Monday, January 30, 2023

Update on Grace Notes - Monique found a site that (partly) backed up the original Blog

 I haven't addressed the whole "Grace Notes" situation since the first post on this blog.  That was 6 months ago.  At the time I wasn't sure if I had the heart to rebuild the old Grace Notes website, since everything I wrote had been lost.  Still had the music on Youtube, but re-writing a decade of blogging, doing all the historical research on the songs again, was a daunting thought.

Before giving up the Bluehost-managed site, I was certain I'd backed up the website.  All my other sites were backed up, and still available on my hard drive.  But this one disappeared.  Not sure if it was just my imagination, or if something happened to the file. but it was gone.  

Now, at the start of a new year, I've been dipping my toe into the water.  Writing a bit here and there, but not ready for a big re-start.  That's changed, thanks to Monique.  Last weekend was eventful.  If I write it up somewhere, I'll add a link.  But it's not pertinent to this page. 
     This page is about Monique's discovery of Grace Notes on the Wayback Machine.

It's not like we didn't know about Wayback.  I'd searched it last year shortly after realizing Grace Notes was lost.  But I went the wrong way.  Found my site archived there, but I'd looked at it from the most recent crawls, after the site was gone.  The results looked to me like the only thing archived was a "site no longer available" statement from Bluehost.  Massive depression.

This weekend Monique was trying to help me solve a different but related issue and discovered Wayback DID have my site archived, but you had to search further back into the past.  She started from the first crawl, in 2013 (Grace Notes was begun in 2011 or 2012, Wayback first crawled it in 2013).  Moving forward, she found the last full site crawl was in 2017.  So yes, there's still a lot missing, both from the beginning of the site, and from the end.  But it still gives me back nearly 5 years of blogs!!  That's something like 82 unique posts.  

That's life-changing.  It went from feeling impossible, to merely "very difficult".  From overwhelmed, to feeling positive.  

Since then, I've been saving each page, one by one, from the Wayback machine, to my a hard drive on my computer.  Wayback is extremely slow, but I don't care.  It saved my work, for which I'm very grateful.  Once all the pages are safely saved to disc, the restoration can begin.  Going to take a while. If I can back up 4 or 5 pages every evening, probably about a month.  Longer if I get sidetracked. But at least it's progress.

By The Way:  If you go so far as looking for my website on Wayback, bear in mind it's not a live rendition.  It's an archived image of Grace Notes.  It "looks" right, but none of the links are live, except for the ones that lead to other pages on the site.  The Youtube videos are still available, but are filtered through several links with very slow loading times, to get the actual live YouTube link. 
If you're interested in the music, just click here: We'll Understand it Better By and By  That'll get you to one of my songs, and you can branch out from there if it interests you.

It's one of my favorite songs, and if I'm going to send you to watch one of my videos, might as well put my best foot forward!

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Learning on the Hammer 88 and Ableton Live Lite 10: Ableton Compatibility Problems

   After a couple of years away from using the Ableton and the Hammer 88, I'm having to learn pretty much from scratch... and never understood that much in the first place.

  All I really want to do is record my piano playing to computer, at the same time as recording a video of my hands playing the song.  I can't just record the song to video and upload to Youtube because our home has 3 dogs, and all the associated noises and distractions most homes have.

  The plan is to record MIDI via Ableton, then export it as music to a WAV file.  WAV, because it's uncompressed and can play without the inconsistencies you get in mp3.  While editing the original video, I'll overlay the WAV, sync it to the original audio, then delete the original audio track.  The finished product gives me a nice "studio" rendition of the music, removing all the 'live' household noises.  (I've done this in the past, with a Yamaha keyboard providing both MIDI, and actual Audio.)

  My problem is that Ableton Live Lite 10 is over my head, and overpowered for me.  It has a steep learning curve.  On the other hand, it came free with the Hammer 88, and can definitely do the job.  There's just so many little bits to figure out.  It took a lot of time way back when, learning all the little details of setting it up, getting actual audio to come out of the computer; making the MIDI input work, learning to record... a whole bunch of time spent just setting things up.  My desktop computer is a good one, but trying to use Ableton, edit video, play games, and "do it all on one computer", it was struggling to keep compatibility with everything.  

    And EVERY SINGLE TIME  Microsoft updated my computer, it force-switched my audio device to either produce NO audio at all, or it changed the output to a second monitor that wasn't even powered on!! 
In most cases, my games had great audio, YouTube and other audio sources had NO audio, and Ableton/Hammer88 did not work AT ALL.  I'd try to change things back, and the settings kept reverting back to the NON-working mode.

  Then it would take weeks getting all the audio on the computer to work together again, and usually Ableton was the hardest part to fix.  I only know a couple of curse-words, but I was using them both on Microsoft non-stop.

  After months of anger management issues, Monique bought me a small laptop, dedicated to ONLY running Ableton.  That solved all the audio driver issues.  I don't remember all the steps it took, nor the audio drivers and add-ons that were tried.  Eventually it all worked again.  I saved the settings as an auto-booting default every time the computer powered up.  One thing that really helped was getting an external audio driver, the M-Audio Air/Hub.  It was a reasonable price, and fixed most of the problems.

  Finding a nice "Piano" setting that I like has been difficult.  Some are great, some not, but they all struggle to reach the volume I need to hear.  I'm losing my hearing, so the volume needs to be loud.  But when it's loud enough for me to hear, the audio "redzones".  Tonight I discovered a solution.  Might not be the correct solution, but it works, and I'm satisfied.

  First, choose a piano that's naturally loud - the MiniGrand x64, with setting 16: Always Loud works for me.  It's kind of tinny, but with all the volume settings maxed, I can hear it just fine.  And yes, Ableton Master Output volume does peak over 0 decibels.  Quite often, but it doesn't bother me.  Because tonight I realized I'm not recording actual finished audio output.  I'm recording midi instructions for Ableton to store.  A simple, basic realization, but to me it was an exhilarating breakthrough.

  When the midi is finished and saved, change the piano to one that plays 'more normally'.  Something softer, with lower volume, and the output volume can be reduced until none of the loudest parts redline.
  For this, I currently like MiniGrand x64, but using setting 01: Real Piano.

  Now the audio can be exported as music (a .WAV file in my case), and won't have clipping.  I might be mistaken, but it seems like this particular piano package came with the Hammer/Ableton.  The pictures below show both the main screen and the MiniGrand x64 toolbox screen, with the MiniGrand x64 being found under "Plug-Ins".  There are some other pianos under Plug-Ins, and some more under "Instruments".  Some probably came with Ableton, others were free ones found by Googling.  Even more got deleted, because many of the free ones I found online weren't very good.

One final tip, for screen-grabbing on my HP laptop...  Hold Windows key+Shift+S to copy an image into memory.  Open a graphic program like IfranView, and paste the image onto the page (or hit Ctrl+V).  The resulting image can be saved to your hard drive.  From there, I copy the files onto a USB drive then transfer them to my main computer.  Since the laptop is ONLY for Ableton, this is a simple low-resource way to get screenshots from one computer to the other.
(I could have used Drop Box, Google Drive, email, or other online tricks, but the laptop struggles to keep up with Ableton already.  Trying to run more software just bogs it down.)
    NOTE:  I've since learned how to use Google Drive, in it's simplest browser version.  It's made transferring files a lot easier.)

This is a pretty boring post, but it's exciting news to me.  It has the added advantage of acting as a guide for myself in the future.  Just in case I forget.  :^)

Monday, January 9, 2023

These Wonderful Broken Years part II (the short-short music clip)

 Yesterday I woke up with an unusually detailed and vivid dream stuck in my head.  Aside from the general dream, there was a Victrola with wood-grained sides, off-white surface, and vividly shiny brass horn/amplifier.  There was one line of music that was crystal clear; I heard orchestral music with wind and stringed instruments, 3 female voices singing the words in gorgeous harmony, the words "These wonderful broken years, wonderful broken years, these wonderful broken years."  It was the ending line of a song I'd never heard before, and when I got up, could not find the song existing online.  

Having such a short track made me curious in the dream, so I picked up the album and examined it.  Most of the tracks were of normal width, but that last track had a very small grooved section.  The record label wasn't entirely clear, but had the song title, "These Wonderful Broken Years".  The title was in an elegant cursive script, and I could clearly read it in the dream.  When I woke, I still had the vision of the album and the melody of that final line in my memory.

After writing the (much longer) blog about the dream, I spent most of yesterday trying to get that track into mp3 form on my computer.  It took hours, because I've had a Hammer 88 for a couple of years, along with Ableton Live 10 Lite, but only learned enough back then to play live piano.  Then I set the whole thing aside for over a year, and only recently felt inspired to get it all running again.  Even the little I used to know was long gone, and the day was a long learning session.

The most frustrating part was exporting the saved melody from Ableton.  Since the input method was MIDI, I thought the export method had to be MIDI.  It took an embarrassingly long time to realize the output was not MIDI, but the other option.  I don't have that computer running at the moment, but I think it was titled "Audio", or "Song"... something like that, but NOT MIDI.

After all that, here's the musical phrase in mp3 format, repeated 3 times, for a total file length of 28 seconds.  Really short. The record album in the video is pretty close to how I saw it in my dream, including the cursive font... but it seemed larger and easier to read in the dream.
     It also has Southern Gospel/Country & Western leanings.  That's my fault - I play by ear, and this is how I play.  In the dream, it was a much purer orchestral music, like Lawrence Welk would have played... These Wonderful Broken Years

Sunday, January 8, 2023

These Wonderful Broken Years

 I haven't written here in a while.  Things haven't gone as planned.  Today, I'm writing about a dream that stayed with me after waking this morning.  In the dream, I was in my grandmother's house, as it had been in my childhood.  There were people there, but I don't remember who.  It feels like they were cousins from more current times.  Not that I saw them, just heard voices in the distance.

There was a record album playing on an old-style victrola, though the machine looked brand new with wood-tone sides, an off-white face, and a brass amplifying horn that shone brighter than anything else in the dream.  The music was just background noise, pleasant old-style stuff but nothing worth paying attention to, until the final track began.  It was the kind of orchestral music you'd hear on the old Lawrence Welk show, strings, wind instruments, with female voices, in sweet three-person harmony, singing just the ending phrase of the song - "These wonderful broken years, wonderful broken years, these wonderful broken years."  Not the best lyrics, but fair enough as the closing line of a song.

The entire album track was just that one sentence, like they'd missed the beginning of the song and only recorded the last few seconds.  That was the final song on the album.  Just a fraction of a clip. In the dream, I wondered why it was so short.  I picked up the album to look at the tracks.  There were several full length ones, but that last track, the one I heard so clearly, was just a very short section.  You could see the grooves for all the other songs were normal length, but the final set of grooves was extremely short.  The record label was blurry except for the last song listed, which had the title, in an elegant cursive font, "These Wonderful Broken Years".

I can still hear the music in my mind.  It's a unique dream for several reasons.  First, I rarely remember dreaming, and when I do, it's normally just a hodgepodge of images and events.  If I have a clearly remembered dream, it's usually the result of having a high fever.  Fever dreams are ultra-realistic, and usually nightmarish.  Second, I've never before been able to 'read' in a dream.  See written material, understand it in the dream's context, yes.  But not literally see it, and read it so clearly that after the dream I can still see the record, and the text on it, and have the words be so legible and meaningful.

Third and strangest, that short clip doesn't sound like any song I can remember. It was clear, distinct, and the instruments and voices were beautiful. In my whole life, I have no recollection of ever dreaming actual music with words, much less music that sounded pretty.

I googled the words as soon as I woke up, but there were no exact matches.  The dream is already fading, but the clip of music is still in my head.  I'll play it on my keyboard and save the sound file, to make sure I won't forget the tune.  I really wish the dream had played a whole song.  It's going to haunt my thoughts, wondering why and how the dream was so specific and so realistic.  It had a nice melody, instruments and voice harmonizing well, clearly remembered words and written text that was actually legible.  It feels like there should be meaning to it, but as far as I can tell there's no meaning.  Just an incredibly clear fragment of a dream.

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