By Jim Miller
You can file this issue's column under the heading "Events That Have Changed My Life." As I'm sitting in my studio writing this, I'm also wrestling with a kidney stone. You've probably heard about these things or even know someone who has had one. Believe me, everything you've heard about the experience is true. And while kidney stones are not ordinarily considered life-threatening, I can tell you from firsthand experience that when you have one, you're pretty much convinced you are indeed going to die. When I had my initial "stone attack" (known in medical terms as renal colic), it felt like someone had driven a red-hot spike into my back. That was for starters - then it just got worse. I won't go into the details here, but trust me, you don't want one of these things.
Right now I'm waiting to find out if the procedure I had last week worked and blasted the stone. It's called "Electro Shock Wave Lithotripsy," and basically it's a machine that actually uses ultra high intensity sound waves to literally smash the stone into little tiny pieces. This usually works in most cases, but if it doesn't, I'm facing some nasty surgery.
No, I'm not telling you this so that you'll feel sorry for me. See, despite all the pain this thing has caused me, I feel it's been a very positive experience. A month ago I might have said I was reasonably satisfied with my life, but like most people, I wished I had more money, more recognition for my work, more leisure time, etc. You know, just the usual stuff. But today, I realize that what's really important is the love and support of family and friends (including my very good friends at Sweetwater), as well as my health. And folks, I just can't wait until I feel well enough to get back in the studio and start making some music again.
I'm really lucky to have learned this lesson at a time when I will indeed eventually be healthy and pain-free again, whether that's a few days from now or a few months. Some people learn it too late. I personally wish I had learned it a long time ago, because I certainly would have made better use of my time. It also gives me a new and very profound respect for people who live with disabilities or have to face every day knowing they are going to be in pain. These people are far braver than any of us can even begin to imagine.
So please, the next time you walk into your studio, no matter how relatively modest or grandly elaborate, if you don't already do so, I hope you'll take just a minute to appreciate just how lucky we all are to have our music. I know I'll never spend a single minute making music without being grateful for the ability to hold a guitar in my hands or grab a handful of keys or even pound some drums. Life - and music - is a great and glorious gift that I for one will never take for granted again.
Well, enough of that deep, thought-provoking stuff. We're all here to talk about ways to get the most out of our music, right? Longtime readers of this column know that I almost never jump on the bandwagon of a specific product. Honestly, that's tough because there are so many absolutely wonderful products being made these days. Manufacturers know that musicians aren't going to be fooled into buying an inferior piece of equipment or software package, mostly because the overwhelming majority of today's musicians are so well informed thanks to consumer-oriented publications like Electronic Musician, Keyboard, Recording, Guitar Player and many others that I just don't have room to mention here. There's also the knowledgeable sales engineers here at Sweetwater who literally won't be able to sleep tonight if you end up with gear that you're disappointed with (that's a somewhat shameless - but utterly sincere - plug, just in case you maybe missed it).
However, since I make at least part of my living from creating sample libraries (and thus am indebted to anyone who makes that pursuit easier), and also because I know and appreciate how difficult it is for a new business to be successful in this incredibly competitive market, I'm going to make an exception and say wonderful things about a company called Bias (that's an acronym for Berkeley Integrated Audio Software) and a great new software product called "Peak."
Peak is essentially a do-it-all program for Macintosh computers that lets you record audio directly into most Macs (with or without a soundcard), then edit that audio with a host of ultra-sophisticated tools via a very user-friendly interface, and finally save your work in a variety of formats (including AIFF, SDII, .WAV, QuickTime and AES Red Book audio CD format). You can also use Peak to transfer and edit sounds from a great many of today's most popular samplers (including instruments from Kurzweil, E-mu, Ensoniq and Peavey).
One of the handiest tools available from within Peak is a little DSP function called "Repair Click," which allows you to quickly and painlessly repair just about any pop or click that might otherwise spoil your perfect audio document. There are also some very creative audio processing tools including "Convolve" (which lets you apply the sonic character of one sound onto another, say convolving a guitar sample with a dog bark), "Reverse Boomerang" (which mixes a reversed copy of any selected audio with the original) and "Rappify" (which applies extreme dynamic filtering to a selection, resulting in a reduction of your original material to its most essential rhythmic components). You'll have to try all three yourself to really appreciate the interesting (and often extremely innovative) effects you can produce almost effortlessly, though a little creativity on your part will be greatly rewarded by sound files that will make you positively elated.
If you do sampling or sound design (professionally or just for fun) or create audio on your Mac, get your hot little hands on a copy of Peak. It lists for $499 and, as with all the products Sweetwater sells, it comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee that makes this a no-risk proposition. But once you get this program installed on your own Mac, I can safely promise you that the thought will never cross your mind, particularly when you realize that this is brand new program that's certain to be updated regularly with all sorts of new and musically-useful creative tools. Call your Sweetwater sales engineer for more information and special pricing on Peak.
And since I've already sort of broken one of my rules (though hardly the first time), I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the brand new MIDI TimePiece AV from Mark of the Unicorn. You can find a full description of this remarkable product beginning on page one of Sweet Notes or on our Web Site. I won't go into details except to say that this little unit sets a whole new standard when it comes to what a particular piece of equipment costs versus what it will actually do for you. If you need MIDI control functions as well as synchronization in your studio, this box is an unheard-of value at just $499. Seriously, check this thing out!
See you all next issue with more of my ramblings.
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