Monday, November 13, 2006

A new definition of pain, as promised.

Recently I alluded to yet another of my fights with 21st century technology:

"Next week - how to encode mp3 files from four-track cassette tapes and upload them to the web, using an aging Pentium II with no CD burner, no internet connection, and a parallel port Zip drive. It's a new definition of pain, believe me."

And here it is, as promised. Late, but you should be used to that by now.

Warning: long-winded, somewhat technical and rant-ish post follows.

Back in the dim and distant past, I recorded a lot of electronic music of admittedly rather dubious quality, initially to a slightly broken two-track open-reel tape deck, then to cassette, and subsequently graduating to a Fostex 160 four-track cassette, which was a quantum leap forward in that it allowed me to overdub and bounce tracks (technical terms - basically 'record myself playing along with myself' - minds out of the gutter, people). Don't get this confused with the VF-160, which is currently available and an all-digital beast. We're talking honest-to-goodness analogue cassette tape here, similar to the (amazingly, still available) X-12. The 160 had more features, but we're still talking early-80's technology.

So... how do you get that old music onto this here new internet thing? The following is not the most reasonable method. But it's what I did. You may notice that much of the pain that ensues was caused by one over-riding issue, which I've emphasized for you so that you won't have to look too hard for it.

1. Music is on 4-track cassette. Sometime in the past I mixed it down on to the stereo audio tracks of VHS videotape. Why? VHS is cheap and at its highest speed, has far superior sound quality than cassette.

2. At some point, I dubbed the VHS masters onto Minidisc. Why? Minidisc was cheap, easy to use, digital, and portable. And I didn't have a computer with a CD burner.

3. Take portable minidisc player. Plug into sound card on ancient Pentium II computer. Why not hook it up through a digital connection? Um, no computer in my possession has a digital audio in, just analogue. I could, of course, buy a USB digital in box, but that would cost money. Crappy old SoundBlaster cards are cheap, and I already had one. Two, actually - anybody want to buy the extra?

4. Now... record and edit the audio using a venerable edition of Cool Edit 96:


Which works fabulously well, so much so that Adobe bought the multitrack version and turned it into Audition. My old version, was, um, er, free. But it works, even though running it on the old computer meant that noise-reducing even a couple of minutes of audio took about 40 minutes. Argh.

5. Move files over to new Sleek and Intelligent Computer. On the aforementioned 100 Mb Zip disks. Which also entails moving the Zip drive, because the S&I machine doesn't have one. And, of course, downloading and installing the obligatory driver. Naturally, spending some money on any of the following would have made life easier: second zip drive for new computer, CD burner for old computer, USB interface for old computer, network card and router so I could move the files directly, or audio interface so I could use the new computer for all the editing chores instead of the old one.

6. Now... they have these mp3 thingamajigs now, don't they? Aha! The LAME mp3 encoder (free) and its even more excellent RazorLame front end (also free) come to the rescue. Work exactly as advertised.

7. Finally... we have mp3s. I'll spare you the long and tedious and extremely painful story of finding a free place to put them on the web (short version: Yahoo Briefcase, Ourmedia, and Yahoo Time Capsule all suck. Geocities is marginally better, despite its horrendous interface, but it appears to work. EDIT: it's down. The links below might or might not work. Anyone have any suggestions? Another EDIT: Rik has come to the rescue! The files are up and happy. Click away, folks.)


(all glorious 44.1 kHz, 16-bit stereo, squashed down to 128 kbps mp3 for your listening pleasure)

Curiosity (1:23, 1.3 Mb). A piece for solo clarinet, with 2nd clarinet accompaniment.
Scudding Sky (3:57, 3.6 Mb). Downtempo ambient techno.
Spinning Circles Of... (2:08 , 2 Mb). Fairly lightweight electronic 'soundtrack music'.
Lonely House (4:04, 3.7 Mb). Ambient techno, a bit more 'beat-y' than the rest.

All files © Ricardipus. Painfully detailed technical information available on request.

Criticism on a postcard, to the usual place, please, where it will be given due consideration, immediately prior to shredding.


Moral of the story: sometimes spending a little money on new technology might save a whole lot of pain later on.

Second moral of the story: Ricardipus is a cheap git.


The Wrath of Dawn said...

Third moral of the story: Ricardipus is an extremely patient, if possibly (his description) cheap git.

I can't even get around to copying my digital photos to CD to free up space on my hard drive. How lazy is that?

The Wrath of Dawn said...

Got to listen to the first two (liked Scudding Skies best) but then Geocities exeeded its transfer limit. Will check back later.

Rik said...

OOoh another sound officienado. If I'd known I could have assisted, at least with a version of Cool Edit with an MP3 codec. As for webspace, I have an unrestricted 250Mb, so if you want something that doesn't have a bandwidth limit, just email me.

Ricardipus said...

Wrath - I think when you say 'patient', you mean 'bloody minded and doesn't know when to give up'.

rik - bugger, I forgot about mp3 encoding via Cool Edit - I never even looked but I bet I already *have* the mp3 codec! But the Razorlame/LAME combo works great.

Thanks for the offer, I'll email you when I get a second... ta.

The Wrath of Dawn said...

What the diff? People tell me I'm patient and I'm definitely bloody minded and don't know when to give up.