Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Using a flute as a Q-tip

So I've done a reasonable amount of work since I last blogged, in several sessions. Let's see how much I can remember

I worked on the section I was talking about last time, slow chords, a refrain and some weird chords inbetween. I finished off the organ, did guitars and bass - hey presto the backing trak was done. That was the longest ago and I cannot really remember if anything interesting happened.

The next session was quite interesting. After a bit of guitar fiddling for teh weird chord sections I decided that what I really wanted was a flute. I felt truly uninspired about writing the solo so I called on a flautist and asked her if she felt like improvising to weird chords.  It turned out she did. Her name is Kathy and she is my Mother-In-Law.

So we had an interesting session. I've got very used to recording myself, so recording someone else was a refreshing change. Most of the session was spent giving her the chords and her working out the stuff to do. In the end we managed 2 of the four "verses" and she went away with promises to work the rest out and practice.

Now I knew that there was another section I would want flute in - so I thought, if that section was ready enough for her to flute into it, we could tackle that as well when she came back. One of the four tracks is all about my gaming life, and for this section I really wanted to do the tune from the song "Still Alive" from the end of the seminal game "Portal". You can see it here if you are interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6ljFaKRTrI . Anyway I wanted to do it slowed down a bit and with a flute doing the melody for the first and last sections.I didn't have time to create the whole of the rest of the track, but I focussed on the bits the flute was to be in. I did acoustic guitar picking and a soft, tremelo electric guitar on the other ear for the first run through. The second run through is to be electric guitars and more rocky, and I recorded the rythmn guitar and the lead lines, with a nice compressed sound. Unfortunately the sound was quite "dirty" between notes (hums and clicks) so I did some volume editing. I have found this seems to be a common problem when I want a compressed sound, when no note is playing the hum from the synthesized amp is amplified to loud levels.

I ignored the 8-bar "break" in the middle except to decide the starting chord would be a B, which is different from the other stuff, but fits with the final F# note of the tune played by the lead guitar. I have some interesting ideas for that break but we'll have to see if I can achieve them.

Then for the 3rd and final time through I did like a tinkly music box sound using Absynth, breaking it right down to just that and the proposed flute. There is a harmony line in the middle of a runthrough and while in the first run that fill be flute, in the second it is electric guitar, in the third I introduced a mandolin, played with little extended note trills. The backing builds up with the guitars coming back in and at teh end there is an outroduction with flute playing tune and mandolin playing harmonies.

So that was all hunky and dory. Kathy came back and we recorded her created lines for sections C and D of the other section, and then ploughed into the Still alive tune.

Kathy is a classical kind of musician, who does things with music paper and dots that I kind of theoretically undersand but find hard to use in anger. I'm more of a "playing by ear" kinde of person, which is helped  by the fact that I seem to pick up lines, riffs and tunes quite fast that way. I had recorded a fake flute version of teh tune with a simple flute sample and played it to her and she attempted to transcribe what I assumed as a simple tune, but turned out to be heavily syncopated. Her bars were twice as long as mine were in my head, and her bar lines were in a different place.

We eventually found a really simple solution, doing something with Cubase that I had never done before. I took the MIDI part for the fake flute and opened a "score view" which showed it in musical dots. Now of course I had not programmed it exactly styraight, I had played it quite fluidly on a keyboard, and Cubase attempted to reproduce that fluidity - the music was a nightmare!

So we had a little race, while Kathy tried to transcribe the silly music score into a reasonable and sensible one, I went back into teh cubase editor and straightened the notes out until they were exactly starting on the beats, and exactly finishing in the right places too, and printed out a "corect version" of the music. I won but only just.

So we recorded the tune for the first pass, and again for the second pass (I have a strong resistance now to just copying and pasting, especially with real instruments, it should sound like it was played subtly differently each time). Then the outro and finally the harmony for the first time through. Thanks Kathy, we'll see how it sounds when I get chance to produce the sound and make it shiny.

So tonight I have come back to the middle iteration, the rocky one. I programmed the drums and have developed a new rule - if you are going to have drums DO THEM FIRST! My timkeeping is much better to drums than to a click track, and all of what I had previously done was far too rubbish in terms of timing to keep. I rerecorded teh rocky rythmn guitar, and then actually spent the rest of the session with Guitar rig, trying to create a better lead sound. It took quite a while, but I'm pretty happy with it. It is high and compressed but much cleaner than the first one, and it has a gentle subtle stereo phase and a quiet stereo echo delay (called a "ping-pong" echo because it bounces from ear to ear). Most importantly, I have found out how to use a "noise reducer" which gets rid of the annoying sounds between notes. What I haven't done is re-record the actual tunes though because I got bored after a while and wanted to stop. Then I thought I could blog. So I did. Now it's supper time.

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