Category Archives: Music

Rocksmith’s Real Tone Cable and USB 3 Ports

This is one of those “Posting of my strange technical troubles so that anyone in the same situation might find it and save some time” posts.

While attending CES, I decided to use the downtime to bring along my bass and electric guitars and try to get some much-needed practice time in. After failing to get  the PS3 I’d lugged along working with the hotel’s TV system, I decided to bite the bullet and re-buy Rocksmith 2014 for my laptop. I felt a little foolish in the process, but Vegas is the perfect place for such money-wasting foolishness, and I reasoned that if I weren’t using my time to practice my bass, I’d likely lose a lot more money downstairs in the casino practicing my blackjack.

So, program downloaded, bass at the ready, I launched the game, only to find out that it couldn’t “hear” my guitar over the known-working Real Tone cable I’d brought with me. I quickly traced the issue to the cable not working with my laptop’s USB 3.0 ports (it appeared as a non-working “hocksmit” device under Windows’ device manager).

After much fiddling around, I took a run down the street to the casino-themed Fry’s Electronics and bought the cheapest portable USB 2.0 hub I could find ($6.99). Plugged the tone cable into that, the device was suddenly now recognized, and voila–I’m off to master Bush’s “Machinehead”.

Note: there’s a rumor afoot that the newest incarnation of the tone cable works better with USB 3 ports. Can’t confirm this myself, as my cable came with the original Rocksmith game.

This One’s For Neil…

OK Go: This Too Shall Pass

Music Discoveries: Clayton Senne

As a rule, opening bands are something to be tolerated, giving you a chance to grab that extra drink before the main act comes on. Of the scores of concerts I’ve gone to, I can only think of a couple that turned out to be really pleasant surprises: Radio 4 (opening for Gang of Four) and now Clayton Senne, opening for Everclear at the Independent.

“Clayton who??” I can practically hear you say–and frankly, this sounds exactly the sort of opening act that you sort of plan to come to the show late for so you can miss. That was certainly my plan when Carolyn and I went up to the city to see Everclear, but the unknown presence of a second opener frustrated it, so I wound up catching Senne’s show anyway–and I’ve rarely been so happy to have a plan go wrong.

Senne’s the leader of a jazzy three-piece combo that would right at home in a smokin’ New Orleans club, but instead hails from Orlando, Florida. Unpretentious to a fault, he’s clearly having the time of his life with his first big tour, and he’s well worth checking out. Fan videos like this will give you some idea of what he’s about, but you should definitely check him out on his infinitely better-recorded debut disc, “Wonderland” — I’ll admit that even after seeing him play and chatting with him for a bit, I dawdled in putting his disc in to give it a proper spin, but darn this guy (and his band: bassist Mitchell Boyles and drummer Scott Hall) can really play!

Like the saying goes: check this guy’s music out, and if your toes aren’t tapping and your body moving by the third cut, see a doctor. You may be dead ;-)

Pandora Comes to the Playstation 3!

The latest firmware update for the PS3, 2.53, comes with a note that it allows for support of full-screen Flash movies. What it doesn’t say—but which is far more important—is that it fixes their browser so that Pandora ( now works on the PS3!

If you missed the previous post on it, Pandora is an amazing free internet service which specializes in bringing you music like the music you like. For instance, if you tell it you like the band “She Wants Revenge”, it’ll create a personalized radio station which features that band—along with dozens of other groups which share similar characteristics. You can even vote “thumbs up” to a given song to tell it to play more music like that one, or “thumbs down” to make sure it never plays that screechy Alanis Morissette tune or that meandering 9 minute electronica exploration again. In short, it’s everything you wished “real radio” was.

And now—thanks to the unlikely marriage of a game console and our living room’s AV receiver—we can now listen to our own customized internet radio stations in the main entertaining area of our home. Awesome!

Rush plays Tom Sawyer on Rock Band


Rock Revolution by Konami at Comic-Con

We somehow coaxed Carolyn into attending Comic-Con this year, and she and I spent a couple of minutes wandering the hall before the floodgates opened and plunged the place into sheer chaos. We even managed to stumble across Konami’s “Rock Revolution” which a rep was boasting “was way better than Rock Band”.

We were in a hurry, but I had to stop and check it out. “Way better?” I asked. “Tell me more!”

“Uhh…” the marketing guy began, looking suddenly very uncomfortable… “Well you know how Rock Band is just guitar and drums, right…?”

“And vocals and bass guitar!” Carolyn chimed in.

“Well… I don’t know if this one has vocals, but… <mutter><inaudible><mutter>We have Really Great Songs!” he finally said.

“Awesome! Can we check it out?” said both Carolyn and I. And within minutes we were getting ready to flail away on “Somebody Told Me” by The Killers.

That is a great song, and I was intrigued by the six pad (plus bass pedal) drum kit. Carolyn took “beginner” on guitar while I tried “medium” on drums.

My unfair, 4-minute-long review of the game? It seems to miss the whole playing music thing for the sake of button pressing, in the same way that “Dance Dance Revolution” makes you move your feet, but doesn’t actually resemble any sort of dancing I’ve ever done. This may all be a long way of saying that I completely cratered on a drum piece which I could play on real drums in my sleep.

The thing I’ve really enjoyed on the drum part of Rock Band is that it breaks down the real drum part in a way which actually makes musical sense to a drummer. To wit: if you can only play one instrument at a time, make it the bass drum. Two: bass drum and snare. (Heck, if you can hold down those two in time, along with the a time-keeping element like a hi-hat or ride cymbal, punctuated by the odd cymbal crash, you’re not far off from being a functional drummer).

Rock band starts with the basics (bass/snare/cymbal) and ups the subtlety level of the rhythm as you go up in difficulty level. Rock Revolution, on the other hand, despite—or maybe because of—having more pads to play with, seems to treat drumming less as a musical exercise than as a button-pressing one. You don’t start with a (simplified) version of the real beat of the song, but instead just hit vaguely related parts of the rhythmic structure strung out between six different pads.

On “Somebody Told Me”, it’s incredibly awkward because of the bass drum part is almost completely omitted (the anchor for the entire song!) and you spend your time instead trying to figure out which combination of pads corresponds to part of the remaining snare/hi-hat rhythm (which is even more disorienting since there’s no hi-hat pedal, and that song relies heavily on the up-down action of the high-hat throughout to entire chorus).

I sucked on it. In exactly the way I suck at arcade drumming games–and don’t suck at Rock Band, or on real drums. Take it for whatever it’s worth.

For her part, Carolyn pronounced the “Easy” setting on guitar to be “way easier than Easy in Rock Band”. She ventured that it might be a good game for folks who had problems with Easy not being easy enough, but after that, we had to thank the rep and scoot to pick up Neil and Kelly from the free babysitting service provided to Comic-Con exhibitors during setup for the show. (Kids aren’t allowed on the show floor during that time, due to the constant back-and-forth of heavy machinery and forklifts).

New Round of Custom Instruments for Rock Band

Want them already.

Rock Band drums

(I Also want bigger picture of the drums so I can make out the margin notes)

How to Talk to your Kid About Drugs…If He’s an Alice in Chains Fan

If you’re a parent, you know that part of the game is having those six or seven conversations about the Big Uncomfortable Topics (Sex, Death, Drugs, Suicide, and at least a few more).  I somehow managed to hit two at the same time tonight when Neil and I were running through the lyrics of the song “Would” by Alice in Chains (a fine piece of metal/grunge if there ever was one) while waiting for a The Movies (a Sims-type movie-making game) to install on my computer.

We decided to check out the “Would” video on Youtube while waiting, and after remarking at the raw power of lead singer Layne Staley’s voice on the track, I noted as an aside that he’s now dead.

“What happened to him?” Neil asked.

I replied by making a needle stabbing gesture to my arm and bluntly saying, “He offed himself…heroin O.D.”

This in turn led Neil to asking several great questions, ranging from “What’s heroin?” to “Why do rock stars seem to do that sort of thing a lot?”

We got to talking, although I think the whole subject is just incredibly sad. The same drug originally designed as a substitute for morphine (prominently used to stop the shattering pain of critically wounded soldiers) — can wrench the guts out of a normal person who gets addicted while using it to escape some pain in their life. With heroin especially, the physical addiction and withdrawal symptoms are legendary, and Layne Staley’s final years were ones I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

And then you’ve got the even better question of why it’s often the good times—when fame and fortune are suddenly yours after years of sweating in obscurity—that throw so many musicians off their footing. What is it about having so much money and so many new “friends” around that can make musicians and celebrities want to withdraw into themselves—or do stupid things to mess it all up?

These are great questions, and for my part, I was just glad to be having the discussion with a ten year old to whom the whole thing was entirely theoretical (although we both agreed that we’d like get a chance to see how we’d handle fame and fortune ourselves someday!)

Eventually, the game got loaded and we moved on to the task of laying out a 1920s film studio and grooming our own stable of virtual stars (who, ironically, can also get addicted to food and alcohol in the game!).

“Pfew!” I thought as the game began… well, that’s one conversation down…

“Guitar Hero” for Real Guitars?

Leaving aside the obligatory Guitar Hero and Rock Band bashing, anything which makes playing (and especially learning) an instrument more fun has definitely got my interest. So this definitely seems worth checking out to me…

The Age of Mid-Fi

I love music. I listen to it pretty much constantly; play a couple of instruments (some even competently!); and have bought about a bajillion CDs in my life. But I’ve never truly been a hi-fi purist like some of my fellow music-lovers—at least when it comes to listening to it outside of a recording studio control room.

A few years ago (a referenced in my earlier Tech Carnage post), I decided to “rip” my walls full of CDs to MP3 format in order to remove three entire storage racks of them from my living room, as well as be more easily able to listen to them when I was in different rooms or at my computer. At the time, I used a bitrate 50% higher than standard: 192KB/s, because cymbals in particular tend to fall apart on 128 KB/s MP3s. (Like most musicians, I tend to automatically tune in to my own instrument when listening, so as a drummer, 128 KB/s MP3s are pretty awful for me. 192 KB/s MP3s, on the other hand, hang together pretty well in all but my best listening environments.)

And that was part of my big realization when undertaking that project. Sure, if I close my eyes sit at the point of an isosceles triangle with my best speakers at the other corners, I can usually detect the difference between a low-bitrate MP3 and a CD, particularly on music with some subtlety and dynamic range. But when the heck do I listen to music like that anymore?

Let’s face it: 99.8% of the time I’ve got music on, it’s either coming from 1.5″ speakers under my computer monitor; the set of headphones which came with my iPod; amidst the road noise and weak speakers of my car stereo; or—if I’m lucky—on a slightly less weak set of speakers mounted to the walls of my study. An audio engineer would bust a blood vessel pointing out the huge ranges of frequency in all these environments which are either over-accentuated, obscured, or missing entirely.

Worse yet, most of the time I’ve got music on, I’m not listening to it: at least not in the sense that I’m blocking out all other external stimuli and really focusing on it. Sure, there’s some part of my brain that’s busy grooving along and memorizing every insipid lyric on the latest White Rose Movement album, but the rest of my brain is usually working on other things, like…err… blogging.

While closing your eyes and bathing yourself in the aural splendor of true high-fidelity music is a wonderful (though tiring) experience, we live in the age of “mid-fi”: music that sounds reasonably good, delivered with no irritating skips, scratches, or tape hiss…to distracted people listening in noisy environments on bad speakers. And we’re OK with that.

Rolling Stone has an excellent article on this in their latest issue (thanks, Hud for pointing it out!), including talk about how heavy use of volume compression has made virtually everything we listen to on the radio sound louder than in the past. It’s fascinating stuff.