What I Did Wrong

Here is the latest track from my album-in-progress, called “If You Remember (What I Did Wrong).” (Download: mp3 | lyrics & chords | tablature)

If You Remember (What I Did Wrong)

(words and music by Alan Sanderson)

It’s really forever, this life that we live
And if you remember, then I hope you forgive

You said it’s forever, but time proved you wrong
And if you remember, it didn’t take long

But memories live on
They tell me what I did wrong

It’s really forever, this life that we live
And if you remember me, then I hope you forgive
Forgive me

About the Song

Alan - wide hallway to the garageDuring the fall of 1994, when this song was written, I was a moody teenager who had been playing guitar for just less than a year. Songwriting was an outlet for the intense and raw but very private emotions that seemed to be clawing me apart from the inside. Back then the focus of the song was on the guilt I felt (the original title was simply “What I Did Wrong”).

The song was more or less forgotten until about 2002, when I was listening to a lot of Chet Atkins and trying to work out my own fingerstyle guitar technique. I found that I could play the vocal melody at the same time that I played an arpeggio on the chords, so this song was added back to my repertoire as an instrumental.

For this recording I decided to bring back the lyrics, in a slightly altered form. Rather than focusing on the guilt of past actions, the revised words focus on reconciliation and forgiveness, which are the last steps in the process of being Lost and then Found. I had several specific people in mind as I recorded this song, and if they remember, then I hope they forgive.

While working on this recording the thought struck me that my 15-year old self is a great songwriting collaborator. He has some good musical ideas, and he doesn’t complain at all when the direction I want to take them isn’t exactly what he had in mind. I think the collaboration works better spanning across the years than it would in real time; I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t like what I’ve done to his song.

About the Recording

I originally intended a hybrid guitar/synth fusion sound for this recording (think New Order), but a few things made me stray off of this intended course.

First, I discovered Guitarix, a software guitar amplifier for Linux systems, and I think this piece of software will change my life forever! All of the electric guitars (including the bass) used Guitarix plugins, and it was so fun that I just wanted to add more and more guitar to the sound and less and less synth. Eventually I took all of the synthesizers out, with the exception of the drum samples (which were sequenced using Hydrogen).

Second (and related to the first), I got thinking about some other songs which use the same or similar chord progressions, which tend to be guitar-based songs. (The chords are I – vi – ii – V; actually, these chords are also used in “My Abode!”) “Earth Angel” has a similar progression (I – vi – IV – V), and the tremolo guitar in the verse kept reminding me of the scene from “Back to the Future.” Adding too much techno to that sound just didn’t seem right.

Alan with guitarThe resulting arrangement became something of a sonic retelling of the song’s history: The opening chords on acoustic guitar are largely as I would have played them as a beginner in 1994; the body of the song salutes a few of my early guitar influences: Peter Buck, Robert Smith, Simon Gallup; the fingerstyle acoustic version I worked out in about 2002 forms the coda. The result is very satisfying for me personally, as an homage to where I have come from musically, and where I have gone. I also think it harmonizes well with the evolution of the song’s meaning.

This recording was done entirely on Linux Mint using Ardour and Hydrogen, with Guitarix plugins, and the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface. With each new recording I discover more useful features of Ardour, and new plugins. Desktop Linux has turned into a wonderful, rich environment for audio recording.

About the Album

I am getting really close to finally finishing the album I started nearly 15 years ago! There are just one or two more songs to record, and I am also working on remastering some of the previous tracks. It is still my goal to finish it by the end of this year, so stay tuned for updates.

Healing Heart

I just finished another recording for the Lost and Found album, a song called “Healing Heart.”  (Download the mp3)

Look within your own heart
There is always another open part
This burden, can you forgive?
Oh, please forgive!
I sing for you and your healing heart

Deep within my own heart
Can I open another broken part?
This burden, I will forgive
I will forgive!
Oh, pray for me and my healing heart

(Dedicated to the memory of John M. Stang, MD)

About the Recording

This recording is based on a song which I have enjoyed since I first heard it in 2004. It was written by Andrew Vavrek, who recorded a sketch of the song in 2002:

Andrew Vavrek is a major proponent of the Free Music movement, and this song was released under a Creative Commons license which specifically allows redistribution and even derivative works. One of the rules of this license is that derivative works also use the same or equivalent license, and so my recording is licensed using the same. Feel free to share, redistribute, and make derivative works, as long as you give appropriate attribution.

My idea to record this song dates back to about 2007-2008, when I was reflecting on the healing power of forgiveness because of a few personal experiences. I took the liberty of altering the song’s lyrics to reflect this. (For more info, read my story about Dr. Stang.)

This song was next on the list for recording in 2008, but my music hobby was derailed and all but extinguished by my busy schedule that year (and for the next several years). I did program the drum part in 2008 using Hydrogen, and when I decided to recommence work on the recording in 2017 I found the old Hydrogen file in my archive, dusted it off, and used it with only minor changes. This was my first recording which used Ardour from start to finish, and I learned a lot about the software during the recording. The more I use Ardour, the more I like it.

About the Album

While working on this recording I also struggled with a decision about the album, which had the working title of “Moldy Oldies.” This is not the most attractive name, so I toyed with some other options. Eventually it dawned on me that I could simply re-open work on the Lost and Found album, and finish the project I gave up on so long ago.

I reorganized the website to merge “Moldy Oldies” with “Lost and Found” and I have updated the mp3 tags for Alpha, Lullabye, and Omega to reflect this. The track list is currently in flux, but is starting to take shape. Right now it looks something like this:

  1. Alpha
  2. [TBA]
  3. [TBA]
  4. Rising Sun
  5. Something Wrong
  6. [TBA]
  7. Lullabye
  8. [TBA]
  9. [TBA]
  10. Standing On High
  11. Healing Heart
  12. Omega

Check back here for updates or follow the blog to hear new songs as they are finished!

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 in a Linux Home Studio

Last year in late November my family sang Away in a Manger together, and my wife commented on how good we sounded with the kids making up their own harmonies. She suggested that we should record it for our Christmas card and email it out to our friends and family.

I said, “Then we need a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface!” She was taken aback at my sudden and specific declaration. So I showed her the website on my phone, which I happened to have open. “See? It’s The Best Selling USB Audio Interface in the World!”

“It sounds like you’ve been looking at this for a while,” she deduced, correctly.

“But clearly we really need one,” I insisted.

So it was settled, and I ordered it within the next week. It cost $151.19 from the Focusrite website, which I thought was a reasonable price. When it arrived we recorded our song and sent it out to our family and friends. The Scarlett 2i2 performed like a champ, and I was pleased with the sound quality of its input. Here is our recording:

A bit of back story: Through the early 2000’s I used my computer’s sound card as my audio input, with variable results. “Lint in my Pocket” and “Aurelia Aurita” were probably the worst results, as the dying old sound card produced a lot of crackling and popping on the recording. The other New Folder recordings were better because I had a new computer with a healthier sound card, and Lost and Found was better still because I started paying attention to the noise level and applying a graphic equalizer to filter out the worst of it. But right when I felt like my recording technique was starting to mature, three things happened to derail me for a decade: 1) Medical education took over my life like a cancer, sucking up all of my free time and strangling all of my hobbies, 2) my wife and I had a bunch of kids, and 3) I migrated to Linux.

The first two of these were certainly more important, but the third one was not inconsequential. I have been tinkering with Linux since 2000, and in about 2006 I made it my primary platform for home computing. I was a poor student, and Free Software was also generally free software. But audio on desktop Linux can be a bit temperamental, and I never could get my audio inputs working the way they worked on Windows or OS X. I did manage to use Linux applications to make music (the drum part from “Rising Sun” was programmed on Hydrogen, and I started playing with LMMS in about 2012), but these don’t require audio input to work. What I really wanted was to record guitar on Linux, and I didn’t have a good way to do that.

Enter the Scarlett 2i2. From what I read online, it was a low-latency USB audio interface with good Linux support. Several people on Linux audio discussion forums reported that the device worked for them, including a few using a software environment similar to mine (for the record: Linux Mint 17.1, Linux kernel 3.13.0-37-generic, Audacity 2.0.5, JACK 5, QjackCtl 0.4.5, Ardour 5.11.4).

I should add a disclaimer here that I am neither a sound engineer nor a software engineer. I am a mere hobbyist in both realms, knowing only enough to be dangerous, and I am really not an expert. But what my story lacks in authority it makes up for in authenticity, and hopefully some other mere mortal out there will be encouraged to learn that a knucklehead like me was able to figure this out. I will assume that you know the basics about JACK, and that you can install software packages on your system.

Using the Scarlett with Audacity

When the box arrived in the mail I eagerly opened it and plugged the Scarlett 2i2 in, but it took me a few minutes to figure out how to use it. For some reason I was expecting it to appear as an input/output device in JACK, and I was confused when nothing appeared in the qjackctl connections window. After a few minutes of poking around I stopped the JACK server and opened Audacity, which is my fall-back standalone audio application in Linux. JACK is nice, and is very powerful, but I admit that its full capabilities are a bit beyond me and I am really happy when I can just get it to work at all. But Audacity I can understand. All of its functionality is in one application, and no supporting software is required. I realize that the all-in-one approach is not very Unix-y but I am more of a pragmatist than a purist when it comes to software.

Audacity has its audio I/O configuration right on the menu bar, and the Scarlett 2i2 showed up in the drop-down menu automagically! I don’t like to use Audacity for big projects, but I used it for “Away in a Manger” because it worked and because I was in a hurry to get this song recorded before Christmas.Scarlett 2i2 - Audacity setup

Using it with JACK

When I recorded the guitar parts for “Alpha” I wanted to use Ardour, which is a more serious tool. This is where I had to buckle down and figure out how to get the Scarlett 2i2 working on JACK. After reading several forums I stumbled upon the solution 2 or 3 screens into a comment thread, which described a setting buried deep in the qjackctl Setup configuration dialog, on the Advanced tab (see images). The Scarlett 2i2 shows up in the drop-down menu on the “Output Device” and “Input Device” settings.Scarlett 2i2 - JACK main windowScarlett 2i2 - JACK Setup AdvancedScarlett 2i2 - JACK Setup Advanced drop menu

Using it with Ardour

Next I had to connect the Scarlett 2i2 input to the Ardour track I wanted to record into. This took a bit of poking around and consulting the Ardour reference manual, but it turned out to be as simple as choosing “Inputs…” from the menu which appears when you right-click on the track name. This opens a new window, where you simply choose the “capture_1” input, as shown in the screen shot.Scarlett 2i2 - Ardour - rick click trackScarlett 2i2 - Ardour track input

Quirks and Other Observations

While I had the Scarlett 2i2 designated as the input and output device in Jack and listened with my headphones plugged into the monitor output on the Scarlett it worked beautifully, but if I set the output device as the computer’s soundcard then I had intolerable latency. I don’t have external speakers on my computer (an all-in-one Dell Inspiron), so if I want to hear the song through the computer speakers I have to reconfigure JACK. This is easy to do by saving a configuration preset in qjackctl. Maybe I will invest in a set of external monitor speakers to plug into the Scarlett 2i2 so that I don’t have to dig through the settings every time I want to record something.

The overall verdict: The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is an awesome and affordable device which works well in a Linux environment once you learn how to configure JACK. It is now an indispensible part of my home studio, and I can’t imagine how I ever recorded without it.


I also blog about medicine and religion and about trail running.