Garritan instruments, again

Just to bring all this up to date (see three previous) – and in case there is anyone else out there who suffered in a similar way – I have discovered that, if I import the MIDI file (which is how you’re supposed to do it!) instead of dragging the file into the tracks area of Logic Pro, as you do with loops, all the instruments sound, both the native Logic and the imported Garritan ones.

But I’m still open to advice concerning why Finale appointed itself to be the default program when dealing with MIDI files generated in MuseScore.

Garritan: the saga continues

Two blogs ago I claimed that MuseScore, my scorewriter of choice, produced ‘clean’ midi files, that I’ve been dragging into the Logic Pro tracks window. This is a fair claim, supported by experiment. Today I had problems with MuseScore midi files and discovered that, when I opened the midi, stored temporarily on the desktop, it opened in Finale! Somehow Finale has appointed itself to be the ‘default’ program. This explained the problem. I had to select ‘open in MuseScore’ and export it again as a midi file. (I chose a different name to be quite sure.) It worked, on three occasions. The score in question was also taken into Finale some time ago and the file still exists, which could explain the mystery.

Each time I closed the unwanted instance of Finale an on-screen message informed me that Finale had quit unexpectedly and a report would be sent to Apple. I hope someone reads them.

Having believed, at one point, that a move to Finale was required I produced scores in the program. Because of this and the fact that, for example, I haven’t yet found a flugelhorn or bass trombone in Logic’s suites, I can’t dump Finale.

No one expects life to be easy – mine never was – but life really shouldn’t be like this. Suddenly, I’m getting a message to sign into iCloud when I start the computer. Now where did THAT come from? I’ve never used iCloud.

It’s easy to feel there’s something sinister going on here.

Garritan Instruments: an afterthought

I’d hoped that when I opened the Garritan instruments in my newly-acquired Logic Pro X they’d be the answer to my poor playback facilities. As always with virtual instruments, some sounds – tuned percussion, horns, drum kit etc. – are OK but the trumpets, especially, are poor and the muted sounds even worse.

To be fair, Finale isn’t a sequencing program and its playback is OK for a composer’s own needs or when sending demos to established customers who know your worth. My epic struggle to get them to work (see previous) was  not entirely a waste of time because, at least, I learned how to clear unwanted clutter from MIDI tracks. (It was my own ears that alerted me to that problem.)

Then I discovered something that so many young composers will already know. The ‘Legacy’ heading in the downloadable files list in Logic Pro isn’t a set of legal terms and conditions, it opens around 15GB worth of instruments! Some of this is in the form of additional loops but there are so many sets of instruments I’ll have to write a family-tree kind of diagram and set up some small music files as a handy way of making a choice.

Many loops are MIDI files which can be dragged into the tracks area in Logic or Garageband and tailored at will using either the pencil tool or by option-dragging etc.

Despite all this, the only way to achieve broadcast-quality demos is to buy some of the expensive instruments that are available.  In this connection I’m indebted to fellow-blogger Jim Gramze for pointing me towards two sites that didn’t arise in my own search:
http://www.soundsonline.com
https://www.vsl.co.at/en

[Until 1994, when I acquired Encore, I had been – since 1958 – a traditional pencil scores and manuscript knib craftsman so my current quest, which will be old stuff to first-year music students, began comparatively recently. During my radio days I just handed the score over to the BBC’s copyists. My own manuscript parts frequently drew some very kind remarks. Interestingly, I spent so much time writing in this way that I lost my ability to write in longhand and now have to write everything in capital letters!]

A Garritan instrument problem solved

An old buddy of mine, a fine trombonist, once commented that young players start where we leave off and I’ve just experienced another example that proved the point.

This story begins with my decision to buy Logic Pro X three weeks ago. I already had Pro Tools. I also doubled the RAM in my 27” iMac which now stands at 16 GB, with 16 more to come.

I know the keyboard inside out but I have limited technique so the easiest way for me to assemble the midi tracks is to export my scores to the desktop as midi files, drag them into a new project in Logic and assign the virtual instruments. I generally use MuseScore for notation because, despite the fact that the program still lacks some of Finale’s features, it’s far quicker overall. (I can add the other stuff manually.)

The problem is that I needed to supplement Logic’s excellent instruments to provide all the options I required. I haven’t complemented them with third party stuff yet because I want to avoid duplicating what I already have. As I expected, with the industry’s obsession with rock and pop, there are tons of drum, guitar, keyboard and bass sounds.

I have Finale and its Garritan instruments so this seemed to offer a way out.

I bought my first Mac in 1988 and have worked with Illustrator, PhotoShop, Quark XPress, many word processors and three different notation programs. In other words, I’m no stranger to learning curves and the frustration of learning new tricks. But nothing could prepare me for the week of misery I experienced as I tried and tried (and tried) to get the Garritan instruments to sound in Logic.

I consulted every source I could find and watched the Aria Player video over and over again. The problem here is that the images bear no resemblance to what I see on my computer.

My daughter Vicky had been watching me in silence.

‘Can I use the computer?’ she asked ‘I’ve had an epiphany moment and I think I can solve this’.

“Yeah, yeah’ I thought.

Unknown to me, because she is so unassuming, Vicky had used music software while acquiring her degree in computer animation. I often proudly describe what I’m doing but I now know that she’s been pretending to be impressed for a long time.

‘The files are corrupted’ she explained. ‘If I export them to the desktop and place them back into Logic the computer will create files the program can recognise’.

To my indescribable relief it worked.

The files are still corrupt to an extent because Finale converted the score dynamics into *step-edit stuff that sits in the background. I hadn’t used step-edit. This has caused some difficulty in assigning the dynamics (with the automation feature). I can’t find any save option in Finale that will help me to avoid this. MuseScore exports clean midi files, so that will be the way to go. It’s just that, with the current project, I had used Finale to create the score because I believed that, with so many accomplished composers worldwide using the program, I obviously needed to overcome my ‘silly’ dislike of it.

Wrong.

It’s likely that, struggling with deadlines, and with the knowledge of how time-consuming it generally is to learn new stuff, composers just stick with what they know. I did, for a long time. There’s also an element of snobbery about using free programs such as MuseScore.

[An impressive feature of the piano-roll edit feature in Logic Pro was revealed when I took  the midi files featuring 4/4, 5/4 and 11/8 time signatures into a project set up simply in the default 4/4 metre and it all worked! To make matters even more diabolical, I had subjected the 3,3,3 2 structure of the 11/8 to permutations, so that the ‘2’ portion moves around cyclically.]

*I’m grateful to a contributor to the Logic Pro forum for a clever solution to this problem. My files are now clean and the improvement to the overall sound is dramatic.

‘So how bad was the operation?’

‘So how bad was the operation?’

My heart attack has had such a sobering impact on so many of my friends, colleagues and family that I felt motivated to write these articles. Two people have given up smoking and another is now taking statins.

I have to issue the statutory warning that I’m not qualified to recommend the use of any medication. There are vague stories about adverse effects resulting from the continuous use of statins. 

Feedback on here has been sparse to date but I’ve had a number of replies via the social media links to the file. If viral propagation takes place (one share so far on Facebook) we might just make a difference by helping others to avoid complacency and self-deception and face up to reality.

This time, for the benefit of those who are facing a bypass operation, here’s how it goes:

On the day, and I was postponed twice because of more urgent cases, the porters arrived to wheel me, bed and all, into the theatre. I now understand how difficult it is to coordinate these affairs. Some patients also have diabetes and there’s a limit to how long such people can fast, as we all have to before an operation (‘nil by mouth’). Others have defective heart valves, too, or both ailments combined. It ain’t easy!

A nurse arrived and gave me a little calm-you-down pill (and what wouldn’t I give for a bottle of those) and in I went. In the theatre anteroom, I was asked to take deep lungfuls of oxygen to oxygenate my blood. This is because they have to stop the heart and hand your bodily functions over to a machine which monitors your vital signs. Then they squirted anaesthetic into a cannula in my hand and I was gone, in an instant. The next thing I knew it was 2.30 am and I could hear a soft voice telling me to wake up.

In other words, the operation itself is a push-over, except for the 2% chance you won’t make it! The trade off here is that, without the operation, I would have lived for around 4/5 months.

I felt no pain, just a slight soreness in my chest where they ran down my sternum with a small circular saw! I was aware of my right leg, too, where they harvested the vein they required. I have no varicose veins so this was straight forward. ‘The body is a rich source of spare parts’ the surgeon told me. ‘You have twice as many veins as you need’. Sometimes they use a redundant vein in your chest. I really think they enjoy cutting people up.

I was wheeled into theatre at 3.30 pm and the operation lasts around five hours. They like to keep you sedated for six hours so my 2.30 am wake-up call was spot on. Everything must have been OK.

I’d made friends with a guy called Albert and I was vaguely aware they were having trouble waking him in the bed behind me. My wife and eldest daughter Sally had arrived by this time and we were all concerned. I’m not sure what happened to him. New Cross is like a small city.

Sleep became my biggest problem. I’ve never been able to sleep on my back and I couldn’t sleep on my side until my sternum had more or less healed (after around a month) so I slept in the comfortable chair beside my bed most of the time, and the same when I got home. A nurse asked me to get into bed at one point so I waited until she went off duty and got back in my chair.

Because I had three stents fitted (@ £1050 each!) my blood had to be just right. I needed extra anti-coagulant because the stents are a foreign body but, too thin, and the vein grafts won’t heal. The surgeon and his team have to walk a tightrope. The result of this is that I ended up with around 1.2 L of fluid (mainly blood) in my chest cavity, which caused my left lung to collapse. My blood/oxygen levels were within specifications on one lung only. I used to be a pro trombonist, which probably explains this. Added to this, there was a temporary system failure with the result that the X-Ray images couldn’t be accessed on computer for a while.

The draining and re-inflation process was pretty unpleasant. I shall say no more.

They usually get you walking about the day after the operation but the above setback delayed my stroll for a day. I then spent a day or so walking the corridors carrying a bottle of blood joined to a tube that went into my left rib cage. This caused slight inconvenience at bed time, more reason to sleep in my chair.

I stood in front of the mirror in the ensuite bathroom. I had a multi-headed cannula inserted into the main artery in my neck, a tube leading from my ribs into a bottle, another cannula in the back of my left hand, plasters on my chest and leg, surgical stockings, and bruises around my abdomen where the anti-coagulants were administered at bedtime (to guard against DVT’s).

‘Good grief!’ I thought. ‘You look as if you’ve been hit by a truck’.

Despite it all, I’m recovering well and feeling better than ever. Shortly before rounding off this blog I went on a three mile march, descending and re-ascending around 300 feet and I felt great!

Looking back to my first admission by ambulance, I’m still in awe of the skill and professionalism of all those concerned. The ambulance personnel had sent precise details of my condition to the hospital and I was wheeled straight into the ‘Lab’ from the vehicle. A smiling and confident multi-national team approached me and it was obvious they all knew exactly what the problem was and where they had to go to put it right. Access to the heart artery with the stents was via my right wrist, with a local anaesthetic. I still can’t believe it.

Their fast and efficient response minimised damage to the heart muscles cause by the restriction of blood flow. This is very important.

In no time at all I was in bed wondering what had happened. I was still as high as a kite on morphine, too. And so very tired!

At my lowest point I dreamed my grandfather, a regular soldier, was standing at the foot of my bed holding his rifle. He looked so young and so frail. His eyes looked without seeing. Heaven only knows what he’d seen. ’Chin up lad’ he simply said.

I awoke with a start, my eyes dancing around the deserted ward in the subdued light. It had all seemed so real, as dreams often do, especially in the confused state people enter following major surgery.

What I’ve been through is nothing. Nothing.

Action Heart: a follow-up

I had my first session in the superbly equipped hospital gym Monday 7 December. Everyone walks up to a bank of blood pressure machines as they enter. Because this was my first visit, I also had a portable ECG monitor strapped to my waist and a series of contacts attached at intervals around my chest. The equipment sent information by a wireless link to the hospital system during my session. The staff already had my history in their file which they had clearly studied. They finally printed out a graph which, too, goes in my file.

Everything was OK and my closing B.P. was 116/76. My opening BP was 140 over something which is as high as they wish it to go. I travel to hospital on public transport, a journey requiring two bus routes. This being my first trip, I began to think, at one point, I was going to be late. This illustrates how insidious stress can be. In my case, because I’m a punctuality freak anyway, the prospect of being late caused me extra anxiety.

I’ve got the times sorted now, so I’ll be OK next time. Unless one of the buses is late!

The session begins with a warm-up procedure not unlike those pictures we often see of old-timers (like me) staying healthy, followed by sessions on cycles, treadmills and other exercises. I’m required to register the degree of hardship on a little card I carry with me as they turn up the dials, which also records my blood pressure at the start and end of the session. It’s my responsibility to read the data to the reception staff before I leave. This is all part of a growing tendency over here to expect patients to be actively involved in their treatment. Or are they just shifting part of the blame?

On the subject of stress, I have an appointment with a counsellor 21 December. I know, because I’ve tried and failed, that I need help, here. An over-active mind is the culprit, I believe, and I was interested to read that many of our favourite physicists suffered in a similar way, many of them turning to alcohol as a solution. Not that I’m claiming to be as clever as Richard Feynman. I wish…

My heart attack and a warning to others!

On August 19 I began to experience a severe pain between my ribs as I sat in my chair. I hadn’t been exerting myself. That afternoon I’d eaten some very spicy food at a funeral wake so my initial idea, that it was indigestion, was plausible. Normally, on those rare occasions I suffered from indigestion, a glass of milk would do the trick, turning off the pain as though someone had turned an ‘off’ switch but this time nothing worked and I began to change colour slightly.

We called an ambulance and the crew hitched me up to an ECG machine which confirmed that I was having a heart attack. Within less than an hour of telephoning for assistance, I was in the laboratory at New Cross hospital, Wolverhampton, three miles away through heavy rush-hour traffic, having stents fitted as I watched the whole process on a monitor, which helpfully showed a ‘before’ and ‘after’ picture.

I then spent around three days in hospital before being discharged with a warning that bypass surgery would also be needed to repair other diseased arteries that were not accessible to stents. This operation was carried out October 7 and I am now well on my way to a full recovery.

Where did I go wrong?

I have always believed that the worst lies are those we tell to ourselves and, looking back, I can see where I went wrong. Added to this, there’s the overarching problem that we all tend to believe that bad things only happen to the other guy. To be fair (to me) during my lifetime this has generally been the case. The objective of this post is to help others avoid the mistakes I made.

There are many reasons, apart from vanity, that caused me and all those who know me to react with surprise at the news of my attack. There is no family history of heart disease – my parents both lived to the age of 95 – and I had always eaten a healthy diet and taken plenty of exercise. I have never smoked cigarettes and although I puffed a pipe, without inhaling, the surgeon informed me that the pipe had not caused my condition.

(I have not smoked it since my attack because the presence of nicotine in the blood has an adverse effect on the health of arteries, whether inhaling or not.)

I had been telling everyone that I hadn’t displayed any symptoms, because I believed it to be true but, now that I am virtually fit again, I can really tell the difference. For example, after swimming two lengths I had found it necessary to take a short rest and put it down to my age, 75 years, and the fact that I did not swim every day. I had never been a strong swimmer and water is not my natural element. Shortly before writing this, I had been on a walk lasting around an hour which involved a very steep, half-mile-long uphill stretch, without any of the ill effects I had experienced previously. Again, I had always believed that old age was the culprit.

My cholesterol level had usually tested to 5.2 which is higher than the target level but my doctor said that they don’t just look at this figure but take family history into account. I grabbed onto this information, also reminding myself that other factors, such as hormones, proteins and enzymes in the blood also played a part.

I had also read of a man in a small Italian fishing village who found, during a routine medical examination, that his cholesterol level was so high he should have been dead. In fact he was as fit as a fiddle. They are now trying to synthesise a protein discovered in his blood to use as medicine. This was further evidence to me, as I sought to believe what it suited me to believe, that my cholesterol level was nothing to worry about!

In fact, around ten years ago, I had approached my doctor with the proposition that I should take statins. Bringing up my file on computer his verdict was that I didn’t need them. The criteria have changed since then so that, with the same profile, I would now be prescribed statins.

The verdict

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that years of stress and overwork cause my heart attack. I am informed that, under pressure, we go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Our ancestors would rapidly assess a situation and decide whether standing and fighting or running away would be the better option for survival. Either way, the liver pumps cholesterol into our veins to prepare us for action. In our modern lives we are under different, sometimes invisible, pressures with the result that our stress is frequently bottled up. Where I live, just getting out of the end of the road into the traffic can be bad enough.

Creative people also experience stress during the agony of creation and I often tell people that writing music is every bit as difficult as it looks.

Added to all this, I lost everything in life not once but twice. Just one such experience can drive strong men to suicide.

The Heart and Lung facility

Wolverhampton’s new Heart and Lung facility has been described as the best in the world! I can believe it. A helicopter pad is under construction so that patients far and wide may ‘enjoy’ the benefits. All nurses and other staff enter data via hand-held devices resembling a cellphone which is sent by wireless to the databank whence it can be accessed instantly from anywhere. X-Ray and Ultrasound images are stored in a similar way. Every singe time I received attention I was asked to verify my date of birth, name and address. They also checked my hospital number against the one on my wrist-band.

(It is this same, rigorous attention to detail that causes Britain to be a much harder target for terrorists.)

When I regained consciousness after surgery I found myself in a large, open plan area, in semi-darkness. Shadowy figures silently went about their business. Every bed had its own set of colourful monitors. I began to think I’d been abducted by aliens.

Action Heart

But the fun doesn’t stop here. Allied to the amazing treatment and care I received is a program called Action Heart. I am attending a series of eight lectures on heart disease and related subjects such as diet, exercise and stress. Also, when I was signed off by the surgeon, I automatically received a phone call from my local hospital calling me in for a fitness assessment in preparation for joining the hospital gym. This involved a test on a treadmill, wired-up to an ECG machine. My blood pressure was also monitored and they looked for (and found) a rapid recovery of all signs when I was finally allowed to rest. When they showed me the well equipped gym my jaw dropped. It’s BIG.

And all this is free.

Much is said about the comparison between Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) and the insurance-based system in the USA. Of course, we pay for our system too. Money is deducted from our pay which goes into a National Insurance fund for state pensions etc. and part of the tax we pay goes to the NHS.

The economic arguments used to justify the insurance-based schemes are not as clear-cut as they are sometimes made out to be. Fit workers are more efficient and one of the biggest problems faced by industry is uncertain staffing levels, especially in SME’s that always suffer from ‘small team vulnerability’ (a useful American expression).

The NHS was created by the Attlee government that was voted into power at the end of WW2, which also conceived the Welfare State and began a massive program of social housing. This Labour government was arguably the greatest democratic government ever seen.

I am not a party-political animal and believe that the tendency to align oneself with closed-system ideologies – the ‘isms’ – is always a sign of mediocrity. The Universe just doesn’t work like that. Nevertheless, I am, in my ‘heart-of-hearts’ (now freshly mended), a Socialist and probably always will be so that it is totally abhorrent to me that people should be denied the care and treatment they need because of their financial circumstances.

One thing is certain; my treatment and care was so good that I cannot imagine how it could be improved upon. But it will be. You’ll see.