The New Studio!
August 2011

 


Finally the day day to move into the new studio has arrived! It seemed a long time coming, but it's only been a couple of months since we put up the first frame.
Of course I've been waiting for this all my life! Quite a change from the "fold-out" studio on the boat,
..and the 3rd floor studio was so small you had to twist your neck to get behind the keyboards. Now I can wave my arms in the air, wow!

   
  The acoustics are still in need of work, but the shape gives the room more of a ambient reverb than a hard slap-back, which is almost preferred. There won't be any more furniture other than a few chairs going in here, which won't do much for reduction. There will be a throw rug though, which, if the sound is bouncing the way I think it is, should cut it back some.

I painted the floor with some glossy grey urethane we acquired free at a garage sale,  but the color doesn't do much for the light show and tends to reflect both light and sound quite a bit. Hence the throw rug.

It's big and spacious enough to jam with several people, so if you're in the mood...!

The rig is somewhat dwarfed by the size of the room, and isn't used this way in performances, but it's really comfortable to reach for all the controls

                 


                                                             "Mission Control...."

   I've been able to hook up the the  big Peavey monitors my neighbor Jamie gave me, along with my old $5 JVC's, so it really rocks in here if I want it to!

Now it's time to get back to writing tunes and laying out some tracks for that new album!

 

 

 

  -THE STUDIO/ HARDWARE-
What's new in the studio? What's the equipment?
 
Recap: Upon moving off the boat, I decided to build a whole new studio, and leave the boat studio as is. That way, I if I feel the urge, I can still lay down some tracks while sitting happily at some isolated anchorage.
The latest addition to the stage arsenal, besides yet another mic stand, is a home-built stage lighting controller. I am keeping it small-ish for now, with 12 dimmer controllers, all running off MIDI so sequencing can be automatic along with whichever piece I am playing. It's still under construction, but should be basically operational by the 17th Aug.2011 (I hope) I'll post more when it's done ;)
The main mixer for studio and road, is this Phonic Helix 18 MK II I scored on Ebay, and the main MIDI controller surface is this UC-33 Evolution. They fit nicely into this fold-out table case I glued some foam into.

The Sweet16 MIDI controller I designed a few years back, still earn a place on the rack with some unique MIDI conversion features still not in any hardware I know of. I still haven't found a suitable road case for the Kawaii X-150D, so it must be handled with care.

I have found using a keyboard stand off to one side when on stage allows people to actually "see" me, instead of being behind all the stuff! Some people thought my music was somebody just playing "canned" music. Ug! (...that could be a compliment right?)

The cheapo keyboard, that I use for vocoder/filter/step control is a Casio CTK700, and the only reason it's here is because it has midi...it's awful sounding!  
 

 

 
Recent Equipment Additions:  
March 2013:

   I've decided to buy a brand new Korg Micro-Korg Synth. It is a fully programmable synth, just like the old style with cut-off, resonance, envelope etc. But it has lots of banks and is MIDI programmable/dumpable. It's small size makes it a real winner for doing gigs, not much real-estate in the truck!

  The only thing I don't like about it is the toddler sized keyboard, which was probably implemented to keep the unit small, but for me that doesn't matter as most of the time I am playing it via MIDI from the big keyboards, or sequencing into it.

  The presets are a bit weak, but it's a good jump-off point to programming this deceivingly
in-depth sound machine. It can also run on batteries, great for waiting for the ferry!

  One great build-in, which I am just beginning to perform with, is a nice vocoder complete with it's own mic. I strap that little mic onto my "real" mic, so I can control how much vocoding is going on during different parts of a song.

Thumbs up Korg!

 


Micro Korg

 
  As a gift from Gena ( because she bought something really expensive for herself! ) the opportunity to obtain a nice little V-Drum type of setup came our way...cheap! So I went for it like a fish after a shimmering flasher. I was in the middle of building a set for myself (below) but had only done the design work...also I need the exercise, drumming is  a great workout.

  This set by Yamaha is semi-professional, but has a great sound on the amps. What's more is it can be controlled via MIDI (yay! Another band member!!) and, as I discovered later, has a complete XG instrument sound set. The Yamaha chips are nothing to stick your nose up at.

  The small pads, usually for cymbals, are a bit "too" small for my liking, as I keep missing them with the sticks. I'm sure I'll adjust, but real cymbals are so much easier.
  Another thing that peaved me off was the pedals, or..er..foot buttons. I'm developing a better setup because after playing a real kick drum, these pedal are like steering a car with your feet.

  You can see the wood holder I made as they kept running all over the floor. Eventually there will be a metal pedal on the right button. This is way better already.

  I do a lot of performing in the grass, and nearest I can figure, I'd pound these buttons into the ground in the first 2 minutes!

  But then, for a couple hundred bucks, including a nice Tama seat and snare stand, who's complaining??


Yamaha Drum Machine DD-65
Studio Projects
A New Light Show!  
I've been working on a lighting controller, or DMX (MIDI) controller if you will. It's been an ongoing project collecting everything up from second hand stores, and the scrap yard, but it's really beginning to take shape!  There's a page specifically for that if you're interested. I've named it the "Light-Sixteen" keeping the "16" tradition from the sweet 16 MIDI controller. Plus it has 16 light controls, from floods, to spots, to LED strobes, a dual follow spot, even a laser!
 
This video shows some of the lights on the floor etc. controlled by the same sequencer that is playing the music (just a tune I did for the lights, not for the music, in case you're being critical hehe!)

Can't wait to perform under this!


3D test layout of lightshow, Real layout below
 

 

 
A RockBand Drumset to MIDI Hardware Hack!  
Back in the "old" days, I had a real set of drums, some Diamonds, and used to play almost daily. But as time went on, the opportunity to play them became less and less.

So a really  cheap set of used V-Drums made from "RockBand" toy drums, modified, MIDI-fied, and Fresh-ened up, will be the new set in the studio.

Follow the next project on the slab (like I'm not busy enough already right?) here.
*This project has been halted completely as I just bought a nice yammy set!! (above)

   
A Nice Big Amp for free! Just needed some fixin'  
 A year ago, Gena & I and some friends were checking out the local scrap yard here on the island and I found a beat-up old 70's Heathkit Stereo. (Sorry no pic, it was ugly and huge!)
One day I hooked it up and all it did was hum into my 150 watt speakers. But it was a VERY loud hum. This means lots of power! The thing weighed 60-70 lbs too, not kidding.

So I tore it all apart, threw away the tuner and input switches and all that, and found the main power supply capacitors were blown, so replaced those. After a test to make sure everthing was good, I built a nice small case, well 18" long, just big enough to house the transformer, heat sinks and amps. I had to add a fan of course as air must flow through it right?

No tone or bass control, just volume for each channel, and raw clean power comes out.. Wow is it loud!!

It wasn't finished until some dollar store sparkley things were added to hide the poor workmanship of the new cabinet and handle. (Right)

It still weighs 45 lbs, but the handle makes it easy to carry. It may drive a sub in the future, not sure.

I have re-built the tower speakers, as I blew them out with the Marantz, but realize this amp doesn't have the drive now to deal with the new 350 watt coils! Achhh!
So I guess it's back to the Marantz.

On the good side, I did manage to acquire a 1000 watt bass/sub system from Rock-it Music in Powell River over the summer. Sweet!!

     
     

Shrinking a big ugly toy-ish Casio Keyboard into a cool MIDI synth!

 
  Ok, this is going to take some explaining!
Back last summer I bought this Casio Keyboard, mostly for the stand, and discovered it didn't sense velocity on the keys. Junk! So it sat outside for a few months, then became a Midi controller for a vocoder for a while.
  One day I noticed the Midi going into it does have velocity, they just cheaped out on the keyboard itself. So suddenly it became useful again. As I hardly wanted to haul yet another keyboard around to shows etc. I decided to beef it up a bit and stuff it into a piece of plywood! Some audio mod's made this a much better sounding thing.

                           

   Now that's better! (Below) Looking from the back it just looks like a piece of glossy plywood.
It sounds kinda retro, but hey, that's all in style again right? Actually, those 8 bit sounds seem to add something to my dance music. I'm feeding it back into the mixer on channel 9&10, right next to the Kawai. That way mixer FX can be added. Sweet!

Oh and I made the Midi-Out a Midi-thru, so it can also be used for daisy chaining to the light show. You're gunna laugh at what I ended up doing with that big Casio case...(next article)


Casio already torn apart


Routed out 1" plywood Gena had left over

   

 

 

Fresh DJ Controller  
No way! ....Way! ! Fresh DJ'ing?? Maybe!
Finally I have found a solution to keeping continuous music playing during a performance! It's called DJ'ing. Haha!
  Well ok that's nothing new, but to perform songs live in a mix with others is.
  As the tempo picks up, lights start flashing, and dancing follows, it's nice to keep up the beatz with some beat-matched canned music, mine or others. I've been practicing on software & am making a custom DJ hardware controller that allows on the fly switches from automated music/mp3's etc, to a song performed live, then back again, plus this unit will take care of a lot of wiring to boot!

It almost made it into the plastic bin, but not quite! The giant Casio case suddenly became useful again. Now it's just half a chunk of the original, but on top of a piece of plywood it makes a sturdy box for my latest innovation, a custom DJ/Midi/vinyl controller.


    


As can be seen in the picture above, I've already started making boards that will fit over the switches.
   
All the boards have been hand drawn instead of photo-etching as they are easy enough to do given their huge size. Lining up all those rubber pads was a bit tricky, but all seem to be correct so far.

I've decided to add some more MIDI USB interfaces and allow it to control my favorite DAW software FL Studio with one of them! Here I thought there was plenty of space, but as can be seen in the picture, not the case. (excuse the pun)

For more info and updates, visit freshdj.htm


   

 

Stage LED Light Bar!  
  After seeing some LED bars on stage at a "professional" gig, I have decided to go that direction as well. In staying with tradition, I will attempt to not only build a light bar, but make it way more powerful than stuff in the music store, and make it do some really neat mechanical stuff.

  I've already ordered the power LEDs so I hope this all works! There will be 48 LEDs @ 3 watts each, which makes nearly 150 LED watts (very bright!) comprised of the colors red, green. blue, yellow, & white.

*That's just cartoon in the pictures, not really me hehe.

  A really cool "spin" on the light bar is the ability to rotate nearly 360, plus it will have a powered strip lens that can be remotely actuated via MIDI ( my simplified DMX).
The whole thing, in fact, can be controlled via MIDI or Audio with preset sequences or direct control, making it good for stand-alone or using with my existing light show. Originally I had planned to mount it off of the light stand, but have found that floor lighting would be more desirable, especially as I stand more during a performance these days....  
 
more...

 

Stage Strip Lights!  
  Because I'm waiting for parts for the above project, I have started yet another. OMG! Where do I find the time?..you may ask, but I don't know really lol!  Anyway, this is going to be a fun addition to the studio / stage and I can't wait to see it in action. K.I.S.S. Sandy, K.I.S.S!  Check it out!
 

 

Performance KeyPadz!  
  This is something I've needed / wanted for quite a while now, and there's just nothing on the market that would satisfy the requirement. If I need to use accompaniment in a song, I must load the proper program, then load the song data, which is easy sitting at home in front of a computer desk with a mouse and keyboard. But on stage, especially in the bright sun, with a laptop style mouse and lots of nerves, it's extremely difficult to do, and takes an annoying amount of time.  Annoying for me and the audience! This "invention" will solve everything, and open a few new doors as well. Have a look!        
 

 

A Mixer MIDI Control Hardware Hack!  
 " Now she's just getting picky! " some of you will say after reading this, my newest project.

It's just another hand while performing, this time on the main mixer board. Not a pretty thing really, but it's hidden inside the mixer, so who cares!  It only took a day and an afternoon to design / build /test. I don't know why I just didn't do this before!

  Here it is..

    
A 600 Watt 2 Channel Amp!  
 This project just kinda happened. I wanted more power for my tower speakers that I blew out last summer and replaced the speakers with new higher powered speakers...now the old amp isn't enough!

  I fully had intentions on buying an amp from Carvin in California, but the shipping was almost as much as the amp, so I decided to just build one.

 It was a fun project, and this amp can be remote controlled with MIDI, not sure if that exists, but it should! GO THERE!

A 400 Watt (100W x 4) Stage Monitor System!
 At an outdoor performance I set up the sound system for myself and numerous other musicians. I took along my battery powered busking Amp, and decided it wasn't enough to hear above me singing.
  One of the musicians brought a pair of powered stage monitors, so I unplugged my amp and plugged in his. Unfortunately that was even worse, but the show had started and there wasn't a thing I could do.

  So the next day, my number one goal in life was to build a set of stage monitors! I realized I had been using these compact JVC's along with 16 ohm Peavy's (only in the studio) and they weren't blown. I bought those from the second-hand store for $2 so what did I have to lose....  GO THERE!

The SDS Tap BPM Drum / Sequencer Controller!
  The extreme need for an accompanying drummer has got me off my butt to create this amazing little drummer beast.
Playing in any tempo on Guitar or Keyboards, I can "Tap" the tempo and output programmed drum sequences via the keyboards GM MIDI drums, my V-drums, or Drum VSTs on the old PC MIDI input. There's 100 possible drum sequences!

  If this isn't already way cool enough, I can start/stop MIDI Play (sequencer), in tempo, in sync, at any time during a song. No more "Let's start the drum track and try to keep up", just a fluid double Tap does the job. Also the BPM can be changed on the fly, which is amazing during a performance with others.

                                                 GO THERE!

Some Wireless Color/White 56 watt Par 40 Cans! (Wi-Pars.)
  OK, OK!  Yes I probably have enough lights already, but I can't help myself. I don't know why but suddenly I want some nice little PAR Lights to clip on at venues....for me or others.

 I've seen all sorts on Ebay, but they're expensive, run on DMX512...which is ok but I like MIDI better, and need cables to connect them to a controller, which sucks in most places I've played at. Especially If it's a "hello, thankyou" type of performance.
 These I can just plug into mains, then  control with a small controller and/or MIDI via wireless.         GO THERE!

MIDI-Fix Running Status (Skipping Notes) Conditioner
 It is so nice to feel one is useful to others in one's old age, well not so old... but useful!
I recently purchased an Akai MPX8 Sample player, a new addition to the studio/live arsenal, and found it worked fine for my secret mega-project which, in this case, is to play drum samples.

After going on to the Akai site/forums, I found that all sorts of people were having problems with their v-drums and the MPX8 skipping notes, or not working at all. Well, I thought, luckily I have drums that do work with it! It turned out that my drums don't work with it alone, I had been running the drums MIDI though a special MIDI box I have been working on and without it, they didn't work at all! I found out that my box is fixing the dreaded MIDI Running Status Bug, as I'd had to deal with it a few months ago. So now people want this board! The best I can do at the moment is supply the programmed chip so they can DIY it. More...

 
Wireless MIDI RX boxes
  As you can see above, I've been designing a wireless lighting system. These little boxes receive and/or send to the unit above, or to each other depending on configuration.

All in the hopes of eliminating some of the MIDI cable madness I have to deal with during a "big" show!
Battery power is offset by MIDI pin 2, but sometimes it doesn't work so still figuring that out!

Coming Soon!
"Show-In-A-Box" All-in-one stage mixer!
  The Picture to the right would almost explain what this is, but it can be really versatile depending on how complicated I make it! I do need it!
It's a Sequencer, Looper, Recorder/looper , Automated Mixer, Tap Tempo, FX Control, MIDI hub, MIDI Synth, Accompaniment Box! All iside of a box about 7x7x14"!

  It's a cool project you can follow here...

VoiceLive Touch 2 Pedal 6-MIDI Hybrid Project (2018)
  The VLT2 is a fantastic and wonderful thing to port to a jam or just goof around in the studio with. It's primarily a vocal processor with rich harmonies, a myriad of "sounds like" presets, and smooth reverbs & delays, but it also loops up to 6 tracks which is sweet!
  Unfortunately the Pedal6 option for it doesn't control nearly what I would want it to, yet the MIDI control does. So logically I am building a hybrid Pedal6-MIDI controller and already the possibilities are really opening up!

I've also made it portable with a custom battery pack....

4 x 12 Mixer Expansion Project
 So as gear accumilates, more stuff needs to be plugged on to the Mixer. Recent additions to my already "full" 18 channels of board are: Modular Eurorack skiff, VoiceLive 2, Roland piano and more on the way.

 I decided enough is enough (the constant plugging/unplugging was getting to be too much!) I'm making an expansion to trun 4 channels into 12!

Follow it here

Paragliding: Variometer Project
 You're probably saying " Hey this doesn't belong here, a barometric device has mo place on a music site!"


Oh but it does as this Variometer (used to indicate altitude by "tweets") will be playing in C major for happy thermals, or C minor for sad sinks.
more...

 

 

 
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Webmaster Sandrine Sims, Video Gena Hollingshead
Thanks to Jamie Nuotio & Peter Locke for all the wonderful new inspirations

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