Blog: entries tagged with "recording"
Tuesday 8 July 2008
Over the past couple of weeks J and I have spent another few days in the studio, without playing a note. Yes, it’s session-player time. In particular, we’ve now got:
- electric guitar (a Dano 12-string jangle on “Invincible” and some sweet swell-pedal action on “Still Life”) courtesy of Dominic;
- more drums and percussion by our engineer/producer Don
- violin on “To The Nines” by Andrea and more on the way for “Aphrodite”;
- crazy undersea bowed-string noises and vocalizing on “Siren” from Rami
- organ, piano and harpsichord, courtesy of Richie; and
- a suitably over-the-top trumpet section on “Mute” all played by Stefan.
Who knew just sitting and listening could be so much work? We’ve learned a lot about listening, and coming up with musical ideas on the fly, not to mention guiding other people into realizing those ideas. It’s a fun challenge, communicating musical concepts to other people through words, singing, vocal noises, and occasionally, actually writing things down.
Julian had always had a trumpet melody in mind for the bridge on “Mute”, and wanted big, bold chords for the ending. I added a harmony to the bridge, and started fleshing out the “chords” idea with a swingy rhythmic motif… and then realized I was going to have to write the thing out. I’d composed the part in Logic, and couldn’t get the program’s “Score” view to output anything that made any sense. So I summoned up every last bit of music theory I’d ever taken, and wrote the whole thing out. Took a couple of late nights, and I worried that it was illegible, but our players approved.
Here’s the bridge from the demo version, with lovely synthesized trumpets: Mute (trumpet demo, 880k)
Not everything we did could be scored, of course, but regardless, we found it really, really helps at least to have a clear idea of what you’re after before you start. When Rami came by to play, bringing with her an Iner Souster creation called “Fat Bob”, we didn’t have parts written out - Bob, having one string and no fingerboard, isn’t particularly suited to playing melodies, anyway - but I think we had a strong idea of the texture and atmosphere we were after. J quickly joined in, offering images of a ship breaking apart at sea, the creaking of the rigging, the cracking of the timbers and the crashing of the waves. I’m really looking forward to sifting through the resulting noises and building them up into a soundscape.
Lots more to go: more drums, keyboards, backing vocals, violin and percussion - not to mention mixing and mastering. But it’s all starting to come together nicely.
Friday 1 June 2007
Ahh, I needed that. New song-a-day track.
Bassline first: Fury thru POD, then software auto-filter; various loops processed to death; drums (Roland); FM pad; guitar thru POD; Alesis lead; rattling metal, treated, in place of a fill.
I’ve been thinking: next time I get paid, it’s really time I got that Evolver I’ve had my eye on. But then I thought: wouldn’t it be more interesting to get a kit to build my own Paia 9700 system, for about the same amount of money?
Evolver: cute, tiny, patch editor allows “evolutionary” programming, can be used as a processor for external sound sources, doesn’t have to be assembled by hand
9700: insanely customizable, immediate and hands-on, has MIDI-to-CV outputs, can be used as a processor, external devices could be used to generate or modify control voltages
Something to think about.
Wednesday 2 May 2007
Tonight, Sean’s out of town and M. is performing in a musical uptown, so the house will be free for Flickershow recording, hooray!
Only yesterday I was reading Muffy’s reports from the Open Ears festival and wishing I’d made it back to KW to catch it. I don’t generally get to see many shows, and the reason mostly boils down to Too Damn Busy. Either I’m working late (Sean and I seem to be home at 10pm as often as not), recording or playing with Flickershow, or recovering from the above.
I’m determined to change things around now. Coming home at a more reasonable time, for one thing; for another, working Saturday and staying home to work on music in the middle of the week, when the house is empty.
Here’s the latest version of the particle sim - the particles attract this time around, and have random values for mass.
I’ve cleaned up the source and commented the hell out of it, and collected most of the major parameters so they’re easy to adjust before compiling.
Source plus the containing FLA file:
Sunday 1 April 2007
The other day carlos_G at the Immersion Composition Society announced the Lime Gecko Virtual Lodge - an all-day music composing marathon. The goal is to record as many pieces of music as humanly possible in one day. I started a bit late in the day, but managed seven:
11:30 am. Oh crap. I’ve started doing a pseudo-Cuban piano number. What am I doing? I don’t play piano. I do my best to fumble my way through a drum part as well. conga (only one conga today; the head on the other one suffered water damage thanks to a leaky roof up here) - piano - J-bass - drums - guitar (added later).
Better start this one in more familiar territory, namely on the guitar. Then clumsy Roland drums - J-bass - lyrics - experimental 1+3+4 harmonies on chorus - keyboard. Me and the celestial imagery again.
Kept the keyboard on that same patch and did a lazy, introspective instrumental. Then I decided to change it up with a big stompy beat. Rolannd thru FilterQueen - Apple Loop processed heavily - re-recorded keyboard part - 2x electric through POD’s volume-swell.
My eyes settled on a recorder lying on the shelf. And the tin whistle. Which to play? Why not both? Doofy pseudo-folk. For the record, it is a pain in the ass playing a bag of marbles in 5 without a click. Both the conga and the warped head off its twin make an appearance.
Uh, there really isn’t any excuse for this one.
Perhaps I was subliminally affected by the message board, where lodge dude Nick Dobson had suggested, “why not squeeze off a speed-filler song when you’re done with this one?” and carlos_G had added something about “glad to hear that things are moving…” Oh dear.
Spy show theme. Needs a breakdown. Fury bass through POD.
Starting to wrap up. Wasn’t sure what to do with this so I wrote some stream-of-consciousness “lyrics” and said them.
Edit: here’s the ICS forum thread where today’s Lodge was organized - you can find commentary and other people’s music there.
Tuesday 27 March 2007
This winter I seem to have been in a sort of musical hibernation. No gigs, no writing, hardly any jamming, no listening to any new music.
My main musical effort was playing bass in the band in show-tune revue some friends were putting together. Good experience, and while I still can’t sight-read well, it certainly gave me the chance to improve at it. (My favorite tunes to play: “Nobody’s Side” from Chess, “Life Of The Party” from The Wild Party, both full of syncopations and time changes; “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Rent, where I got to rock out a bit; and “I Could Be Happy With You” from The Boy Friend, just because it was so damned cute in that faux-‘20s, so-very-English sort of way.)
But other than that - perhaps in part because of it - I’ve just been burned out. Frankly, I was getting worried how little interest I had.
I managed to rouse myself enough to familiarize myself with Yes and Peter Gabriel, having borrowed some of their albums… and suddenly, much was explained to me about ‘70s rock.
A while ago J and I laid down some scratch versions of a whole pile of songs, both new and old, to use as the basis for a new CD. They sat untouched until a few days ago, when I stuck bass parts on some of the newest ones to send to our drummer. Here’s one:
I was afraid I was getting into a rut with my parts, so on these new songs there’s all kinds of pushed rhythms and other oddness. For the first time I’m making use of the Jazz bass, and taking advantage of its punch and sustain with a much more legato line. I’m attempting to play chords on the “choruses”, also for the first time, and the whole thing has a sort of Fender Rhodes feel to it. Starting to sound pretty trip-hoppy. Fleshing this one out is going to be a lot of fun!
Flook (borrowed from my Go-playing friend downstairs, also a Celtic music aficionado) an Anglo-Irish band who specialize in wonderful hyperactive flute-and-bohdrán grooves.
The Golden Dogs. Ran across two of their videos while browsing idly, and immediately went and got their album Big Eye Little Eye. Chock full of my kind of hooks (my favorite is “Runouttaluck” - if you cranked Stereolab up to double speed and mashed it up with the B-52’s it might sound like this) plus the same sort of dueling boy/girl vocals that make the New Pornographers and other bands so addictive. And they exude such joy in the video for “Construction Worker” that I think I have a crush on the whole band.
Tuesday 28 November 2006
As mentioned previously, I’ve been all excited about setting up an Immersion Composition lodge. Enough so that last night, I did a mini-session on my own. It lasted about four and a half hours, during which I recorded these three pieces:
Not In Nine (1’19”)
As I was walking home to start the session, I had an odd-meter groove going in my head, but by the time I started recording, I’d forgotten it. I thought it was in nine, but this turned out to be in seven and four and extremely Phleg Camp-y, particularly the 6+6+4 section at the end. I seem to end up aping them whenever I bring out the Fender Jazz bass. This one earned me the “trying very hard to say something positive” look from my SO.
How’s About You (0’35”)
Drums -> title -> lyrics -> chords -> done. Self-explanatory I think.
My keyboard-written songs tend to either be in a particular vein I’ve followed since high school, or these more lyrical things that wander from one melody to another. I’ve just realized that this is more or less a restatement of a piece I did a while back called “Dawn River”, right down to the clicky percussion. I can’t escape myself!
All in all, a fun exercise and most worthwhile.
One and a half hours per song. Too much futzing and trying to get parts “right” (especially the slap bass on #1) and take down some of the hiss that crept in somewhere. I’m still very much getting used to my new setup: Logic on a laptop, equipped with a very finicky Mbox. Before I try another one of these, I have to get a few specific cables, figure out the ideal signal path into my computer, and set up some new Logic templates so I don’t have to mess with setting things up on every song.
Edit: more discussion of this mini-session on the ICS discussion forum.
Wednesday 22 November 2006
Muffy and I once recorded a wacky little number called “Song For A Sad Cat”. It was to be a dirge inspired by the sound of Ms Sukie Binbay Purr (I hope I’m remembering her name) meowing plaintively at the door… but it didn’t quite turn out that way.
Well, here’s the Song-a-day sequel:
Song for a bored cat (0’50”)
It started out with a recording off my phone - it has a “Voice Memo” function that I’ve used in desperation when inspired and without any other recording device, and the memory was full, so tonight I snagged it all onto my hard drive. The slightly out-of-time lead guitar is the first snippet to get used in a piece.
Now. There is no door on the upstairs studio, just a baby gate to keep out M’s cat Cobweb so he won’t pee on things. It doesn’t keep out the more athletic cats in the house, and our two cats usually try to take over my lap whenever I’m working up here, at least during the colder months.
After recording the basic tracks, I was setting up the microphone to possible record a very quiet vocal part when Tarquin sauntered in and started chattering at me. So I recorded him instead. He then proceeded to get real friendly with my lap before I got fed up and ejected him. That took about three tries, and he was replaced in short order by Gomiya. My primary function in life is to serve as furniture for pushy black cats.
Tuesday 21 November 2006
Snagged a copy of The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook, which so far is a more colourful and detailed retelling of all the Immersion Composition Society’s super-sekrit learnings about creativity.
ICS co-founder Nicholas Dobson on the first ever “composer duel”, wherein he and his friend Michael Mellender locked themselves away in their home studios to record 20 songs in 12 hours:
By the end of the day there were cords and gear tangling and zig-zagging all over my room, and the floor was littered with empty, destroyed junk-food packages. My left eye was twitching, and my session had devolved into a quest to find out what is the most annoying noise a person can make with their mouth.
Then Michael was knocking on the door. He had a cassette tape with his session on it, a six-pack, and more junk food. He stomped around my living room, said a bunch of stuff I don’t remember, and then collapsed on my couch. He said something along the lines of, “I want to do this every day, and never leave my house.”
I said, “Me, too.”
It’s very similar to Scott (Understanding Comics) McCloud’s original 24-Hour Comic duel, some ten years previous - and many other “speed creation” challenges (plays, films, novels, and so on). There’s great fun - granted, in a slightly mad, masochistic way - in setting yourself such a lunatic goal, setting aside all else for the sake of creation. I like to call it “the romance of the all-nighter”.
I suspect that the ICS’s songwriting version may be more fruitful, for a few simple reasons:
- Granularity. Songs are short (usually), and you can keep churning them out. If you really do hit a dead end with one, you can always work on another instead. Conversely, in a comic challenge, every page commits you further to the story you’re working on. Churning out a 24-page book in a day is a great badge of honour - if you succeed. If you don’t, you fail big. With songs, failures aren’t as devastating, and successes, while smaller, are still delightful, and they’re cumulative.
- Regularity. The “lodge system” encourages you to create lots, and often, where as a comic is such a Herculean effort that you’re not likely to attempt it very often.
- The creation of a circle of friends committed to making music regularly and supporting one another’s creative efforts. The ritual is important to this - ordeal and hard work, followed by a rewarding night sharing food and drink and art.
Of course, nothing in this is inherent to music - you could do it with comic strips, or one-pagers, that sort of thing. I expect some creative writing circles have done this sort of thing since forever, but I can’t say for sure.
So it’s time to put all this theory to the test. I’m going to start the Forgery Lodge up again, this time “for real”. Maybe even two sub-Lodges, on an alternating schedule - a face-to-face Lodge here in the music room, and a virtual, long-distance Lodge for further-flung people I know. It probably won’t happen until the new year, but I’m already planning it. One Saturday a month, let’s say…
And in the meantime, tonight’s Song-a-day.
Started with the organ patch, now that I have the cables to bring in external audio, and added real live bass and guitar too. Didn’t want to wake the roommates, so sadly there are no vocals. I definitely had “Higher Ground” in the back of my head from earlier in the day, and that other piece that sounds like it that I can’t remember now that I could swear has something to do with a vegetable or the word “electric”. God I need to sleep.
Monday 20 November 2006
I tidied up the studio today, hung a couple of pictures and found a new spot for the bodhran, put all the guitars in a corner where they won’t get toasted by the sun, and tended to the plants (the landlady’s money tree, which had been quietly dying on a dark landing since long before we moved in, is making a comeback).
I was also delighted to discover that the Immersion Composition Society web site is back up - when it vanished a while back I was worried that they’d packed it in - but they’re back, they’ve added a MySpace page, and they have a book, which I’m hoping to pick up or order at my local independent bookseller tomorrow.
The ICS consists of several autonomous “lodges”, each essentially a group of musicians who hold songwriting days on a somewhat regular basis. Each member gets up in the morning and independently composes as many pieces of music as humanly possible, records them, and brings them all to a listening party in the evening. It’s a crazy task that’s yielded some brilliant results.
We actually held such a songwriting day, almost two years back now, and I picked the preliminary name “Forgery Lodge”, which I went on to steal and change for the name of this site. It was all pretty cool, and though we haven’t done it again since then, it did inspire me to start the Song-a-day project - the less frenzied, solitaire version, if you will.
Speaking of which, here’s tonight’s endeavour. It’s very 1980, all analoguey synths and such, all of them Logic instruments again. The strings here use the ES1 plugin, which has pulse width modulation on it - a sound that takes me right back to the Commodore 64 days. And the whistly melody harkens back to a certain sort of pastoral synth wispiness that I think I imprinted on big time as a kid. There was one Shadowfax piece in particular that I’ll have to track down some day…
I always like to figure out my own built-in rules and prejudices and subvert them, and this week it was my “no pads” rule - hence those strings. I think partly it’s because I’m becoming a bit more comfortable playing keyboards (I got to play an actual Hammond organ last night, and it was a blast).
Friday 17 November 2006
Two recent song-a-day pieces, the latest in celebration of my new monitors. Of course, it was recorded at one in the morning when civility required I keep the volume down, so I haven’t yet heard it through the new monitors, but hey.
(And of course, now that I’ve got everything assembled, I’ve discovered that the Mbox2 emits a soft, high-pitched whine on its monitor outputs whenever it’s getting a digital audio signal from the computer - the data stream, presumably. Grr. I’ll have to see if a better-shielded USB cable helps.)
This one got me some dubious looks from my SO. Investigating the possibilities of Logic’s bundled FM synth - run through delay, reverb, EQ, filter, compression, trem and distortion, not necessarily in that order. Partway through it started to remind me of a bass clarinet piece by Evan Ziporyn, which plays with intervals and distortion in a similar sort of way… but in a purely acoustic way, by playing and humming simultaneously, so it’s much richer and more organic. (It’s called “Tsmindao Ghmerto”, if I recall correctly, and it’s on an album by the Bang On A Can crew.)
It felt good doing something that’s all textural, without any beat to it. When your recording software is always thinking in terms of bars and beats it’s sometimes hard to get out of that mode of thought yourself. I find it’s usually hard to combine the two methods of working - especially so since piling on all those effects eats up practically all the processor time.
If I do more like this I’ll try different tunings too.
I still don’t totally get the Environment screen in Logic, but I’ve figured out enough to run my external MIDI devices (gosh, that was a fun day, let me tell you). Unfortunately, I don’t have the right cables to run their audio back into my computer yet, so I had to use all softsynths again.
The drums are picked out of Apple Loops (shhh, don’t tell), then distorted, compressed and gated all to hell, as seems to be my thing lately. Mostly it’s a quick and easy way to unrecognizableize a beat. And similarly, I like sounds with really short release times, that you can play like you’re sending Morse code. Ended up sounding a bit like a ‘90s remake of an ‘80s song, really…