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.

22 Comments on “A Learning Curve”

  1. 傘 楽天 says:

    子供 傘 サイズ

  2. donald says:

    So, Glasgow has come and gone. I really enjoyed the performance. The wee room in the ABC was not the best venue for the audience, as all most of us saw were 2 grey haired nappers and one .. eh.. not grey napper. It was a great reminder that Van Der Graaf is a BAND. Guy and Hugh are such essential elements of VDGG. Having said that, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Pedro in better voice. The music speaks for itself. Wonderful!!! Great to see you all clearly enjoying yourselves. I still get embarrassed, however, when grown men shout, “I love you Peter!” It reminds me of the classic,
    ” What kind of sycophant are you?”
    “What kind of sycophant do you want me to be?”
    Keep it coming, chaps! Lang may yer lum reek!!!!

  3. Andrea says:

    Hy Peter

    Thanks for sharing those tips. I am quite interested in starting some kind of studio recording, and on the net there’s too much infos !

    See You in my hometown Udine next 2 of July.

    ps: are You planning a brazilian tour ? I am moving there from Italy next winter …

  4. Klaus Pangritz-Sellschopp says:

    Just comming from Darmstadt: Thank you for “Flight”, “Meurgly III” and “Lighthouse” This was great!!!! Fantastic Show!!!

  5. Malcolm says:

    I was left with one question with all this tech talk, will the new bit of kit make the switch between making new recordings of new songs, and playing live, easier? I am assuming that playing live with an audience is a very different mode of playing from trying to get a song together, trying to find the tunes in the ether, or in the instruments to hand. If this new mixing desk makes Peter a more comfortable, flexible, and a more productive artist, then I am all for it, I am sure there are magazines for keyboard musicians etc who find this sort of tech talk meat and bread to their audience, Alas I am not one of them.

  6. sopass says:

    Hello, Not always touring in France ? Don’t forget us Thank’s Pascal

    > Message du 31/05/13 20:35 > De : “Sofasound” > A : undazir@orange.fr > Copie à : > Objet : [New post] A Learning Curve > >WordPress.com sofasound posted: “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 t”

  7. donald says:


    Haven’t a clue what you’re talking about but it sounds really sexy.


  8. Ari Lehtinen says:

    Hi Peter,thank you so much for your incredible music. Listening 36 years your beautiful songs. See you at Darmstadt at last.

  9. bayernmike says:

    Perhaps a glossary of terms might be useful in this post ;-).

    It’ll be interesting to hear if this brings a different sound to future releases.

    See you at the Barbican later this month

  10. Andrew Read says:

    Interesting that both Peter and Fish have spoken on their respective websites about how they have upgraded to a Behringer X32 mixing desk recently. (Fish’s reasons were primarily to do with utilising it for live performances on his current tour in order to give a more consistent mix at different venues with different sound desk capabilities). Looking forward to VdGG at Manchester on 28th June.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Yeah…the tools of the trade. Let’s not get too dependent on technology in the concert context anyway. Saw a performance last night and though the tracks that were down, and that were played, with that computer simulator he (it was a solo act) used were good, I certainly would have preferred actual musicians, on-stage, performing that stuff live. I was led to think that there was “air guitar” going on there, in parts. Not sure if there was an encore.

    Steve / USA

  12. From David Scott

    Peter, good to see you talking about albums into the future. It’s also good to know that if I ever have problems with my toaster I can get in touch for some advice on how to fix it…

  13. Len says:

    ” I (deliberately) don’t have internet access in the studio”

    “So I stay acting God in my own Universe”

    And so it should be….

  14. Kevin flaherty54 says:

    Ahhhhhhhhhhh technology, where would we be without it or are we better off with it. A question to ponder.

  15. Mikayel says:

    Good luck with exploring the new technical stuff, producing new albums, and with the upcoming tour!

  16. Chad says:

    I will not make any claim to have understood any of what you’ve just written. My computer/music software knowledge is, most likely, negligible at best. I, like Andy, am just very pleased to have you still creating the wonderful songs that you do! Please come to Wisconsin again!

  17. allard van der starre says:

    i have an old mac…didnt figure out yet how to connect say a roland vs 2480, which i might do some day, anyway its technology gone crazy ha ha

  18. dafe says:

    You bought a, an x32…shrubbery!?

  19. Andy says:

    Well Peter, for all of the technological changes and whizz-bangery (if that’s a word), I for one am really just damn pleased that you are still with us, and that VdGG is blessing the musical world with its inimitable presence.

    I hope to take in the London VdGG show – is it going to be “Flight” or “Lighthouse”? – and look forward to your future recordings and blog updates.

    Be well and all the best – you’ve been a dear and trusted musical friend over many, many years from when I first heard you guys on “Pawn Hearts” when I lived in Cape Town, South Africa.

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