The Good Ship Laravel

I like writing songs about open source, but I’ve never actually released any or posted them publicly, mainly because my singing is fairly terrible, and trying to find others will to sing about these things seems hard! I really liked “the Wellerman” sea shanty craze of 2021, I had a thought that I should make use of the the nautical theme that runs through a lot of Laravel’s nomenclature to write a shanty of my own, that wasn’t just another cover of the Wellerman. It also occurred to me that I could semi-speak the words (in a pirate voice of course!) instead of outright singing, and that made it feel a bit less daunting. I wrote the intro first, and I liked the storytelling aspect, though as intros go it’s quite long. The first verse came quite easily as I built a list of words and kind of ticked them off the list. The timing and rhyming structure is straight Limerick, which makes things very easy. The main melody was just the result of doodling on the keyboard for a bit. I was pleased with the sailor/Taylor rhyme for the chorus, but it took me ages to come up with the rest of it. I had several failing attempts at a melody for the chorus, eventually just singing something that the words fitted, and then turning that into an accordion line, then building out everything else around it.

The instrumentation was very simple – it’s a sea shanty so we need simple folk instruments – accordion and cajon, and then a plucked upright bass to fill it out. In the final chorus I threw in some lovely blatty brass and a bit of piccolo, since the top end was kind of empty.

The Logic Pro arrangement

I recorded the vocals for the intro in July 2021, but re-recorded them later for consistency. I sang the first (lowest) line of the chorus vocals, and then did something I’ve done before – copy the track, and then use Logic’s Flex Pitch editor to shift notes around to make harmonies, generally upwards, since I’d sung a low line to start with. Having found harmonies that worked, I then re-sang the new line, as a heavily edited one doesn’t sound quite right, especially when pitch shifts are quite large. I then repeated the process for a second time, giving me a three-part harmony for the chorus. Flex Pitch let me correct pitch, but also timing – the harmonies sound so much better when they line up in time too. The low line was only possible for me to sing because at the time I was recovering from COVID and a very nasty sore throat, so while I was feeling much better, my voice was much deeper then usual, and I could hit much lower notes! Overall I found the singing much easier than the other things I’ve tried to sing because it was pitched much more comfortably for my voice.

Software & Hardware

  • Apple Logic Pro X
  • Behringer UMC404HD USB audio interface
  • Aston Element dynamic microphone
  • Adam Audio TR5V monitors
  • KRK RP10S subwoofer
  • Arturia Minilab Mk II MIDI keyboard
  • Behringer DSP8024 Ultra-Curve Pro (room correction)
  • Mackie Big Knob passive volume control

Instruments & effects

  • Accordion, cajon, upright bass, piccolo, seagulls and waves from Logic’s standard sample library
  • Brass section from Logic’s Studio Horns instrument
  • Rowing boat sample I found from some ancient soundfonts collection
  • iZotope RX7 noise reduction
  • SSL Channel Strip (EQ, compression)
  • Logic standard compressor, EQ, de-esser
  • Logic “Space Designer” reverb
  • One of Logic’s default mastering configs for final output
Intro:
I was cast adift in development seas
a shiver of bugs a’circlin’ me
Naught but a pair of oars and my IDE
to keep my app from drownin’

I spied at last a distant sail
I signalled for ‘elp to that caravel
As she hove to I made out her name
’twas the good ship Laravel!

Verse 1:
Gather ye round my developers
and I’ll spin you a yarn most eloquent
a tale of passport and breeze,
socialite and jetstream
a cloud full of vapor and elegance

We’ve resources and models and more
controllers and actions galore
Fortified with some rum,
and a sack of enums
we’ll build an app clients will adore


Chorus:
Train your telescope on that far horizon
Don’t get marooned on development island
We’re gonna build an app so well
On the good ship Laravel

Get on board now, every sailor
dance to the tune of cap’n Taylor
You’ve never built an app so well as
On the good ship Laravel

Verse 2:

With livewire on top of your scripts
and laracasts dishing out tips
We’ve got the best pest
to chase the rats from your tests
and artisan helping you ship

The framework’s the star, that’s for sure
but there’s packages of treasure to explore
but the best bit’s the crew,
and you can join too –
everyone’s welcome aboard

Chorus2:
Train your telescope on that far horizon
Don’t get marooned on development island
We’re gonna build an app so well
On the good ship Laravel

Get on board now, every sailor
dance to the tune of cap’n Taylor
You’ve never built an app so well as
On the good ship Laravel
The good ship Laravel

An explanation for non Laravel folk!

A shiver is the collective noun for sharks. An IDE is an integrated development environment such as PHPStorm or VS Code; think MS Word, but for programming. An app, in this context, is a web application built in PHP. Sail is the name of a Laravel feature for managing local development environments. A caravel is a 15th century Portuguese sailing boat, exactly the kind of vessel that a stranded pirate might encounter, and also the word that gave inspiration for Laravel‘s name. “Hove to” is a sailing manoeuvre used to more or less stop a boat by pointing the sails in opposing directions, very useful when picking up castaways. A yarn is a story, often nautical, and a thread, but it’s also the name of a Javascript package manager. Eloquent is the name of Laravel’s database abstraction layer. Passport, Breeze, Socialite, and Jetstream are all Laravel features for building authentication workflows. Real clouds are made of vapor, but Laravel’s serverless service is called Vapor, and runs in the cloud. Elegance? Well, it mostly rhymes with eloquent, and is something that any framework aspires to. Models, controllers, actions, and resources are all important parts of a typical web app built in an object-oriented style; I was planning to have a line about “plundering” to go with resources, but that didn’t make it. Fortify is another Laravel authentication feature. Enums are a common programming language feature, but notable because they were added natively to PHP 8.1 recently. Telescope is an in-app debugging utility. Horizon is a queue monitoring extension. Cap’n Taylor is of course Taylor Otwell, the creator of Laravel. Livewire is a toolkit for building dynamic, interactive web interfaces for Laravel apps. Laracasts provides an amazing library of training material for Laravel and related technologies, and also a great forum. Pest is a relatively new system for building automated tests that Laravel uses. Artisan is a command line tool that helps automate numerous development tasks. The crew is Laravel’s development team, but also the enormous and diverse community of developers that make Laravel far greater than a typical framework – it’s home for many of us!

Using a Behringer DSP8024 for Room EQ

I have a Behringer DSP8024 Ultra-Curve Pro audio processor on the output of my computer.

Behringer DSP8024 audio processor

I picked up this relatively ancient unit for £50 about 15 years ago (it cost about $500 back in 2001!), and they can still be found on eBay, along with later models like the DEQ2496, and related hardware like Focusrite’s (discontinued) VRMBox. It provides many different audio processing functions, including:

  • Stereo 31-band ⅓-octave graphic equaliser
  • Real-time stereo 31-band spectrum analyser
  • Stereo 6-band parametric equaliser
  • Delay up to 2.5 sec
  • Noise gate
  • Automatic “feedback destroyer”
  • Accurate level meter with selectable scales
  • “Brick wall” limiter for output protection
  • Automatic room equalization using microphone input and internal noise generators

It’s this last feature that is the most useful, combining the analyser with the graphic equaliser. Room equalisation (EQ) can correct a lot of acoustic deficiencies in a room. The shape, composition, and contents of a room, and non-linearities in your speakers and audio interface all contribute to how audio sounds within it. Ideally you want to minimise these effects so as to hear as true a signal as possible. It’s a good idea to apply corrective EQ after adding simple physical acoustic controls (e.g. absorber panels, diffusers, and bass traps, or just old duvets and cushions). Room EQ gets some criticism from audiophiles because it can be very hit & miss and can’t address bigger issues, but it can work very well if you listen from a single location in your room (e.g. in front of your desk).

To measure the room equalisation accurately, you need a microphone with a flat (or at least well-documented) frequency response; I use a t.bone MM-1 for this.

The t.bone MM-1 measurement microphone

The equalisation process works like this, starting from flat EQ (no alteration):

  • Output pink noise from the unit through the speakers
  • Analyse what it sounds like through the microphone, from your usual listening position
  • Alter the equalisation towards a flat response
  • Iterate over this process until the overall response is as flat as possible

This process is loud and quite unpleasant, so leave the room or stick on some closed headphones while it’s busy! It takes a minute or so, and you can hear the change in characteristic of the noise playing through the speakers, and see the changes in EQ on the screen of the unit during the process. After it’s done you can save the EQ curves, and switch the EQ in and out to A/B the config. The difference is pretty noticeable, particularly at the low end where most room-related acoustic problems tend to be; overall it’s like having a major speaker upgrade! One benefit I really notice is when switching between my corrected speakers and a decent pair of monitoring headphones – the audio really doesn’t change in character; there’s no significant tonal shift between the two.

Some people have noted problems with “digital noise” when using this unit, particularly at low volume levels. I suffered from this for a long time, but then realised what caused it and solved the problem. If you have a volume control that is before the processor, you will end up with a small signal going through the analogue to digital converters (ADCs), effectively throwing away much of their available resolution, and you’ll get a lot of quantization noise as a result. The best way to hear this deliberately is turn the input level down, and the output level up, then play something smooth and quiet. It will sound horrible, gritty and noisy, you can really “hear the bits”. This isn’t a problem unique to this unit – any ADC provided with insufficient signal will suffer the same problem.

You want to maximise the use of ADC resolution by giving it a full-range signal to convert. So if you have an audio interface before it, make sure it’s turned up full, and if you have any software level control (e.g. macOS system volume), make sure that’s turned up full too, so you’re always sending a full-volume signal. This way the converters will always use their full 24-bit resolution and the quantization noise will be so small you won’t hear it (it’s impossible to remove completely). However, you still want to control your output level. There are 2 ways to do this: alter the level on your monitors (which can be inconvenient as volume controls on active monitors are often on each speaker separately, and often hidden around the back) or use a passive volume control between the equaliser and the speakers. I use a Mackie Big Knob Passive for this.

A Mackie “Big Knob” passive volume controller.

Passive volume controls have no power supply (so no noise or extra cables), and can only turn a signal down, not up. It’s analogue, so there are no DACs or ADCs, just simple passive components. Ideally when it’s turned up full, it should be indistinguishable (acoustically speaking) from a length of cable.

Controlling level directly on the speakers (or on a separate amplifier if you have one) is possibly better than this approach, but usually less convenient. If you want to be able to run your speakers at full volume via the passive volume control, you need to have the monitors turned up full, and this often means you’ll get significant analogue noise (hiss) from the speakers when you’re listening at lower volume, however, that’s generally less unpleasant and not the problem we’re addressing here.

All of this attention to correct signal levels throughout an audio signal path is part of a wider concept known as gain staging, and occurs in many other places in audio recording, processing, mixing, mastering, etc.

It is possible to do all this processing in software using systems like REW or RoomEq, or even to go further and emulate other listening environments, famous studios or speakers, but I quite like having all this externalised and independent of software, and it also means that it can be applied to external inputs too, if you’re playing an instrument directly through a mixer. The “big knob” also provides a very convenient single control for output level, along with other features such as mute/dim and speaker and input switching.

NASA Space Sounds for EXS-24

I saw that NASA released a load of audio clips from various historic space missions – from Sputnik to the final flight of Atlantis, via the moon! Space sounds have long been used musical contexts – SpaceOddity, Telstar, Pulsar, Lemon Jelly’s “Space Walk” to name but a few. I felt I had to make these more musically useful that the ‘ringtone’ MP3s available on NASA’s site, so I wrapped them up as a library for the EXS-24 sampler (appears in Apple’s Logic and Logic Express DAWs). The sounds will work straight away in Logic, but the sounds are accessible in the archive as AIFF files so you can easily convert them to other formats. I split up the sounds into the same historical categories as on the NASA site so you’re not loading up all the samples at once. Keyboard mapping isn’t anything particular (white notes starting at C1), but I did clean up the samples a little and edited down some shorter clips of the more familiar or musical sounds (“Houston, we have a problem”, “The Eagle has landed”, “That’s one small step” etc).

The original sounds are mostly mono with low bandwidth, resolution and sample rate, but many are supplied as stereo 44.1KHz 16-bit files, so I’ve converted them all to that as EXS-24 doesn’t seem to like mixing sample rates in one instrument.

So, go ahead and download the NASA sample library! (70Mb zip)

Obviously I have no rights to these samples; NASA is encouraging people to download and use them at will, and I assume it’s being published under their open-source license.

I wrote this entry a while ago but forgot to post it, duh.

Speaker & room calibration

I was lucky enough to pick up a Behringer Ultracurve Pro DSP8024 for a mere £50 on eBay recently. It turned out to have a buggy OS version (1.2), and Behringer very kindly sent me a replacement EPROM with a new 1.3 OS on it, which works just fine. I now have it installed between my Soundcraft mixer and my Wharfedale active monitors. I used its “Auto-Q” calibration routine and put up with some quite loud pink noise to calculate a room correction curve. Because it knows the spectrum it’s generating, it assumes that what it gets back has been altered by the combination of speakers, room and microphone, so it can calculate an eq map to compensate for it. It’s quite fun to watch as it has a nice big LCD screen to display the 31 1/3 octave bands – the initial spectrum is fairly peaky, but as it iteratively applies corrections you see (and hear) it flattening out. It’s also very obvious that my monitors don’t put out much below 50Hz (it analyses down to 20Hz), but that’s to be expected from a moderately sized box with a 6.5″ driver. The results are really pretty good, sounds lovely and smooth, but the real surprise is when you’ve been listening to it for a while and you switch out the EQ – it’s really quite a shock to hear the uncorrected version. Lots of purists don’t like room correction by EQ, saying it’s better to fix the room in the first place, and also that EQ calculated like this is highly dependent on the listening position (which it is). I have a lots of bookshelves facing my speakers; they make fantastic diffusers, and I have some Universal Acoustics absorber tiles on the sloping ceiling above my listening position. The longest room mode will be fairly undamped (I’m not about to start hanging duvets around the walls!), but the resulting EQ is below 6db in either direction across the whole range – I’ve heard of rooms with 24db peaks! Anyway, after all that, it sounds lovely, and I’m happy!