Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Is The &*^% Working Now? (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps)

 So a few weeks ago my good friend Argent was kind enough to let me have the use of one of her old computers for recording purposes.  This was excellent timing as I had recently got rid of all my old machines to make space for said activity, only to find out that my only remaining computer was not powerful enough to do the job.

But of course nothing ever runs smoothly, particularly where computers are involved.  Yes they may be the future of mankind, but if that is so then the future of mankind is going to be mostly spent with us talking to one another whilst lit by an unhealthy glow whether it be from a mobile phone, pad or pc and swearing profusely at the surely deliberately awkward way of getting the damn things to do anything that you couldn't do in half the time if only you had been taught stuff like adding up and spelling at school rather than just being told to ask the sodding computer in the first place.

OK, OK, breathe slowly...

So - the first problem was finding the software for the plug in that would allow me to connect to the internet.  This was not where it should have been - ie with all the other software.  Most of my stuff is currently in boxes whilst it takes a slow but steady trip to charity shops.  This is the same battle that we all face with entropy on an ongoing basis - no matter how much junk we clear away we still find our houses and lives full of yet more stuff.

After two days of trawling through boxes I eventually remembered that I had put all my old mobile phones into a box ready to be destroyed or re-sold and looked in there on the off chance - lo and behold...

So - the second problem was anti-virus.  I spent a good half an hour talking on the internet to some chap in India explaining that yes, I was aware that my copy of the anti-virus was already on two machines but that I felt strongly that this fact was negated by the equally persuasive fact that both machines were now in bits at the local tip.  Finally he agreed to give me a 30 day trial period of grace that would take me up to when the AV was due to be renewed anyway.

Next issue - no sound.  Easily solved this one, and an excuse to pop around to Argent's and have a practice whilst the drivers loaded.

And then there was the issue of the package itself - now for those that don't know there are now a myriad of ways to record oneself at home if one so wishes.  No longer do you have to sit with two seperate tape players playing back your first recording loudly whilst singing along to the next (as my father was wont to do when I was a kid - to the point where there would be a whole choir of fathers claiming tunefully that Lloyd George knew their father)

Nor does one need to invest hundreds of pounds in microphones and big spooling tape machines, or decks of recording paraphernalia (although clearly when I win the lottery...)

Packages like Q-Base (a professional standard PC based recorder) can be bought in truncated form for £50, the i-pad comes with a small version of Garage Band on it (which has been famously used by several musicians of late for entire albums) - and, for those of us on a budget - there is Audacity.

Audacity isn't really designed for music recording - it's more aimed at people making jingles, or radio shows, so it lacks some of the mixing finesse of the other packages, but it does have one major advantage - it's totally free, and quite frankly its facilities are more than sufficient for the likes of me.

The first problem I encountered was that there was a significant delay between playing the sound and hearing the sound on Audacity.  Also some sounds seemed to be slowing down as I went - which meant that when it came to adding tracks and then additional tracks it was almost impossible.  After yet more trawling around the internet and a brief trip to Unhelpful Music (Unhelpful Music are our only local music shop - unless you are a guitarist and have a guitar related question they are less use than a chocolate Tea-pot on the grounds that at least you can still eat some of the melted chocolate afterwards) I established that what I needed was a low latency sound card (whatever one of those may be)

As the price of this was more than the current value of the computer I decided that a viable alternative was just to switch off the "playback as you record" option, provided i could find a way to hear the sound through the PC as i went. 

This immediately solved one problem and caused another - i could hear myself perfectly when i plugged in the microphone, but not when i plugged the guitar into exactly the same slot.  I went to the shop and bought a new adapter - no difference.  Eventually, and quite by accident, i discovered that plugging the instrument half-way into the slot solved the problem, indicating the slot itself might be faulty (why it works perfectly well with the microphone but nothing else remains a mystery)

Having solved this I then ran into one final problem - converting the Audacity file into MP3 format.  No matter how many times I downloaded the converter from the directed link it refused to work.  i uninstalled the converter, uninstalled Audacity and went back to a previous version - no effect.  Eventually, and after yet more trawling of FAQs I found someone who had downloaded exactly the same decoder, only via a different link and then moved the files to a different folder

And lo and behold, we have music...

Only things left to do now are to try re-installing the more up to date version of Audacity and see if it will run with my working coder and secondly, and more importantly, find a way of recording my saxophone so that it doesn't sound like a constipated Gnat. 

  Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps by Don't Feed The Pixies


Argent said...

The business of guitar working half-way out may be to do with the stereo/mono setup. There are also different cable types. Are you plugging into the front socket on the computer? I used to plug my ipad in thru there and its output was stereo, i think guitats are mono, so you may have been losing a channel. Also, there is a difference bewteen line in and mic in in terms of signal levels. I'll ask the hubby if he has any clues.

Stephen Hayes said...

I sympathize with your plight, but unfortunately I'm not technical enough to offer any advice. Incidentally, if you can hear when gnats are constipated in your neck of the woods you must have some fairly big gnats! I'd love to hear your saxophone playing.

the watercats said...

Oh man! And I thought I had trouble with computer beasties! I must say, rather smugly, that the ninety five euros I spent on an inspire FireWire recording box thing was the best quids I've ever spent. It comes with cubase le 4, and has a built in sound card and there are zero latency issues, even though it is plugged into a ten year old pc. Even dumb asses like me can figure out the working of it and it sounds o.k for ploughing out half decent sounding tracks. There is always the age old answer to times of computer related stress though... Kick it to death, that usually fixes things and allows you one good nights sleep.. Good luck :-)

English Rider said...

Although I enjoyed your post, as usual, it left me wilted and in need of smelling salts. What a work-out? This could be a test case for anger management training.

The Bug said...

So how much of that music did you make? Or is that a recording of some other people? In any case, I LIKE!

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

argent - i'm not sure what's causing it - it worked perfectly well with the same equipment on the previous machine. Who knows?

Stephen - you should be able to hear the recording at the bottom of the post

Watercats - i may still yet invest in such a thing. Advantage of Audacity is that i can easily exchange files with friends

English - i feel like i've spent all my time ranting at one thing or another recently

Bug - the backing track came with the music book

Lydia said...

What an interesting techy read this was for me! I am bamboozled as to all you mentioned (I get the clutter problem, though) but I think my husband will read and understand your dilemmas and fixes. In any case, the end result was just beautiful! I don't know what you mean by constipated gnat....each note was clear and in tune, and I thought it sounded delightful. :)