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.