Thursday, 21 March 2013

Still alive

So the last two sessions have been working on the Still Alive section, my version of the song from the Portal credits.

In the first of these sessions I went back and re-recorded the guitar parts - quite fast for the rhythm, quite slow and fiddly for the lead lines, but I incorporated some twiddles which I'm quite pleased with, with no speeding-up tricks and my patented sound which I like. That took a long time, and the use of a handkerchief on the neck of the guitar. When I;m playing stuff high up the neck I have found it helpful to have the strings muted rather than able to ring as open strings, so this time I tried tying a hanky around the neck near the head and it seemed to work.

And then I listened through and thought about what other things should be in the mix. Well some bass of course, so I did that. I tend to find that bass lines get recorded really fast, probably it's my best instrument. (actually there's no probably about it, it is my main instrument although I took it up after guitars).  What else? How about a nice wide synthy pad sound? Yes OK. So I did that with one-handed chords. I think that's everything.

Which brings us to tonight.  One of the consequences of the rather odd way I work is that I want sections of precise lengths. This has generally turned out to be easier than you might think when using the cubase software to keep precise time, as I can easily get it to an exact number of bars.  It becomes a bit more tricky when I have a tune I want to do at a specific speed, because run-throughs then take a specific length of time. I have found with this section that I wanted to run through 3 times, and with the right lengths for intros and so on this didn't quite come to the 4 minutes I am aiming for. I have 8 bars spare.

So I did a "bridge" after the second "chorus" and before the 3rd run-through.

And I wanted it to be a free-form weirdy bit. For a start I held a B chord, which the last note can be held over, but is not the normal chord. I have had some time to think about what I might like here and had some ideas.

For a start I wanted a cymbal that didn't fade, just went on with a really long crash. So I played a cymbal on the drum samples, rendered it and brought it in as a sound file. I chopped it off before it finished and made a reversed copy which I stuck on the end. I chopped off the end of that (which because it was backwards was what used to be the beginning), made another copy and re-reversed that, sticking it on the end. I then stuck on backwards and forwards copies until it was a long "shhhhhhhhhhhhhh" sound, albeit waxing and waning. I then used the volume control to make the quiet bits louder and vice versa so that it was more or less constant volume. The tone changes interestingly and it finishes with the backwards beginning.

The next thing I wanted to do was with the hanging guitar chord, which I edited into fragments, and extended the fragmentedness by copying some fragments and reusing them. I then went through and did  pitch changes to the fragments, scattering them across the stereo image. It finishes with the chord going backwards and ending exactly where the music box notes start.

This was a good start, I then went hunting for sounds on the internet. I found a strange site where you enter a sentence and they turn it into a GlaDos style spoken sound. (This is the voice of the artificial intelligence in the game that the song comes from) They warned on the site that it takes a while for each one to be created and that there was a queue in getting your sentence made. I don't know how long they have been running but the current queue length is measured in several months!  However, they did have all of the previous sentences created available for download, so amongst the obvious dross and filth I found some sentences that either are from the game, or could be, including the first few lyrics for the song.

So I took 6 of these, and put them in the bridge, with some overlappiing, stereo placing, a bit of pitch tweaking and different levels of reverb and volume. It ends with a coundtdown to the music box sounds.

Finally I wanted to fill out the background a bit, so I found a little softsynth I have with good spatial atmospheric sounds, and added two different ones. Finally after a bit of listening, tweaking and rough mixing I'm relatively happy to let people hear the results. Here it is:

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