Infection Music Blog

I've been away from my desk since April 2015 - just over four months - although, truthfully, it feels like an eternity, and certainly far too long to be forced away from the projects you've fed and nurtured for more than a decade.

I'll explain more about my absence in a later update but, suffice to say, it was longer than I anticipated and nowhere near as much fun.

So what now? I plan on finishing a couple of projects, get some machines out into the public domain and then see where we go from there. There's been a huge resurgence in hardware instruments in recent years now and, thankfully, there's no sign of that happy state changing, and the market for what we do is still strong.

However, that's not what keeps us going. We originally set out to do good work, to make some good instruments, and that means good by our standards, not by others. We design instruments that we want to play, that we want to enjoy and we hope that others will enjoy.

That's what keeps us going.

I've spent this morning trying to retrace my footsteps, attempting to remember where I was and what I had in mind when I last walked this path, and it's not been easy ... but we'll get there.

Infection Music Blog

Update 27-May-15 : History repeats itself...

As detailed elsewhere, after fifteen years of excellent service, our ageing Macintosh G3 running at a hefty 266MHz finally gave up the ghost and went to the great pile of Silicon in the sky. Actually, that's not strictly true. It went up into the loft and it's been there ever since, alone and neglected, and quietly awaiting the day when it will be recycled into something else.

We opted for Apple's Logic X Pro as opposed to sticking with Cubase because our tests demonstrated that Cubase was unstable at best and, at worst, just downright unreliable. The reviews suggested that, as Logic was an Apple product, it would be more stable than a third party vendor.

Alas, we were wrong. Logic is every bit as unstable as Cubase.

Last night - two crashes. I didn't lose much but it was irritating. The previous night - one crash, which took out the sample set I'd just constructed. That was annoying because it bombed whilst I was saving the patch, just like you're supposed to.

Okay, so bugs are a fact of life with software and Logic is a deep system. I'm expected a few problems as we slowly get into the package. However, I wasn't doing anything that you would call complex when it bombed out on me. I'd just recorded some MIDI to be played back through a software sampler. Not exactly difficult, eh? But Logic just flipped and I lost my work.

As a customer, my expectation was higher. Logic should have been able to manage this simple task without going into a frenzy.

And so, once again, history repeats itself. What began way back in 2002 with a series of irritating and ultimately expensive crashes, crashes which cost me an album deal and a lot of lost sales, resulted in the development of a hardware sequencer that wouldn't crash, wouldn't glitch in the middle of a performance and would follow the program specification every time you switched it on.

Get ready to meet Haydn.

Infection Music Blog

Update 07-Apr-15 : The Return of the Blog

So … here we are again. The Blog. Yes, we're back with yet another incarnation of this fabled literary tome.

Anyway… New adventures, new destinations, new friends.

So much has happened in the last couple of months - some of it good, some of it pretty bad. Some of it? Well, indifferent is the best word, frankly.

Where to start?

Facebook has been my platform of choice for disseminating information for the last couple of years. In the beginning, our SynthBuilder account worked out fine. We enjoyed a steady stream of visitors and a slow but steady ramp up in the number of people finding the page and liking it. Sadly, that rather enjoyable situation didn't last, and Facebook decided that they wanted their slice of the action. Right now, if we want to reach a significant proportion of our core audience then we have to pay for the pleasure. That's okay. I don't have a problem with that. It's business and Facebook has bills to pay. But the rates are just way too high for our pocket book and we have to think again.

As a marketing tool, Facebook is pretty much broken and seems likely to remain that way indefinitely. Part of the problem, I think, is that there are so many people on Facebook and they're all asking their friends to like their pages, and unless a friend has a specific interest in that activity (personal or financial) then they just don't really pay much attention to the request.

And that's why I've resurrected to blog, as a marketing tool and as a vehicle for telling people what we're up to, in the vain hope that it will encourage visitors to come back and read future entries.

Also… I like the sound of my own voice, and I like writing so... combine the two and we're off again...

So.. to the news...

We lost our ageing Apple iMac in April of last year. It had been a good solid workhorse over the years, even if was a little temperamental on occasion but it earned its keep and served us well, and I was genuinely sad when it failed to boot. A replacement unit was out of the cost so we made do with our Mac PowerBooks until they too started to fail under the stress. Faced with the loss of yet another laptop, I decided to take a chance on a new machine - another iMac - which is currently installed in the studio.

That's not the full story. Initially, we piloted a new PC since the cost compared to a new iMac was significantly lower. However... our new Quad Core Dell running Windows 8 proved a massive disappointment. Slow, buggy and largely incomplete, it was moved to the work room within a week and has stayed there ever since.

The iMac arrived a week later but that left us with a significant problem. Which DAW do we choose?

I thought long and hard about upgrading to Cubase. And then decided not to.

I've been a Cubase user for nearly thirty years. Back in those days, it was original called Cubit but Steinberg weren't able to use that name thanks to a copyright infringement. Cubit morphed into Cubase shortly after its debut in 1990 and, because I was a technical journalist for Sound-on-Sound magazine, I managed to snag one of the first copies in the UK.

In 1990, Cubase would only run on an Atari ST and took advantage of its built-in MIDI ports. It ran quite well on our ageing Atari 520ST although to get the best out of it, we quickly upgraded the machine to a 1040ST. When that machine died in 1995, we migrated to an Apple Performa 520 and Cubase 3.

When Cubase 4 arrived, it seemed like the logical progression but that all changed with a software demonstration in Newcastle's SoundsLive store, when nothing in Steinberg's demonstration, not one single thing, went according to plan. Shambolic was the best word, frankly, and I walked out early and with my wallet intact.

Yes, Steinberg lost a customer and a fan that night, and we decided to stay with Cubase 3 thereafter, or until a better, cheaper version of the package turned up. That didn't happen either. It seemed that every time I tried one of Steinberg's products, it died within minutes and, along with it, any creative idea I'd conjured into existence.

Skip forward a few years.

With the new Mac in situ, I started trialling up-to-date versions of Steinberg's Cubase 8 and their version of Apple's GarageBand, called Sequel. Sadly, neither delivered anything like the stability I wanted and the sound quality, that most fundamental attribute of any modern DAW, was well below expectations. The deciding factor came when Cubase 8 went 'tits up' twice within twenty minutes and, well, that was the end as far as I was concerned.

I did a bit more research and eventually opted for Apple's Logic Pro X package, which has much in common with Cubase although the endless grey on grey scheme does become irritating after a while.

Thus far, Logic is fun and the experience has been enjoyable albeit not entirely intuitive in places - loading VSTs being a case in point - but it works and we've recorded some useful ideas in the last two weeks.

The next step is to upgrade the sound card - our Boss UE-1A unit doesn't work with Yosemite - and then to remaster a couple of tracks for a new library project.