Mac OS Big Sur and Touch Portal

Well, I finally took the plunge and upgraded to Mac OS Big Sur. Most of the major plugin developers I use had published updates so I was fairly confident it would all still work. And I’m happy to report, so far, I haven’t encountered a single broken plugin!

One piece of software which did stop working though was Touch Portal. The app continued to load fine on desktop and iPad, and it showed as being connected, but none of the keystrokes were getting through to Cubase.

A short bit of googling later, and I had the answer from the Touch Portal website…

Since a macOs update you have to add Touch Portal in the security & privacy settings. If Touch Portal is already added, please remove it and re add it again.

Security & Privacy >> remove >> add >> Touch Portal 
Do this in the categories Accessibility and Input Monitoring.

https://www.touch-portal.com/faq.php

After following the above, all is working again so I thought I’d share this in case anyone else encounters the same problem.

Distrokid

Been having a play with the Distrokid service and thought I’d upload my previous three EP’s to the main streaming and download services. So you can find ScarKord on Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Apple etc.

Very impressed with how straight forward it all was and how quickly everything started appearing in the various stores.

If you fancy trying it out for yourself, here’s a link to a discount that will get you 7% off your first year… https://distrokid.com/vip/seven/2911288

Studio revamp

Had a bit of a purge and downsized from three Mantis Eurorack cases to two. I took all the modules out, then put them back in a logical (and ruthless) order, being honest with myself about what I actually use. It all feels a lot more cohesive now and more like an instrument rather than a collection of random modules.

I also took the opportunity to rethink my sequencing and integration with the computer as I had a lot of duplication, never finding a solution I was truly happy with. So, out went the Turing machine, the Expert Sleepers ES-40, CV Pal, the Erica Black VC Clock, Pico Trigg and DrumGirl. And instead, I’ve finally embraced the Beatstep Pro that I’m ashamed to say has spent more time in it’s box than out of it! What prompted this change of heart was investing in the ALM mmMidi and mmT modules which take a single stereo jack from the Beatstep MIDI Out and make all the patch points available directly in the rack. It’s been an absolute game changer for me. I’ve also repurposed the ODIO audio interface which I previously used to integrate with my iPad and found it works really well with Ableton CV Tools to send clock signals around the system.

I did decide to invest in a few new things with the money gained from the unused modules, including a Moog DFAM (Drummer from another Mother).

The DFAM is… AWESOME! Taking the raw sound straight out of the VCA rewards you with a full, bone crunching bass and fizzy, crunchy white noise that combine to make some amazing beats. I’m sure in a mix they would be a bit dominant, but I was seriously impressed! It’s something I’ve had my eye on for a while and worthy of sacrificing the rack space for. Plus it has copious modulation options so plays well with the rest of my system.

It does mean I’m pretty spoilt for choice in the Eurorack percussion department, what with my ALM Taiko’s and Mutant Bassdrum, but you can truly get some unique sounds with this selection of modules.

Other than that, it was just the usual reorganising of the desk real-estate. Really pleased with how it’s turned out. Think I may make a few more tweaks though.

How I manage my Cubase template

As good as it’s been to finally organise my Kontakt libraries in Cubase, it does mean you end up with a template containing literally hundreds of instrument tracks. Fortunately, with the help of the Project Logical Editor and TouchPortal on my iPad, navigating them is a breeze. So I thought I’d share what I did as it may be of help to you too!

Before I get onto that though, it’s probably best to take you through the naming conventions and folder structure I used first.

Folder Structure

There are lots of schools of thought on how to organise your instruments but I decided to start with 5 top-level folders of instrument families; Strings, Brass, Winds, Percussion and Synths. Within each of these families, I then have subfolders for the individual instrument types. For example, Strings has subfolders of Violins, Violas, Celli, Basses and Ensembles.

This worked for the majority of my libraries, but I did also create some separate folders which sit outside of the above for things like Guitars, Voices and Music Boxes. Whilst I freely admit that Music Boxes could have sat in the Percussion family (under Tuned Percussion), they are one of my go-to sounds, so I liked the idea of them being their own thing.

Track Naming Conventions

I prefix each of the Instrument Tracks with either the name of the brand or the name of the library if it contains lots of instruments. For example, the Spitfire Audio BBC SO library is prefixed ‘BBC’, whereas the individual Waverunner Audio instruments, are just prefixed ‘Waverunner’. I then add the name of the instrument, followed by any details on the articulations used.

e.g. BBC Tenor Trombone Legato

Individual Tracks vs Key Switching

This is a whole topic in itself, and there’s a great video from Guy Mitchelmore covering the pros and cons for both approaches, but having tried both, I personally like to have the most commonly used articulations on separate tracks.

Project Logical Editor

Now to the fun bit! How to take control of your template and only see the bits you are interested in. And this is where the Project Logical Editor comes in. You’ll find it in the Cubase ‘Project’ menu, under ‘Project Logical Editor…’

You can create and use Logical Editor presets to hide or unhide specific folders, which Cubase refers to as visibility. I’ll describe the process for hiding everything apart from the Strings.

First, I created a preset to hide all folder tracks. I named this ‘Visibility – Hide All’

Next, I created a preset to show the Strings folder, which will automatically make any subfolders visible as well. I named this ‘Visibility – Show STRINGS’.

I then mapped the two new editor presets to key commands. You’ll find this in the Cubase ‘Edit’ menu, under ‘Key Commands’. To locate the preset you created, use the search field above the ‘Commands’ section (Shown below with the search term ‘STRINGS’).

Then type any key, or sequence of keys, until you find a combination which isn’t used. As you type, it will appear in the ‘Type in Key’ field on the right of the ‘Key commands’ window, and any existing mapping will be shown under ‘Assigned to’. Once you have found an unused combination, just click ‘Assign’, then the OK button.

In my case, I mapped ‘Hide’ to Control+Shift+H, and ‘Strings’ to Control+Shift+1.

Touch Portal

As a front-end navigation tool, I’m using Touch Portal, an iOS app which simulates key presses on my iMac. Taking the example of the ‘Strings’ instrument family, it’s just a case of mapping a button to the ‘Hide’ and ‘Strings’ key commands per the below screenshot. I’m sure you can do much the same with Lemur, Touch OSC or even a hardware controller such as Stream Deck.

Other suggestions

You’ll no doubt be wondering why I suggested putting the brand or library name as a prefix? Well, you can also create Logical editor presets that show only tracks that contain a given keyword. Here’s an example for the BBC Core library.

I then have a second Cubase screen available in Touch Portal which has buttons for libraries instead of Instrument types.

Kurzweil 900MX Pt. 4

Well, I’ve managed to sort out the cause of the noise. I swapped over the Op Amp chips and the noise practically disappeared. So I imagine one of them must have been damaged in some way. The residual noise that’s remaining is only audible when the gain is whacked right up, and Izotope RX can easily sort that out.

I haven’t made any progress with getting the left channel up and running, and it’s proving difficult to find a replacement long-pole dual gang potentiometer, so have decided to cut my losses and stick with a mono output only which is fine.

I also noticed the LCD had a bit of a flicker to it, so thought I’d look again at the power output on the motherboard, now that I’ve established there was a problem with the old PSU. And I’m pleased to report that it’s outputting power, so I’ve redirected the LCD backlight back to where it should go and the flicker has totally gone.

So all in all, a success and I’m already quite a way through multi-sampling it. Will put together an audio demo once I have a full palette of sounds to choose from.

Mutable Sheep

I’ve been running the alternate ‘Sheep’ firmware on my Mutable Instruments Tides module for some time now and really like the range of sounds you can get out of it. So, I decided to change the faceplate to a new Sheep one, courtesy of Pusherman Productions.

It arrived today, but what I expected to be a simple case of removing some knobs and nuts turned out to be a lot more difficult. The lower middle jack socket was deliberately stuck to the faceplate with what appeared to be some form of strong cement glue. I scraped away what I could, then tried to lever the faceplate away from the socket, but it snapped the socket in two!

It then took me the best part of an hour to desolder the broken socket and replace it. I must admit, now it’s reassembled, it looks great, but what a pain it was! No idea why they did that?

Kurzweil 900MX Pt. 3

Finally, some progress! I replaced the relay, but this didn’t seem to make any difference. Next, I replaced the nearby capacitors (quite a tricky job on a 30 year old module) but this didn’t help either. So I resorted to my trusty multimeter and determined that there was no power getting to the negative voltage regulator.

Now, I’ll fully admit at this point, I was way beyond the knowledge gained in my Electronics GCSE. But my theory was that the display, navigation, MIDI etc. all used positive voltages but the sound making areas must need negative voltages. So logically, it can’t have been receiving an alternating current (AC).

It was at this point that I found a forum post along the lines of “Do make sure you are using an AC adapter, not a DC adapter, otherwise you’ll get no sound”. So I thought I’d better order a new one to be on the safe side.

It arrived this morning and low and behold, we now have sound! Sort of.

More issues

The first issue is that there is only sound in the right channel. Also, the volume knob seems knackered and only works when turned fully clockwise. So I suspect that could be the cause of the left channel problems too.

There is also a lot of background hum, particularly around 50hz. Fortunately, the Izotope RX De-hum seems to get rid of most of and I’m sure with a bit of tweaking should give me an acceptable sound.

But what does it sound like?

As expected, the pianos sound really nice, if a little one dimensional (i.e. Don’t appear to have many velocity layers). In fact, most of the sounds seem to be piano based with varying degrees of brightness, attack and detuning. For want of a better word, they sound ‘Expensive’, but are perhaps a bit too full sounding. Fine for solo piano, but I would guess they might need to be thinned out a bit to fit in a mix.

There are also a selection of growly synth sounds, soft pads, digital bells, harpsichords and a quite usable Acoustic Bass too.

The Electric Piano is an interesting one. It appears to have two velocity layers, but they sound nothing like each other. The lower velocity has an almost FM like quality, but the higher velocity is a lovely Rhodes sample. It does sound a bit unnatural moving from one to the other, so I’ll probably just multisample them into two separate instruments.

What’s next?

Well, I probably will have a go at replacing the volume potentiometer at some point and tracking down the cause of the hum. If the volume pot isn’t the cause of the left channel being silent, I’ll probably try swapping over the Op-Amps as they are mirrored for left and right channels. Otherwise, I don’t think I’m losing too much in Mono and can always widen the sound in my DAW.

But before I do any of that, I think it’s best to multisample the sounds into Kontakt just in case I manage to fry anything.

Adam Buxton – Ramble Chat (ScarKord Remix)

New ScarKord remix over on Metapop of Adam Buxton’s Ramble Chat jingle. The only rules were that you had to use at least two of the original audio files and it had to be 1 minute or less long.

Was pleasantly surprised at how much multi-tracking was going on with the vocals so I thought it was only fair to use most of them in the first part of the mix. Then decided a slightly more monotone / robotic vocoded sound worked better for the latter ‘Blah, blah, blahs’.

https://metapop.com/scarkord/tracks/ramble-chat-scarkord-remix/172320