Studio Ergonomics. Herman Miller Aeron Chairs.

Herman Miller Aeron Chairs

This past Saturday night I performed at an event called Mindcontroller. The concert took place in Zaandam which is basically right outside Amsterdam. The venue Hemkade is pretty famous, at least to Dutch people. It was also my 38th birthday. What does this all have to do with the Aeron Chair? Well, as part of my set I like to get close to the crowd. I jumped off the stage to get near people about 5-6 times. Ever since I’ve been back to Berlin my knee has been killing me. This was the first time I ever had any pain from performing. The only place it hasn’t been hurting is in my recording studio. Why? Because of my Aeron Chair.

Look around your studio and visually price things out. I bet all your good gear that you use runs between $400-$3000. What do you use the most? Unless your a dancing freak and work standing up the correct answer is: your chair!

The Aeron chair is a product of Herman Miller, designed in 1994 by Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf. It is an ergonomic chair which is expensive but regarded by many as very comfortable. Its breakthrough design has gained it a spot in the New York Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. The chair is not upholstered. Instead, the seat and back are made of a semi-transparent and flexible mesh called Pellicle. Another noteworthy feature is that the Aeron is manufactured in three different sizes, A, B and C for Small, Medium and Large respectively. – Wikipedia.org

I bought my Aeron Chair in 2001 when the big dot com bust happened. About 200 companies closed shop in New York City and everything went on auction. I had my eye on the Aeron Chair for a while by that point and I managed to get one for $350.

Here are my favorite features about the Aeron Chair that help me in the studio:The Horrorist Live

You can adjust the height of the seat. This is important so your feet can lie flat on the ground. If you want your legs to fit comfortably under a synth rack or computer keyboard shelf the Aeron chair will comply.

You can adjust the height and angle of the arm rests. If your mousing all day long having your elbow the same height as your desk will give you support. Being able to angle the arm rests gives you the ability to have the non mouse hand arm rest aiming toward your controller keyboard.

The “relax” tilt mode. The Aeron has a unique latch that when released the chair leans back and almost floats you. This is a great position when listening to your final mixes.

You can replace the wheels with special non scratch wheels. I have gorgeous new hard wood floors in my studio. I didn’t want to scratch them up or have one of those ridiculous plastic mats in the center of the room. $50 got me new wheels that don’t do damage. They also they slow the wheeling spinning action down so you can’t fly around so easily.

Watch these videos on how to set it up an Aeron properly: click here

How loud is loud? Learning about dB will help you.

According to Dictionary.com, “A decibel is a unit used to express the intensity of a sound wave.” Basically, it’s number we use to describe how loud something is. Over the past 19 years of making music my ears have been improving, always getting better able to recognize subtle changes in db levels. Take a look at the following chart to see some common dB levels:

Decibel Chart

A good piece of gear I recommend people buying is a digital SPL (Sound Pressure Level) meter. If your in the USA just head over to any Radio Shack. They have a decent unit called “Digital-Display Sound-Level Meter”, Model: 33-2055 for $49.99. It runs on a 9V battery. Of course the Shack isn’t the only company that makes them, click here to see Amazon.com’s selection. All SPL meters have a built-in mic and display decibel levels.

If your building a recording studio having a SPL meter is important as you can measure how much sound your neighbors or the outside world is pushing towards you. You can also calculate how much sound Radio Shack SPL Meterproofing you will need to keep your own noise private. Auralex has a nice area on their website called “Bothering Your Neighbors” that shows how much dB you can reduce with each layer of additional building materials: click here

Want to make some money? Bring your SPL meter to any concert, record the dB numbers on video and then go sue the band or venue for hearing damage. There have been numerous law suits exactly like that. I’ve even heard of singers suing venues for hearing damage because of excessive volume levels.

Of course, dB levels also play an important role in audio production. For example when you add some eq to a sound your adding actual volume or decibels. This is important to wrap your head around. If you add 6db of EQ at 2khz your adding 6db of volume to the Master. Working in the digital world, ITB (in the box) you want to keep your individual channel faders low and have them all sum toward the Master. I keep my channel faders at -12db to start and I always keep the Master at 0db. So if you have a vocal on a channel and you add 6db of EQ watch the Master fader level as you are adding 6db to the overall sum of your mix!

Half or double a Clip’s tempo in Ableton Live.

Ableton Live - clip tempo

I have a large collection of mini tricks I use when producing music. When looking for a way to create some variation in arrangements most of the time I consider things like changing notes, drum patterns or adding effects in and out at certain parts. I also like to play with the speed of a individual clips. This technique can add tension to a chorus or showcase a serious lyric.

Ableton Live has a nice feature that allows you to half or double a Clips tempo. As with most things in Live this is really easy to do. This will work on either Midi or audio Clips. You have to have Warp on for the feature to work on an audio Clip. First, double click on a Clip to open it in the Clip View which runs along the bottom area of Ableton Live. Next, find the :2 and *2 buttons. These are found under the Clip’s The Horrorist - Attack Decaytempo number. To make a clip play at half speed click :2 and for double speed hit *2. Of course you can keep clicking either button to take things into extremes. Lastly, you will want to adjust the Clip’s loop markers to only encompass the new note length.

While this is a ridiculously obvious feature of Live, I do think it worth a blog post to get it into one’s radar. We all get used to working in a certain way and our eyes pass over the unfamiliar. I use this technique in a song off my album Attack Decay called You Are Disturbing. Listen to the following audio sample. There is a clear repeating main melody. After I say “Tell me the things you like to do sexually.” which is 50 seconds in on the audio clip, the same exact melody plays back at 2x the tempo. I used a different synth, a TC Powercore01 for the double speed clip. I think it makes a nice statement:

Do you ever mess around with tempos within your own songs?

Wire to the Ear’s Winter NAMM 2008 picks.

The NAMM Show acronym stands for “National Association of Music Merchants”. The event takes place twice a year. There is a summer event in Austin, Texas but the bigger of the two happening this week in Anaheim, California. There are many websites covering NAMM down to the very last detail. I’d like to only list here what I personally think are the most interesting new products. So without further ado here is Wire to the Ear’s Winter NAMM hot picks:

Moog Voyager OS

Moog Voyager OS. Take a normal Moog Voyager and get rid of its Midi, presets, display and XY pad and you have the new “OS” which stands for Old School. I’m not sure I totally “get” this new synth. Unless the sound quality improves by removing those features what’s the point? Having midi, XY and patch memory has to be worth a few hundred bucks to anyone, no? link

Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 08 Module

Dave Smith Instruments Prophet ’08 Synthesizer Module. A table top or rack mount version of the Prophet ’08. If you want to play chords and you want real analog it’s either an uber pricey Studio Electronics Omega, something used or the new Prophet 08. The new module will be the least expensive way into the polyphonic analog world. link

Access Virus TI Snow

Access Virus TI Snow. A small table top version of the Virus TI. I would rather have a real analog synth or a Waldorf Blofeld but I know the Virus sounds great. Somewhat unique in a hardware synth is the new Atomizer utility announced for Virus TI’s which allows for stuttery effects. link

Alesis SR-18

Alesis SR-18. This is a big surprise! An update to the SR-16! Drum machines are back! The SR-16 was such an Continue reading →

Interview with Dan McPharlin. Analog Miniatures.

Dan McPharlin - Analog Miniature

Synthesizer fans have been coming across photos of your Analog Miniature collections on the internet. In fact your set on flickr.com has been viewed over 80,000 times. What inspired you to make these?

Well I’ve always been interested in human/machine interfaces and I think analogue synths and equipment are quite exciting visually because of all the knobs and sliders (usually one control for every function). I always wanted to design a synth but lacked the skills and resources, and making small models was something I could do. As far as I was aware nobody had built miniature synths before. I was already building small sculptures out of framing mattboards so this seemed like a logical step.Dan McPharlin - Analog Miniature

How long does it take you to make one?

Generally I’ll spend 2 to 3 days on each model, but I’m a perfectionist so if something isn’t right I will always redo it.

The photography of the miniatures is an art in itself. Do you have any comments about that? Are you a camera, lighting or Photoshop geek?

All of the above. I use a Nikon D-80 and a couple of speedlights. All of my diffusers and snoots have been constructed from cardboard and copy paper, so it is very much photography on the cheap. I love the process of setting up a photographic composition, but I still don’t see myself as a professional photographer.

Are the Miniatures your most popular work? Did that surprise you?

Absolutely. I had no idea they would appeal to anyone outside of the synth community.

I see your miniatures have found there way onto Steven Jansen’s CD cover. Are there other commercial places the Miniatures can be found?

Well I’ve done a couple of CD covers. The Moog Acid record is the other major one. I was delighted to be involved with that because I’m a big fan of the artists (Jean Jacques Perrey and Luke Vibert) and I think Non-Format also did a terrific job with the sleeve design (link). I also produced some work for a compilation on Canadian label Do Right! Music (link). There are a few other commercial projects featuring the miniatures which should see the light of day soon.

Can anyone buy one of your Miniatures? Continue reading →

My thoughts on Macworld 2008 and the Macbook Air.

Apple Macbook Air

Every blog in the world has to run a story on everything Steve said last night and I will play along. What did we get? A new super light laptop the Macbook Air, a Network backup system for Time Machine called Time Capsule, a new Apple TV and iTunes Movie Rentals and more applications for the iPhone.

There is no reason for me to get into the specifications because they are all at Apple.com but here is what I thought was important to take note of.

Firewire IconWhile the Macbook Air is completely gorgeous and lust worthy, it won’t make a great pro-audio machine because of what it is missing: a Firewire port. USB 2.0 is fast but it pushes data in packets and from everything I read it’s not ideal for multi-channel pro-audio. In fact, I believe Digidesign does not even support USB 2.0.

Time Capsule is a good product. It gets the stack of Lacie drives you have for backup off your desk and hid away. I would have liked to see the concept go one step further and be a true network storage device instead of only for dedicated backup.

Apple TVThe new Apple TV paired with iTunes Movie Rentals is a game changer. The price is now just about $200 for the unit and it no longer needs to be paired to any computer. Once they get tons of movies available it will be like having Netflix but without having to wait for the postman. They have all the movie studios on board and the price for rentals is right on target. As a musician having YouTube, podcasts and flickr on Apple TV is fantastic. It puts your own content right there next to the big boys stuff, “Hey Dad… want to see my new music video?”.

Lastly, there were new applications for the iPhone and iPod touch. The SDK is coming and later this year new iPhones. There are going to be tons of music software for the device. Mini sequencers, drum machines, controller apps. It’s going be great!

What did you think of the announcements?

BeatBearing clear plastic chrome sphere sequencer.

There are many reasons why I am in love with this video: clear plastic, chrome spheres, multi-color LEDs, laser scanner and Roland TR-808 sounds. I am really happy things like this and other unique sequencers such as the Monome and Tenori-on are being produced. I’m on the verge of either building one myself of buying one.

A tangible rhythm sequencer. Ball bearings are used to trigger drum sounds. Visual feedback is displayed from underneath to indicate the current time and the state of each ball bearing.

Do you want one too?

Peter Bennetts website: click here
via Matrixsynth

Luxonix LFX-1310 is a free multi-effect plug-in.

Luxonix LFX-1310

Here’s another reason why there’s no exuse to use cracks. This free multi effect unit is from Korean manufacturer Luxonix. They make the Ravity software rompler. Luxonix is the effect section ripped out of Ravity and given to us for free. I did some research and Luxonix was released in 2004 but I thought it was worth mentioning because up until last night I never heard of it. So maybe you hadn’t either? My friend had it on his laptop and of course it peaked my interest.

Its available for Mac and it’s Universal Binary. It’s available for PC and also runs on Vista. It looks and sounds like commercial software. When it was released in 2004 it won KVR‘s “Free Plug-in Effect of the Year”.

I like the interface a lot. It reminds me of some old hardware and it’s a simple layout. Three slots load up three effects. Three parameters for each effect are tweakable. You get 128 presets, 32bit processing and 24 effect algorithms:

- S’Filter 12 / S’Filter 24 / 3-band EQ
- Peak Compressor / RMS Compressor
- Overdrive / Distortion / Amp Distortion
- Crusher / LP Noise / Stereo Image
- Chorus / Flanger / Phaser / Auto Wah / Tremolo / Auto Pan
- Delay / Stereo Delay / Ping-pong Delay
- Gate Reverb / Room Reverb / Hall Reverb / Spring Reverb

Go grab your download now: click here

Must see movie: The Devil And Daniel Johnston

If you consider yourself a musician of any kind then take one hour and fifty minutes out of your schedule and watch this movie. Originally released in March 2005 on Sony Pictures it The Devil and Daniel Johnstontells the amazing, sad, crazy, unbelievable story of artist and singer song-writer Daniel Johnston.

Director Jeff Feuerzeig exquisitely depicts a perfect example of brilliance and madness going hand in hand with subject Daniel Johnston. As an artist suffering from manic depression with delusions of grandeur, Daniel Johnston’s wild fluctuations, numerous downward spirals, and periodic respites are exposed in this deeply moving documentary. – sonyclassics.com

The best thing about the film is you get to discover Daniel’s music. Songs like “Story of an Artist” completely blow me away. Since I saw the film I keep heading over to Hi, How Are You? the official website of Daniel Johnston and buying music. He was seriously prolific and there are over 400 songs ready to buy straight from his old cassettes as downloads. Rotten Tomatoes gives this movie an 87%, I give it a 100% you should give it a serious viewing.

Interview with Jim Heintz of Way Out Ware.

Jim Heintz of Way Out Ware.

I had the pleasure of using a Macbeth Studio System’s M5. Some people compare it to an ARP 2600. It does have a similar layout although I personally found the sound to be also Moog-ish. Have you used one? What are your thoughts?

Macbeth M5I have checked out the M5 a couple of times now. I first saw it at MusikMesse in Frankfurt a couple of years ago, and after getting to play with it unfettered, I had the pleasure of meeting it’s creator Ken Macbeth. I found the instrument to be built of very high quality and the sound quality was exceptional, however, I felt the filter was not very similar to that of the ARP 2600. People may compare it to the 2600, and as far as the layout goes, it is somewhat similar making it easy for me to navigate, however, the sounds that the M5 produces are all it’s own IMHO.

I really like it.

I am looking forward to seeing the M5 and Ken again at the NAMM show.

What makes the TimewARP 2600 different from the Arturia ARP2600 V?

I believe that the TimewARP 2600 sounds much more like a real ARP 2600 than any other virtual synth on the market. This belief has been confirmed by many very notable users of ARP 2600s. Our emulation is sample accurate in all respects and models the original circuits of the ARP 2600 where ever possible. One area that TimewARP 2600 stands apart from other products is in the area of audio frequency modulation. You can take any audio source on the TimewARP 2600 and route it to an CV input and get the behavior that you would expect if you were to do that on a real ARP 2600 across the full frequency range of the component. I have not seen this in other virtual instruments. This feature is how many famous ARP 2600 sounds are created.

timewARP 2600 from Way Out Ware

Will there be more features added to the TimewARP 2600? A sequencer for example?

I would love to expand the TimewARP 2600 to include a sequencer, however, I can’t say when that will be. We recently added a couple of small additions to the TimewARP 2600 including a “Master Volume” control and offset controls to the MIDI beat synch feature. As time permits, and market allows, we will continue to enhance the TimewARP 2600.

Let’s talk about kikAXXE. It’s a synth, drum machine and sequencer which sounds super yet it’s priced quite low. Was there a lot of special discussion of it’s price? I am surprised by it honestly.

We did not compromise on sound quality inkikAXXE from Way Out Ware KikAXXE. Our goal was to produce a cost friendly electronic music environment that was fun. We left out a few features in order to justify the price, but all in all I believe KikAXXE delivers the goods. Our hope is that by providing KikAXXE at such an attractive price, that it will open the door to a wider audience of users and allow more people to discover what analog synthesis is all about. At the same time, we have many pros excited about KikAXXE too.

The thing that has to be clear is that KikAXXE is inexpensive, but still sounds awesome and can produce very useable results quickly and easily.

Are you still in contact with Alan R. Pearlman? I know he has endorsed the timewARP 2600. Did you send him kikAXXE?

I try to stay in touch with Alan as often as I can. He has been very supportive of Way Out Ware, and we really appreciate that. He has told me that he believes in what we are doing regarding brining analog synthesis to a wider audience, and making it affordable. He said that he had considered producing a computer based synthesizer when ARP was still around, but the computers of the time were not powerful enough to get the job done. I believe that he feels that WOW products are bringing his legacy to a new generation of users.

Besides your own products have there been other audio software emulations have impressed you? Continue reading →