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Archive for July, 2008

Ubuntu and Firewire Interface for Audio

July 29th, 2008 No comments

A week ago I went to Long & McQuade in Vancouver and took away a TC Electronics Konnect 24 firewire interface to start testing. I will need to be able to record audio in the field and my recent camera research confirms the need for an external recording device for quality audio. There are dedicated field recorders designed for every quality level and I would really like to own one for the ultimate convenience. For this project, I am trying to minimize the amount of equipment I carry and I will already be bringing at least one notebook computer. Ergo, I need an interface to capture audio (analog) and convert it to a digital signal recognizable by my computer (digital).

Current technology in audio capture is advancing quickly and with any of this technology it is best to wait until the last possible moment to actually lay out the cash. As soon as you make that decision and take the unit home, a leap forward will be made, operating systems will be upgraded and you are on your way to obsolescence.

As I am investing in the Linux operating system now, it is very important that the firewire interface work in this OS. The notebook is dual boot with Vista, so compatibility with that flavour of Windows would be an asset and I want it to work with the studio’s G4 Mac OSX 10.3.9. You may think that every interface would support Windows, but many manufacturers support proprietary systems, such as the Apogee converter system that only works on Apple products. To balance this there are certain other systems that are weighted towards integrating with ProTools software on Windows. There are no dedicated Linux products (July 29, 2008 — in ten years we will see this statement become antiquainted).

T.C. Electronics Konnekt 24

I looked at the Free Firewire Audio Drivers site to see which interfaces would work with Linux. I was pleased to see a front page posting “More Experiments: now with the TC Konnect”. The recording studio I work for has a TC Electronics System 6000 effects processing unit that I also use as a mastering device. This is one of the highest quality pieces of gear I have ever worked with and the touch screen interface is intuitive and quick to operate. Could it work with Linux? Read more…

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Camera Research – Two Streams

July 27th, 2008 No comments

Camera research has taken a lot of my time lately as I am finalizing my options. At this point it seems like a good idea to have two recording systems on the bike. This will be an expensive option, but possibly worth it. A lower resolution, “always on” system that will record every time I ride the motorcycle and a removable high resolution camera that I will control while riding. My previous research can be found here, and much of this page will refer back to systems I have already considered, when adding new information.

Low Resolution Camera

The low-resolution camera and recording system can be integrated into the motorcycle electrical grid, so it can operate as any electrical accessory, in the background. The image is highly compressed, so not as much memory is required to store hours of video. The downside of this is that the video will not be high enough quality to fill a large screen, but the benefit is that I won’t miss some great moment because I didn’t have the camera turned on. I do intend to artistically re-purpose this footage, not just present a travel diary; so split screens and vignettes can integrate lower resolution material, particularly if I catch something interesting.

Equipment Sources

The On-Bike TV site is now OnBoard TV and they carry the Bullet DVR recorder and the ubiquitous 560 line Sony camera. The camera has been improved since December and now has interchangeable lenses. HelmetCamera.com has a similar package and a Canadian company, Micro Video Products has equipped other motorcyclists.

The proven advantages of these systems are many, as they can be wired directly into the bike’s electrical system, the equipment is very small and easy to install and the flash memory is inexpensive and commonly available. It can be mounted on the motorcycle, more or less permanently, so that it is a very easy task to record constantly. The disadvantages are in the video quality and the difficulties I have had in editing compressed file formats. I find .avi to be the most widely accepted by editors and MEPG4 to be difficult to edit without converting the file. As soon as the file is converted, there is usually a degradation in quality. I will have to now look at available editing tools to see if editing technology has caught up with MPEG4 as this is an essential factor in choosing a system.

High Resolution Camera

The high-resolution camera is requiring a lot of research. There are a lot of options on the horizon right now and the introduction of High Definition (HD) video as a viable, affordable option has changed the “pro-sumer” marketplace. There are many independent video producers who are driving the demand for broadcast quality recording and with recent advances in technology, some are achieving big screen release with low budget gear.

My research last year pointed me towards cameras that had 3 charge-coupled devices (CCD) in Standard Definition (SD) cameras as having the best quality recording, and three CCD cameras still do capture the best quality colour because they use a different sensor chip for each colour — red, green and blue (RGB). Reds in particular are hard to capture and true black is always elusive, although PAL format is supposed to be better than NTSC. PAL format is mainly used in Europe and NTSC in North America and the formats are not interchangeable, although they can be converted.
Now High Definition (HD) cameras have become more available, the 3 CCD models are very expensive, packed with professional features and quite large in size. It has been argued that HD with a single, larger CCD chip recording more lines of resolution can offer comparable results to an SD with three smaller size chips, even though the colour might be a little more washed out. There are a lot of “D”‘s for definition in this alphabet soup because it is the operative word in video quality. Read more…

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Gamelan Madu Sari: New Javanese Shadows

July 20th, 2008 1 comment

Even though I am very busy with everything else in my life, I could not refuse an invitation to join a week-long workshop with five of the most innovative masters of the Arts of Java.

Gamelan Madu Sari, Vancouver’s gamelan that uses Javanese instruments, was producing a show called “Semar in Lila Maya” and they had worked very hard to bring four performers from Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Students could study with one or all of these instructors who specialize in dance, shadow puppetry and music instruction. It was tempting to sample a bit of everything from the rich cultural buffet. The group picture, taken at the end of class, was a bit of an afterthought and I had already changed into my motorcycle riding clothes so I couldn’t sit cross-legged anymore.

Madu Sari workshop with Javanese guests

On the far left back row and below, is my friend Mas Sutrisno Hartana, who has moved to Vancouver and teaches Javanese music at Simon Fraser University. It is because of Sutrisno, that I say five Masters of Javanese Arts, although there are only four visitors. I have taken better photos of him, but he is really concentrating and serious in this image below. He introduced me to the subtle beauty of Javanese gamelan when I was still playing with Gong Gita Asmara, the ensemble using Balinese instruments based at UBC. I did rehearse with Madu Sari and play one concert, and I look forward to having more time to play with them in future. Read more…

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Categories: Inspiration, VIX at Work

Respect For the Big Bike

July 17th, 2008 1 comment

It all comes down to respect for the bike. I am realizing that the wonders of the big-bike are only now beginning to unfold to me. Although I am an experienced rider, I have not yet fully understood how different this bike is from any other that I have owned. Riding a large street-bike is an inspirational experience, but I realize that I have not been recognizing the extent of the difference in riding style and the maintenance required to minimize danger to the rider. I have been riding it like an overweight dirt bike; bouncing over the bumps and flying with very little patches of tire on the road.

FJ with video mount

After falling down, I took the FJ 1200 to Simon to check the brakes and to try to help me understand what happened. We returned to the scene of the first left-hand slider on the third day after the accident. The pavement at 16th and Cambie is very uneven due to Skytrain construction. The place I fell has a split pavement with each side of the lane a different height. The scraped ridge followed a manhole cover pavement mound, bulging from the road right after the bumpy intersection. The deep scratch, where I bent the foot of my centre stand on the pavement and the patch of gas where I had landed, were mute evidence to how much ground I covered on my side while I fell. I was going slowly and braking lightly, not stressed and hauling in the brake.

It felt like the bike had bounced up in the air, then lay down, and originally, I had thought that the bike had rebounded off of a neglected side-stand. Simon and I agreed that I had come too far from where I last parked to have left the side-stand down unscraped. So what could cause this effect? It was succinctly explained to me that if the front wheel locks up the rider can no longer steer the bike as the front wheel is not turning. The bike will slide in the direction it chooses based on tilt of pavement, direction of travel and other factors. Suddenly, I was really scared.

For some reason, I had never really pictured sliding on my FJ with the front wheel locked and not being able to steer. Read more…

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Categories: 1990 Yamaha FJ 1200

On-bike Video Camera Mount

July 13th, 2008 2 comments

My research of internet sites that feature motorcycle mounted video footage must include Virtual Riding Television. Jeff and his wife have made a trip across Canada together on a 2003 Harley-Davidson with a video camera mounted on their bike in 2006. The bike is a really beautiful touring machine that carries them both and Jeff has a lot of good information on his site. In an e-mail to me replying to my request for advice, he reminds me of the realties of the trip by saying that the most valuable piece of gear he took was his VISA card. Check out his site for some interesting virtual motorcycling.

The Harley is a dream machine, but even heavier than my Yamaha FJ1200. I plan to stick with the old iron for now and use a different camera mounting plan. I did a lot of research and I have to agree with both Jeff on the big Harley and the $5 camera mount demonstration rider that having the camera on the front of the bike gives the most realistic virtual motorcycling result. So, I talked over my options with Simon and we came up with the following idea. Here is an FJ fairing frame held in Simon’s strong, masculine hand. I have marked the areas where the mirrors are usually mounted when the rest of the frame is covered in the plastic fairing. This is a steel frame that is attached to the steel bike frame, so it is very stable and strong.

FJ fairing frame with mirror mounts shown

During the Jazz Festival my bike did spend a bit of time at Simon’s garage. When I dropped it the first time I broke a mirror off and did some other damage. This gave us a perfect opportunity to carry out the plan, and here is the prototype of the result.

Side by side FJ

Close-up of mirror mount attachment

Simon has since painted the mount black, so it blends in with the bike, but the prototype is more visible in the photo. The wide angle mirrors are still chrome and they stand way out from the stock profile. I can really see in them, as they are amazingly adjustable over a wide field of view. There is more vibration than in the damped stock mirrors that have a weight in them, but they are very functional.

This mount will be strong and can carry quite a heavy camera with full benefit of the bike suspension to smooth the ride. Now I have to find a waterproof camera housing for the video camera and shock-mount it on this steel rail. This is to protect from wind, that can cause vibration and blurring, as well as from rain. I will be consulting with many sources and will post about the progress.

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Photographic Experience Theme

July 7th, 2008 3 comments

Part of my work as a visual artist is manipulating photos but I have never considered myself a photographer. Last year at the Jazz Festival, I took lots of photos of shows and I found it really difficult to get good pictures in the dark with no flash. The problem can be exemplified by this picture of Paul Plimley at the Roundhouse this year when he was playing on Saturday, June28, 2008. Even with a reasonably good camera, the length of exposure required makes it impossible to get a decent picture with a moving target.

Paul in Motion

This is an artistic photo, and I like it because it shows Paul’s musical spirit, but I always like to have control over results. [Yes, control is a deep part of my psyche — we’ll go there later …] I keep trying to get decent live pictures, and I am doing better in low light conditions than last year.

That is because earlier this year I started watching photographers to get some idea of how it was done. My first subject was Willie Cackett, photographer of the Blues and Roots scene in Vancouver, who gets some decent photos with inexpensive equipment. He has even had some shows of his work. Those are his photos on the wall behind him in my image below.

Cottage Bistro Willie C

I noticed something right away. Photographers are very still so it is really easy to take pictures of them and I can use a flash. When I told Willie I had taken photos of him, he was pleased. He told me he didn’t have many images of himself because he was always taking the pictures. So, I have found my photographic niche — to take pictures of photographers in action.

Much better photographers, with better cameras can take pictures of the show. I will take pictures of them. It is interesting too, as it fits into my idea of “watching the watcher” by standing in front of highway cams and having them video me videoing them across the country.

This is Brian Nation with the flash diffuser obscuring his face– not the best, but look how still he is in the natural light. The next one caught him preparing, so his face is visible. I used a flash, so it is blue shifted and if I was using this for pro work I would colour correct it.

Brain Nation in action Brian Nation + subject

Next, I got a picture of Laurence Svirchev, but he was standing around before the show and saw me taking it. I really like to sneak up on them while they are being very still to take a photo. Laurence is a bit out-of-focus but it’s not too bad. I noticed he had a flash diffuser too. When he saw me taking the picture, he was kind enough to show me menus to set the ASA that I didn’t know existed on my camera. He flipped through the options expertly and I was surprised that there was such a hold-over from film technology in the digital controls. Read more…

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Canada Day on Granville Island 2008

July 4th, 2008 1 comment

The first day of July started with a plan to ride my motorcycle down to the Canada Day celebrations hosted by Coastal Jazz on Granville Island. This event featured some of Vancouver’s finest jazz talent on three different stages throughout the day, including Chris Gestrin, Jillian LeBeck. Brad Muirhead +Pepe Danza (Koan), Paul Plimley and Tony Wilson. As I was getting ready to go, my phone rang and my daughter requested my help to finish clearing out her godmother’s apartment. The jazz would have to wait, but it didn’t sound like there was that much to do and I would certainly be able to catch some of the shows. Read more…

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Categories: Inspiration, VIX at Work

Vancouver Jazz Festival Part III

July 1st, 2008 No comments

The free concerts at the Roundhouse Community Centre started at noon and I arrived by Skytrain after dropping my bike at Simon’s for examination. At the present time it is a long walk from the Stadium skytrain station to the site, but the new Olympic line is being constructed with a station right across the street. This site will be much more accessible for the Jazz Festival in 2010, although a lot of people do make the effort to walk, bike or skateboard rather than find scarce parking in the area.

The High School Jazz Intensive, with Chicago-based flautist Nicole Mitchell conducting, was in full swing when I arrived. The young musicians played at a very high calibre under Mitchell’s expert direction. Paul Plimley and I were discussing this concert later that day, and we both agreed that the quantity and quality of instruction and instructional materials has increased since we were young. Instructional multi-media, books,magazines, DVD’s and the internet have all contributed to a positive trend. This access to information and the improved acceptance of jazz, as a music that should be taught in school, has raised the standards of musicianship among Vancouver High School Bands. This nine-day intensive workshop series culminating in this performance is an educational outreach program that requires that the student to audition to qualify for entry. We were listening to the result of a focussed program applied to some of the most dedicated young musicians in the area courtesy of the sponsors and Coastal Jazz.

Brian Nation, the impetus behind Vancouver Jazz.com, was listening too. We both decided to go in to the tribute to Al Neil concert set-up to take photos. Brian wanted to interview Al Neil for his website jazz magazine as he remembers hearing him play and has known him for decades. The pictures I took of Paul yesterday did not turn out very well because of the low light conditions, so I welcomed a chance to to go in pre-concert and try again.

Brian and I compared cameras and he showed me his cool new flash diffuser, he took a photo of me with and without and the difference was amazing. Lan Tung, the erhu player in the next group to play in the venue, had asked me to take photos of her new ensemble. I quickly asked Brian if he had time to take a few shots of them during their set-up as his camera was so much better than mine.I think it worked out because I ended up using Lan’s video camera to record the show instead of taking stills.

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