Computers and Africa

I am learning how to use a program called Live, made by a company called Ableton. Ableton is headquartered in Berlin and consists of 350 people from 30 different countries. The software has been around for almost twenty years and for much of that time I have used it for really simple things, like taking a drum performance and slowing it down, or speeding it up. In the lingo of Live this is called warping.

Last year I started looking at what my next studio might look like. I have always used ProTools for recording, mixing, and mastering and that’s the software I am most comfortable with. I am pretty sure christmas + santa fe, released in 2000, was the first album I recorded with ProTools. I am using a very old version of the software, 6.9.1, because that’s all my old studio computer can handle. At some point I will have to switch to a newer computer, which is why I am thinking about my next computer as well as the software that I might use. I looked into Logic, but it feels like software for a keyboard player. Great for a person who uses MIDI, but I don’t use MIDI. I installed Luna, but that didn’t feel right to me either. Perhaps I am simply too used to ProTools and therefore I can’t see the possibilities of the other applications. This might be so. However, with Live I do see new possibilities.

In the last few weeks and months I watched a whole bunch of videos on how to use Live and try to work with the app for a few hours every day. Slowly, I understand it a little more. The software might not work as well for audio editing as ProTools does, but I want to try to record “slow2” with it. There is no better way to learn a method than by using it.

Today I messaged Jon that it might be easier for me to work with Live if I had a nice, big external monitor – because Live feels very dense on my laptop. There is a lot packed into the screen space. Our chat turned from huge screens for computers to using goggles instead because they would use less resources… once they exist. Jon wrote that one might need a larger mouse for a huge screen. I replied that it should be called an elephant. Then I wrote that it would be even better if I didn’t have to sit at a computer. If there were cameras in the room, connected to the computer, I could indicate the amount using the space between thumb and finger. Jon mentioned wanting to be able to conduct the software, rather than having to write automation.

Then I mentioned that Brian Eno said in an interview that computers didn’t have enough Africa in them. That led to this TED talk about Fractals at the Heart of African Designs. The talk explains that binary fractal code was used in Africa and then…

In the 12th century, Hugo of Santalla brought it from Islamic mystics into Spain. And there it entered into the alchemy community as geomancy: divination through the earth. This is a geomantic chart drawn for King Richard II in 1390. Leibniz, the German mathematician, talked about geomancy in his dissertation called “De Combinatoria.” And he said, “Well, instead of using one stroke and two strokes, let’s use a one and a zero, and we can count by powers of two.” Right? Ones and zeros, the binary code. George Boole took Leibniz’s binary code and created Boolean algebra, and John von Neumann took Boolean algebra and created the digital computer. So all these little PDAs and laptops — every digital circuit in the world — started in Africa. And I know Brian Eno says there’s not enough Africa in computers, but you know, I don’t think there’s enough African history in Brian Eno.

There you have it. Africa is at the heart of computers.


This post on Daring Fireball led me to this email tracker, read receipt and spy pixel blocker plugin for macOS Apple Mail. I know nothing about programming software and was able to install the plugin for my laptop using the Terminal. It’s working. If you want to check it out click on the next link.

GitHub – apparition47/MailTrackerBlocker: An email tracker, read receipt and spy pixel blocker plugin for macOS Apple Mail.:

MailTrackerBlocker is a plugin (mailbundle) for the default Mail app built-in to macOS. Email marketers and other interests often embed these trackers in HTML emails so they can track how often, when and where you open your emails. This plugin works by stripping out a good majority of these spy pixels out of the HTML before display, rendering the typical advice of disabling “load remote content in messages” unnecessary.

Browse your inbox privately with images displayed once again.

G4 Startup

Yesterday I went to my studio to work on a new piece. At 86 beats per minute it is the slowest piece, so far, and quite romantic, I find. It took me about fifteen or twenty minutes to get the old G4 Mac to start up. I hate that startup button on the old Mac towers, always have. There is no positive feedback as to what’s happening… I pushed the button and nothing happened, then I had to move around the dust-free box the computer is housed in, open the back door, and remove the power cable from the back. That resets the power button. Replug the cable, close the door, open the front, push the power button… repeat…

After a while the computer finally started up. I am coaxing life, and indeed music album after music album, out of a classic old piece of computing hardware. 2004!! That’s ancient! Then again I am becoming a classic, or vintage, myself…

Perhaps the failure to start up is related to the internal battery, which is there to keep time while the computer is turned off, having no power left. Each time the computer does start up I have to enter the current time and date, as the computer defaults to some date in the last century… I ordered a new battery, which is supposed to arrive tomorrow, so I’ll wait to panic until after I install the new battery. Perhaps the start up issue will be resolved with a new battery. I don’t know what I can do if it doesn’t…

I worked on the piece and hummed a few melodies to myself. I find humming is often a great way to find a melody, as opposed to playing the guitar right away. This way I can usually discover melodies that are simpler and more memorable.

In the recording room I played the melody on my guitar, then played a second, different, melody that seemed to materialize. Back in the control room I listened to the first melody, then the second. I wasn’t in love with either option, though. After a while an idea came to me, the possibility of using both melodies. I set up a separate track for the second melody and panned the two guitar melodies, one slightly to the left and the other slightly to the right. Now it might become a dialog. I removed sections from each melody so that the melody switched back and forth between the guitars. Now there was something. I listened to it for a long time, enjoying the new melody.

This afternoon I will go back to the studio to hear whether the melody/melodies hold up. To be continued…


I am in the late stages of creating a new album. As of this past week I am pretty certain that all of the music has been recorded and that I am now simply fine-tuning the mixes. Almost every morning I walk about five miles and listen to the music, making notes as to the changes I might want to make in the afternoon.

Working digitally has changed the mixing process radically for several reasons. One of these reasons is that everyone working with a computer can recall any aspect of a mix, from the volume of each track to the panning (left-right location), the EQ and Reverb settings. Movement can also be automated, for example an instrument can move in the left to right matrix, or can move up and down in volume.

This kind of automation came at great cost in the mid-Nineties, and wasn’t available at all before then. An analog mixing console with total recall might cost up to a million dollars. Renting time in a studio that had such a console was quite expensive, so I don’t have much experience using one. The only time I would see such a mixing board was when I played guitar on other people’s records.

We found ways to simulate some of the effects of recall. I remember delegating jobs to band members, and the engineer, who were tasked to move a fader up or down at a place in the song, or pan a certain track. In essence we were playing the mixing console. And since we didn’t work in a studio with a total recall board, every mix was original. We had to keep making changes manually until we got it right. And if I later heard something I didn’t like, we had to set up the mix from scratch. I would fill pads of paper with numbers, trying to make note of a basic mix in case we had to revisit it.

Another big change is that in the Nineties mixing commenced when recording was completed, as it meant switching to a different playback head on the analog tape recorder. Working digitally I constantly make mixes and the computer remembers those mixes. I can make a copy of a mix and then make any changes to it without losing the mix before. Nowadays nothing much happens when recording is done because I have been mixing since the first day.

This digital process has become natural to me. In many ways I prefer it to the analog process. Working with a tape recorder I always needed an engineer, but recording with a computer I can handle by myself. I can experiment and get as far out as I want to, and can instantly go back to a different mix. I also do prefer working by myself in the studio, my laboratory. Being alone in the studio feels more like a painter’s process.

So, now I am finalizing the mix of each piece of music and it is curious how a song comes together. I always know the moment it happens. I am sitting at the console and am listening, either on two old Tannoy speakers I love or on headphones, Stax or Audeze… then I make a tiny change, and it could be anything, like turning up a drum or the bass, or moving a rhythm guitar to the other side, and suddenly I am jumping up and it’s happened. I dance like nobody is watching, because nobody is watching!! Before my brain figures out what’s going on, my body already knows. I love that feeling. Happened again this evening.

Classic Mac Sound

That’s my studio computer, on the left, a 2002 Macintosh. Every album released on SSRI was recorded on that machine, a total of fourteen albums I think. At this point my phone probably has a faster processor…

That computer keeps humming though and I am currently recording album number fifteen on it. Since 2002 technology has changed so much, and updating everything became such a daunting task, that it was much easier to keep working with this old beast. And perhaps I even love working with an ancient computer. It reminds me that ideas are more important than gear.

Jon suggested that I write “Classic Macintosh Sound” on the inside cover of the new album. It was a joke because computers don’t actually have a sound. The sound is determined by the file type and the digital to analog converter, which is usually not handled by the computer itself. It’s funny and I might do it. :-)

Apple Tablet

An Insider On the Apple Tablet [Apple]
They continued to explain the device as something that would sit between an iPod/iPhone and a Macbook, and would cost $700 to $900—”More than twice as much as a netbook,” he said.

To make up for that cost and make the device more than just a big iPod there was, this person claimed, there was talk of making the device act as a secondary screen/touchpad for iMacs and MacBooks, much like a few of the USB screens that have come out in recent months from Chinese companies. Very interesting.
(Via Gizmodo)

Hm, manipulating wave forms on a DAW by using pinching gestures to zoom in and out, selecting an insertion point by touch… very interesting indeed. Like the Wacom Cintiq thing, which is a 12 inch screen with pen-input. But, the Cintiq costs $999 and one needs to use a pen, and the Apple Tablet would also be a great reader and media player with Wi-Fi – for less money. And if the tablet has Bluetooth, it would interface with the computer wirelessly and could accept input from the Bluetooth Apple Wireless Keyboard. Suddenly it all makes sense. Brilliant!