Ric Holland's Blog

Craig Calhoun interview

Ric        Welcome Craig to the Art of Making Marks. So please tell us a little about what you  do as you are an artist but not in the style of most of my previous interviews, instead you are from the field of music so to kick things off please introduce yourself.

Craig     I’m Craig Calhoun.  I’m a composer, performer and multi instrumentalist.

Ric        Fantastic.  And I notice you’ve got a few Wacom tablets in your studio.

Craig     Hmm.  Yes I do.

Ric         So have you  been using tablets for a while?

Craig     Since about 1998 was my first encounter with a Wacom tablet.

Ric        So you’re a musician but you dabble in the visual arts and other fields?

Craig     Yes, back at that stage I did.  I dabbled a bit.

Ric        Now your really using tablets for a different purpose you’re really using the tablet as a mouse replacement is that right?

Craig    Exactly, because the majority of the stuff I do is with music software and I spend a lot of time doing clicks and moving around and after some time I discovered, you know, pains and just realised that there was another alternative to just break up the amount of time that I was spending with a mouse in my hand.  Some recording and mixing some sessions I’d be working for maybe eight to ten hours straight.

Ric        And so I notice you’ve got a Graphire4 Bluetooth wireless tablet over there.  That obviously gives you some mobility around your studio?

Craig    A lot of mobility but the beautiful feature of it was the fact that because it is wireless, and in my environment you know, if I’m tracking guitars or vocals or bass or whatever, I’m not restricted to being at the computer screen, operating from that one point.

Ric        This is a tight little home studio with ergonomic issues since it wasn’t purpose built so instead of having you’re back to the musicians while your recording you can actually move around and interact with them.

Craig     Either other musicians or if I’m working by myself I might be singing for example and I actually need to position the microphone in a spot where it’s not getting fan noises from hard drives or computers, or it could be the acoustic treatment that I actually need the microphone in a different place.  So I can physically take the tablet with me, sing from that position, view the screen and operate at the same time.

Ric          Fantastic.

Craig    So that was a really big advantage, which I think was a real innovation, especially in my field in the recording studio because I hadn’t seen anybody doing that before.

Ric        Well I guess there’s some very big purpose built studios, if you like, that have all the ergonomics built in.  Being able to put people in the right place and be able to see them performing but in these days where many recording artists have a studio right in their own home, it’s almost like giving you the ability to create your own ergonomics in a more dynamic way on the fly.

Craig    Yes, that’s right there is really the biggest advantage because you know there are a lot of small private studios because the technology makes it a viable thing so you have to think creatively.  You’ve got to utilise the best space and the best ergonomics because you are working for long periods of time and some of the problems that I’ve been able to overcome by having just that wireless connectivity have allowed me to get a lot more done in a smaller amount of time and with fewer restrictions.

Ric        Is there software that allows you to use the pressure sensitivity in the pen, or is it really just as we were talking about, a mouse replacement?

Craig    More of a mouse replacement for the music applications. 

Ric        I have seen software from Adobe where you can actually paint out parts of a track to clean up sound track and background noise

Craig    Yes that’s right plus there’s also using the pen for music notation, that’s another really valuable asset as a tool.

Ric        So now I notice a very new Wacom product in front of you. You’ve been trialling the Cintiq 12 in your studio so can you tell us honestly what you think?

Craig    Oh, man.  I’m in love.  I am so in love with that thing because it just took the convenience and flexibility of the Bluetooth tablet another step further.  Not only can I be away from this static position here in front of my screens, but I can also take the screen in the tablet right with me and so I’m not restricted to being in view of my main screen, and make sure I’m in the right spot for what I’m about to sing.  I can literally just have it right in front of me wherever I’m about to play.

Ric        I guess you’ve got your hands free to play your instruments?

Craig    I can go back, record, drop-in, do all of that, right there just with the pen in one hand and the other hand on the music keyboard.  When I am doing vocals for example,  I don’t necessarily want reflective surfaces from these screens, so I’ll place the microphone back over in another area where it’s a different acoustic space to get the best sound of me singing and so I can take the screen with me.

Ric        Tell us a little about the software you’re running here and what set up you’ve got.

Craig    I’m running Audio Logic from Apple, well the latest version of Logic, which is Logic Studio Version 8, and that’s the main program that I run.  The other thing that I do a lot is not only compose music but I also do sound design for Film and TV as well.  So having the screen just that close to me, at an angle that’s really comfortable as I’m working right allows me to see the vision running along the timeline and, drop-in, drop-out, and still be in sight of the instrument I’m playing as opposed to doing this and looking over there and moving a mouse around awkwardly.

Ric         So in a sense this is a little bit of a revelation for music professionals?

Craig     Oh, man, in a big way.  A big way, it’s a revelation.

Ric        So at this point I’d like you to tell us little bit more about your work and your career, different influences on your life, whatever you like?

Craig    Oh right.  Well.  My father was in the military, so I travelled a lot as a kid.  Moved to Germany when I was eleven, so I kind of grew up there. Originally from the US.  Moved back to the US when I was sixteen and so had seen a lot of the world and realised that there’s a lot more happening.  Since I turned 21, moved back to Germany and ended up touring with The Supremes’ European tour and when I’d finished went to Switzerland but just love performing and live music is what I’ve been doing over time.  Was starting to delve into recording, when I came to Australia in 1985 on a tour with Don Burrows the jazz legend and I just kind of fell in love with the place.

            I think about 1987 that I actually crossed that border into the technology so recording music with computers.  Sequencing, and from there, you know, it was like a whole new world opened up that I could create music on a computer as well as with live instruments.  My musical career path has gone from performing live to composing for film, television and also producing other artists as well, and just more recently teaching digital recording and composition for the screen.

Ric        So you embraced the early days of the PC desktop revolution from a music/ audio standpoint and then have ridden that wave ever since.

Craig    That’s right I guess.

Ric        And so that journey has brought many new skills to your musical repertoire?

Craig     Oh, yes.  A lot of new skills and I just love it.  I absolutely love it.  That’s why something like this to me is like another great wave that’s just come in.  Yeah, I was really taken by surprise with this Cintiq.  That’s forward thinking, I think.

Ric        [laughs] So this is an innovation, a revolution, an evolution.  I think we’re all trying to come up with the right marketing spin for this product but I just like it too..

Craig     Evolution really, yeah.

Ric        I liked evolution let’s use that.  But moving further forward, are there innovations that you would like to see from Wacom that would help you in your work?

Craig    Well you know, all these little buttons here.  I could see more functionality with the programming of those, maybe some a little display to give you some information because I mean nowadays with a lot of synthesisers that we are all using, they’re all virtual synths.  All synths these days are plug ins.  And the amount of manipulation that you can do within those programs is done with controller keyboards that are available, they’re just knobs and faders, you know.

Ric        So possibly if you had touch sensitivity as well as the dexterity of the pen, you could just touch a knob, or slider/fader, whatever the software interface provided.

Craig    Oh yes exactly.  I mean, I could compose something, go back and do a sweep of automation and use the Cintiq for manipulating the filters, everything with out all the other interface devices I nead. That would be so great.

Ric        [laughs]  That wish might just come true. We have just announced our RRFC touch technology, which works in combination with our EMR® pen-input technology which means what you have just described can now happen.

Craig    Just the ability to slide my finger up and down and actually have that control of the fader.  Now we’re talking.  I can see some real incredible uses for that. I had a look at the Cintiq 21 when it first came out that’s when it really dawned on me where this could go but it was physically too big to move around for for better usability and but now here it is a smaller lighter Cintiq.

Ric        It’s smaller and lighter and unencumbered with a big stand Yes we’re very excited about this product.

Craig     You ought to be. Had Wacom actually considered how this would benefit musicians?

Ric        We’ve been showing it to all sorts of people but it’s wonderful to talk to you from the musical and audio point of view, where just purely the ergonomics of this device might be the key benefit. Thank you for sharing your world with us today on Art of Making Marks.

Craig    Cool.  Thank you, that’s a rap.