Category Archives: Technology

The Analog Studio Fire Sale

music_gear

When our house in San Jose didn’t immediately sell when we put in on the market, I decided to take the heartbreaking step of demolishing the 3-room recording studio I’d painstakingly built in my garage, restoring it to a plain-old two-car garage. Whether due to chance, or (I prefer to think) since it opened up my home as a potential purchase to folks who had no idea what they’d do with a recording studio, the home sold soon afterward.

Although Carolyn and I definitely worked hard to cull the herd of our possessions before making the move to our new home near Nashville, most of my former studio gear made the trip–even though I don’t have a studio in the new house. As I try to piece together my new office and work area, however, I’m starting to think that I made a mistake in hauling most of the analog studio gear across the country.

Starting tomorrow, everything from my treasured 32-channel Mackie mixing board, to my vintage Kawaii R-100 drum machine, to a rack full of effects processors is going up on eBay. And my old studio furniture–custom-designed for my control room–is heading for the dump. The mere thought of doing this is killing me, but I’m increasingly convinced it has to be done.

Music Gear vs. Technology: Fight!

Whereas classic instruments and microphones can hold or even increase in value over time, the same is almost never true of electronics. Many a musician gets a thrill playing with the controls of an original Linn drum machine, or listening to unforgettable sounds of a Roland D-50 or Korg M1 synthesizer. But now, modern musicians can simply load up the sounds and characteristics of these old pieces of gear into their DAW (digital audio workstation) instead of maintaining a private museum of vintage gear.

My rackmounted effect units weathered the test of time even less well. The effect processing powers have improved massively in the past many years, to the point where even famous effects–e.g. a Lexicon reverb–can no longer compete with the algorithms and processing that powers a modern computer-based DAW.

Perhaps more to the point, my analog effect units are starting to no longer fit into the modern recording process.

Most older rackmount effect units typically processed analog signals (such as the input from a microphone or guitar), giving out an altered signal (i.e. adding reverb) over the rack effect’s (analog) outputs. If you wanted multiple effect processing on a signal–e.g. adding a delay, some reverb, and a chorus effect to a guitar tone, mixing it in with the bass and drums, then routing the result a compressor to smooth out the dynamics of the resulting mix–you’d accomplish all this by patching the whole signal chain through numerous effect units, effects returns, and submixes, adding a little bit of distortion each time the signal had to be converted between analog and digital.

In the modern world, once a signal is digitized, it’s typically processed entirely in the digital realm, where it’s immune to the noise that comes with analog combining, as well as multiple trips between the analog and digital worlds. Instead of chaining together several rack units using patch cables, a DAW lets you create a virtual patch bay allows the musician to chain together as many digital effects as they want, while keeping the resultant output entirely digital–right up to the time it’s mixed, mastered, and pressed on CD or distributed over the internet.

In a world where you can do all this digitally, why use analog effect units at all? Possibly the best reason comes down to the ease of doing a simple effects chain by just plugging in cables and twisting knobs. But when sound quality is critical, or the effects chain gets complex, digital wins hands down. My old rackmount effects have some good tricks up their sleeve, but at some point they become John Henry working against an infinite number of steam shovels.

In a new home, without a dedicated performance room and control room, I’ve got to be able to do the entire recording and performance job in a relatively compact space. Switching entirely to a digital recording chain just seems to make the most sense at this point, even though I’ll definitely miss the immediacy and tactility of working with dedicated sound and effect units vs. the rather abstract nature of a DAW.

So, it’s with real sadness that I’m preparing to bid farewell with what are truly some of my most cherished possessions. If you’re the sort of person who loves classic gear, check out eBay in the weeks ahead for some real bargains.

 

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Selling Revolution? Not on Google!

I’ve spent large portions of the past few weeks working with Google’s product feeds–the big data files which provide them with the various items that appear under Google Shopping.

(Fun Fact: Everything you see under both Google Shopping and Bing’s Product listings are paid ads–neither service will show items which don’t directly kick back money for the click to the search company in question. This is why the shopping results seem much more limited in their results than the corresponding web searches).

A less fun fact is that Google has extensive algorithms for blocking content that “violates their system policies”. Since I’ve been attempting to upload simple lists of all the comics for sale on Atomic Avenue, it’s been interesting to say the least to discover what title names qualify instantly for blocking (in most cases, apparently immune to any sort of human review–not that we haven’t spent numerous hours begging for just that. The repeated answer is always that we have no choice but to remove the “offensive” material”).

Google refuses to explicitly confirm their algorithms for filtering, but after hand-reconciling the banned items from the more than 1.6 million comics we are attempting to list, I can say with some confidence that these are some of the low-lights of their often ludicrously broad–I’d go so far as to say “utterly defective”) algorithm:

  • Ridiculously, Google treats as offensive any comic title containing the word “Black“. (E.g. “The Black Knight“, “Black Ops“, “Black Panther“, “Black Widow“, “Batman: Blackgate“, etc.)
  • Same story for a variety of miscellaneous “angry” nouns: “Rage“, “Malice“, etc. Several issues of The Avengers, for instance, have been rejected since they include appearances by a character named “Rage“.
  • Sword and sorcery titles may be huge, but they’ll apparently have to get by on the sorcery alone. Any title containing the word “Sword” (e.g. “Savage Sword of Conan“), “Dagger” (e.g. “Cloak & Dagger“) is denied. Same thing goes with “Gun” and “Rifle“–even “Mace” (Sorry Mace Windu!).
  • Google seems to have a fear of books or products which mention armed combat. “Revolution” is consistently banned, as is “Uprising“. (Goodbye Marvel crossover events, as well as science-fiction titles). “Frontline Combat“, the classic E.C. war series also can’t be posted.
  • Muse” and “Pandora“? They’re not just bitchin’ female comic characters–apparently they’re also now the names of prescription meds and are automatically banned from posting (although apparently you can file an appeal to have these reconsidered).
  • Mental issues seem to be a touchy subject: Bedlam is banned, as is all mention of the Watchmen character Rorshach.
  • And then there are the weird, and strangely ominous ones. for instance, “Sentinel” is an automatic disapproval, whether it refers to the Marvel robots, the English sci-fi mag, or Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty. All banned.

It’s too early to say whether Microsoft (Bing/Yahoo) shares this similar–and rather odd, to say the least–set of exclusionary rules. I’ll update the post once I know how I do going through their catalog process.

As a postscript, Google has recently floated the idea of changing search rankings of news sites based on their deemed “truthfulness”.

It’s worth noting that this proposal for filtering the world’s news sites comes from the same folks who are currently banning the word “Black” from product names.