Why is it so hard to put regular Lion on a Mac Mini Server?

A while back, I bought a Mac Mini Server before the latest refresh.   It’s a 2010 model.   This was a good deal at the time because it came with 2 internal 500GB 7200RPM drives, 4GB of RAM and the Core2Duo 2.66Ghz processor by default…a config that cost $150 less than to do it with the standard Mac Mini.   Also, it included Snow Leopard Server.   I didn’t really need Snow Leopard Server.  I toyed around with it a bit, but eventually decided I didn’t ever really need OS X server.   Still, it served me well, pun intended, as my iTunes Media Server, housing several hundred gigs of iTunes movies, TV shows and music content.   It also housed an AFP share for a rather sizable Aperture library.

Step forward to today.  I wanted to repurpose the Mac Mini into my main music workstation.   I figured that since Ableton has released their 8.2.5 update that addresses Lion compatibility, I should try to aim for installing Lion on this box.  Also, the goal was to get rid of the OS X server bits altogether.   Easier said than done.

First, the upgrade process to Lion is simple and straight forward.  You go to the App Store and purchase and install Lion.  The first catch for me was the automatic detection of me running OS X server and it claimed I had to download Lion and Lion Server for a combined $79.99.  Ouch!  I just wanted Lion, but because I already had OS X server, it was forcing me to get both for the much higher price.  So, I did some reading and searching and found a recommendation to wipe the Mac Mini Server clean, and get a standard Snow Leopard build on there that wasn’t OS X server.  I decided this would be rather simple to do.  So, I started to do exactly this.  It ended up being a rather twisted attempt at futility.

First, the Snow Leopard family pack install disk I have failed to boot on the Mac Mini.   When this happens, you get greeted with a crossed out circle symbol instead of the Apple logo as it boots.   I did a bit of reading and found that my install disk was too old and couldn’t deal with the relatively recent hardware of the 2010 Mac Mini Server.   There were numerous suggestions on how to use another Mac to install a fresh copy of Snow Leopard to an external USB drive so it can be updated then transplanted to the Mac Mini, but all of those proved to eventually have flaws that left things like the SD reader unusable.

Lacking way to get regular Snow Leopard on here, I decided to look at other options.

One of the other options involved purchasing and downloading Lion from another Mac, but not actually installing it and using some rather lengthy process to build a boot image.  Back in my younger geek years, I would have taken the several hours to do all this work, but I wanted a short cut.  I did more searching and found that Apple just released the Lion Installation USB thumb drive on the Apple Store.   But, the major issue here was price $69.99, and availability.  I called the two local Apple stores, they didn’t stock it and really had no idea it even existed.

So, left with looking at a $69.99 option I would have to order, pay tax and shipping to get vs. the $79.99 combined download price, I opted for the later.   Should I ever want OS X server, I have it on any of my Macs and I get the vanilla non OS X Lion for use on any of them as well.

As it turns out, Lion Server is a set of services and apps that sit on top of OS X and if you never use them, you can disable them and have no detrimental effect of having them on the system.

It ended up being a long and arduous process that could have been longer, even if less expensive.   My main gripe here is with Apple.   Why can’t this be easier?  Why force me to buy something I don’t want because of something I already have?   I’ll probably try to see if I can get a refund for the forced App Store purchase of Lion Server.   Now, back to building the workstation, getting everything back on there and making music!

Learning Logic and Also Playing with Max for Live

Leaning Logic Pro

Over the past several weeks, I’ve started several new tracks/song ideas.   Sometimes, the tools being used influence the work I create.   For instance, Ableton Live tends to help me make a few short musical ideas and weave them into an arrangement quite easily which is good for songs that have a few major themes that repeat with variation.   While Ableton has an arrangement mode that allows you to make linear arrangements out of your material, Logic Pro is all about the arranger mode and lends itself to similar kinds of work, but usually starting out as an arrangement.   It’s been a while since I’ve done any work in Apple Logic Pro because I had believed it to be too complex for my needs.  So, I dug in and decided to learn it the right way.  So, hours of manual reading and tutorial watching from the good folks over at MacProVideo.com, I learned quite a bit and I plan on using Logic in some of my tracks soon.  Certainly, the ability to use all of the interesting Logic instruments is a major driver here.

Max for Live as Another Tool in the Toolset

Also, while learning and diving into Reaktor, I’ve been trying to learn Max for Live (lots of learning going on here)!.  Similar to how Reaktor allows you to make your own instruments, effects and pretty much anything audio-related, Max for Live embeds Max/MSP into Ableton Live and allows you to do the same, but glued to the Ableton Live environment.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it offers tight integration with Live through an API.  The approach to sound design between Reaktor and Max isn’t all that different and I’m changing my mind when it comes to it.  In my previous post, I definitely noted that I like the workflow of Reaktor much better.   That’s still true, but under the hood, both seem to offer the same raw capability of making sound and the approach each takes seems to lead to different influences on the result, so I plan on using both.  As I’m learning each, my main focus is trying to come up with similar, if not the same result using each tool so I can learn what works best in each.

iPhone as a Pocket Recording Device

Another thing I’ve been trying to do is to also use the tools I have around me all the time like my iPhone.  Believe it or not, the Voice Recorder application on the iPhone does a decent job of being able to record sounds you come across wherever you happen to be.   Like the saying goes in regards to cameras, “The best camera is the one you have with you”.  Same goes to capturing sound.  Yeah, I have a Zoom H2 recorder that’s designed for this purpose and when I know I want to capture a sound, that’s what I use.   But so often, I want to record something and I have my iPhone on me and find that the results are good enough for what I need most of the time.   To get samples out of my iPhone, I sync it with iTunes and import the audio files into sample directories on my local drive.  They are already compressed and they were recorded with a rather inexpensive mic built-in to the iPhone, but I’ve found that once the material is incorporated into a track/mix, I can’t really complain that I got the sound from my phone.


New Toys and a new Track

I just got back from vacation yesterday and had a bit of downtime today before doing the massive catch-up on yard work and work email from when I was gone.   So, I started to work on a new track, Gnetophyte.  Instead of working right away from within Ableton, I went into Logic Studio and fired up a really cool drum/beat machine that is part of the built-in instrument set, Ultrabeat.   If you aren’t familiar with Ultrabeat, it’s part drum machine and drum designer.   I modified a stock kit and setup a couple variations on a beat pattern.  I wanted to get this into Ableton as an audio loop, so I exported the bounce in Live to a separate AIFF file for each pattern and brought those into an Ableton project.  Then I added more parts and setup the arrangement in Ableton.  All instrument parts on top of the drum loops are Ableton instruments except for the only pitched synth…the one that starts and ends the track, which is a synth from NI Massive.

I should mention that I just got Massive as part of NI Komplete last week.   I’ll be incorporating more NI instruments as time goes on and I plan to spend considerable time diving into Reaktor.   I spent many hours reading up on Reaktor over vacation and started to dabble in it.   I had been reading about Reaktor for years now and was torn as to whether I wanted to get into Reaktor or Max/MSP (Max for Live) for sound design.

Reaktor vs. Max/MSP

The decision to go with Reaktor was mostly driven from how I wanted to use the technology.   Max/MSP is incredibly versatile with a huge community and there’s a wealth of academic material that focuses on Max/MSP for sound design and theory.   As a commercial application Max/MSP is very well supported and pretty polished application.   However, I ended up picking reactor because there’s so much overlap with what Max/MSP can do and a free open source product that was the predecessor to Max/MSP called Pure Digital or PD for short.   For many of the things I wanted to accomplish in Max/MSP, I could likely just do in PD.  When it came to more complex tasks that are rooted in more traditional sound design (synths, samplers, effects, etc), Reaktor tends to have a better toolkit for the creation of those elements.   It’s pretty open ended, but more oriented toward that part of the spectrum rather than completely raw and open sound manipulation like Max/MSP or PD.  So, the combo of Reaktor + PD works for me.

In any case, hopefully I’ll be putting some stuff down soon with Reaktor (and PD) and I’ll post about it here.   In the meantime, here’s the new track that I put on SoundCloud today, Gnetophyte.

New Track Uploaded to SoundCloud – Protonema

I started working on an ambient sort of track tonight.  Started with a nice pad that I tweaked in Ableton, and added some more detailed layers on top of it to give it the right kind of vibe.  I stink at drum programming, I’m working on that.  However, I found a nice loop I liked and I warped it ever so slightly in Ableton.  The harsh violin-esque bowed sound in the middle comes from the Ableton instrument, Tension.  It models hammered, bowed and plucked instruments with the ability to tweak the force, friction, position of the bow, body of the instrument, etc.  Tension is wonderful to go to for unique sounds that have an organic tint to them.  Here is Protonema, it still needs some tweaking but it’s mostly done.

What is this magical place called SoundCloud?

So, I’ve been working on music as a hobby since I was 12. I’ve always been interested in composing and recording music…it has followed me everywhere I’ve been in life. 24-ish years later, I stumble upon SoundCloud. To be cliché, I’m like a kid in a candy shop. I can post the music I make and people can comment on it. People I don’t know or wouldn’t know otherwise, but they find my music and can leave a note about it. That’s awesome in and of itself. I can find and follow other’s music and comment on it as well. So, it’s a great way to get heard, get feedback, hear others and give them feedback. So far, I’ve uploaded several semi-complete tracks and works-in-progress. It’s like the local art fair, but for music and it’s completely drawn me in. I look forward to being an active member of the community there. Hopefully, I can find someone I can collaborate with. My talents only go so far and I’m hoping that someone can challenge me musically to push me farther than I would otherwise go myself. If you are a musician, or, you enjoy getting close to musicians you’ve discovered, I think SoundCloud is a great place to try. This is my first blog post here, and I’ll be posting often about things related to music and other interests.   In the meantime, feel free to checkout my music at http://soundcloud.com/ryanmoffett.