Goals for the Year 2015 – Midway Update

Winding Road

Now that I am midway through the year, I thought I’d revisit the goals I set myself at the start of the year, to see what has changed.

Career Goals

  • Settle into my new role at the BBC as Test Manager – I suppose this has not been achieved. I will have more updates soon (hopefully) but a change of direction is likely to happen.
  • Pushing for a place to be opened up in Platform Test to employ someone from the Extend Scheme – This has been achieved, and someone will be joining Platform Test from the Extend scheme in October, I’m happy to say.

Creative Goals

  • Get better at music production – This has been achieved. I have been working with my friend I will call ‘G’, which has massively improved my production skills. I have posted music that I see as much better to Soundcloud.

Social Goals

  • Getting married – Well.. things didn’t work out with that. But I have a new girlfriend who will hopefully be moving to live with me, so things seem to be recovering there.
  • Making friends with more people that share the same interests – Partly achieved. G is a good example of someone that I have met through looking for friends with the same interest.

Financial Goals

  • Saving more over the course of the year – Partly achieved. I have bought a house, so now I am in a quite a bit of debt, but the money I will be putting towards my mortgage will be money I am effectively ‘saving’ because it will be put into the value of the house.
  • Joining a pension scheme – Achieved.

Health Goals

  • Adopt a regular form of keeping fit – Not achieved. I have a gym even closer to where I live, 5 minutes walk, so hopefully I will use it more soon. It is difficult for me, as the medication I’m on makes me feel tired all the time, but they do say that exercise improves energy levels.

Conclusion

Although I’ve achieved the majority of my goals, I haven’t achieved two of the major goals – around my job and around exercise, which are both things I need to work on. There is still time left this year to make a difference in these areas.

Use Siri, Apple Earphones and Apple Music Together

This requires you to have a subscription to Apple Music and a 3G/4G/wireless data connection, but it is so useful! Using this tip, you can be walking along with your iPhone in your pocket and your Apple earphones in, and then change music just by pressing a button on the earphones remote control and saying ‘Play (your favourite band)’.

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1. Activate Siri and subscribe to Apple Music. I used to subscribe to Spotify so I switched to Apple Music when I realised the advantages of the integration on my phone, and the wider selection of music. You will also need to set Siri to stream music over your cellular network, this can be done in the ‘Music’ section of iOS settings.

2. Put the iPhone in your pocket with the standard Apple Earphones plugged in. With the standard Apple Earphones, there is a remote control on the cable with one button on it. To activate Siri, hold that button down for a couple of seconds until you hear the ‘Siri’ ‘bleep’.

3. Say ‘Play The Prodigy’ if you want to listen to The Prodigy, for example. This may require a couple of tries occasionally, but usually it just works.

4. Siri should look up The Prodigy on Apple Music, find their most popular songs, put them in a playlist, start streaming them and playing them through your earphones. To skip a song, press the remote control button twice in quick succession. To adjust the volume, press the edges of your remote control, the top edge to increase volume, the bottom edge to decrease. To pause all music playback, just press the remote control button once. To resume playback, press the remote control button once again.

A limitation of this is that you have to be in an area with good reception, enough to stream your tracks from Apple Music. You shouldn’t have a problem if you live in a city like Manchester, I usually get 4G across the whole city.

Modular Progress

Modular Synthesizer
modular layout

My Eurorack modular has been progressing. I’ve added several low-cost modules, a Doepfer A-138b audio mixer module so I can mix the audio outputs of the oscilators, the noise output, and my Doepfer Dark Energy modules. I found this so useful with the Dark Energys that I have ordered another mixer. This I can use to mix audio before sending it to the filter, for example, or mix audio before sending it to a VCA to be amplified. I also added another envelope generator, Doepfer A-140, a sturdy workhorse and also useful for triggering the filter independently of the VCA envelope. Then I added a syncable LFO.. I already have 4 LFOs from the quad-LFO module in the top right, but I wanted a LFO with a reset option that I can use for MIDI syncing. On order is also a A-148 S&H (sample and hold) module which I will use for generating interesting random tones once I have expanded the ‘generative music’ theme of my setup a bit more.

I also added a secondhand Kenton Pro Solo, a small midi-to-cv converter which has a lot of features, including clock sync output as well as CV and gate.

Next purchases may include (all Doepfer) a ring-mod, small essential module that it is. I also want a clock divider and clock sequencer, allowing me to take the midi clock output of my Kenton Pro Solo and link it up to activate timed triggers. I eventually want to get a Make Noise ‘Maths’ module as the highlight of my small modular, but the budget does not permit that right now.

Switching Audio between two Soundcards

headphones_accept

If you have two soundcards – maybe a normal soundcard for your speakers and maybe a headset with its own audio interface – you will want some way of switching all audio between the two. This is an great little open-source tool to do just that. It works on Mac, and Windows 7 up to 10:

https://soundswitch.codeplex.com/

Get rid of the ‘most visited sites’ Grid on Chrome

Not that I particularly look at anything weird, but when I’m showing someone my computer I don’t want to have my ‘most visited sites’ pop up when I fire up Chrome. The following Chrome extension will get rid of the default loading page, and just display a blank page:

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/empty-new-tab-page/dpjamkmjmigaoobjbekmfgabipmfilij

Open Source! Device API and Device API-Android on Github

Two Ruby gems that I contributed to from my days in the BBC’s TITAN (Test Tools and Infrastructure) team, have been open-sourced. So finally I can say that I have made proper open-source contributions. The gems are for making automating of Android phones via Android Calabash easier, and are used in a lot of the mobile testing we do at the BBC. Here they are:

https://github.com/bbc/device_api
https://github.com/bbc/device_api-android

Here is my Github profile, which doesn’t look very active on the surface, but I have been contributing to repositories which remain private at the moment, so my history is not visible.

Instruments That I Use

I have a lot of different instruments, both hardware and software, for making music, but here is what I use the most at the moment:

Piano
I have an actual electric piano but I don’t use the onboard sound engine, preferring to use it as a midi controller for a software piano sound. Recently I bought Ableton Live Full Suite, before I was using the ‘Grand Piano’ sound from the default install. Now there is a whole ‘Piano’ Ableton Live pack, and that seems to offer much more realistic piano sounds.

Drums
Lately I’ve been using the Sonic Charge’s Microtonic for drums, because I have been making more dance-orientated music. I find the drums really good, and they’re already fully processed with effects so you can just slot them into the mix. I also have been using the built-in Ableton 909 kit sound a lot, but might move away from that as I don’t like the sound compared to Microtonic. At some point in the future I will probably get my Nord Drum hardware drum synth out, but for now I can’t find the power supply so it’s not working.

Synth
I have been using my modular and semi-modular synthesizer as a main bassline synth, with some sounds from Ableton over the top. I have used the Access Virus synth quite a bit for synth duty, and it has some great presets for evolving arps.

Modular Progress

Specs

eurorack

I have finished filling the top half of my Eurorack case, see above. Here is a list of modules:

Next Moves:

  • Get a logarithmic mixer module A-138b for mixing the output of the noise + two VCOs into the filter, and to free up some of my ZED-10 mixer channels for other things
  • Got another A-140 ADSR module but no cable, going to get a cable and put it into the bottom left corner of the lower section.

Usage

synths

My (mostly) Doepfer Eurorack is hooked up to my Microbrute, 2x Doepfer Dark Energy MK1s and my ZED-10 recording mixer.

The Microbrute acts as a pitch and gate out keyboard controller for all the synths and a semi-modular synthesiser in its own right with its patchbay.

The Doepfer Dark Energys are complete synth voices with a fair amount of input/outputs for modulation. They are hooked up to the pitch and gate out from the Microbrute via the Buff Mult and the Multiples on the Eurorack.

One configuration that I often use when composing music, is wire the Eurorack, the Dark Energys and the Microbrute into the ZED-10 mixer, tune each so they all play together, and create one massive analogue 5-osc synth mono voice which is great for devastating basslines, and I can modulate with the LFOs and envelopes in the system. I can then program a sequence into the Microbrute and transpose it when I play notes down on the Microbrute keyboard, or control it via the USB IN from Ableton.

Another configuration which I find interesting is patching the output of the Noise Generator/Random through the Quantizer. This results in random musical notes played by the oscilator, and you can create interesting pattern or arpeggios created solely by the Euroack without human input. I like the idea of generative music, and will be buying more modules to create more interesting computer generated randomness and music.

Modular Synthesizers

I am putting together a small modular synthesiser setup. Modular synthesizers are synthesizers composed of small individual modules, which are wired up to create a circuit for producing sound. They were very popular in the 1970s, with big bands such as Emmerson, Lake and Palmer, Kraftwerk and Jean Michael Jarre all owning big modular setups:

Keith Emerson's Modular Synthesiser

Modular synthesisers have had a resurgence in recent years with modern versions becoming available. One producer of modular synthesiser modules is Doepfer, a German company who’s modular synthesizer standard ‘Eurorack’ has become very popular recently. I have decided to build a small Eurorack modular, here it is so far:

IMG_0161

The blank plates are spaces for modules that I haven’t bought yet, I am slowly accumulating them. I have currently been wiring my modular setup to my ‘semi-modular’ synths. They include the Microbrute, and 2x Dark Energy MK1s synths, shown below:

IMG_0162

A semi-modular synth is a similar to a standard synthesizer, where all the synthesizer functions are self-contained in one case e.g. they are not just lots of modules. A semi-modular synth will work in its own right, without any additional wiring required. However, a semi-modular synth also has inputs which allow you to optionally wire up the semi-modular synth to other modules and semi-modular synths. So, it allows you to make one big sound processing circuit with all your synths wired together. Which is what I’ve been doing:

IMG_0160

So, not quite Keith Emerson, but it’s a start! But why would you do this, I hear you ask. What possible reason would you have for wiring up synthesisers in this manner? Well:

  • It expands the creative potential of your synthesizers. Instead of just having a few ways of creating sounds, you now have a lot more. Modular synthesisers have been used heavily in EA Games ‘The Sims 3’ for sound effects. Oscar-winning ‘The Social Network’ soundtrack by Trent Reznor uses modular synthesizers heavily, and more.
  • It allows you to build a synthesizer exactly the way you want to, with all the features you wanted for the type of music you make.
  • You end up learning a LOT about synthesis and how synthesizers are made, which can feed in to better sound design in the future, not to mention if you have an interest in electronics and music technology, this is a great way to learn.
  • If you are inspired musically by the technical side of music technology, (and a lot of producers such as Deadmau5 are) then it gives you another creative workflow to experiment with.
  • It’s fun. Wiring up things experimentally and creating sounds you never could have predicted would happen. The combinations are so exponential that you usually have no idea what will happen, and it’s almost like the machine created sounds just for you.

Goals for the Year 2015

Curves on Hightway 1 Northern California

NOTE: I have an update on my progress as of 9/1/2015 here

Motivated by my good friend CheerUpLove.com‘s reflective style of blogging, and Ian Forrester‘s many interesting posts, I thought it would be interesting to post something a bit more personal and less technical on this blog.

Now that 2015 is upon us, I am going to take some time to publicly outline my goals for the year, so I can hold myself more accountable to them, and so I can look back on them this time next year.

Career Goals

One of my most important goals at the moment is to settle into my new role at the BBC as Test Manager. It is a step up for me, and I want to prove my stripes. I also will be pushing for a place to be opened up with Platform Test to employ someone from the Extend Scheme.
What Success Will Look Like : Growing my team, Extendee placement, good performance reviews.

Creative Goals

I have been improving my music production skills a great deal over the past year, a pastime that I find very rewarding. I have also started piano lessons, which I aim to continue with. I aim to continue getting better, and maybe to look into another evening music course – perhaps the Game Audio course at Futureworks Manchester.
What Success Will Look Like : Improved music posted to Soundcloud, collaborations with other musicians, better ability at piano

Social Goals

Getting married is going to be the main point of the year for me, with the wedding coming in September. Lots of preparing to do. I also want to keep the good friendships that I have at the moment, but perhaps make some new friends, particularly those who are into the same interests as me
What Success Will Look Like : Becoming Mr. Lewin, making friends with more people that are interested in the same things as I am

Financial Goals

I need to be saving more over the course of the year. I also want to join the BBC pension scheme, as I don’t really have a pension yet
What Success Will Look Like : Significant savings at the end of the year, joining the pension scheme

Health Goals

My fitness is something I need to become more serious about. I enjoy long-distance indoor rowing for stamina and fitness. I would like to do more of this, and there is a gym just down my road, so there isn’t much excuse for me not to.
What Success Will Look Like : Adopt a regular form of keeping fit

So.. I will look back on this post through the year and hopefully it will motivate me to achieve these goals. Currently I think these goals are achievable, and I think 2015 will be a great year.