Origami Site Update 2009–10 New Models

It’s been over a year and a half since my last update to my origami site. Since that time I’ve come up with over a dozen new models. Narwhal, Walrus, Elephant Seal, Turkey, Zeppelin, Dollar Pyramid and Sphinx, several Tessellations, Color Change Stellated Octahedron, Great Dodecahedron, Sphere, and more! So here you go. Enjoy!

Music Update 3: Recording Studio Upgrade

The big news recording-wise is I’ve made some decisions about upgrading my recording studio. This is part of a program of improving my whole recording process. I learned alot from making the last record, and the next one will sound even better. I feel like on Face the Heat I really got it together singing-wise, and the playing, recording and arranging were strong. And of course my main strengths of Rhodes, sax and synths provide a solid foundation to the whole sound. Mixing it down with Erik was a great educational experience. Among the things I want to improve are my bass playing (see a previous post), my guitar playing (more on that later), and my drum sounds. And I want to get some kind of preamp or peak limiter/compressor for the way in when tracking. Had a bit of trouble with clipping on the last set of mixes.

For the next record I’m going to do a lot more of the mixing myself. I’ve been reading an excellent series of books on audio engineering by Bob Owsinski. There’s a volume for recording, mixing and mastering. They contain a wealth of info are an exactly at the level I need. I’m looking forward to applying it all.

The audio I/O box is the heart and soul of the studio, the main thing to upgrade. I’ve been using an original Mbox, which has served me admirably, but has its limitations. The main ones are I can only record two tracks at a time, and I can’t upgrade out of ProTools 7. I might mention that I’ve been using digiDesign hardware and software for almost twenty years now, going back to the original AudioMeda and SampleCell cards on my Mac Quadra. But my Mbox doesn’t work in ProTools 8 and I never got the whole system quite working on the MacOS, so when I’m recording I have to boot in Windows.

After a lot of research, I’ve got my mind set on an Mbox 3 Pro. Hardware-wise the Mbox3 Pro looks like it has a lot going for it. It has 4 XLR inputs and up to 6 line/instrument inputs, as well as 2 SPDIF inputs for a total of 8 simultaneous channels. It also has full-on aux send/return loops for outboard FX. Best of all, it has a built-in “soft peak limiter” on the inputs. This supposedly impart simulated analog warmth and tape saturation on the way in, and if it’s any good ought to save me from having to buy an outboard preamp.

Software-wise this would allow me to upgrade to PT8 (and now PT9), which would open up a whole lot of new drum software and samples and high-end effects. On the downside, I have to upgrade my OS to 10.6 and may have to get a new version of SampleTank. So all of this software updating is nontrivial. On top of that it remains to be seen whether I can use my current MOTU MIDI interface in the then system.

The main trouble is the Mbox 3 Pro is not available yet. It’s release has been pushed back twice, from early November to mid-November, and now to the end of November.

There’s more gear upgrades in the offing. I’m thinking of getting an 88-key piano-style keyboard controller. This has actually been on my list for a long time, but as with everything, finding the time to do the research is the main obstacle. Every few years the product space has completely changed. I’m currently using my old Roland Juno as my primary controller, but it only has 61 keys, and while it’s great as synth, it doesn’t really cut if for doing piano parts. On the other hand, I just finished Karn Evil 9, which is a big a piano song as I’m likely to do, and I got thru that alright by playing some of the more extreme passages in a different octave and then transposing in software.

At some point I’d like to get a drum kit too, but that’s probably a way off still. Every new piece of gear takes time to learn and integrate.

While I’m waiting for the new Mbox and PT 9 I’ve started looking at Reaper, a FOSS DAW. I downloaded and installed it, and was happy to see it discovered my MBox, my MOTU MIDI interface and my VST FX. I’m thinking of doing a quick, simple project to put it through its paces. I have a song in mind, a pop song cover that’s under 3 minutes long, but is one of my all-time favorites, one of those that just stays with you.

Next up: Rocket to the Moon with guitars!!!

Again With the Turkeys

Let’s see … a few things. Yesterday was our big deadline at work, the release of v2.2 of out software. We almost made it, but our QA guy was hung up by our server going down all the time the last few days. Meanwhile the last bunch o’ weeks of working extra hours while trying to keep everything else going have caught up to me and I was kinda under the weather yesterday. I’ve been watching some Galactica to unwind a few nights over the last few weeks, TV as a sedative. Everyone says BSG is awesome, but I’m not so sure. For one thing, it’s very dark, gloomy and humorless. Not very entertaining in the sense of providing entertainment. Second, EJO is great as Adama, but the only character with any personality in the whole show is Starbuck. Everyone else is just in the situation, and pretty dark and gloomy and humorless about it. Third the pacing is very slow, like a soap opera. A lot of inconsequential stuff happens every episode, and some of it moves the Big Plot forward a degree or two. Lastly, the genius scientist and his imaginary Cylon girlfriend are just too much! Still the thing is strangely compelling, and I expect I’ll be making my way thru the series just to see what happens.

The big thing we accomplished around the house last week was to paint the ceilings downstairs. They kinda did a crappy job when they built the house and it always bothered me, but it sometimes takes a while to get around to things. It’s a big room that includes my studio and our family room and Jeannie’s office (the size of all 3 bedrooms plus the hall and bathrooms and part of the kitchen), and it was a big job. We started Friday night and did most of the rest Saturday night, and finished Sunday afternoon. It’s the only way to fit in a big job like that. And of course that’s probably part of the reason I’m so burnt out right now. Still, we’ve been meaning to get around to it for a long time, and it’s much better than it was before. Cross another item off our hydra-headed todo list.

But you came here to read about turkeys, and by that I mean origami turkeys. In between everything else, I taught my Turkey at the Origami USA Special Sessions Saturday at the museum. I get a lot of great feedback on this model. I taught it last spring, but decided to it again this fall because of the tie-in with Thanksgiving. And I’m happy to say it went over quite well. It was a good group and they all did great at the model. Including one kid about Lizzy’s age. Wow.

I hadn’t folded the model in about a year couldn’t really remember how it went. It’s a pretty complex model (probably over 100 steps once I diagram it). As luck would have it, Friday at work our servers crapped out so I had some downtime and was able to fold a few attempts and get as far as the base. When I taught the class they were all advanced folders and got the idea of free-form sculpting the details from the base, so that wasn’t a problem. Still it’s good to work it out and take it to the next level. Absolutely necessary for diagramming for a book. Along the way I got some of the previously improvised parts a bit more formalized too, particularly in the tail, so I feel a lot better about this model then I did before. The only thing left to work out now is the head. Now if I can only find the right paper I can make an exhibit quality version.

I had some time a the end of my session so I taught my Walrus. (I usually bring whatever new models I have to these things to see what people think of them, and there were some requests to teach this one.) This is the kind of model I really like. It’s only 20 or 30 steps, but communicates so much, and not being so hard, a much wider range of people respond to it. This one will definitely get into my book. The slate is already pretty full for my first book and most of the diagrams are drawn, but I guess there’s the potential for a follow up. I only wish diagramming didn’t take so long. Recently people have been sending me email asking to make youtube videos teaching my models. I guess I should be grateful they ask, but I have to tell them no. Boy, why doesn’t some one volunteer to help diagram for my book? I guess that’s why we need diagramming software. And so the circle of futility is complete.

Here’s a crease pattern for the Turkey Base. Probably not enough detail to figure out how to fold the final model, but enough for the basic layout. Hint: it’s a modified bird base.

Music Update 2: Karn Evil 9

Here’s a new recording, a cover of Keith Emerson’s Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression, originally off the ELP album Brain Salad Surgery.

If you know me you know that Keith Emerson had long been one of my big musical idols. As a kid I was really into synthesizers and admired his pioneering synth work, although in those days most of his piano stuff was way beyond me. When Lizzy was a baby I quit playing in bands and had a big hole in my life. I bought a piano (up until that time I only had synths and my Fender Rhodes) and decided to finally learn how to really play, to get to the next level on piano as opposed to “keyboards”. I played a variety of stuff but focused mainly on jazz, and eventually stride, because without a rhythm section you can get across a whole song in a stride style. In the rock/pop realm there are only a handful of musicians who write on piano and have stuff that’s musically interesting and hangs together without a band – Lennon/McCartney, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Randy Neuman, Joe Jackson and a few others.

And then there’s Keith Emerson. Emerson Lake and Palmer were pretty much the prototype for a large swath of subsequent prog rock, and at the heart of it is Keith’s keyboards. I set out to learn a few of his big pieces, and they are head-and-shoulders above anything else I’ve studied in terms of imagination, complexity and difficulty. So I thought it would be a good idea to really work up a few and learn his secrets. I mastered three: Take a Pebble, The Endless Enigma, and Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression. Here’s one aspect of it: his music sounds high energy because it takes a lot of energy to play. He loves fast tempos and wide melodic intervals, so your hands are really moving a lot. Better be warmed up before you break into one of these numbers.

My version is a bit different, hopefully somewhat my own. I memorized it long ago and since it’s drifted from the original, so some parts are condensed and others expanded. Also, I play without the bass and drum accompaniment. Perhaps the biggest change is I use a Rhodes rather than a grand piano, to bring out the jazzy aspect of the piece. Although Emerson is widely regarded as a classically influenced pianist, he also has great jazz chops and sensibility, and was a big disciple of Dave Brubeck among others, and some of his best stuff is as much jazz as classical. I’ve often wondered why he didn’t do more in that direction. After all other prog guys Bill Bruford have tried their hand at it to the point where you could make the case that there is such a thing as British jazz. I guess once you’ve conquered arena rock there’s no great compulsion to stow the cannons and go for something more intimate and subdued.

(Aside: I read in the news recently that Keith survived some alarming emergency abdominal surgery. Stuff like that reminds you that everyone’s human. I wish him a speedy and full recovery, and hope to see him touring again before too long.)

My version is a bit more rubato, and perhaps not quite as strident or uptempo. The method I used was to record to a click track, merging together multiple takes. Once I was done I felt it sounded a bit stiff, so I ended up going back in and penciling in tempo changes to simulate the kind of feel that I give the tune when I play without a click track. That turned out to be pretty successful.

As far as the mix goes, there are actually six piano tracks. I triple tracked the part with three different samples, each in stereo. The main track is a straight-up Rhodes. Second is a Rhodes with tremolo and other effects, mixed to the left to provide some sonic motion. Third is a grand piano, mixed to the right and way down low, almost subliminal, to provide a bit of plonk on the low and trinkle on the high notes, just a bit of general attackiness. I put the effects on a bus rather than as channel inserts, to try and unify the sounds as one voice. I’ve been reading some books on mixing (more on that in another post) and got some ideas I wanted to try. The effects chain consists of some pretty heavy compression, followed by a really short delay and then a plate reverb. The return is mixed in just enough to add some presence without sounding overly processed. Then, since I’m not doing a legit mastering step for this song, I threw a limiter on the main bus on the way out. I think it came out quite nice.

Origami Great Dodecahedron

Way back in April I folded a Great Dodecahedron, posted the crease pattern, and promised pictures as soon as I got around to it…

Way back in April I folded a Great Dodecahedron, posted the crease pattern, and promised pictures as soon as I got around to it. Well I completed the model a long time ago, but only took pictures this weekend. I realized I haven’t updated my origami gallery in over a year, so I took photos of a bunch of models. Expect a major update to my origami gallery soon. But meanwhile, this shape deserves a special callout cuz it’s so cool.

Origami Narwhal

Inspired by my recent exploration into arctic marine mammals. This model is folded from a 12″ square of Canson. The tusk is produced from opposite side of the sheet as the rest of the model, so if I’d used a two-color sheet the tusk would be white and the body colored (same with my Walrus). I used an all-white sheet however, because I like the sculptablitly of the thicker sheet. I’m thinking of producing another model and painting one side of the paper with grey watercolors. It should produce a nice effect, but I’m concerned if I’ll be able to wetfold it later or if I’ll have to do the painting and folding all at once. Well I guess we’ll find out when I try it.

Music Update Part 1: Da Bass

You might wonder what I’ve been doing musically in the time between records. Rest assured, I’ve already started planning my next album, but there a few things I need to care of first. More on that soon.

Meanwhile, one thing I’ve been doing is woodshedding the bass. I want to improve the bass parts on my songs, which too often play a set pattern that follows the left hand of the piano rather than jam out and groove. I went thru a Geddy Lee phase a while ago, and learned the bass parts to a few Rush songs, including Xanadu. I even toyed with the idea of getting a Stienberger or Rickenbacker to get that punchy, toppy prog sound. (Although last tour I saw Rush, Geddy was playing a Fender Jazz.) But while I love writing in out meters and all that, I haven’t really been able to make his style of playing work with my songs, and have been looking for a less chopsy, more soulful direction.

My bass is a Fender P, and I’ve been reinvestigating my roots in the p-bass pantheon. I recently got a couple of books to study. One is R&B Bass masters, that has chapters on guys like James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey and Donald “Duck” Dunn, with a bio and a lesson. The lessons include drum parts that they suggest you lay into a sequencer, which have really specific annotations like “54% swing”. The other books is transcriptions to the bass parts from the first two Led Zeppelin albums. It all started one day a few weeks back when I picked out the bass part to Moby Dick, and thought it might be good to learn The Lemon Song. But I figured it’d be a lot easier just to read the parts than work them out by ear, so looked for the book and shaw’nuff someone had written it.

I remember as kid being captivated by John Paul Jones’s bass playing, and even with so much awesomeness going on in the rest of the music just listening to the bass over and over. Some of the he-man-woman-hater-club lyrics seem a little trite to me after all these years. The Lemon Song reminds me for all the world of the Chuck Jones Grinch Grinch cartoon. “You ain’t nothing but a no good two bit jive – with arsenic sauce!”

In any event, perhaps unique among hard rock and metal players, JPJ has a solid grounding in soul and R&B, and his riffs show it. (After 1970 or so it seemed all the English groups forgot how to use 7th chords. Maybe this was around the time Jimmy Page sold his soul to Lord Voldemort, who took back the 7th chord like the Ursula took Ariel’s voice, I dunno.) And it turns out the parts are not that hard. The electric bass is in fact just about the easiest instrument to play, provided you have big strong hands. It’s all about the groove and the musicality. There’s tons of great chromatic passing tone ideas and syncopation, almost straight out of bebop. Then laying into the heavy fourthsy stuff. Looking forward to getting it together to the point where I can cop some riffs.

Catching Up

I haven’t really had a chance to give a general update since the start of the school year back in early September. My deadline at work come and gone. The new rev of my product is in QA with the release slated for 11/15. It seems like I’m always in the middle of things.

It’s November now, halfway to winter break. Although the weather is starting to turn cold at night, it’s been really warm until a couple days ago. One day last week I walked up thru Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History to drop off my origami models for the holiday tree, and the temperature was in the 70’s. Now it’s in the 30’s in the mornings. Time to break out the hats and warm socks.

Jeannie and I got back to our house painting project. In the fall of 2008 into the winter we painted all three bedrooms, including the ceilings, plus touch-up in the living room, halls, kitchen and downstairs room. Last winter we didn’t do anything cuz I hurt my back. So this fall and winter we’re gonna finish the house. We did the ceilings in the upstairs hall, kitchen stairs and half the living room a couple weekends ago, and then the high part of the living room last weekend. It looks great and was not an overwhelming amount for work. We started Friday night with the taping up and edging. Saturday we did the roller work, and were done by mid-afternoon. The hardest part was the stairs because we needed the big ladder, which is hard to move around. We did the high part of the ceiling in one night. The only difficulty was that the extension handle to the roller broke midway thru, so I did a lot of trips up and down the ladder. The plan now is sometime before Christmas do the ceiling in the downstairs. Then it’s down to touching up the trim, which we’ll start after the new year.

We’ve had some time for fun in there too. Way back in September, we went to the Maker Faire when it visited NYC. Had fun playing with robots and electric hula hoops. Plus the event was at the New York Hall of Science, which I’d never been to before. Jeannie and the girls had been and love the place, and they’re right – it’s very cool. In particular there’s a really great discovery playground. It was also the first outing as a family with the new Prius. Tons of Prii in the parking lot. Don’t know if it’s just the effect of noticing when you get a new car, or maybe the Maker Faire is the kind of event that tends to attract the same kind of people that drive a Prius anyway.

We took a day trip up to a farm near New Paltz in October. Met up with Martin and family, and picked apples and pumpkins. Came home with three giant pumpkins, which have been carved into jack-o-lanterns and placed on the front stoop, where they are now serving as squirrel food. When we were done at the farm we went into town for lunch, and ended up walking around the historical district, where houses dating back to 1705 and older are still standing as a sort of park or museum. Pretty neat. The motivating excuse for the outing was to give Prius a good run on the highway. The car did not disappoint. It got 46 mpg.

Inspired by Maker Faire Jeannie finally got around to getting herself a Lego robot kit from her gambling winnings way back from our trip to Tahoe. While she was at it, she picked up a minifig of Jedi Master Yoda to hang from the rearview mirror of her car. “It’s a toy Yoda for my Toyota, see?”.

A friend lent us season one of the new Battle Star Galactica. The idea is to make it our main video entertainment for the coming winter. So far we’ve only had a chance to watch the pilot, which was excellent. I’d forgotten what a compelling actor Edward James Olmos is. I hope does some origami in this show.

Somewhere in there Jeannie and I celebrated our anniversary, Halloween (Lizzy was an aqua witch and Michelle a devil), and put on a birthday party for Lizzy. Now it’s time to make plans for camping and ski trips. Hopefully the end of the year will be a little less hectic. I know I have some vacation time that I have to use soon.