Music Tech

Mac Day 2 8/26/09

Tonight was dedicated to getting to know the Mac Book’s audio capabilities a little more, particularly in relation to the collaboration I do in Second Life (SL). The setup for SL can be quite complicated. Both collaborators in our performances need to hear each other in real time, while at the same time sending a signal to the Second Life audience (either “in world” directly or via Skype). Network lag is often an issue. This type of thing is not for the faint of heart.

Second Life navigation on a MacBook is a bit different. There’s not Page Up or Page Down key, so flying is different. Steve noted that he uses E and C, but I also found Fn+Up Arrow to work too. The built-in audio on the MacBook is OK for barebones interactivity, and worked flawlessly for listening to music in Second Life and the microphone input worked well using voice chat. I was even able to just play guitar in the room and Steve heard it, but without a meter to see levels, controlling clipping was a bit difficult. Our performances usually require more instruments and electronics, so another approach is needed.

The line input is used to send a signal into the MacBook from another device. In my case, I used a guitar through a Memory Man stereo effect pedal. The first thing I noted was that the headphone and line in jacks are so close together that it is hard to use them both if your connectors are large. I tried three very quick tests with the Line In: One with CubaseLE, one with Garageband, and one in Second Life.

I’ve used Cakewalk/Sonar for years, but this is my first outing with CubaseLE, so I am sure most of the trouble I had will go away with more exposure. I was able to see a signal coming in via the meters, but I was unable to get that signal to record to a track, even though the track was armed and had the correct source. I obviously need to spend more time in CubaseLE to understand what went wrong here.

Garageband is also new to me, though I have lots of experience with loop-based music from Acid Pro and Reason. The first time out, I got an audio track to record fairly easily, with seemingly identical settings as CubaseLE.

Using the line input in Second Life was more problematic. Steve was able to hear my signal, but I could not monitor it at the same time. (I will need to check again to see if I missed something because this seems rather odd.) Steve noted some crunchiness in the signal, likely from clipping, but this was hard to gauge since I couldn’t hear what he was hearing.

Since the line input was only a signal from my guitar, Steve could not hear me speaking. On the Mac sound control panel, you can select either the microphone input or line-in, but not both. This is similar to what you find on a PC with built-in sound as well. There are two ways around this:

A) Use a dedicated audio interface and a mixer.

B) Run a line-level output from a mixer into the Mac.

I chose option A. Luckily, I had an Edirol UA-25 audio interface on hand. This is platform-independent two-channel unit that I once used on my main studio PC. hen When I upgraded to a FirePod, I kept the Edirol for a spare for portable recording on our HP laptop. The Edirol install on the Mac proved to be the most challenging so far. The original driver that came with the Edirol was not compatible with Intel-based Macs, so I had to download a new driver. All told, I had to restart three times before it was installed properly. Luckily the reboot on this machine is very fast.

Once the Edirol was running, I was able to route a small mixer to it and swap between a guitar and voice signal as needed (or anything else I plugged into the mixer). I could also monitor all of this off of the Edirol headphone output. But now I had a separate problem: hearing Steve. I did this by listening to the speakers on the Mac. (This is the exact same scenario that has arisen with my PC Second Life setup.)

These Second Life and audio tests were admittedly very rushed. I did not have much time to prep before my appointed time to work on this with Steve, and I had to cut things off after an hour to have dinner. More focus is required to really work out the kinks. I never saw the Mac as a solution to all of my SL audio issues, but SL does look better on the Mac, and it would probably be my device of choice to establishing my in-world connection.

Since some of the music-making I do requires plug-ins running on a dedicated computer (which takes up channels and uses processing power), I can continue my experiments with multiple PCs or a PC and Mac combined to divide the processing duties. It’s hard to manage everything on one screen anyway. As of right now, the audio architecture of both the PC and Mac platforms does not solve all of the SL quirks that we’ve encountered. I’d be interested in working with any developers out there who might be able to solve these issues.

After dinner, I wrestled with my email setup again. I was able to get the mail application to go into a loop and had to “Force Quit” (the Mac version of the PC action of Ctrl-Alt-Del/Task Manager). After contacting my ISP to get recommendations on settings, I finally got the email account working (though the settings they gave me had to be tweaked slightly).

Tomorrow: Printing!! …


By jjdeprisco

Sonic explorer, sound artist, guitarist in Fricknadorable, software designer.

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