31 August 2010

Working Day and Night in the Studio at the Moment

At the moment I'm working day and night in the studio. I have some deadlines I have to make and it is all not easy. I also have a little flu which makes me a bit slower than usual. But I finished the track that I made with Bjorn Jepessen (Nattefrost) last week. So one thing is of my list. Now I'm working hard on the 8 track that will be on the ''Refuge en Verre' album that I'm making together with Ron Boots. The goal is still to release it the 9th of October on the E-live festival in Oirschot (NL), but it will be a very tight fit. nothing can go wrong. Ron is also very busy with all kinds of other projects and he is also performing in Bielefeld at the Electronic Circus on the 25th of September. So the week up front he will have to practice and won't have time for Refuge en Verre. I'll keep you updated if we make it :) I'm doing everything I can.

30 August 2010

Schallwende Grill Fest and Schallplatte 12

Last weekend I visited the yearly Grill Fest in Essen organized by the German Music club Schallwende EV. As always the atmosphere was nice and so was the BBQ :) This year another Dutch artist performed called Rene Splinter. I liked his concert a lot. So check his music out too. The bad news though was that the yearly Schallplatte CD was not ready yet. I knew my Mercury track would be on there, but they wanted to keep that a secret until that day. And in my enthusiasm I already sent the track with an Embargo until Saturday to some radio stations. And they already played it but the CD is not even released yet :( I felt very bad about that actually. Next time I better wait until I have the CD in my hands. Well the good news is that you can already listen to one track that is going to be on the Schallplatte 12 CD that is only distributed to the members by the way. So if you want to have it go to http://www.schallwen.de and become a member ;) I will put my track on my website later on, but I WILL wait now until I have the final CD. It is expected in about 2 weeks time. For now tune in to Sunday Synth on AR FM next Sunday from 10-12 AM (GMT) or listen to a greater part of it on Syndae Podcast #100 Volume 1. There is also a Synth.nl special on Elec Radio on the 1st of September where it will be played.

Dutch Masters Release Delayed to 1st of December 2010

The Dutch Masters project is well on its way, but it seems like some of the artists are not going to make the deadline that was set. Groove Unlimited planned to release this compilation album on the 9th of October during the E-live festival, but we are not going to make that unfortunately. A new release date is set now on the 1st of December 2010. So a little later, but not that much later. I'm afraid you'll have to be a bit more patient. I did hear the track today that is send in by Meesha. He made his track about the famous painting called 'Victory Boogie Woogie' by Piet Mondriaan. I liked the track a lot. So it will be worth the wait I assure you :) I'll keep you updated when there is more news.

Synth.nl now also on Radio Equinoxe

I recently came across a French radio station called 'Radio Equinoxe'. It is run by and made for fans of Jean Michel Jarre. Since my music is of course influenced by Jean Michel Jarre I asked if they were interested in my music as well and they were. So as of today my music is running on rotation in their playlists. And it looks like they are playing a lot of other music as well that I like. So give them a spin I would say. You can find their website here:


28 August 2010

New Mercury Track on Syndae Podcast #100

You can listen to a new track I made on the Syndae Podcast. Today Stefan has a nice anniversary by the way. It is his 100th show. Because it is a special he has made a 2 hours show in 4 volumes. My track is in volume 1. Be sure to congratulate Stefan by leaving a comment on his website! The new track is called Mercury and it is about the NASA Mercury Project. I will tell more that track later, but Stefan had it online a bit quicker than I expected :) So he has the radio premiere again. Be sure to check out his show, because the track is not even on my website yet. You can find the Syndae Podcast #100 vol 1 on this URL: http://www.syndae.de

24 August 2010

Amazing Fish Eye Pictures of my Apollo Studio

Last week my friend Chris was here to take pictures again of my studio. This time he brought a very special lens called a 'Fish Eye'. It can make pictures at a very wide angle, more than 180 degrees actually. So you can put way more in one image than you could ever do with a normal lens. You even have to watch out that you are not in the picture yourself when you hold the camera. The picture do look a bit weird because of the angle it is all a bit round on the edges. But I think they look great :)

You can click all of them for a larger version: Do enjoy!

23 August 2010

The Mysterious Way of Water

Last week our constructor came by again and removed a bigger part of our terrace. And now we are trying to find out ourselves where we have to put water to get it leaking again in the studio. That sounds easier than it is actually. We have tried a lot of things already and so far not much luck. I'm really starting to hate this problem. I like logic to analyze problems, but this just doesn't seem logical. It looks like water moves in mysterious ways.

In the picture on the right you can see how big a mess it is again. We also moved up the terrace a bit this time away from the wall. We actually measured where the water came out in the studio and made sure that we opened the terrace right above that spot as well. But not much to see there actually. On first sight there is no physical damage. So we did more water tests. We put like 5 centimeters of water in this whole for a long time and nothing came out in the studio.

Here you can see how much water we put on there. We tried this several times close to the wall but also on other spots. Nothing happened. Then my wife sprayed some water against the wall and 5 minutes later it started to leak. So our conclusion was that it should be near or maybe behind the wall again. But we already opened a large part of this wall and we couldn't find anything. But we are quite sure that the water proof stuff on the roof is not the cause. At least we can eliminate that from the possibilities.

But then we tried to spray water on the wall again later this week. And nothing happened???? I'm really lost here. We also had a lot of rain last week and not a drop leaked into the studio. Well I guess we will just have to open the wall again and look further. Maybe the leak is moving? :) Well I just don't know any more. We have been looking for so long now and every time we are sure we are close, but still we don't find it. Well I'll keep you updated on the progress. I'm afraid this story isn't over by far :(

Synth.nl caught drumming

Last year I bought a drum kit. It is an Alesis DM-6 kit that is of course an electronic drum kit. It does have it's own internal sounds and also some demo songs that you can drum a long with. I just started practicing in 2010, so I'm not very good at it yet. But luckily I can hook the kit of with USB to my studio PC and then it sends out Midi signals over USB. I can record these and use the notes to play on any sound I'd like. In this way I can select a drum kit that I like. Play some drums loops or breaks. And when I hear something I like I record the midi notes and can edit them afterwards and use them in my music. On my Apollo album you will hear the first drum sounds that I actually drummed on this kit. Before that I just did my drums on my Master Midi Keyboard. Of course drumming on this drum kit is way more fun and I think it sounds more naturally.

09 August 2010

Korg Mono/Poly added to the Collection

Last week I added another very nice synthesizer to my collection. It is a Korg Mono/Poly. It is a small but remarkable analog synthesizer. It has four oscillators that you can use to play polyphonic, but it also has a great and very powerful unison mode to use it monophonic. But when you use the appropriator you can also rotate trough the oscillators. When you set them all to a different wave form you get a very nice alternating sequence. Last night I put it next to me in the studio and jammed a bit on it. I had great fun. I think actually there is nothing like it. I like it so much that I plan to write a little review about it in the near future. I'll post that on my blog when I have time.

07 August 2010

Synth.nl and Nattefrost Collaboration coming

During my travel to the Norberg Festival in Sweden I picked Bjorn Jeppesen up in Denmark to go there together. Bjorn played on the festival as Nattefrost. I left Holland a day earlier so that I could visit his studio as well and there we made some music together. And that resulted in a nice mix of both our styles. We decided that the result was good enough to make a track from it and so that is what we did. Bjorn took this picture of me in his studio while I was playing one of the leads. We are now both finishing up the track in both our own studio. But we already decided that we will be releasing this track both somewhere in the future. We just don't know how and when yet. But it will be on one of his and one of my CD's eventually :) So another collaboration is on its way! This time it will be Nattefrost & Synth.nl.

06 August 2010

Small Refuge en Verre Update

Last week I visited Ron Boots in his studio again. The 'Refuge en Verre' album we are making together is really taking shape now. So far it looks like there will be 8 tracks on the album. We are now both working on some tracks in our own studios to add some more detail to the stuff we played live in the Ardennes and when we are done, we swap tracks and work on the other set. We also plan to play one more day together since we have some tracks that still need some more melodies. I also had a talk to my regular designer Bart about some ideas for the cover. We are still not clear on that, so I'm very curious what he comes up with. And then of course both Ron and me have to like it. But things are shaping up and I'm really happy already with some of the tracks we made so far :) We are going to make the deadline of the 9th of October I think, if nothing strange happens. I'll let you know when there is more news.

05 August 2010

Apollo Studio Tech (Part 8)

In the previous posts I focused mainly on creating and processing of the audio on my PC, but off course it is also quite nice to hear the output somewhere. In my studio I use different sets of monitor speakers to judge my mixes on. In the picture you can see from left to right: Genelec 8250, Mackie HR824 MKI, and Avantone Active Mixcubes. The Genelecs are my main monitors, so they are closest to me and under my desk is also the matching 7260A Sub-woofer. Next to these 3 stereo sets there is also a Surround setup with 5 Behringer B2031A's and a B2092 Sub-woofer. You can read all about why I use these monitors in the equipment section of the studio menu. This article is about the routing of the audio to these monitors.

There are several audio sources in my studio and they all need to be routed to the monitors. On the right you can see the schematic again in a simplified form with only everything on it that is relevant for the monitoring. Two of the audio sources are the Mastering and Video PC and Audio PC. The mastering PC has a dedicated RME Fireface 800 that outputs an SPDIF signal. The Audio PC only has the RME MADI interfaces in there so in one channel it outputs its audio signal to the ADI-648 that sends it to an ADAT channel and the Friend-Chip converts this to an SPDIF signal that goes into an Mutec MC4. This is an Digital Audio Converter with 3 inputs that you can select from and it also has three inputs. You can see three other audio sources on the input from the MC4 that are mixed together in a Mutec Merger. These sources are a Alesis Masterlink HD/CD recorder, an Eminent Multimedia Player that I use to watch movies in my studio and a Logitec Sqeezebox that I use to listen to music in the studio.

The Alesis Masterlink also has an output routed back into it so that I can record everything that comes out of my monitors in the studio without using a PC. Then there is two more outputs from the MC4. One is directly going into the Genelec 7270A Sub-woofer that in its turn sends it to the Genelec 8250's and the other signal is going into a Presonus Central station that I also use as DA converter for the analog stereo monitors. An analog signal is also sent from the Central Station to the SPL Surround Controller so I can also listen to a stereo mix on the Behringer surround set. There is also an analog surround signal coming directly from the analog outputs of the RME Fireface 800 attached to the Mastering and Video PC.

In the picture on the right you can see the Presonus Central Station on the bottom. It is really the heart of the analog audio monitoring setup. It has a volume controller on the right that is right in front of me and next to that you can select monitors A, B and C. On here are the Mackies HR824 MKI and the Avantones Active Mixcubes. I still need to also connect the analog inputs of the Genelecs to this. There is also a main out on the back that in its turn is connected to one of the stereo inputs of the SPL Surround Controller. This output does not respond to the volume controller, so I can set the level for the surround set on the SPL.

In the picture on the right you can see the Presonus Central Station on the bottom. It is really the heart of the analog audio monitoring setup. It has a volume controller on the right that is right in front of me and next to that you can select monitors A, B and C. On here are the Mackies HR824 MKI and the Avantones Active Mixcubes. I still need to also connect the analog inputs of the Genelecs to this. There is also a main out on the back that in its turn is connected to one of the stereo inputs of the SPL Surround Controller. This output does not respond to the volume controller, so I can set the level for the surround set on the SPL.

This is the last part in this series for now. I hope you enjoyed it.

04 August 2010

Apollo Studio Tech (Part 7)

In the past I used only software plugins for sounds effects like reverbs, filters , chorus, flanger and delays, but while mastering my first album at Groove Unlimited I heard how much better their hardware reverbs sounded. So I started looking for some outboard gear myself as well. The advantage of outboard gear is off course that it is dedicated for that purpose only and it saves a lot of CPU usage on the audio PC. Disadvantage is that syncing is a bit more difficult and you have to compensate for latency. But Sonar takes care of that for me. In the pictures you can see my favorite outboard reverbs just below the RME ADI-648 and Apogee Big Ben. From the top down they are: Quantec Yardstick 2402/f, Eventide Eclipse, Bricasti M7 and Lexicon PCM96 Surround. I use at least two of these in almost every track I made recently. But there are more processors. You can find all of them in the equipment section of the studio menu.

In the picture on the right you see a simplified version of my studio tech schematic again with only the relevant stuff on it for my effects equipment. I have a combination of analog and digital Sound Effect Processors. The analog processors are connected to one of the AD/DA converters either directly or through the SMP16 patch-bay. The digital Sound Effect Processors either have ADAT and are directly connected to the RME ADI-648 or they have SPDIF or AES/SBU and are connected to the Friend-Chip. The Friend-Chip converts the SPDIF or AES/SBU signals again into ADAT and is connected to the ADI-648 again. In every case the signal goes in two directions. The clean signal goes from the PC into the sound effects processor and the processed sound comes out again and is send back into the PC. And as said in the Midi Routing article the midi connections are used to synchronize the Effect Processors to the BPM of the Sonar Project through Midi Clock.

To be able to do this I use a special plug-in in Sonar called 'External Insert'. In this plug-in I can configure the input and output channel that the outboard Sound Effects Processor in connected to. When this is done you need to set the outboard gear into bypass mode so it does nothing but send back the signal it receives unaltered. Then you click a button on the plug-in and it measures the time it takes to receive the audio back that it sends out. It then uses this time to compensate the delay when you run audio from Sonar through this plug-in. And then you just save the effect you just configured as a preset and you are ready to go. I usually then setup a audio bus in Sonar so that I can send a certain amount of signal from an instrument track into that buss. And then I set the external outboard gear to 'full wet' so that it only sends back the processed signal without the original 'dry' signal.

I said before that I had some Sound Effects Processors that were connected directly to the RME ADI-648 with ADAT. You might wonder why they need 8 channels. Well some of them are capable of doing Surround Sound Processing even or do multiple effects at the same time. And there for it uses more than 2 channels that would be necessary for stereo processing. You can see two of these ADAT connected machines in the picture. On the left is the Eventide H8000 and on the right the Kurzweil KSP8. Both very powerful effect processors that can do surround, but usually I use the Eventide in a Dual Stereo setup and the Kurzweil even in a Quadruple Stereo setup. So the eventide runs 2 different algorithms at the same time and the Kurzweil does 4! It is great that these effects all are usable in Sonar through the External Insert Plug-in, just like you would use a software plug-in, but then you do get the sound of the outboard gear.

Advanced Leak Tracing

Yesterday we coordinated an effort in finding the leak in my studio. There was a specialized company here together with my constructor. We first of all looked at a lot of pictures so that this company understood the construction. Then we started with flooding the terrace which is the roof of my studio with our garden hose. Then they went in the studio with an infrared heat seeking camera and a special moisture meters to see if they could see anything change. Right away they saw some temperature drop and moisture in a certain place. They concluded that the leak then really should be close since it didn't take much time. After about 5 minutes it started to leak. Then then looked for a water trail. And they couldn't really find it. The conclusion was that the leak had to be right above the spot where the water came out.

In the pictures we also showed the repairs attempts that were done so far, and the specialist were quite convinced that it couldn't leak there any more. So we started to focus on other spots. They removed some tiles from the terrace and waited for the leaking to stop. Then they put water in smaller spots and tried to keep it contained. We did this several times and waited. On most spots like this we got no result. But then after a few attemps we got result. Actually just a meter left from the spot we were focusing on all the time.

This is the spot we last tested in the picture. So the leak should be in this square meter in front of behind the wall. So we are getting close now. My constructor will have to break away part of the wall again now and free up the roof of the basement, but we are all pretty convinced now were the leak should be. So hopefully we will find it soon. I'm getting pretty tired by now by this whole story. To be continued. I'll keep you updated as always.

Apollo Studio Tech (Part 6)

Another very important protocol in my studio is Midi. Midi is used to record the notes you play on a synthesizer on the computer and then you can also play the notes back on the synthesizer. You can also use it to  play remotely on a synthesizer or send and receive data. It works a bit like a serial (RS-232) connection, but with separate cables with male DIN-5 connectors on both ends for  sending and receiving. I have a lot of synthesizers and that means a lot of Midi connections. Almost all of my synthesizers are connected with both Midi In and Midi Out to a dedicated port. The reason I do this is that in this way I can use all keyboards to play on and record in my sequencer and also program sounds on all synthesizers remotely through a program I use called 'Midi Quest'. This software can also backup sounds from the synthesizers and put new sounds in them with a click on a mouse button.

As you are used from my by now you see a simplified version of the studio schematic on the right with only the midi connections. As you can see I use several Midi interfaces. The actual number is even bigger, there are 5 of these midi interfaces connected to the Audio PC alone. They all have 8 inputs and 8 outputs. Some synthesizers also have USB connections and then they emulate midi over a USB. The midi interfaces I use are all from the Motu brand. I like them a lot. Very straight forward. The only problem I still have with them is that the order that Windows sees the interfaces in isn't the same every time I reboot my PC. This is quit annoying since I need to find out then which interface is which before I can start using a synthesizer connected to a certain port.

 To get even more ports I use Several Roland A880's. These are stand-alone Midi patch bays. They also have 8 inputs and outputs and with the buttons on the front you can determine which port is connected to which. And also you can store setups as a preset.  I have a A880 connected to every Midi interface. That gives me a total of 14 midi ports per midi interface, since on the interface itself I use port 8 to connect to port 1 of the A880. I also a Roland A220. This is a midi splitter. It has multiple outputs and basically I use it just to split up one midi output to several midi outputs, but I left it out of the drawing. I use it in my modular setup.

 I also use two Anatek SMP-16's. These are very special modules that are not only midi devices. It is an automated patch bay that  has both audio and midi inputs and outputs. I use them with my analog Sound Effects Processors to create flexible analog audio routings, but also to replicate the midi clock signal coming from my sequencer software to keep all the Sound Effect Processors to run in Sync.

Like my audio setup I tried to keep the midi interfaces as close as possible to my synthesizers and other midi enabled equipment, so I can use short Midi cables and transport USB to the PC over the longer distances.

03 August 2010

Apollo Studio Tech (Part 5)

I wrote in previous articles that all the digital audio equipment is running on 48 Khz in my studio. When you transfer digital signals at this rate it is very important that the timing of these signals is perfect to avoid loss of even a single one or zero. Normally when you connect two digital machines together it is possible to configure one as 'master' and the second one as 'slave'. The slave will synchronize automatically to the master. When you have a lot of digital equipment though it is not that simple anymore. Everything needs to be in perfect sync at the same time. For this purpose a special protocol was designed called 'Word Clock'. It is nothing more than a very steady 48 Khz signal that is send over a coax cable.

In the picture on the right you see again a simplified version of my studio schematic with only the word clock signals showing in purple. Again this is just a symbolic representation. The actual wiring will be a bit different, but you can see that the Lynx Aurora's, ADA-8000's , ADI-648's and Friend-Chip DMX 's are all connected to word clock. Also the Fireface 800 that is connected on my mastering PC is connected to Word Clock. Normally this PC is internally clocked on 44.1 Khz, but I can synchronize it to the Big Ben when I want. There are also a couple of Sound Effects Processors connected to World Clock actually, but I didn't put them in this schematic. But I guess you get the picture by now. You also see another piece of equipment I didn't talk about before that is called 'Big Ben'.

The Big Ben is made by Apogee and is simply a clock generator, but it is a very good one. It produces a very stable clock and has multiple outputs. In the past I used my PC as master clock but that had some disadvantages. To start with not everything would sync to it and it only had one output. The Big Ben has six outputs with build in terminators. For a stable clock signal and good distribution the coax cable that the signal is running over must be a 75 ohm (impedance) bus structure that needs to be terminated on both ends with 75 ohm terminators.

A terminator is nothing more than a 75 ohm resistor build in or attached to a BNC connector. These can be build in the equipment or mounted externally. In the picture on the right you see how a simple Word Clock bus would look like. You see two terminators on both ends. Special T or Y connectors that connect the equipment to the bus. One master device that in my case will be the Big Ben and two slave devices.

On the left you see a BNC cable with coax connectors attached. It is very important that you have the right cable and terminators. In the past the Ethernet network was also transported over coax, but this cable and also the terminators that came with them were 50 Ohm in stead of the necessary 75 Ohm. So don't use those!

I'm very happy with the Big Ben. One of the other nice things it does is measure the impedance on all its outputs. If one of the Word Clock buses is not exactly 75 Ohm a red led will light in stead of the green led for normal operation. So you can instantly see if everything is alright. All my equipment is in perfect sync now and the quality of the digital recording is outstanding because of this. A bad sync of equipment leads to dramatic decrease of clarity of the recordings immediately. I had a lot of trouble with this in the past.

02 August 2010

Nattefrost Video from Norberg Filmed by me :)

I said I would get back on the concert that Bjorn did. Here is a little compilation video that he did. I filmed it by the way and also recorded the audio for him. Well do enjoy Nattefrost :)

More information on Bjorn and his music is on http://www.nattefrost.dk

Apollo Studio Tech (Part 4)

Since I have a lot of digital audio signals I need to be able to creatively patch and merge signals. Again I made a stripped version of the studio schematic in the picture on the left. Here you see three boxes called 'DMX12', ''DMX16 and 'DMX32'. These are Friend-Chip digital patch bays / audio routers. The DMX32 and DMX16 are two very important pieces in my studio, because they are able to convert SPDIF  signals to ADAT and back. It can also patch an input signal to multiple outputs. And doing all this it can also convert the sample rate at the same time. As I said before my whole studio runs on 48 Khz. I try to put the output sample rate of my digital synthesizers on that sample rate where possible , but some synthesizers are only able to send out a 44.1 Khz SPDIF signal. The DMX32 and DMX16 are able to convert this to 48 khz. That sounds easier than it actually is. I'm sure Friend-Chip has to do a lot of magic for that.

On the right you see the DMX12 and DMX32 from the front and the back. These pictures are not mine, but come from the Friend-Chip website. The DMX12 is a standard product so it looks exactly the same as mine. It has 3 coax inputs and outputs and the rest is Toslink. It is able to patch SPDIF coax to Toslink, but it can only patch ADAT from Toslink to Toslink. No sample rate conversion on this box. So basically the DMX12 is just a automated patch bay and that is exactly what I use it for. It has a midi input and output as well so that you can configure it remotely and select presets.

The DMX32 and DMX16 are much smarter. They are chassis based and you can configure them like you want by inserting modules. The DMX32 is a 2HE unit that can hold up to 8 modules, where the DMX16 is a 1 HE unit that can hold 4 modules. In the DMX32 I  inserted one SPDIF coax module with 4 inputs and outputs and the rest is Toslink. In both of them are also 2 MAQ modules. These ones are able to fold 4 SPDIF signals (2 channels) into 1 ADAT channel (8 channels) and also the other way around. With these modules I can patch a digital synthesizer with SPDIF out directly into an ADAT channel on the ADI-648 MADI converter. I also have digital effect equipment attached to them. I can easily route signals from my audio PC through an Effects Processor and back or put a synthesizer through an effect unit before it goes into the ADAT channel. That makes my setup extremely flexible. Friend-Chip offers a nice Java based program that looks like a matrix. You can make patches just by the click of the mouse and save complex setups as presets and recall them later. They are controlled by Midi. I really love these boxes. You can find more information on the Friend-Chip website: http://www.friend-chip.de/

Back Home from Norberg Festival

I just got back from my trip to the Norberg Festival in Sweden. I drove there by car and I can tell you it is quite a ride. I drove 3150 kilometers in total so now I'm quite tired. I picked up Bjorn Jepessen in Copenhagen he played on the festival as Nattefrost. I'll tell you more about that concert later. We also played some music together in his studio in Copenhagen. I'll also get back to you on that. I had a really nice time over there, but I'm also glad that I'm back home again. I guess I'll be in bed early tonight :)