Friday, April 22, 2011

Crystalized Intelligence

Unsurprisingly, the need to catch up on my schoolwork following the terminal diagnosis of my long-suffering Toshiba Portege has left me with little fun time.  Additional cycles have been commandeered by the learning curve inherent in two new OSs (Mac OSX and iOS).  Of course, they are living up to their reputation for being intuitive, but I suspect they would be intuitiver if it were not for all the years I spent forcing my intuition into the mold that Microsoft engineers insisted it should fit.  Nonetheless, there have been a few moments here and there during which I have been able to futz around with my current project.

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the first things I needed to do following the port to Mac was to come up with an alternative to ZynAddSubFX, an extraordinary VST plugin that I was using for several key voices.  With some searching, I was able to find another free softsynth compatible with my DAW that, although it is qualitatively a different beast from ZynAddSubFX, it was nonetheless designed to be a fairly sophisticated sound generator:  it's called Crystal.  The good news is that it is capable of some pretty impressive noises and there is an iOS version too, so I can take it with me and play with it away from my desktop.  Unfortunately, however, all of the presets, while being very creative and interesting, are out of character for what I've been working on.  Further, its interface is not exactly intuitive (not that ZynAddSubFX is), so it's taken some time for me to get a sense of which end to blow in. 

Despite my student status, I am of an age at which learning curves present steeper slopes than they once did and between OSX, iOS, and Crystal (not to mention iWorks and a handful of other partially and completely new friends), I feel like I've done more than my share of climbing of late.  That said, I have had a few minutes here and there to mess around with the project and I feel like I'm pretty close to where I left off when the Toshiba started showing signs of byting the dust.  The semester will be over in a week or so (whether I'm ready for it to end or not) so I hope to have some real playtime in early- to mid-May and to get this long overdue project polished and posted. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

...and there was much rejoicing

After a long, impatient week, the new iMac arrived this morning.  I promised myself that I would get everything else set up on it before seeing how my DAW would run, but by 8pm I still had not finished installing and setting up everything I needed for an actual productive life (for example, EndNote and Quicken are still in the queue).  I felt my eyes crossing at all the details yet to be handled and concluded I needed to do something nice for myself, so I decided to give the DAW a whirl. 

Contrary to my earlier fears, I had run across some discussions online that indicated that Tracktion 3 should run fine on multi-core Intel processors, CPUs that were not what it was originally built for.  So I began to entertain some hope -- even some excitement -- that I might not lose all the work I'd put into this new endeavor that was enabled specifically by the ridiculously marked-down copies of Tracktion 3 made available following its discontinuance.  Replacing it with something equivalent would run several hundred dollars.  

The good news is that -- after some initial crashes and accompanying panic -- an updated version of Tracktion seems to be stable on the Mac quad-core:  yay!  The bad news is that one of my principal softsynth plug-ins, ZynAddSubFX, is currently only available for Windows and Linux (boo!).  There apparently was a MacOS port some years ago, but the link is dead (apparently long since).  As a consequence, I will need to rebuild in a new softsynth the voices now missing from my arrangements, something I am as yet unskilled in.  But, it will be a good learning experience!

Of course, after a week without a computer, I am terribly behind in my academic work:  dissertation (of course), class paper (last one ever!), a couple of presentations (not the least of which is for my daughter's school), and a menagerie of minutia.  So, my seemingly Sisyphean music project is going to roll further back down the hill, but at least it looks like it won't disappear.