Vocoder Synths are cool!

If you’ve heard the song, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk, then you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, Jeremy enlisted my help in doing a version of this song for a youth conference coming up this week. He already had an instrumental track so all we needed to do was record vocals with the new words that fit the theme of the conference and apply the right vocoder synth sound. Simple enough right? I figured a couple hours of work, but it ended up taking a weeknight and most of yesterday. At first, Jeremy actually tried to sing the part. Well, I wouldn’t actually call it singing. In fact, I was very tempted to post the audio of that first take, but Jeremy would probably kill me. After trying that a couple of times, we realized that with the vocoder synth, you just speak the words and the synth does the rest. Well, it’d be that easy if there was a MIDI track of the song anywhere in existance, but there isn’t – at least not on the WWW so I had to record it myself. Once the MIDI track was done, I broke out the EVOC 20 PolySynth that comes with Logic Studio 8 and started tweaking. I literally spent hours trying to come as close as possible to the original and learned quite a bit along the way. Here are the settings I ended up with:

evoc_20_polysynthAnother key is to use lots and lots of compression on the original audio track as well as the software synth track. I’ve read somewhere that distortion on the original track can have a nice effect as well. Oh yeah – and don’t forget about your EQ – you can really manipulate the end result with an EQ. If anybody out there is interested in acquiring the MIDI, feel free to drop me a line. I’d be happy to share it. Here is how it turned out:

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“Play now” is now working!

First of all, sorry for the downtime today for those of you who couldn’t get the podcast, download, or play from the website. This was due to me attempting to switch hosting providers. I ended up switching back since I couldn’t figure out why the podcast was breaking. I don’t think I’ll be trying to switch again for a while – so much time wasted on this. Since the change involved playing around with DNS, reaching the site may be a little sketchy for the next 24 hours until the proper DNS records get propagated all over the world.

With regards to the “Play Now” feature – I discovered that the problem had to do with the 48k sample rate of the podcast so i had to go through all 19 previous podcasts, convert them back to wav format with a 44.1k sample rate, then back to MP3. It took a while, but it’s been done and the pages and posts have been updated. The good news is the file size will now be a little smaller with no noticeable loss in sound quality. All future podcasts will now be posted with a sample rate of 44.1k. Wow – I had no idea that maintaining a website could be so much work! 🙂

About the gig rig:

Last night at practice for church, there was a fellow keyboardist there who showed a bit of interest in my setup and was impressed with some of the sounds, so I thought a blog about the “gig rig” might be interesting to some of you.

The guts: I do something very few live keyboard performers do, but more and more are moving toward. I trust a standard computer to produce live, real time sounds as I play. I use a program called Main Stage by Apple. It is bundled with Logic Studio 8, and has literally changed the way I think about keyboards. It is fully customizable based on the controller hardware you have and comes with a huge selection of software synthesizers and samplers. You also have the ability to add 3rd party software synths for even more sounds. I was given IKMultimedia’s Philharmonik which has some beautiful orchestral sounds as well as some very real grand piano samples. The install is almost 50 Gig, but the sounds that are produced are the closest to the “real thing” I’ve ever heard to date.

The computer: A very solid Apple MacBook Pro with a 2.4 Ghz Intel Dual Core proc, 4 Gig of RAM, 160 GB 7200 RPM HD, and a high res 1920×1200 display. Even with this much power, Main Stage can still buckle if too many sounds or effect plugins are layered so there is still a balance to maintain. Part of the problem with processing power is the USB audio interface built into my VX8. If I were to move to firewire, this would help substancially, but so far I’ve been able to work within the constraints.

The Bottom Stack: My main controller is the CME VX8 88-key controller with a lot of nice features, but it weighs a ton! This doesn’t really make it ideal for a gig rig, but it does help me stay in shape. The weighted action has a good feel, but it makes a clicking metal-on-metal sound when certain black and white keys are played in sequence which can be annoying. I swapped this keyboard out 3 times and every one of them did the same thing so it appears to be a manufacturing defect. Another problem is the USB ports. I’ve only been using this keyboard for about 6 months and I can already tell that the USB ports are going to wear out eventually and I’ll be forced to move to another audio interface, which will likely be the Apogee Duet. Other than these flaws, this keyboard has served me well so far.

The top stack: A Korg Triton Extreme. Ever since Korg came out with the Triton over 7 years ago, I’ve owned one. It started with the standard Triton Pro x, then to the Trinity, then the Triton Studio Pro, and now the Triton Extreme. This keyboard makes up for the heaviness of the VX8 weighing much less, but only providing 61 keys – enough to play organ riffs all night long! My favorite thing about this product line is the synth pads you can create. This also can be used as a backup if my laptop decides to stop working, which has happened once or twice when I first made the move to this rig back in December of ’07. It also has a USB midi out so I have it configured it as a controller in Main Stage as well.

The Sound: I prefer to use my Westone ES2 in-ear monitors if the venue permits, but if not, I use some Yamaha MSR100’s. I run everything through a Mackie 802-VLZ3 mixer which opens up a number of options. One of the options is to restrict the output to only my keyboards if I have an overall mix being fed into the mixer or if I feed the output of my R-09HR to hear the “room” when I use the Westones. The mixer also has XLR outs which eliminate the need for direct boxes.

The stands: For the keyboards, I use the Ultimate V-Stand. I do have the laptop attachment, but the vibration was a bit much so I moved the MacBook Pro over to an insTand, which has worked out nicely. For the Yamahas, when I use them, I have some standard 45 degree angled guitar amp stands. They’ve held up pretty well so far. The one thing that hasn’t held up well is the second tier of the V-Stand. The adapter to attach the second tier stripped out after about 6 months of use.

Well, that about covers it. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them. I’d be happy to answer any questions or discuss any of the parts that make up the gig rig with you.

Tech update

After waiting over 2 weeks, I finally received confirmation from (ISC)2 that I passed the CISSP exam! Thank you for your prayers and support.

The iPhone 2.1 update came out today. I’ve upgraded but haven’t had a chance to see if there’s an improvement in 3G performance. Apple said this update is supposed to fix the 3G signal problems as well as the following:

– decrease in call set-up failures and call drops
– significantly improve battery life for most users
– dramatically reduced time to backup to iTunes
– improve email reliability, notably fetching email from POP and Exchange accounts
– faster installation of 3rd party applications
– fixed bugs causing hangs and crashes if you have lots of 3rd party applications
– improved performance in text messaging
– faster loading and searching of contacts
– improved accuracy of the 3G signal strength display
– repeat alert up to two additional times for incoming text messages
– option to wipe data after ten failed passcode attempts
– Genius playlist creation

I went ahead and got the Roland Edirol R-09HR for recording the Music To Pray By blog. I’ll also be using it as a stereo mic when I use in-ear monitors during live performance in order to hear the room since the Westones block out everything. I currently do this with the R-09’s and it works really well. I’ve already recorded some of this week’s posting with the R-09HR, but haven’t had a chance to compare yet. I hope it’s an improvement in sound quality over the R-09. According to Roland, the mic pre’s are supposed to be better, and it records at 24 bit 96k, which is double the sample over the older version. I’ll be listing the R-09 on eBay this Tuesday to recoup some of the costs. Why Tuesday you might ask? Ask me in a comment and I’ll elaborate…

Because of hurricane Ike, I decided to pull my antenna that was mounted on the side of my house and move it inside, and surprisingly enough, Windows Vista Media Center is reporting better signals inside at a lower altitude than what I was getting outside with it mounted much higher. It must have been the attenuation of the added cable and grounding required. On a side note, my family is in the path of this hurricane so please be in prayer for them as they ride it out.

Week 8’s podcast will be posted sometime tomorrow as long as we don’t loose power. Based on the current Ike forecast, that shouldn’t be an issue – just a bunch of much needed rain.

Tech talk…

I have some tech stuff to blog about:


First, as some of you know, I’ve been studying very hard for the past few months for the CISSP examination, which turned out to be a big waste of time since most of what I studied was material NOT on the exam. I woke up early this morning, drove to San Antonio, sat down to take the test at 8:45 AM and didn’t leave till 2:30 PM. It is by far the hardest written exam I’ve ever taken. Also, they must have recently changed the structure of the exam because I was expecting to see a lot more technical questions, and there were around 5 out of 250. At least I know I got 5 of the questions right! I won’t find out what my score is for a while. They told me up to 6 weeks, but I’m sure I’ll blog or twit about it as soon as the results come in.

Secondly, I have to apologize for the most recent podcast.  I forgot that my R-09 was set to record to MP3 instead of WAV. This got changed when I used it to record a practice for the upcoming Austin Jazz Music Festival gig next weekend and I needed extra recording time. Of course, an R-09HR with a 32GB SD Card would fix this. Okay, I pledge to use any donations minus 10% for tithe towards the purchase of one! 🙂 I’ve been listening to the podcast as I write this post and I’ve noticed that it has a darker sound than my previous podcasts. I had the R-09 positioned like I always do. It either had to be converting MP3 to WAV while importing the audio into Logic Pro, then back to MP3 for the post, or the way the R-09 handles recording to MP3. There may have been some stuff I could have done with EQ, but initially I didn’t really hear any difference on my studio monitors. I should have done a comparison with previous podcast audio prior to bouncing… Lesson learned.

Lastly, as you may have heard, the iPhone 3G signal problem has been narrowed down to the Infineon chipset used in the manufacturing of the new iPhone. Apple has been very quiet about this whole thing, but Steve Jobs wrote a letter to some complaining customers that this issue affects approximately 2% of iPhone 3G owners which comes out to around 60,000 iPhones. Personally, I believe it’s much more than that since I haven’t seen an iPhone 3G that didn’t have the same issue as mine, plus like I mentioned before, I’m on my 3rd one. On a positive note, Jobs assured the customers in the letter that this issue can be resolved with a firmware update. Unfortunately, the recent 2.0.2 update didn’t resolve it, although it did fix some problems I was having with software hanging and GPS seems to come up faster. I really want my 3G though! Come on Apple – help out a loyal fan!

iPhone 3G signal problems???

Ok… So I know what you’re thinking right about now… What in the world does signal problems with the iPhone 3G have to do with Music to Pray by??? Well, I could probably make something up, but I won’t. I hope to use this blog to discuss every day techie stuff too. Please leave a comment if you think this is a horrible idea, and I’ll stop. 🙂

For starters, I am on my third iPhone 3G, and I am still having a huge issue with 3G signal even when I’m in the center of Austin, which is supposed to have complete coverage based on AT&T’s 3G coverage map. There have been a couple of articles on CNet News regarding this issue, and have you seen the Apple Discussions thread???? I think there are almost 2,000 responses now. Below are screen captures I did on my iPhone one right after the other as you can see by the time, and I was here in my home office with the iPhone completely stationary. For those of you who don’t know where I live, I’m not even a quarter of a mile from I-35 in Kyle, TX which is well within the 3G coverage area…

Here are my thoughts based on what I have read. If the next version of the iPhone software release does not contain a fix, it is likely a hardware issue. The fact that there wasn’t a fix in the 2.0.1 release, and Apple’s lack of admission that there is a 3G reception issue somewhat makes the case for a hardware problem which would really be a bummer for all of us early adopters… I guess it’s the price we pay unfortunately. Any comments?