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rebirth-ipadThe original Rebirth RB-338 was great. Released in 1996, I remember it being one of the first software synthesizers on the PC that seemed serious and sounded cool. An iPhone version has been around for a while but the iPad version was just released for $14.99 and I couldn’t resist trying it out.

The multi-touch is what makes the difference of course. While the screen is a tiny bit smaller than would be optimal – it’s hard to select drums without accidentally engaging a button or knob – being able to manipulate multiple controls at once without using a mouse is undeniably fun. You can actually feel like you’re jamming to a certain extent.

Ultimately though I feel disappointed and am not sure it was worth the $15. We’ll see if I go back to it. Without any sort of MIDI support (sending or sync or export) this is just another bleep-toy that won’t really integrate with my existing audio tools.

The 303 sounds are also pretty dated sounding to me (or at least not as fat as modern soft-synths), but the drums are still thick and fun. There’s also some ugly digital clipping if you start driving it too hard which is less present in modern plugins.

So, much like the original Rebirth, I’m still waiting for an iPad music app that seems serious and sounds cool.

Posted on - November 10, 2010 [at] 4:14 pm by Brad
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51Anc1ZmXFLI own several books by Bobby Owsinski and since I’ve been putting a live show back together I bought his new book and DVD: How To Make Your Band Sound Great.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. The new live show’s sounding pretty good I think and I’ve got a fair amount of experience on stage now but figured it’d be worth checking out.

Good Stuff

The most useful sections in the book for me were his technical descriptions of dynamics and playing “in the pocket”. Bobby talks a lot about playing “bigger” rather than louder or faster which has been an issue I’ve struggled with. For instance I liked this observation about why a lot of musicians feel like the life’s been sucked out of their performance if they aren’t playing really loud:

The internal dynamics of each individual usually go out the window. Instead of playing crisp yet quiet, with the same attacks and releases the band had at the higher volume level, the attacks and releases get relaxed so the playing becomes less precise. The real trick is learning to actually play with the same intensity at lower levels.

Makes a lot of sense. He suggests plotting out song (and set) dynamics on a 1-10 scale and to make sure the band members agree on what the levels on the scale sound like.

Bad Stuff

But besides a handful of useful tips, the book is geared towards the beginner. Repeated admonitions to tune your instrument, turn off your cell phone, take vocal lessons and be a professional might be useful to some readers but they seemed obvious to me.

The included 60-minute DVD of Bobby coaching a band rehearsing a song is interesting, but could easily have been edited down to around 15 minutes, which would have made it more effective and reduced my exposure to ska considerably. Cuts back and forth between the earlier and later (improved) performances of the song would have been a helpful demonstration.


It’s not a bad book, I’d recommend it for a complete beginner. But it made me more aware of questions I had going in that it didn’t answer. I’d love to see another book that dealt with situations that are more geared towards laptoppy Internet recording artists who are branching out into live performance like:

  • How to deal with a laptop on stage – my first few times out I had issues with only having unbalanced outputs.
  • Backing tracks. How many outputs to give the house, how to treat them, how much backing stuff to include.
  • How to simulate band dynamics with drum backing tracks or a drum machine.
  • Vocal treatment & effects. Especially in small venues I’ve found running my vocals through a compressor/limiter helps my vocals sound more like the records.
  • How to handle crappy sound guys. (Constructing an alibi, body disposal, etc.)

I’m sure it would be a huge, huge money-making hit.

Posted on - February 26, 2010 [at] 3:06 pm by Brad
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imageI’m not much of a keyboard player. I started writing music on the computer tapping notes into trackers with the computer keyboard. I also have a shitty right arm that wigs out when I play keyboards. So I’ve wound up trying a variety of different MIDI keyboards and for the most part they sit beside me and I put papers and junk on top of them and then avoid using them because I’m too lazy to clean them off. So I wind up playing basic sequences in with the computer keyboard.

Enter the inexpensive, tiny Korg Nano Series.

I snapped these up when I read about them, thinking they’d come in handy for live performances (I’m not optimistic enough to think I’ll write music away from my office) but when I got them home I realized they solve at least part of my MIDI keyboard problem. Now I keep them on a shelf under my desk and pull them out whenever I need them.

The Kontrol and Pad are great – simple and effective and relatively sturdy. I’ve tried many different drum pads over the years and the nanoPad is actually my favorite, which is surprising for such an inexpensive device. The nanoKey is the most dodgy, but also the one I’ve used the most, so it can’t be that bad. The keys feel exactly like (kind of cheap) laptop keys. It has the same weak/wobbly spring feeling. I’m not looking for sweet action, but it would be awesome if they felt slightly more crisp – something comparable to a child’s plastic keyboard would be fine.

My only other complaint isn’t Korg’s fault (I think) – the nature of these devices is that I want to plug them in as I need them, swapping them out at will. But all the audio software I’ve tried with needs to restart (or at least reset the audio device) each time I plug in or unplug a device. Minor thing I know.

All in all, they’re very useful tools and I’m happy to have ’em.

Update (3/4/11): My Nanopad randomly died and in researching fixes that seems to be an epidemic. So I wouldn’t bother. The Akai LP line seems to be more durable and that’s likely what I’ll switch to.

Posted on - September 23, 2009 [at] 3:41 pm by Brad
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image Reaper 3 came out a little while ago and I’ve mentioned that I’m experimenting with switching to it from Cubase. So far I can’t imagine going back to Cubase. Some of the things I like:

  • It’s fast and small. While the 4.4MB installer file size is great, it’s the responsiveness and quick loading time that are truly awesome. Cubase feels bloated and slow after using Reaper, as do most DAWs.
  • Powerful. The amount of features in it are ridiculous. You may have to hunt for the options, but 99% of the time it’s there.
  • I haven’t had it crash on me yet.
  • It’s fully customizable. I feel like I can trick it out as much as I want. From themes to keyboard shortcuts to actions, you can make it your own.
  • Frequent useful updates. Unlike Cubase’s usual “launch buggy, gradually patch those bugs and save any useful new features for the next version you have to pay for” you actually get an amazing amount of updates and improvements.
  • An active community and approachable developers. Reasonable or good ideas get implemented quickly, developers are responsive in the forums, lots of people were helpful when I was flailing around in “I’m used to Cubase!” land.
  • It plays nice with dual monitors. HOORAY.
  • Quick search of VST plugins.
  • I don’t feel locked in. Project files are in plain text, you can export your stuff easily. You can move your preferences around easily.

Some things I don’t like so much:

  • There are so many options that new (and/or less tech-savvy) users will likely feel overwhelmed hunting down the right checkboxes to get the behavior they expect. It’s awesome that it’s so customizable, but I’d love to see them pick some more universal up-front options and move a lot of the tweaks to a Firefox about:config style interface or just an .ini file.
  • A lot of the comping/audio behavior doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The logic behind which items play and which don’t when they overlay each other on the same track still confuses me, so I try and avoid it. Comping generally works but lacks the precision of Cubase or Logic.
  • Unlike versions 1 and 2, Reaper 3 doesn’t have my song Making Me Nervous as the default project. :( :(

Anyway, it’s been good and I recommend trying it out. There’s an un-crippled evaluation version so you’ve got nothing to lose.

Posted on - June 9, 2009 [at] 7:38 pm by Brad
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I’ve been so-so about the Wolfram|Alpha hype, but it finally launched and it’s definitely neat. Comparing it to Google is semi-ridiculous as Google uses structured data and “facts” only as an afterthought.

The servers are taking a beating right now, but here are some queries that were interesting to me:

A lot of data I encountered is old-ish – a lot is from 2004 — which I think says more about the crappy state of authoritative structured data than Wolfram|Alpha itself.

I think the most exciting thing about Wolfram|Alpha is that it’s intriguing and useful enough that it may encourage more organizations and individuals to make their current data available and keep it up to date. Which would be a huge benefit to everyone.

Posted on - May 16, 2009 [at] 7:20 am by Brad
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new-indiana-jones-4-and-the-kingdom-of-the-crystal1 Having now seen Indiana Jones 4 I am finally free from looking forward to anything by George Lucas, hooray!

Indy 4 was terrible and at least as bad as The Phantom Menace. I’m not sure how it’s managed a score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this, but I have to assume that will be lowered by time and careful reflection.

Here’s my ranty spoiler-filled list of things I can remember disliking:


Posted on - May 27, 2008 [at] 10:55 pm by Brad
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As chronicled in my amp search, I went with a Tech 21 Power Engine 60 extension cabinet. Today I had a chance to play with it for an hour and I’m really, really happy with it.

The big drawback of using a regular guitar amplifier with an amp simulator is that regular amps are specifically made to “color” the sound coming out of your guitar. That’s what makes guitars sound awesome. But layering the amp sound on top of your amp simulator results in random muddy crap. You have to constantly be compensating for the sound of your amp when designing your patches on the amp simulator.

The Tech 21 PW60 Power Engine however is more faithful — it puts out what goes into it with minimal coloration. When I switch between headphones and the PW60, the patch sounds are nearly identical (the PW60 has more “air” which seems unavoidable due to physics.)

It’ll be a week before I can try it at rehearsal — which is good because I’ve got some patch programming to do — but I can easily get the PW60 up to volumes I’m sure my neighbors can hear without even putting the gain at 50%.

It’s slim on features, which I like as opposed to Behringer’s habit of throwing shitty digital effects processors in anywhere they can. Three EQ tone controls, gain control, handy XLR in and out and of course 1/4″ in. Mine didn’t come with an AC power cable but I’m not sure if that’s Tech 21’s fault or the music store. I have lots around so it was no big deal.

It’s lightweight (33 pounds) and nice looking. It’s smaller than my Delta Blues 210 so I guess I’m less of a man now.

All in all, I’m very happy with it, five thumbs up.

Posted on - August 29, 2007 [at] 9:54 am by Brad
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Here is a chronicling of some items I purchased recently:

ALLSOP Mouse pad – For many years I’ve been using a mouse pad with a wrist-rest on it. In fact it’s been the same one, so it’s nasty and gross and needs replacing. The new one has a feature called “memory foam”. This is code for “if you use the wrist-rest for more than half an hour, it squashes down under your wrist and no longer provides enough support”. Awful.

Belkin WaveRest Keyboard Wrist Support – I wanted to replace my rusty roller-based wrist-wrest and the only one they had in Staples that wasn’t some retarded hot/cold gel pack was this one. It’s not high enough, my wrists sink down into the gel, it doesn’t fit on my (admittedly a little weird) IKEA Jerker desk the way my old one did. Awful.

APC 650VA – After 11 days of rain and thunderstorms and power brownouts, I finally invested in a UPS / battery backup for the Linux box in the basement. It seems to work great and the forecast is coincidentally showing sunny weather for the rest of the week. Great!

Posted on - July 22, 2007 [at] 6:09 am by Brad
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It’s been a few weeks of trying micro-blogging with Twitter and Tumblr and here are my reviews.


I’ve been back and forth about Twitter (my page is here). At first it was neat but useless to me. Then I had a couple of friends in there that I was interested in keeping in touch with. Then I lost interest in it, then I went back. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m bothering with it, other times I wish I had more friends. Kind of like real life.

Twitter’s certainly a decent idea and I believe it’s on to the next evolution in IM. But if you can’t convince all your pals to get a Twitter account and deal with the hassle of updating it, then you’re not going to get much out of it. Which leaves only hardcore net nerds talking to themselves… to each other.


Tumblr’s been fun and I’m still using it (my page is here). I don’t know if anyone’s reading my tumblelog but I feel like I’m creating a little meme repository that I’ll be interested in looking back on in the future. So it has some inherent value to me as a user regardless of whether my friends sign up.

It’s desperately lacking tagging. I like its simplicity but the addition of tagging wouldn’t overly complicate it and would add so much to the service. Different ways to view my data, ways to view site-wide tumblr entries under tags, etc.


While both sites are nice, ultimately I’m exhausted with new services and would like to combine them. I was originally thinking that Twitter and Tumblr would go great as a combined service, which touches on my semi-obsession with a temple of ego or Mugshot style service.

Steven Garrity pointed out Jaiku to me last night, which (I’m assuming) is a European Twitter clone. But instead of simply being a one-off status posting service, it also merges all your feeds (, flickr, picasaweb, blog, lots more) into one timeline that unifies your online identity.

Posted on - April 4, 2007 [at] 7:11 am by Brad
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So I bought a Behringer FCB1010, it’s a (cheap as hell) twelve switch, two expression MIDI foot pedal. I’m thinking I can control my laptop with it while I play guitar and sing. 

Anyway, the entire experience has been great but not because of the device itself. The manual is terrible, the factory settings don’t work with Ableton Live out of the box and programming it via the foot pedals is tedious.

One of the greatest things about buying gear for me as a total nerd is when there’s a thriving user community around whatever I just bought. And there’s a great one around the FCB1010. Here’s some of what I’ve found:

  • There’s a great Yahoo Group full of resources for it. Photos, utilities, tutorials, patches, sysex dumps, hardware mods and more.
  • Hackers have made $10 replacement firmware chip for the FCB1010 that adds a lot of great functionality such as tempo tap, stomp box mode, not needing to put the device into “sysex receive mode” to transmit patches to it and more.
  • There’s an excellent home-brew PC Editor for programming the device.
  • A great FAQ.
  • Plenty of tutorials for getting the FCB working with Live.

As I was describing this, particularly the replacement firmware, a friend of mine wondered why Behringer doesn’t open source their firmware. They make their money on the hardware (unlike video game consoles for instance) and are also widely criticized for ripping off other company’s designs, manufacturing them cheaply and selling them at a fraction the price.

Seems to me they’d have nothing to lose by open sourcing their firmware. Hackers could add all the functionality they want, people would buy their products with the intention of tricking them out, it’s free R&D that they can fold into future devices, and their nerd karma would go through the freaking roof.

Posted on - January 24, 2007 [at] 12:18 pm by Brad
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