Improvizone

Things that needed doing before the next gig

Andrew Booker 2007-03-29 21:21:36

Ooh, all sorts.

First of all, non-musical stuff. Sharp-eyed and frequent visitors will have noticed a couple of spam postings in the comments for tracks and articles. I left us open to this with our completely free posting policy, however, je ne regrette rien. Besides, the solution was simple, as you will have noticed if you've posted stuff in the last couple of days. Those letters you have to copy, that's a CAPTCHA, and it's pretty crude, but it has blocked every single spam-splattery so far. I have probably just spoken too soon, and no amount of touching wooden desks/ornaments/heads will stop someone eventually cracking it. By the way, if you are trying to reverse engineer what I'm doing, and you don't get in within about three minutes, then

Anyway I'm glad the spams seem to have been minced for the time being, because it was an annoying distraction I could have done without for a couple of days.

In time for this gig, I put up a few posters around the venue. It's a reasonably smart bar, so I half expect they took them all down again the very next morning. On the poster, I stuck a few very small images of players such as me, Mike Bearpark, Nick Cottam, Simon Laffy (who I hope will be playing at the April gig), and even a blurry picture of bassist Pete Morgan, sadly headless in this instance, taken at a Tim Bowness gig. Meant to do a poster for the first gig but didn't get round to it.

Perhaps the most important technical crease to iron was sorting out the recording glitches that have laid waste all our soundscapery and beatings from the first gig. Naturally, of course, I have left this almost until the last minute. I had a play with it just now, and increasing the CPU priority for the audio processing in Cubase seemed to do it. Might be taking the minidisc to the gig just in case.

Another thing I've done is take the lid of the Ensoniq DP/4. This is a very powerful effects unit that dates from before flash RAM. These days we all walk around with several gigabytes of memory in our phones and on sticks and keys, and forget that back then, if you wanted memory to be held in RAM after you unplugged the power, you had to have batteries. Super.

Can anyone expect a tiny 3v 3032 lithium cell still to be potent in a 10+ year-old piece of equipment? Nope. Thus it was, two days before the first gig, I realised I couldn't save any settings. I had to save them onto paper. I lived with it last month, but decided I would take the matter into my own clumsy paws and have a go at botching it myself.

I didn't know it was a 3032 until I took the lid off. It had been soldered into the board. You can just see it in the top right hand corner of the PCB. I had an idea. I desoldered the battery and threw it in the bin. Then I put one of those little battery clips in, powered up and poked around with the multimeter. I found 4.6V across the empty battery terminals. Cool. I've now stuck in four AA 1.2V rechargeable camera batteries (totalling 4.8V). I've had the power on for about five hours now and they haven't blown up, in fact they're not even warm, so this will hopefully last me for good. The batteries will be recharged by the unit while it's plugged in, and as tough camera batteries they should easily have enough power to last it for years of unpluggery.

This means I can now actually save effects settings to this unit, turn it off, turn it back on again and still find them there. I spent a good 15 minutes at the last gig re-entering effect settings I'd written onto paper before. It was either changing the battery or finding out how to do MIDI sysex dumps without a MIDI card. Mmmm. Battery.

There is a third technical problem besides the DP/4 and the recording glitches. My drum notemaps. These convert the MIDI notes from my electronic drums, which I have set to notes 01-20 for all patches I use, to MIDI notes that I might want to hear from a sound module. I have notemap for every possible key I can think of, eg A minor 7, C dorian (when you play a augmented 6th), F major 7, etc.

In the early days I thought I was going to have to enter all these manually, and die of boredom in the middle of it, but I discovered a useful feature of Cubase is that it lets you import these as XML files. Unless you're a programmer, you won't realise just how cool this is. I made a little MS Access database of various different notemaps and wrote some JScript to connect to Access via ODBC and generate XML notemap files to import into Cubase. I did this last year for the HiD gigs, and also used it for the MB/AB join the dot album.

The trouble is my setup is a prototype that's now beginning to show its cracks. I could probably live with what I've got for one more gig, but I've been trying to revamp the system a bit. Especially as I've now lost the ability to use Access or JScript on this machine as a result of stringent antivirus software, which I've now removed, but which seems to have taken the odd vital utility with it, namely the JScript engine. Ffffing great.

So far I've rebuilt my notemap database in MySQL, the database engine used for this site, and have a nice PHP screen for entering notemaps which is already better than the Access one. When I've tarted it up a bit I'll publish it on the site so everyone can see what I'm doing and the mystery of how I achieve such trickery will be dispelled. But first I need to port my generation script over to PHP so that Apache (the web server) will make my notemap files for me, not JScript. I may or may not get this done in time for the gig. Better stop rattling out this waffle then.

Oh, and believe it or not, I've been practising the drums too. Alright then, don't believe it.

2nd gig: Wed 28 Mar 2007 at Imbibe, SE1 << | >> To-do list