The AES and other things….

Dear diary:

Well, I’m finally back home after having survived two major-league spanking machines–the annual AES convention, and the annual International Computer Music Association conference, hosted this year in sunny Miami. It was a wild, exhaustive and fun couple of weeks. Perhaps I should talk about them both. Let’s start with the AES….

It’s that time when Trade Show Fever grips the Cycling ’74 microculture. I know you must imagine it’s a gay mad whirl of demo-munging, new product polishing, and shopping for the perfect frock. But for those of us on the inside, it’s quite a different affair. Rather than throwing book titles or arcane facts about the annual Canary Harvest in Montenegro at you in the name of blogging, I thought I’d touch on a few of the exciting things you might miss, and touch on a few gear-ish things that I found to be of interest.

Secret Trade Show Rituals #1. The Zen of Getting to There From Here

The AES this year was in Cycling 74′s backyard-just about literally. It was held in the Moscone Center, just about a block or so from Cycling 74 World Headquarters, which means that you might imagine we’d be sneaking off to the local Giant Crab Supermarket to um, borrow some shopping carts to use as transporters of our booth stuff, swag, etc.

But that’s not how it works in the professional world of the Modern Trade Show. Instead, Joshua and I went and got a rental van that we took over to C74WH. The plan was to pull it into the deluxe parking garage, load it with our stuff, and then leave it overnight. Hélas! The van was sprung like a bunny on meth, and was, as a result, too tall to fit into the garage by a matter of several inches.

So we regrouped the next morning, loaded on the street, and set off for the marshalling yard, which was waaaaaaay out in China Basin (Joshua, ever the helpful tour guy, drove us by the Beta Lounge for a quick gape on my part) at Pier 80. The idea is that in order to move things a block we need to drive out to the edge of the Bay (with a lovely view of a smokestack/scrubber and the Bay Bridge in the distance, along with the filigree of Industrial metalwork), weigh our vehicle and get some papers, then drive all the way back to the Moscone Center, unload our stuff in a place where the electric-carted Teamsters can move it for us, then drive all the way back to Pier 80 and weigh the empty truck.

Waiting our turn at the scales was restful, and broken by Richard Dudas’ ad-hoc lesson in horticulture. As the line of semis interspersed with smaller vans advanced to the single open truck scale, Richard and I took a moment to take in the aforementioned view, and to take note of our surroundings. Apparently, balsamic vinegar or some kind of wine mysteriously bubbles up spontaneously from the landfill on which the marshalling yard is built. None of us were in any mood to inquire more seriously about just what the stuff was, or its origins. Mr. Dudas stunned me by pointing out the presence of a single actual Fennel plant, decorated around its base with empty plastic bottles and various forms of jetsam. I am somewhat partial to braised Fennel, but somehow the sight of this one has rather put me off the idea for a while.

Trade show setup is simply something that, although pleasant, is perhaps best witnessed or described as a stop-action film of workpersons swarming over a pile of stuff, and the booths magically emerging from the flurry of activity. I suppose that even the Cycling 74 booth might look like this with enough time-lapse between the frames, but I find myself reflecting on the process and remarking more on the calm and patience with which Mr. Zicarelli and my other co-boothists went about their work.

Secret Trade Show Rituals #2. I get to open for Double Dutchess and we throw a party

My personal Anxiety Top Ten for the week was dominated by my doing a set for the official Cycling 74 AES party at the end of the first day. Performing my patient and restrained one-trick-pony act for my friends is always nerve-wracking enough, but to be on the same bill as people like Double Dutchess/Les Stuck, Sue Costabile, Sutekh, and Laetitia Sonami should have had me racing for the Benedryl. I hope and believe that I acquitted myself well, avoided being some sort of Mediatic Incursion, and left a clean campsite. And since I went first in the proceedings, I could relax and enjoy everyone else after finishing. I think, too, that the party was precisely the sort of thing I enjoy. Rather than a brain-frying sequence of “gigs” separated by breathless product-placement announcements from the Marketing Department, this felt like a place for people to get together and meet and talk, gorge themselves on Cheese Nips (real ones. Not those Trader Joe’s knock-offs, either), let in a little (Anchor) Steam, and to hear some interesting things. And jhno’s loft was just about the perfect place for it, too.

One of the interesting things about doing things like this is that you get to actually meet the real people attached to the names in your email in box. I tend to enjoy that, since I create the people after a certain point as I read their email anyway. I suppose that this particular AES was my chance to hang out with Peter Nyboer a little bit, and to discover that he’s as nice a person in 3-space as he is in this space (he even gave me a lift back to my hotel after the Cycling 74 bash). And our friend Yuki Sakamoto from Cameo Interactive also honored us with his presence during my gig. My mom’s little hometown Kentucky paper always ends these sorts of reports with the sentence, “A good time was had by all.” I think that was the case here-was for me, anyway.

Secret Trade Show Rituals #3. The view from the floor

Talking about being at a trade show as a part of the dazzling caravan of Cycling 74 talent is quite different from actually visiting the trade show and walking about, of course. With a little luck-no, with a little planning, you get to do both. Happily, thanks to some wizardry with a schedule by my colleague Darwin, I did get to run around just a little (more on this anon) this time. The other nice bit of this is that the booth is staffed with my um… smarter colleagues. So when some low-level Java stuff came up in conversation with a visitor, I could simply direct them to the genial Josh and Topher duo, for whom Java arcana is as meat and drink. David Z. was around to greet and answer questions about the new multi-band dynamics processor plug-in for TDM systems we’ve developed with the folks from Octiv Systems (I’m not entirely helpful here, since I don’t have a surround system either in my modest little studio or in my living room.), and so on.
We had plenty to talk about and show this time out. I think that some of the biggest buzz for the most persons would have to be pluggo for Windows. But it’s an interesting situation, in that we’ve worked as hard as we can to make sure that It Just Works. This means that those few Windows-only types who have never beheld pluggo in any form are amazed and delighted by demonstrations that are old hat to Macintosh types eager to have their old favorites on the new machine. While it’s not necessarily the whizziest message, I find that telling a pluggo fan that there won’t be any surprises when they switch platforms to be a satisfying experience.

We also brought a Kroonde wireless sensor interface with us, which was fun. David and Dudas and Joshua quickly knocked together some nice things that yanked faders and distorted Jitter renderings using a wireless flex sensor. At some point, Dudas took the transmitter and the flex sensor and scampered off in an attempt to see precisely what the range on the little dude was. He was gone for a long time before things stopped jumping. The only difficulty was that trying to establish line of sight over a goodly distance at a Trade show chockablock with booths and milling crowds is a little problematic. So my answer for the next several days on range was “It’s pretty far.”

Doing the booth thing is a cocktail composed of equal parts exhiliaration (meeting lots of interesting people who are really interested in and happy about what you do) and exhaustion (meeting about 6 squillion of them at once). Our encounters with our customers and would-be customers was and is becoming increasingly varied in terms of the sorts of questions one is faced with; it’s just not like manning a guitar pick manufacturer’s booth and telling people that you have new titanium fuschia metalflake plectrums over and over and over. As you might imagine, this is a good thing in terms of staving off glassy-eyed boredom, but you have to be on your toes.

Secret Trade Show Rituals #4. Gregory cases the joint

For me, the most interesting thing about the AES as a whole would have to be what wasn’t there. Lots of us were wondering after the initial buzz about M-audio being acquired by Digi what changes might be afoot. This AES provided us with one answer: They moved all the M-audio stuff offsite to Digiworld, leaving a still nice-sized booth behind. But you have to imagine having all the stuff M-audio distributes suddenly vanishing from the face of the trade-show earth. As a personal matter, this meant that it simply wasn’t simple to go visit my Ableton, Audioease, and Tassman buddies during my floor-roaming “free” period. Additionally, there was quite a lot of Remix Hotel action, which further relocated some things. I found the Hotel a pretty interesting place, (although I did feel a trifle radiocarbon-datable while there) especially the Technics SL-DZ1200 digital turntable. While it’s a bit um… expensive for my tastes and my wallet, the thing feels just like the canonical Technics table, and their granular pitch-shifting sounds pretty cool (nice artifacts rather than crufty ones). It was a lovely piece of hardware, complete with gen-you-wine wheels of steel.

An interesting side effect of this was that the trade show floor seemed a bit well… quieter. At the end of the day, my larynx wasn’t sandpapered from bellowing at booth visitors all day long. Kind of a nice change from some previous Trade Show experiences.

Secret Trade Show Rituals #5. Won’t you be my neighbor?

Sometimes, we wind up in at trade shows in interesting booth configurations. The one that comes immediately to mind was an AES where we were across the aisle from the Gibson booth, where Slash showed up one day to sign autographs for his legion of fans. The non-surprise there was that he looked just like his pictures, and the surprise was this whole long queue of scary looking guys transformed in an instant into Wayne and Garth-style mugging for the camera (We are not worthy….). We had great neighbors. Our booth back was to the Apogee folks (whose mini-DAC positively rules both for sweet live performance and for days when you’re working long hours with headphones on), and next to the Gefen folks, who were as intrigued by us (and our visitors) as we were with their steady queue of extender/connector box customers. And we had this amazing woman, Vicki Genfan performing in a kind of hybrid Michael Hedges/Chapman Stick style tapping technique acoustic guitar gig kitty-corner from our booth in aisle 700 who turned in some amazing performances (sure beats the same old Salsa or Grindcore licks day in and day out).

Secret Trade Show Rituals #6. The intensely personal attack of gear lust

So I did run around a little bit. New stuff? Well, my old pals the Rocket Science bundle from Audioease are back, for starters-I’m as delighted to have Orbit back in my OSX life as I was with Periscope from their Nautilus bundle (it being one of the lowercase world’s great secret Swiss Army Knife plug-ins). I saw and fiddled with Arturia’s new virtual ARP 2600. Just what you’d expect, too-beautifully recreated (minus the dirty pots, shorted patch cords, and drifty oscillators) with some very nice little new additions (um… MIDI control? polyphony? Some interesting tracking generators? You betcha.) in the bargain. One of their guys came over and beheld the kind of Max/MSP control mayhem I’ve been doing by hosting their Moog Modular V using the vst~ object and then routing all kinds of control stuff to us, and he appeared somewhat interested (although I’m sure that the particular formant filter bank violence I was doing might not have been his personal choice), and he didn’t strike me or pelt me with empty coffee cups, so hey. I have officially begun a campaign of pesteration about what should be their next product-a virtual Synthi AKS 100! Am I shameless or what?

The Electro-Harmonix booth included a very quiet new addition in their display case (they were busy with their Bi-filter and tubes, but I was not distracted): a digital 16-second delay. Didn’t see it hooked up, and I’ll wager that those old Reticon 1024 analog bucket-brigade chips are looooong gone, but I looked at it and wondered quietly whether it would do as lovely a job at shaving high frequencies off of an input signal as my trusty old-school hardware box. Maybe I’ll find out next time.

Given that I am not working much with this and perhaps more seduced by the technology as an idea than with any personal projects at the moment, I spent some time checking out single-point surround microphones and found one company that was adding their product to little motorized radio-controlled bomb sniffers. So you can, presumably, hear the ticking in 5.1 surround, along with the lifelike hum of the servos.

Let’s see… what else? Oh, right: there was a some gear-lust buzz on two product fronts, one of which (the Smart Console, with its Jean-Luc Picard control broadband control panel vibe) remains a distant fantasy, and one of which-this really whizzy wireless Tranzport DAW controller (AA batteries not included) from Frontier Design is not.

People seemed interested in Nuendo 3, but I’m not in a position to say much about it. My colleague Ron (with whom I worked on the newest Cycles release and who has emerged in my estimation as the total audio monster that everyone else already knows he is) seems pretty impressed with it. Given his Surround mixing chops, I’m prepared to accept his verdict.

Since I had to be in Miami for the ICMC and since it appeared to be nearly impossible to get out of San Francisco on a Hallowe’en flight, I scampered off early Sunday morning for a lengthy set of flights to Miami, where I was destined to be the sole corporate standard bearer in the surround-sound hive of scum and villainy more commonly known as the International Computer Music Assocation’s annual conference. Well, there’s very little scum (unless you count the way that a Mochito looks. It’s a drink made with rum that tastes much better than it looks, trust me), and even less villainy. But a good writer creates mystery and interest by the clever use of language. So I’ll go sit quietly for a while and try to distill my week in Sunny Miami for the next outing.

The AES and other things….

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