Labeling Wireless Microphone “Shoe Bags”

shoe bag

Often in theatre, shoe bags are used to deploy body pack style wireless microphones, as well as small props.  One issue I’ve had is labeling the shoe bag pockets with the actor/character name.  Since I use cloth shoe bags, gaff and other tape doesn’t stick well.  So the challenge is how to label in a way that doesn’t snag the microphone wire.  I’m offering two solutions:

Pin-on name tags (like used for reunions or business gatherings):

pin on name tagsUsing binder clips (found this on the internet):

Mic Shoe Bag Labels

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Shop Tools and Tips – Foil & Plastic Wrap

plastic-wrap-in-the-shop-sm

If you have a home based workshop, stop going to the kitchen to steal plastic wrap or foil to cover your paintbrush between coats.  Often overlooked, having rolls of plastic wrap, foil, and wax paper in the shop avoids tracking sawdust into the main part of the house.  Why wax paper?  To put under stuff you are gluing.  Note how we’ve clearly labeled each, as the boxes all tend to look the same, and the actual product is typically labeled in fine print.

Oh yea, we’ve stopped using newspapers on the benches to avoid paint spatter.  Corrugated cardboard lays flatter and can be used many times.

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Roland Aerophone AE-10 Wind Synthesizer

roland-wind-controller

Roland just announced their new entrant into the wind controller (wind synthesizer) market.  This has on-board sounds, usb port, audio output port, and sax fingerings.  No point in re-typing what Roland has on their website:

https://www.roland.com/global/products/aerophone_ae-10/

Here is a short promo video:


A nice technical summary, including a glimpse into the menu system:

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Broadway Show Review – Matilda

Matilda Playbill

A few weeks ago we held had our annual trip to see several Broadway shows.  This is a review of the lighting and sound for “Matilda” at the Shubert theatre.  I’m not going to review the overall show -there are many reviews of the story and show.  This is a review of tech aspects.

Sound:  The sound, especially at the start of the show with the youth actors, was challenging.  Intelligibility was seriously lacking.  The actors were using thick British accents, so intelligibility at the top of the show is important, if for nothing more than getting my brain set for the duration of the show.  The sound was mushy (muddy) and seemed to need more mid-range frequencies.  Additionally, the vocals were not on top of the orchestra.  Sometimes in these cases the orchestra is too loud.  But for “Matilda”, this wasn’t the case.  The actors were just not loud enough at the top of the show.  I did find that the principal adult actors were well balanced and had excellent intelligibility.  I’ve heard from others who saw the show in previous years that had similar criticism.

Lights:  Overall, the lighting was excellent, designed by Hugh Vanstone.  Very colorful, which suited the show quite well.  Plenty of light on stage, especially the high key library scenes.  Darker scenes like the classroom were totally appropriate, and with sufficient front spotlight to pick up the actors faces.  I’ve seen several other shows that seem to love under lighting principle actors only to loose all facial expressions.  Billy Elliot comes to mind where I’ve been pretty vocal about insufficient lighting in several spots where actors are delivering lines with almost no light, including lack of side light and back light – just plain too dark.  One thought about the opening scene with the birthday cake – the candles were LED which is great.  But instead of a single LED in a molded flame, the show was using birthday cake candles where each flame had what looked like 5-6 individual tiny LEDs.  This created an nice effect more similar to a sparkler than a typical birthday candle.  It’s a design decision, and fit nicely with the somewhat cartoon nature of the show.

Tech:  At the top of the show, they halted the show twice just after the curtain opened.  I feel for the cast and crew.  Some idiots in the house actually booed on the second halt.  No manners.  On the second try, it was obvious the scrim was stopping about 2m (6 feet) as it lifted off the floor.  On the third try, they had already struck the scrim and just moved into the show.  Great recovery.  There were several illusions in the show, and there’s even a cast credit for Illusion (Paul Kieve).  Kieve and Vanstone both worked on “Ghost”.  The most impressive illusion in “Matilda” is a chalkboard that writes with no visible means.  While there were two large digital projectors mounted on the balcony rail, video is the obvious effect.  But the chalkboard moves downstage while it is magically writing, and there was absolutely NO visible tracking mismatch.  So it’s either incredibly accurate tracking, or something else.  If something else, perhaps the chalk writing was rear projected and physically traveling with the screen.  A much simpler solution (thanks Kevin!), but I really don’t know!

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Lycian Spotlight Repair – Brass Paper Fastener shorting the light

Lycean Spotlight

A few weeks ago we were asked to repair a Lycian HP Midget follow spot (model 1209).  The spot stopped igniting (starting the arc) more than a year ago, although one person did say it worked once after being sidelined.

Lycean Spotlight brass fastners on boomerang

After we unloaded the spot and brought it into the shop, it worked perfectly.  But we heard loose parts inside.  After investigating, we found 3 brass paper fasteners used to hold gels in the boomerang loose inside the main electronics compartment.  One was stuck under the main circuit board (probably the one shorting out the starting circuit prior to transport), one got stuck under a transformer body, and one as loose in the bottom compartment sliding as you tip the spot up and down.  There was a dead bee too.  Oh yea, we found a 4th brass paper fastener in the back of the Vibe we used to pick up the follow spot.

While we can’t say definitively that the metal paper fasteners were the true root cause, but since there was one stuck under the circuit board, that’s the only logical conclusion.  We have now run the spotlight for 3-4 hours, with about 20 start cycles and no issues.

Lycean Spotlight boomerang out

Looking at the spot construction, there is a blower fan right under the gel boomerang to keep the gels cool.  It’s not a large opening (see photo below), but with 3 of the paper fasteners in the lower electronic housing, the blower opening is probably the only way they got there (that we could see).  There’s no screen of any type over the blower opening.

Lycean Spotlight fan opening

While the removal of the brass paper fasteners is seemingly simple, removal of the lower electronics enclosure was not easy.  It took two of us to do it, and the lamp wires needed to remain connected.  Perhaps we missed something, but it did seem harder than it should be.

Lycean Spotlight back

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Programming a Synth for Wind Control (part 2 of 2)

jv1010

Part 2: It’s an ill wind that blows no good

Part 1 offered simplified theory of why most stock synthesizer patches don’t work well with a wind controller, and summarized a few guidelines for making a patch wind-friendly. Part 2 discusses the specifics of creating a wind-friendly patch on the Roland JV-1010, but could be applied to many other Roland synths, and probably other makes and models as well.

In the architecture of Roland’s JD/JV/XV series, a patch consists of four tones, each of which can be assigned a different waveform and tweaked independently. Each tone is further divided into sections for waveform, pitch, amplifier, MIDI key follow, filter, and LFO. You can apply CC02 to parameters in some of these sections, and set the degree to which CC02 affects each parameter. This is done in a control matrix, which has been a part of Roland’s design for several generations of synths. It seems each generation allows more tonal and effect parameters to be linked to more continuous controllers, which provides for increasingly complex patch behavior. In addition, there are patch-wide settings, such as patch volume, portamento, bend range, and tuning, which apply globally to all tones in the patch.

Basic steps – creating a WC-friendly patch

The following steps describe how to create a basic wind-friendly patch on the Roland JV-1010. The patch will be created from scratch, which is actually easier than modifying an existing patch. You can start with a known quantity, and avoid having to second-guess and undo settings.

Patch editing on the JV-1010 requires installing and setting up the editor software (SoundDiver, originally supplied with the module) on a Windows PC. This is necessary because the JV-1010’s 2-digit display and front panel offer very little programming capability. If you have a module with full display and control panel, you might be able to go directly to the programming steps.

A MIDI interface and its driver are also needed to get the computer and module communicating. A MIDI interface that has dual channels — two MIDI INs and two MIDI OUTs – will allow the WC and computer inputs to both drive one output to the module. You can then audition sounds as you tweak. My preference is the Roland UM-2G (http://www.roland.com/products/um-2g/). An alternative is a single-channel MIDI interface, with a MIDI merge box for the WC.

If all this prep sounds overwhelming, you might decide to stop now. If you’re ready, here’s how to continue:

  1. Connect the computer, MIDI interface, WC, and module, turn everything on.
  2. Run the editor software and set up the editor as needed to establish communication with the module.
  3. Using the editor, load all the patches from the user area of the module. Find an unused or unneeded patch and open it.
  4. Initialize the patch. This will load a waveform into the tone and reset most settings. You now have a basic keyboard
  5. Click the patch’s Patch Common section and assign Breath as system controllers 2 and 3.
  6. In the Patch Common section, set the “Key Assign” parameter to monophonic (MONO). If the patch is polyphonic, it may “pile on” new notes without turning off the old – definitely
  7. Turn off all but tone #1.
  8. In the tone’s Wave section, assign the desired waveform. This should be a “sustaining” waveform, i.e., a brass, wind, or bowed string instrument, or a continuous electronic wave (sine, square, triangle, etc.). Percussion waveforms (piano, drums, etc.) don’t work quite as well for wind control.
  9. As a starting point, set the tone’s “Gain” to “6dB.” When you complete a pass at creating the patch, you can raise or lower the level.
  10. Set the “Level” in the tone’s Amplifier section to zero.
    Note: A patch can contain multiple level settings with various labels. Some of these affect the complete tone or the whole patch. The “Level” setting you want is located in the Amplifier
  11. In the Amplifier section, set the sustain portion of the tone’s envelope to maximum. This will provide “breathing room” so that CC02 can raise the tone’s volume level.
  12. To eliminate dependence on attack velocity, check and set the sensitivity of all velocity controls in the Pitch, Filter, and Amplifier sections to zero.
  13. In the tone’s Controller section, assign CC02 to the tone’s “TVA Level” parameter, and set CC02’s control level to maximum. This allows CC02 to control volume.
  14. Save the patch. Play and re-tweak as needed.

But wait…there’s more

Developing a WC-friendly patch is usually an iterative process. You can expect to repeat the process as you play the patch and think of ways to improve it. You may also want to enhance the patch as a result of learning more about your synthesizer and the instrument you are trying to emulate. Here are a few additional programming tricks you can explore:

  • Activate the other tones in the patch, copy and paste the original tone into them, and create layers that use the same or different waveforms. A common trick is to assign a white or pink noise waveform to one tone, and dial in a small amount to serve as breath noise.
  • Set up tones to increase in volume at different rates, or for one tone’s volume to decrease as another tone’s volume increases (cross-fading).
  • Simulate attack transients. For example, if your module contains a string attack waveform, you can use assign it to a tone, and make the tone sensitive to attack velocity. When you tongue the note more strongly, the waveform sounds to simulate the chop of the bow.
  • Configure the tone’s filter (TVF) as a low-pass filter, and adjust filter cutoff to initially make the patch slightly “dull.” Then, tie CC02 to cutoff and adjust the degree of control. Breath pressure will increase brightness, simulating how some acoustic instruments brighten as they are played louder. You can also create “wah” effects, or tie breath to filter resonance.
  • Modify LFO rate, depth, or delay to vary with breath pressure. This provides vibrato that is more realistic than what occurs when a patch is assigned a static LFO rate and depth.
  • Vary effects parameters (e.g., reverb time) with breath pressure.
  • Use the new patch as a template to create new patches just by swapping waveforms.
  • Experiment, experiment, experiment.

If you are trying to emulate an acoustic instrument, you can study the instrument to determine how it responds when played, and how CC02 and pitch bend can help you realize the desired result. For example, brass and reed players might want to apply lip vibrato in place of relying on the patch’s LFO setting. The WX7’s reed isn’t quite as supple as a cane reed for applying vibrato, but it can be used for that purpose by setting the tone’s LFOs to have no effect, and then setting patch bend range to respond as desired to your lip action. A good book for studying instruments is “A Synthesist’s Guide to Acoustic Instruments” (http://www.amazon.com/A-Synthesists-Guide-Acoustic-Instruments/dp/0825610893). It’s relatively inexpensive, and while intended for programming keyboard patches, it is worth having for its analysis of the physics of different instrument families.

If you want to create more “synthy” sounds, the process is both easier and more difficult. Some synthesizers contain generic waveform building blocks (saw, square, triangle, etc.) that you can use like acoustic instrument waveforms, and the same programming steps still apply. However, you might not have a target sound to work toward, so you are more on our own to determine when you are finished.

In the end, synthesizer programming and playing are all about creativity, expression, and meeting requirements. It is also a subjective process. When you get the patch to respond and sound to your liking, you can treat it as one more arrow in your synthetic quiver, just as a guitarist reaches for one guitar or another depending on the song. You start out learning to “play the patch,” but eventually, the patch becomes secondary to your interpretation of the music.

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Programming a Synth for Wind Control (part 1 of 2)

wx11

Part 1: It’s an ill wind that blows no good

So…, you just returned from a musician’s yard sale where you scored a MIDI gadget that looks like Darth Vader’s clarinet. You plug it into your keyboard synth, select your favorite patch, and then risk a toot. In exchange, you get the musical equivalent of a bucking bronco, or maybe nothing at all.

No, you probably were not taken by the purveyor of yardly treasures. You’ve simply discovered that the stock patches in most keyboard and modular synthesizers are not particularly well-suited to wind controllers. In this article, we’ll look at why, as well as a bit of theory for bringing harmony to your wind controller and sound generator.

A little bitta MIDI

A MIDI stream can contain many types of data. We’ll be concerned with two: “one-shot” messages, such as those occurring when a key or patch change button is pressed, and “continuous controller” messages, which comprise a stream of values corresponding to the position of a sensor or control (e.g., a pitch bend or modulation wheel).

In a typical keyboard synthesizer or module, patches are optimized to respond to the dynamics of a keyboard. A key press sends a MIDI note number and attack velocity value to the synth circuitry. If the keyboard responds to aftertouch, pressing the key past bottom sends a burst of aftertouch messages that can be used to modify the sound. Likewise, working a control wheel sends additional MIDI messages.  Releasing the key sends a note off signal and release velocity.

In addition, patches often contain tone modifiers such as LFO, filter, or key-follow curves that determine how the sound plays out during key-down. These modifications occur programmatically over time, but some can also be tied to a continuous controller. The MIDI stream may include “active sense” messages, which simply confirm that the connection is intact between a separate keyboard controller and external synth module. For the purposes of patch control, you can ignore active sense.

A MIDI blabbermouth

A typical wind controller (“WC” here out) is a different animal. When you blow into the mouthpiece, the WC sends a constant stream of continuous controller data for as long as you maintain breath pressure. The continuous controller is usually “Breath” (CC02), but it can be aftertouch and/or volume (CC07); it depends on the wind controller. This relative glut of MIDI data is the chief reason it is difficult to sequence a WC; many sequencers can’t process that much data in real time.
For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the WC is a Yamaha WX7, and it is set up to send breath data (“CC02” for the rest of this article). When you blow into the mouthpiece, the WX7 sends a note-on message that turns on the fingered note with an attack velocity dependant on initial breath pressure, and it pumps out a continuous stream of CC02 data that tracks the intensity of breath pressure. The WX7 also sends pitch bend values, which correspond to how hard you squeeze the mouthpiece “reed.” This plastic tab is there to act as a miniature pitch bend wheel — it does not vibrate. There is also a pitch bend rocker located near the spot where the right thumb rests.

A MIDI Swiss army knife – one blade, many uses

Arguably, the wind controller’s greatest asset is the ability to control patch volume smoothly and subtly to produce sounds that, compared to a keyboard, are more expressive and organic. While you have just one continuous controller and pitch bend to work with, you can apply them simultaneously to volume and several other patch parameters, such as filter cut-off, resonance, LFO pitch and depth, effects, and more. It all depends on the synth architecture and where the breath-related CC and pitch bend can be assigned.

Right now is a good time for the standard “YMMV” disclaimer. The following information is derived from working with several generations of Roland sample players and a Yamaha wind controller set up to send CC02 in response to breath pressure. Roland’s patch architecture is organized as four “tones,” each of which can be assigned a different waveform and programmed independently of the others. The following guidelines relate to working with a single tone. Given the many possible combinations of wind controllers with hardware or software-based sound generators, a certain degree of interpretation might be needed for your equipment’s terminology and architecture.

  1. Disable the tone’s sensitivity to velocity. The note-on message’s attack velocity component can affect initial volume, or any other parameter the synth’s architecture associates with velocity. It is near impossible to consistently attack successive notes with the same velocity using a wind controller, effectively making velocity-related effects unpredictable. The fix is to remove velocity dependence. Later, you can reapply velocity sensing to selectively control patch behaviors.
  2. Initially, set pitch, filter, and amplifier envelopes to zero. These time-variant elements determine how the tone “mutates” while it sounds. They are extremely useful for patches intended for the keyboard, but can have limited value for a wind controller. Like velocity sensitivity, you might later decide to apply an envelope to a tone to shape the tone at the same time it is being controlled by CC02.
  3. Assign CC02 to the tone’s level and set CC02’s effect to maximum.
  4. Set the sustain level of the tone’s amplifier envelope to maximum. This enables CC02 to produce the maximum possible volume as determined by other patch and/or wind controller settings.

These are the basics for creating a wind-friendly patch. In Part 2, we’ll look at applying these guidelines more specifically to the Roland JV-1010 synthesizer module. The JV-1010 is a member of the JV 1010/1080/2080 series of modules circa early 1990’s, which remain popular. Although out of production, they are usually available used on eBay. The JV-1010’s half-rack footprint is a convenient addition to the wind synthesist’s arsenal. It is small, convenient to transport and use, its instrument waveforms are reasonably convincing, and its architecture is well suited to creating breath-responsive patches.

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Martin M-Play : Fader Wing for M-PC and other M products

Martin just announced a fader wing (control surface) for their M products, including M-PC. This is a companion to the M-Touch that we use with M-PC software. For now, here at WindWorks Design, we are sticking with our M-Touch as we continue the learning curve to move from Martin Light Jockey over to M-PC with the M-Touch control surface.

More info at: http://www.martin.com/en-us/product-details/m-play.

m-play control surface

 

Here’s the original M-Touch:

M-touch control surface

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Dual WX Case – custom build

WX Dual Case (med)

As noted in an earlier post, when I gig, I always bring two controllers.  To make transportation easier, I built a custom case the holds two WX7 controllers, plus cables and other small items inside the lid.

Double WX Instrument Case

The foam inserts for the WX7 instruments were carefully removed from old plastic single WX7 cases.  I say “carefully” because they are very firmly glued in place, and this required a modestly long time with a putty knife, regular knife, and wide chisel to remove the glue without tearing the foam.  But once done, it was pretty easy to build a box from 1/4″ plywood, cut it into a case, and install hinges and handles.  The exterior is wrapped in black vinyl upholestry material (woven back, not fuzzy back) and glued with contact cement.  I then lined the interior with road case carpet (low nap carpet you see on inexpensive DJ rack cases) that I buy from Parts Express.  A center divider holds the two foam inserts for the instruments.  In the lid, the convoluted foam is glued to a exact fitting piece of 1/4″ plywood that is a friction fit into the lid.  This is the cable compartment.  While this method of making a compartment isn’t ideal, the fitting of internal hinges just didn’t seem worth the effort.

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Bob Norton Wind Synth Gig Rig Update

From the editor:  Our good friend Bob Norton has updated his wind synth “Gig Rig”.  Ever searching for a lighter rack while still providing full equipment redundancy, Bob has switched to powered speakers, and took the amps out of his rack.  Even if one powered speaker goes down, he can still keep the gig going with just one.  And you can see from his rack that there are two VL70m synths for his WX5, and other duplicates. 

From Bob Norton:

New powered speakers are working well, and the shortened rack is also nice.  Here is a picture of the old gig rig http://www.nortonmusic.com/pix/GigRigOld.jpg — all the wires plug in front. The jumpers on the power amp (bottom) are in the “road position”, they get plugged into the rack plate at the bottom of the large rack just above.

GigRigOld

Old Gig Rig

 

Here is a picture of the new http://www.nortonmusic.com/pix/GigRigNewF.jpg — everything still gets plugged into the front. I don’t need to remove the back of the case unless there is trouble. The blue wire in the rack plate near the top is USB to get plugged into the computer. The holes are for jacks, but I punched them all out for ventilation.

I use 11 out of the 12 channels on the mix. Leilani’s mic, my mic, Leilani’s guitar, my guitar, VL#1, VL#2, TX, blank, Aux Mic (for clients use), SC55 for Leilani’s synth, and two channels for my backing tracks. I pan the backing tracks both center, but the left has the bass and drums on it, the right the comp, so I can pump up the bass/drums if need be.

GigRigNewF

New Gig Rig

 

And the back of the rack http://www.nortonmusic.com/pix/GigRigNewB.jpg — everything is tagged so if I need to service a module, I don’t have to wonder “Where does this wire go?”. The ty-wrapped bundle on the bottom is AC power cords. A couple of wall warts are also Velcro fastened to the bottom of the rack.

GigRigNewB

New Gig Rig – Back

 

Anyway, I thought you’d be interested.

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