The new album

First, I have to apologize to everyone for the lack of updates on the site for the last while. Since I got back from EclipseCon my life has just been too fracking busy. There is one bit of good news though…

Cover of the HBDI three album

Yup, that’s a new HBDI album. If you click on the above image, it will take you to a page with individual links for all of the songs, but you can download the whole album (as a ZIP, including a high-res image of the cover and a printable CD insert) by clicking on the link in the top left corner of that page.

Reason 4.0

I picked up the Reason 4.0 upgrade this week. If you’re looking to do this, and you live in Ottawa, I heartily recommend ordering it directly from the Propellerhead store: I saw it on sale at one Ottawa music store for $299, but I got mine direct from Propellerhead for US$142, including shipping. That’s a particularly good deal given the current strength of the Canadian dollar. It also took less than a week to get here.

In honour of the upgrade, here’s a little piece I pulled together from several copies of the new-for-Reason-4.0 “Thor” synthesizer, a couple of Rex loops and a little help from my friend Alex 😉 …

Zero Hours

(It’s what my G5 says to me at midnight.)

Upcoming Divertimento concert

Just letting people in Ottawa know that there’s another great Divertimento concert in November. The program is:

Fruhauf, Grand Rondo on “Simple Gifts” and “Bourbon” (World première)
Beethoven, Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92
Dvoràk, Symphony No. 8 in G, Op. 88

The Grand Rondo is a brand-spankin’ new, never publicly performed, short orchestral work by a contemporary organist/composer from California. It’s both lyrical and haunting, and well worth a listen. The other two pieces are both big works that really show the orchestra’s capabilities.


There are two shows. The one on Friday is Dennis’ birthday, so I’ll probably be the only person from my family who will be there. [The show must go on!] If you come to the Saturday show, you can catch up with Deb, Dennis and many others.

Friday, November 16, 2007
Arlington Woods Free Methodist Church
225 McClellan
8 p.m.


Saturday, November 17, 2007
L’Église St-Thomas-d’Aquin
1244 Kilborn Ave.
8 p.m.

I’ve got tickets to sell, and I’d be happy to get credit for selling you one, so definitely let me know. They’re also available at the door, if you’re more of a spur-of-the-moment person. Prices are: $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors; $3 for children 6 to 12; and free for (quiet 😉 ) children under 6.

The cello section
(Photo © Charles Frost)


Like many of the first generation of G5s, the line out on my server is very noisy. Because of this, I have been looking for a decent external audio interface for it for a while now.

Initially, I tried using an Edirol UA-5, but at the time the Mac OS X drivers were quite immature, causing frequent crashes and lockups. I did, eventually, find a successful way to use the device by taking the digital optical out from the Mac and feeding it to the optical in on the UA-5, effectively turning it into an external DA converter. This worked, but waisted a lot of the functionality (i.e. it was audio out only).

Even if I could solve the driver problems, the UA-5 has three other significant drawbacks:

  1. It uses USB1 to interface to the computer, which severely limits the amount of audio bandwidth it can handle. In particular, at 24-bit, 92KHz, it is capable of doing one stereo in, or one stereo out, but not both.
  2. It does not provide a midi interface, so if I wanted to do some “mobile” music using my laptop, I’d have to bring along a separate midi box. (Of course, I have this problem at home too, but what’s one more box shoved in behind the server?)
  3. It needs AC power, which is also potentially a problem for laptop music making. (And the wallwart for it is huge.)

Despite these issues, the UA-5 was working well enough that I had avoided doing anything more about audio interfaces until a couple of weeks ago, when Gordon Slater from the Divertimento Orchestra asked me about ways to improve the sound quality of the recordings he made of our rehearsals. He has been using using a Sony stereo mic plugged into a Griffin iMic connected to his MacBook. Theoretically, the microphone is reasonably high quality, which would seem to imply that the quality of the DACs in the iMic was the culprit, so once again I started looking at what was available.

A friend of mine, Terry Mask from the Digital Music Center in Ottawa, helped out with the following suggestions for low cost interfaces:

How about these options?:

Edirol UA25 (USB)

Edirol FA66 (Firewire)

EMU 0404 (USB2)

Presonus Inspire 1394 (Firewire)

Presonus Firebox (Firewire)

All the interfaces listed feature:

  • limiting (except the Firebox, to my knowledge)
  • 2 phantom-powered mic preamps
  • mac support (although the 0404 is new to the Mac …)
  • bus powered

If he’s interested in some inexpensive mics, the Behringer C2‘s would probably be decent for this application.

In addition to the above, Terry mentioned that he had recently used a Yamaha GO46 on a recording session he had done and been very satisfied with the results. This box is a bit more expensive than some of the above ones, but has several nice attributes:

  1. It has 4 inputs (2 with very high quality mic preamps) and 6 outputs, at up to 24-bit, 192KHz.
  2. It has a built in midi interface.
  3. It is “bus powered” directly off of the firewire, with no wallwart required.

Did you spot the pattern? 🙂 Yup, I picked one up last week, and have been playing with it ever since. So far, the results have been good, but not completely without issue:

  • I haven’t quite been able to get the latency down to where I wanted, topping out at around 8ms before it started to crackle. (If that didn’t make sense to you, the capsule summary is: that’s (effectively) the minimum time between when the computer tries to make a sound and when the sound comes out the speakers. If the latency is too high, for example, it makes it difficult to play software instruments in real time.)
  • I ended up needing to put a ground loop isolator between the GO46 and my speakers. Believe it or not, the noise from the G5 was actually travelling down the firewire and leaking out in the resulting audio. Doh!

Despite these problems, I’m happy so far. I still need to do some test recordings, particularly of the cello. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Music to blow speakers to

Ken just posted the tracks from Friday’s jam session to his blog. If you’re interested, go have a listen.

Since he doesn’t have comments enabled, and I wanted to comment :-), I figured I’d do so here. Anyone else with something to say can pile on this post’s comment section.

First off, I want to thank Ken for going through the pain of producing individual tracks from it. I particularly like the name choices. Having names on the tracks almost makes it seem like we intended to do them. 😉

My personal favorites are “Oh Ah”, “Float Me” and “Worst Bar”.

I also think the recording quality is surprisingly good. I clearly would have benefitted from having better amplification, although given how long it’s been since I last played (keyboards) with anyone, I think it’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t too loud.

Blown computer speakers

Yup, they’re blown.

In honour of the last day before the holiday, Steve (electric guitar) and Ken (african percussion) decided to get together to do some jamming yesterday. I had my laptop and a usb keyboard at work, which is all I need to make music, so I figured I’d join them.

Unfortunately, all I had to play through were the Logitech Z-4 speakers from off my desk. Now, these are perfectly reasonable computer speakers — better for gaming and techno music than general listening, but not bad. The thing is, when you’re competing with djembes, dunduns, and killer guitar rifs you have to be loud. And despite being plenty loud enough for my office, the Z-4s just couldn’t compete. Somewhere about twenty minutes into the jam session, I realized that every patch I played sounded like it had a wee bit of extra distortion added; after about an hour, this had progressed to that sound that guitarists lovingly call “crunch”. Yup, they’re blown.

Rather than just replacing the speakers with new ones that would also be destroyed the next time I got an opportunity to play live, I decided to look for something with a bit more oomph. My constraints were:

  • no distortion,
  • good dynamic range, and
  • (with luck) usable for both keyboards and my cello.

I looked around a bit before I found something that seemed like it had potential, which didn’t cost multiple arms and legs: the Behringer K1800FX.


I picked one up from Ottawa Pianos today. So far it seems pretty promising. As usual, Behringer has loaded it up with features for a very nice price (< $400):

  • 4 channel input mixer (with mic pre-amp)
  • 7 band equalizer
  • auto feedback cancellation (excellent for the cello!)
  • a reasonable mix of effects

The sound quality is good, but a little “boxy”. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds good, but I guess when you’re used to studio monitors, you get spoiled. It is however, definitely loud.

Hey guys, next time I’ll be ready!

Update: Ah, it’s not feedback cancellation it’s feedback detection. You still have to use the EQ to remove it. Oh well.

Electronic *Instruments*

As your typical high tech weeny, I basically treat electronic devices as “toys that are cool only till the next big thing happens”. That goes for computers, PDAs, phones and even electronic musical instruments. Heck, I even want to upgrade my cello. 😉

The thing is, to truly master a musical instrument, it takes serious dedication and that kind of focus is hard to maintain in a world where something “better” comes out every few months (whether it’s a software instrument or a new piece of gear).

That’s why I genuinely admire those who work with a single instrument to the point where they have mastered it. One way to make that happen, is to just stop “playing with” everything else; sometimes it leads to the Bach solo cello suites and sometimes it leads to Roger O’Donnell.

For those who don’t know Roger, he was the keyboardist for The Cure from 1987..1990 and from 1995..2005. One of his recent projects is an album recorded entirely on a Moog Voyager synthesizer (+ vocals) called

The Truth In Me

I have so far only heard the demo bits from his website, but I find the pieces starkly beautiful and quite compelling. I’m now hunting the CD. If anyone sees it somewhere, please let me know.

A Garritan Community Christmas

Every year, a number of musicians from around the world get together to create an album of Christmas carols using Garritan Orchestral Libraries music software. These vary from being very good, but still obviously electronic, to nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. Take a listen to the Monday link-of-the-day:

A Garritan Community

Volume 3