Tell Me a Story

Today I uploaded four more short stories to my humble website. For years I resisted doing this type of self-publishing, and for a very simple reason: Most of the fiction people put up on the Web is utter crap. It’s beyond awful. Who would want to be associated in the mind of the reader with such drivel?

But in the end I decided that modesty was foolish. I’m the exception that proves the rule. I’m certainly not Chekhov or Cheever, and never will be, but I do have a reasonable grasp of the art and craft of storytelling.

There are eight stories on the site now, of which four were previously published in well-known science fiction magazines. The other four are not previously published, but I’ll bet you won’t be able to tell which are which. They’re all pretty darn good. I have about eight more that I plan to upload before too long, and the percentage will stay about the same — half reprints from magazines, half previously unpublished.

For a while I was planning to do a print anthology, which would be made available through a print-on-demand publisher like I may still do that. But I have no marketing or promotional structure through which to sell books, so I’d probably sell no more than a few dozen copies. Besides, a print edition wouldn’t have the lovely color photos that I downloaded for free from Stock Xchg. I think they add something to the presentation.

If you enjoy the stories, I hope you’ll drop me an email and let me know. The probability that I’ll write a few more rises exponentially with each positive response that I receive.

Okay, Everybody out of the Pool

I’m trying to like Sonar 8.5. It’s got a lot of little tiny buttons, but I’m starting to think maybe I can deal with it. And then…

And then I discover that the 64-bit version won’t import REX files. Isn’t that charming? I’ve got a great big DVD full of REX files, and Sonar 8.5 (that’s not 1.0, it’s 8.5 — a large number) doesn’t want to know about them.

But wait, there’s more. That little gotcha gets me curious, so next I load Stylus RMX. The first time I double-click on a beat in the RMX browser, it plays. I decide I like the beat, so I grab its MIDI data in RMX’s drag and drop widget and drag the MIDI clip into a Sonar track. Whereupon, Sonar gives me an alert box that says, “Cannot find or open file.” On top of which, now RMX won’t even play its own beats out to the Sonar mixer. It’s dead. It’s a doorstop.

So that’s the state of the art, is it? I’ve got three major (emphasis: major) DAWs on the hard drive in my nice new Windows 7 computer. Ableton Live can only load 3rd-party plug-ins in their demo mode versions, Cubase spits up on its little yellow duckie bib when I ask it to receive audio from a multi-channel plug-in, and Sonar won’t work with the two most popular forms of beats. In case you missed the piece on NPR, beats are an important aspect of pop music.

Is it just me? Maybe I need to join a Bible study class, so God won’t punish me this way. What’s next — boils? Flies?

RTFM? Gee, I’d love to…

One of the dubious benefits of being a music technology guru is that I have ridiculous numbers of high-end programs on my hard drive. After my fiasco earlier today trying to get Cubase to handle multi-output audio coming from VST plug-ins, I sulked for a couple of hours, drove down to the corner to buy two very fattening macadamia nut/white chocolate cookies, and then started thinking about other ways to get where I want to go musically.

I have Sonar 8.5 here. I’ve barely looked at it. Maybe it’s time to finally break down and learn Sonar.

First the good news: In preliminary tests, Sonar seems entirely happy to handle at least three simultaneous audio output streams coming from Spectrasonics Omnisphere. This puts it a giant leap ahead of Cubase, which chokes and spits up.

Now for the bad news: Sonar’s manual is all but impenetrable. The problem, and it’s deeply rooted, is this: The people who wrote the manual know what they’re talking about. As a result, they apparently feel no need to explain much of anything to the reader.

Right now I’m trying to learn how one would edit notes in the piano-roll window. The first page I consult in the online help has a nice big screenshot of the piano-roll window. It shows several panes, such as the Track List pane and the Drum Grid pane, that are not visible in the actual window I’m looking at in Sonar. Nothing on this page, however, instructs you how to open any of those panes. It’s just a diagram of, “Hey, here they are.”

The next page is called “Note Map Pane.” Sounds promising, right? Well, there’s nothing on that page. Or rather, there are two sentences, the second of which contains a clickable link to a different page that is also called “The Note Map Pane.” This might suggest that a bit more organizational thought would not have been amiss. Or something.

Does the second page called “The Note Map Pane” tell you how to open the Note Map pane? No, it does not. Among the other things it doesn’t do is explain to the novice why one might want to engage in a little note mapping. I happen to know that, because I’ve been using MIDI sequencers for precisely as long as there have been MIDI sequencers — but if I didn’t, I’d be baffled.

Okay, let’s try the page called “Adding and Editing Notes in the Piano Roll.” This page has, be it noted, no screenshots or diagrams of any kind. The first sentence, in its entirety, reads as follows: “You add notes in the Piano Roll view or Inline Piano Roll view by first choosing a note duration in the Piano Roll toolbar (or in the current track’s Note Duration menu if you’re using the Inline Piano Roll view), and then clicking in the view with the Draw tool at the pitch location and time location where you want the note to go.”

The thing is, the Sonar interface is totally studded with little tiny buttons. There are more than 60 of them in two rows along the top of the main window. These buttons are not labelled. So where would I find “the Piano Roll toolbar”? What does it look like? And what would I do in the Piano Roll toolbar in order to choose a note duration? Nothing on this page explains those little details. As with note mapping, I happen to know what an Inline Piano Roll view is. If I didn’t, this page wouldn’t help me. There’s not even a clickable cross-reference to the page where the Inline Piano Roll view is described.

This is what I mean by saying the authors of the manual know what they’re talking about. The meaning of that sentence is perfectly obvious, I’m sure, to them. But it’s not obvious to anyone who would actually need to use the manual.

I haven’t gotten very far in the manual yet, so I’m not sure whether what I’m seeing is due to the linear data presentation fallacy, but just for the record: Manual authors quite often pitch headlong into the linear data presentation fallacy. The linear data presentation fallacy is this: The author assumes that the reader of the manual will begin on page 1 and read straight through to the current page, not skipping over anything, and will surely remember exactly what was said fifty or a hundred pages back. Thus, there’s no need to explain it a second time, nor to provide cross-references. This is a failure of the manual writer to understand how the document will be used. Nobody reads a manual that way. (Well, perhaps a few timid middle-school students do, if they come from conservative homes.) The way you use a manual is, when you have a question, you find the page that relates to your question, and you read that page.

The consequence of this entirely unremarkable utilization strategy is that every page has to explain everything. This is, of course, inconvenient for the manual author, who is almost certainly very underpaid and working under an unreasonably tight deadline, and who may in addition not have access to the program as he’s doing the writing.

I speak from experience here. Native Instruments once contracted with me to write a manual. The contract specified that I would need a certain period of time with the software prior to my deadline — two or three weeks, I forget the exact number. On the date when I was supposed to receive the software, it was not yet ready. I said, “Well, in that case we’ll have to push my deadline back by the same number of days that the delivery is delayed.” The fellow at NI said, no, they couldn’t change my deadline. It would remain the same.

At that point I explained to him that NI were in violation of the contract, which I had negotiated in good faith. If they wanted me to do the work in less time, they were going to have to pay extra for a rush job. And of course they weren’t willing to do that. So I didn’t write the manual. When you’re a freelancer, you have to set your own boundaries, because nobody else is going to set them for you.

It would not surprise me to learn that the Sonar manual was produced under similar circumstances. My ire at this pale excuse for documentation is not directed at the manual’s overworked and unappreciated authors, whoever they may be. Nor is it directed at Sonar, Cakewalk, or their corporate masters at Roland. They’re not doing anything that most of the other companies in the music software industry aren’t also doing.

All I wanted to say, really, is — how discouraging. Here you’ve got a possible convert to Sonar-wonderfulness, an individual who already knows a whole lot about the technology and doesn’t need a lot of hand-holding with the basics … but your manual doesn’t provide the information that he needs in order to accomplish the most rudimentary tasks in the UI.

How will an actual novice, a newcomer to the technology, deal with this type of challenge? I don’t even want to think about it.

Underrun Run

Music technology sucks. In the story I’m about to tell, I want to make it clear that I’m not blaming any particular company or software development team. The problems I’m having today are symptomatic, rather, of the entire state of the industry, which seems to be shambling off into a blood-tinged and smoky sunset.

At the moment, I’m attempting to run Steinberg Cubase 5.1.1 in a Windows 7 computer using an M-Audio Fast Track Pro USB audio interface. What I’m finding is that this setup works fairly well — okay, there are little audio hiccups, but nothing I can’t live with — until I try activating more than one stereo output pair from a VST plug-in synthesizer. When I do that, Cubase’s audio output turns into a grinding mess.

Increasing the interface’s buffer size to 1,024 samples (which is far more than should be required with a fast processor) doesn’t help. It’s a software problem — something in how Cubase is attempting to address the buffer of the audio interface driver.

Needless to say, this is not something I can fix. (Footnote: A few days later, the problem has disappeared as magically as it appeared. Cubase is happy to run multi-output plug-ins now. This ought to be reassuring, but it’s not.)

My experience getting a response from Steinberg’s technical support has, of late, been abysmal. They don’t answer the phone, and they don’t answer emails either. But as I said, it’s not just Steinberg. While attempting to set up Cubase to do this project (an attempt that may be foredoomed, and God I’d be mad if I had paid good money for this software), I had occasion to phone the tech support line at Spectrasonics. A voicemail informed me that they were experiencing a high call volume; would I please leave a message, and they’d get back to me within three business days. (Footnote: I left the message on Friday. Today is Wednesday; they haven’t called.)

Three business days for tech support??? What the fuck is up with that? Here again, if I had paid hundreds of dollars for Spectrasonics software, instead of getting it for free, which happens because I write about this stuff for magazines, would I be pissed at having to wait three days? Yeah, I think that’s a fair assessment.

I can think of three reasons why tech support may be overloaded and not able to respond in a timely manner. First, their software may be selling like hotcakes, and they may not yet have added enough staff to handle the new workload. Given the state of the economy, that seems unlikely. Second, they may have laid off most (or all) of their tech support staff because sales are slooowww, and they don’t want to fire their software development staff because if they do that, they’ll never be able to reassemble it and develop any new products. That’s a far more likely scenario. Third, they may be getting a high volume of calls because their latest software releases are full of really nasty, hard-to-fix bugs.

Based on my own recent experience, I’d say that’s a fairly likely scenario as well.

Right now, Cubase doesn’t want to host plug-ins with multiple outputs, Ableton Live persistently doesn’t want to admit that any of my third-party plug-ins are authorized, the M-Audio Axiom won’t run in Windows 7 at all, the Yamaha mLAN driver won’t work with a Firewire port that uses the extremely common VIA chipset … oh, and Apple Quicktime is not yet compatible with Windows 7, which means the control bar at the bottom of a Quicktime Player window in the browser shows up as solid black.

And of course the PCI Express card I ordered from Amazon, which may solve several of these problems, hasn’t arrived yet. My experience at the Livermore Post Office is that they sometimes hand packages to the wrong person — on one occasion the clerk handed me a package addressed to an entirely different P.O. box — so I’m hoping the card will show up Monday. (Footnote: The card did arrive. It didn’t solve the problem it was supposed to solve, however.)

When (if…) I get these problems ironed out and have a smoothly functioning system, I’m tempted to lock it down. Just tell all of the magazines I write for, “You want me to write a product review? Okay, send out an intern with a pre-built system, an intern who can stay here during the entire review process in case I need a hand with anything. And while you’re at it, you can pay me ten times as much so I can afford to rent a house with a big enough studio to house the pre-built system you’ll be providing.”

In other words, just stop writing product reviews at all. It’s hard enough to do any creative musical work when I’m just wrestling with my own internal emotional process. When I also have to contend with grinding noises, stuck notes, browsers that can’t find the files I’ve saved, and tech support personnel who, when answering questions at all, make blind stabs about what I ought to do, forcing me to jump through one hoop after another without resolving anything — it’s just too much. It’s just too damn much.

Chicken Man

This is a story about the power of positive reinforcement. I no longer remember who told me the story — possibly it was my friend Aishala, whose brother knew the participants. In any event, it has the ring of truth.

Two young men, freshmen or sophomores in college, were taking a psychology class in which the instructor emphasized the importance of positive reinforcement. (Possibly he was discussing Pavlov’s dogs.) The two young men lived in a dorm. Another young man in their dorm had an odd habit: Occasionally he would flap his elbows and say, “Awk-pawk-pawk — Chicken Man!”

The two psychology students decided to perform an experiment. It was a secret experiment, of course — they didn’t tell the subject that he was being experimented on. First they counted the number of times per day that their friend flapped his elbows and said, “Awk-pawk-pawk — Chicken Man!” Then, having established a base line, they started giving him positive reinforcement. Every time he did his little routine, they would smile at him, applaud, or even laugh appreciatively.

Sure enough, the frequency of the behavior increased dramatically. Within a couple of weeks, the poor fellow (who had no clue that he was the subject of an undergraduate experiment) was up on the roof of the dorm in the middle of the night, flapping his elbows energetically and crying, “Awk-pawk-pawk — Chicken Man!” at the top of his lungs.

The conspirators then reversed the experiment. Whenever their friend exhibited the behavior, they would stare at him silently, or turn away without reacting at all. Within days, the frequency of “Awk-pawk-pawk — Chicken Man!” had dropped to zero.

I got to thinking about Chicken Man recently because I’ve been searching for sources of positive reinforcement in my life. There are behaviors whose frequency I would like to increase. Specifically, I’d like to be composing and recording a lot more music in my home studio. But finding a way to get regular, reliable reinforcement for this activity turns out to be surprisingly difficult.

I live alone, and have for most of my adult life. So I don’t have a spouse to wander into the studio, smile and nod appreciatively, and wander out again. (Not that spouses are always reliable as sources of positive reinforcement, but that’s a different topic altogether.) I have to turn to outside sources — what we sometimes refer to as “the real world.”

In the real world, there’s way too much music and not nearly enough listeners. The competition for earlobes is unremitting. I’m not opposed to the idea of putting my music out there (on YouTube, MySpace, and various forums, or even in live venues) and competing for listeners, because I think my stuff is pretty decent. I don’t even insist on getting paid. But ramping up to engage in that type of activity is a huge job in itself. I would need to receive some positive reinforcement during the ramping-up phase — and I don’t have it.

Then, once you’re putting your music out there, it takes a long, long time and lots of sustained effort before you start to see positive returns. It doesn’t happen in a few weeks. I would need to be getting some regular positive reinforcement during the period of time (which might last months or years) during which I wait for positive reinforcement to arrive.

My tongue-in-cheek name for this condition is Affection Deficit Disorder. It’s real. It’s a problem. I have no solutions.

Stuck in Lodi

Today I’m thinking it would be very nice to have a group of local artists to hang out with — preferably people with whom I have a modest amount in common. Maybe even a group of musicians. I mean, it’s great to find out what a local painter or potter or jewelry maker is up to, but it’s not quite the same thing as talking to another musician, especially one who is knowledgeable about computer music resources.

Unfortunately, I live in Livermore. This is not a good place to be an artist of any kind, but it appears that musicians are in especially short supply. Since I’m more involved in computer-based home recording than anything else, I googled “home recording music livermore” and “home recording music pleasanton.” Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I did find one MySpace page with a couple of songs written and recorded by a guy who lives here in town. The tune I listened to was … well, let’s just say this is not an individual with whom I feel much artistic kinship.

There are a few good musicians in Livermore. Some of them are even pop musicians. My friend Jim Hurley does some nice stuff, and Tom Darter has a digital recorder set up next to his piano. (The above comments are not about Jim or Tom.) But basically, I’m stuck in Lodi here. There’s nothin’ shakin’.

What would be maybe the most fun would be to find half a dozen people who are actively composing and recording with Propellerhead Reason. Play tracks for one another, give one another encouragement and mixing tips, all that. Not that Reason is the be-all and end-all, because it isn’t, but it’s a very solid, self-contained program, which makes it easy to talk about. If two people are both using Reason, their experiences and resources will be similar, which is not guaranteed to be the case with Cubase or Logic. But I’d be rather surprised to meet anyone in Livermore who uses Reason regularly. Or has even heard of it.

We don’t have a local music store with a keyboard department. One course in electronic music is listed in the catalog of the local community college — not that I need an introductory course — but it’s not being offered in the Spring semester. It’s sad, really.

There does seem to be a local rehearsal studio for rock bands. It’s called Burnin’ Burro. Possibly an infelicitous choice for a name, as it’s bound to suggest hemorrhoidal discomfort. Even so, if I were interested in rock bands, maybe I’d be inspired to find out who’s hanging out at the Burnin’ Burro; but I’m a little old for that scene.

Ah, to have been in Paris in the ’20s!


So I ordered a new PCI card for my new computer in order to get it to work properly with the Yamaha mLAN driver. But — whoops, silly me! I looked at the back of the computer, saw metal tabs over card slots, and figured, hey, I know how to put in a PCI card.

If I had taken the trouble to look at the specs of the computer before ordering, I might (maybe) have noticed that it uses PCI Express. Confusing name, because PCI Express ain’t PCI. The two card types are fundamentally incompatible, although in theory, your software won’t know the difference. (That is, I want to emphasize, the theory.)

So I spent $35 on a PCI card that I can’t use, and wasted a week waiting for it. When it arrived, I had to hack the plastic packaging open with a box cutter. God forbid they should put these things in packages you can open with your fingers. Now the package is ripped to shreds, so there’s no point in trying to return it.

One might legitimately ask, shouldn’t the Yamaha tech have said, “Does your new computer use PCI or PCI Express?” But no, that would be passing the buck. It’s my fault.

Hewlett-Packard — reinventing the wheel, one spoke at a time.

How to Make Yourself Unpopular

Over on, one particular individual (who shall remain nameless here) has been doing an unusual amount of ranting and raving lately. It’s an unmoderated newsgroup, so anyone can post anything they care to. It’s to be expected that misunderstandings will occur from time to time. Points of view will differ. Tempers may even flare. And of course we have our pet troll, who occasionally posts outrageously insulting messages just to watch the fur fly.

In the latest little brou-ha-ha, however, we seem to be hearing from an individual who possesses, in some measure and in some order, the following set of characteristics.

He cares passionately about the subjects discussed in the newsgroup, and has strong opinions.

He feels that a cabal of others in the group is ganging up on him. This cabal is ignoring his legitimate views or trying to shut him up because he won’t toe the party line.

His views are not internally consistent. He sometimes posts messages that make little sense in context with other views he has espoused.

When others point out these contradictions to him, he leaps to the conclusion that they’re part of the cabal. He gets mad and uses naughty language.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad, or vice-versa.

The contradiction that caught my eye today was this: On the one hand, he asserts that he would never create software for free, because he deserves to be paid for his work. This is a legitimate point of view. But on the other hand, what he keeps whining about is the fact that the developers of Inform 7 — which is free software — are paying insufficient attention to his needs. They’re ignoring him.

The only possible response to this contradiction would be: Dude, if that’s how you feel, go write your own interactive fiction authoring system. I didn’t post this message, however, because I don’t want to get involved in the flame war. Plus, he wouldn’t get it. He would just conclude that I’m part of the cabal.

The lessons I wish this guy would learn from the wrangle are pretty simple. I’m pretty sure he won’t learn anything, and I don’t feel very inclined to try to help him come to a better understanding. But here’s what I’d tell him, if I were feeling a little more helpful.

First — the universe is not, as far as we’re able to determine, a very nice place. Among its other shortcomings, it is almost infinitely hostile to every known form of life. Remaining alive is always more or less a struggle, and in the end you always lose the struggle. There are no exceptions.

Second — the world is plentifully supplied with people who are (a) stupid, (b) duplicitously scheming to fulfill their own creepy agendas, or (c) just plain too busy to care about you and your doubtless tragic situation. You will spend your entire life, such as it is, dealing with people who fall neatly into one or more of those categories.

Third, and here’s the really bad news — there’s nothing whatever that you can do about it. It ain’t gonna change.

Now for the good news: If you work at it, you can find ways to live fairly comfortably in these circumstances. You can try being grateful for the good things in your life (including free software, basic literacy, and a computer with which you can post messages in newsgroups). You can also, if you feel so inclined, look for ways to increase the amount of goodness in the world. Such as by contributing to free software efforts, if you have the necessary skills, so that people who can’t afford commercial software will find their lives enriched, if only by a tiny bit.

Finally, you can develop survival skills. I’ve found that being sardonic or cynical is quite useful. It saves any amount of wear and tear on my arteries, because I’m less inclined to get angry. I have a motto that I use as a touchstone for understanding and dealing with human beings and human affairs. I’ve found frequent occasions over the years to call it to mind, and have never found any reason to disavow it. While grinding his teeth over the alleged misdeeds done to him in the interactive fiction community, my friend might find it beneficial to remind himself:

What we’re dealing with here is a fairly intelligent species of chimpanzee. It would be a mistake to expect too much.

It’s … Blue

Creating music with Csound is a slow and fiddly process, granted.  But I’m still playing with it. The essential thing, it seem to me, is this: Conventional music software makes certain assumptions about your music — that it will have a time signature, for instance, and that notes will be arranged in a scale with 12 notes per octave.

These assumptions are valid for many, many people. That’s why manufacturers make the assumptions: If people don’t buy the software, the assumptions are wrong, and need to be changed. But nobody is buying Csound — it’s free.

If you sit down to play the piano, or to write piano music, the nature of the piano will steer your creative effort in certain directions. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just the nature of the instrument you’ve chosen. You won’t be writing tones that glide smoothly from one pitch to another, for instance.

Conventional music software is rather like a huge, complex version of a piano. The options you can use go much further, but ultimately, you’re still dealing with piano-like notes. And because you can buy synthesizers that have hundreds or thousands of sounds that are ready to play, you’ll often be able to craft finished pieces of music without needing to think in much detail about the sounds you’re employing. You can just grab a preset and play it from a MIDI keyboard.

Your synthesizer’s browser probably has categories for bass, lead, and pad sounds, for instance. This makes perfect sense, but it embodies an assumption, namely, that your music will probably include a part that is functionally a bass.

Csound tends not to make that sort of assumption. It doesn’t even require that your music be constructed using a series of notes. Well, you need to put at least one note in your score, but it can be used to turn on an automated or interactive process that will run for hours.

Csound events are arranged in linear order on a timeline, because it’s the nature of music that it is heard over some span of time. But there’s no built-in concept of meter.

Nor will you find a large palette of pre-assembled sounds that you can use. Sure, there are lots of Csound instruments available online, and they’re worth study, but mostly they were created by a composer for one specific piece. They’re not likely to be something you’ll want to use without modifications. Or at least, that has been my experience so far.

In any event, Csound instruments are by definition almost completely modifiable by the user. With Csound, you really do have to think about every detail of the sound you want to create. That’s why it’s a slow, fiddly process. If you want a string pad, you start by listening to the sound in your head and noticing details. Then you use Csound’s tool palette to craft that sound. There are usually several ways to do whatever you’re wanting to do, but none of them is nearly as easy as grabbing a preset in a browser.

Csound is a blank canvas. Conventional, commercial software is like a paint-by-numbers set. It’s an amazingly complex and versatile paint-by-numbers set, but it’s not a blank canvas.

I’ve been learning the basics of blue, a feature-rich “front end” for Csound. Blue doesn’t eliminate the need to write your own code line by line, but among other amenities, it has a timeline with multiple tracks, much like what you’d see in a conventional sequencer. This speeds up the composition process, but without introducing too many assumptions about your music. At a basic level, blue is simply a multi-windowed interface with easy block copying.

There’s a lot more to it than that, which I haven’t explored yet. Blue allows you to make a few conventional assumptions about music if you want to. It has a piano-roll editor and even a tracker for building patterns and phrases the easy way. But I doubt I’ll find those very useful — and they’re not central to the interface, the way they would be in a conventional sequencer.

On the back end, blue hosts Python code, which can be used to generate Csound scores. Python is supported in native Csound as well. I have no idea how I would use it — yet. But using Python just seems a lot more interesting to me than inserting notes in a piano-roll editor.

Don’t ask me why. Something to do with brain chemistry, I suppose. Some people think it’s fun jumping out of airplanes, or watching football on TV. You gotta go with the juice.

Keeping Track

Update on the “swirly shit” mystery track conundrum: A Yamaha tech support professional explained to me that there are actually two different Motif XS editors for Windows 7. One is stand-alone and the other is a VST plug-in. (In fact, there are two versions of the latter, one for a 32-bit OS and the other for 64-bit, making three editors in all.)

When I download and install the stand-alone editor, I can load my two-year-old song files and see all of the correct sound programs in Sound Manager, which is a utility shell that forms a hub between Cubase, the XS Editor, and the XS hardware unit. (If all this sounds convoluted, that’s because it is convoluted.) The swirly shit is Preset Bank 7, program 93, “Clearing.”

I still can’t use the Motif XS with this setup. I’ll have to wait until the PCI Firewire card I ordered arrives, because I get dropouts with the built-in Firewire in the HP computer. But even if the card never arrives, I’m not up a creek, because now I can create the correct multi-timbral templates in the Motif by hand and then send MIDI data to the Motif through a different interface. (If all this sounds convoluted, that’s because it is convoluted. And yes, I meant to repeat that sentence.)

I’m still missing a couple of plug-in synths that were on the old system, but I’m much closer now to being able to replicate the arrangements of various tunes. That’s the point of the exercise: After two years away from these mixes, I can hear many, many things that need editing. Add an extra bar before the chorus, need more variety in the drum part, that string pad is starting to annoy me. Little things and big things. I’m not actually a bad arranger, especially when I can pilfer a little inspiration from the Motif’s arpeggiator patterns, but I’m kind of spotty. I don’t always make quite the right decisions every time.

Having access to the right tools is only half the battle. You also have to make the right decisions. And then you also have to keep your system functional for an extended period of time (years), in case you want to make new decisions about older pieces. This is not easy at all.