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Me, Myself and I

New audio showcase

A new home, a new country indeed; and so a new showcase, covering a wider variety of work.

What’s not included (and why):

  • Restoration work (copyright and attribution issues);
  • Sermon recordings I’ve worked on (owned by employer, samples available upon request);
  • Other recorded works I’ve not been able to clear for use due to copyright, or other reasons out of respect for the artists and their plans for future development and release.

Pilgrim’s Pod Radio Hour – Episode 3

UPDATE (26/2/2014):

This is the edited version, to keep the show length under an hour, and to tidy up some slower-moving passages.

ORIGINAL POST:

Another episode was recorded on Friday 7th February.  A slightly different feel to this one – with more spoken content. Featuring Liz Jadav and Phil Gallagher.

Technical notes

This time, the live-stream was sourced from the software mix that created this edited recording.  I’ve fixed a mistake where I ran out of hands to sort the live-stream mix during the intro, and we re-recorded a song with Paul after he’d choked on some water just before his song!  Aside from those issues, the stream levels were much more easily managed this way, and mixing the recording live with the usual processing in-place also made this edit much quicker to produce!

Also new to us was a Superlux S502 ORTF mic (select “English” from the top-right of the linked page), used for room ambience and audience.  Compared with the AKG 451’s we were using, rigging was much simpler, and the resulting sound was slightly more consistent.  I’m really pleased with this mic in this and some other applications; subject for another post I’m sure!

Getting an EMU 0202USB working with a Raspberry Pi

In the last couple of weeks, out of curiosity, I’ve bought a Raspberry Pi to play with at home.  It’s really very impressive to see what can be done these days with a $35 computer – an “educational” model at that!

Our Pi is currently in place as our digital audio player, courtesy of the Volumio linux “audiophile” distribution, and an EMU 0202 USB audio interface.

Once the Pi was booting Volumio off the SD card, I found two things that needed doing:

  1. Set up the Pi to pull files off our NAS device.  In theory this can be done from the Volumio web interface, but I had to go hacking around editing config files to make this work seamlessly.
  2. Set up the EMU for optimal digital playback.  I take a somewhat different path on this to most “audiophiles”.  I’m specifically aiming to implement a software volume control, provided I can run the digital audio chain at 88.2KHz/24bit, or higher.  This means CD/MP3 content gets upsampled, while some recordings made natively at 88.2KHz/24bit get to be played that way.

The Volumio forums helped me out with point 1, but I’ve lost a lot of brainpower and free time to getting the EMU to work properly.  I could get it to play out at 44.1KHz/24-bit, but any attempt to play native files at higher rates, or to have MPD upsample, resulted in obviously robotic-sounding distorted playback.  It turns out the key was simple:

It seems the clock rate on the EMU 0202 and 0404 USB devices is assigned to a fader in ALSA, which in this case I accessed using alsamixer.  There were two faders for my 0202:  PCM and Clock rate Selector.

The latter has a range of stepped values, equating to the following sample rates:

  •   0% 44.1KHz
  •  20% 48.0KHz
  •  40% 88.2KHz
  •  60% 96.0KHz
  •  80% 176.4KHz
  • 100% 192.0KHz

What I’ve learned then is that to get the setup working, I needed to not only set Volumio (or the underlying MPD player) to resample to the target output rate of 88.2KHz/24-bit but ALSO to set the Clock rate Selector to 40% in alsamixer.

All works happily and I’m loving the more “analogue” sound of the EMU in that mode!

UPDATE, 23RD FEB 2014:

I’ve managed to get MPD to reliably resample to 176400Hz/24-bit (32-bit internal, 24-bit at the card.) by forcing the Pi’s turbo to “always on” and a slight overclock. It’s not *quite* perfect yet, so i might see if I can push it a little harder before documenting our full setup.

Rocky road ahead: Google Cloud Print (BETA)

Background

An organisation whose IT team I know well has moved a lot of their services across to various Google platforms.  The move has been considered largely positive by users and management alike, not least because it has significantly reduced the management and infrastructure burdens on their organisation, and has genuinely improved IT-related life in many key ways.

The move therefore continues apace.  One problem identified by the organisation is that there seems little sense in paying c.£500-£1000 per head for a computer setup that spends the vast majority of its time being used (legitimately) as a web-browser.  The various Chromebooks undergoing trial have been a huge success given their planned usage, but with one common problem:  Users in 2013/14 STILL need to be able to print.

[Enter Google Cloud Print (BETA), Stage Left]

Image

“No problem!” says Google, “Here’s Cloud Print!”.  There are two flavours of documentation presented, in “consumer” and “IT Administrator” guises, both essentially saying (and ultimately describing) the same thing.

For those who haven’t come across it yet – the idea is that you buy a “Google Cloud Print Enabled” printer, give it 24/7 power and Internet, and you can print to it from anywhere, using your Google account in various creative ways.  Specifically for my friend, it gives print access to Chromebooks and other portable devices for which no other good printing solutions already exist.  Essentially if it can run Google Chrome, it can print.  And the concept is really neat.

Forecast: Storms ahead

There’s a thunderstorm in some clouds however, and this service is no exception.  I’ve heard a few common complaints in various pub-conversations, and even investigated a few when I’ve experienced them myself within my own Google Apps domains:

  • First off, some printers, once correctly hooked-up and signed-in, simply stop receiving Cloud Print jobs.  Often, turning them off and back on, and waiting up to a day, solves it.  But sometimes the log-jam becomes permanent.  Printing via local network or direct USB connection works fine from machines that can do it, but all Cloud Print jobs get stuck, forever destined to be “In Progress”.
  • The Cloud Print Management interface looks surprisingly mature for a Beta product, except that it gives very little information about what is really happening.  Once a job inevitably gets stuck, there’s no option to do anything other than to wait, or delete it.  It can’t be diverted to another printer.
  • More worrying, the status-codes are too general.  Sure, I don’t need a verbose running commentary when things are working well, nor perhaps when a job is “in progress”.  But when things get stuck, I’d like more information about the problem than the job simply being flagged “Error”.
  • Google provides no technical support for Cloud Print – so beyond what you can find in documentation provided either by Google or your printer manufacturer, you’re on your own.  No support. No apparent feedback mechanism even.
  • If something does go wrong, often the only way to fix it is to delete the printer on Cloud Print, and re-assign it.  This might be fine for single home users, but for anyone looking to share a printer between two or more people, this gets complicated, because you then need to share the newly-set up printer again with those who need it.
  • Then there’s the pervading security concern.  Where are those jobs going when travelling between the browser and the printer, and in what format?  Are they encrypted?  Are the documents scanned for content by Google or anyone else on the way?

Google comes close to a partial-answer in the FAQ/support page, with the following statements:

Documents you send to print are your personal information and are kept strictly confidential. Google does not access the documents you print for any purpose other than to improve printing.

For home users, that might be good enough.  At least there’s *something* in writing.  But for a business I’d suggest it’s too vague.  Let’s leave that alone for a moment and look at troubleshooting; how do I get a print queue working again, if I’m using a cloud ready printer?  Again, Google has a partial answer:

If you’re using a cloud ready printer…

Okay, done that, and checked that.  Still nothing.  Now what?

Conclusions?

Some reading this might say I’m being too harsh about what is *really* only a beta product.  And they might be right, if the product was released within the context of a beta product essentially being marketed or released only to technically-interested (and competent) people for evaluation, feedback and improvement before a wider release.  What’s happened instead is that some printer manufacturers have jumped onto the product by offering support (good), but without making it clear that this is a BETA service which may change, break or be taken offline at any time, without warning (bad. Very bad).

Even the business run-down provided by Google doesn’t mention its BETA status, and gives no clue as to how support or (useful) feedback can be found, nor even submitted.

So, is this going to be like so many other recent Google BETA products to get half a momentum going and then suddenly be killed? Or will it actually become more like Gmail and mature into a properly supported service, with SLA’s available to those who need them?  Only time will tell, but meanwhile based on what I know now, I’m finding it very hard to recommend deploying Google Cloud Print in my own organisations in its present form…

Pilgrim’s Pod Radio Hour, Episode 2 – Christmas Special featuring @miriamjones

Well, here’s the second episode of the Pilgrim’s Pod Radio Hour, with our host Will Mackerras, Paul Enns leading the band, and our special guest Miriam Jones!

I’ll possibly expand on this later, but we had a lot of fun making the show, so I hope you enjoy listening to it!

Online music streaming – missing a note or two?

Google Play logo, courtesy Wikipedia
Google Play logo, courtesy Wikipedia

Quick thought, while I’m procrastinating…

While I’m not planning to let go of physical media anytime soon – not least the vinyl collection, I’m becoming a huge fan of Google Play, and its ability to play music “uploaded and matched” from my own collection.  Real bonuses for me are that this happens for no extra cost to my Google Apps domain, and  it seems to work well wherever I have a reliable ‘net connection.  The quality when listening via headphones and Google Chrome on a laptop is surprisingly good considering they’re MP3’s – possibly transparent enough to pass a proper ABX test between them and the original uncompressed digital stream on CD.

But something is different, and something is missing… quite a lot of things are missing actually.

Where’s the song information?

Geeks might call this “metadata”. The information about the making and content of the recording is as useful to me as the actual content itself.  I like knowing things like, who wrote the song I’m listening to. I might want to check the lyrics. I might also want to know whether I’m listening to a particular remaster or reissue.  While the content and artwork are there on Google Play, I’ve got absolutely no idea at first glance which exact version or release of a song I’m listening to.

At present, I know who the release artist is for a song as it plays, and from which album. I can even see the album artwork for the majority of my collection, as well as a release year.  What I don’t know without doing a *lot* more digging is whether the particular copy of “Bohemian Rhapsody” I’m listening to is from a 1990’s remaster, or the more recent (2011?) remasters? I’m not ordinarily such a geek – a great song is a great song whatever the media it’s carried on.  But it’s good to know nonetheless.  Especially if I happen to like the work of a particular mix/master engineer, or if I purchased a particular CD release of an album due to a known heritage, which has been matched to another version which sounds particularly different.

I think it would be really nice if digital streaming/shop purveyors could actually provide the full information of the songs they’re sending us.  There are more involved in most major releases than just the artists, and it’s only right that they get the credit, even if the information shows no significant other commercial purpose.

What even made me think of this?

Listening to the current version of Queen’s “A Kind of Magic” up on Google Play, I’m noticing a lot more musical and tonal detail in the recordings than I remember from my own CD copies.  This is an album I’ve known for the whole of my musical life, and I therefore have some very strong memories of it, and can recall absurd amounts of detail regarding both musical arrangements and sonic character and how they were reproduced differently in each of the releases I’ve owned copies of.  Since I’m hearing so many new things despite listening on familiar equipment, I’d like to understand where they come from.  Since I like the differences, I’d like to know if they are due to a particular engineer’s approach to remastering, and whether I can find more by the same engineer.  Or whether I can learn something about the engineering approach that led to the result I liked so much.

On the one hand the freedom offered by always-on streaming access like this is wonderful – but on the other it comes with a lot of compromises, and with a lot of things “hidden” from view that I feel really should be open to us all…

A personal note…

An unashamedly personal post, this. I’ve been feeling a lot of burden this week for my city, for my church, and for my friends.

I’m not going to pass comment or judgement on either the G8 protestors or the police trying to keep them and the rest of us safe while the former apparently seek an audience and outlet for their frustrations.

With all that to one side, it has to be said that the near-constant drone of helicopter blades and sirens over London’s W1 area, whatever their purpose, has been a very visceral reminder and signpost to a deep feeling of being utterly besieged, both at work and perhaps to life in general, when I sit back and think about it.

As a Christian I know that times of trial come and go, with the apparent aim of God refining and purifying us through them, and that during those times we ought to seek comfort from the Bible, and from our friends and family – however trite such words and wisdom can feel at the time of struggle.

And yet, as I sit back at home with the brief and comforting respite of Al Stewart’s “Time Pieces” spinning atop our inherited turntable rig, these words from “Life in Dark Water” jump out as a stark reflection on how this week so far feels to me, a mere mortal trying to make sense of the tensions I’m seeing and feeling from around me:

..:Why am I alone here with no rest…
…They’ll never know, never no never,
How strange life in dark water can be.”

From a biblical perspective, this song seems to present a very “Job”-like set of woes and words. The song itself seems to be written from the perspective of the Marie Celeste and her crew, with an imaginary crew-member apparently left behind and trying to make sense of the 500 or so years that have passed since. “What happened? Why me? Why now?”

Some comfort comes I guess in knowing deep-down that this time will pass, and lessons will hopefully be learned. While I process that deep-down thought however, I’m somewhat encouraged that even ‘secular’ music can touch a nerve and bring out understandings and reflections about myself and how I feel about the situations I find happening around me, and at the same time can still point me to memories of comforting truths long-lost in the battlefield.

So I can thank God for helping me connect some dots, and also I can indirectly thank Al Stewart for writing words and music which connect at such a deep level. I’m very grateful for both comforts this of all days.

Tempted to bang on the walls to alert your noisy neighbour to your plight?

Don’t.

Firstly and as many Londoners might naturally feel, there is of course the very practical consideration that fighting back in this way tends only to inflame an already delicate situation. Secondly, here in the UK at least, in your malice you might be creating an actionable private nuisance yourself!

Sound strange? Maybe, but look what happened when this kind of case was brought to court, many moons ago…

The case of Christie v Davey, 1893, 1 Ch 316

Seems that Christie here was a music teacher, who gave lessons in her house. Mr Davey, living in the semi-attached property next door, didn’t much like the noise. It seems he complained directly to Mrs Christie more than once. I’ve just found online a letter purporting to be penned from Mr Davey to Mrs Christie:

“During this week we have been much disturbed by what I at first thought were the howlings of your dog, and, knowing from experience that this sort of thing could not be helped, I put up with the annoyance. But, the noise recurring at a comparatively early hour this morning, I find I have been quite mistaken, and that it is the frantic effort of someone trying to sing with piano accompaniment, and during the day we are treated by way of variety of dreadful scrapings on the violin, with accompaniments. If the accompaniments are intended to drown the vocal shrieks or teased catgut vibrations, I can assure you it is a failure, for they do not. I am at last compelled to complain, for I cannot carry on my profession (the defendant was an engraver) with this constant thump, thump, scrap, scrap, and shriek, shriek, constantly in my ears. It may be a pleasure or source of profit to you, but to me and mine it is a confounded nuisance and pecuniary loss, and, if allowed to continue, it must most seriously affect our health and comfort. We cannot use the back part of our house without feeling great inconvenience through this constant playing, sometimes up to midnight and even beyond. Allow me to remind you of one fact, which must most surely have escaped you–that these houses are semi-detached, so that you yourself may see how annoying it must be to your unfortunate next door neighbour. If it is not discontinued, I shall be compelled to take very serious notice of it. It may be fine sport to you, but it is almost death to yours truly.”

Evidently the letter (which is also referenced and indeed quoted here) didn’t have much effect, and so it seems that Mr Davey took to making noise in retaliation whenever he heard anything from Mrs Christie.  Mr Davey’s noise in turn distracted Mrs Christie’s music lessons, and so Mrs Christie took Mr Davey to court to get him to stop.  According to records I’ve found cited many times online, it would seem that the court ruled in favour of Mrs Christie and granted an injunction against Mr Davey.

Surprised?

When I first heard this story, it was told as Mr Davey having brought the case to court, to get Mrs Christie to stop her teaching activities, and that the court turned the tables on him.  This would have been a much bigger surprise than what I’ve found to have been documented.

Given the presented evidence of his ongoing sufferings, if this case came to court now I might still ordinarily hope for a ruling in favour of Mr Davey. But on reflection, I think there’s an principle at work here:  one cannot justify the creation of a new nuisance, especially out of malice, in order to fix or protest against another.

A lot of water has passed under a lot of bridges since this case originally came to court in 1893.  I’m intrigued to see what others might think of this case in light of our present-day exposure to noise, and whether attitudes have changed about such confrontation.  I wonder if there are any more recent rulings that might counter this one?

Welcome

DSC_2426Professional audio engineer and hobbyist creative technician, based in Brooklyn Center, MN.  This blog hosts some of my personal and leisure interests as well as some examples of my professional work.  All works and opinions represented on this site are my own, unless otherwise credited/quoted.

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