Jon earlier this week and complained about how the circuit used to work but now it didn’t anymore. He asked me if it was still on the breadboard, and I suddenly felt very sheepish when I admitted that the answer was “yes”. Since it involves clock signals and precise timing, he recommended that I give the circuit another shot, but this time by soldering it up properly.

So this afternoon I fired up the old soldering iron and hesitantly decided to take this crappy piece of non-working circuitry and give it a permanent home. I’m not very good with laying out circuits, but a couple hours later (yes, I’m also sheepish to admit that), I had this:

And it works again! I had a little trouble with the timing at first. In fact, it wasn’t keeping precise time at all. When I first tried it out it was immediately falling out of sync. I sat there dejected, thinking about the hours I had just sunk into this project. Weeping. I was also weeping. But then I suspected my MIDI interface, which has been acting up of late. I swapped it out for an older USB interface that I had laying around, and the little sync circuit worked perfectly!

And now I can finally keep the 808 in sync.

What a thing of beauty!