Monday, 26 December 2011

Nearing the last!

Well quite a bit of progress since last time I blogged, I had a bit of a blast and managed to clear all the remaining sections. There was a certain amount of tweaking, lots of uninteresting fiddling and no major frustrations.

One interesting point was when I removed my beloved multiband compressor from one section, because it was sucking the life out of it - when i switched it off the dynamics became so much more pronounced, which I guess makes sense. This is a good thing, I am starting to learn how to use it sensibly and not just everywhere.

It's near the end of the year, I'm on leave from work but I'm feeling pretty run down, and I'm slightly worried that this, combined with the fact that this mastering process is not significantly creative, but critical instead (which makes it less interesting for me) is leading to me being fairly sick of doing this and wishing I was finished. The worry is that in a desire to be finished I might not do as good a job as I really want to do, and that feeds into a dip in confidence. While I want it to be a masterpiece, and the best it can possibly be, I do know that it is possible to fiddle and faddle and second-guess for ever, and there comes a time when you have to say "it's done".

Also I'm aware that it's possible, in the process of fiddling forever, to to lose something, an element of confidence to the music. I'm always trying to play a certain balancing act anyway. Some musicians are wary of multitrack recording because you lose the "feel in the room" of when you play all together as a group. While I understand this, I think there are two obvious rejoinders to validate the way I am doing this - the first is that the style of music I am creating (possibly progressive rock) is one which has almost always been recorded using multitracking, and has exploited that to give a musical experience which is difficult/impossible to do in one take. The second is that practically I have little choice in the matter, I'm just a one-man band so I cannot play everything at once. I like to play as much as possible "live" so there is human feel to it - I refute the idea that multitracking is soulless, I think it can have a soul of its own. I have always taken it as a particular challenge to create music that is not lifeless in the way that much sequenced music can be.

Why am I saying all this? When mastering, because there is a need to be hyper-critical and deal with things that are irritating because they are wrong, there is a danger of tweaking, pinching, micro-editing and processing the music too far, so that the humanised element of it is lost. Good music does have imperfections in it by the very nature of it being played by people. Part of the skill of knowing when to say "that's enough" is being able to leave the human elements in.

So as I write this I am having a listen through. This pass through is to find anything I still think needs a tweak, and then there needs to be a final process where I check the relative volume of sections so that it all works as a whole. This is something that also gets done as I go along, not particularly consciously though, and I was aware while listening before I started mastering, that the end of the album is louder than the start. Strangely, the best place for that run-through might be in the car. I have listened to it quite a lot in the car as I commute, and it needs to be loud enough to hear over the engine & road noise etc, but not too loud so I cannot hear a horn outside.

Also it's good to listen to it on a variety of systems.

But anyway, I'm about halfway through this listen through, and so far I'm feeling cheered, it's feeling quite complete, the relative volumes seem sensible and the whole still has a good confidence to it. The most niggly thing that's left really is that with three sections that rely on a classical guitar, I wish I'd had an electro-acoustic one. It's been a considerable challenge to make the poxy one I have sound good, while trying to eliminate background noises while recording through a microphone.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A few more bits

3 sections of track 3 mastered, maybe. Just listening to the third - and thinking the drums are a little quiet. Oh well, back into it I guess.

Friday, 16 December 2011

More progress - lots of it

Well I'm not sure if I've got lazy, but I have mastered the next track. Not the next section, the whole 29 minute track in one fell evening swoop. I started saying "you know what, that doesn't need any changes to it..." to several sections, including, coincidentally (cough cough) most of the ones with Kontakt in. I need to make sure I have a good critical listen just in case I'm fooling myself, though I have to say that all along track 2 has been the easiest to deal with in terms of not needing major alterations. It's always been strong, so it is conceivable that on previous passes where I have been making alterations elsewhere, that this track has had more mastering-like attention.

Anyway, listening is the proof of the pudding, so I'm going to listen to it, and not just tonight when I really want to be making lots of progress so I'm likely to be optimistic and tolerant of it not being perfect.

A new solution

From the title it sounds a bit "Brave New World". This is from a couple of days ago, I effectively mastered sections 8 and 9. 8, no problems, although I got a little distracted by adding a line of a tune from a song in the 80s because it fitted (The Lion Sleeps Tonight).

9 was another matter, we were back to our old friend the crash, and his companion the frustration. This time I only(!) spent an hour and a half on it until I had to give up. Didn't you just know it though, only about 10 minutes after finishing I had a brainwave, the ultimate separation of Kontakt from any contact with things that might make it crash. Not just doing the Kontakt (and it was flute again incidentally) as a separate track, but doing it *without any processing*. Then I can import the audio "dry" mixdown into the project proper as an audio track, and apply the processing then. This is kind of what I've had to do sometimes when I have several guitar tracks using Guitar Rig, because the processor on my computer cannot cope with more than about 2 before it starts to stutter.

So I tried this the following morning, and in about 10 mins I was done. So general policy decision: if I have more than about 15 minutes of mixdown problems I will do this in future. So there!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

More progress and another crash

Section ummmmm 5 and 6 mastered successfully - this is one Cubase project with 2 sections. No Kontakt therefore no problems, sparkled everything up to be nice and shiny and it seems OK. The addition of small amounts of reverb does wonders.

Section 7, quite a lot of work went into it, just fussing around with the sounds, getting them fitting right. I wasn't overall 100% sure I'd finished but time was ticking on so I decided it was time to stop, export out a mixdown and then come back and check to see if it's OK.

On mixdown it crashed.

So I left it.

It does have Kontakt in, but not the offending reverb. What give? So I sat down this evening fully prepared to try all sorts of tactics, but I started with the easiest - a "save as" and then a file copy. I loaded up, pressed the button to mixdown and told it to crash.

It didn't


So therefore a) it's not just the combination of Kontakt and that reverb that causes crashes and b)swapping the reverb isn't the only solution. Basically it just keeps me guessing!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Deep and utter frustration

So, mastering. This part of it is all about getting into each track, listening to each individual instrument and tweaking the "sound" - tone, reverb, other effects - maybe trying to get rid of extraneous noise, all that sort of thing. Then I listen to the section and try and make the relative volumes and stereo placings work (having stereo is brilliant, it's gives you more "space" to fit instruments in, and for them not to mask each other.

Some of the sections have been broken into smaller projects, mostly because if there is too much on, cubase is susceptible to crashes. I have been having problems particularly with the sampler Kontakt, where it tends to (more often than not) crash when I try to master out a track. The first half of the second section was fine. The second half was the one where the title of this post comes from. Last night I spent an entirely frustrating 2 hours trying to master out. There were several things I have tried, which have been intermittently successful in the past - mostly around saving as a new filename and restarting the project, or making a copy of the project file and restarting, or restarting the computer and starting again. In more extreme cases I have had to get rid of Kontakt from the project and start again for that bit. Nothing worked. In this case it was a flute line I was trying to sort out, so I managed to master without the flute in, and took the flute line into a separate project on its own, thinking this surely must be OK - nope, refused to master and crashed.

Eventually I did get it mastered, when I decided to just try and change which reverb plug-in I was using. So maybe Kontakt and that reverb don't play nicely together (I'll have to watch out for that). This is a shame because it is a beauuuuutiful convolution reverb which mimics some real (and lovely) spaces).

So finally I got section 2 mastered. Section 3 took 15 minutes, and section 4 another 30. I'm just listening through now as write and it all seems quite nice and shiny.

After I have mastered all the sections, I need to have more listening to see if there is anything else I would like to fix, and then the final thing to do is check the relative volume of all sections. At the moment there is some discrepancy.

And so... into section 5

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Early report back

After spending about 1.5 hours mastering the first section, (but the first 1/2 of that was trying to get cubase to work) I think I can say with reasonable confidence, it is going to be worth doing. I have tidied up rumbles, made things generally clearer and so on. Anyway, time to put in a few finishing touches and start section 2. (1.1.2)

Friday, 9 December 2011

I'm Baaaaack!

Hello again

So after a break of about 6 weeks, I started to listen again to the album on the first. This is the first time I have got time to be able to do some actual mastering (I wanted to have a GOOD listen first, and I've listened through about 5 or 6 times now).

Soooo.... mastering. I'm about to start, right now I'm not sure how much I need/want to do, given I have kind of been mastering as I go along. Also given my memories of so many crashes. There are some sections which definitely need a bit of work, but in general terms a lot of it sounds shiny already.

Time to dive in....

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Lay it down

Well new decisions: a few of them in fact.

  1. The album will not make the release date of 11.11.11. I could have made it but there are two really good reasons to delay. The first is that I can only make that date now by pushing hard, it might be rushed. The second is that I have always intended to run a "viral marketing game" for the launch - well I seem to have managed to get this turned into a student final year project (well I am a lecturer...) which means an ideal time for this from the student's perspective is to run the game during February. Therefore the release date is now moved to 1.2.12
  2. I have finished phase 2, I don't thing there are any more musical changes to make to the album, what is left is "mastering" - getting all the levels, processing etc. to sound right. There are bits that I know are balanced wrong.
  3. Because I can now with the changed release date, I am "laying it down" - in other words leaving it alone, no messing, and significantly no listening, for about 6 weeks. I will start the mastering process on 1st December. This is actually really good practice, it allows me to come back to it with fresh ears in a few weeks, and it helps me separate myself from the emotional attachments I have to it. I can almost tell myself that somebody else recorded it - in fact it was past me.
  4. What to do in the meantime? relax a bit, and work on the artwork.
  5. Speaking of artwork, there are three "e-books" I'm going to make to accompany the album, an art book, an explanation book and a "making of" book. These will be PDFs and initially may only be available to participants in the viral marketing game. The "making of" book will be based on this blog. The explanation book will have less in it and will explain the philosophy and ideas behind the music, and the art book will have a picture for each of the 27 sections of music.

Gotta go.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

wrestling with a sampler

Huzzah! pass three is finished. There were not that many changes to be made in pass three, but my frustration with crashes reached all new heights.

It's the sampler: Kontakt, an otherwise beautiful piece of software from Native Instruments. My version is a few years old, and something in the combination of Kontakt, Cubase, Windows 7 and this computer is not happy. It mostly crashes when I try to mix down a section. So I have to kill the program process, reload the file, remove Kontakt, save, close Cubase, reload the file, restart Kontakt and re-put in all the settings I might have had, cross my fingers and hoe that this time it worked. Sometimes doing a "save as" and restarting with the saved as file helps. Sometimes doing a file copy of the project file helps.

And in this pass, for one particular section, I have spent several hours doing this in different combinations over and over hoping to get a usable result. I have done, finally, and after much struggle I have come to the finish of the third pass. This might be the last pass of tweaking before mastering commences. I will have to do a lot of listening before I can convince myself that it's fine.

What have I done in this pass?

  • The rain at the beginning has had some flowing water sound added and altered a little to make it all work better. Right at the end of teh first track I use the beginning backwards, but the sound effects sounded weird, so while the music is backwards, the sound effects are forwards.
  • One line of flute has been changed in 1.1.2 so make it less strident
  • 1.2.1 has had the pitch bend restored on the recorder line - it had been lost in one of my getting rid of the crashes processes
  • 2.1.3 has had some small volume tweaks
  • 2.2.3 has had the most radical change - I have removed the bass drum beat entirely from the spacey section - I had tried loads of things to make it work and eventually had gone with the maxim "if in doubt take it out". It is of course different, but I think I'm already liking it.
  • in 2.3.2 there are some guitar chords which are meant to be distorted and in the background. I have changed the sound processing on the guitar twice already, and now I think the sound is right, it just needed to be quieter.
  • in 3.1.1 the strings I had introduced in pass one which were too quiet were now too loud, so I have made some changes, also added to the string only section so it has more melodic bits and is a bit less like the soundtrack for a Peter Greenaway film.
  • I have added more notes at the end of the 3.1.1 section, and removed the discordant note. Basically there was a gap I wasn't happy about and I have been attempting to cover it. I played with lots of possible sound effects, but nothing seemed to work either musically or conceptually, so instead I did something different - extended the tune of the line by adding 2 notes, and now the gap has been shortened or removed or improved - I hope.
  • in 3.2.2 there was an intake of breath through my nose while playing the classical guitar that was irritating me increasingly. 3.2.2 and 3.2.1 were all one project, and after I had managed to remove the noise with some clever editing, I then couldn't get a mixdown. This was over a week ago, and today I got a mixdown finally, possibly helped by finally deciding to separate the two sections into different projects.
  • 3.2.3 cleaned up the fast classical guitar, and rationalised the processing - hopefully it is less hissy now.
  • 3.3.3 brought down the volume of the flatlining beep. It was reasonable on the headphones, but there's something about the sound system in teh car that seems to push that particular frequency until it was deafening!

So, on from here - lots of listening and then mastering, which is the process of going through with a fine tooth comb and checking volume, tone equalization, stereo placement and subtle processing, so that it all sounds good, and clean, and as close to perfect as possible. To be honest, though I am going to keep a copy of how it all is now, because to some extent I have been mastering as I go along, tweaking and twiddling until it sounds, in my opinion, pretty good.

I listened to most of the previous two albums yesterday. It was interesting listening while I'm in critical mode, looking for mistakes and things that could be better - let's just say I think my standards have got even higher for this album - which I wanted to be the case.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

All these tiny little details

So pass 2 is finished, lots of stuff tweaked. I have promised myself at least one more pass before mastering, and I still need to make some changes, but I feel like to some extent I'm mastering as I go along.

So tracks 2 and 3 changes. Seeing as I believe in making available my thoughts and such like, why don't I just paste in my ongoing notes (typos and all)....

2.1.1 Cognition (future) "We Can Work It Out"
+I love the deep bassy notes. Don't happen much on laptop.
leave first 2 and take off rest?
- yes dropped the lower

2.1.2 Perception (present) "I Can See Clearly Now"
Wok lid still a bit random
- bit of enhancing, but cannot enhance it too much
guitars could still have more presence - how did I do it on 3.2.2?
- just louder
do I have 2 tracks of solo that have unequal processing?
-yes I did. My ears are good sometimes
overall volume could be higher
- yes, boosted
more and clearer perc
- cleared a bit maybe, louder certainly
- whole thing MBC and several tracks gated to clear up background

2.1.3 Memory (past) "Thanks For The Memories"
more humanising on piano chug - need an emphasis on the 1, and maybe a left hand
- added left hand, changed the humanising, LH continues into first 2 verses

2.2.1 Physics "Physical Acts"
where da bass? make the bass rumble work at higher freqs too or drop it and get real bass
bass rumble irritates me, make it stop after a bit or fizzle or something
- kept - too good to mess with

2.2.2 Biology "Biological Imperitive"
lose the bass rumble?
add something else at the low end for 1st part?
- see above, kept, not messing with it

2.2.3 Chemisty "Chemical Bond"
tidy up hammer-ons
- tried, failed left it

2.3.1 Rhythm "Beat It"
handperc sounds a bit bathroomy
so does clapping - may need bigger reverb space
-changed reverb
last of the industrial noises hardly makes an impact
- bigged them up
review cymbal riff near end of some sections (used about 4 times)
- changed the riff for 1st 3 times

2.3.2 Harmony "Togetherness"
drums -18.25 to reverb
can't hear bass on laptop on delay llama bit - strong on headphones but very low
- added a touch of the middle, but unwilling to mess too much
smooth transition into scales
chords still lack bite on scales bit (add bass?)
- changed guitar sound again
more bass synth on 2nd half of scales
- given it more
maybe piano now too loud in scales
- dropped a tiny bit
-crashing right now. Boo!
bring out snare in harpsichord
- done
harpsichord could be spikier?
(think I need to split of harpsichord and cannon)
- done
still need to deal with transition at end - or do I?
electric guitar feels like it's behind my head
overall feel at end a bit muddy - too much or wrong bass?
- string quartet fades

2.3.3 Melody "The Rutland Reel"
guitars louder at start for transition?
bass very different from previous - could be more
can't hear bass on laptop
overall satisfactory
bring out solo instruments a touch? Esp pluck
solo pipes seems to lose something
- some general fiddling & MBC


3.1.1 Father "Abba"
L: been listening to the panets?
strings too quiet throughout
- lifted lots
get rid of "fire"
- done
work on smoother dynamics
overall quiet?
loving the thunder
hang the last note slightly longer
-extended and added discord

3.1.2 Son "The Word"
does one of the screams (4?) lack reverb?
"It is finished" is too choired
- reworked
beep bass louder?
-no leave as
Ney still not working for me. Louder? More presence? more processing? different instrument?
no matter how much reverb I put on it sounds dry
Can the tuning be improved?
- tuning improved, stereo enhancer added and AVOX punch, much stronger

3.1.3 Holy Spirit "The Comforter"
nice Uke work
bring flute out from echoes a little
glossolalia will be controversial - it's a bit forward - could be quieter
- taken down
bring in some ride cymbal?
- done
bigger snare! all drums in 2nd half except hihat which could be ride
slap bass too loud (but working nicely) need a bit of reverb?
- reprocessed

harp (normal) centre -6dB
Flute (all) centre -0.3dB pb reange down -2.0St

Multiband Compressor - clear vox
Modmachine Delay - kontact for 313 spirit
send to reverb - -14.06

3.2.1 "The Lust Of The Flesh"
something over drums into - sfx? female vox sexy
add night club background to whole thing?
- crowd & resteraunt at the beginning
- voice over "Party People, how are you feeling?"
bring in piano with bass?
- done
whole thing too loud? (compared with other sections). On general I have a few sections in a row which have got a bit louder
- nothing done, can deal in combiner
too much reverb on kazoo solo
- taken off a little
piano solo a touch too loud?
- dropped back a touch
check transitions into Chorous - need drumfill?
- added drumfill

[3.2.2 "The Lust Of The Eyes"]
into pink floyd still a little "off" transition jumps sound
- better
I think that one of the two tracks is louder than the other
- not really but some changes at point
can I change the note at the end of the entertainer to a chord?
- yes
transition at end still not prefect. could an "ole" help?
- maybe in next treack
whole thing loud
- left
rasquiado too trebbly
- modified volume and compressor
nose noise near end of bleak midwinter
volume drop from bleak to god rest ye
- lots of work on transitions and getting the volumes right
- sounds much more like one take now

3.2.3 "The Pride Of Life"
something still not totally smooth about transition
- added an Ole
solo spanish getting lost in backing
- brought up a touch
drum solo is out better
bass may be too loud (very audible on laptop) - don't lose much though, as solo is clear
whole thing loud
- left

3.3.1 Sin "Darkness"
chords in first half too loud? make them move about? vary volume a bit, and maybe timing
- no, fine

3.3.2 Repentance "180"
- good

3.3.3 Sanctification "The Gleaming Cube"
music box works well bring it out a little
if in doubt add an sfx - over end of cube?
- added flatline
check bass timing in end section
- leave as is for now, looked OK

Any questions?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

If in doubt, add SFX

This is phase 2 pass 2 and I have officially named this pass "if in doubt add a sound effect". I have always loved sound effects in music and so here we go.

Lots to report, I have finished track one. I have added rain at the start (not sure about it yet), and a steam train between sections 1 and 2 (very sure about it).

In section 2 I have slightly unhumanised the flute, I reckon it was slightly over-humanised.

In section 3 I have reworded the Xylophone solo so it makes more sense and is less random. Funny you didn't notice that when it was too quiet to hear. I've also microedited shaker, guiro, bass and guitars for timing. Once you have started microediting you never go back. It makes such a difference.

In section 4, I have changed the lead-in note to a chord, and done lots of work tidying the whistle which replaced the organ. And then spent ages trying to get a mixdown - it kept crashing. Theis was the point where it started to come home to me how far I have yet to get, and how close my slef-imposed deadline for release is (11.11.11) Eventually I fixed it by combining the whistle back into the 1st instance of the sampler. Unfortunately the process seemed to kill my pitch bends, so I will need to revisit them at some point.

In section 5 I did one micro-edit where the guitar solo hesitated slightly. Microediting is my new best friend.

in section 6 there was no substantial changes

in section 7 the big thing was the electric violin which had replaced the electric piano. It seems to be a theme that when I chuck something out and replace it, then that will need some work when I come back to it. In this case, the tuning was really annoying me - the clever sampler I have which bills this as "fiddle" has some tuning modification to make it sound authentic. In other words, when played with other instruments, it sounds wrong, so I found the switch marked "switch" which turned that effect off. Much better. Add a little chorus to thicken the sound up a little and Bob's your Auntie.

in section 8 I dealt with a brass band off to the side (I sorted out the panning) and tried to deal with some solo trumpet issues but eventually left it. This is a section where I am fighting with the sampler to make it behave well, and for once I can say "it'll do" because it's not really bad.

And in section 9 the only substantial change was to replace the old bit of reversed stuff from the start of the track with the new version.

All through there are slight modifications to volume and tone which I have not bothered to tell you about because they are manifold, important, but boring.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

...and so I re-recorded the whole section

Well I have finished pass one of phase 2 (and already know things I want to change in pass two). Here is the tale of the changes.

The next section up is a jazz section. The thing I was most unhappy with was the kazoo in the refrain - a little too legato. I tried sticking in some volume edits to get drop-outs to get more edge, it didn't seem to work. I cannot find the kazoo either to re-record so I have added a noise gate with a sharp switch-on. This seems to work. As a side note, I seem to be getting more and more into the post-processing stuff, and yes, the multiband compressor is my current favourite. The other thing I did was process the trumpet solo, sampled solo instruments are are notoriously difficult to make convincing. I did a few minor note edits, but also added a mono-to-stereo to centre it and thicken it and you guessed it, the old MBC. In fact as a result of multiple tweaks the whole section is more alive, and maybe overall too loud right now.

The following section is just classical guitar. I was a little unhappy with some of the timing, there were a few minor hesitancies I was unhappy with, and I was unhappy with the feel of one of the little mini-bits. Also none of it popped very well. The problem with something like this with a nice live instrument is that it's really hard to come in and re-record small bits without them sounding radically different in tone etc, ... and so I re-recorded the whole section. Quite a lot of work, and of course in a phase where I am being generally critical, this led to self-doubt. I have removed the tune I didn't think worked, and replaced it with "the Entertainer" by Scott Joplin, and replaced some general wiffling with "in the bleak mid-winter" I am sure that it is better, and I am also sure there are things still to tweak. Listening back to it as I write now, I know a couple of places where transitions need something better.

The next section is fast and furious showing-off solos. All I did was some processing and changing the very last note - not by re-recording but just by processing. Again I have processed, and again I'm thinking the overall volume might be too loud. Either that or other sections need making louder.

The next section is the free-for-all that evokes chaos. A bit of processing, a bit of volume and sound tweaking and the addition of two glass smashes, a bass drum and a cymbal at a critical point.

The next section is a descending/ascending bassline, almost entirely untouched, an additional glass smash (glass smashes are the new thunderclaps). The biggest thing was a slight tweaking of an electric guitar sound.

And this brings us to the final section. The big thing I wanted to look at was the slide guitar cube that I spent so much time. Basically it was boring. And I was torn between bravely chucking it out and cowardly trying something to rescue it. The thing is, intellectually I'm quite attached to it. And so I changed a background synth sound, and searched for a more foreground synth sound to make an impact. After a lot of playing with synths I settled on a bell-like sound (there is a lot of sound in this section already, and with 8 guitars playing in the middle range, to cut through it needed to be high). After creating a tune with the bell-like sounds and listening back, it sounded sufficiently like a musical box sound for me to embrace that idea and add more notes in a music-box kind of arrangement.

And so there we are, phase 2 pass one track 3 finished. I hope that from now on changes will be more minor. The next thing to do is more listening, and eventually making a new set of notes of changes to be made, then implementing the changes.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

tweaking the trinity

I'm still managing to snatch the occasional half-hour. Actually to be fair, while the toddler is at Nursery or his grandparents, and the baby is asleep, quite a few things can be done. So this is the culmination of several sessions.

So we're into track 3 - the spiritual one. And the first three sections describe the trinity, God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The big thing about section 1 was that the loudest section was too long, and the music in it repeated too often. I also wanted a blank at the start, so I cur two bars that way, and moved some stuff around, and introduced strings (this is a pseudo-orchestral section) and so I added an extra four bars of strings. The strings give a depth that wasn't there before (double-bass). There has also been some tweaking of timing. I've also added the thunder sound effect again (that's three thunderclaps in one album!)

The second section is about God the Son, and features the crucifixion, and resurrection. There was some minor tweaking, some of the reverb on spoken word was really hissy, and I've added some more processing. A flutey sound has had the strong reverb toned down, and slightly humanised.

And in the third section, The Holy Spirit, it was really sloppy. I have gone through in minute detail editing timings of notes, Ukelele and guitar chords, and shaker shaking. Long, slow and hopefully invisible editing. One of the differences between this album and previous ones is my willingness to edit - in minute detail if need be. Oh and I've re-recorded, edited and changed the processing on some slap bass.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

cosmetic changes

Phase 1 round 2 track 2 - listening and making changes.

And the list of what I have done:

  • added a deeper bass sound to the first section. Now it really woofs the woofers
  • changed the transition into the second section a bit, extended a deep bass note, and taken the wok lid down a semitone so it matches the music.
  • changed the reverb for the second section, it is no longer hissy. I have also discovered the "multiband compressor" is really effective at making things have more presence while stopping them clipping. I have done quite a bit of using it on this track and will in future be using this as a general mastering tool.
  • A little bit of piano humanising on the third section, and some changes to the mix, more bass and multiband compressed the organ, brilliantly now under control
  • sections 4 and 5 - no changes
  • section 6, dropped the drone out of the crunchy guitar part so the gaps between stabby chords are more profound, brought the drums up, and used the multiband compressor again, it's now nice and stabby. There is this bit where it comes in where it's started with a frequency-compressed guitar (which sounds like it's being played down a telephone, it's fab). It morphs into a richer guitar sound, and I have subtly changed the curves of how the one fades and the other rises over it, so that the transition is smoother. You would think a straight line fade and straight line rise was what was needed, but in fact a kind of curve down, so that it fades more at the end, and a similar reflected curve for the fade in make a much better transition. I also have done some tightening up of the later part of the section, it was far too loose rhythmically.
  • section 7 is the rhythm section, and I have gone in and tidied up the clapping and the beatboxing - done some EQ-ing and a lot of minute moving of claps etc to make them nearer the beat, without making it too mechanical - it's still human, just much less messy.
  • section 8 has just had a little mixing, oh and a guitar sound changed entirely, the old sound was really annoying me. I would have done a bit more with it, but one of the three projects that make up this section is misbehaving and won't let me export a mix-down. I have no idea how to fix this, but it will need fixing if I'm not going to just use my rough mixdown of this.
  • Even though most of this is actually starting to do mastering rather than musical changes, I didn't do anything to the last section, I know it needs mixing better. I need to leave something to mastering.

Finally, something about my feeble attempts at marketing. In preparation for release of the album I am starting to try and reach out through some progressive rock websites. I've had reasonable success in the past with Prog Archives, and in the last few days have had some contact with the Dutch Progressive Rock Site, a fairly major site. However, after paying for large file hosting and giving the chap a wav file download he went on to say he didn't like it, it wasn't full or complicated enough, it sounds like a one-man show (which it is) but that some one-man shows make it sound like they have a whole orchestra. Obviously I was disappointed, and have been questioning my commitment. Now I'm more questioning my pigeon-holing of this as progressive rock. But if it's not that, what is it? It's certainly not normal rock.

Anyway, I guess I plan to persevere. I know rejection and criticism are all part of exposing your creativity to the outside world (actually apathetic response is the more common reaction). I've kind of said to myself that I need 10 consecutive rejections before I take it too seriously, and a positive reaction resets that. So this is one.

And another last thing, yesterday I had a baby girl. This is nothing to do with the music, but I'm thinking that things might slow down somewhat as a result.

Friday, 12 August 2011

nothing says "electricity" like a fake violin

After several hours of attempting to make an electric piano solo work, I finally gave in. I struggled with this bit first time around, and knew it was sub-standard. I thought I had been having an off-day when I recorded it (after all I cannot be at the peak of creative genius every day). So coming back to it I thought "I can do better than that". Several days later, after lots of trying, frustration and self-doubt I finally did the sensible thing and gave up on the electric piano.

So then the search for a sound started. The section is all about electricity, so I felt the need to find something relatively related to that. Hmm. Synth? Already got some, and looking for a good synth sound different to the first one didn't really produce anything. Electric guitar? Well... there's always that, but maybe I shouldn't rely on guitars ALL the time, right? Electric something else?


I have a sampled violin. Violins, like saxophones and guitars are notoriously hard to sound real from samples. How about embracing the fakeness and using the violin that sounds like an electric violin more than anything?

Bingo! Much happier. Random soloing over first half, and even a tune over the second half.

Now we need the old elapsed time to see if it is good enough, in my relief at getting something halfway decent I might have over-estimated how good it really is. Time, time time....

Then into the next section, and lots of confusion over a trumpet sound, which I still cannot adequately explain. I have a trumpet which is part of a brass part (actually just two trumpets) and then for one bit it breaks out into a trumpet solo. It needs to move from the side to the centre and have a volume boost.

Because it's being played form the sampler with several other sounds, it's not easy to do this on the "channel" because they all come through the same channel. What I am increasingly doing in this situation is spawning another sampler on another channel to give separate control. For some reason (and this is the unfathomable bit) having done that I couldn't make it louder than a whisper. It was really weird. with everything turned up it was pathetic.

So back to having it in the original sampler - you can put automation on the settings in the sampler, so I recorded the changes for that bit, push the trumpet to the middle and boost the volume. Seems OK. Play back the automation: oh! For some reason it applies the automation to ALL of the channels.

Finally a small idea: use insert effects. This only works because at the point of the solo, nothing else in the sampler is being played. Also because you can automate the effects as well, including turning them off and on. One effect to centre the sound (bizarrely the "mono-to-stereo" effect does this) and another to provide a bit of a boost. Sorted.

What else have I done?

Ah yes, elongated the tail of some crowd sounds in some football commentary so that it can fade more gently (just take some crowd sound and loop it for a while), and moved the end of the last section of the first track so that there is a little gap between tracks.

And done the vitally important "get rid of the humming and singing" in the last section. It has been replaced by... flute. And an extra bit of flute added after the guitar accompaniment finishes, as if the flut player had gone "oh I like that tune, let's try it again" after everyone else has gone. And then it fades towards the end, gets added reverb and has a weird stuttery effect applied as it fades into the distance, nicely making it sound like it's breaking up.

And that's phase two, round one track one done. Already listening a bit there are things that will need to be altered.

The plan is that a "round" is a period of listening, followed by making changes through the whole album. I am focusing on real musical changes not changes to level and effect on instruments if I can, that comes in phase 3: mastering. I plan at least 3 rounds in phase 2, but there might be a difficulty in knowing when to stop. I will need to stop sometime.

Man, this album is getting more work than any of the previous ones did - and not just because it is longer!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Phase 2 started - the tweaking

Yes, phase 1 was recording the album. Finished? Oh no, now comes phase 2 - tweaking. In the games industry this is called "beta".

This means I need to listen, and criticise. This can get depressing if I'm not careful, or I can get carried away on wings of "it's brilliant". I need to identify genuine flaws - and then fix them.

I can't remember which film or TV program it was in, but there was a female character describing her method for getting ready to go out. She said that she would quickly turn away from the mirror and back again, and the first thing that caught her eye, she would remove or fix. I need to identify, as best possible, those things which in two year's time will irritate me, and change them NOW.

So so far I have been doing some more humanising of parts, changed where a key change is, added some cymbals, beefed up some bass, completely re-recorded a bass solo, moved a xylophone solo to make it stand out better, edited some timing, swapped an organ out and inserted a recorder instead, completely changed a guitar sound and added a thunderclap.

Which brings me to a few of general principles in this phase:

  1. if something seems only a tiny bit wrong, it needs changing.
  2. if things are too messy, try removing some parts
  3. if something seems weak, try adding something in the background
  4. ping-pong echoes are your friend, they beef up a thin solo
  5. if things sound loose don't be afraid to edit the audio and tighten them up
  6. humanise all MIDI tracks. Unless you don't want to.
  7. don't be afraid to junk entire ideas if they don't seem to work

There is another problem with the tweaking phase - when do you stop? I have no good answer to that. The best thing I know is that it needs elapsed time. Tweak and listen, and it needs a few days of listening before you are sure about changes that need to be done.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

So musically speaking...

This last three minutes of music start with the most intensely worked-on minute of the album, (which in the end is OK but not thoroughly impressive considering the work). It is a musical cube, with notes at the vertices (corners)

Oh come on! What kind of spellchecker is this that doesn't recognise "vertices" (or "spellchecker" or "recognise" for that matter)??

So up/down is pitch, left/right is stereo left/right and in/out is volume. The notes are cheated to be an f7 chord. Then there are some transitions, where the note slides from one vertex to another (using a guitar slide to slide the pitch (these are electric guitar notes), and cubase post-production to move the notes in stereo space and volume). There are 21 ways of sliding notes along the edges of the cube from one vertex to an adjacent one without any notes colliding with other notes coming the other way, and I used 18 of them. This was the whole process:
  • work out what notes to use and what stereo spacing and volumes were reasonable
  • draw lots of diagrams of cubes to work out the transition
  • using the diagrams write out the sequences of notes to be played on the guitar, 8 tracks in all showing slides and held notes (it would have been pointless to use musical dots as I cannot sight read to play)
  • Play and record the tracks (with copious editing to get it right)
  • Trawl through the tracks applying the right pan and volume transitions in the right places

As you might imagine this took HOURS. The result - interesting, but needed drums and bass added to make it seem more like music.

So for the last two minutes I went in a more musical direction, showing positive change by a never-ending but always changing set of chords. Starting with F, Faug, F6, F7, then onto Bb for the same sequence, going up a fourth each time (OK so eventually it cycles round). This started with one acoustic guitar picking, then as it works up the strings and the fretboard another starts lower, and another and so on in a barber-pole effect that has a maximum of I think 6 guitars happening. Add some interesting and sporadic drums and the whole thing is interesting, beautiful (in my opinion) and uplifting. Now it just needed a solo line - but in a moment of inspiration - inspired by the fact that the guitars cover a large part of the tone spectrum and , any soloing in the same note areas would struggle to lift above that - the solo is on the bass, beneath all the guitars.

I don't often enough make use of the fact that bass is my strongest instrument.

I love the end result.

The gleaming of the cube

The last three minutes of the music is done. 14 months it has taken, and this is just phase 1. Phases 2 (listening and tweaking) and 3 (mastering) are not very interesting to blog about but I might as well do so anyway, to give you, the probably-non-existant reader the full picture.

This last section has a very personal picture behind it. This section is about what happens spiritually to someone after they make that step of becoming a Christian. There have been books and books written about this, and the theological word is "sanctification" - the process of change.

At one time I worried about this change. Change is never easy and when it is yourself that is changing it's even harder, even when the change is for the better. At this particular time in my life I was struggling with identity issues anyway, and was wondering if this process of change would mean I would stop being really me.

Then I had a picture.

Some Christians talk about "having a picture" as a spiritual experience, I don't know if this was that kind of experience, it was a moment of clarity and understanding that revolved around an image in my mind's eye. The image was of a metal cube, which was dented and battered and tarnished, and the understanding was that this is how I was, but that how I was INTENDED to be was a shining, straight cube. The process of change in fact was not of losing what I was but of gaining what I should be - becoming more me rather than less me.

It's 1 in the morning and I had intended to write about the music, but my son is awake and fussing so that will have to happen another time.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

turn, turn, turn

Well 6 minutes of music still to create before I start the refining process. And here we are at sub-section 3.3.2: and this is inspired by the moment of repentance and the turning around and opening up that this involves.

As a start the crying track continues, but nicely at the start of this section the calming down happens, there is Mummy's gentle voice soothing the situation

And under this a quiet piano sound, a slow 6/8 beat with chords C and Fm repeated. Then the bassline on the piano, which goes down then up. This is a bassline I found about a year ago, and thought it might be nice for a "turning around" section, given that it turns from down to up to down again. This piano is deliberately using a pretty rubbish piano sound (I happen to have a really bad piano rompler) it's in tune but there's no stereo, and the sound is very compressed in the middle of the tone band. Added to that it is deliberately programmed so that is it lifeless and dull. Deliberate dullness is a risky strategy for a recording but there is a point.

There is a point where there is a breaking sound (created with a complex mix of cymbals, gongs and a breaking glass sound) and the music breaks through - introducing drums (brushed snare) and thick deep bass (using my Fender bass) and a MUCH better acoustic piano sound. This is all about that moment when one wakes up spiritually, it's like what giving up smoking does to your sense of taste, except this is to your spiritual senses.

Anyway, this 2-chord trick continues for the rest of the section, with solos first by an acoustic guitar, then an electric. These solos are the bits that took a long time, and my fret fingers now hurt. I've used no tricks but some interesting effect processing. I've worked hard to make it simple but hopefully effective.

So now, just 3 minutes left. What do do? Hmmmm....

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Not nice

It is with a mild but deep sadness that I blog right now. I'm not sure that it counts as "suffering for my art" but this is a deliberately induced sadness.

You see, I have been recording the next section. I'm getting pretty close to the end of the first pass, and I'm back in track 3 "Spirit". After the three sections on the trinity, and the three sections on the temptations common to man, the last three sections are about a human spiritual journey, inspired in part by "A Pilgrim's Progress" but mostly by my own spiritual journey and that of countless Christians around the world and throughout the ages. Phase 1: lost in sin.

Sin is not a very popular word these days, but it's a very evocative shorthand for broken, dysfunctional behaviour and for the inner brokenness which can make this behaviour so compellingly hard to stop, even when one wants to. Sin is born of pain and leads to pain, and is typified in many ways by chaos.

And so this section is deliberately attempting to evoke that brokenness and pain, and is deliberately disturbing, atonal, arhythmic, difficult to listen to. Random sounds and failed takes from previous sections are fed through a series distorting and bizarre effects, with little apparent reason or pattern. It starts with a deliberately discordant chord, Fsus2bmajor7/E and doesn't get much better.

It also breaks the immutable pattern of sections in that is it only 2 minutes long. This is deliberate for two reasons: 3 minutes of this is too much to listen to, but also pragmatically if you have 3 27-minute track the total time is 81mins. The max for a CD is 80 mins...

The other thing that is broken, is the solo-ness of the project. I have had a little help here - mostly from my son Sammy, but a little from my wife. A few months ago while he was having a disturbed evening, and was being left for 5 minutes to see if he could settle himself, I whipped out a microphone and recorded his crying. This also has been processed somewhat, but it is undeniably the crying of a child, and it is the repeated listening to this that has induced my sadness. It's bad enough that we are wired to respond to any child crying, but doubly so because he is mine - that crying voice gently tears me inside.

Well I did deliberately want this to be disturbing.

Quite nicely, I also ended up recording my wife going into him and speaking soothingly, and him calming down in response. This is beautifully timed at two minutes (pure accident) and so I will carry this process into the next section.

Friday, 1 July 2011

frantic strumming and nimble fingers

this post covers the last three music-making sessions, all on this last section of the "mind" track - tack 2 on the new album. As we left the scene last time, we had drums and a guide tune part.

To this I added bass, using my old Fender bass (hitting and shaking it until the buzzing stopped - I have a loose wire somewhere). It was nice to use it again in an un-processed way, it has a nice rich, deep thick bass sound, which on it's own sounds a bit dull, but with the fast folky stuff is just a really nice solid underpinning. I may find myself re-discovering the beauties of this venerable instrument.

Added to that then was the guitar parts - acoustic strumming, one for each ear and mostly done in single long takes (very little editing needed). The tempo gets pretty brutal towards the end and I got into a nice focussed mindstate where I didn't need to think - just to strum and move my chord hand as fast as possible between positions. Very fast. I got aching muscles and sore fingers in the process, but it felt really good. It also sounds pretty good, although the attention is not particularly on it.

I've been blogging this for over a year, so I don't always remember what I've said before, and there's no way I'm going to dredge back over all that stuff just to check if I've already said that I'm learning about listener focus - one of the keys to interesting music is to always give the listener something specific to listen to. In songs this is usually the singer, or solo instruments at points. The rest is there to support that focus, but you pretty much always need a focus, and the stuff that is out of focus doesn't need to be as interesting, just right and good. it can be but it doesn't need to be. In this sections I find I am never really listening to the guitars as I listen through. It needs them there.

And so back to the tunes, which is what this is all about. I have now finished, and it has taken a long, long time. Almost all of the bit of tune are played by me on a keyboard, rather than programmed. I want this to feel very much like the real instruments. And here is what I try to do: although I am not really playing Aolean pipes, I am using a sampler and a keyboard, I am remembering the nuances that pipes use for expression and trying to use those. Similarly with the accordion - I can play one a bit (and have done in public). This isn't a real accordion it's the sampler again, but again I'm remembering what you do - what are the special things about an accordion, and trying to play that way.

Anyway, after lots and lots of takes, I feel like my keyboard fingers have been stretched to the limit of my ability, and yes there has been some editing (mostly tidying up -getting rid of accidental notes, very occasional moving the notes to be better in time, occasional volume changes on individual notes, but about 95% was untouched), and yes I recorded it at a slower speed than it is in the final thing (easier on the fingers, but harder to get the expression feeling right) and the final thing is pretty much done now - maybe it comes to a halt a leeetle too abruptly, I'll have to listen to it a few times and see if I get used to it.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Giz a choon

I have finally started the last sub-section of track 2. This group of 3 sub-sections is all about music, so far we have had rhythm, then harmony, and now it's melody's turn.

As I hinted previously, I have a plan going into this sub-section, in fact it's one of the most prescribed sub-sections I've ever had. I need some melodies: I have some suitable ones already written.

I'm in a ceilidh band, which if you don't know is for communal folk dancing, a bit like American Line Dancing, but not in a line. A bit like old English courtly dances but faster, wilder and much more fun. I'm in this band with lots of very lovely people and so a few times a year we get together and play (broadly speaking) celtic folk for the revellers to revel to.

Sometime in the last year we did a ceilidh for some good friends, and I had a reasonably mad idea: I decided we should have a brand new dance created for the couple, and to go with it brand new tunes. And then I decided we would do the dance first thing after the food break, and the band would see the tunes for the first time at the beginning of the food break.

Except for my mother-in-law who is in the band, she got involved with the tunes before-hand because I needed someone who could write music to write them out. Also she co-wrote one of them.

So this section is the three tunes, each one twice. The first tune is called "washing up" and was written as I looked out of the kitchen window while washing up. This is the one that starts with the chords from Pachabel's canon.

The third one is called "deep blue sea" because it's the tune to a song that I wrote to sing when looking for something - and partly to amuse Sammy when he was a baby, although it would probably amuse him more now.

The second one was co-written by my mother-in-law and was specifically written to plug the gap between the other two and provide a contrast. We struggled for a name for it and eventually decided that between the washing up and the deep blue sea there was... Seaton Sluice. This is a place on the north-east coast locally famous for being the sewage outflow, and so evocatively named! In fact it's a really nice place with a beautiful harbour and a couple of miles of great beach with nice dunes and impressively free parking. It's also where the picture was taken for the album art for "11 Bells", my first album. Anyway, there seems to be a Northumbrian tradition of naming tunes after places. It also has the distinction of being the only ceilidh tune I know with a major7 chord in the accompanyment.

Ceilidh tunes are intended for dancing and often (almost always in fact) follow a formula. Each tune has two parts (part A and part b), each of which is 8 bars long - just right for 1 or 2 figures of dancing. Part A is played twice, then Part B is played twice. Once through the tune is once through the dance. The whole tune is then usually repeated, and so playing a "set" of three tunes, each one twice is exactly 6 times through the dance, which is usually about right.

this give me a problem, because I want to keep the drums going through from the harmony section (remember they started back in the rhythm section, actually the beat started before that in the chemistry section) The beat is at a handy 120 bpm. 3 32-bar tunes, each played twice comes to a total of 96 bars. 3 minutes of 120bpm is exactly 90 bars. It's too long.

Which is why it speeds up through the section, this is to make it fit.

So far I have copied drum patterns from the harmony section, recorded all the tunes on one hand on an organ for guide purposes (tricky as some of the tunes go quite fast, but I cheated and sped them up) and have started the process of altering the drums to make them more appropriate to the tunes.

The normal way of working for me, and for almost everybody who has an inkling of knowing what they are doing with multitrack recording, is to start from the drums and bass, any other rhythm (guitars, etc). build up to harmony filling (keebs, etc) and finish with the thing that's meant to grab the interest, the singing or the solo instrument. This time, the tunes are in charge, which is why I want the tunes in for all the process, the nuances of the rhythms in the tunes should be supported by the accompaniment, and this is in fact the way good ceilidh music is built - from the tune down.

After the harpsichord...

...comes the the string quarter playing Pachabel's canon. Well OK almost Pachabel's Canon - just the same chord sequence but as block chords rather than all the fabulous counterpoint. And almost a string quartet too - each sound is really an ensemble sound. This is all about having a chord sequence - and this is a pretty famous sequence. Also it very neatly moves into the next section, as the first melody I'm going to use there has the same (almost) chord sequence.

The drums prevail and the strings play the sequence one. Acoustic guitar and electric bass join and it's played again. Then twice at double sequence speed (each chord takes half as long). Increasingly the feel becomes bouncy and the strings are phased out. Over the whole thing is floated an electric guitar doing vague pentatonic noodling.

The guitar is worth talking about. I tend to use a lot of classic "crunchy" guitar sounds when soloing - I'm quite a fan of that distortion. However, I have been looking for a satisfying "clean" sound, something a little like the classic Santana sound would do me - compressed and sustained and clean. I think I have finally found it in this. Also I had an interesting moment. Sometimes when I want a line (often I can hear in my head what I want) but it seems too fast for me to play reliably, I play at half speed and double speed it up. Well this time I had such a line, and when I tried to double it up it just sounded...wrong. My trickery was unhelpful. So I tried several ways of playing it and eventually found one, and learned it and did it at normal speed. I did use a bizarre little technique though (never used this before but will again) - I was playing high up the neck, and to stop open strings ringing and getting in the way, I draped a jumper over the lower part of the neck to act as damping. Now I think I need to invent the damping capo - it would be really useful.

I have been having lots of problems with cubase in this project - something keeps causing to go into an "unstable state" and it invites me to save out under a different name. Anyway I seem to have finally taken all the individual ideas and aggregated them into one nice track.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Ahhh pants! Just lost the last hour's worth of work when cubase crashed and I hadn't been saving at milestone points like I should. Never mind, I'm not going to redo it now, but it will be faster when redoing.

I did some last night too, so I should report on that. At the end of the previous session it was noticeable that the computer was struggling, given the number of different things going on at once. The solution: given that this sub-section is split into little ideas, is to make a separate project for each one. So I did, it means even more stitching together.

Following on from the scales idea is a harmonic/counterpoint idea (the sequence of ideas is intervals->scales->counterpoint->chord sequences, which is in itself more or less a primer in harmony). For some reason lost in the mists of my memory, this idea was conceived to be on a harpsichord, and why not? The sequence of chords/notes is a little odd, which I think I'm fine with. I could have done a fairly generic harpsichord-type-piece in the style of Gibbons, but instead there is a secret in this bit - a hidden tune which was used as the coat-hanger to hang the section off. I think I like it, but it has led me to some un-typically-Elizabethan chrds, diminished 7ths and augmented 5ths and so on. As an explorationof harmony this is valid, but it's odd. Odd can be good.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Scales in F

This current sub-section is turning out to be quite complicated. I am now working on the second idea in it, in which I switch from C# (and a bit) to F. the drums continue, and I have an F Major scale played alternately on piano and glockenspiel. This has, partway through, the chords, Dm, C# and Am played on a distorted guitar, and underneath has some nice synth bassy paddy sounds. I might want to add something more to the repeat, and so far a lot of work is going to make the guitar sound right.

the point behind this idea is that we have moved on from simple musical relationships, or intervals, to the diatonic major scale - the foundation of western music. hence the scales. The chords are because scales are not intrinsically interesting and I want to spice up the background.

The list of things being dealt with by cubase right now though is quite big - and there's more yet to come. The harpsichord for example for the next idea.

Sequel to big scary thoughts

Well I've been doing a lot of thinking about big scary thoughts in the last couple of weeks - what started in reality as "how can I do press-packs without getting CDs duplicated" has triggered off a huge chain of thoughts, ideas, investigations and finally with some (I hope) reasonable decisions.

There are lots of things I could do if I wanted to start making money out of the music. Lots of boring, stressful things, and although I reserve the right to change my mind I seem to have made the following decisions:

1. I will not try and sell my music, I will still continue to give it away for free

2. Although I would like to increase my listenership, I will attempt to do so in ways that are a) free (or very cheap) and b) viral media-like

3. I will not, for the sake of commerciality separate out sections of the music and treat them like "singles". It was always intended to be album-based

4. I will focus on having direct download and streaming to continue as the main delivery method of the music. I may still make some CDs by hand

5. I will do what seems to be the minimum to set myself up as a "record label" (with neither records or in fact many labels) In my mind this label is called "patchwork sounds" and is part of "The Patchwork Umbrella" - a name for my creative output, which may also include other people in the future.

6. I will start to use ISRC - because I can. I will look into barcodes but I don't think they are essential.

7. I am unlikely to turn BMS into a multimedia experience, but I may still create an image for each sub-section to use in a companion booklet (probably a PDF)

8. I will master BMS to a better quality than previous masters - in terms of file format. I am trying to resist the temptation to remaster the previous two albums, at the moment I feel like they are alive and on their own. I may see if I can get ISRCs in them at Last.Fm

9. I will have a marketing push at the "release" of BMS

10. I will create a virtual press-pack on the purple website, designed so that instead of sending press-packs I can send a URL

11. I will create "trailer tracks" - super-condensed versions of all three albums to give the essence of them in 3 minutes. These will be available on the virtual press-pack

I think that's all. Like I say I reserve the right to change my mind, and to do something different in the future. I have said many times I don't think that music publishing has a future - so now I am attempting to not get involved in that process.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Delay Lama

More work on the harmony sub-section tonight (2.3.2) - well a bit yesterday but I'm counting this as one session. The singing bowls are there and they need some backing up with other instruments. Given that the bowls are in c# and a bit this meant some judicious tuning, but I ahve added arpeggiated tibetan monks.

I have mentioned the monks in a previous post. It seemed appropriate that alongside the singing bowl, traditionally from Tibet/Nepal, that I give the monks a go. Actually what it is is a "formant" synth, which models vocal chords and gives a human-like sound. This particular one is called "delay lama" (a play on Dali Lama) because it has a delay, and as a gimmick not only makes the noise but has a picture of a monk who sings as you play the notes. Its fun. I have used two, one for each ear and they are doing arpeggios.

Added to that was some bass. My old, (pretty old) fender bass has found it's way home on the principle that I will predominantly use it for recording while the other one will mostly live at church. Unfortunately it would seem that the Fender has some electronic problems - a disconnected earth by the sound of the big buzzing noises. I managed to get it to stop and have some nice slightly funky bass.

Next was some electric guitar. I wanted a floating guitar "tap-on" arpeggio pattern that flies through from ear to ear. Now in the past I have used Guitar Rig alongside Cubase but it seems that on the new set-up they don't play nice together. It looks like the free ASIO driver I ahve doesn't do multi-tasking. Never mind, I have discovered the "monitor" button at long last - and maybe because the computer is more powerful than the previous one, the latency (lag) is less of a problem than it used to be.

So I think that's the first 32 bars sorted - next I'm going to move into F major and do some scales.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

big scary thoughts

This is where I assume that nobody is really reading this, but would like to get this thinking into the record I am making here of the process of making B:M:S.

If there is anyone reading and you have comments, I'd love to hear them.

I've been thinking recently about marketing and promotion. I feel like when the album is ready I should have another round of spreading the word. I've also been made to think by recently making 10 copies each of 11 bells and binary tree and finding it takes flipping ages! And I've been thinking about how to do a "press pack" for the release. For me, bunging pictures and music and text sounds like a job for a USB flash drive (or "data stick" as I normally call it).

And so my first diversion was into branding the outside of flash drives - there's a lot of it done for corporate promotion, and if I wanted enough I could get almost anything printed, lots of choice of shapes and colours, special materials, all sorts of bespoke shapes even. But it costs money.

And so my second diversion is thinking about what could be on the stick. What if, when you stuck the stick in, the album played automatically? What if it launched a special application which plays the music and does other things as well? Like display images? Like run animations? Like scrolling a real-time commentary in text? Like a supa-dupa multimedia application. This could have a press pack built in, and lots of other information and resources, including this blog, and including the printable covers if anyone wanted to burn to a CD.

Which led to some fear of a large undertaking. Strangely enough writing the application doesn't scare me much (I am a programmer and I can see how to do most of what I want), but it's creating the additional artwork that this might imply. because it might be nice to have an image for each sub-section, or even more than one for some.

And then also I started thinking about "Freemium". This is a word taken from the games world, where you can get a game for free, but pay for premium content. What if the music continued to be free as the previous albums have been, but the data stick was for sale as the "premium" version. This is scary because it requires an outlay of money to buy the sticks, and ways of duplicating the information, and of getting them to people, and of handling the money, and all sorts of businessy things. On the other hand I have been wondering if there was a way to apply the principles of Freemium to music, and this might be a way.

And I have also been having thoughts about crowdfunding - which is where you get people to pay before they get the thing, in order to collect the initial outlay from presales. Crowdfunding often offers different tiers of payment - for example you could have a reduced price for the artefact if you pay before a certain date, for a bit more you could have a credit, for more you could have a super-deluxe version with a special message, your own chosen colour scheme, signed, etc. For seriously large money I could write and record some music especially for you. Even more, maybe a share of profits.

So on the one hand this is scary-world time, do I want to take it this seriously, it was always meant to be a fun hobby, something to do in my spare (cough) time.

On the other hand, it's a plan, and I find plans hard to resist, especially those that are almost within reach. This would take a little bit of a stretch in the programming, a bit in the art, and a major stretch in the marketing and business and legal stuff. A challenge. An undertaking. A creative thing beyond where I have gone before. In other words, a lot of the elements of how I like my creative fun.

And on the third hand (maybe a result of mutation), this is a blatent gimmick, a way to attract attention, innovative, different, definitely marketing... from my mixture of positive and negative phrases here you can see I'm not sure how I feel about this aspect.

So, if you have an opinion I'd love to hear it.

In the meantime, there's no harm in looking at what technology would be needed, maybe even in doing a proof of concept demo... would there?

Singing bowl and drum anxiety

So after quite a break I'm back in the music now. Over the break period I started to feel uneasy about a few things in recent sub-sections. This is the result of listening to it (and in a sense I'm getting ahead of myself in the production cycle, editing should come later). Anyway, I felt that the pseudo-heavy-metal part in Chemistry (2.2.3) needed tightening up. So I played with the guitar and some noise gates (these things are designed to cut off when the sound gets below a certain level) to give it a crisper edge. I eventually came to the conclusion I didn't like the drums. i found a drum patch I liked (as it happened a heavy rock one) and migrated. Unfortunately the new patch was arranged differently across the keyboard from the old one, so migration took some time. I also did some work on the latter part of Chemistry, to bring out the rhythm guitars a bit more. I also felt like I needed to eliminate the drumming gap between Chemistry and the next section, so a snare riff was added.

And then onto the Rhythm sub-section (2.3.1) - I was unhappy with the toms which had a rattle on them like a slight snare. This had been driving me nuts so I spent a while working through tom sounds and choosing new ones. This now turns out to be the third edit to this drumkit patch I have made and I'm in danger of getting too attached to the one patch. Good that I like it though because I intend to use if for the next two sub-sections also.

Speaking of which, I have started on the Harmony sub-section (2.3.2). I have gone through many different thoughts before settling on what I am actually going to do, there are a number of slightly experimental things I want to try. First up is simple harmonic relationships: octave, 5th, 4th, major 3rd, minor 3rd and tone. It just so happened that my in-laws have recently visited China and my kind Mother-In-Law brought me back a "singing bowl" from Shangri-La. This is a bowl that you gently tap with the wooden stick, and then rub the outside gently with the same stick to make it "sing", a bit like a wine glass. It's a really nice, pure tone and ideal for demonstrating harmony. At least it would be if there was more than one note.

Oh wait on, I have a whole world of technical shennanigans at my disposal: resampling, pitch shifting and time stretching. So I have the bowl singing along to itself in harmony, using "pure tones" - relations with exact mathematical correlation of frequencies (eg a fifth is 2:3). This is something that sounds really nice, but also a little odd to western ears because we are so used to the equal temperament scale, where the relations are cheated slightly to make it all fit neatly.

And the hardest bit was when I wanted to slide the note. this is not an easy process with direct manipulation, but when you load a recording into a sampler and use a keyboard to play it, you can use the pitch-shift wheel to bend the note. Nice.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

So where the blazes have I been all this time?

Nearly 2 months have passed since the last post. Nearly 2 months since I said something about a desire to do a complete review of what VST and VSTI software I have.

It turns out I have quite a lot of it. I mean don't take me wrong I haven't been doing that all the time, I still have a job, a family, several lives and a gaming habit, but what used to be music time was trawling time. Sometimes I can get quite stubborn and this was a case of "I've started so...." and yes I finished. I really must never need another synth again, and I'm unlikely to ever be totally aware of what I have, and as for processing... I have even kept things that I don't know the function of in the assumtpion one day maybe I'll find out what "convolution reverb" is. Or whatever.

I probably would have given up if not for the fact that for every 20 or so mediocre home-grown free VST I had I would find something beautiful, quirky or downright brilliant. For example I cannot wait to use my electronic Tibetan monk, and I have found a truly bizarre delay unit.

Although I still haven't found a good replacement for my darling delay that I was so fond of. I will just have to re-imagine what I need.

Also I might have got distracted if I had actually worked out what I want to do for the next sub-section. At occasional idle times I have pondered on how to deal with the subject of harmony. I spent quite a while trying to work out how many triads there are (19 or 55 or maybe 220 depending on how you count them). I have finally rejected something that slavishly goes through them, and am currently conceiving something that starts with cardinal relationships (octave, 5th, 4th, 3rd etc), progresses to scales, and then explores chord sequences. I have several instruments and ideas I want to use (possibly too many) and am still finalising a plan.

I also want to use the Tibetan Monk.

Thursday, 24 March 2011


Well I'm on strike! No, really. Today I am off work because the union is having a strike day. Am I on the picket line? No I'm playing at music on my computer at home.

Update on the migration: everything seems to now be moved across OK, with the exception of a rather nice delay effect I have been using, forever it seems. It doesn't seem to like Windows 7, or just doesn't like the new computer in some way, anyway it's a real shirty dame, and I'm on the lookout for another good delay effect. This has prompted me to do a full survey of all the effect and instrument software I have, which seems to be an unreasonable amount. I want to go through and install all the good ones, delete all the rubbish ones, and most of all make notes of what I have. For example I have found a really nice formant synth (makes noises that sound nearly human) which I want to use soon. Anyway, I am currently ploughing through a particular pack of free VSTs and VSTis - over 300 in total - I have done the As, the Bs and the Cs. It's partly exciting when you discover new nice things, but partly boring!

Meanwhile, back at the coal-face, I decided today, with no child in bed that I could possibly disturb, and with a wife at work, I should take the opportunity to do some recording. So it was back to the rhythm section. Firstly there was the matter of the last different style - my own take on beat-boxing! No, I'm not really a beat-boxer, so I made do with some simple beatboxing, and added tongue-tripping (I'm positive that's not the right name for it, but it's making a snare-tripping sound with your tongue), some Donald duck noises (honestly, it's better than it sounds) and some tongue-popping noises.

I also re-did the shaker, I found a better shaker in the bathroom (carried there no doubt by the toddler).

I also decided that although the different sound sources for the "verses" were good, they needed some kit drum continuing as backing, just bass drum, or hi-hat, or cowbells, or... anyway different things for each verse. I also realised that just copying the same pattern for each "chorus" was lazy and it would sound better if they were modified, varying interestingly.

And then there was the matter of doing some reasonable "humanising" - I like to humanise programmed bits so they sound like they might possibly have been played rather than programmed. This means going though the programmed kit (and other) stuff and making is so that the hits were not all the same volume, and that the variation was reasonable, emphasis where it should be and that sort of thing.

Speaking of which I have discovered how to better do drum rolls. I have always found drum rolls rather difficult to humanise - the hits should be regular and fast and that's OK, but a normal ramp of building up volume sounds quite artificial somehow. Well I think I've cracked it, I have realised that when a real drummer does a roll, they do two hits with each stick alternately, and the second hit is a bounce. Realising this, I tried doing rolls where every second beat (the "bounce") was quieter than the one before it, but still building up in volume overall. Amazingly, it sounds much better!

And so the final bit of humanising was to add a MIDI effect for each MIDI channel, one that randomises slight variations in the position of an event, by giving it quite a small variance, but applying the randomisation it just adds that small human effect of not being absolutely in metronomic time. It doesn't need much to start to "breathe" a bit.

This has just reminded me of something I was quite proud of on "Binary Tree". There was a section on it that was a brass band - of course using samples, but played on a keyboard rather than programmed. The backing for it was an "oompah" hind of thing, and I played it to the accompaniment of a metronome. This can actually be quite hard, especially if the speed in my head in not quite the speed of the metronome, and it turned out I went slightly fast. I only recorded one pattern and used cut-and paste to repeat it. This meant that at the end of each pattern there was a tiny but perceptible gap, which sounds like a slow-down, before the next pattern comes in. It turned out that I liked the way this did it, it gave the whole thing a slight comic effect, and emphasised the first beat.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Migration Pains

I'm afraid this is not a musical post, more of a process update

It was inevitable that the time would come when the beautiful and elegant computer I use to make music on needed to be put to rest. It has got noisier and clunkier and slower and more and more erratic (a bit like me really)

And so I have managed to get hold of a newer computer. After installing a new operating system (Windows 7) and some essential software, the migration of the music workstation stuff has started.

There are two major pieces of software, Cubase and the NI Komplete pack. I found the NI disks fairly easily, and their license software did a great job of transferring control. The cubase installation disk? Now where was it?

I haven't seen it since we moved. We moved about halfway through "Under A Binary Tree" I had to go box-diving. All our books and CDs and my wife's uni notes, and my records, and casettes, and some videos, and lots of other things are still all boxed up in the room that we are going to call the "library" - pretentious I know but we think it's funny, (and appropriate). In one of these boxes, maybe if I was lucky, I would find the Installer CD.

No I didn't

I did find it on the top of a wardrobe in a completely different room. Oh well.

Then all the files needed copying across (and something seems to have gone wrong with that but I'm not sure what). And now comes the laborious bit I am in the middle of... finding all the otehr instruments and effects plugins I have used.

I am in stage 1, reloading all the project files from the past couple of years (purple and other projects) to check what plug-ins I need. Laborious and tedious and too tempting to listen to everything. They all sound odd because the reverb I use on EVERYTHING is not installed, (and I need to find an installer, or resolve to use a different reverb. Stage 2 will be trying to source everything again, or equivalents. Thankfully I'm pretty sure I have all the softsynths and romplers I need, but I'm not sure about effects.

Stage 3, if I can face it is to do a proper inventory of what plug-ins I have - they have come from lots of diverse sources. In could do with a good list of what everything does, and maybe getting rid of poor ones.

So on I press. Heigh-ho

Thursday, 10 March 2011


Well some more work happened tonight, and in fact I think I have done most of a section. The theme this time is "rhythm" (this is 2.3.1, 2.3.2 will be harmony and 2.3.3 will be melody). Let there be drums!

I'm working at 120bmp and the plan is that the rhythm will persist over the three sections, or at least the beat will (the pattern may change). So how do I fill 3 minutes with rhythm?

Well I have a "chorus" on the drumkit, and "verses" on other forms of percussion. Firstly hand percussion (sticks - which are actually in the drumkit samples, then shaker, then claves and finally triangle), then back to the chorus, peeling off the percussion one by one.

verse 2 is congas - but I cheated and used sampled congas - and a second instance of Kontact (the drum sampler from NI). Same idea, different sounds, different pattern - introduce them one at once, bring back the kit and take them away in the same order.

Verse 3 is clapping - not cheated at all, really done, mostly real time by me. 3 clapped patterns overlaid (using clever EQ and the stereo space to separate them) and the fourth is tapping my legs, including the coins in my pocket. Chorus again.

Verse 4 is sound effects, and for this I used a third instance of Kontact. At this point the computer started to go really slowly - because Kontact uses quite a lot of processor power and memory, so I spent some time working out which samples are not being played in the sample banks and deleting them - freeing up valuable memory.

So the plan is for verse 5 I will attempt to beatbox.

Friday, 25 February 2011


So I tackled 2.2.2 Biology tonight - and realised that fittingly it's the middle section of the whole album. Appropriate then that I had the thought of using a heartbeat rhythm. To be honest when I started that was really all I had.

So I used a bass drum gentle pulse to give a... well pulse. I then wondered what it would be like with a real heartbeat sound effect instead. I found one, and manipulated it to the right speed, and then actually found that it was nice when I combined the drum pulse with the real pulse.

Because I was doing biology I wanted feelings of growing, feelings of strength and solidity, and also feelings of delicateness and gentleness - all the sorts of things we think of for nature. I guess you could say what I got happened "organically" although I hate that mis-use of the word. I played with synth sounds, one giving a gentle rising, one with wide, broad strong yet gentle chords, and then a couple of rhythmic ones. I blended one into another, into another and stripped it back to the pulse and a rhythm synth - towards the end bringing in a gentle enigmatic piano. All of this over a long D note - actually that note carries through all three science sections.

At times this is quite "experimental" - meaning chaotic. Again this appeals to my idea of biology.

So this slots in before 2.2.3 chemistry, and as I write I am listening to the sequence. I seem quite convinced so far.

It's all Physics, isn't it Jimmy?

Months ago I talked about my old Physics teacher, with "Och no it won't do". This guy, Jock Marsden, was the most distractable teacher we had, easily diverted onto talk about his days in Aeroplane design. Typically at the end of a long, and diverted lesson, as we hustled out of the door he would declaim "But it's all physics isn't it Jimmy?" (he called everyone Jimmy).

After much deliberation I decided that the pseudo-heavy-metal and pseudo-acid-rock section is fine as Chemistry, and that it will be the last of the three sciences, not the first - the ease with which it will segue into the next section is too good to resist, and it turns out I can find a way of getting out of the previous section OK. So that's the order sorted - the next problem is, how do I turn the idea of physics into music.

Well for a start I could think about how sound is made, flutes have resonant air, strings vibrate, it's all physics. So physical instruments - good idea. Ahhh but electronic instruments have sounds generated by whizzing electrons, and once again it's all physics. The music that is generated at the end is a confluence of air pressure waves, formed by (hopefully) pleasing harmonies (concordance and discordance are not just subjective, they are physical things) and rhythm (periodic factors using the dimension of time...) it's all physics! On top of that, the whole of the first track is about the physical world, so tackles the states of matter (physics), the three classic forces electricity, magnetism and gravity (physics), and space, time and multidimensionality (physics). When it comes down to it, physics is everywhere, it's the fabulous science that links maths to all the other scientific disciplines.

But that doesn't help, what do I do to represent physics musically?

Well I had this musical idea that I'd done a prototype of, which is a kind of Alan Parsons kind of thing - I can hear it in my head with a nice 80s synth. Is it physics? Well everything is physics - but that's now a cop-out, is it particularly physics? I'd really like to use this idea somewhere though and I'm running out of viable sections.

Instead of intellectualizing it, what if I tried to tap into emotion - how do I feel about physics, and how does that translate into music? Physics to me is solidity, and to some extent the "clockwork universe" of Newton's laws.

Solidity = rock

That was the best I could come up with, and so I've used my idea and done it in a rock style. And for now, it's the best I can think of. Plus I really like it.

It starts with a drone and a tinkle, all three of the science ones will. An electric piano plays the riff, joined by rock guitar, slowly speeding up to speed. Then a quick 2-bars of clock noises and the drums come in with four on the floor. By now there are three strong rock guitars pumping out the riff. Twice through the riff fully and onto the B motif, which is more funky, and the drums back this up with a rock/disco beat. A few more iterations and variations and it all works out. The guitars are all in open Dm tuning (I really have a thing about altered tunings right now), and the whole thing is full. There are small bits of solo-ish stuff but having tried to find sounds to play over as solo lines it seemed resistant - the sound is full already but it's effectively a rhythm track.

So I'm going to leave it as is and see if it needs more when I get into the listening phase.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Oh and also...

The website is back up.

Tortured strings

This is a supplemental to last time, I had intended to talk about tuning.

As I wandered through the process of recording the section there were two interesting things that happened. The first is that although I had some ideas it very much evolved as I recorded it, which is something that often happens. As I play around with an idea, especially on the guitar, ways of exploiting that idea evolve in my mind. In other words, it's not entirely planned before I start, in fact this has been true throughout, and I like it this way (although I have never consciously decided that this is a policy). It make the process feel more "organic" - despite the fact that I dislike this use of the word it seems to fit. It may be that this makes the music itself less clinical as I pull at the threads that seem more interesting at the time.

The second thing, in this case is that as I played with the ideas on the guitar I started retuning. Normal guitar tuning is EADGBE, and the most common tuning for people who mess about with such things is DADGAD. Different bits were played in different tuning and it changed as I went along, I think I finished up at DADFAD, but that's because I wanted the highest three stings in their normal relationship for the solos (but didn't mind being a tone lower as everything is in D anyway). For much of the rest, the rhythm stuff, I seemed to gravitate towards DADGCD, and played the chords with 2 fingers together on the same fret on strings 4 and 5.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Physics, no wait, Chemistry, no wait...

So my next challenge was 2.2.1 Physics. I am leaving the previous sub-section with a D chord, and I had this kind of slightly metally guitar thing in my head I wanted a go at. The problem was - how was that physics?

It's not.

Hang on, heavy metal - that's chemistry surely? SO I change the order of my sciences section around, no biggie.

So there's a bass undercurrent pedal, a bit like right at the start of the first track, oh then there's a tinkly synth bit... like the very start of the first track... OK so if it's a good idea do it more than once. Then there's a guitar doing rythmic chords, sounding like it's played through a bullhorn, then in comes drums, bass, and multiple guitars.

I have a problem with guitars, in that I have a really nice suite of guitar effects called Guitar Rig that will run either standalone or as a plug-in for Cubase. However, if I run it standalone, and record my playing, I can only seem to configure cubase to record without the effect on. Well this is OK because I can take the same effect and apply it as an after-effect to the track. No problem, except if I want more than two guitars, the poor computer starts to struggle. SO I have a method - I record into cubase, isolate that one guitar track with the after-effect on and mix down just that one track to an audio file, which I then load back into cubase as an audio track... confused yet?

The end result is that I spent aaages on this track mixing down individual tracks because I have used about 10 guitar tracks in total.

The heavy metal thing takes nearly half of the track time up, and then I played around with some of the more extreme sound effect settings of guitar rig - getting a nice spacey background. Seeing as I am in chemistry I might as well embrace acid. I have made a fundamental decision that instead of aciiiiiiddd as it applies in the early 90s I'd rather emulate some of the more late 60s/early 70s acid-related music.

There's a problem with this, I start playing with the guitar on a setting called "superfunk" and I have come out with a funky rhythm. I love it, but it's not really the spacerock sound I'm after. Yes, spacerock is a recognised genre. I found another sound that complimented "superfunk" which also was funky. I played a bassline on the guitar (oh I did that for the first bit as well because my bass is at church again). By this stage I have abandoned the spacerock and shrugged my virtual shoulders.

However, once the rhythm is laid down I start looking for some soloing to go over the top. It turns out I can make it quite spacerocky by doing spacey soloing. I spent ages on a lead line, repeating bits, re-recording, and the pinnacle, a genuine tap-on part (that's fast fingering - often I fake this stuff, this time it's not absolutely perfect but I'm happy that it's real). When I played it back, I still had my guitar on my knee, so I started fiddling along to the music - a perrenial guitarist habit. The thing is, it seems that sometimes two guitars are better than one, and harmonising is fun. The first line took ages, the second was on the second take, fully done. And by now the spacerock thing was firmly back in play so I played up to that. I added a bit of minimal spacey drums and Bob's your auntie.

I kind of glossed over the first part - it has a complex, non-repeating rhythm and is in no particular time signature. It actually took ages, and a lot of care to make it work. In fact this may be the most intensely worked-on 3 minutes of music I have ever made, but hopefully it doesn't feel like it.

In the meantime I have a new problem, this was designed to go straight after the jazz section and it works well in that position, but I have a plan for sections 2.3.1, 2.3.2 and 2.3.3 which are all about music: rhythm, harmony and melody. I plan to carry a beat at 120bmp through all three, and the first one of these is funky. This chemistry section ends perfectly to go into it. So it could become 2.2.3 instead of 2.2.1, but the transition was good at the beginning...oooh dilemmna!

Friday, 7 January 2011

feeling good about it now

Yes, you saw right, the title of this post. This section which has given me soooo much trouble, at last I feel good about it.

I was right about where it was wrong, I had added a left hand to a piano solo which really didn't work. In a stroke of inspiration I moved the left hand stuff to the mellotron, and hey presto! After that, lots of little tweaks, humanising programmed bits, balancing and so on, finding a few other bits which were weak and strengthening them. Finally I actually think it's not only acceptable, but something to get mildly excited about. So now I'm listening to it in the context of the previous sections.

Then came the problem of mastering it off onto an MP3 file. After 4 attempts of it crashing I realised there was something fundamentally awry with the cubase project, and so I went through the full process of creating a duplicate. I could copy the MIDI note information using cut and paste, but all the volume tweaks and settings, and instrument tweaks and so on had to be replicated. That took a while but finally I have succeeded.


Does a monster post like that last one, at a time when I was going to work on the music, smack of procrastination?

If so then a follow-up post posing that question surely also does.

Och no it won't do - revisited

I had to track back through my old posts to see if this had made it into the stream of consciousness. There was a post last 12th June which talked about setting standards and an old physics teacher of mine.

Yesterday I had a full afternoon of music. I started by listening to the section I'm working on (2.1.3: Memory) and trying to decide whether I was going to ditch the idea altogether. After the crisis of confidence two days ago that was a very good question.

I decided there was some merit in it and that I should continue.

Let me tell you in more detail what I am doing.

First of all, there has been a running theme through the "mental capacities" section (2.1...), which represents cognition, perception and memory, or in other words, future, present and past. The future entirely featured sounds which are not created until mastering time - in other words soft-synths controlled by MIDI instructions. The present was represented with sounds all made at recording time, (in the "now") and was all using microphones, and sounds made with my hands. The past: it's all about sampled sounds, in other words sounds that in reality were made in the past.

Then there was a strong temptation (to which I succumbed) to use a tune I used in "horns of a dilemma" on "The Binary Tree" - which was a tune I wrote for a song back in the early 90s. To give that context (and several of my other musical ideas too) I should give a little background to my "recording career" such as it is. I didn't just suddenly decide to record music one day in my 40s without some sort of background to it. Although there had been quite a gap, I have actually been recording music since I was about 14 or 15. At school I was in a band with a couple of mates (Andy Dalton and Tim Watson - you are not forgotten) which existed to record, not to play live. This band changed name and peripheral members quite a lot, but produced in the end about 3 cassettes of music. I started to take myself semi-seriously as a songwriter, and continued to write even when the equipment was no longer available. After University in the late 80s I had access to a studio for a while, and I recorded 3 "albums" - two under the name "Dan The Man" which featured songs I had written, and one called "Tidings Of Comfort And Joy" which was instrumental re-working of various Christmas Carols. My access to the studio went away after that, but I continued to write songs. Some of the songs were fully-formed and some were fragments which lodged in my brain as "to be worked on". The chance never came but some of the ideas stuck. In particular this one tune with words, in a jazzy style, which I can pin-point down to 1994/5. To be honest the words were kind of twee, but I liked the tune.

"Do you remember the night when we kissed in the moonlight

Do you remember the sign on the wall

We were singing, we were dancing, we were out and out romancing

But now you've gone and left me all alone".

So I used the tune, as I said in the last album. I also used it in a section that comes later in this album, but in a mangled form, section 3.2.1 in which I use a kazoo. Actually it's the chord sequence I used.

So there's part of me that thinks recycling ideas is a lack of originality. There's another part of me that likes being self-referential, and to have themes which recur in my music, usually in changed form, and there are certainly riffs and motifs that have been featured several times in one album, or have made it from one album to the next. That part usually wins.

And then the idea is to use this tune, but to play jazz at three different speeds and feels to explore the tune, the chords and solo ideas and so on.

When I left it two days ago I was feeling like it was stupid to try and do jazz with MIDI, jazz should be "live" with real musicians. I was feeling that the sampled upright bass felt artificial, the drums too, and the soloing was weak.

When I came back to it yesterday my confidence came back a bit, remembering that while this can be a jazz style, it is not a jazz band, and instead of being frustrated by the artificiality, I should work within the constraints to create something worthwhile in it's own right. I fixed one problem which was that the slow speed bit was too short, I recorded more middle speed, and some fast speed, in fact the whole time-slot's worth.

I have another, smaller crisis of confidence about it now, but really not so much a crisis I guess. I am questioning my soloing, particularly one piano section in the middle speed. One thing I did yesterday was add to it, because it didn't feel like what a good piano player might play. Now I feel like it sounds like two people playing the piano at the same time and not listening to each other. I'm writing this before I start on another session on this, and feel like I need to bring three principles to bear:

  1. Again I should remember this is not about authenticity of jazz, it is about something good to listen to - focus on the consumer not the producer
  2. Simple can be good. In this case especially light, simple & expressive
  3. I should NEVER say "och it will do" if I'm not sure. I learned this by looking back at Binary Tree. Be willing to change, mash-up, move around, mix up and reject things that have taken time. Even if I liked an idea in principle, I need to be ever-increasingly striving for that Pink Floyd quality

And I get this far and still feel like I haven't said what instrumentality I am using: brushed drums, upright bass, acoustic piano, organ and mellotron.