New gear for 2009

I’m not a buy it all at once guy. I like to build the gear over time, getting intimate with a few pieces of equipment at a time until I’ve got the ideal solution. Plus, it’s nice to know there’s a consistent budget for the MT classes, rather than just big money injections every so many years (if you’re lucky!)

That being said, here’s my gear choices for this year – feel free to chime in via Twitter (@willkuhn) if you have any strong opinions about any of these items.

I needed to solve the following solutions this year: Room sound, Live preamping, and class sound management.

ROOM SOUND: M-AUDIO BX8A’S & BX10 SUBWOOFER
I know these may not be the right tool for the job, but I love the sound and the price. I also like the on/off footswitch for the subwoofer. I ordered monitor pedestals to go along with these, but I may look at wall-mounting them as well. They’ll monitor some during mixing, but the main purpose is to fill my classroom with pure, leveled sound. I haven’t been impressed by the passive systems I’ve heard in this price range (incl. amplification) so I went with nearfields. I tested out the room with my BX5a’s and it didn’t sound narrow or have any obvious dead spots so I think these will do nicely.

PREAMP: AUDIENT MICO
For the preamp, it’s going to do two things: work the live mics (Røde NT5 pair) during auditorium recordings, and enhance vocals & acoustic guitar during Recording Club. I don’t need an 8-channel preamp for drums, as we only use a couple condensers for drums anyway. Thus, a 2-channel solution was best (although this suggestion from Mike Hughes would have been awesome if we had the cashola for it…and if the company weren’t located exclusively in the UK). A couple neat bonuses with the Audient Mico: Variphase adjust knob to ensure no phasing issues, and an ADAT Lightpipe output. I may not even need an interface when we do live recordings with the MacBook, because it has optical inputs!

CLASS SOUND: SENNHEISER HD201 HEADPHONES
It’s time, children. You’re getting proper headphones, and you’re all going to have them every day because I got a pair for each station. As the ancient Romans would say, they’re circumaural (that means they cover your ears all the way), and they’re closed back so they should work well for session recording as well. I also got handsome hooks for storing the cans at each station when not in use.

Overall, I’m excited about the new gear for this year. Now if I can just get my hands on a new set of computers…

A CONTRIBUTION

So I think I’m done with my thesis. It compared the relative effectiveness of traditional notation versus MIDI grid notation. Here’s what I found out.

THE TEST
I gave a simple 10-question test to my classes. I randomly chose whether to give the MIDI quiz or the Trad. quiz. Each question consisted of an audio example with two possible notations- the correct one and a decoy; students were prompted to choose the correct one.

Questions were broken into two criteria for the decoys; they were either decoys that exploited a problem I anticipated with horizontal grouping (i.e. dotted eighth sixteenths) or with vertical spacing (chords, bass/treble clef).

THE RESULT
MIDI won by a longshot. I’ll post the full statistics later, but the overall result was that in the MIDI group, about half of students scored 90% or better, and in the Trad. group, about 20% of students scored 90% or better. Why the big difference?

MY INTERPRETATION
The 20% that did well on the Trad. test made sense to me – that number correlates to the percentage of student who take my class that are in Band or Choir. The number is possibly related, because to do that well on the test, a student would probably have prior experience with that notation style.

Does this mean that half of my students are secret studio engineers and producers though? Why did MIDI do so well? The answer may lie in video games.

According to a recent study, about 97% (read: all) of teens play video games. Of that group, about half report playing rhythm games. Rhythm games include things like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Taiko Drum Master, and other games of that ilk. But these games aren’t DAW software – they’re simplified, right?

Wrong. Picture the MIDI editing window of your favorite DAW, played at a brisk pace (maybe you’re zoomed in a whole lot). The notes are flying by.

Now turn your head sideways to the left, stand at the far right edge of your computer screen so you can just see them at an extreme perspective. Recognize Guitar Hero now? It’s MIDI turned on its side.

Go ahead an look at the vocal view for Rock Band – it’s basically a MIDI view, with an analog pitch detector laid on top of it.

Picture all the kids you know in band/choir. Now picture all the other kids (in addition to the ones in band/choir) playing rhythm games *for fun* and in their *spare time*. Which notation style do you think the largest number of kids will identify with? Which could be used to easily draw in a new demographic to school performance groups? Which one is basically being ignored by the publishing industry and many music educators?

You got it. Now start redrawing those note games sitting in your closets, everyone. Buy a set of Cuisinaire rods. We’ve got some MIDI’ing to do.