Monday, 28 June 2010

Filling the gap

Last time dear reader, we left off with just a couple of things to do to the Electricity sub-section (or is that sub-station?) - a synth solo and matching the end of the previous section with the beginning of this one. Both were done tonight.

The solo took a while, first of all I had to find the right sound.  I tried lots of sounds in the softsynth "Massive" at the weekend, but nothing seemed to fit.  Today I decided to try Pro-53 instead, and the first sound up was ideal.  Synthy and electric (to my ears).

Some days solo lines come easily, some days they are impossible, today was about half-way.  it took a while but i think I'm there, as usual the test of time will be applied.  Some of it was played, some of it was programmed.  I guess for me it is a bit more "normal" than the electric piano solo later in the same sub-section.  There was one particular line which I came up with which on playback seemed somewhat familiar, I realized I'd used it before.  When I played the whole thing back I found out where - in exactly the same position in the electric piano solo.  Not a problem.

Then came an interesting bit - matching the start with the previous end. Both were the same type of electric guitar, but it's in a part where nothing else is going on, and I basically had a precise gap of a few seconds in which to modulate from E to A with exact timing, but not to a rhythm.  it took a few goes to get the pacing right but it seems to have worked.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The impossible E-piano solo

After spending quite a while searching for the exactly right electric piano sound, I realised that the one I had used on Under A Binary Tree was the right one to use again.  Time to create some soloing over the A - F - C# - A (rept) part of section 1.3.1 (electricity).  

What I have created, I'm not sure about, there are parts which are played, there are parts which are programmed, and significantly there are parts with one hand of each.  I'm a bit disappointed that the touch-sensitivity of the keyboard didn't seem to be working but hopefully I have got around that.  What I have finally ended up with has some parts which are reasonably normal and hopefully nice and light and bouncy, and some parts which are complex and certainly unplayable by me, possibly unplayable by anyone apart from a mad genius.  The bottom line though, does it work?  Is it listenable and interesting?  Time is the great judge of that - I need to let this one marinade for a while.

On a similar note, I seem to remember saying much the same thing about the opening to the whole thing, a series of splash cymbal hits.  After some time has passed, the answer is an unequivocable (surely that's cannot be spelled right) "yes".  I'd go so far as to say it is iconic - one of those unique startings that leave you in no doubt what you are starting to listen to.

back tot he current sub-section, what is left is a synth solo and some jiggery pokery to make the start work with the previous sub-section.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Phil Lynott Superstar

I have made a good solid start at sub-section 1.3.1 - this one is about electricity. This final 1/3 of the first track is about physical forces: Electricity, Magnetism & Gravity (and yes if any physicists are reading I know that I am missing strong and weak atomic forces)

So lots of electrical instruments to be used.

Unlike sometimes I had a pretty full comprehensive plan in my head for this one. I'd got several motifs (to use a posh word), and an order.  I'd even worked out the timings, based on a speed of 128 bpm, which gave an exact fit in the three minutes.  

Unfortunately when i actually started work, 128 bpm turned out to be too slow.  It needed to be more like 144.  Oh dear.  Never mind, that gives me exactly 4 more bars over 3 minutes, and I remembered an extra idea I had.

So it goes like this - it's a sort of pulsing 8/8 rythmn on 3 electric guitars, which reminds me rather heavily of "do anything you wanna do" by Thin Lizzy. It starts inside the previous sub-section carrying on from the guitar finishing up there, with a pulse on an A with a stabby chord thing every two bars.  Once into the section proper the drums start (again similar to the Thin Lizzy song - a bit of "tribute" going on there - I really wanted the nice rolling rock feel), it goes A for 4 bars, F for 4 bars C# for 4 bars and back to A for 4 bars.  This is repeated.  Over this there will be (not done yet) an electrical sounding synth solo (buzzy sound).  

If you read this blog (and I'm not sure anyone does) you will maybe remember some posts ago I was celebrating being able to do a triangle quintet.  I have now gone beyond this in terms of strangeness - the next bit is an "unplugged wire solo".  Unplugged guitar wires make buzzing noises when you touch them, so I have a very short section of doing that.

Plugged back in, the three guitars play a trio, slight similarities to the Thin Lizzy but using a chord sequence from Jesus Christ Superstar, crossed with the theme tune for Magic Roundabout: A, D, G/A, D.  I think it's pretty good.

The next motif is back to the stabby chords over an A chug, but with a double-time bass solo.

Next just the stabs without the chug, and electrical sound effects: phone dialling and alarm ringing, electric drill, zappy sounds, one of my son's electrical-tune-playing toys (my wife said "I won't ask..." when she saw me recording it) and finally thunder.  Most sound effects free from the internet, with the one exception which I recorded.

back to the A, F, C# A sequence, this one will have an electric piano soloing over it when complete.

Now for the extra 4 bars.  There's this nice rasping sound you can get by running a plectrum edgewise along a guitar string, so I have 4 bars of that (3 guitars) and finally back into the guitar trio from earlier.

It's all very rock and it rolls along nicely (in my opinion). There are several hints at electricity along the way and also I think it feels kind of charged with a sort of musical thrill.

Although  have not been as economical as I could with recording this so far, there are several bits that have been repeated or re-used.  I have made a lot of use of a little trick - doubling the speed of small sections.  There are quite a lot of little triplet runs, and actually I could probably do most of them for real at speed, but they become better defined when recorded at half-speed and doubled up. I've got a lot of overlaying, effectively editing going on on the guitar tracks.

So there are a couple of things left to do on this section - the synth and electric piano solos which I want to take good time over to make them effective, and there is some mucking about to do with the start of this sectiona nd the end of the last to get them to feel seamless.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

"Och it'll do ... Och no it WON'T do!"

When I was at school we had a physics teacher called Jock.  Once upon a time I knew his real name but he went by "Jock" to all the pupils, and all his colleagues.  He was, of course, Scottish.  Among the many things he was famous for, along with being especially susceptible to red herrings in class, along with calling all pupils "Jimmy", and along with an absolute manic insistence on ties being tied properly, was his rather unique approach to assemblies.  The one that stuck in the head was his exhortation, whenever we were tempted to say "Och it'll do" to reply to ourselves "Och no it WON'T do!".  This rather unique approach to "If a job's worth doing it's worth doing well" was rather successful in its mission.  The two phrases became catch-phrases for several years, along with the very bad fake Scottish accents they had to be said in.  I still remember it now and I would guarantee that a good proportion of my classmates would also.

Yesterday I finished the bifurcation of guitar parts with what I described as "noodling" on the electric guitar.  Now noodling is all very well in it's place, but to be honest I was making do with sub-standard noodling.  This troubled me.  I resolved that "Och no it WON'T do".

Unfortunately my guitar playing ability is not as great as my ambition.  Later in the project I will be attempting to create blistering guitar solos, but for now I was content to create a new, different tune to the same chords.  That is something I can do, and the result is far more satisfying in my mind.  I cannot do it flashily and fast, but at least I can do what I can do, and I can make sure I do it well.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Bifurcation Revealed

The time has come, dear imaginary reader, for me to reveal to you what is going on in sub-section 1.2.3.  This first track is all about the physical universe, and this second section is about the scope of the universe.  1.2.1 was space, 1.2.2 was time, and now 1.2.3 is about parallel dimensions, alternative universes, the 5th dimension, whatever you want to call it.

Now although I personally don't subscribe to the theory that at any quantum collapse event the universe splits and goes in two different directions, the concept that the universe splits at particular points is a fairly neat way of explaining this concept of extra dimensions, and so this sub-section displays what Terry Pratchett calls the "bifurcating trousers of time".

And this is how I have done it.  The rythmn, (clock and guitar chord sequence) from 1.2.2 carrries on, bass and shaker is added to give a slightly different feel, and the acoustic guitar plays a tune which fits the chords.  This keeps repeating (and this time I have deliberately looped the same recording so it stays exactly the same.) The idea of the split is that two alternatives run in parallel, but over time they become more and more different, so first of all I intruduce a second acoustic guitar playing exactly the same, then they separate in the stereo image, then the "new" one plays a slight variation on the same tune, then it changes for being player with a plectrum, giving a harder sound, then fades into an electric guitar instead of acoustic, then it plays a harmony with the first (constant) one, and then starts to "noodle" over the chords, different to the tune.  Eventually everything fades out and leaves the electric guitar alone, which stops short of the 3 minutes end - the electric guitar is going to stay the same and start up relevant playing for the next sub-section.

My only reservation on this is wondering if the repeated tune is going to get a bit boring, time will tell as I let it "settle in".

One thing I am finding quite interesting is that having done two sub-sections as one recording project file, over this 6 minutes I only have one midi track, all the others are "real" instruments, guitars, bass, percussion, triangles and all - quite a few of them.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Whole lotta shaking going on

Well I had a spare hour with my wife out, and my son asleep so I did some work on 1.2.3.  The clock ticking and guitar chord sequence from 1.2.2 has been carried on all the way through it, and tonight I added some bass and shaker.

I tried some drums but it didn't work, shaker is better.  Bass, as my main instrument was reasonably OK to do (I have recently been experimenting with different bass tones). Shaker: well the old me would have recorded one bar of shaking and repeated it, but this is the new me, so I recorded all 3 minutes of shaker all in one take.  This is actually pretty hard to do and keep in time, I hope I have managed OK.  I have some spare if the occasional bar needs editing out (I'm not yet stupid enough to scrap the whole thing for the occasional bar).  

All this is kind of workaday, not very exciting yet, the interesting bit comes as I extend the guitar solo into this section, which will come, but not before I get a new battery for my guitar!  I also need a good stretch of time because I feel there is quite a bit I need to do in one session, keeping the same sound. I am deliberately not telling what I plan to do to get a concept across, becuase I am trying to engender a small amount of suspense into the proceedings

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Curse of 1.1.2

The last few times listening to what I have so far have led me to believe that I have a problem with the transitions between subsections - some of them are just too abrupt.  This was a criticism that my wife made about Binary Tree, so I was fairly determined to do something about it.

I had a listen and made some notes, the problem transitions were between 1.1.1 and 1.1.2, between 1.1.2 and 1.1.3 and between 1.2.1 and 1.2.2 - in fact all the transitions except between 1.1.3 and 1.2.1 - which is an abrupt transition but I think it works, and less of a problem as it is the break between two "sections".

So the plan was

  1. extend the hangover from subsection 1.1.1 so that it is longer - better transition.
  2. change the playing out of section 1.1.2 so that it segues into the theme from the next subsection earlier
  3. bring the clock winding noise in a little earlier for subsection 1.2.2 to cover the break, and give a smoother transition

1 and 3 were easy.  2 turned out to be nearly impossible, as the curse of sub-section 1.1.2 kicked in.  I could not mix down without it crashing.  I have spent about a total of 6 hours on it today.  I have no idea what causes the crashes.  I tried rebooting (several times).  I tried creating a new project and laboriously copying stuff across, recreating all the settings and guess what - still crashes.  Finally I tried splitting it into the first part and the second part.  Even then I was getting crashes but they were intermittent so I managed, finally to mix down the two parts, recombine them and mix that down, and combine with all the rest and mix down.  For now the problem has been overcome, but I will no doubt have to go through all this again when properly mastering.

I'm now listening to the combined mix-out on mp3 and it sounds pretty cool - I think the transitions are better.  I do however have a small problem, I have managed to butcher a couple of notes near the end of one section.  I bet you can guess which one.