As our trip starts to wrap up, we have kicked into “shopping mode,” trying to see how much stuff we can cram into our luggage for the flight back. Elena’s buying plant seeds for our herb garden on our balconies, household and kitchen gadgets, and of course beauty products and clothes. As for me, it’s always the same predictable stuff I always buy–music gear for the studio, books on musicianship and art (plus a few novels here and there), and CD/DVD’s. I’ve got two boxes of books coming from amazon.com–all musicianship related books (orchestration, guitar playing, drumming). I really hope our luggage won’t go over the weight limit, but ven if that happens, it will only cost us $25 extra per check-in luggage, as long as it’s under 70 lbs (50 lbs is the usual limit). $25 for 20 lbs is actually a really good deal considering how expensive international shipping to China is.
I mentioned before that I needed a new audio interface since my Line 6 Toneport UX2 is just not as stable as I’d like it to be (I get audio dropouts and unable to initiate audio driver errors sometimes). After much research online and asking around, I decided to go with a product that may not have the best reputation for driver stability, but has excellent pedigree and audio quality–the TC Electronic Konnekt Live (slightly more expensive model than the Konnekt 24D). While I should’ve learned from my past mistake of choosing an interface with unstable drivers, my reasoning is that drivers can be improved and updated, but an interface with mediocre components and sound quality could never really improve. Even though TC Electronic seems a bit behind on their driver updates, they have made progress and the recent update seems to have soothed a lot of complaining user base. I have tested the Konnekt Live on Elena’s old HP laptop (with a Belkin firewire express card–which is audio industry preferred Texas Instruments chipset), and it runs fine and sounds great (though I can’t really assess the audio quality until I get back to my studio and run critical listening test with my trusty Klein + Hummel O 300D‘s). The old laptop’s specs are barely keeping up with the minimum system requirements so I can’t set the buffer too low (about 256 to 512 minimum)–I should be able to go lower on my quadcore main DAW back in the studio. I tried running Sonar 8 on that old laptop with the Konnekt Live and while it runs, it drops out constantly because the CPU hits 100% too easily. Running low-resource intensive synths in Xulop Chainer does much better–I tried Imposcar, Synth1, Oatmeal, and they all worked just fine. Edirol HQ Orchestral was too demanding for the slow laptop though–I couldn’t even play a single note without the audio dropping out or with heavy stuttering. So far it’s looking good, since at least I know the interface works, and comparing the audio quality to the Toneport UX2, I can hear that the low frequencies from the Konnket Live is more substantial and tighter (but this is only through the Sennheiser HD555 headphones. Must test with my K+H monitors to know for sure). Here’s a photo of the Konnekt Live in my temporary mobile rig:
On a related note, while testing the interface, one of the 1/4″ TRS jacks broke off its tip inside one of the input sockets, and it took me forever to get the damn thing out. Here you can see the broken tip:
I first tried to push the metal clamps inside the socket to the side and tried to dig the tip out, but there was just nothing to grip onto to pull the tip out–especially when the metal clamps are pretty tight. The tip was being held by the third clamp deep inside, the the front two clamps made it hard to extract the tip too, although they could be pushed aside. When I was almost ready to give up, I decided to post on KVRAudio.com and see if anyone’s got a good suggestions, and I was so glad I did, because someone suggested drilling a hole from the inside and then push the tip out. I was trying so hard not to destroy the interface as I just bought it, but I did not want to try any of the other suggestions like using strong bond glue since it could gunk up the inside if I wasn’t careful. So drill a hole I did. First, I had to take the interface apart, which was easy as it’s all just screws:
This is what the circuit board looks like:
Then I drilled a hole in the plastic socket where the tip was stuck. You can see the three metal clamps clearly. Since the tip was stuck in the second row, I couldn’t access the metal clamps, otherwise I only needed to pry the clamps out to get the tip out:
I then pushed it out with a tiny screwdriver. You can see the hole drilled in the socket where I shone a LED light through (right-hand bottom corner):
Luckily everything went well, and the interface was not harmed in anyway, except for that little hole which does not affect the performance at all. I probably voided my warranty though–oh well.
My last round of purchases at Guitar Center consisted of some instrument cables and various configuration adapters (no matter how many you have, you’re always missing some), Eastwest Quantum Leapo SD2+iLok (Eastwest is doing their buy-one-get-one-free deal right now for their Play libraries, so I’ll be getting Voices of Passion as my freebie), and the Korg Pandora PX5D guitar multi-effects processor.
I really thought long and hard about which of the Eastwest Play libraries to get, and originally I was going to try to also get Ministry of Rock, Gypsy, and Silk, but eventually decided to just get SD2 and VoP for now. I already have enough libraries for guitar, bass, and drums, so MoR would contain to much overlap. Gypsy’s main allure for me are the guitars and the violin, but I already have guitars and the violin is supposed to be programmed mostly for gypsy styled playing, which makes it less flexible than ideal. Silk is drool-worthy, but it’s new and more expensive, which means in a year or so the price will drop just like other Play products. I picked SD2 mostly because of the new addition of sound design patches–you can never have too many of those, especially for scoring. I debated about VoP since its legato portamento does not sound anything close to what you think it should sound like based on Eastwest’s advertising–it’s very unnatural and synthy when you hit the transition between notes, and recorded phrases are typically not flexible at all to compose with. But the Whales singer in the library is the only one I’ve come across from all the vocal libraries that sounds anything close to the kind of breathy/airy/soft female voice I like–other libraries tend to favor the more mature deeper voice or the classical soprano voice, which always feels like more technique than heart to me. I’m going to use VoP in conjunction with Melodyne, which I’m sure will vastly improve the flexibility of VoP.
I installed SD2 yesterday and it was such a pain in the ass. My Sony VAIO FW-390 comes with Vista 64–bit, and for whatever reason, both iLok and Eastwest’s registration wizard just would not run at all–they keep crashing no matter what I did (uninstall, re-install, reboot…etc). Finally I tried registering the iLok and running the SD2 registration on an older laptop that’s running WinXP 32-bit, and it worked like a charm. It’s unacceptable that I had to resort to using a different computer, because what if I only had one computer? The argument for and against piracy really just goes around in circles–if there were no piracy in the first place, developers wouldn’t need such drastic measures for security, but annoying and problematic security measures only piss customers off–many refuse to buy any product that has such security measures. No one wins in the end. I wonder just how many more copies does products using hardware security devices sell compared to products using simply serial numbers.
I was eager to test out SD2 so I installed it on the Sony laptop, even though without the benefit of a separate hard drive. I think SD2 is what Stormdrum should’ve been–all the extended and new material makes SD2 a lot more complete and usable. I thought Stormdrum was pretty good, but it did not blow me away because there weren’t enough variety and the velocity layers were too limited. SD2 is just a much more inventive product, and the sound design patches add so much to the value of the library. I suspect they added those because of recent competitor’s scoring-oriented products like A.I.R., The Elements, Synergy, Evolve…etc have been so popular with composers.
I got the Korg Pandora PX5D mostly because I wanted more variety in my guitar effects arsenal when recording without the computer (I mentioned before that I sometimes prefer to not be influenced by the visual representation of musical data that sequencing software depends on). Korg’s sound design has always been more interesting to me than those of other companies, and the Pandora has some unconventional effects that you just don’t see in other similar products, except in more specialized products that concentrate on imaginative effects. The built-in effects on my Zoom MRS-8 are certainly usable–no worse than those found in other products, but the navigation is a chore and the effects are the typical conventional variety. I almost bought a used Boss Metal Core distortion pedal while at Guitar Center, but after comparing it to the distortion on the Pandora, I don’t think it’s worth it to spend the extra money, as some EQ’ing could probably get the Pandora close enough to the ideal metal distortion sound I want. But then again, the ideal metal distortion sound is like the Holy Grail–you think it exists but you may never find it. What sold me on the Pandora was mostly because of the demo videos of Sevendust guitarists promoting it–I thought their endorsement was sincere and the examples they played in the videos sounded good enough to me. You can check out the videos below:
Sevendust Rocks the Pandora
Sonny Mayo of Sevendust rocking the Pandora (I think the product he was dissing was probably the Line 6 POD.)
John Connolly of Sevendust rocking the Pandora
We been searching for the best pizza place in the Silicon Valley, and I made a list of some of the most mentioned places in online reviews. One of them was Amici’s East Coast Pizza in San Jose, and we had dinner there a couple nights ago. We ordered a large pizza with half Calabria and half Spicy Pepper Chicken. In general it was unsatisfying since the pizzas were kind of dry, the toppings sparse, and the spices weren’t as strong as we’d have liked. I think pizzas need to be a little bit greasy to be really satisfying, and Amici’s pizzas were a bit like eating healthy pizza–not quite the point.
Quickie TV reviews:
Breaking Bad (season two) – I had high expectations for season two since I was totally blown away by season one, and I was not disappointed. Breaking Bad is by far one of the best written, directed, cast, and acted television shows in the history of television. The one episode with the “previously on Breaking Bad” segment done as a song sung by a Mexican band–I nearly died–it was fucking brilliant. All the other writers and directors out there working on other TV shows need to watch Breaking Bad and take note, because the people behind Breaking Bad are kicking their asses and taking their names. The airplane crash at the end was a bit out there, but I suspect they will do something with it in season three.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (season two) – I liked season one enough to give season two a shot, and season two started strong, especially with Cameron’s malfunction, but I was so disappointed they did not build on that, as it was the most compelling aspect of season two. The rest of season two had some great moments, such as John Henry’s education, but that whole subplot involving Jesse and Riley didn’t do much for me. I was very intrigued by the “Will you join us” plot twists towards the end, but unfortunately the show has been cancelled. There will be no season three.
Battle Star Galactica (reimagined) (season four) – I have mentioned before that BSD started to go downhill for me in season three, and season four really didn’t change that, although the ending was satisfying enough. My problem with BSG in the last two seasons is that the writers obviously were just making it up as they go, and for a premise with multi-layered complexity, that is a very ineffective way to maximize a compelling pacing and story structure that holds its shape until the very end of the series. I’m sure Ron Moore and his writers had some skeleton of a plot for the entire series, but so much of the big events that has happened in the last two seasons were obviously just pulled out of their asses as desperate attempts to keep the show interesting. When they ran out of good ideas, they repeated old tricks and that felt gimmicky and lazy because we’ve seen the same execution and treatment multiple times already. When writers do not exercise restraint, they become self-indulgent. When you give every moment the same epic and dramatic treatment, nothing stands out, and the scenes that should’ve been the most powerful becomes diluted because everything other scene were not treated with restraint. They don’t seem to understand the concept of contrast. The lack of a well structured pacing was a big problem–everything was big and in your face, like a symphony where every other note is a big fucking tutti–just random, arbitrary made-up melodrama that felt like they were only written for the sake of being dark and depressing and traumatizing, serving no other higher purpose in the overall storyline. How many times did they use the “Admiral Adama explodes with fury in private and then slides down against a wall in a mess of broken sobs” gimmick? It was powerful the first time, but when we see it again and again it felt cheap, and it did not drive home the point that Adama was deterioting–it only felt like a cheap trick. It’s as if the writers weren’t inventive enough to come up with a different way to express the same idea.
One point that really annoyed me was how they came up with the final five cylons. They literally pulled it out of their asses in production meetings in the later seasons because they did not take the precaution of working such an important plot point into the overall structure of the entire series. That is not how you approach an epic series that requires many of the plot structure to be worked out beforehand. And Ellen is the final cylon? Seriously? That is probably the single worst decision the writing team made (although I’m pretty sure it was all Ron when you get down to it). Talk about a letdown and a misstep in satisfying storytelling. There was no relevant intellectual or emotional resonance for the series in that decision–it was completely meaningless.
Now, I’m not unsympathetic to the complexities of writing for a television network show where you don’t know when and if the plug will be pulled, and that makes it hard to create a set structure for the entire series, but some of the blunders the writing team made on BGS were just so uncharacteristic of what I expect from a talented team of writers. There were so many moments where the show relied on emotional trauma and random plot twists that after a while it became just a string of cheap tricks. All those moments of people staring each other down, super tight zoom shots of somebody’s tear drenched eyes–they just became routine, predictable. Every moment is monumental and epic, and everyone’s emotional turmoil was a tidal wave, but without contrast they all blur into a mess and all semblance of a carefully crafted narrative is lost. While I respect Ron Moore’s obsession with realism and darkness, I think he’s lost objectivity and could no longer construct satisfying pacing and variety as the series went on. Piling on the tragedies and gritty darkness is not a replacement for good storytelling–sometimes too much is just too much. I really enjoyed the first two seasons as the pacing was far better and the storytelling devices haven’t been abused to hell yet, but starting with season three everything just went downhill.