Polkasound Productions

With the 2021 Black Friday shopping season already upon us, I was browsing deals on virtual music instrument software tonight, and happened upon Polkasound Productions. As a former accordion player, I thought, “Surely this website isn’t what it sounds like,” but it is! Fifteen glorious virtual instruments well-suited to recording tracks in the ancient musical art form of polka.

The instruments require a full version of the Native Instruments Kontakt sampler to run, and are half off the rest of this week. But even considering the regular prices, the demos sound outstanding. I expect to pick up at least a few of these accordions in the coming days.

(Remember that Kontakt is on sale for half-off this week too! For years I thought that surely the need for Kontakt will dwindle. Indeed, numerous new sample formats have popped up recently, but Kontakt remains a strong contender, and there is a lot of virtual instrument content out there that still requires it.)

Acoustic Treatment and Your Health

If you’re serious about listening to music at home, either as a producer or a consumer, you are probably interested in including some acoustic treatment in your listening room. Bass traps in the corners and broadband absorbers along the walls are commonly the first pieces of acoustic treatment employed. But what is this stuff made out of, and is it okay to have in your home?

Most acoustic treatment on the market today is made out of some sort mineral wool insulation product (either fiberglass-based or stone-based), typically enclosed in a wooden frame and covered with an acoustically-transparent fabric. Mineral wool is well-regarded as being perfectly safe… when used as intended by the manufacturer. We have this stuff in our homes, sealed up in the walls; it was never designed to be hanging on the walls in our living space.

People who are concerned about keeping chunks of mineral wool insulation in their living spaces are typically concerned about one or both of:

  • Is the product carcinogenic?
  • Are airborne mineral wool fibers getting into your lungs?

As of this writing, the current official statement is that none of the products from the big names in insulation used for sound absorption — neither from Owens Corning, Rockwool, nor Knauf — are considered carcinogenic. There is no documented evidence that handling or inhaling these insulation products — especially in the limited degree associated with using them for sound absorption — would put anyone at risk. With the (supposed) exception of Knauf ECOSE insulation, all of these insulation products are manufactured with a small amount of formaldehyde, but this is “baked” off during the manufacturing process, leaving only a negligible amount in the end.

That’s encouraging! But if you spend much time around mineral wool insulation, you still might wonder about breathing in mineral wool fibers or dust. The good news there is that inhaling small amounts of mineral wool fibers may be annoying, but should not pose any long-term health threat.

This all makes pretty decent sense. Mineral wool insulation has been used in professional recording studios for decades. If it was a serious problem, surely there would be outcry.

Nevertheless, even assuming that there is no known health risk to the insulation fibers, I wasn’t sure that I liked the idea of having them around my home studio space. And even if there is no known health risk to any chemical content of the insulation, it turned out that most of the sheets of Rockwool Rockboard 60 that I purchased gave off a chemical odor that I didn’t like smelling while in the studio.

So if not using mineral wool, what other options even exist? My own research eventually led me to Hofa-Akustik in Germany, which offers (among other things) broadband absorbers made with Basotect melanine foam, and bass traps made with natural sheep wool. I placed a small initial order to evaluate their products first-hand, but information available online suggests that Basotect is an unusually high-performing acoustic foam, and that sheep wool is works surprisingly well as a low-frequency sound absorber. I am looking forward to high-performing products that avoid the concerns associated with mineral wool fibers.

Avid Scorch Drifts Further Toward Uselessness

I have been using Avid Scorch on my Apple iPad for about ten years. As a user of Avid Sibelius for creating sheet music documents, Avid Scorch was an obvious solution for viewing them on my iPad. And unlike most iOS sheet music viewers, Avid Scorch allows for changing the key of a document.

Sadly, Avid Scorch has not been updated on iOS for several years. As of this writing:

  • For Mac users on Apple Silicon M1 systems, only the latest version of Sibelius is supported by Avid (though older versions might work, through Rosetta, even if not supported)
  • Documents created with the latest version of Avid Sibelius do not load in Avid Scorch
  • Many (most? all?) MusicXML documents do not load in Avid Scorch

We are reaching the point where Avid Scorch is a nearly-dead legacy application. If you still have documents created with a sufficiently old version of Avid Sibelius, it continues to be as great as always (which, admittedly, was still a little buggy and lacking in features). But running newer versions of Sibelius, including running on the new standard M1 Apple platform, Avid Scorch is completely useless.

The Return of Something for Cat

I had recently heard a well-respected multimedia composer state that one of my personal favorite genres of music, what you might describe as 1960’s easy listening light big band jazz, a la Henry Mancini or Neil Hefti, was really no longer commercially desirable.

But just this month, I heard on two separate commercials, Mancini’s track *Something for Cat* from the *Breakfast at Tiffany’s* soundtrack. Perhaps this style is making a bit of a comeback?

Even if not, style aside, *Something for Cat* is a fine example of one of the main features of much commercial / library music today: very minimal melody, with an arrangement that builds, adding a new component, every few measures. Let’s take a listen:

Today’s most typical commercial guidance is to add a new musical element every four measures; here, depending on how you are counting the time, Mancini is adding a new element every eight measures:

  • Eight measures of percussion and low horns
  • Eight measures of adding a low sax riff
  • Eight measures of adding a high muted trumpet riff
  • Eight measures almost the same as the previous, but building the intensity of the drums/percussion

None of this is especially melodic, and thus none of it would especially interfere with on-screen dialogue or narration. In other words, great background underscore music.

After those opening 32 measures, Mancini then goes into a short “B” section of the song, a little bit more melodic, but still reasonably containable in the background.

Past that, the piece goes into various jazz solos, and becomes less generally desirable as multi-purpose commercial library music. It may well work in a particular setting, but such virtuosic lead lines are prone to conflicting with dialogue. When producing modern commercial library music, there is nothing wrong with including such passages, but you would probably want to also provide variations without the soloing.

Even so, the core essence of the track bears much structural resemblance to the commercial music today. And whether if we are seeing a big return to 1960s jazz stylings or not, it’s nice to hear this track getting some fresh air time!

The Greatest Love

819925-R1-013-5At our 2008 wedding, Jennifer and I had my cousin Hannah McDonald sing the Harlan Rogers composition The Greatest Love (with lyrics later added by Phil Driscoll). In celebration of our ten-year anniversary, we at Atmosphere Control Productions have published a single of this song, retaining the original drum track from the wedding (courtesy of Carl Albrecht), along with updated keys, guitars, bass, and vocal tracks. Available as a digital download now from iTunes, Amazon Music, CDBaby, etc. Buy a copy today! Better yet, buy a thousand!

And Happy 10-Year Anniversary to Jennifer! I love you very much!

See also: original instrumental version from 1986 by Harlan Rogers with Koinonia