Making the booth was a tough job, mostly because I couldn’t cut and saw at night in case I bothered the neighbours, and because I was working in a tight environment. Still, it got done and I’m happy with the result. The next thing I needed to do was make it more sound-boothy, and that started with the foam.
I purchased a couple of boxes of acoustic foam from eBay, got a tin of contact adhesive and a brush, and got to work, slopping on the glue and sticking on the foam. The ceiling wasn’t so bad, considering the glue held on pretty tightly after a few seconds of holding, and cutting out the foam to fit around the various hinges and nooks of the desk was just a matter of patience.
The door was tricky, I’ll admit, and I’m not 100% chuffed with the outcome. There is a gap at the bottom and to one side, and I’m sure this is letting a lot of sound leak. I’m considering making a lip on the floor for the door to butt against and pack that with some foam, but it’s good enough for now.
The only other section that’s causing bother is the brick wall, against which the booth rests. It’s lined with a concrete mixture, aged and crumbling, and the foam doesn’t want to stick to it. For this, I’ll need to make a trestle and feed it down the back. But I’m not convinced that’s leaking a lot of sound, so that’s on the backburner.
Now one thing I didn’t think of until AFTER it was done was lighting. Close the door and the room is very dark indeed. Oh dear. I don’t want to use fluoros, considering the hum they give out, and incandescent fittings are out on account of the insulation and foam. No probs, I’ve got a bank of LEDs I can mount, and that’s just what I did.
Finally, and importantly, I purchased a new microphone. I had a few cheapies lying about which I tried, but they were hissy, poppy and crackly. Kind of like rice-bubbles. No, I needed something better. Looking on the net, there’s the professional grade stuff, with preamps and compressors and big boxes that do stuff and funky connectors and… oh boy. There are also smaller solutions, powered by USB, that apparently are adequate.
I’m unable to afford the $1k price tag for a professional rig, so I’ve gone with the USB option and, I must say, I’m impressed. Not that it takes a lot to impress me, but after dealing with poop for a while, you get to appreciate quality. It’s a Rode NT-USB, found here at http://www.rode.com/microphones/nt-usb.
I added a book stand, attached power, through in some headphones and voila! Once completed, I took it for a test… no I didn’t. Joey took it for a test run.
Lastly, and surprisingly, I threw out the chair that I had originally had in the booth. That’s that pink thing in the pic. It was creaking and groaning with every movement of my leg. I thought it would be comfortable, being padded, but no, the mic picks up every sound and that was making more noise than I was. I replaced it with a boring, but solid, steel stool to which I added a folded towel.
In the previous post, I explained that I will be undertaking voice overs and presenting some of my books as audiobooks. Great, awesome, let’s get cracking.
Not so fast.
After a practice run of about five minutes using my phone as the microphone, it was evident that there were issues with simply reading out a book.
There was too much background noise
I was inconsistent with the distance to the microphone
The quality was ok, but not brilliant
Every stuff-up kind of got lost
I was mumbling a lot
I was interrupted even more
What I needed, I decided, was a proper place where I could lock a door and do the recording in peace and concentrate solely on getting the words right. For that, I needed a room. The bedroom didn’t work out, nor the loungeroom, nor the laundry or toilet. Echoes and funky acoustics. Noisy neighbours. Running water pipes in the walls. On top of that, I wasn’t keen to slap a bunch of foam on the walls and get yelled at by Wifey.
A few solutions on the net, like making a foam-encased shroud, came up and I got some materials to make that happen – the top of an arch, some foam and baffle boards. The end result was not so great. Ambient sound still polluted the recording, and my phone was just not up to scratch.
Nope, no good. A room with a phone wasn’t going to cut it.
I needed to build a booth.
I had space in the garage. It was all over the place. A little bit here, a little bit under there, lots of it toward the roof. The hard part was consolidating it all, sticking all the space together to form a cohesive area. I rearranged shelves, threw out a bunch of junk, packed half-finished craft into boxes and got to the stage where I had enough space to knock up a wooden frame.
Now, I was going to buy some lengths of wood to make the frame, get it square and right, make it a little hut inside my garage, only at that exact time I came into a lot of scrap wood from the side of the road. Armed with a bunch of screws, a saw and a pencil, I made a fairly decent frame, using an old desk as the base of the booth.
To block out the noise, I used fibreglass insulation bats, sandwiched between masonite on one side and this funky white plastic sheeting. On top, more insulation, some plyboard and masonite. It has a door with a lock and a handle. When I close the door – it’s a lot quieter. Not dead silence, but a heck of a lot quieter.
The Smashwords Summer (or Winter in the Southern Hemisphere) Sale is over. It was fun. I picked up a few books, I’ll be reading those when I get a chance.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy indeed, so this little Jack, in the absence of posting, got up to a bit of stupidity.
First cab off the rank was the creation of the Mimbo, the spicy mouse Dim Sim. What’s a dim sim? A staple, tasty food that comes with fish and chips, by itself, steamed or dried, with soy or tomato or mustard sauce. It’s such a decent eat, how could one make it any better?
By spicing it up! All you need is Tabasco, a fork and some Pickled Peppers. No, really. Pickled peppers, like the kind that Peter Piper picked.
It’s creepy. It’s icky. It’s not a bad idea for Halloween – “Scuse me, kiddies, while I munch on a deep-fried, gangrenous mouse dripping with mouse blood.”
Music, you see, underpins an animation or video, it brings it all together and sets the mood and the tempo, the expectations of what’s to come.
The fact that a shmuck like me, with only an old keyboard in the garage and a recorder hidden securely away under lock and key (seriously, never, never let a three year old boy have a recorder) is able to put together a ditty is remarkable. I don’t profess to be a musician by any standard, yet with the tools available I managed to have several tracks all playing together.
A piano has a rich quality about it. A well played piano can hold an audience just nicely, thank you very much. Don’t believe me? Go and put “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin into your favourite browser. You can hear his two hands working away, one playing the bass, one playing the treble.
This works well if you can compose a solid tune. I don’t know about you, but I’m not up to that level and never will be. So where does that leave a fuzzy-headed shmuck who needs to make a piece for an animation?
Think of a band. A real band. Can’t think of one? OK, go here to Swami Lushbeard. Awesome band. Rock out to “Where the Sheep are Led” while you’re reading this. Do you see those dudes, there? There are drums, vocals, an organ, guitars. Lots of instruments, each of which can be represented by tracks.
You see where this is going? Different instruments can take a simple tune and give more depth.
Perhaps an example is in order. Go on, get yourself Anvil studio and let’s have a play. Start off by writing a simple song like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Itsy-Witsy Spider”. Nothing fancy, just the basic tune.
This is using Anvil’s Composer view. Very cool. In fact, I wish I’d known about this myself when I was doing the music for Grosvenor. You can press on the keys, and the notes get added in, and there’s a chord selector / finder and you can add decorations to the notes likes slurs, joins and syncopation and, damn it, that would have made life easier. Ah, live and learn.
All good? Great. Sound decent? Yeah. Nah. Not really. Sounds like a bad ringtone, right? Have you installed your sound fonts? Do that if you’ve got time.
OK, now do me a favour and add in some drums.
Go to the “Track” Menu, click “Create” then “Rhythm Track”. You’ll have Anvil tell you how to switch between views and such. That’s cool, now click on the “View” and click “Composer”. Now you can add in some bass. Click on the “Bass Drum” and go ‘doof-rest-doof-rest’, thus:
Hit the play button. Ooh, how about that? Your Twinkle Twinkle just stepped up a notch by the simple insertion of a bass drum. OK, now add in some tom-tom. And some snare. Needs more cow-bell!
I don’t know about yours, but mine is sounding like a march mixed with blues. Did someone say blues?
For that, we’ll need some bass, and maybe a saxophone. Well, you know what that means, right? More tracks!
Great, I’ve got a four piece band – a piano, a bass guitar, some drums and a saxophone player who is taking us on a very different journey altogether. You might want to label your tracks so you don’t lose out. Just double click on the track label on the left and type it in. It helps in the long run, believe me.
It’s not Swami Lushbeard but, you know what? It’s not bad for a few seconds work… I wonder what happens if I change the saxophone to an electric guitar and the piano to a honkytonk.
The Trouble with Lasagna
Tracks are awesome. You can build up your tune and make something quite ordinary sound extraordinary. You can add staccato to your notes. You can make chords. You can add rests, you can harmonize! You can duplicate an entire track, transpose it down an octave (no, really, you can. Just go to “Track” -> Transpose), add in an oboe and a clarinet and have it sounding like “Six Feet Under”.
There comes a point, though, when you can’t see the forest for the trees. Too much. Too much. Too many layers. Too much sauce on the plate. Too many sheets of pasta. Too much bechamel. Too much cheese. Uh, is that even possible?
Excessive tracks can make the song sound messy or overdone. Moderation is the key. In the above example, four tracks made up a very cool ditty out of nothing more than Twinkle Twinkle. The point is, if it sounds flat, chances are you only need to add in some chords (remember those two hands playing?) or adjust the volume of one track so it doesn’t drown out the other.
But how do you work with just one track at once? Ah! That comes down to the little bit in the track table where it says “On”. Simply click on the “on” bit to change the “on”ness.
In the above example (contrived), the drums are on mute. This means they won’t play when you hit the play button. This can be quite useful if you want to tell the saxophone guy to take a breather for a second so you can hear how the drums and bass are getting along. Anything set to mute won’t play.
The Bass is set to solo. This means that only the Bass track will play. You can set more than one track to solo, so only those tracks will play. This is very handy when initially writing notes, or when spotting issues within a track.
Using this feature can also tell you if a track you’ve included is even necessary: Hit mute and, if the song sounds just as good or better than with that track playing, consider leaving it out, or readjusting its role. If I add a tenor sax, for example, I might consider only having it pop its head up toward a chorus, or to highlight the end of a bar, but I wouldn’t want it knocking out an entire tune.
Try not to be overwhelmed with the bazillion features of Anvil (and of Midi in general). I’m still learning and still being amazed at its capabilities. OK, it’s 2016, I should expect that software has improved since 1980, but still, I’m stoked that this sort of stuff is even possible.
Well, what are you waiting for? Go and download Anvil and start mucking around. Save your music, work on it a little each day, visit Midi forums and spread the word. Midi rocks!
When it comes to defining success, context is king.
Status? Money? Power? Sure. If that’s the goal.
Sometimes it’s an all-or-nothing affair. Other times it comes in degrees.
Cider. As in, fermented apples. You see, last year I received a couple of boxes of mixed apples, fresh from their trees, ready to be stewed or eaten or turned into cider.
Now, I’m big on brewing my own beer – I might post a bit about that next run – and I’ve made an Irish cider from apple concentrate and malt, and I also have a copy of ‘The Practical Distiller‘ by Samuel McHarry, in which he describes how to get the best yield from those squooshy, overripe apples.
Armed with a knife, some muslin cloth, some big pots and a bit of spare time (ha!), I sorted, washed, sliced up and cooked those apples to a stew, then passed them and smooshed them and made a right mess of the kitchen.
Cutting up an apple ain’t so bad. Cutting up a couple of boxes worth makes your fingers curl up into little balls of angry cartilage. The juice gets into the nicks you make on your hand, stinging and biting.
I carried on, batch after batch, cutting and cooking and stewing and pressing and swearing all weekend, and, at the end of it, managed to scrape out about half a barrel of what might pass as juice.
Anyone who has tried to strain cooked apple pulp through muslin will know the error I made. The holes in the cloth are good at filtering fine stuff, but get blocked up after a second if you try and pass anything fibrous. Pressing it with a spoon only gets you so far, and squeezing the cloth ends up getting more apple bits into the brew than you intend.
Pith and pulp went everywhere. The kitchen is still a royal mess. Cupboards are stained. The floor is sticky. It’s an outside kitchen, not the inside one, but it’s still shameful to look upon.
Unsure whether I had enough to even make the effort worthwhile, I threw in several liters of apple juice. Yeah, it’s cheating. I didn’t care by that stage. I just wanted it all to be over. After that, I pitched some yeast I had on reserve, added the air-lock, swore a bit more and went inside to rest. Never again!
If the yeast didn’t take, I ran the risk of getting an infection in the brew, so I monitored it over the next few hours. It wasn’t bubbling much, being winter, so I gave it a helping hand with the warming pad. This got the bubbles going and it seemed that maybe, maybe I might have something worthwhile.
The next week, I poked my nose into the kitchen to perform the obligatory testing with the hydrometer. The fermenter had clogged up with all the precipitated pith, a thick gunk that had settled at the bottom. Great. I had to rack the liquid into the second fermenter (cleaned and sterilized), but the liquid was too viscous and the racking cane only got a little bit out.
Instead, I opened up the tap at the bottom, passing it through more muslin, losing more liquid in the meantime, making more of a mess. Eventually, the liquid was decanted, although somewhat aerated (oh, no) and the fermentation continued. I don’t think I ended up getting the reading from the hydrometer. Never again!
ANYWAY, after the next week the bubbles were all done, the liquid had settled some and I was at the point of ‘blow it, just bottle it’. So I did. Sugar, funnel, sterilized bottles, fresh caps, the whole works. More mess, more swearing as the little filling tube got clogged with pith, more throwing my hands up crying that it was a waste of time. It’ll probably turn to vinegar anyway.
Is there a point?
Didn’t I just say that context is king? Keep up! The whole point is that, I could have gone down to the store and bought apple cider, knowing that, when I got it home, it would taste as good as it should, there would be no mess to clean up, and I would have fingers that resembled chameleon tails.
Instead, I put my energy into creating something that didn’t exist before, something that ‘anyone can make’, but only one person did. Something that was potentially enjoyable, but could just as easily have turned out to be an utter failure – there was an element of risk involved.
Is that what success is? Reward from Risk? Perhaps that’s part of it. One doesn’t celebrate when one receives a paycheck every fortnight, the money that keeps food on the table, yet a small win on a bet gets legendary status.
And that brings me to the point of all of this. When you’re busting your hump trying to get your story written, and you’re banging your head up against a brick wall for ideas, and your fingers are gnarled from typing, and you can’t find anyone to help proof or edit or criticise, and you’re this close to packing the whole thing in, remember that if it was easy, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as satisfying.
Sure, the results won’t come straight away, and you’ll have to refine and rework all those bits you laboured over, and you’ll have to cop criticism on the chin when it finally arrives, and you’ll have to go back an apologise to those poor people who read your first draft, but, in the end, after the dust has settled, you can hold your head up proudly and say, “It ain’t perfect, it hurt like blazes, I never want to do it again but I did it.”
And that, to me, is success.
A win is a win, even if it’s not an earth-shattering, mind-blowing, trump-’em-all win. No matter how small it is, take the win. In the same way one has to learn how to fail, one has to learn how to succeed, too.
Take the win when it comes. Celebrate it. Crack open the lid and drink the success, even if it’s only a mouthful.
Oh, the cider? Yeah, I opened a bottle just now, which is what prompted me to write this. Turns out it’s not vinegar, after all. It’s very dry, and quite apple-y and surprisingly pleasant. It won’t win any brewing awards, for sure, but I learnt a lot and I’m keen to give it a go next year.
Only I think I might invest in an actual masher, like the one pictured above. Or build a mashing machine. Or buy stocks in sledge hammers. Anything has to be better than doing it by hand. Never again.
You don’t need to decorate all of an egg. In many instances, the egg will live its life sitting on an egg cup, behind glass. They won’t be manhandled, felt, held, thrown, roughed up, knocked about: they are purely ornamental.
This means that the back of the egg will not get looked at, and you can put all your effort into the front.
You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find pressed flowers. I remember walking into any craft store and they’d be throwing them at me. Now, it was a matter of, “Do you have pressed flowers?”
Try another shop, “Hi, I’m after some pressed flowers. You know, for scrap-booking and whatnot.”
Haven’t had ’em for years.
I would have done it myself, only A) I don’t have any phone books in the house and B) Easter was only a couple of days away. Finally I found a manky packet of coloured daisy flowers without a price tag tucked on an obscure shelf in a dinky shop in the middle of nowhere.
These were easier to find. On my travels to Lincraft, they had these in packets on the shelf. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all flat backed which makes it a little awkward to stick on a rounded surface, but the little ones were just fine.
Their weight makes the egg top and forward heavy, so the end product needs to be balance back onto the egg cup to stop it from tipping. Not a problem, they still look good.
Coloured the eggs, as you can see, in a solid purple, peach or blue. Any strong colour will do. Three coats, allowing drying time between coats.
Get some craft glue (make sure it dries clear). Sop it on the back of the flower, stick it on. Make sure they’re good and dry before you proceed. Wait overnight if you need to. Don’t rush this bit.
Getting a piece of foam, I cut out a circle shape, dipped that in white paint and made the cluster of eight around the central flower. Allow to dry (don’t you love acrylics?).
Using a fine brush, place either a dot or radiating strokes from the centre of each ‘cluster flower’. They’ll be dry by the time you finish up.
Get a one inch brush, some polyurethane gloss and brush it on lightly, getting into all of the crevices of the flower.
Give it another gloss coat.
Find some decent egg cups, voila!
If you like, get some ribbon and ‘tie’ the egg to the cup before gifting. A bow around the midriff or from top to bottom looks shmicko. Use craft glue to hold it in place rather than tying a knot: Eggs are slippery little suckers, and, as above, if it’s an ornament, you can afford to ‘cheat’ a little.
You’ve blown a batch of eggs. That’s a great start. They’re washed and dried and ready for use. Now, the question comes: What to do with them?
Eggs are a really wonderful canvas. They are porous, so they will happily absorb all manner of pigments. They are rigid, so pencils and paint and ink works just fine. They are hard, so you can drill them to insert crystals or ornaments. They respond to acid etching. You can glue things to them, or cut holes out of them, or wrap them in material.
Let’s start with painting…
To turn your brown egg shell into a nice, white canvas, you’ll need to get some undercoat. This will seal the egg, adding a little strength to it at the same time, and provide an excellent substrate onto which you can paint.
I use a matte white water based undercoat for my eggs – Dulux 1-Step. I bought half a liter of the stuff yonks back and break it open before each Easter, and I’ve barely made a dent in it.
I use water based instead of oil based because:
It dries real quick, so I can do a few coats in one night.
It doesn’t pong as bad.
It cleans up real easy. Wash out with water, and you’re done.
A lot of the mediums and overcoats I use are also acrylic.
I did try oil based paints a while back, and they give a good, strong finish, but I can achieve similar results with acrylics with a lot less fuss.
Line your eggs up on your work area, dedicating one tripod to each egg. You’ll want somewhere to put them down after each coat. Don’t forget to put some newspaper down if you’re working on the kitchen table.
Choose a 1″ or 3cm paint brush, hold your egg as shown below and get painting!
Tips and Tricks
A better finish is achieved if you apply multiple thin coats rather than one thick coat. It’s smoother, it looks more even and you don’t end up with runs and drips.
Unless you’re insanely skilled, you won’t be able to paint the egg at the point where you’re holding it. Don’t worry, alternate you grip on the next coat as in the diagram above.
If you want an uber-smooth egg to paint on, consider sandpapering some of the little lumps on the egg before you undercoat (grinding with the Dremel also helps with this).
Between coats, if you can be fluffed, give a bit of a light buff with steel wool to smooth out the painting.
Aim for a minimum of two coats, preferably three.
Don’t be too concerned if you can still see the colour of the egg through the paint, since this is just the undercoat. Your pattern will take care of that.
If you want some of the real egg to show through, or only want to paint a certain area (like when you’re making a silhouette), use masking tape, sticky dots or any other sticking shape to mask the non-painted regions.
Aim to fill the secondary (top) hole with paint. If it’s small enough, it will close over nicely. You might not be able to totally close the primary hole, but that’s ok, we can work on that later.
Once you’ve finished one part of the paint, put the egg back onto the pizza tripod to dry.
Don’t let animals or kiddies come near your precious eggs. Not yet, anyway.
I’ve seen some techniques that advocate inserting a wire through the egg to allow you to paint it. I personally don’t, since it tends to weaken the egg and enlarge the hole. One part of preparation is strengthening the egg and reducing the hole!
By the end of all of this, you’ll have a carton of egg shells just waiting to be decorated! Now comes the fun part, actually making a design!
Blowing one or two eggs is not hard, really. You can have them done in time for dinner. When you have to do a bunch for Easter, it starts to get uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable. Your mouth hurts, your lips go numb, and your back starts to give out from being hunched over a bowl for so long.
The following are things I’ve figured out from trial and error to make your egg-blowing life easier.
No point getting your equipment out and cleaning it and getting set up… to do one or two eggs. Do a lot at a time. It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to do it, so you can sit in front of the News and see how many you can do in half an hour. You’ll be surprised when you get the hang of it.
Store your blown, cleaned, dried eggs in egg cartons, ready for use when the time comes. Don’t worry, they won’t go bad.
A Good Seal
Eggs are an inconvenient design for blowing. If they were straw-like, all good. But they aren’t. They’re smooth, and slightly rounded and it takes a bit of practice to make a positive seal with your mouth on the top of the egg.
Ever have Grolsch? You know that little rubber ring on the inside of the crown? Pick that out, wet it a little and use it as a barrier between your lips and the egg. Not only will it save you the embarrassment of making little fart noises as you blow, and not only will it improve your blowing power, it’s a good excuse to buy beer.
They last for yonky donks, too. AND you can use them for some advanced designs (but that comes later). You know what? Go and get a beer right now and then come back, OK?
Grinding a hole
Puncturing the primary hole with a stylus or pin is a little risky. If the egg is fresh and the shell isn’t thin, it’s not a problem, but take either of these two things away and you need to tread carefully (Insert your own walking on eggshells pun).
Do you have a drill? That’s a bit of overkill. Do you have a high-speed rotary tool like, oh, I don’t know, a Dremel? You do? That’s fantastic! Because if you get yourself a teeny, tiny drill bit, or pointed grinding bit, you can carefully grind a neat, countersunk hole for the primary, no sweat.
The other benefit is that you can use your Dremel for grinding patterns into eggs (later), or making holes to recess crystals (later), or cutting the top off for a egg-box (later).
Blowing an egg relies on increase the air pressure on one side of the innards, such that it forces it out the other side. What if we lower the pressure on the primary hole, so that the air pressure on the other end pushes it through? Net effect: Goop comes out.
This is called sucking eggs. Whoa, whoa, whoa! Don’t click that close button. You don’t have to do the sucking yourself. OK? In fact, it could be quite hazardous if the egg has anything nasty internally. I prefer to cook my eggs before I eat them.
So what to use? Wait for it: A breast pump! Whoa, whoa, whoa! Come on, give me a chance, here! It’s actually designed to do exactly what’s required: Lower the air pressure on one side, letting the pressure on the other push the innards through. And, to boot, the pumps have a collector that you can use.
No bowl! No mess! No fuss! You just look a little creepy, is all. Just be sure of three things:
Clean your pump after each use
Ensure that the egg is large enough to not get sucked into the aperture (these things were designed for something larger, of course)
MAKE SURE THAT YOU DON’T USE ONE THAT IS CURRENTLY (OR EVER) IN USE FOR GETTING BREAST MILK FOR A CHILD.
All jokes aside, that last point is very important. I marked my pump with a permanent marker and keep it stored in my art supply cabinet. You don’t want to risk giving a bub raw egg, no matter how thoroughly you clean it.
You know those little tripod things that come on the pizza that stop the top of the box from squishing it? Let me find one…
There. One of those. Next time you order pizzas, keep these, turn them upside down and, presto! Instant egg holder! You can use these to stand your eggs upright while they drain, or to let them dry after painting, or even for showcasing (but decorate them first).Hmm, first beer, now pizza. This is a hobby worth pursuing.
Say what? ‘Snot Suckers’. Oh. Unpleasant name, it’s pretty much a rubbery thing one uses to clear mucous from a baby’s nose when they’re all clogged up. Normally one would use it in ‘suck’ mode but in this case you’d let the aspirator nozzle act as your lips. Squeeze the bulb (or push the plunger, depending on your model) and blow the contents out.