Silent Here, Noisy Elsewhere: Bringing Peace to the Home Studio

Yes, yes, I know.  I have been a very negligent blogger.   I don’t want to say it’s been

Alesis MultMix USB 2.0 in its Peaceful Configuration
Alesis MultMix USB 2.0 in its Peaceful Configuration

a while since I posted hereabouts, but…well, it probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if the header image changed to “rolling tumbleweeds.”

And no, my recent silence has not had anything to do with the Leafs’ early season struggles.   My inconstancy would better be blamed on a prolonged period of fiddling about with various warring  gadgets in Mission Control.  Although some might describe what I’ve been doing as an exercise in amateur audio engineering, to me it feels more like I’ve been involved in an extended diplomatic mission to bring peace to the electronic devices gathered in my little high-tech office/studio/closet/electricity sink/rabbit warren.

The Dell XPS 700, for example, occupies a small plot of real estate not far from the Alesis MultiMix 16 USB 2.0 mixer.   This mixer is a piece of equipment that is designed to take audio inputs (from microphones, guitars, tape decks, iPods, keyboards, etc.) and provide an audio signal that can be amplified  through conventional means, or captured via USB in a computer running the appropriate software.  It’s an integral part of my home digital audio workstation setup.

The digital and the audio, however, were not previously getting along that well.  The mixer, of course, shared deep cultural ties (not to mention a pair of output cables) with its northern neighbour, the Behringer Europower EP2500  power amp.  The amp  is a device itself strongly allied (via a couple of 30′ cables) to a stacked pair of Elite loudspeaker cabinets.  Being so closely affiliated with powerful straight-up sound reinforcement equipment seemed to provide the Alesis mixer with little incentive to cross the cultural divide and open lines of communication with its digital neighbour to the west, the Dell computer.  I had tried to bridge the gap with a USB cable from time to time, but playback filled with clicks indicative of a sampling rate mismatch and some generally unpredictable routing and playback results made it clear that, although physically connected, the two solitudes were not communicating.  Someone was going to have to actively intervene in the long-standing petty dispute being waged between these two regional powers.  Thus began my effort to bring peace and co-operation to this region.

Complicating the mission was the ancillary involvement of other minor regional players and factions seeking to play their various roles in the local politics.  Here, a Behringer Autocom Pro dual input audio compressor;  there, Cubase LE4 DAW software and a M-Audio USB midi interface.  On one side of the digital divide, a Yamaha PSR-292 keyboard;  on the other, a set of Ampex 460 tube condenser microphones with pre-amps.  Arrayed across the western border of the region – not yet involved in the conflict, but with an intense emotional investment in the ultimate outcome – an army of sentinels quietly watching: a Yamaha acoustic guitar, its Fender American Standard Telecaster brother standing shoulder to shoulder just south of their tall trailer trash cousin, the Degas bass guitar.  Also currently uninvolved, but poised for action on the southern frontier, an aging Dell Dimension – itself but a remnant of a formerly glorious empire – renewed with the vigour brought on by hope of a new role in the balance of power:  as a dedicated sound module running Reason’s Re-Birth, and perhaps a few other software synths.

The interests of all these devices were many and complex;  their internecine connections so Byzantine, they boggled the mind as surely as they tangled the feet of any human interloper brave enough to venture into the war zone.

Over the last few weeks, though, I have been as a missionary:  spending time in the conflict zone, listening with so much patience as I am able to exhibit to the complaints of each device in turn, learning its individual peculiarities and attending to its most pressing needs.    Gradually, as I learned the ways of each of the involved players and gained their trust, I was able to act as a sort of intermediary between them.  The first success, of course, was solving the one regional problem common to both the musical and digital equipment:  the perennial shortage of power and cables for the hungry.   It seemed as though my efforts in bringing electricity and signal to all those that wanted it were key in establishing a sort of diplomatic credibility among the interested parties.  Having contributed in this way to the general common weal of the region, I suppose I acquired the gravitas necessary to approach the inscrutable Cubase LE faction then in charge of  the Dell XPS 700 and strongly encourage it to open a dialogue, through the mixer and amplification equipment, with the microphones.   Initially concerned about ceding too much control over its local affairs, the XPS insisted on relying upon its internal clock, and control processes, but reluctantly and guardedly agreed to participate in a meaningful dialogue about peace.  Formerly insular, parochial  and non-communicative with its neighbours, the XPS exhibited a commitment to change by surrendering the secrets of its internal drum-mapping processes;  agreeing to make not only the process but also its results public by transmitting the generated beats across the newly established network permitted me to immediately demonstrate the salutary results of such co-operative openness by recording a rough double-tracked lead vocal for a rendition of  Tom Petty’s Yer So Bad.  Careful not to upset a newly emerging delicate balance among the electrified audio equipment and the digital audio workstation factions, I slowly introduced an additional element – the Yamaha acoustic guitar – into the mix.  Soon, all involved were agreeing that the results would be improved by the inclusion of some compression, background vocals were recorded, and slowly, a consensus emerged that efforts should be made to establish midi communication channels between Cubase and the Yamaha keyboard to make use of some superior drum samples.

It has been a long and difficult diplomatic journey, one fraught with danger and tension.  Peace has not yet been brought to the entirety of this troubled region – there are occasional troubling flareups among certain terrorist factions within the XPS 700 in particular, and much remains to be learned of the ways of MIDI – but I am confident in proclaiming that a framework for success has been achieved.   All concerned have been shown that it is possible to do more than simply co-exist; to establish lines of communication, to work cooperatively and to achieve together much more than mere survival.  Much remains to be done.  The newfound regional prosperity, for example, has yet to arrive for the Degas bass and the ancient Dell Dimension computer;  the terrain remains littered with unsightly cables, but the basis for a more permanent functioning infrastructure has been modeled and demonstrated to be effective.

I will continue to advise as to progress in the region.  Hopefully, with the most difficult work on this diplomatic effort now behind me, I can resume with some regularity my postings hereabouts.   I will try not to let the extreme tension of this precarious diplomatic situation intrude more than may be necessary into the collected works herein, lest the grim seriousness of posts such as this one interfere with your enjoyment of the usual array of dick jokes, profanity and self-aggrandizing anecdotal falsehoods commonly presented.

By junior

Guitar owner and silly person.

1 comment

Comments are closed.