Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Sun, 07 Dec 2014

Still hazy

After much delay I've been revising the homepage on this site to point to all the places where I am currently active on-line. The Studio Spoon blog is still going with sporadic posts. I'm pretty active on Google+ too and that is where I get the majority of my interaction. A more recent outlet is Tsu. It's yet another social network, but with an interesting business model of paying users for the views their content brings in. I don't have enough followers to earn much, but some people are earning several dollars per day.

Otherwise I'm still trying to make music. I need to complete a track for another Six String Bliss album. I'm taking guitar lessons on Artistworks from the great Paul Gilbert. He does personal responses to videos I send in, and also interacts via the forum and chat room.

I'll see comments here, but pop over and see me on the other sites some time if you haven't already.

[17:12] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Wed, 18 Apr 2012

Pastures new

I'm aware that I have been neglecting this site lately. Although I like the simplicity of the Pyblosxom platform the overhead of putting together a post means I don't often get the time to put something together.

I've been posting a lot of stuff that might have made it here over on Google+ as that is very quick and easy to post on. It's also fairly limited. You can't embed multiple links or even a Soundcloud player.

I wanted to post some stuff about how I make music that would emphasise the Linux side and so started a whole new blog using Google's Blogger. It's called Studio Spoon and already has a few posts. I'm getting a few hits, that I can monitor via the comprehensive stats page. I've been added to Planet LinuxMusicians, which is nice, but adds a bit of pressure. I intend to post about music in general, especially stuff I record. Anything that doesn't fit there may make it here, so feel free to keep subscribing.

[20:55] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Sat, 24 Dec 2011

A fairly musical year

In 2011 I performed and recorded a fair amount of music. I've not been to the Plough session since January as I just got out of the habit. As previously mentioned, I have started an Arlesey session. I hope to build that into something bigger next year. I know there are a lot of musicians around, but it's a matter getting them down there on a convenient night. I may have to step up the promotional efforts a bit. We went along to the community concert this week. That consisted of the Stotfold Salvation Army band, a Letchworth choir and a few performers from the village. Perhaps we can organise more locals for next year.

The pub session has put me in touch with a few more musicians and I've also met a very good bassist via Bandmix. We've jammed a couple of times and may do something in future. I really want to find some sort of musical project that will challenge me without taking up too much family time. A few gigs would be cool.

I do feel that my guitar playing has moved on a few steps in the last few years through the band, the pub jams and through generally just playing a lot at home. I often just pick up a guitar and jam for an hour or so. I'm trying to focus my practice a bit more lately by actually learning some tunes and working on a blues course I bought.

A lot of my recording efforts have been centred around the wonderful < a href=>Six String Bliss community. I sang on two collaborations. Coz I Luv You was a Slade cover for The British Are Coming album by several UK based forum members.

Cuppa Soup - Coz I Luv You by steevc

Hey You was a spontaneous project by about 9 of us scattered around the world. Jan did some great production to make it sound pretty professional.

Comfortably Dumb - Hey You by steevc

I did a solo track for the latest album, Guilty Pleasures. This was a pretty simple effort with minimal instruments. I must be getting better as this only took around an hour to record.

Duelling Benfords by steevc

I've done a few other tracks that are on my SoundCloud. Most have been fairly simple, but I want to do something more ambitious. There is another 6SB album due in April, but I want to try other songs to build my skills. I have just about all the gear I should need, including a Peavey bass from Martin on the 6SB forum. Of course there will always be other stuff I want, but this should not be holding me back. I need to overcome my natural procrastination tendencies.

Stay tuned.

[16:11] | [Music] | Comments | G

Tue, 22 Nov 2011


It seems I haven't posted anything hear in nearly a year. I'm just not finding the time lately. Fairly busy at work then come home and want to chill by catching up on what is going on around the interent. Lots of cool guitar videos to watch. This site invoves me taking a bit of time to compose and upload a post and I don't get around to it.

I'm still playing a fair bit. I recently did a track for the latest Six String Bliss album. That was a pretty simple track done a couple of very nice guitars, including this one. Recording was via my new, second-hand, M-Audio Delta 66 interface and Omni breakout box as featured 10 years ago in Sound On Sound. I picked these up on ebay for a fairly good price. I still haven't got it totally figured out, but it seems an improvement on my Zoom H4 with less noise. The H4 is still acting as my microphone and feeding the Delta from the aux out. I'm still using Ardour to record, and still have much to learn. The latest recordings are to be found on Soundcloud.

I've instigated an acoustic jam session at my local pub as I haven't been getting to the Plough session this year. We've had 2 so far and the response has been pretty good. Trying to build up the set of players gradually. News on that is via the Arlesey Facebook group as that reaches the most people.

Although I have not been active here I've really been getting into Google+. I like it a lot more than Facebook and am having good conversations there, but I can't see the Facebook crown moving over any time soon unless they come up with a real killer feature. You can find me here. I can easily post there any time, including from my phone. I'm still using the same HTC Tatto, but have upgraded it to 2.3 using cyanogen(mod). That's working pretty well and lets me use most apps. I don't feel a desperate need to get a 'better' phone. This does my podcasts, music, books etc.

I'll try and post here now and again in case anyone is listening. I like to have my own blog, but there are advantages to using certain social sites.

BTW I have a new GPG/PGP public key. I was inspired to create a more secure one. I haven't made a lot of use of the old one, but it's another thing I like to have. The new key is 0xFD6922AA. I'm happy to meet up and sign keys when convenient.

[21:38] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Sat, 26 Feb 2011


I took the opportunity of being alone in the house to set up for some recording in our living room. It's a much bigger space than the study, so I was hoping the acoustics would be good. The Zoom H4 was on a tripod in front of me on the sofa with my acoustic. It took a few attempts with me messing it up to get this version of an old song.

Feeling Good by steevc

I also had a go at some more high-tech recording. For my next Six String Bliss album track I am starting with a MIDI version I found and will replace as many tracks as I can manage. I'm going to try using Rosegarden for both MIDI and audio this time, if it can do what I need. I didn't get far today as I was having trouble getting all the MIDI tracks to play. This may be down to the messing around I did to get the USB MIDI gadget working, but I also found that there is a bug in the version of the synth plug-in I have. I'll try again some time.

I got a little help with my MIDI issues on the #opensourcemusicians IRC channel. It's a fairly active channel that includes the people behind the associated podcast. Getting useful information on Linux audio can be tricky. A lot of How To documents are very old, but there are a few resources I look to:

I still see a need for some more approachable reference material for people who don't know much about Linux, but want to make music. They need guides on what sets of applications they could use for various scenarios and how they connect together. In some cases the information is out there, but it's spread across various sites, including video demos. I may try collaborating with others on one of the wikis to try and bring it all together so people have somewhere to start. I should learn more myself in the process.

I've pondered further on which interface to get. Current favourite is the M-Audio Delta 44. It's getting on a bit, but can handle 4 inputs at high quality. It should give lower latency than a USB unit. I've seen a few on ebay and will see if I can pick one up there.

[22:11] | [Studio] | Comments | G

Tue, 15 Feb 2011

Musical blogs

I meant to mention a couple of friends in my latest post, but forgot. Dave contributed the MIDI adaptor and is crafting some fine looking guitars at the moment. He was one of the gang who went to Hamburg with my last year and a fine musician.

My good friend Malcolm has an amazing home studio full of vintage synthesisers and other gear. He has long been hampered by a lack of funds to construct a PC capable of realising his ideas, but has managed to build one now. He has written an extensive piece on the reasons for choosing all the parts. It's a mega machine, but pretty affordable. I got to see it in the 'flesh' at the Herts LUG meeting last week. It's huge, but the passive heatsinks and big, slow fans mean it's very quiet. I'm jealous, but can't justify a new build just now. My PC seems to handle what I want for now, but I will look at making it quieter.

He didn't use the new PC for it, but Malc has finally got some of his old recordings on-line. I'd like to see him using something like SoundCloud, but he prefers to host it himself.

[22:03] | [Music] | Comments | G

Stuck in the MIDI

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a pretty old system. It's a simple serial protocol that dates back about 30 years. I remember a friend making an interface to hook up to the serial port of his computer, an Acorn Electron I believe. It still seems to be the default interface for sending note and other information between all sorts of gear. Modern kit may be sending it via USB or even within the PC to virtual instruments, but I think it's still pretty much the same.

About 15 years ago I bought a Casio CTK-530 keyboard to learn to play piano. The sounds are okay, but it has a five octave velocity sensitive keyboard. My kids have since also used it a lot. I think I have had it working with a PC via a cable that attached to the games port, but I recently realised this PC does not have that port. Luckily a friend had a spare USB MIDI adaptor that he sent me. It's an M-Audio Uno. I hooked it up, but nothing at all happened. A little research revealed I needed to install the midisport-firmware package. A quick reboot later I had some lights flashing on it.

I could see the Uno (as MidiSport) in the Jack ALSA tab. I wanted to get it playing sounds in Qsynth, but that is in the MIDI tab. I had to set the Jack MIDI driver to raw or seq to get the interface to appear as n output under MIDI. Then I could use my keyboard to trigger some of the nice sounds in the basic soundfont I have installed. I may have to look at some of the other sample libraries out there.

I also had to check if the Casio would receive MIDI. I loaded up a file in Rosegarden and selected the MidiSport as output. Out it came in spectacular cheesy 80s style. Not sure I need this capability for recording, but it's nice to have everything working.

This is actually the second piece of MIDI gear the studio has gained in the last week or so. I bought a Korg nanoKONTROL to give me some convenient control over the recording process. That really was plug and play. It was very simple to select it in Jack and then assign controls to any feature of Ardour. I need to experiment further with programming it using the Korg software that works on Linux via Wine. It has limitations, but it was cheap and fits on my crowded desk. I mentioned that I considered the Akai MPK Mini, but that cost a bit more and I didn't really need another keyboard.

There are still lots more Linux audio applications for me to experiment with. I did have a play with Rakarrack. It has a bewildering selection of effects with loads of parameters. I tried the presets, some of which didn't work. There's some interesting noises in there. I used their 'Satriani' preset on this track just to try it out.

Satriani preset on rakarrak by steevc
[21:30] | [Studio] | Comments | G

Tue, 25 Jan 2011

Upgrading the studio

As previously written I've finally been doing what I would classify as 'proper' recording at home. This is something I have wanted to do for years, but have not got around to. I did a little more at the weekend and have been thinking about what I should do to make the process easier, more productive and improve the quality of what I record.

Some people have said I'm making life hard for myself by using Linux. I've not used any recent Windows/Mac audio applications. I'm aware that applications such as Reaper can run on Linux via Wine, but I'd prefer to use the open source options where possible. I have no plans to install Windows. I dumped it a few years back and haven't felt any need to have it again. Linux has a number of applications in active development that should suit my needs. They are available for free, but I am happy to contribute financially to the projects. I need to explore more of these, including the various software guitar effects.

I've been exploring what Ardour can do. There's so much more in there than I really need, but it's pretty simple to do a basic recording. You create a project, add a track, connect it to an input (can be audio interface or another application), arm the track and hit Record.

Last weekend I recorded two tracks. The first was a composition my daughter wrote for a school project. This consisted of a piano/keyboard backing from my old Casio, a Stylophone solo(!) and a vocal. The keyboard and Stylophone were recorded via the PC aux in. Vocals used the Zoom H4. For the piano we recorded one verse/chorus and copied it. I'm thinking of re-doing the piano by sequencing it and using a soft-synth to get a better sound. I may try Rosegarden for that.

The second track was an instrumental I've been thinking about for a while. It's a version of some hornpipes we play at the acoustic session with added rhythm guitar and drums. Drums were done with Hydrogen, once I'd worked out how to copy sections. All guitars went via my Korg Pandora. The playing is a bit rough, but I wanted to try building a track from scratch.

Heavy hornpipes by steevc

With both tracks we had some issues with levels and something is not right with my Jack settings as we were getting a lot of xruns. Getting that optimised is probably the trickiest part of getting set up and can involve editing some configuration files, but most of it uses GUI forms. The fact that I was switching between the soundcard and the Zoom made it a little trickier as you have to stop Jack to change the input source.

The studio got a slight upgrade this month with the arrival of a 23" Samsung LCD monitor to replace the mighty 19" Iiyama CRT. The extra width is useful when editing tracks. I'm wondering whether I should run a second screen, perhaps a smaller LCD where I can put the secondary apps where I can keep an eye on them.

A potentially useful accessory comes via my Android phone. Fingerplay MIDI is an app that provides several screens of touch-sensitive controls that can send MIDI data to applications via a host application on the PC. I've had it controlling aspects of Hydrogen, but need to learn how to configure it. The main use for this would be to remotely start/stop recording as I'm sometimes across the room. I found some instructions on getting it working with Jack at woo, tanger.

So I seem to have the tools I need to make music. I need to learn more about the techniques. Luckily there has never been a better time to learn as there is so much information on-line. I listen to a couple of podcasts on the subject, read some blogs and participate in some forums. I recently found out that the Stack Overflow/Exchange Q&A sites now include some covering audio production and guitars.

One effect of all these information sources is that I know how much wonderful gear is out there. I don't plan on spending a fortune on this hobby, but I can see a few areas where a moderate expenditure would make life easier, and, I hope, encourage me to do it more.

The Zoom H4 functions as an audio interface as well as a recorder, but has some limitations. It only records 16 bit via USB and it's fiddly to change settings. I'd prefer an interface that could sit on the desk all the time with convenient controls for adjusting levels etc. There are plenty of these available. I don't think I need more than two inputs for now and I'm thinking I could still use the H4 as a microphone by feeding the line out into the interface. At the lower end of the price range the Lexicon Alpha looks interesting. It has a mono instrument input for a guitar if I wanted to use software effects or I could feed it stereo from something like the Pandora. It lacks second headphone output for when I want to record with others, e.g. the kids. I may check out the second hand market as people must be upgrading all the time.

My Yamaha PC speakers are better than a lot I've seen, but are nowhere near hi-fi quality. If I'm to do any sort of accurate mixing I could do with something better. Again there are lots of options, but I'd probably be looking at spending at least £200 for reasonable powered monitors. An alternative may be to get some reasonable speakers that I can run from the old Sony amplifier I have here.

Finally, I could do with something to make it easier to control the various audio application without having to navigate via keyboard and mouse. A lot of the budget USB devices in this area work with Linux. I considered the Korg Nano devices, but the Akai MPK Mini appeals as it combines a two octave keyboard, drum pads and some control knobs in a compact device that would fit in the desk.

Something else I should consider is making the PC quieter. It's not outrageously loud, but the fans may be audible if I'm recording vocals or acoustic guitar. My old Athlon CPU has the fan that came with it, which is not going to be the quietest. I need to do some checking to see if the PSU and case fans would also need replacing. At least the hard drive I boughht recently is practically inaudible. If I don't fix the fans for now then my friend Dave has written a piece on noise removal using Audacity. I use it for basic editing, but had not explored this aspect.

Even if I don't buy any more gear for now I will carry on recording. I have some tracks to work on for the next Six String Bliss album. I've got my own track to do and others have invited contributions on theirs. Stay tuned.

[21:57] | [Studio] | Comments | G

Thu, 04 Nov 2010

Easy does it

As previously reported I recently did what I would consider my first proper bit of multi-track recording in order to contribute to the Six String Bliss Trans Genred album. The theme was covers, but in a different style. I'd played Easy by The Commodores a couple of times at my pub sessions, sometimes on ukulele and thought it might work. I didn't have the time to put together a proper backing track, but my friend Jan found some midi files from which I took the bass and drums. The rest is me on all vocals, ukulele and guitar. It took a few hours to do as I was learning the applications as I went along. The Zoom H4 has been great. The microphones are perfectly good enough and it's pretty simple to use. Just plug into the USB and click a couple of options to activate. I could have used the internal effects, but thought it would be better to add them later on the PC. I ended up just using some reverb on the lead vocal. The drums and bass had some reverb added by the soft synth.

So here it is:

Easy by steevc

I can find lots of issues with it. The timing is bad in a few places, the drums sound distant and the ending is not great. The midi file went on a bit longer and I just chopped it off there. But, people have said nice things about it on the show and on the forum. It didn't sound quite so bad when I mixed it on my PC speakers, but they were hiding a lot. I'm now convinced of the need for proper monitor speakers. That may be my next studio acquisition.

So what should I record next? I'm thinking I should try some electric guitar. I need to work out the best way to record that. I also want to so my own drum tracks. I may look at collaborating with others, so I can stand a chance of completing some tracks in my limited free time. I'm not expecting to go professional, but this is fun. If others get enjoyment from my music then that's a bonus.

[22:20] | [Music] | Comments | G

Wed, 20 Oct 2010

Adventures in sound

Been doing various musical things lately. I'm still doing the singing lessons and making some progress there. We've been working on some Muse songs, but some of them go into the ultrasonic. I don't think I'll achieve that any time soon, but my range is extending.

I put my singing into practice by finally getting around to recording a song for the next Six String Bliss album that should get released next week. After a session on Linux audio at friend Malc's studio I was inspired to give Ardour another go. It turns out the trickiest part is finding some reasonable settings for the JACK Audio Connection Kit so that you don't get too much latency or drop-outs. Mine is not optimal, but allowed me to record. I'm using my Zoom H4 as my microphone and interface. My song was all acoustic, so I didn't use the built-in effects. I didn't have time to do proper backing tracks, so I used an existing MIDI file for the bass and drums. These were played by Rosegarden into Fluidsynth and then to some Ardour tracks. It took me a while to get to grips with the general recording process and techniques like punching-in, but I managed to put something reasonable together. I'll talk about it more after the album release, but I plan to do more.

The other musical adventure was a little trip to Hamburg. This arose from a mention of a gig by friend of Six String Bliss Skinny Jim. A few of us decided to go over for the gig. Dave, his son Callum, Martin and myself flew out from Luton to be met by local member Jan. We stayed in a couple of hotels on the notorious Reeperbahn, centre of the local red-light district. The whole adult club/shop scene was a bit surreal to be around, but we had not trouble there. This is where The Beatles got their start. Jan showed us around some great guitar shops where you could played just about any instrument without getting hassled by the staff. I played some nice Parkers, a PRS and various others. This gave me some more ideas for my next guitar(s), but I don't really need another just now. That evening was spent at the gig in a small club by the port. The support band were a Brazilian punk band who were 'interesting', but the main act were excellent. Good time rock 'n' roll. We had a good chat with the band who were really glad to have us there. I recorded part of the show on the H4 and this should appear on the 6SB podcast some time (with Jim's permission). This couple of days were a great opportunity to meet people I've been chatting with on-line for ages and it felt like meeting old friends.

There are lots of pictures of the trip from me, Dave, Jan and Martin. Martin has also written his own report on the trip. Of course it's discussed on the 6SB forum too. There's a big meet-up planned in Nashville next year, but I don't think I'll get there. We'll have to do somthing else this side of The Pond.

[21:42] | [Music] | Comments | G

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