Jul 13 2012

Song Get!

I wrote a song on my Guqin.  It’s not the usual style you get out of me, actually I’m not sure what the genre is at all.  It’s about Day[9] and Starcraft 2 and gaming and e-Sports in general.  Anyway Reddit liked it.

I’m working on getting a decent sound out of my new 8-string guitar, and also I’d like to write up a post about the instrument in general, so that’s what’s happening.

In other news, I really hate KORG.  I bought a padKONTROL, which is a great product in theory, but then I discovered two things I didn’t know:

  1. KORG documentation and software is written by morons and shut-ins
  2. Windows 7 is stupid as hell for MIDI

In addition to packaging the padKONTROL, KORG provides you with a disc containing the original drivers and documentation that were written for the device when it was made, back when Windows Vista had just come out.  All the screen shots in the documentation are from Windows XP.  The device drivers are XP compatible only.  And best yet: installing those drivers wrecks your system for the padKONTROL, so instead of upgrading to newer drivers (like normal, smart developers do), you have to mess around in your registry and uninstall every trace that the device ever existed before you download the new drivers from KORG’s website.

KORG doesn’t tell you about that last part, you have to figure that one out for yourself.  Evidently KORG only sells products to Microsoft Certified Solutions Associates.

Once you’ve installed the new drivers you’ll find that the documentation has not been updated.  If it had, it would’ve told you that Windows 7 only allows for ten MIDI channels, which means roughly five unique (unchained) devices.  That’s theoretically not a problem, except that by simply booting your computer you will probably have already added ten MIDI devices to the system.  When you plug in the padKONTROL, or any other MIDI device for that matter, your DAW will not see it.  It will be practically invisible.

KORG doesn’t mention that, either.

Now what you do is you uninstall the padKONTROL and, using the specially designed uninstaller (not the one that triggers off when you uninstall via Programs and Features like a God damn normal person would), also remove several currently existing MIDI device channels from your system.  Then re-install the padKONTROL and everything will be happy rainbows and plug-and-play as KORG would like you to believe.

KORG doesn’t tell you that you should do this, by the way.

I shake my head at such ineptitude.  Not only is it counter-intuitive, it’s downright dangerous to uninstall MIDI channels using an uninstaller produced by a different company.  And nowhere in the device documentation does KORG mention this.  Evidently the entire company is still blissfully unaware that Windows 7 exists.  That or they’ve abandoned the padKONTROL for their far cheaper (both in price and quality) “nano” line of controllers.

Did I ask KORG for this?  No.  KORG has somehow decided that all technical support for KORG devices should be handled by the distributor.  I mean, are they seriously suggesting that a customer should show up at a Guitar Center and ask the jackwagons behind the counter to fix it?

Official lines of support are non-existent at KORG Co.  Their website actually refers you to a fan-produced, privately owned forum for support.  What the fuck kind of abyssal mouth-breather company trusts the support of their product to strangers?  How do they expect to protect their brand?  Did no one at KORG attend business school?  Because they’ve obviously  forgotten the first fucking thing they teach you.

If using the padKONTROL wasn’t nearly as much like having a birthday party for each of my fingers then I’d return it on general principle.  But once you get that over-priced paperweight working… Man, it’s spectacular.

Jun 24 2012

Just a quick update

I was planning on releasing a new song today but I got pissed at a recording latency issue in Sonar X1 and switched to Cubase. I suppose I could’ve stuck it out and solved the problem but when I installed Cubase every problem disappeared. Of course, those problems were replaced by new ones, because now I have to figure out how to use Cubase, but that’s an interface issue, not a software issue.

So, anyway. Gonna be another week at the most.

Jun 15 2012

I can’t help myself, I guess…

I bought a New Thing.  It’s called a Guqin.  It’s a Chinese seven-stringed zither and they’ve been around in their current form for maybe 5,000 years, which might as well be forever.

The Guqin

Also pictured here are my condenser microphone (an AT2020) and my piezo microphone (the small orange bottlecap). Both combined get me a fairly decent reproduction of the instrument without costing me two large.

The Guqin is still played these days by a small but dedicated group of people around the world.  I’m not one of them, because I don’t really play it; what I do is so amateurish that it’s probably closer to abuse.  I could go get lessons somewhere, but I’ve decided to practice with it until I can do some pretty basic things like hit the right damn strings.

I’m not going to sugar coat this: I decided to try and find a Guqin after hearing the instrument played during the Jet Li / Donnie Yen fight scene in Hero.  It’s not a glamorous story or anything.

As an instrument, the Guqin is deceptive.  Considering it has just slightly more than one octave in its default tuning, it seems like it should be very limited in range.  But because the instrument is so receptive to artificial harmonics, you can get four octave’s worth of harmonics out of it without too much difficulty.  I like to say that for every half hour I spend with this instrument I find something new and amazing, and that rate of discovery hasn’t slowed down yet in the two months I’ve owned it.

Tuning Pegs

The tuning pegs, located beneath the bridge.

It’s also deceptive because you might mistake it for being relatively easy to play.  But because the instrument is so specific and unforgiving, the difference between a perfect harmonic and a slightly mangled one  is huge.  And while tuning using the pegs is fairly easy, if it’s not exactly in tune with itself the whole instrument will sound dead and sour because it is unable to generate proper sympathetic vibrations in the other strings.

Physically it’s almost just a handful of strings stretched across the side of a tree.  But the construction and configuration of a Qin are highly regimented and symbolic.  The underside of the Qin is where the two sound holes are positioned, which partly contributes to the instrument’s notoriously quiet tone.

Dragon & Phoenix Pools

The two sound holes, known as the Dragon and Phoenix Pools.

That low volume means that you won’t often hear the Guqin in large concerts or accompanying anything louder than a flute.  Traditionally the instrument is played by itself, in a very meditative, free-form, almost tuneless sort of way.  In fact, I’ve heard it said that traditional Qin music sounds like someone tuning up very slowly for six minutes, and that’s not a completely unfair observation.  But that low volume that adds so much to the meditative nature of the Qin also means that it is easily drowned out by anything louder than a person speaking at natural volume.  Also it means that, if you try to record it, you’ll have to use a very sensitive (or highly specialized) microphone and a lot of gain.  I have had to work extra hard on the instrument’s recordings because by the time I have the signal volume at an acceptable level you can also clearly hear me breathing behind the Qin, wheezing in feverish concentration with the effort of extracting something approaching acceptable.

My goal with this instrument is to figure out a way to integrate it into the usual death metal I usually write.  That sounds like a foolish idea, but a lot of metal is contrasted with acoustic or clean-tone electric instruments, and I think I might be able to find a way to fit this instrument into the mix.  I don’t know if I can retain the Qin’s natural sound in the process, though.  In fact the whole idea is so daunting that I’ve basically promised myself that I won’t get too upset if things don’t work out.

Learning this new instrument has been an amazing experience, though.  And it’s nice change of pace, having something to do with my spare time that isn’t video game related.  I can’t deny the power of the instrument, either.  It’s a very calming, soothing sound, and once you get warmed up it becomes incredibly easy to naturally pull ideas out of it the moment they enter your mind, which is a fantastic experience I’ve never had before.

Apr 5 2012

Musicians vs. Industry?

A boatload of artists have decided to join together to promote The Pirate Bay, a well-known file sharing website that has recently come under attack by industry organizations such as the RIAA and the MPAA.

Recent proposed legislation to fight perceived piracy on websites such as The Pirate Bay and YouTube have met with strong opposition by the Internet, but this is the first time that artists have gathered in support of a service known for coordinating the illegal distribution of copyrighted retail products.

Personally, I’m all for this kind of thing. The RIAA and MPAA do a terrible job of representing their clients, nearly always siding with the labels, producers and distributors instead of the artists.

But don’t get me wrong: I’m not sympathetic. Recording labels have a vital purpose: to aid in the advertisement, sale and distribution of creative property.  Any band that thinks they can get by without a label and a distributor are in for what could be a very long and difficult road to whatever fame they feel they deserve.

So if the entire recording industry walked away from their labels tomorrow, and the RIAA found themselves without a single client, what would happen?  What would bands have to do to get their material distributed and sold?

Internet: To the Rescue!

The Internet is an obvious choice for a new band.  But without the threat of big, scary, corporate legal retribution, a band’s fans will quickly discover that illegally downloading an album is much cheaper and frequently more convenient than buying it at any cost.  Big-name entertainers like Nine Inch Nails and Louis C.K. have cached in on their tech-savvy target audience with great success.  Even without anti-piracy tools like digital rights management, NIN and Louis C.K. were able to digitally distribute their content to their fans and turn a significant profit, partially because their devoted fans were so serious about supporting them.  But a band without nation-wide recognition and an army of crazed fans can’t pull this off.  And if they tried, their theft to sale ratio would be far less favorable than Louis C.K.’s.

There’s good news, though.  In the case of music and other forms of entertainment, production cost is dropping quickly.  You no longer need a dedicated sound engineer with six years of college and a dozen years of experience to set up your microphones; there’s software for that now.  So creating a pop rock album only requires a few grand in one-time setup costs, much of which is mitigated with each successive release.  Depending on the genre, initial investments can drop far lower.  And if scheduling studio time is no longer a factor, and bands self-produce, they may find themselves able to produce an astonishing amount of material in a very short amount of time.

The Decentralization of Consumption

What I’m saying is that labels are increasingly becoming less relevant as the consumer becomes more empowered.  We can find music produced by unsigned artists in completely different countries and share it with our friends.  Entertainers can cater to audiences they’ve never seen in real life.  SOPA and PIPA are just the final desperate swipes from a once-powerful animal as it nears its final hours.  Consumer-level technology grows, and in its wake it leaves the bodies of both big businesses like the RIAA and small businesses like recording studios.  But it also enables artists and consumers alike, and the decentralization of our economy may threaten the livelihoods of very powerful people.

Change is inevitable and any attempt to resist it is transparently useless, like trying to hold a palm-full of sand in an ever-increasing wind.  The Pirate Bay is not an issue of theft, or morality.  This is cultural evolution, and you don’t get to complain when the masses you empower chose to use that power against you.

Feb 15 2011

Getting your mind bent

I’ve been spending the past few weeks watching, in small doses, a few select films by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Here’s a trailer for one of his better-known movies, The Holy Mountain.

Jorodowsky’s an odd bird of a director. I’m still not entirely sure, after watching a lot of behind-the-scenes content and interviews that he isn’t (or wasn’t) a cult leader with a camera. He’s certainly one of those many artists who’s unstoppably creative, and whatever he produces always seems to carry similar themes from multiple blended religions and a heavy sampling of Eastern mysticism.

I’m not a stranger to Eastern philosophy, so his movies don’t seem to destroy my brain in some dream-like cacophony like other people seem to experience.  And if I can levy any complains against Jorodowsky’s philosophy, it’s the same objection I hold towards Neon Genesis Evangelion: symbolism from multiple, conflicting religions is fine, so long as the symbols stay consistent within the piece, which they often don’t.

For the most part, Jorodowsky’s Holy Mountain is a messy accumulation of incredibly compelling and beautiful images, and it’s easier to experience it if you consider it to be a proposal of concepts, not an actual tale of fiction. But Jorodowsky’s considerable ability as a storyteller is easier to find in his other movies, such as El Topo and Santa Sangre, both of which I’d recommend without hesitation.

Unfortunately regular doses of this kind of cinema has sort of curdled my brains a little, and now nearly everything I watch has become colored by an unintended illusory subtext.  When I found myself trying to decrypt the Buddhist concepts of living without fear of loss from an episode of Good Eats, I knew it was time to give this kind of thing a break.

So I decided to relax with a good old wuxia flick, and picked up the Shaw Brothers’ production of Buddha’s Palm.

I think somehow I’ve made a bad decision.