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.

Commercial Electric Ceiling Lights, Revisited

I had written last year about good success installing a Commercial Electric ceiling light fixture. While these are indeed easy to install, I recently put up one more in a small room, then drilled a screw into place on an adjoining wall, and the glass dome fell off to the wood floor below and shattered.

Reading the relatively few 1-star reviews of the product, apparently some other people have had the same problem. Since I really don’t want that to happen again, I think I had better find something with a more secure cover.

Another reported problem is that the glass domes are too hard to remove at all. When I went to take down the other two that I had already put up, I found that I couldn’t just unscrew the dome as expected. A big thanks to Sanjeev Sabhlok for hosting the answer!

These particular light fixtures also appear to be increasingly hard to purchase; perhaps they were discontinued?

2021 Honda CR-V

IMG_8533After driving 10 hours for a vacation in western South Dakota, plus a few hours driving around the area, a bunch of problem indicator lights turned on in the 2014 Honda CR-V. The service technicians at Rushmore Honda checked it out, saw nothing obviously wrong, reset the indicators, and told us it should be fine. To do a deeper inspection would involve keeping the car for a couple of days, which wasn’t a great option at the moment.

We drove a couple more hours and the indicator lights came on again.

We had already been contemplating trading in for a new vehicle sometime soon-ish, and faced with a 10 hour drive back home across a very sparsely populated part of the country, we went ahead and exchanged the 2014 CR-V for a new 2021 model. Graciously tended to by Rushmore Honda’s David Reichert, we had what was easily the most pleasant car-buying experience we have thus far been through. It almost makes us want to start driving 10 hours to buy all of our new cars in Rapid City…

How about the car itself? The configurable car options is an impressive new-to-me feature, letting you change various settings from automatic door locks to cruise control behavior. I miss the CD player, but the onboard graphical interface to my iPhone pretty well makes up for it.

More: photos from (mostly) South Dakota

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.