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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Moody Blue's Mike Pinder And The Mellotron

During their time, the Moody Blues were very musically influential for their use of an orchestra with their music, but also for using one of the first simulations of an orchestra with an instrument called the Mellotron, played by the vastly underrated Mike Pinder. In the following movie, Mike describes how he used the instrument in the band and a bit of how it works.

The second movie is an interview that Mike did in Los Angeles in 2010 where he answers questions, plays some famous parts that you'll instantly recognize, and describes the Moody's influence on The Beatles.


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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Next Disruption

Guitar body made from a 3D printer image
Guitar body made from a 3D printer
We live in an age where business disruptions come fast and furious. The biggest one that applies to musicians, of course, is what digital music has done to a music business that basically worked the same for more than 50 years. Now we're living through another as streaming becomes the choice of music consumers over buying downloads.

We've seen other disruptions in the music business as well, how about:
  • the digital audio workstation kills the tape machine business and the commercial recording business
  • music copy software like Finale kills the copyist business
  • sample libraries decrease the need for orchestras
  • loop-based music decreases the need for studio musicians
Probably one of the earliest disruptions was the drum machine, and for a while drummers had a problem getting work making records. We've seen how that turned out, with producers and artists eventually rebelling against the sound and stiffness of the machine, with a new generation of drummers developing who could hold tempo as good as a drum machine with better feel.

Of course, we've lived in a world of disruptions for a long time, with our everyday lives changed almost overnight thanks to a new bit of technology. How about:
  • the typewriter being replaced by the computer and printer
  • the cell phone killing the landline
  • digital cameras killing the film business
  • LCD tech killing the old CRTs in televisions and computer monitors
  • the Web and Wikipedia replacing encyclopedias
  • desktop publishing replacing traditional publishing
And if you want to take it back even further, you have:
  • the automobile replacing the horse and buggy business
  • steamboats replacing sailing ships
  • plastic replacing metal and wood
I'm sure you can think of dozens more. The point is, we live in a world of disruptions, and they sometimes happen right before our eyes without us realizing it. That's why I want to call to your attention the next major disruption that's happening right now, hidden in plain sight - 3D printing.
Personal 3D Printer image
A Personal 3D Printer

3D printing is sometimes called additive manufacturing (traditional machining is subtractive manufacturing) and is the process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. The way this happens is that successive layers of material are laid down to make an object that couldn't never have been traditionally manufactured.

Large companies have been using 3D technology for some time to do rapid prototypes of everything from cars to footwear to architecture,  but the technology exists to actually make drug compounds and even human organs from stem cells. In fact, the price has come down to the point where personal 3D printers are available for much less than $2,000, with one even being shown at the 2013 Winter NAMM show.

As you can see from the guitar on the left, we're not that far away from making our own instruments, regenerating new parts for the ones that need to be fixed, or creating musical items that we can't even conceive of at the moment, right in our homes with technology as ubiquitous as the inkjet printer that we all have. The fact of the matter is, we're further along towards the goal of a true Star Trek Replicator than you might think.

There's a lot of money to be made in this space, and we're right at the beginning of the disruption. Make sure you ride the wave.

More on 3D printing in this video.


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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The 2 Principles Of Acoustic Isolation

Double Stud Wall diagram
Whenever I do clinics at universities I always get a number of questions about home studio construction, since most every musician wants and needs one. One of the most frequent questions is about ways to increase isolation so the neighbors won't hear what you're doing. Here's an excerpt from The Studio Builder's Handbook that explains the two principles involved in acoustic isolation.

"When building almost any kind of space (especially a home studio), the first question that both musicians and engineers ask regarding acoustics is, “How can I make sure that my neighbors don’t hear us?” There’s really no secret to this one, although everyone thinks there is. All it takes is adhering to the following principles during construction:

Isolation Principle #1 - All It Takes Is Mass
If you want to increase your isolation, you’ve got to increase the mass of the walls and ceiling of the structure that you’re in.

The more mass your walls have between you and your neighbors (that includes walls made from cinder block, brick, wood, drywall, etc), the more you’ll keep the outside sound from getting in, and the inside sound from getting out. 

One of the ways that most pro studios accomplish soundproofing is by building a room within a room, which is done by putting the floor on springs or rubber, and building double or triple walls with air spaces in between on top. Needless to say, this gets expensive and is impossible to do if you start out with a small space that’s only 10 foot x 10 foot to begin with since you’ll be left with no room to work in an area that small. But there are other ways to improve your isolation that can really be effective and completely acceptable (though never completely soundproofed) that are quite a bit cheaper. 

We’ll go over this a lot more in the following chapters, but here’s basically what needs to be done. All it takes are some construction tools and a little time.

Add some mass to the walls and ceiling to increase your isolation. This could be as simple as adding another sheet of drywall to your existing wall, all the way up to building double studded walls with an air gap in between (see the figure on the left). Before you go nailing up another sheet of drywall and expecting total isolation, you must be aware of some acoustic realities.

Walls are subject to what’s known as a “mass law” that states that every time you double the mass of the entire wall, you get an extra 6dB of isolation, which you can hear but it’s not a huge difference (you can barely hear 3dB). The problem is, you need about 10dB of extra isolation for the sound to subjectively decrease by half. This means that you need about four times the mass to get only half as loud, which is not nearly enough to isolate something like a rock band.

To put it another way, if you add another sheet of 5/8 inch drywall to your single stud wall, have a listen and decide it’s not nearly enough isolation, you have to add six more layers (for a total of eight) in order to cut the sound in half. And that assumes that there are no leaks in the wall and the sound isn’t going through another path such as the ceiling, floor, side wall, or window, in which case NO amount of extra drywall will help. 

You can see the limitations of just adding more and more drywall. First of all, there comes a point in time when the wall just gets too heavy for the underlying frame, and as you’ll see, there are much more efficient methods to increase the isolation.

Unfortunately, there is just no easy or cheap way to isolate a room. The easiest way is to use what’s known as “mass-spring-mass” or MSM walls, which means you have a wall (the mass), then an air space (the spring), then another wall (the mass). That gives you a double stud wall, which is essentially a room within a room (see the figure on the left again). 

Isolation can be increased slightly by sound damping products like Green Glue and resilient channel (see Chapter 5 for more details), but mass and MSM walls are still the best way to get some major isolation. This brings us to Principle #2.

Isolation Principle #2 - Leave No Air Gaps
Isolation can be easily defeated by air gaps anywhere in the room.

Think of air like water. 
If you fill the room with water, any space between any construction joint would let the water (or air) leak out, so the idea is to make sure that there are no air leaks.

Leaks that allow the sound to violate the isolation is called “flanking transmission” and is a major cause of poor isolation. You can have four foot thick concrete and MSM walls but you can negate those benefits if there are air-gaps anywhere in the room. This is especially true for doors, which are the greatest culprits for acoustic leakage, but can also be true of windows and seams between drywall. There can be no air gaps if you want maximum isolation, it’s as simple as that. It’s best to use an acoustic sealant on these spaces because it doesn’t break down with age, but any kind of caulking will work in a pinch. It’s also important to have a tight seal around any light fixtures and on-off switches, AC outlets, mic panels, wall junctures, and HVAC vents.

Sometimes, just eliminating the flanking transmission can increase the isolation by more than you think, so make it a priority."

The big problem with isolation is that the principles are easy but they're labor and materials intensive so they cost a lot. Luckily, acoustically treating the room is much easier.


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Monday, April 29, 2013

Eno's Music For Hospitals

Brian Eno in his studio image
We always think of music in the popular sense, selling millions of tracks to adoring fans, or at the very least, to other musicians who dig our work, but there are a number of other avenues for music worth pursuing. One of these is music therapy, where music plays a part in the rehabilitation of the sick or injured. Brian Eno, who has specialized in his own brand of "ambient" music for decades, has taken that to a new level with several audio and light projects to help sooth patients in hospitals in England.

Eno is debuting two new projects at the Montefiore Hospital in Hove, England. One is entitled "77 Million Paintings for Montefiore," which is a sound and light installation in the hospital's reception area. The other is a special "Quiet Room for Montefiore" in a custom space for patients, staff, and guests to escape the hectic daily hospital environment.

Anyone not familiar with Eno's "Music For Airports" ambient project, which was designed for soothe weary travelers, should give it a listen, since it's some of the most relaxing music you'll find anywhere. Apparently this was also the basis for the hospital project as well, as he reportedly began work after a local surgeon related to Eno the positive effect it had on his wife and how he could see it working in a hospital environment.

While most hospitals are filled with the latest in tech, they've not always kept pace with the latest in environmental tech. As a result, I can see how this could catch on in a big way. Hospitals are some of the most stress-filled places in modern day society. Anything to relieve that stress only a little should be welcomed.

The Montifiore compositions are custom one-offs only for the hospital, and will not be released to the public.


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Sunday, April 28, 2013

New Music Gear Monday: The Vo-96 Acoustic Synthesizer

Every now and then a new piece of gear comes along that's truly revolutionary in that it provides us with either a completely new way of doing something, or rarely, creates a new sound. The Vo-96 Acoustic Synthesizer clearly falls into both categories, transforming the sound of the acoustic guitar into something completely new, which then changes the approach to playing it.

Creator Paul Vo was the inventor of the infinite sustain technology inside the Moog guitar, and now he brings a similar technology to the acoustic guitar that changes it into an entirely new instrument. The following video is from the Kickstarter campaign for the Vo-96, which has already passed its goal of $50k with two weeks to go.

Have a listen as the acoustic guitar creates new sounds you never thought a wooden box was capable of.


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Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.


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