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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

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.

0108_brian_nation_sm.png

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Night of Broken Bikes

June 28th, 2008 1 comment

This is an unusual tale of mechanical mystery, charming chivalry and late-night suspense. Friday night was my last shift as Crew Chief at The Ironworks, a beautiful venue that has been my home at the Jazz Fest for 4 years. Although the Ironworks studio, an artistic space in an actual converted metal-working shop previously known as Burrard Ironworks, is sophisticated and beautiful inside, it is located in the worst part of Vancouver. The neighbourhood is one of the poorest postal codes in Canada and many homeless people wander the streets in company with drug addicts and mentally ill individuals. The area is starting to gentrify, behind security barracades, but the streets are still mean and inhabitants are unpredictable — it is the Downtown Eastside.

I went down to The Ironworks early, as the venue manager had requested that I be there at 6:30pm. I complied and helped organize the other volunteers by orienting and assisting the hospitality volunteer and making sure everyone else knew what they were supposed to be doing. My job as Crew Chief is to keep the volunteers happy, make sure they have water or soft drinks and get a break when they need it. I also keep an eye on the venue and support the venue manager.

While I was changing my boots for shoes, I left a message with Simon that my red+white loaner FJ motorcycle was developing the same clutch problem that my blue+black FJ had last year. I had noticed him leaning it over at angles I cannot achieve without becoming completely horizontal, and pumping the clutch to remove the air from the lines. Somewhere in the clutch system, which is supposed to be full of a pressurized oil, there were air bubbles getting in.

1660-1100w1200top2_sm.png Read more…

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Vancouver Jazz Festival

June 23rd, 2008 No comments

Every year I volunteer at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and last night, June 22, was my first shift as the Crew Chief at the Ironworks. The show last night was fun and unusual as Francois Houle and Mats Gustafsson organized an improvisational program around the idea of a hockey game, Improv Power Play: Canada vs Sweden. The individual solo improvs that started the event were excellent with standouts in my mind being Peggy Lee (defense for Canada) on cello and Per Ake Holmlander (defense Sweden) on tuba. Everyone played extremely well and the night ended with both teams on stage playing together. The drummer or goalie, Raymond Strid, for the Swedish Team (Tre Kroner), was very playful and showed a great sense of humor in this some times “serious music” jazz environment.

June 20

I have already seen some great shows, Barry Guy (bass) and Myra Homberger filled up the room at The Western Front with delightful sonorities and tasteful improvisation. The Baroque violins that Myra specializes in playing, have a unique timbre and blend with Barry’s bass beautifully. This duo has played together frequently and they mixed composed works with less structured pieces in imaginative segues.

Unfortunately, I had a small motorcycle accident, so I was a bit disoriented and missed Benoit Delbecq at the Roundhouse. That hurt more than the bruises I sustained, as I am always inspired by his playing.

June 21

I did catch the set with Benoit Delbecq and Quator Bozzini at the Western Front and it showed me a more restrained side of his musical skill set. I will see them again on Tues and will write more after that.

My daughter recommended Pink Martini as an interesting show and they were pure entertainment. The most unusual feature of this group is the multi-language focus of the songs. Although all of the songs fell within the movie theme + Vegas show + cruise ship show band type of genre; the switch to a different language showed how far the influence of stage band jazz has reached. The group excelled at Latin music and closed with a great version of “Brazil” after singing in Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, French, English and probably other languages as well. The pianist, Thomas L. Lauderdale, played with flourishes that reminded me of Liberace. Lauderdale is the mastermind behind Pink Martini, and the lovely vocalist Chana (citation) was credited with co-writing the songs and was amazing in her abilitiy to sing in all these different languages. Other members of the 13 piece group were outastandin musicians and helped contribute to the multi-cultural aspect of the performance.

June 22

Despite having an afternoon business meeting regarding the book, I managed to hear a bit of the Vancouver Creative Music Institute (VCMI), a co-production of Coastal Jazz and Blues and the Vancouver Community College. The large ensemble, conducted by Georgio Magenesi, was brilliantly executed with space for all the players, changes in density, dynamics and timbre that maintained interest throughout. One of the best improvised large ensemble pieces for this year. Lan Tung was featured on erhu, Chinese violin, and her tone sang beautifully.

Georgio has taught me a lot about music. Sometimes when I listen to improv, noise music or another genre I don’t completely understand — I switch into another mode of listening. I change from listening for melody, harmony, rhythm and other structures, to listening to a matrix of timbres and densities. If I can break free of my traditional music frames, I can enjoy and experience music in another way. I feel like I have never properly thanked him for this tool, and other things he has told me about conducting. He is the Director of Vancouver New Music and we are lucky that he left his native Italy to enrich out community.

Francois Houle was the Artistic Director of this years VCMI and he did a wonderful job of supporting the players. All of the faculty also play in the festival and this week long series assists Vancouver players to interact with established International artists.

Later, I volunteered at the Ironworks.

Today, I have to go to work and so will miss the shows. However, I might be able to get off early enough to use my pass to see at least one show.

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Categories: Inspiration, VIX at Work

ASUS Computer Company – Support

May 31st, 2008 No comments

This is a big “Thank You” to ASUStek computer company.

Last Thursday, on the way to buy another external HD, I was showing a SQL programmer Ubuntu and during the process, my disk drive tray was used and pushed back in. I didn’t notice anything at the time, but later, I couldn’t get it to open again.

I was on my way to the computer store to get a mini firewire to regular firewire cable for my next purchase of a firewireaudio converter and the notebook external HD, so I told them about my problem. They sell ASUS computers, but don’t service them, they told me everything goes back to ASUS. The sales person had an amazing swiss army knife with the right screw driver and so he was able to extract the drive and open it. A consultation with a co-worker led to a diagnosis that it had jumped off the rails. I was given a number to call and I phoned from the store. A quick cell phone call to the support person and my new drive was on the way. They cross ship the drive to you, then you send back the old one.

I received the drive on Wed. morning, a little less than a week later. I had to work and so didn’t unpack it until Friday night. After examining it carefully, I realized I would have to move a mounting bracket off the old drive on to the new one. I have done that now, but I tried to carefully slide it in and was not able to get it all the way in. I don’t want to force it and possibly break my new drive, so I plan to go back to the computer store and see if they will help again.

I will have to ship the old drive back within 14 days, so I have to try to do this today. There is so much for me to do right now, but I really appreciate the 2 year warrantee support from ASUStek. I could have shipped the whole computer back and not had this problem — but I am using it with no drive now and I need to keep it. I am glad they gave me the option, but I will need a little help to re-install.

One other topic that I brought up before is the unique Visa install that ASUS packages with their notebooks. When I visited FreeGeek, the individual assisting me pointed out that most Vista installs do not place themselves on a tidy partition and automatically leave a D: data drive for Ubuntu to be installed on. Usually, Windows will take the whole drive and I would have had to go into Drive Manager in windows to create that partition. The ASUS install also creates a small FAT drive partition that I think is for backup data. It shows that ASUS has tweaked Vista to make it more useful to the end user. I still may use Vista for something, so I am keeping it on the notebook for now.

I am using Ubuntu Hardy on the notebook to type this and have a couple of issues I will try to post about later. I am going to try to use Ubuntu for multi-media, but I could really use more help.

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Thurs. Jun 5, 2008

The ASUStek support recognized that the front black plastic optical drive cover was different on the model of computer than on the drive they sent me. The telephone support tech told me to pop the plastic cover off my old drive and fit it on the new one. I was a bit worried about breaking the plastic tabs, but they assured me that I could do it easily. That turned out to be the case, and I was able to switch the plastic cover without any problem.  Then the drive slid in easily. It works well now and I consider the repair a success.

I had to open up the case on the old, broken drive, as it was jammed open and I had to close it to fit it in the shipping box.  Next, I moved a little metal tab so I could move the tray past the tab on the rail and close it.  I did not replace the plastic front, but carefully wrapped it in the bubble wrap with the drive and placed both pieces in the cardboard box. After preparing it for shipping, I sent it Canada Post to the ASUS Computer Canada address that I get from the customer representative. I hope that it gets there in time for the warrantee to still be valid. They say if they don’t receive it within 14 days they will charge for the new part, but I hope they give me a little more time because I had to phone to get the address and I had trouble with the plastic part on the optical drive.

I am very happy with the support I received from ASUS and I would recommend this computer to anyone. A two year warrantee at no extra charge beats Apple, as I had to pay over $300. for an extended service contract.  I also notice complaints about other Windows custom installs that install “crapware”, but I think the ASUS install is quite sleek and automatically partitions the drive.

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