Acknowledgements for the Reconstruction EP

There were too many things to say to squeeze them onto a single insert page on a CD, so I am taking advantage of the space I have on this blog to list my acknowledgements and also to talk about the process of recording this album.

I will start with the acknowledgements to spare those who might not be interested in the technical details, though those details are cool, I swear! 😉

  • This album would not exist if it were not for the help and patience of my dear husband, and for the most laid-back (and super fantastic, seriously solidly sleeping) baby.
  • I want to thank my musician father for his feedback on songs when I thought the auditory “vision” was going astray. I love that we have music and songwriting in common.
  • I appreciate the graphic design advice given to me by my step-dad. This was rather tricky since he is not connected to the Internet and I had to describe to him, over the phone, what I wanted to accomplish on the album cover. Luckily he is a great (retired) designer, as well as a musician, so he gets it.
  • I am ever so grateful to my friend Jen Boone for helping with the photo shoot for the album cover. She is the first friend I made when we recently moved to Louisiana and we’ve not known each other very long. However, she was quick to lend a hand when I wanted to drive to an unfamiliar area of town to do a series of self portraits in front of an abandoned building. The word “abandoned” inspired a “YOU WANT TO GO ALONE AND TAKE THE BABY WHERE?” when I told my husband what I wanted to do. Jen was happy to babysit during the shoot, and to give me feedback on when the wind was blowing my dress just right. 🙂
  • And YOU. If you are reading this, it might be because you bought the album and saw the link to my blog. Thank you! Supporting musicians is what allows them to keep making more music. ❤

Other liner notes:

  • “Dusk to Dawn” originally appeared on my 2010 album The Soundtrack to Your Demise. Because that album is very different from the rest of my music, I thought it might be nice to attempt a dreamy piano version of the rhythmic, beat-heavy, and synth-driven original. I’m really happy with the piano arrangement.
  • The song title, “The Medium,” refers to a concept in the Legends of Muirwood series by Jeff Wheeler. Though this song is in fact about that concept, it is also about my general spiritual beliefs.
  • “Make Him Mine” is directly inspired by The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (written by Robert Jordan and completed by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan’s passing.) If you’ve read the first three (of 14) books, you know whose point of view I am taking. It’s not spoiler-y, just in case you are avoiding spoilers.

Now for the technical stuff:

  • I am so very pleased to say that this album was recorded using entirely open source (FREE) software. I used Ardour 3 as my Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and used Yoshimi and Qsampler for my MIDI sound fonts. I ran all these programs using 64-bit Ubuntu Studio 13.10, a Linux-based operating system (again, all free.)
  • For the beautiful grand piano sound, I used the open source Maestro Concert Grand piano sound font provided by Mats Helgesson.
  • I did not have any guest musicians appear on this album. I like to think I am rather resourceful at getting my keyboard (via MIDI) to sound as much like other instruments as possible. I try not to push those boundaries too hard though; I am still a piano player at heart.
  • My keyboard, an old Casio Privia, has a huge selection of drum presets, and it is amazing what a lot of time, patience, and clever editing can do to make boring, repetitive drum tracks a whole lot more interesting. For the record, in hindsight, it may have taken the same amount of time to just hire someone to play drums and record them. I ran into a few snags that had me searching dozens of presets for just the right boom/crash combo with a cymbal that was not too long and not too short. Painful.
  • If you are still reading this, you may enjoy some of my previous blogs about setting up my studio and using MIDI in Ardour. I also wrote a post on the specs of Ardour (though my blog post was written for the previous version of Ardour, it is still good for the basics.)

 

 

 

 

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“Momentarily Distracted” Behind the Scenes Part 1

My music career has taken a brief pause these last couple of months as I have been adjusting to being a new mom. It has been exhausting, but I am so in love with this little boy. He is starting to coo now and I just cannot get enough of it! And yes, I have been recording him!

I knew being a first-time mommy was going to be all-consuming, so I made sure to bust my butt to get some new music out before the baby was born.

If you are not already aware, I released a five song EP in October  called Momentarily Distracted. It was a unique experience for me in both recording and song-writing. It was the first time I used Ardour 3 as my sole DAW (digital audio workstation.) Learning how to use Ardour has been a huge part of this blog and I am quite proud that I was able to navigate it with relative ease after a short adjustment period. It was also the first CD I put out under just “Mandala” rather than one of my other projects.

As I have done in the past, I collaborated with a couple of musicians to fill out the sound on a few songs. I wear many hats, but I am not the best bass player and I am certainly no drummer. I love that with today’s resources and technology, you no longer need to be in the same city, or even the same state in order to collaborate with other musicians. While I reside in the Washington DC area, the drummer lives in Massachusetts and the bass player lives in Florida. Both guys are really into recording equipment and I knew they would be able to provide me with high quality recordings to edit and mix into my own.

It had been a couple of years since I used outside musicians, and that was long before I converted my studio to a Linux-based system. I knew I might have to do things a little differently. The only issue I really had with these songs was that both the drummer and the bass player recorded their tracks with a 44.1 sample rate, whereas I was using 88.2 kHz. (My previous DAW only allowed my to record in 44.1, so it was not an issue.) I did some searching and found a blog that explained “time stretching” in Ardour. Time stretching is when an algorithm is used to force a recording to play at another speed without changing the pitch of the track. It seemed like the perfect solution, but I was not able to get it to work. It would get through about 99% of the render before crashing the session no matter how many times I tried it.

I was on a tight schedule and needed a quick solution. I ended up just creating a final mix in 44.1 kHz. I imported the bass and drum tracks and made sure I had all my vocal and MIDI keyboard tracks exactly as I wanted them before exporting them from 88.2 kHz to 44.1 kHz and importing them to this “final” version. I still maintained my higher bit rate when converting. The two musicians had nearly final versions of my parts to perform along to, so everything synched up perfectly.

If you would like to listen to some of this new music, I have clips  of “Momentarily Distracted” and “Wrong” on my website. If you like what you hear, you can purchase the full EP in my store. 🙂

 


The ProTools Proficiency Test (PTPT)

This past week was quite a stressful one for me. In addition to all the tests and projects that come with the end of a school term, I had to complete the ProTools Proficiency Test.

This test is designed to make sure students are competent with the DAW software and know signal flow before they are allowed into the school’s studios. It is timed (10 minutes) and in front of a panel of faculty.

I am proud to say that I finished in 9 minutes, completed all the tasks, and passed with a 92% The faculty graded each task on a points-based system evaluating several things including the use of short-cut keys, organization, and the ability to comprehensively answer questions while keeping on task.

If you are interested, here is a summary of the exam from the syllabus:

Pro Tools Proficiency Test (PTPT)

This exam is the Mid-Program Assessment for the Bachelor’s Degree in Audio Production.  All students must pass this exam before they can take any advanced courses beyond AU200.  Failure to pass the PTPT will result in a failing grade in AU200 regardless of other assignments, quizzes, and/or projects.

In front of a jury of at least three Audio Production Instructors each student must complete the following tasks within ten minutes.

  1. Set up a new Pro Tools session in the correct format and in the correct place on the Hard Drive.
  2. Import the track provided using the workspace window.
  3. Program a drum beat using Reason that is appropriate for the track provided.
  4. Record two vocal takes into a playlist and edit the two takes together on a compilation playlist.
  5. Insert 1 type of dynamic processing and apply appropriately.
  6. Set up a time based effect and apply appropriately.
  7. Write appropriate automation.
  8. Perform all the necessary steps to create a Redbook CD.

[also: proper breakdown of equipment, though that part is not timed]**

 

** I added this part because it was on my evaluation sheet, but not listed in the syllabus.

 

Now that the PTPT is behind me, and I am no longer focused on knowing all the ProTools short-cuts, I am free to play around with Ardour. Already, I have tried using ProTools short-cuts in Ardour and have made some really wacky things happen. For example I made my Ardour session completely disappear with no distinguishable way to recover it other than shutting down and restarting the computer.

Since one of the points of this blog was to document my experiences with Ardour, I hope to be able to post more often about it now that no longer have to worry about failing the PTPT due to incorrect short-cuts. Imagine if I made my session disappear during the exam!?!

Today, I am using Ardour to record the vocals for my final project in AU200 (the PTPT class) but the final project must be mixed in ProTools since that is the focus of the class. Still, it logs a few hours on my open source DAW and gets me that much more comfortable with it.


I Present to You: The Ardour 2.8.12 “Box”

As I previously posted, I really wish Ardour 2 came in a box so that I could quickly reference its specs and get an overview of what it can do for me. Well, this “box” – even a virtual one – does not exist, so I made one.

I present to you, the Ardour 2.8.12 “box”:

Recording:

  • In Ardour, you have the choice of recording in 16 bit integer, 24 bit integer, or 32 bit floating point formats.
  • Ardour supports the following native file formats: Broadcast WAVE, WAVE, WAVE64, and CAF.
  • Ardour can import over a dozen libsndfile-supported file formats including, WAV, WAV64, AIFF, CAF, RAW, Ogg, and FLAC.
  • Ardor exports to WAV, WAV64, AIFF, CAF, RAW, Ogg Vorbis, and FLAC.
  • The number of tracks that can be recorded at one time in Ardour is only limited by what your hardware can handle.

Mixing:

  • Ardour utilizes a 32 bit floating point mixer and has bit-for-bit fidelity for 24 bit samples.
  • It has total automation and a large selection of plugins.
  • You can mix as many tracks as your hardware can handle.

DSP (Digital Signal Processing, aka plugins):

  • Mixbus is recommended on Ardour’s homepage (for a fee of $219.) However, for the adventurous, the official Ardour website lists dozens of sites where users can download free plugin packages…though they admit some are better than others.  The official website also lists a few recommended plugins in various categories.
  • The operating system determines which plugins work best:
    • In OS X, you can use AudioUnit, LADSPA and LV2 plugins. AU plugins with Cocoa or Carbon GUIs are both supported. As of Ardour 2.8.5, Ardour provides tempo and meter information to AU plugins.
    • In Linux, as of Ardour 2.5, you can use LADSPA and LV2 plugins. In the current version of Ardour (beginning with version 2.8.3) plugins that use the LV2 external GUI extension get their own custom GUI displayed, rather than the generic one offered by Ardour itself. Some Windows VST plugins work in Linux, though not all will function correctly and they can make Ardour unstable.  It is, after all, software created for a different operating system so you cannot depend on it.

MIDI:

  • Ardour 2 is not a MIDI sequencer (although that function is implemented in Ardour 3, which is currently in beta testing.)
  • For both OS X and Linux, there are free-of-charge tools for making connections between MIDI hardware and “virtual” MIDI ports like the ones that Ardour creates and uses.
    • On OS X, Ardour developers recommend Pete Yandell’s MIDI Patchbay.
    • On Linux, a wide variety of tools are available including QJackctl, aconnect, Patchage, and more.

Audio Interfaces:

  • Ardour is closely integrated with JACK, a computer sound system which is a hub for all of your audio hardware and software. It can even connect to other computers. JACK lets numerous audio programs run simultaneously, and even exchange information, while still operating at a low latency. This functionality is a major advantage of using Ardour.
  • In Linux, JACK uses ALSA to interface with audio hardware (and FFADO for FireWire audio hardware).  In Mac OS X, it uses CoreAudio.

Latency:

  • JACK is designed to operate at a low latency and this can be fine-tuned in the JACK configuration. A new Ardour session will automatically use the current JACK configuration for its settings.
  • Choosing the correct latency setting depends on several factors: your computer hardware, the audio driver you are using, the sample rate you are using, and the amount of audio data being processed.
  • In addition, Ardour offers automatic latency compensation for plugins.

Mastering:

  • Ardour offers three forms of dither: Rectangular, Shaped, and Triangular.
  • In addition to its other features, Ardour can be used in mastering a project because its use of JACK allows you to connect to free open source programs such as JAMin (JACK Audio Mastering interface).

If Only Ardour Came in a Box

I tweeted the other day that I will be doing a presentation for my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) class about Ardour, and that I plan to put all of that info right here on this blog.

The professor put up a list of DAWs to choose from, and of course, Ardour was not on there… and he had never heard of it… he asked how to spell it.  Ardour is what I have in my Linux-based home studio, and becasue I am not super familiar with it yet, I figured this assignment would be a great excuse to spend hours looking this stuff up.

So, I need to find some solid information on this product. I have a list in my head of all the statistics I will need to do a side-by-side comparison with ProTools, the DAW we use at school.

Sure, I will admit it: part of me just wants to be able to stand in front of the class and gloat about how my free software is superior, but Ardour does not make this easy! I mean, in some ways, that is much to my home studio’s benefit, because Ardour claims to be able to handle whatever you give it as long as the hardware can support it.

But how do I present this information? I am going to look like a used car saleswoman. “Oh yeah? ProTools 10 finally records at 32 bit? Well Ardour can record at 160 bits… if your computer could handle it!” At least I can say Ardour supported a 32 bit floating format long before ProTools.

And because there is no box to flip over and read, I am having a hard time finding other stats. Can you really record an unlimited number of tracks at a time? Can I individually mic an orchestra and say “GO!”? Again, depending on your hardware… blah blah.

This is what I NEED

Oh Ardour, you are making this a difficult assignment! I am a musician, NOT a computer nerd. Well I guess I am a computer nerd-lite by necessity, but I just want to play my piano and sing and get a nice recording of it.

The assignment is due Thursday. I will try to have it posted shortly there after.


Ardour VS ProTools (…and My Professional Career)

I am now in my second quarter studying Audio Production at the Art Institute of Washington, and I am in two classes where we will be using ProTools rather heavily. As you know from previous blog posts, when my Mac died, my husband persuaded me to have the new set-up be Linux-based. (see “Setting Up a Linux-Based recording Studio (a Preface)” for the reasons why I agreed.)

Problems with the Ardour plug-ins aside (mystery!), the two look pretty similar at the start of things, but I have not really done any editing on Ardour yet to know if the two are parallel.

Here is my problem: next quarter, I have to pass a proficiency exam in order to move forward with my major. I will be seated in front of a computer with four professors standing over my shoulder as I load up ProTools and be told to do various tasks while I am being timed.

So I kinda sorta need to know ProTools inside and out. Hey guess what? There are about a billion forum entries on various websites and all the authors say they could not get Linux to run ProTools. I can’t tell if it is a software or hardware problem. Many laughed that Windows still cant get ProTools to run properly (some of these were a few years old though.)

One of my professsors stated that ProTools is the industry standard. He said that I need to know the lingo in order to communicate with other professionals and to get a job – that no one will follow me if I speak in Ardour terms.

Is this correct!?!?! Are they THAT different?

We are going to try to load it onto the desktop that is partitioned to run Linux and Windows Vista. I will not be able to record onto it (the room is too loud with various computers running in there – including our server) but I will be able to edit on it.  If it runs. I have some hope it will work because there was a comment on the forums that said ProTools actually seemed to like Vista over 7.

Any comments on this would be appreciated!

 

 


Slow and Not Very Steady… (Chapter 3 of Setting up a Linux-Based Recording Studio)

I started this blog to chronicle my adventures in Linux-based recording software and I have hardly posted. There has not been much to post about…

Partly, it is becasue life has gotten in the way – good stuff like shows, deciding to go back to school and having to do all the leg work to get that going, friends and family coming to visit, etc. However, setting up the studio has not been smooth either. Just when it seems we make a huge leap forward, something else goes wiggy. There are so many variables. We stared with an older CPU that we added memory to. Maybe this is a problem? We get tons of Xruns. Ardour sometimes freezes up or randomly closes. Now, at random, a buzzing sound has shown up when I record my keyboard. That was not there to start. I would guess it was the cord if it hadn’t recorded crisp and clean to start with.

What is going on?!? I feel like we are doing everything blind and that we create a new problem as soon as we fix one.

It has gotten to the point where I dread going in there to work on it. I have not recorded anything in months. Many months. Many many months.  Which means I have hardly written anything because I like to record my tinkering and build on it. My husband suggests I play around with the tutorials and I feel like a parent is telling me to do my homework. Ugh. I do not feel excitement anymore. I just dread having to do my homework.

I have been assured that Linux gives me way more options than Garage Band, but there is something to be said for it working right out of the box. Also, which is superior: Less options but yields a recorded song, or more options but sits there untouched? Seriously?!?