A Learning Curve

At the time of my last journal entry I was on the edge of decision, the brink of a leap forward into a new technological set-up. I dare say you can’t wait to hear if I jumped or not and, if so, how.

I suppose the fact that I went public (in so far as this journal is any kind of blaring from the rooftops) meant that I was in effect pushing myself into it in any case. Yes, I made the jump.

In itself this might not look like such a massive turnaround: I’ve changed my mixing desk, I’ve got a new computer, I’ve upgraded some software. In reality these are big shifts in the tectonic plates upon which my recording efforts float.

A word of warning: things might get a tad geeky here…

My previous system had been with me, more or less, since way back in the days when Terra Incognita had its home at the top of Walcot Street in Bath. It was built around a Yamaha 02R desk which at the time it came out was a completely groundbreaking piece of kit. It had ADAT lightpipe inputs and outputs, automated mixing with moving faders and in general was exactly what I needed. It’s still been working fine right up to the present day, in fact.

Over the years I’d gradually changed Macs to run the recording end of things and had ended up with the very last generation of laptops which had G4, rather than Intel, chips. They were also the last to have a cardbus slot, which was crucial in my set-up as the communication from Mac to desk was via and RME interface which used precisely this channel to get things in and out.

I’m not generally in the habit of chasing the very latest thing, the very latest upgrade. I use the computer fundamentally as a straight recording and editing machine (for both audio and MIDI) and effectively it’s just the same kind of thing to me as old-style tape. I don’t need to do any shuffle-quantising and I don’t need any particular extra bells and whistles. I *know* that things get “better” but I’ve mostly been prepared to work with the ancient stuff I have in – hopefully – new ways…as opposed to applying ancient techniques to “new” things.

A few months back – aware that, obviously, any computer or hard drive is mortal and will fail sooner rather than later – I sourced an identical G4 laptop to the (then) current one, so that I’d be able to move seamlessly onto that machine in the event of system failure. (The version of Cubase which I’ve been running, naturally, is also pretty ancient, as is the Mac OS I’ve been using. Neither would run on a newer Mac, so I had to find something vintage….) This was evidence of my contentment with the rig and my belief that, actually, I’d probably carry on working with it for the foreseeable future.

So, here we are about to start the latest VdGG tour and one decision we’ve made is to take our own monitor desk out on the road with us. It’s the new Behringer X32, tres moderne. I bought this last month and immediately thought that it had the potential to be a studio desk just as much as a live monitoring one.

The only way to find out if it would do the job, though (and here’s the position I found myself in at the end of last month), would be to plumb it in and start working with it.

In fact that meant ripping out everything else completely (not without *very* carefully noting down all the routings and connections which had been built up in the rat’s nest of cables over the years). Most of this stuff hadn’t been touched or changed in any way for nine years or so, and was based on original set-ups going all the way back to Terra-in-Bath.

The X32’s digital input and output is via Firewire. The old Macs were, it quickly transpired, quite capable of handling multitrack audio in and out using this interface but I realised that, actually, it really was time to get a more modern, faster machine. Not your ultimate all-singing, all-dancing chap, but at least something with the latest OS. And in turn of course (see above) that meant getting a more modern version of Cubase as well.

There I was, then, earlier this month, everything plumbed in, ready to roll and embarking on the learning curve.

“It’s all logical stuff, it all must be logical stuff”, I’d mutter to myself as I ham-fistedly attempted one simple task after another. Those tasks which had been second nature to me in the old system but which now didn’t seem quite so simple in the new. I’d got the manuals available onscreen of course but everyone knows that manuals are only helpful once you’ve actually found out where to look for the answers…which means you’re on the verge of knowing the answers anyway.

In the old days (back in Bath) there’d always be people around who were going through the same – or equivalent – learning curves and so there was something of a shared pool of knowledge and enquiry. These days (ah, the modern world!) I find myself pretty much alone in my explorations.

Thank goodness for the internet and the wisdom (or not) of the Forum. It kept me fit, as well – I (deliberately) don’t have internet access in the studio, so I had to keep zipping back into the house for my online research.

It probably took me a whole week to get my head round the new system, much of which I spent in a fog of slow panic and with the nagging feeling that I *might* have to put the old stuff back together again. But eventually I surfaced, breathing easy.

Now I have to say I don’t regret the decision at all. This system should see me through the next few years, the next few albums, with both clarity and precision.

Oh yes, the albums, better get back on *that* track….

Oh, now, here comes that VdGG tour, better get my muscle memory back into action for *that*….

On, into June.