Back to the Studio – Part 1

Hacking away at the computer keyboard, typing for hours a day and night and for years on end. The quiet little injury eventually got so bad that I frequently ran into issues when composing on the piano keys.

2009. Windows 7 launched and it was the OS for the laptop studio that I had purchased from a good friend. Unfortunately Windows 7 did not support the rack mounted MIDI interface. No big deal, I packed the old bigbox PC to the side and took the opportunity to get into Renoise- a powerful fully digital audio workstation suite- no need for piano keys.

A few more years and it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage the amount of work expected for my day-job career as a Unix system administrator, while also supporting and coding the to-be-new-Modarchive, composing music and chatting on IRC. My fingers were always busy and they really began to complain!

2012. After seeing some medical specialists, the ultimatum was to refrain from the activity that caused the injury. I was advised to drop everything and stop. But that’s not practically doable is it? I needed to earn a living and to continue composing, as it was key to maintaining a healthy mind given the sort of pressure I experienced at work. Worse- my entire social circle was online, I needed to keep in contact with my friends!

Oh dear.

Eventually, sitting behind a PC was no longer workable. It was easy to sit for hours on end and slip into the habit of working away into the night. During office hours, there were attempts to artificially limit my activity on the PC at work, but the software did not actually help anything other than tick the health-and-safety box for the project managers. A constant nuisance that egregiously disrupted my workflow (and performance). Experiencing increasing stress, untenable frustration and continued pressure to deliver despite the restrictions, I developed nerve damage.

That was the first breaking point. I quit everything and took a break for two years. Living off a severance to pay the bills and mortgage, but it wouldn’t last long enough for a chance to let the injuries heal.

Pushed by financial pressure, I was forced through the same situation after taking another contract on that compounded the injuries further, until one night when then final straw disintegrated. I completely broke down.


2017-2018. The first iPad Pro arrived on the scene and offered 12 hours of practical use from a single charge (initially). My physical keyboard of choice was a Logitech Create keyboard & protective case, for the full package I went all-in and got the Apple Pencil too.

Together, the physical workload dynamic changed significantly enough to be comfortable yet productive, but this change cost me yet again in the music department.

Having spent years polishing my skills using Renoise to produce musical mega-tracks such as Bells After Sundown and Tales from the Bell Tower, I was in for another swift kick in the nethers as going mobile-only was a whole other kettle of fish. With so many significant workflow limitations to contend with, it took until 2019 developing new skills before I began work on a full production release.

Origins was my first album produced entirely on a mobile device, taking 4 months to compose and produce.

Full end-to-end production of not only music but design, 3D, illustration and digital art really showed the raw power of the first generation iPad Pro. Using the pencil to do intricate editing helped tremendously reduce the wear and tear on my busted joints and nerves.


2022. I am now sat here writing this on the 4th generation iPad Pro, my first upgrade since the original- the new tools that have since become available have been complete game changers. There is now a glimmer of hope that I will be able to occasionally return to producing with the real keyboards again, in moderation.

The studio has been completely disassembled for a number of years now. The whole thing is a massive headache to set up within such a small room, with years of accumulated stuff, the house was getting a bit full and the little studio room relegated to storage and server room.

To look at the room as it was a few days ago would have probably induced panic in anyone remotely put off by a mess. With a live remote controlled amateur radio station & server running 24/7 I needed to move everything around yet keep it all working with minimal downtime.

Having had some fun with the CAD design tool Shapr3D, it wasn’t too long before I began fiddling with idea of doing a combined-rebuild of the room. I wanted to simulate the setup first to see if it would work with the existing furniture.

Using LIDAR (“light detection and ranging”) via a laser measuring instrument that came with the latest iPad Pro, I mapped my old studio room so I could sit down on the couch and do all the necessary measurements to build a model comfortably.

After taking a scan, measuring was as trivial as sticking two dots down on the screen, the 3D mapping data stored from the scan calculated approximations to make a floor plan. Although it is not super-accurate, it is close enough to get something ”on paper”.

Eventually I pulled in specs of my various bits of audio equipment and reconstructed them individually in basic forms to represent their 3D footprint.

As an aside, I spent over an hour searching through incomplete technical breakdowns, missing links and dead ends looking for specifications for one particularly old piece of kit.

The alternative solution would have been to go to the device, pull it out of the difficult to reach storage and measure it manually– but a little more persistence and with some improved google-fu (verbatim mode) I eventually found the dimensions of an E-mu E6400 Ultra digital sampler, which are: 482.6 (width) x 139.7 (height) x 368.3 (depth) in millimeters (mm). You’re welcome, fellow future searcher 🤣


The first concept involved using the original custom desk installed in the studio when we moved in to our new home back in 2003. A massive kitchen counter-top that requires the entire width of the room. Designed to carry two heavy 19” racks of equipment as well as provide a place for the massive bigbox computer underneath. The first plan was to restore the studio to how it had been in the past.

With the required movement of radio gear from one wall to the other, it soon became apparent that it would require a significant rewire and also potentially cause issues, such as losing access to the window.

Oh dear back to the drawing board.


Before properly checking the data I managed to move the radio transmitters onto the main radio unit and cleared the first desk, moving a sprawling server installation to the window sill.

When attempting to move the cleared desk 90 degrees it got stuck. Oh dear. According to the floor plan I should have had enough room but I hadn’t taken the LIDAR error margin into account, which put the measurements of the desk out by a few centimeters.

A quick think and a brisk rummage in the attic produced two identical ancient Dell “kringloop” mini-computers. Tough little buggers, perfect height, no longer of any practical computing use.

Under the legs of the radio desk they went and it was a perfect and safe fit allowing the overlap of the cleared desk to fit snuggly beneath the radio station desk.

Luckily with the advances in technology the bigbox PC is long gone. A new Raspberry Pi400 compact computer running Reaper is the current contender for the studio MIDI sequencing work. Using VNC it is possible to do everything from the iPad while the Pi400 is also smaller than a traditional PC keyboard, and that is the entire computer!


A brand new pack of mounting nuts and bolts eventually arrived in the post, putting together the rack-mounted audio gear was fairly straight forward, but a bit precarious when done vertically like this.

A couple of hours later and both the audio and MIDI cables were in and ready to be tested. Using the blinking lights of the MIDI interface it was good to see all of the gear responding well after such a long time sitting cold on ice.

The only bits that need to be done now are the SCSI cables for both of the Emu samplers.

Testing the internal hard disk of the Emu 6400 Ultra, an old two gigabyte Quantum found it failing to spin up properly on multiple occasions causing errors which was a bit disconcerting as there are a quite few banks on there with no backups available. Luckily after a few power cycles the disk managed to load one of the banks so it is still mostly operational, sort of!

The display of the Emu 4000T sampler is a little worrying though as it has lost the ability to display properly, the contrast has diminished greatly and that is on the maximum contrast setting.

Overall, with the exception of the samplers, all of the equipment worked flawlessly.

Part 2 – to be continued

Part 2 will be published after the studio has been fully completed, as this can take a while below are a couple of pics of the setup that closely followed the 3D planning.

The cabling still has to be optimized as it is running in a RF-hot environment (very close to radio transmission lines) and this can have all sorts of unexpected and unwanted results such as audio interference or worse- data corruption. So for now it is all running in experimental mode, with a bag of snap-on RFI filters on the ready. Thanks for reading along!

Revenge of the MODs

Greetings! I bring you a sample of my youth with a curated bunch of Commodore Amiga modules including one that memed its way into the Commodore Consciousphere back in the 90s.

Everyone go m

Studio Notes

This track is a little bit famous as it was the first of the Amiga Format magazine’s Mod-of-the-Month competition winners, following suite from CU Amiga’s long standing mod-of-the-month cover-disk feature. This came about due to Amiga Format launching a Cover CD that had more storage than they knew what to do with, so on they piled the reader’s modules.

Unfortunately some unscrupulous readers sent in ripped modules that either were not their own work or had considerable sampling from commercial works so after a few issues Amiga Format dropped the entire concept which was a shame.

Still, I got in the magazine, which was nice.

Despite the magazine mentioning a Kazoo, there was no such thing used. The vocals were just my voice into a microphone.

The lead to a game developer contacting me, I have written up as well as included that correspondence for posterity in a separate article.

Equipment used:

  • Commodore Amiga 500+ 2MB
  • Megalosound Turbo Sampler
  • CB Radio Echo-Microphone
  • Realistic Reverb/Delay Box

Cover Art

Vince the Ice Cream Van Man

Studio Notes

Recording the legendary ice cream van music off the CB radio as Vince tootled around Birmingham in his ice cream van as well as commentary from various other CB radio users around the area at the time.

Equipment used:

  • Commodore Amiga 500+ 2MB
  • Megalosound Turbo Sampler

Cover Art

And more:

If you would like to see more detailed information about these tracks, click here to view the catalogue

New Cover Art: X My Pi

It has been a while since the original ”X My Pi” album release and in that time the original cover art has become somewhat tired.

While giving the entire website a fresh lick of paint, the album artwork has been revisited and reimagined to bring out its Commodore Amiga heritage!

Unfortunately it is not possible to retrofit the artwork on to the published album that is currently released the many streaming services, however those who have purchased the album via Bandcamp already have the new artwork.

I hope you like it 🙂

Cover

Celebrating success – Meow Meow Meow Commodore 64 Edition

Studio Notes

My first SID track. Composed from scratch on DefleMask tracker on my iPad Pro workstation. Celebrating passing 1.4 million streams of the original meow meow meow kitty song on Amazon Music alone, in total on all services combined the ballpark is nearer 2.0M and rising FAST! Here is a SID rendition, my first SID track as well. ^_^

If you would like to play this on a real Commodore 64, below is ZIP file (free for personal use) containing the SID.

Equipment used:

  • DefleMask Tracker iOS
  • iPad Pro 4th Generation
  • Lots of patience!

Cover Art

Performed By: Redheat

Album UPC:

Label: Redheat

Released: April 6th 2022

ISRC: n/a

Year: 2022

Genres: Chiptune

What if there was an alternate reality where…

Studio Notes

Hmm. Thought experiments.

What if? What if I could stop this?

What if I didn’t say anything?

What if there were reprisals?

What if I put my mental health at risk?

What if there was no support network for after the ordeal?

All valid thoughts. All eventually had answers.

So far, so good, this month has been great! After dealing with a few unpleasant things over the last few months, this month has been the best in a long time.

I’ve just got back from a brief family visit to England and am now looking into what is probably going to be the most strenuous change of lifestyle since I moved abroad.

RedHeat, June 2004

A man who I knew would still be preying on young boys was found still abusing children but nobody had come forward to do anything about it. Without any evidence, the authorities would not intervene, until I arrived in England, back on the scene. He was sent to trial and then to prison on my testimony.

Take that, you bastard.

This caused so much turbulence in my life, it took many years of help to overcome the trauma of the trial as well as the brutally refreshed memories of the past. The truth is the abuse happened to me and nothing will change that but what I didn’t understand for so long is that I have nothing to feel guilty about. What I did was right.

I am finally at peace.

The piece below is from some time between 2003 and 2004, it took months to set the above in motion, so naturally it reflected in my music. Looking back from 2022 it is clear there is a shy tone of despair in this piece. Just know that everything turned out alright.

A fairly simple piano piece with light instrumentation.

Equipment used:

  • Roland XP60 Synthesiser
  • Emu ESI4000T Digital Sampler
  • Emu Ultra6400 Digital Sampler
  • Unitor AMT8 Midi Patch-bay
  • Terratec 24/96 Audio Interface
  • Cakewalk Pro Audio 9

Cover:

  • Apple iPad Pro 4th Generation
  • Shapr3D iOS CAD – 3D modeling and visualization
  • Procreate iOS – Composition
  • MOLDIV iOS – Post production

Cover Art

Performed By: Redheat

Album UPC: 194171475498

Label: Redheat

Released: 2003

ISRC: ushm21987507

Year: 2003

Genres: Instrumental Piano

Contact

2001: Time Out, Twenty One Years Later

I am not a musician just an enthusiast but I really like this tune. It is very unusual and puts you in a different sort of mood. I would like to hear more music like this but it is very rare. I listen to as many artists and songs as I can and RedHeat is definetely one of my favorites.

Pros – This should be a classic. It stands out among the crowd!

Cons – As long as it was I was left wanting to hear more!

Reviewed by Steve on 14-feb-2002 

Your Time Out is really a fantastic piece of music! I love the sound of piano! I just can’t stop listening to it no matter what I do… Keep up good work! 

Reviewed by centti on 17-oct-2001 

Studio Notes

Finally – The completed version! Time Out has to be one of the most uplifting symphonic electronica songs I have written so far, it’s beginning is very slow and quite abstractly put together, but you’ll soon find that about 1 minute in you’re in for some action. If you like piano pop then check this song out as the piano is one of the major parts accompanied by synthesizers and some fantastic pad sounds. If you find you like this, I’d appreciate some comments!

Original release note, 2001

This is a piece of music that really helped me recall/restore the person I used to be after it all went tits-up for me ten years ago.

March 2022

Equipment used:

Music:

  • Roland XP60 Synthesiser
  • Emu ESI4000T Digital Sampler
  • Unitor AMT8 Midi Patch-bay
  • Terratec 24/96 Audio Interface
  • Cakewalk Pro Audio 9

Cover Art:

  • Apple iPad Pro 4th Generation
  • Shapr3D iOS CAD for 3D Design & Visualization
  • Procreate iOS
  • MOLDIV iOS

Cover Art

Performed By: Redheat

Album UPC: 194171475375

Label: Sonic Soundscapes

Released: 2001

ISRC: ushm21987359

Year: 2001

Genres: Symphonic Electronica, Progressive Electronic, Electronic Pop

Contact

A Return to Marwinia: the Forest’s Promise of an Escape, the story behind RedHeat’s: The Escape from Marwinia.

A hop, skip and jump, falling, fighting, victories, frights, revelations, reconciliation and ultimate involuntary sacrifice to the madness of the sentient forest.

Originally composed in 2005 and recorded while performed from a combination of orchestral and electronic instruments, the evocative soundtrack whisks the listener on a journey across a bizzaare twisted world where fantasty meets a crazed glimpse into the mind and life experiences of the artist.

Cover Art

Listen if you dare venture out from this cursed land

Contact

Red Reflections: Renewal Rejuvenation & Relaxation

Red Reflections track, a timeless beautiful new-age track from RedHeat – Sonic Soundscapes. Featuring brand new cover art reimagining its musical soundscape in unprecedented detail.


Contact

Cover Art