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The end of mixed feelings and a new demo

Spheres_screenshot3

Warning: this post begins with a bit of a long rant / history lesson, so if you just want to see the demo, skip down..

Update (27.04.2011): I added a few paragraphs a bit further down to clarify some points.

Last week was a pretty big demoscene week. I finished a prod for the competition at The Gathering 2011 and I also spent two days there with my wife (and one of them with my daughter as well, who charmed pretty much everyone on the hall with her antics). 

Maja_tg11

At this point I should mention, for those who might not know, that I used to be one of the main organizers of The Gathering (from 2000 until 2005, and I was a crew-member for many years before that). When I decided to stop doing that in 2005, it was not an easy decision – a big part of me wanted to carry on, but ultimately I decided against it, mostly for the following reasons:

  • The party no longer represented the people who were important to me – demosceners
  • A vast majority of the crew had little or no interest in the roots of the scene, returning to the party year after year just to meet friends and do nothing creative
  • I didn’t like who I became when I entered “full-on organizer-mode” – too much yelling and running around, to little creating – not fun, and not productive

So I quit the TG organization and started focusing on two other areas instead: “my” (as in: I was one of the original founders and I’m currently the only remaining one) party – Solskogen, and Scene.org. I can safely say (and I’m sure others will agree) that this was the right choice indeed. Solskogen has since 2002 grown to become a must-attend event for almost the entire Norwegian (and scandinavian) demoscene, and all while not being a bitch to organize. The crew is fantastic, and our returning guests make the party what it is.

My second demoscene “occupation” is with Scene.org – the largest demoscene archive in the world – where I involve myself with getting sponsors for the actual site (and it’s services) as well as doing outreach for the demoscene. The latter is a bit of a hot topic for some who believe that the scene should stay small and hidden. Naturally, I do not agree. :) This is why I travel to conferences pretty much all over the world (either on my own dime, or because I’ve been invited) to speak about the demoscene, real-time graphics and computer subculture.

I dig doing both of those things, and it does leave me free to pursue other demoscene-related activities without completely burning through my spare time, but leaving The Gathering as an organizer wasn’t easy, and some small part of me always wished I hadn’t.

Until last week. 

The Gathering 2011

When I went there last friday I became completely at peace with my decision 6 years ago, and here’s why:

  • I would only have held back the few people who longed to expand the creative areas of TG outside the conventions of the demoscene
  • Those people are today the most important people in the TG organization, because they have managed to do what I thought impossible: breathe new life into the creative areas of a huge, commercial “hybrid” computer event (I can’t call it a demo-party because it’s not, and I won’t call it a “LAN-party” because it’s so much more than that as well)
  • Had I stayed, I would only have burned myself out trying to accomplish something impossible, and I would have taken everyone else down with me

So you see, The Gathering – a party I had attended since 1993 (I was 15) – will always have a special place in my heart. The Gathering 1993 changed my life, and The Gathering 2011 changed it again – in a different way. I must give mad props to the people of the (semi-awkwardly named) “Creativia”-crew: you guys (and girls) rock. I had a great time this year, and not because I placed 4th in the competition (I’ll get to that in a bit :), in fact – not because of that at all, but because the Creativia lounge, the professional stage shows, competitions and buzz at the event was “just right” this year. I dug it.

Will I return to organize The Gathering? Nope, never, but it’s okay, because I don’t want to either. There are new kids in town, and they are doing a way better job of taking care of the creative heritage of The Gathering than I can. The good bet is to stick with them. Mixed feelings about TG? Not anymore.

Update: What people seem to be forgetting is that these things are cyclical, they come and go. Which is, as explained above, why I left TG as an organizer. At the time, it was interpreted by some as laziness or giving up, but the simple truth is that I simply couldn’t see how I could contribute any more, and the best thing was to move out of the way and let someone else take over. After that, the remaining team tried some different things, but they appeared to me (as an outsider) to be attempts at rehashing the past and after a few years they tried something else, with a mix of new and old people. This last time however, it worked. Bigtime.

At the head of every uprise there are eager and talented people pulling their weight to make it happen. In the past, that has included me, but now there are other people at the helm, and I couldn’t be happier. Again: congrats to the TG Creativia-crew – a fantastic collection of people, I’m impressed and forever grateful, because a positive creative experience at TG – the biggest event of it’s kind in Norway and almost in the world – has a spillover effect on everything around it, including Solskogen – my baby.

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Spheres on a plane

Oh, yes – the demo. It was about half a year ago that I spoke to a friend of mine whom I’ve done demos with in the past if we should perhaps team up again for a new production – a big one. The kind of demo that wins parties with twice the amount of votes as the second place. He was up for it, and we started scheming. However, due to various things that happen when you’re an adult, it became apparent that this demo would not be doable within the timeframe we were looking at (and because we were lacking a good 3D artists – a must-have if you’re aiming for the kind of show that we were in fact trying to pull off).

We therefore went back to the drawing-board and decided on making a very peculiar piece of art, inspired by various motion graphics pieces found on Vimeo (and other places). Something weird and highly conceptual. Something that threw all the conventional demoscene “guidelines” out the window.

What we came up with was this:

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/22878274 w=640&h=336]

Overall there is quite a bit of advanced code in this one, even though it might not look it. It is by no means a “throwaway-demo” based on “leftover effects” as at least one moronic person on the internet have described it. For example, the AO is particularily nice, and there are a fair amount of GI-trickery going on as well.

There is also physics-based animation in almost every part of the demo, but only subtle, and not in a traditional “THIS IS PHYSICS! LOOK AT IT!”-way that demoscene productions tend to use. I’m going to write a follow-up piece that goes a bit more in-depth about the various tricks that went into making the demo. Look for it within a few days.

In the meantime, you can download the demo and run it on your own computer (preferably one with a fast GPU (NVIDIA) and CPU – it also needs to run either Windows Vista or 7 – sorry, no XP-support).

I am very happy with the way the demo turned out. I believe the best part of it was after the competition screening at the party, and someone (I can’t remember who, unfortunately) described it as “David Lynch-like” – whoever you were, thanks for that one.

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The NVIDIA tech demo I worked on

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbSo7onX9qI?rel=0&hd=1]

Last year I was involved with a project to make a tech demo for NVIDIA. Yesterday a video capture of it was finally released to the public, enabling me to talk about it.

The demo was made to showcase the best of NVIDIAs technologies and was targeted towards the then new “Fermi”-architecture (now known as the GeForce 400-series of graphics cards). The tech demo was developed by Virtex, a Norwegian company formed by friends of mine whom are also well-known in the demoscene for making demoscene demos that are of the very highest quality. The demo was first shown used during the opening keynote at the 2010 GPU Technology Conference in San Jose, California.

My role in the project was first and foremost to make the music for it, a process that was very fluid and tightly tied to the status of the visuals (which changed over time). If I wasn’t still bound by the NDA I would share a bit more about the process of making the demo, but you’re not really missing out – it was very demanding and made some of the smartest people I know to go “Huh, how do we do THAT?” more than once, which was fun –  watching very clever people be stumped is always a good thing, because then you know you’re really pushing it.

For the tech-heads: the demo was developed in C++ using DirectX10 for rendering, and features physics simulations of rigid bodies and a 3D-version of the famous Koch Snowflake fractal. It uses CUDA, PhysX and is 3D-VISION enabled (you can use 3D glasses for a really immersive experience).

A special nod goes to Einar Grønbekk (YouTube / Twitter) for being my session-guitarist on this project. At some point I hope to be able to release the soundtrack on my SoundCloud-page.

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A full weekend of demoscene goodness

Unitzeroone_mrdoob_gloom

UnitZeroOne, Mr Doob and myself. Picture by Ralph Hauwert.

Having lived in a bubble for the last three days to finish two demos for the TRSAC demoparty in Denmark, I’m very happy with the outcome: 1st and 2nd place in the main competition was more than I had hoped for and a pleasant surprise.

I wasn’t very involved in the visuals of the winner demo (“Electric Bullet” by ASD & Excess) apart from a short discussion on what went where in relation to the music. The demo is a remix of an existing demo and therefore a different demomaking experience for me. I’m usually very involved with the visuals, but this time this was handled entirely by Navis, the main coder of ASD – Andromeda Software Development. We’ve been talking about doing something together for a while, and the remix-idea was non-time-commital enough for both of us to make it work. I’m very happy with the result, check it out below:

Area Unstable by gloom

For the 2nd place (“Area Unstable” by Badsquare), it was more similar to how I usually work with demos (involved with graphics and the syncing/direction), but on a entirely new platform: Adobe Flash. I have never worked with this platform before, and luckily I had the privilige of having hot-shot Flash-guru UnitZeroOne (Ralph Hauwert) as the coder. Sander van den Borne did the original theme and the graphics for it. I made the music and sync. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and check out the video below as well:

 

Electric Bullet by gloom

Overall, I unfortunately did not get to spend as much time at the partyplace as I wanted, but as they say in the demoscene: “pulling a TBL” is sometimes needed. Thanks to Ralph and Marie for playing hosts to myself and Mr Doob which was also staying with us over the weekend.

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From one groove-based producer to another

Once in a while, you stumble upon a website, a video, a text or a story that you experience and just go “Yeah, exactly! Why can’t I explain it that well to people?!”. This is exactly the feeling I’m left with after watching this series of videos by breakbeat producer Ctrl-Z. I’m usually not a fan of YouTube-tutorials, because they tend to be very badly done.

This one is an exception. In fact: it is bloody brilliant.

I’m not a musical genius, I’m more of a groove-base producer..

It was that quote who made me go into Vulcan mind-meld-mode with Tommy Dash. In short, there is absolutely nothing in this video-series I don’t agree with, and even better: he explains all of the concepts and techniques so goddamn smoothly and easily – anyone can understand them.

If you’re into electronic music (not just breakbeat) you owe yourself to watch the series because it is filled to the rim with great tips and tricks. If, at the end of it, you didn’t learn anything, you’re already BT and can relax knowing you’re already brilliant enough as it is.

Needless to say, most of us aren’t BT, and therefore stand to benefit from watching these videos. I put them into a playlist for you, so go ahead – watch them now!

If you can’t be bothered to spend 50 minutes learning techniques and tricks that’ll make you a better producer then you’re being stupid. That said, if you are going to watch them later but just want the quick-caption-review of the most important bits, here they are:

  • You’ll learn how to treat your low-end to make your tracks sound good in clubs (essential!)
  • Learn how to fix phasing issues – it might sound boring, but you need to know this
  • Put your drums in submixes – yes, do it – it will help you!
  • Compose rocking basslines and treat them the right way
  • Dealing with vocals in a mix that’s mid-high-heavy already
  • Really quick ways to avoid spending your days drawing automation data
  • How not to piss off your mastering engineer (essential!)
  • When not to use distortion (what?! yes, there are times when you shouldn’t)
  • A multitude of “I should have thought of that” tips to keep your tracks non-boring
  • Many, many tips for NI Massive – if you use that synth, you need to see these just for those tips

So that was my “two-months late” fourth blogpost.. and it’s not even my content. How lazy! But: don’t waste time on semantics – watch those videos instead. Thanks to Never Say Die Records for making them available on the web, and support your tutor by buying some Ctrl-Z music on iTunes.

    Taking your Windows home studio with you on your Mac laptop (or vice versa)

    Disclaimer: if you are not keen on taking a small step outside of your comfort-zone, this guide might not be for you. However: if you’re willing to spend a few hours (and perhaps a few bucks, depending on your current setup) you might find it very handy and a headache-remover.

    Let me paint you a picture: you have a powerful PC or Mac at home on which you do all of your DAW-related tasks – recording, composing and mixing. You have your expensive studio monitors, your MIDI-keyboard, perhaps some outboard gear or physical synths. I have all of that, and yet, what I end up using most of the time is just the computer and my DAW of choice plus VSTi soft synths and some sample CDs.

    In this loosely-formatted guide I’ll show you how I manage to take most of my studio-life on the road on my laptop without much hassle. The trick lies in what tasks you perform where – and a little bit of technology and internet wizardy. Note: my examples will be based around my own usecases (which is: Windows-PC at home, Macbook Pro when travelling), but if you’re using the same OS in both places you can just skip over those bits.

    1) Picking the rights tools for the job

    More often than not, the tools are there for you – to aid and assist you, to comfort and help you along your way. This is not always the case with audio software though. Even so-called cross-platform bundle-files from Pro Tools, the perhaps most recognized name in audio technology today, does not always work the way it should. Take a session-file from a Mac and move it to a different Pro Tools version on a PC, and it might be broken, or not even open.

    The first step is choosing a DAW to work in that handles their files the same way, no matter the platform. For me, that DAW is Reaper, but it could also be Cubase or Logic which are known to be good in that regard. Your mileage might vary, so check the compatibility before you begin. Also be aware that some DAW suites do not allow you to install the license on two machines at the same time, which is a dealbreaker if you indeed plan to use your laptop when you’re out of your home studio.

    The second part is to make sure you use plugins that have both a Windows and a Mac version. Not all plugins offer cross-platform compatibility (or two different versions) so be sure to check that out before you begin. Generally, Native Instruments are a good bet if you want to use the same software on both OSX and Windows. Bonus: their licenses do indeed allow installation on two machines at the same time.

    2) Freedom is not free..

    In this guide I’m using Dropbox to keep files and folders in sync. There is a free version that you can use if you just want to experiment a bit, but if you want to really cut loose from your home studio, you’ll quickly find that the 2 GB space included will come sort of your requirements. I have the 50 GB version, which is $9.99 a month, and considering I also use it to sync work-files and other non-musically-related stuff, it’s a goddamn bargain.

    If you have never heard about Dropbox, allow me to take 30 seconds to explain it to you: Dropbox is centralized storage (in the cloud, as they say in these Web 2.0-days) which is a copy of the files and folders you choose to host there. If you install Dropbox on more than one computer, the same files and folders are synced down (read: copied down from the cloud) to all of the computers you use Dropbox with. If you change or add a file to any one of your “Dropboxed” computers, that file is almost instantly added to all of your other computers.

    If I totally failed at describing the concept, watch this video. If you need a guide to installing it, I found one on YouTube which might be of assistance.

    Note: It’s not exactly iron-clad, but as a very remedial sort of backup, Dropbox keeps a couple of revisions of your stuff, so if you accidentally delete an important file from your laptop, and it then also disappears from your home computer, just log into the web interface for Dropbox and restore the file from there. Now, the revisions don’t go that far back, and the more space you use on your Dropbox, the less it revisions it will keep. It is STRONGLY suggested that you back up all of your stuff regulary to a more conventional destination, such as an external harddrive, or better: a 24/7 automated online backup service such as Mozy or CrashPlan. I have personally used both and while there are not much difference, my personal preference lies with CrashPlan.

    The second part is hardware-based. Now, this might be skippable for you, but I find that having the same soundcard with me, and the same set of headphone as well, really let’s me work as if was at the same machine the entire time. I use a Fireface 800, but you’re free to go with whatever gets the job done. My reasons for picking the Fireface 800 was that it has stable drivers on both Windows 7 and OSX.

    3) Centralize your storage

    This one is a biggie. If you’re anything like me, you like to keep your files organized in a certain manner. Luckily for me, the way I do it is very easy to mobilize. This is what my directory structure looks like on the PC:

    For samples:

    D:SampleCDsSampleCD1WAVS
    etc.

    For project files:

    D:MusicTransistorbassTracktitle

    Under the project directory I have two sub directories: “assets” and “renderings”. In “assets”, I keep loose files such as individual samples for that particular project, and in “renderings” I keep the final rendered WAV-files as well as MP3-versions of them for quick auditions on a variety of platforms (I’ll come back to this).

    This makes it very easy for me to set these master folders up as shared in Dropbox. Sharing the folders will make them automatically sync betwee the computers if there are changes to them or any of the sub directories or files.

    4) Pick your battles. Don’t go into this thinking that the road is the ideal place for all tasks. There are some things (like proper monitoring and mixing) that are best suited to being done in the proper environment. Leave those tasks for when you are in your home studio. Tasks suited for the road are: composing, working with others, recording and live performances of course.

    If you’ve read so far, you probably guess where this is all heading – there is no magic button or secret sauce. All you have to do is to make sure you use software that play well on both platforms and keep your files in sync between them. However: after having done this for a while I’ll share some small, personal tricks with you that might make things even easier:

    1. Only sync what you need to. Try to just sync those sample-CDs you find yourself always reaching for, and the projects you’re currently working on. Don’t include “Bernard Huffy’s Brass Band Gold” from your sample-CD directory unless you actually use that on every project. In which case there is no hope for you anyway :)
    2. Use the Dropbox mobile clients to take your music with you everywhere. This is why I always keep an MP3 in the “renderings”-directory of my music projects at all times. I can then play that over the air via Dropbox on my iPhone. I can even “star” it to keep a local copy at all times. Fantastic for previews and sharing your latest track with friends in bars.
    3. Use some sort of remote management software on your main home studio computer. This is for the times when you discovered that the sample or project you wanted wasn’t in the shared folder and you need a copy of it ASAP. I use LogMeIn Free because it’s very good, works on both Windows and Macs, in addition to being totally cost free. For ultimate freedom, you can also get the iPhone/iPad version of the client, but the price at time of writing is $29.99, making it sort of a luxury for most. Note: even though it says you’re signing up for a “Pro Account”, you’re really just starting a trial. After 30 days it’s converted to a “Free Account”
    4. You can disable syncing of certain folders temporarily, if you know you’ll be abroad, roaming on some hellishly expensive 3G-modem or something.

    I hope this “guide” was of some use to you. Take care!

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    FITC Toronto 2010 video recording

    Fitc_toronto_2010_logo

    I got a mail from Shawn at FITC last night where he told me that the video recording of my talk at FITC Toronto 2010 was published on Vimeo. My immediate thought was “Oh no, I hate watching myself speak, but I have to see it anyway..“. It is indeed weird to see yourself talk, but as a public speaker it’s also a useful exercise to analyze yourself while talking. There are two main reasons for this:

    1. People will always tell you you were good, even if you weren’t.
    2. Your own impression of how the talk went will almost always be wrong. Either you’re too happy with yourself, or you’re too self-critical.

    After having watched the video I can honestly say that I’m pretty happy with the talk. There are some sloppy bits, internal jokes and unfocused moments, but overall I think it went well.

    ..which is why it was such a disappointment to discover that all of the demos in the video feature mega-distorted audio from the PA-system and not a smooth line-out signal from the PC I used to show the demos. Basically, if you’re watching the video above to see demos, you’ll see some dark bits and massive amounts of distorted bass. Now, distorted bass can most definitely be a good thing, but not when it’s like this.

    Currently, I’m downloading the MP4 from Vimeo and plan to re-edit it with high-quality video captures in place of the distorted mess in the official video. Apologies to the FITC AV-people and all, but I sort of just have to – I’m sure you understand.

    This is the list of demos I showed in my talk:

    1. Quantum by Outracks (download executable or watch online)
    2. Regus Ademordna by Excess (download executable or watch online)
    3. Sunshine in a box by Dead Roman (download executable or watch online)
    4. Media Error by Fairlight (download executable or watch online)
    5. Stargazer by Andromeda & Orb (download executable or watch online)
    6. Debris by farbrausch (download executable or watch online)
    7. Frameranger by Fairlight, Orange & CNCD (download executable or watch online)
    8. Elevated by RGBA & TBC (download executable or watch online)

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    How I learned to stop using ACID and started to love the Reaper

    If you know anything about musicians, it’s that they hardly ever change their DAW software. If you didn’t know that already, well, now you do. I’m no exception to this rule. In fact, after my childhood years using trackers on the Amiga (and later, on the PC), and a three/four-year flirt with Cakewalk and Pro Tools, I started using ACID – and I loved it!

    This was around 2000/2001, and back then it was released by Sonic Foundry – the people behind the quite excellent Sound Forge editing suite. A few years later, Sonic Foundry was bought by Sony (taking both products, and more, with them) and it was around that time that things started going tits up with the ACID suite.

    Still – I kept using it. Both because I knew the program inside and out, and also because – despite frequent crashes and lots of limitations and annoyances – I could work quite fast in it. The third reason looming in the background was of course the most obvious: there wasn’t really any alternatives out there. So, I stuck with it – for 10 years.

    I’m glad to say that has now changed.

    V3-headss

    A few months ago I became aware of DAW named Reaper. At the time I wasn’t really doing much music because of work and fatherhood, and I didn’t think much of it. I downloaded it, ran it, liked it fine enough and closed the program. It was about a week ago that I suddenly felt the urge to do a little composing again, and just for kicks I “forced” myself to try Reaper instead of just firing up ACID like so many times before, and boy am I glad I did. In about an hour I had learned pretty much all I needed to work both fast and efficiently with the program, and I started to feel at home in it.

    Of course, I knew that the people behind Reaper (a former Nullsoft-founder (WinAMP) and the guy behind the excellent Stillwell Audio VST-plugins) had set up Reaper to feature a lot of the same shortcuts as ACID, in order to spur some conversion-wins from that camp, but there was more than that. The software didn’t crash, it didn’t lag, it loaded both softsynths and samples faster than ACID, and the ease of use was just breathtaking.

    I especially liked how friggin’ easy it was to set up automation. It’s literally “right-click, pick the controller you’d like to automate, done!”

    Reap_screen8

    It’s sort of hard to describe how much of an advantage something like that is for someone who makes music using the computer, but it is is a really big deal. After I discovered that fantastic feature I kept delving deeper and deeper into the software and found feature after feature that I never knew I missed, but now cannot imagine living without.

    At this point I should mention that Reaper runs on both Windows and Mac. For someone like me, who has a home studio with a pretty beefy Windows 7-machine and a MacBook Pro for work and travels, it’s brilliant. Not only is it cross-platform, but both versions actually work. In addition to that, I also use a USB 2.0 soundcard with a breakout-box, which also works on both my PC and my Mac. Brilliant! (oh, and I have a follow-up post with portable studio tips in me, I just have to find time to write it).

    I don’t know what kind of people will end up reading this, but if you’re into musicmaking and you’re using something like Pro Tools, Sonar, Logic, ACID or one of the many other DAW programs out there, I urge you to give Reaper a try. The trial version is not crippled in any way, and if you decide to switch (something I predict you will if you just spend a few hours with the software), it will only cost you just $60 $40 to purchase a licensea bargain no matter how you see it!

    This turned into more of a rant than I thought it would, but hey – that’s what blogs are for. :)

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