The Live Rig Expands

The Novation X-Station 25With reverential’s reduction in size, I’m going to be doing more on stage, and that means I need to be more versatile. There are an amazing number of great-quality, free VST plugins available out there, as well as hosts, and I’ve been looking to add a computer to my setup to run these for a while now. Those of you who know me know that computing power is not a problem; the problem is the connection between my keyboards and a computer: MIDI, and that all-important factor, the audio interface. Well, that problem got rather neatly solved in the form of the Novation X-Station 25 (click here for a bigger image). This is not only an amazing piece of gear, but provided the solutions to several problems or gaps I had in my rig. In addition to a nifty little synth on-board, the X-Station provides, via USB, a MIDI interface and a bi-directional audio interface, as well as a fully-programmable MIDI control surface and 2 channels of audio processing for external gear, complete with effects. This is a beautifully-designed, well-constructed instrument, and it works flawlessly in every regard.

The downside of now owning something that unlocks the VST plugin world for me is that it’s going to take years to play with everything out there long enough to know if it’s going to be useful to me live, then get the sounds programmed/tweaked, and then program the X-Station’s control surface to control it live. Not to mention learning the onboard synth. It’s a daunting task, but wow, is it ever *fun*. I haven’t been this excited about programming patches and MIDI and audio routing in years.

Once I get the new live rig assembled, I’ll be posting some pictures and descriptions (I hope to diagram out the MIDI routing and post that too, along with all the details of reverential’s stage setup). Stay tuned!

Piano Lessons, Take 2

I’m taking piano lessons again! I haven’t taken lessons for 20 years, but this is something I’ve been thinking about for some time now. I have definitely reached the point where I *know* I can be doing more with my playing, especially my weekly playing for our church’s contemporary morning service. Through a collegue at work, I’ve found a great teacher, from whom I’ll be learning technique and style in both classical and jazz, some theory, and eventually composition (he writes jazz). I’ve had two lessons so far, and it’s been great. I think a large part of what I needed was the accountability to practice every day. Taking (and paying for) lessons is really great for that!

So now all I need is a piano. I’ve been using my CME controller and my Alesis NanoPiano module, which is OK (the CME has 76 notes and semi-weighted keys), but not great. I would really love to buy an accoustic (a baby grand if we’re really dreaming, but even a good upright would be nice), and I’ve started to look around, but I think realistically, I’ll probably be buying a digital for now. Not that it’s all bad, either. There’s a new Yamaha I’ve been playing in a music store I frequent, and it’s really nice. Hammer action, ok speakers, good sounds (samples) MIDI, USB – all the bells and whistles – for a decent price. I’ll let you know what I end up with.

And Then There Were Two: The Latest reverential Reincarnation

Last week was one that could very well be looked back on as a turning point for the band I’m in: after learning that our lead guitarist and bassist wanted out, we got word that our drummer was leaving, too. Fortunately, all the “important” people (sorry, guys!) are left: my friend, Dan, and I. Yup, reverential is now a duo. Which is fine: a lot of the artists I listen to are either solo acts or duos, so this can work. And, thanks to a little technology, we’re going to make it work.

Dan is the creative force behind this endevour. He’s on vocals and guitar, but he’s also the songwriter, and is a wizard with Live, Reason, and putting songs together. As the keyboardist in the group, it was sometimes hard to find that sonic space in the song to put my stuff, but that just got easier, even if it’s more demanding. To that end, I’ve been working on changing my live setup. It’s not finalized yet, but in addition to the Karma and the UF7, I’ll be adding a 25-key controller/synth of some sort (very likely either a Novation X-Station or XioSynth), and a laptop with softsynths. By the time I’m done, it will look a little different from the past.

Stay tuned for updates, pictures and gear/software descriptions!

Fun With High-Voltage Electronics

This weekend, one of the inverters in our solar array was showing a fault, and was off-line. Normally, this would have been a problem, because it would have meant calling the company that installed it. Now, they did a good job with the installation, and I have no problem with their technical expertise with these systems, but there were issues during the installation, and there is still one outstanding issue with them that they refuse to communicate with us on. So while they are obligated to support the system, and I would call them if there was something wrong, I’m going to explore other options first.

I checked the manual for meaning of the error code, which explained it and basically said “call the manufacturer (of the inverter)”. Not good so far. I went to their website, where I knew they had a forum, and was able to find a post with the same problem, and the tech had pointed that person to a technical document they had published, saying that it was possible to fix this problem in the field.

I downloaded the 4 page PDF, and started to read, immediately seeing the words “The Sunny Boy Inverters operate with potentially lethal voltage and current from multiple power sources. Only qualified personnel should attempt to work on the inverter”. It promised to be interesting…

It turned out to be a fairly simple proceedure, jumpering a couple of sets of pins on the main board, applying DC power, removing the jumpers in a certain order, and applying AC power, but it was done with the cover off and all sorts of warnings of lethal voltages visible. Really steady-hand-inspiring stuff.

Everything worked the first time, the inverter came back online, and all is well. I’m still not sure if I should be thinking “nice job”, or “what was I thinking?”, but I still have my healthy respect for potentially lethal voltages and currents, so I’m going with the former.

Some keywords which might help other owners: SMA SunnyBoy 2500U EEPROM_d error