Quick shameless album plug: Red or Black by GCM Audio

Red Or Black Album CoverI wouldn’t normally do this, but I’d like to just do a quick plug for an electronic album I’ve just finished writing called Red or Black. It took a few months to write and it covers a few different musical styles such as ambient, breakbeat and house. You can listen to it for free at my GCM Audio page on SoundCloud. I’m in the process of sorting out a Bandcamp page and looking to get the album onto Spotify.

 

DietPi – My favourite Ras Pi Distro

Get Dietpi here!

I’ve got a number of Raspberry Pis at home and over the years I’ve installed and re-installed distros. There’s only so many times I want to enter the same installation and configuration commands when I’m setting up a Pi (or equivalent) before the command line novelty wears off, and it just becomes a ballache. I have fell in love with the command line again, since I started using the Pi and Linux. There’s nothing I like more than cracking open a SSH session and typing stuff. But setting up a Pi becomes tedious after a while and I wanted to simplify the process somewhat.

Then I heard of the DietPi project. There’s a number of reasons why I love this distro.

  1. It’s really compact – The base DietPi image is smaller than the Raspbian Lite image which is already pretty small.
  2. It’s really easy to configure – Just type dietpi-config into the SSH command line interface and navigate the easy-to-use options to configure your OS.
  3. It’s jam-packed with well-curated and fully configured software. Software such as Docker, Node Red, NextCloud, Apache, and MySql.
  4. There are multiple web server configurations that you can select from to suite your needs such as LAMP. All you need to do is select the config you want and DietPi will do the rest.
  5. You can easily get DietPi working with wired and wireless connections. Setting static IP addresses is also a breeze.
  6. DietPi is available on lots of devices. I have been able to make use of some random Orange Pi Zero SOCs I had knocking around the house. Actually the Orange Pi support by Diet Pi is very good. There is also a X86 version too. I would have liked to see Cubieboard and Cubietruck support but you can’t have everything. I will just have to make do with Armbian for those.
  7. The set up automation is great. You can select all the software you want to install, set it off and go for a cup of tea. When you come back your software will be fully configured and ready to go.

So as you can see I love Diet Pi and would fully recommend it over the standard Raspbian any day. Especially if space is an issue. With DietPi on a Raspberry Pi Zero attached to a 22800mah battery I can get four days usage.

My Feelings Regarding Bitcoin

If you don’t know what Bitcoin is, read this first.

Warren Buffet said in an article in The Guardian that he wouldn’t invest in any cryptocurrencies and to be honest, I agree with him, but for different reasons. I’m reading between the lines here, but I reckon he doesn’t want to because the market is too volatile and he’d stand to lose money. It’s just my view, but for me, the main reason I feel the same way is what’s happening with Bitcoin (for example) at the moment. As far as I can tell, Bitcoin was invented to decentralise the flow of money, taking all the power away from the banks and putting it in the hands of the people, effectively you’d become your own bank. The downside is that if you lose your private key, you lose your bitcoins, but I don’t see how that’s any different to losing a £10 note. You just need to be responsible. From the documentaries I’ve watched, cryptocurrencies are very useful for people in poor areas of the world who don’t have access to a bank account but have a mobile phone on which they can install a Bitcoin wallet. From this wallet they can buy and sell services/products. In my opinion, Bitcoin was invented for this reason to give everyone a chance to take control of their own money and cut out the need for a bank to handle payments. If you want to pay some one with Bitcoin you just send the money directly to them. But it seems the bank fat cats just couldn’t leave well alone and now they have invested in it and making large sums of money. The original reason for Bitcoin seems to be lost now, and all the people looking to make a fast buck will probably drive it in to the ground, making it worthless for the people who really need it.

Pump (Reason Rack Extension) by Sonicbits.Io

Pump - Image for illustration purposes only
Image for illustration purposes only

Get this from here.

I’ve just started using this rack extension with Reason 10, and I like it a lot! It will become a regular feature in my tracks. This extension allows you to sidechain audio, which I understand means lowering a sound such as a bassline to accommodate another sound such as a bass drum, so that it doesn’t get drowned out when audio is playing across the available bandwidth of an audio file. For example, in my latest track I used this extension to force the bassline to make way for the bass drum. The default sidechain patch is good enough to duck the sound of the instrument to which you attach the extension. It works well with a standard 4/4 beat. There are plenty of other settings in there including some good gate patches to really alter the applied effect. Well recommended if you need to sidechain audio, and easy to use especially with the standard patches.

The Fantastic Teufelsberg Reverb VSTi

Teufelsberg Reverb Image for illustration purposes only
Image for illustration purposes only

Get this free reverb from here.

I absolutely love this reverb, it’s my all-time favourite. Apparently, the folks who developed the impulse responses on which this plug-in is based went to great lengths to capture the essence of the acoustics of the Cold War listening station tower. I am so glad they did, because this reverb sounds amazing! And I can’t believe it’s free.  I love the lush sound of the reverb whenever it is applied to an instrument. I use it in Reason with all manner of stuff. It can make the most crappy of patches sound great.  I find that this plugin is great if you want to capture a bit of atmosphere in a track, especially if you’re music is a bit dark in nature. It works well with most instruments in my opinion, but particularly well with plucky instruments or pianos.

I find that when applied to an instrument, the plugin sometimes drops the volume of the instrument, so all I do is to open the plugin’s user interface and adjust the gain upwards until I’m satisfied I’ve got the correct gain.

Anyway, I can’t rave about this plugin enough. If you’re looking for a deep, lush and high quality reverb, then look no further.

I used the plug-in extensively in this tune. I used it to fatten up the bassline in the first part of the tune, which also added a slight dark choir feel to it. I also used it on the piano section, and the lead instruments in the second half of the tune.

I used it around halfway through this tune, when the audio is stripped back to a couple of instruments.

ST-1 Speak & Tweak Rack Extension for Reason

ST1 - Speak and Tweak - Image for illustration purposes only
Image for illustration purposes only

This product is available at a decent price from the Propellerheads Shop. I thought I’d just do a quick review of this Reason rack extension. You can see a full description of the extension on the Props website, so there’s no point reeling off all the information about it here. I will just discuss my experience with it.

I fear it’s a bit of a one-trick pony and something I would use sparingly, but it does sounds great when added to a track with electronic-sounding instruments and comes with a few presets/patches  to get you started.  It reminds me of the old Texas Instruments Speak & Spell. I haven’t given it a spin with the external audio input yet, a feature that was added in version 1.1 (I will update this review once I’ve given it a spin. I like the thought of using it as a vocoder). You can control how the voice sounds with the various dials, and trigger it in different ways using the Mode list. For example, you can get it to sequentially trigger each word in the four boxes when you press a key on your MIDI keyboard, so that you can place a word where it’s most suitable. To get more mileage out of ST-1. you could always apply effects to it, like maybe chopping the output with the Synchronous rack extension which now comes free with Reason 10.

Given it’s limited use (although my opinion may change on that when I look at the vocoder aspect) it’s still a cool extension, and I’m glad it’s in my toolbox. If it’s used with caution, it will help add a bit more interest to your tune.

I have used this extension in one my tracks on SoundCloud which you can hear below. I’ve only sparingly used it, about a couple of times during the track around halfway through, but it sounds great with a Teufelsberg Reverb added to it.

LoRa32u4 by BSFrance.Fr (Blog Entry Part 2)

I haven’t had a vast amount of time to spend on this lately as I have been really busy at work amongst other things, but I found a few moments to look at this module again over the weekend. I am very pleased to say that I managed to get the module working with a NRF24L01+ chip. I initially made the mistake of incorrectly wiring it up using all the digital pins on the right-hand side of the LoRa module but then quickly realised that it provides dedicated MOSI, MISO ports etc on the left-hand side. I think I was stuck in the Arduino frame of mind. I still had to attach two of the cables from pin 3 and 4 on the Nrf to pin 9 and 10 on the LoRa module respectively though. Which made sense in the end. I uploaded and ran the listening script I have been using with an Arduino and it ran perfectly, even picking up signals from my moisture sensors from the greenhouse down the bottom of the garden. So obviously the LoRa module appears to be supplying sufficient power to the Nrf which is great news and I am one step closer to removing a Rasperry Pi Zero W and an Arduino from my set up. I love the above combo and if I had a mains connection option I wouldn’t go to the effort described here. Saying that, its always great to learn something new.

Megasaur Rack Extension for Reason

If you’re looking for a good Saw-based rack extension then look no further than this one. Available to buy at the Propellerheads Shop.

Megasaur in the Reason Rack (image used for illustration purposes only
Megasaur in the Reason Rack (image used for illustration purposes only

I won’t regurgitate the details of the rack extension’s features here as you can read all about them in the shop page on the Propellerheads site. It’s a simple to use synth but it produces some amazing saw-based sounds. I have used a couple on my latest piece of music. I am not normally a massive fan of saw sounds. I find them a bit harsh, but in the case I make an exception. Some of the sounds it produces contain a lot of depth and sound very rich. There’s a couple of dark sounding presets which sound very gritty and lo-fi and have added a lot of texture to my latest piece. Very impressed with it. If you’re a Reason user, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it, and it’s also very reasonably priced (no pun intended).

I’ve used the Megasaur extensively in the following tune:

Local Alexa with Node Red: bloody fantastic!

https://flows.nodered.org/node/node-red-contrib-alexa-local

I am a massive fan of Node Red, as it greases the wheels of  IoT development in my own personal projects. It just makes things so much easier to do. Want to grab some serial input from an Arduino attached to a Ras Pi? Just drag and drop a Serial node onto the canvas, and NR takes the all the hard work away from you.

I always check the Node Red Flows page to see if there is anything new, and on this occasion I came across a local Alexa node which emulates a Phillips Hue bridge, and allows you to operate simple connected On/Off switches to such things as lights.

It’s fantastic, because there is almost zero set-up. All you do is to drag-and-drop the Alexa Local node onto the canvas, change the name to something sensible (omitting the ‘on’ and ‘off’ words, as NR sees to this for you) such as ‘Bedroom Light’, link that to the action that operates the ‘Bedroom Light’ (which in my case is via an attached 433mhz transmitter) and press Deploy.

You just need to then say ‘Alexa, discover services’ to your Echo and after 20 seconds or so, you’ve got a voice command to operate a physical device. In the example given, you’d say ‘Alexa, bedroom light on’ and (hopefully) your light will turn on. And as far as I can tell, this will happen on your local network without going out over the Internet, which should help with privacy.

I’ve got this to work with my computer, by attaching a local Alexa node to a Wake-On-Lan (WOL) node and now I can switch on my PC with my voice, even if I am in a different room.

Awesome! Well done to the people who created this superb node!