The Windows 8 mini-‘Digital Divide’ opens an interesting rift between the desktop and mobile

Music production professionals who use the Windows platform to run their studios (there are far more than some would imagine) appear to have much to be thankful for with the coming release of Windows 8 — for the desktop.

Windows 8 — which Microsoft has decided to split into a full desktop version and a lite, phone and tablet-friendly script-centric version — appears to offer robust enhancements for those who develop and use music production software for the desktop.

But the news for mobile users who thought they might get some iPad-like music apps in the new mobile branch, Win RT, is not nearly so sanguine,  as this Create Digital Music article from Peter Kirn explores:

Music Developer on Windows 8: A Leap Forward for Desktops; A Leap Backward for Metro, WinRT?


Warm vs. True

Lately recording forums have been seeing a wave of bulletin board surveys posted by college and university commercial recording program students looking for content for newly assigned second term papers.

The theme of the season is clearly hardware versus virtual, analog versus digital. As I write this there are three almost identical surveys floating at popular recording cyber-haunt, Gearslutz.

Leave aside, if you will — if you can — the reality that such so-called “voodoo” surveys, relying as they do on self-selected sample populations, are the antithesis of responsible social science. Forget that some college or university instructors are blithely sending their students out on a fool’s errand grounded in really bad science.

Forget all that. Let’s talk about the issues. And how I feel about them.

My emotional skin now in this game, let me say, I think the ideal is to understand what fidelity is good for — and it’s good for plenty, to my way of thinking — but to also be in a position to employ the less-than-perfect when that presents interesting alternatives or augmentations.

One thing that’s worth considering is that, at least until the current generation of designers and equipment, fidelity was typically a guiding principle — the people who designed the big iron analog tape machines that charm so many weren’t striving for “warm” and “characterful” — they were striving for fidelity.

But here’s the interesting thing: we’ve upended some facets of the paradigm and it’s that gap of failure between the goal of full fidelity and the reality of the actual machines that has become, in effect somehow inverted, an extension of the scale beyond the goal. Some might be tempted to say, like a middle school report card forgery, an extra pen mark that makes an A- an A+…

P.S… I’m hoping that last bit doesn’t end up, without attribution, in anyone’s paper… but… I’ve been around.

The mystery of capturing electric guitar tone…

After having recorded myself and other electric guitarists for around 3 decades, I’ve firmly arrived at the conclusion that many electric guitarists don’t really start out with a very good idea of what their tone actually sounds like.

How could that be? one might ask. I know I asked myself that a lot at one point.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that our psychoacoustic systems (ears and brain) are not designed for objective sound texture analysis — they’re designed as personal space mapping, danger-sensing systems. And that has really pervasive — if not immediately easy to grasp — significance to recordists.

Here’s an example: walk through a room with a small radio playing a long song.

Does the sound change?

Of course, not, unless someone tinkers with the volume or the actual content changes, right?

Well, close your eyes and try the experiment again, really concentrating just on the sound of the radio as someone leads you blind through the room.

You’ll note that the sound does change, and probably quite substantially, and not just in volume as your distance varies.

But when you walk through the room, the elaborate perceptual system devoted to making sense of acoustic environment is continually processing information returned from the senses and reintegrating your interpretation of that sensory data so that, unless you really stop, break down the processes, and reanalyze the raw data, your brain just essentially treats that radio as a ‘stable’ factor unless something ‘extraordinary’ happens to change that assessment.

Amp tone in a room is a bit different, but some of the same processes are going on: the guitarist may well have (and particularly studio newbs seem to have) a substantially different impression of what their amp ‘sounds like’ than is likely to be captured by a mic (or two).

There are a number of reasons, some of which I alluded to, and some of which relate to the fact that, as a guitarist plays his guitar through an amp in a room, he will be likely be continually changing his orientation (however slightly) in the room, moving his head from side to side, at an angle, up or down, or even getting up and walking around. And any and all of those changes in aspect relate to changes in sound — even if that is not immediately apparent until one has learned how to listen not to the ‘processed’ sound delivered by the complex spatial perceptual analysis but rather to the “raw sound” as it hits the nervous system. (And the one place Mr Guitarist is most likely NOT to be deriving his idea of the sound of his guitar/amp/tone is from 2″ from the speaker cone, off-axis — which is, of course, a ‘favorite’ spot of studio engineers to mic a cabinet from.)

Acoustic engineers must learn how to ‘hear a room’ in sort of a reverse process, disentangling their own brain’s interpretation of what is being heard from the actual sound.

The processes that go into a guitarist’s estimation of his own sound are related, but even more complex (at least for some), as ego and desire and even that ‘awesome rush of your first fuzz pedal’ mix with all the other factors…