Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Voices Of Our Past Should Direct Our Future...

{Authors note:  I started this post many months ago.  Normally I would have published long before now, but living life sometimes becomes more important.  However, as each month, week and day go by, the events that I'm about to chronical become mroe and more important in my mind.  I hope you agree}

My wonderful wife invited me to this years Collie Club of America Specialty Dog Show held just outside Philadelphia, PA. As typical taking such trips, we like to visit special places or drive off the beaten path just to break up the monotony of a long drive. We visited three places that made me reflect on the greatness of our Country, the fragile nature of our Union, and the people who died during the process of struggle.

During the drive from Cincinnati up I-71 and over I-70 to I-76 (also known as the Pennsylvania Turnpike), we spotted a sign for the Flight 93 Memorial. So we hopped off at Somerset, PA and drove up the road a bit to this piece of hallowed ground.

This National Park and Memorial is still under construction, but there is a small visitors center at the end of the drive, and a walkway out to the main memorial. Throughout the entrance to the finished area are various placards showing the path of Flight 93, photos of the hero's of that died tragic day, a picture of a black cloud taken soon after the plane crashed, and other items of note. The long walk out to the 40 large marble slabs with each hero's name engraved into it was quiet and peaceful - the entire place had a "reverence" about it. You could feel the sense of loss, but also a sense of honor that seamed to emanate from the grounds. The walkway had small openings where people could leave mementos, gifts or notes to the fallen. There were many roses there that day, and a small shield from an airport police officer from Kentucky.

I thought back to that day. There was an incredible amount of coverage of the twin towers and the pentagon, but not so much of this Pennsylvania field rather high up on one of the mountains where 40 people decided they would rather die fighting than become yet another statistic during that barbaric attack on September 11th. They had to know - after finding out that three other hijacked aircraft had flown into buildings killing all aboard - that their fate was sealed if they did nothing. So they heroically chose to do SOMETHING and if nothing else, die trying to live, instead of living just to die.

The next day we took a trip into Philadelphia, and took a quick car tour of the downtown area around Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and brave men and women gave birth to the United States. I thought back to what it might have been like to live in those times - how far removed they were from their homeland England, and the struggles they dealt with to form this new way of life based on individual freedom and liberty. To create a nation based on the "laws of nature and natures God", promoting a classless society where "all men are created equal".

A website promoting (Independence Hall) includes the statement:

"They risked everything — “their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor.” During the blistering summer of 1776, 56 courageous men gathered at the Pennsylvania State House and defied the King of England. Eleven years later, representatives from 12 states gathered to shape the U.S. Constitution, finally creating one unified nation."

Truly humbling to know what the founders of our country had endured, to remove themselves from the authority of the Crown.

Our next visit was Valley Forge National Historical Park. We took a tour of the grounds by car, getting out from time to time to see some of the small buildings that were built by the Continental Army, as well as the various encampments, the location of George Washington's tent, and the house he eventually used to plan his war strategy, cannon positions and bunkers. To know that our young nation struggled against and bested the English Crown and their well funded, well trained army, and it all started here. Breath taking.

These destinations and the stories told through history - both recent and past - reflect a common theme. They all speak to personal sacrifice of ones self for an idea of freedom, equality and the ability to pursue your own path to happiness - whichever path that may be for you.

In the case of Valley Forge and Independence Square, sacrifice for the birth of a classless society. A country where each State had its own sovereignty, yet united in its dealings to the outside world. Freedom from the tyrannical kings and princes of England, where no "authority" should be held above any state or group of states. Liberty and freedom to risk and reap our own rewards, deal with our own failures, and the chance to live our lives as we desire.

In the case of Flight 93, personal sacrifice to save a symbol of our nation. The people on that flight may never have known that the likely target of the terrorists who took over that plane was the US Capitol building. But they knew that with decisive action in the face of nearly certain death, they would go down fighting for the love of country and against the terrorists whose goal it was to destroy a part of America.

During each of these events, the idea of America was under attack. And at each stage, men and women stood up and said "ENOUGH!". And yet, the idea of America is still under attack - from forces outside and inside of our nation. I'm sure some have the best of intentions or fail to see what some of us see, but the attack continues regardless. And I must mention that this is not a Democrat vs Republican thing. It is a failure of each of us to learn and understand the DETAILS of our history - WHY things have occurred, and the results of legislation meant for the "greater good".

For the last 50+ years since the administration of Woodrow Wilson, liberal progressives have pushed the United States away from the ideas of our founders. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Lincoln - they would not recognize our country and the size of this bloated Federal Government. In fact, I can hear them calling from history each time a new government program is announced, or the people we have elected to represent us vote for another entitlement package, or a new tax, or a new regulation, or appoint a new bueracrat.

If you take a hard look at the reasons we declared ourselves independent from England, you can see that we're creating the conditions that forced that declaration. Please consider:

Bold and Italicized items are from the Declaration of Independence.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
King Gorge was accused of refusing to allow the colonists to pass their own laws. How similar is that to today's Federal Government overturning various laws of individual States? How about the Federal government taking the State of Arizona to court to protect their own state?

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

The King was charged with refusing to pass or passing laws without the consent of the governed. One might suggest that organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency, or any of the various Czars that have passed regulations on the American people are similar to this.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

While this charge had to do with the King of England allowing immigration and the availability of lands to new immigrants, one could argue the Federal Governments refusal to apply and enforce immigration laws as passed by the will of the people to be a similar event.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

Our founders saw great important of the separation of powers, especially as it related to the judiciary. But President Obama has verbally threatened the Supreme Court over the review of the Health Care Mandate. Earlier in his tenure, he verbally admonished - falsely I might add - the Supreme Court for a decision in the Citizens United case.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

This applied to additional military courts initiated by King George. Did anyone read the new National Defense Authorization Act that allows military arrest and detention of American citizens without trial?

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

See above...

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

Equate this statement to our dealings with the United Nations (Gun Ban Treaty, global warming initiatives), or the insistence in some areas that Sharia Law become a part of our own legal system?

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Fanning the flames of insurrection - much like Obama's involvement with Sandra Fluke and Trayvon Martin issues, the lying and half truths he spouts as facts perhaps.  How about the involvement with the Occupy Wall Street movement?

Our leaders - and not just Obama, but many of his predecessors over the past 7 decades - have used race, class, safety, and security to strip us of our freedoms and liberty. A little liberty forfeited for a little security year over year over year for the past 60+ years has led us to the edge of a cliff - a cliff which once we traverse, we can never recover. At some point, there were be a point of no return.

The majority of the American people have been asleep through this whole process. But we are starting to awaken and even more of us are speaking up. Whether we realize it or not, our past is calling to us, begging us to return to a place where liberty and freedom - and the associated responsibility that goes with it - is more important to each of us than the perceived protection and security of an all knowing Federal government....

Sunday, June 24, 2012

For Music Gear Heads - Computer + Mainstage = Multi Effects Processor

OK - for all you musicians and computer gear heads, I thought I'd share this little tidbit of how I was able to use my computer, a firewire interface and Logic / Mainstage to create a very useful and versatile mulit-effects processor.

First, what I used:
Macbook Pro 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4 GB Memory.
Presonus Firepod 8 X 8 firewire audio interface.
Apple's Logic software with Mainstage Version 2.1.3
Various cables to connect everything.

Hollywood at the Knotty Pine

The Problem:
The band Hollywood has been playing in the greater Cincinnati area for ever, and I've known them all for over 20 years.  GREAT group of guys who love to play 80's hair metal and are really great at it.  I've been running sound for them off and on as my schedule permits for about 7 years.  They called me on Thursday to ask if I would be available Saturday to run sound, with the caveat that the venue, "had a sound system, but no effects."  A quick visit to the venue confirmed that they indeed had no effects processors of any kind.  They have a fairly nice Allen Heath 32 channel mixer and I could use  4 aux sends for outboard effects.  Perfect...

Devising A Plan:
I do have some outboard effects modules around the house, but they are in need of repair - that's out.  But then I thought, "Mainstage has a tremendous amount of outboard processors and things I could use or this - I wonder if I couldn't use one of my Firepods as an interface and set up a Mainstage project to handle the effects.

So in Mainstage, I opened up a new project for handling Vocals or other audio signals.  I chose a blank slate so I could put together exactly what I wanted.  I created 8 mono audio channels to handle the input, then created 8 aux channels to handle the effects, and I routed the incoming signal from the incoming audio channel to the outgoing effects channel.  I then added an EQ to the mono audio channel strip to handle sound shaping, and added an effect to the aux channel strip for the effect I wanted to use.

Now, you may ask, "why didn't you just add the effect to the mono audio channel strip - you can add as many as you like?"  The answer has a bit to do with how I like to run sound, but in short, I wanted to be able to mute and unmute the incoming signal to the effect so the effect will continue to ring after I muted the incoming signal (such as a reverb or delay).  This would give me the ultimate in flexibility.

So after I selected the effects I wanted, I created a control surface in Mainstage.  This would give me control over the needed parameters throughout the night.  I simply set up a "channel strip consisting of an input meter, numerous control knobs, a fader and output meter, then a mute button.  I also created a master meter, fader and mute button, then a tap tempo button for the delay surface.  It looks like this:

The Presonus Firepods and Fireboxes are most excellent interfaces.  Great quality mike preamps and very solid processing make them a great choice for people that have computers with firewire connections.  It's sad to see firewire go away in the new Macs, but hopefully I'll be able to preserve these legacy devices because they're simply wonderful.

To connect my computer to the board, I used board aux's 1-4 and plugged them into channels 1-4 of the firepod I was connected to.  Then I used the 8 channel individual outs of the firepod to send the processed signal back to the mixing board.  It was the perfect amount of flexibility, although I could have mixed everything right from Mainstage and simply used a stereo return into the board.

I also purchased a Korg nanoKontrol some time ago for use with Mainstage, and it really came in handy for this project.  I routed all of the faders and mutes in the software control surface to the nanoKontrol, as well as routing one very important control to the pot control on the nanoKontrol.  For the reverbs, it was the reverb time.  For the delay, it was the feedback level.  For the chorus and flange, it was the speed control.

Big Verb - 20 Seconds - BOOM!
For Hollywood, I really like the flexibility of multiple reverbs.  I set up two reverbs for the drum kit - one a simple reverb that I kept between 1 and 3 seconds, then a second that I keep around 5 to 10 seconds for "cannon effects".  I assigned aux one on the mixing board to feed those two channels at the same time - I used the mute functions to switch between them.

For vocals I set up another reverb that I kept between 1-2 seconds to fill out the vocals.  I set this up on Aux 2 on the mixing board.  I have the delay coming through on Aux 3 for vocals and the odd guitar solo, using tap tempo to keep it synced with the song.  Lastly, I used Aux 4 for Chorus and / or Flange - chorus to fatten up the vocals, and flange for special effects on songs like "Electric Eye" (Judas Priest).

You knew there had to be a problem or two, but honestly it was pretty fool proof.  After getting the levels set, it was like running any other outboard gear, but with the flexibility of being able to set everything up exactly like I wanted to.  One problem I experienced was a bit of latency - about 10ms at an I/O sample size of 64 samples.  But as it turned out, it wasn't noticeable in the mix.

The other was CPU usage.  When I first started, I used the large Space Designer reverb.  With three instances of that and 6 band fully parametric on each input channel, the CPU would max out causing some harsh noises.  When I changed to Platinum Verbs and disabled 3 bands of the EQ, my CPU usage went down to around 50% - totally acceptable.

The really cool thing about Mainstage is you can create your own software control surfaces.  Having the EQ on the incoming signal really helped control some nasty frequencies that would leak through.  It meant I could get just the right sound going into the effect, so I didn't need much additional processing after the effect.

As you can see in this picture, the top 6 knobs controlled EQ functionality.  High shelf level and frequency, midrange peak (or cut) and frequency, and low shelf level and frequency.  This gave me quite a bit of control, and if I needed to adjust the "Q" or add another band, I could do that through the actual software controls.  It turns out I didn't need much of anything, which is very nice.

Next are the actual effect controls.  For the reverbs (first 3 channels, I selected a low shelf frequency to cut or boost low end through the reverb, then a wet and dry level control.  Lastly, I selected a reverb time control so I could change that on the fly.

I placed the fader and output level meter next to each other for ease of viewing on the fly.  At the bottom is a typical mute button so I could mute the incoming signal without cutting off any residual effect (reverb or delay).

So, how did it all work:
Flawlessly is the best way I could describe it!  It allowed me to have all of the effects I wanted or needed in a very nice, neat little package.  While I only used 6 effects, I had 2 spare channels ready so I could add something on the fly if necessary.  With the EQ, meters, faders and mute buttons already routed, I just needed to add some effects and select whatever controls I wanted to access through the software control surface - would take just a few minutes at most.

There you have it - I consider it a very cool success story.  :)