Archive for Music

Picking up the Bass

Back in late June of this year Kev moved a bunch of stuff over to my place in preparation for doing some songwriting and generally re-starting the KWB machine – a welcome return that’s been indeed.

In amongst it all was a GT (Guitar Technology) four string bass – a copy of a Fender Precision Bass – that Kev had picked up somewhere along the line.  I’d always been interested in learning Bass to the point of toying with the idea of picking up a cheap one to have in the music room but hadn’t progressed the idea – quite apart from anything else I’m trying to be a bit disciplined in not acquiring more “stuff”.

Had a bit of a plunk for a few weeks and through that started getting into a bit of a practice routine, aided in part by the quite good computer tutorials that Yousician provide.  Along the way I had my friends at DW Music put some fresh strings on the bass and generally give everything a once over and got a case too.  I kinda figured that a combination of practice and self tuition along with some sessions with local bass teachers would do the trick to begin with.

About two months in now it’s been a really interesting journey;

At about the one month mark I had a great lesson with one of my Rock of Ages band mates, Jack Schwenke – super nice guy and very talented bassist.  Towards the end of our one hour session he kindly opined that I “…could probably join a rock band now…” – this coming from such a capable player and, as an aside, a member of a younger generation than I, I took to be high praise indeed :)

More seriously though, Jack helped me with some more efficient ways to play scales as well as overall ergonomics – this being something I saw as important both to avoid overuse injuries and to ensure I didn’t pick up bad habits too early in the piece.

As I write I’m about three weeks into a five week visit to the US in Raleigh, NC.  I elected to bring the bass along since I had the baggage allowance and I figured it would be a good thing to pass the time with while away from home and it’s actually worked out really well.  When I take a typing break (something I try to be diligent about) I often pick up the bass and run through some exercises.

Closest I’ve had to a “concern” in this otherwise very enjoyable journey has been avoiding bad habits from the word go.  With that in mind aided by Google I found a local teacher J Michael Pope and had a thought provoking and worthwhile lesson with a couple of weeks back.  Michael gave me some great exercises for my left hand to build finger independence and some useful pointers on scale patterns for my right.  As with Jack, time well spent.

There’s been any number of little things I’ve noticed as someone who can already play an instrument reasonably well switching to another one, but I’ll save that for the next post.

 

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Among excellent Company

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Rock of Ages Canberra 2016 – Photo courtesy of Pat Gallagher – Click for a larger version :)

For the last few months I’ve been involved in Canberra Philharmonic’s production of Rock of Ages. As I write this we’re down to the last three shows of a thirteen show run – it’s been one of the most enjoyable musical experiences of my life and well up there on the overall list of Cool Things I have Done :)

The show itself has garnered some excellent and I believe well deserved reviews (in date order – 1, 2, 3 & 4) and the Company are amongst the nicest and most talented folk I’ve had the good fortune to work with.  We have a lot of fun putting the show on – it really does rock – and the audience reception has been fantastic even on the nominally “quieter” nights early in the week.

While I’m something of a tragic when it comes to going to Musicals, this is the first time I’ve actually been in one and I doubt I could have hoped for a better entree.

Being in a Musical is a bit like being in an awesome band but with about 12x the number of people.  A very talented bunch, egos refreshingly held well in check and a degree of camaraderie, mirth and esprit de corps that would leave a well organised sporting team looking for ways to improve themselves.

My intention is to write a bit of a lessons learned post in the not too distant future, being as I am basically a rock keyboardist who has been fitting in to the world of Pit Musician.  But some initial thoughts;

  • It’s nice to leave your gear at the show unchanged for a few weeks.  Turn up, uncover gear, power up, line check, rock out Act 1, intermission, rock out Act 2, shut down, cover up gear, socialise a little, go home, try to sleep, sleep.  Rinse, repeat.
  • Saturdays with two shows (Matinee and Evening) are tiring. On the plus side you get to do it twice and with careful food selection and a power nap, easy to make the night show as energetic as the afternoon.
  • It’s fun to be in costume (RoA is unusual in that the band are on stage at the back rather than in the “Pit” below stage)
  • Vamp means keep playing the same section over until the Conductor signals you to keep going – this accommodates dialog or other things taking longer than usual
  • Learning the tunes from an original cast recording is an excellent start – but you miss a lot of the little connecting pieces that go under dialog or between scene changes
  • Playing to a Conductor is tricky, doubly so if you’ve only ever really worked to a click or a live drummer
  • Being able to sight read would make things a fair bit easier…
  • In Ear Monitoring with a professional rig and individual mix controls is amazing
  • There really are some cracker songs from back in the 80’s

If you have the opportunity to get involved in a show, I commend it to you.

To my fellow RoA Company members and, particularly, my Bandmates – my heartfelt thanks.  It’s been a joy :)

 

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Yamaha Pedal Wiring

I did a little rewiring of my keyboard rig on the weekend, in particular the pedal board I use to keep things organised and quick to set up.  In the process of this I loomed three of the foot switches up together which necessitated re-terminating them with new plugs having cut the old ones off.

For future reference then, here is the wiring schema/colour codes for my particular pedals.  If Google picks this page up, might save someone else a little hassle :)

Yamaha FC4 Footswitch

The FC4 is a conventional switch, Normally closed, contacts open when the pedal is pressed down

  • Tip – N/C Contact – Inner conductor in cable
  • Sleeve – N/C Contact – Shield in cable

Yamaha FC5 Footswitch

Electrically the same as the FC5, just a different physical form factor.

  • Tip – N/C Contact – White conductor in cable
  • Sleeve – N/C Contact – Black conductor in cable

Yamaha FC7 Footpedal

So with the FC7 footpedal, when it’s pressed all the way down, the minimum resistance (100 ohms or so) is between the ring and tip, and maximum resistance (50k ohm approx) between ring and sleeve.  When the pedal is all the way up this reverses – the minimum resistance is between the ring and sleeve and maximum resistance between the ring and tip.

  • Tip – “Down” end of 50k ohm pot – White conductor in cable
  • Ring – Wiper of 50k ohm pot – Red conductor in cable
  • Sleeve – “Up” end of 50k ohm pot – Shield of cable

 

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Keyboard tinkering

As I mention elsewhere in the pages I’ve been playing keyboards on and off for over 30 years now, a passion that came about from being interested in electronics and computers first, then wondering how to make music with them second.

So anything that combines the two is bound to be a bit of fun in my book.  I did just that this morning and thought would post what I learned along the way – might be of interest to others and I’ll know where to find it too :)

Back in about ’87 or ’88 I had a keyboard rig that used two Yamaha KX-76 controller keyboards – for anyone unfamilar these are keyboards that just produce a MIDI data stream that in turn goes into some other device to create the actual sounds.  To this day I’ve still got the two KXs and consider them one of the better feeling “synth action” keybeds out there.  A little noisy acoustically – so perhaps not ideal in a studio setting, but for band work ideal.  In any case, I digress…

Like most keyboards the KX-76s are velocity sensitive – the harder/faster you press, the louder the sound.  Velocity sensitivity is generated by firmware in the keyboard by working out how quickly the key has been pressed.  In practice this is usually accomplished by each key having a pair of switches (or a single leaf style switch with two positions as is the case in the KXs) that are set up so they change state one after the other as the key moves.  Time how long it is between the first one switching and the second one and you have a figure that can be turned into velocity.

The above is all stuff I’ve understood intuitively for some time, but I’ve often wondered just how quick this time interval between the two switches is – one day I’d like to build a controller of my own and this is a fairly important design consideration.  So this morning with a bit of tinkering around I was able to do some experiments to find this out – hence the setup in the photo above.

Turns out the shortest interval is around 5ms up to 20ms+ for a very slowly played key.  Anything over about 10ms seemed to be interpreted as the “minimum” velocity of (0x01).  I couldn’t manage an interval of less than 5ms or so – this corresponded to a velocity of 105 which is the maximum a KX-76 will send anyway (this a throwback to limitations of the original DX-7 as I recall which also stopped short of the 127 maximum velocity).  Also a fair bit of “keybounce” for a ms or so after contact close/open.

Key up time was 9ms if the key was allowed to return to it’s original position via the spring.

Screen capture below is typical for a mid-velocity press.

PRINT_02

One other detail I should add – the keyboard in the KX-76 is a matrix with notes as columns and octaves as rows.  It’s scanned by the microcontroller on the main board such that each note is checked once per millisecond. The scanning appears to stop until the key down time is captured, then continues.

Oh and yes, the KX-76 survived the ordeal of being poked and prodded :)

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Which Tablet should I buy ?

A dear friend recently asked for some suggestions about buying a tablet for her partner.  She wrote in part “…He travels a lot so I want him to be able to read papers, mags, books, FB, YouTube… He has WiFi and I guess all airports and hotels have it too…” – pretty standard requirements. As it happens I do have some thoughts on the topic, but figured would make it a more general post in the hope it might be of use to others :)

It’s pretty much a two horse race – you get an iPad of some persuasion or something running Android.  With the former your only choice, for better or worse is Apple, for the latter there are any number of manufacturers, personally I’d be looking at Google, Samsung, LG or Sony.

Which horse to back – in my view it’s simple – if you are at all interested in creating music or multimedia content (as distinct from just listening to or watching it) – get an iPad.  At the time of writing, alas, Android simply does not have good enough (read: any) support for low latency audio or MIDI – this is the technical underpinning required to allow a tablet to function as a musical instrument you can play in real time or “live”  It’s the only reason I have an iPad instead of an Android tablet – the musical apps are excellent – to the point where I could play a gig using just sounds from one if there was a need to (with an external keyboard and amplifier of course!)  If your entire house is already Apple-centric – buy an iPad.

If music/video content creation isn’t a serious need, then any of the recent offerings from Google, Samsung, LG or Sony are worth a look.  It’s an insanely fast moving market, but today Samsung and Google (who have their hardware made by 3rd parties anyway) look pretty good.  One of many recent reviews that discusses the current crop can be found here.

Other things to consider ?

  • I really like having built in 3G/4G for the convenience, despite the fact I basically always have a phone with me that I could tether to.  It’s just so convenient to have it work straight away, and all sensible devices still fall back to WiFi if it’s available.
    • I choose, with some philosophical reluctance to use Telstra in my iPad – they have the best but most expensive network. For my usage it works out ok and I’ve got Optus in my mobile phone which sorta offsets the cost.
  • Storage capacity – 16GB will probably suit most people unless you’re gonna want to have lots of video on there, in which case go 32GB or 64GB.  If it’s mostly music and magazines, 16GB is probably ok. If it’s for a teenager, 32GB minimum.
  • Buy a cover, ideally one that flips over to protect the screen
  • Buy a screen protector too…

It’s a bit of a buyers market at the moment, you won’t go far wrong with offerings from any of the known brands and as always, Google is an excellent resource for getting reviews on specific models.

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Gig retrospective – ANU Bar – 13 June 2014

  • Date: 13 June 2014
  • Venue: ANU Bar (part of the “Groovin the ANU” series of gigs)
  • Bill: Despite Eviction, Scotts, The Feldons and Kevin Windross Band

Gig went off really well, the other three acts were both seriously nice guys and very able players – were pleased to be on the same bill as them.

Numbers were down a little, as we found out it was the last few days of exams so not much of a student crowd and lousy weather conspired against a broader audience.  I think we had about 30-40 people – an enthusiastic crowd though for which we were grateful

The calibre of production courtesy of Garry from the Green Room was first class – he’s a great live sound engineer and the rig is fat. Richard from AtRTPhotos took some great photos and Dene captured it all to multitrak for potential You Tube use later.  Ben and Glenn took some video too which we’re in the process of sifting through.

Pretty happy with how I played, a minor technical glitch in the form of not powering up my top controller keyboard with the sustain pedal plugged in.  Had the effect of meaning it was stuck on until I reset it – thankfully sussed out what was happening during the song in question and was able to sort it before the next tune.  Tried some backing vocals but didn’t position mike very well, note to self there.  Ben, Kev and Brendon cranked it out.

Other thing I’ve gotta work out is how to setup, I ended up off too far to stage left as is plain in some of the photos.  No biggie, but as start to think about the performance aspect of things, need to sort this.

Oh and we had beer and bottled water in the rider, how cool is that ? :)

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Some music stuff

Have started fleshing out some pages on music related topics; the two bands I play in – Kevin Windross Band and Pivotal Point, a bit about my keyboard rig and last but by no means least – gigs.

More to come but what started out as a simple “should put some info up about these shows” has already morphed into a broader undertaking.  Hope you find it interesting :)

Unfortunately the original post is only visible on Facebook but Fish pointed out an interesting article on the BBC a few days back.  Worth a read if you’ve ever contemplated making a living from music, or know someone who thus aspires, or like live bands etc. etc.

 

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Family Mart

Last year I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks in Tokyo doing a series of gigs with the Kevin Windross Band – a remarkable adventure indeed and one I hope to repeat one day – but that something to elaborate on another time [1].

The convenience store chain “Family Mart” ended up being a big part of the side story of those two weeks.  We’d usually return from a gig around midnight and forage at the Family Mart opposite our hotel – amongst other things they did a pretty good line of pre-packaged Sushi which tasted pretty decent and gave the (hopefully accurate) impression of being somewhat healthy.

Fast forward to two days ago and I find myself in Taipei and sure enough, there are Family Marts everywhere – prompting a post to Facebook declaring that the catering for any upcoming Kevin Windross Band tours of Taiwan was all sorted now :)

 

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Family Mart in Taipei

What was kinda funny though was after an lovely catchup lunch with some of my friends from my Canonical days I remarked that Family Mart had been a staple while gigging in Tokyo.  I was reminded by them that the shop in Taipei 101 that I had frequented virtually every day of my previous visits to Taipei was in fact a Family Mart.  No wonder it felt curiously like coming home when we first hit the one near our Tokyo hotel…

I wonder if we should approach them about an endorsement deal ?

[1] As an aside, our intrepid bassist, Brendon has been writing up his impressions of the adventure here. For the feint of heart I will forewarn you that there are some rude words, but it is an excellent and amusing read and thus far commendably accurate.

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