Well, it’s almost as if the Gods (who don’t exist) are bent on thwarting me by throwing technological mantraps (which do exist) across my musical furrow. Let me elucidate…(insert joke form well-known 1970’s British sitcom).
Yes, I’m talking about the soon-to-be-released STAVKA album “Heavy Casualties in the Charm Offensive“, which has been in the ‘soon-to-be-released‘ status for about a year and half now. Why? Because of fuggen modern technology, that’s why. Now let’s get all technical here. The nerds can stay, and the rest of you ‘straights‘ can go and read the latest scuttlebut about Amy Winehouse or Lily Allen someplace else. Right, now that we’ve cleared out the chaff we can begin.
So, like, I’ve been using the very wonderful Roland VS-1680 16 digital hard-drive recorder to capture my songs for the last ten years, and it’s been a pretty darn good chunk o’ technology, give or take a couple of minor quirks (one of which will be discussed below). This is what the little puppy looks like. Cute, huh?
Well, it was a pricey number weighing in at around ¥250,000, but that’s pretty good for a decade’s hassle-free use. Hassle-free until a year or so ago, that is. That it suddenly became hobbled since its external CD burner conked out, and being an elderly beast utilising weird out-moded 19th century SCSI cables, no replacement or fix could be found. Why was this such a show-stopping problem, since the main unit itself was fine? Well, the CD was used for two vital purposes, namely (1) backing up the data so that songs could be imported and remixed at a later date, and (2) for producing the master CD for my albums which could then be duplicated elsewhere.
Now luckily I’d already mixed down and burned to CD eleven songs for the new album, but alas, a further four were stuck inside the machine, trapped for all eternity in binary limbo, seemingly unable to ever escape from within their electronic cell and see the sonic light of day, as it were. Bummer!
But soon I bounced back from despondency and hatched a cunning plot. All that I had to do was to pull out my wallet and pour a huge river of roubles into the hands of some music gear vendor and all would be well. Yes, folks, it was time to buy a new recording device, and to that new device I could connect the old one by means of a digital cable and thus ferry the scared, frightened little songs across into a bright and shiny new home from whence they could rejoin their brothers in wave file harmony!
I scouted out the territory, and discovered that stand-alone digital recorders are on the wane somewhat, giving way to computer-based recording software. Well, bugger that, I thought. I like to twiddle real knobs, not use a wayward mouse to manipulate fake virtual ones. And so it was that I purchased what I thought was the best of the remaining hard-drive recorders, the meaty-looking Yamaha AW2400 for a mere ¥200,000. Oh yeah, baby, an upgrade from 16 to full 24-track functionality, and a whole slew of new knobs and LEDs the meaning of which I did not know.
Problems solved, I thought. Soon be mastering the new album and pumping out a whole host of new ditties to boot. But here we are, nearly a year after buying the new beast, and no album, and no new songs.
The Yamaha AW2400 turned out to be a perplexing and infuriating machine which just would not yield good results, no matter what I tried. I dutifully sent over the songs trapped on the VS-1680 by digital cable, and they sounded fine on the AW2400, but for some bizarre reason when mastered to a CD on that shiny new device, the results were pitiful. The migrated songs sounded like poo. Weedy, dull, and at a microscopic volume compared to the songs mastered on the old machine. All manner of sonic manipulation was attempted, but nothing could make the two disparate groups of recordings sound the same or even come out at the same volume. No, the AW2400 is a flawed beast indeed, with what I believe those in the trade would call ‘low headroom‘, and compressors so gay they couldn’t squash a fly. Well, now is the not the time nor the place for an in depth discussion on such notoriously difficult areas such as compression, a strange audio property the correct attainment of which has been known to cause grown men to bite their own heads off.
Stymied, I even tried sending all of the stuff from the various sources onto Cubase, a well-known make of PC music production software. The results? A foul sonic slurry the likes of which I wouldn’t play at my worst enemies.
Thus thwarted, I abandoned the album and recording in general, and spent a year doing the unthinkable: practicing my instruments. Yes, that’s right – actually concentrating on improving my virtuosity. My chops improvement (although I’m a vegetarian), but still I felt down and miserable at not being able to fully realise my musical creations, not to mention having shelled out a fortune for a seemingly useless heap of junk.
Then last December came the new iMac, and I wondered if I might just have one last try to sort the whole unsatisfying pile of sonic poo before throwing the AW2400 out of the window and urinating on it, and drowning my sorrows in absinthe. Now the wonderful Mac operating system Leopard comes pre-installed with a pretty good audio creation programme in the shape of Garageband, but I opted to shell out a bit extra for the more substantial Logic Express 8.
And so, was this new device the solution to all my woes? Was it buggery! The trail merely became even more hazardous to my mental well-being, at least int he short term. See, these audio programmes are sheer hell to learn how to use. Basically, the only way to get to grips with them is to use them, and that takes time and a hell of a lot of patience. Manuals are typically useless, having been written by nerds for nerds, leaving the rest of use to flounder in misunderstanding and bewilderment. Let’s say you were faced with my particular problem, that some of your songs were loud and pumped up, but others were thin and weedy. Could you find an entry on how to rectify this in a recording device’s manual? Of course you couldn’t. Take the Logic Express manual – it’s about 750 pages long, and contains entry after entry telling you how each knob, button, command or feature works, but omits to tell you what you would use it for. Hey, wow, this button here toggles the meter displays from ‘pre-fader‘ to ‘post-fader‘ – great, now in God’s toilet would I want to do that?
Well, I’ve learned these things before, and I could do it again. After all, I mastered Cubase through the necessity of having to use it every week to record the long-gone A-Bomb City Podcast.
OK, so I brewed a really hot cup of tea, rolled up my sleeves, and sat down in front of the iMac, ready to do battle. First job – import the eleven songs from the CD made before the demise of the VS-1680, and dump each one onto a separate stereo track. Done! Connect the VS-1680 to the iMac by way of optical cable via an Edirol UA-25 and import the four trapped songs. Done! Connect the AW2400 to the iMac by USB and transfer over the one song I’d actually recorded on the new machine. Done! OK, put all sixteen tracks into the correct order, space them out one after the other, and that’s step one complete.
But guess what – I suddenly noticed that all eleven of the tracks from the VS-1680 CD were flawed. See, one of the quirks from that old girl was that the markers denoting the beginnings of songs would always end up slightly off, so that a tiny portion of the beginning of each song would be shaved off and appended to the end of the previous one. Bummer!
So, I had to reconstruct the entire CD and learn the hard way how to re-cut all the tracks and then export then out and back in to the new album master. A real pain in the arse, which took a couple of weeks to figure how to achieve.
OK, one obstacle overcome, now the biggie. What to do with the four weedy sounding tracks with respect to their big ‘n’ beefy counterparts. Well, you might think you could just raise the volume of the former and reduce the volume of the latter, and all would be OK, but no! I tried it, and it resulted in a very low-level CD. Trying to increase the overall volume just led to clipping and distortion, and so there was nothing else for it – to dive into the murky world of compression! Aaarrrghh!!
To cut a long story longish, I twiddled knobs feverishly for a couple of weeks and eventually managed to accomplish the unthinkable, the very thing the machinery seemed to want to prevent, a decent-sounding album. It’s not perfect, the are a couple of ‘issues‘, but probably nothing that the average cloth-eared MP3-consuming idiot would notice.
But no! What about the artwork for the album? Gack!!
Now remember at the top of this interminable post I mentioned that the Gods were conspiring against me? Well, they have just thrown one further 152mm howitzer shell my way, right here, right now, as we were so close to completing the project.
Get this, I prepare all the pictures for the artwork, solve a couple of annoying hold-ups, and then find that the ‘inkbleed‘ font I use for the STAVKA logo is the only font which mysteriously fails to appear in the text tab for the GIMP imaging software that I use. That’s right, folks, as of now I’m blocked at the post by the inexplicable non-appearance of a fuggen font! Ugh!!!
So, the ‘soon-to-be-released‘ appellation continues…