Saturday, August 16, 2014

Archeology (my computer music evolution)

Today was blessed with the absence of headaches (as opposed to yesterday, when I had one from 6am until 9pm). In the morning, I surprised myself by swimming 18 lengths in the pool, the first six without stopping: quite an improvement from six weeks ago!

In the afternoon, my wife was cleaning out my 'office' - basically a passageway in our house which is crammed with a computer credenza, four sets of bookshelves and hundreds of books and disks. She found a cupboard packed with old computer disks - both 5¼ and 3½ - which I have no possibility of reading. I'll try and find a computer museum who might be interested in them. In the same cupboard were two piles of audio cassettes; at first glance, these seem to be composed of three different types: records which I used to taped for to listen while walking with a walkman, rare recordings of Fairport Convention et al. (these were the days before cd burners) and cassette recordings of myself.

It's the last group which currently occupies me. I have probably related how I first started using MIDI in February 1996, initially at a friend's house and then on my computer. At first, I didn't have any way of recording these songs so I simply stockpiled them - not that there are so many; I was still learning how to create a song using MIDI.

In the summer of 1997, I went on my own to Britain for ten days - specifically for Cropredy 'week' but also for a few other activities. I spent a lovely week in Banbury, with music in the evening and wandering about during the day. I bought a lovely blue shirt which I still wear to this day, but the most important purchase was a cassette tape deck which cost 40GBP. I think that this was a double deck, thus allowing me to copy tapes. The idea was to connect the computer's sound card output directly to the tape deck through line in sockets, whilst singing into a microphone connected to a different socket. High tech for 1997! 

Once I had this machine installed at home, it was only a short while before I starting recording. One of the tapes which my wife found was recorded in the week 19-26/9/97, and this is the first tape that I transferred to computer this evening. There are several songs which are very familiar; most of them have been awarded with a second and even third recording in later days. Listening to them, my impressions are:
  • I sang quite well, without the aid of pitch changing software and multiple takes stitched together
  • I had yet to learn about syncopation
  • Either I had yet to learn about MIDI drumming or else the drum sounds that I was obtaining were so bad that I preferred to go without drums
There's a second tape, recorded a bit less than a year later (it took me a long time to create the songs) in May 1998. In the summer of 1998, we went to Britain again, this time returning with a computer disk of drum patterns. In the second half of 1998, I created yet another set of songs, this time with drums, and recorded them again directly to tape, in January 1999.

Just as I completed recording, I was talking with a new worker in the factory who suggested that I use a sound editor on the computer instead of recording to tape. He gave me a program which I installed, then used it to rerecord the songs. Obviously, the recording was much cleaner, with no tape hiss or hum. I even managed to add some effects.

A few months later, I found a program which turned the computer into a multi-track tape recorder: I could record the music once, then record myself singing on as many tracks as I needed, editing and adding effects. I could finally mix properly.

Until now, all the music was being rendered by the computer's sound card (there would have been a change in computers for I'm fairly sure that the sounds achieved in 2000 were not those of 1997). The next step in the computer music evolution was the move to Reason in 2005 which was a huge step. Again, it took me quite some time to learn how to create songs with MIDI and Reason. Since then, the only change has been the use of pitch changing software, which I seem to need much more than I did seventeen years ago. This may be due to me singing very softly into a mike a few inches from my mouth, instead of singing loudly into a microphone about a foot away. Maybe I should try the old style again... if I had some songs to record.

[MPP: 494; 0, 1, 6]

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