Thursday, December 29, 2011

Begin Again (Ambient Rain Mix)

"On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact midpoint, everybody stops, and turns, and hugs, as if to say 'Well done. Well done, everyone! We're halfway out of the dark.'" - Kazran Sardick (Doctor Who)

Begin Again (Ambient Rain Mix)

Here we are: lonely, frightened little groups of humanity, huddled together in the darkness contemplating the meaning of it all. We gaze out from beneath this thin blanket of air, at the universe beyond our teaming bubble of life on this planet, and we furiously focus inward. We think of each other, of ourselves, of decorations, and feasts, and gifts and our respective religions and traditions.

Since the dawn of time, back even before humanity was climbing out of the trees and attaining self-awareness, there was the long, cold, scary dark and it came every year, and every living thing everywhere had to deal with it.

So what I'm saying is this: when I look around at this yearly collective freakout of mankind known as the "holiday season", in all it's insanity, I try to remember that it is not insane. 

This behavior is literally built into the blueprint of who I am; of who everyone in the world is. This isn't just how we get by.

Every year, when it's the coldest, and the darkest, we gather together the best parts of who we are, collectively amplify them, and scream out into the universe "we will not be intimidated!", or at the very least: "we will be distracted and make the best of it!"

Yeah, the consumerism and all that. It is a bummer. There are a lot of things in the world that are really very wrong at a fundamental level right now. Like everyone who is paying attention, I am fearful of what is to come in 2012 and beyond, but I'm not going to think about them at this moment. Instead, I'm going to do the distraction thing, but I'm going to chose to be distracted by the good stuff.

In that vein, I bring you this track.

The weeks leading up to Christmas saw an awful lot of rain in the Huntsville area. I often experiment with different recording techniques when it rains. The sound of millions of tiny rain drops creating soft little transients at random angles all around you is really quite a beautiful texture.

The rain sounds on this track were recorded on 12/5/2011 on a cheap little Sony hand held digital recorder like doctors sometimes use to make voice notes. It's not intended for fidelity, but what it does have is one hell of a built in compressor.

I took it down to the swamp at the end of my street during a light rain. Sheltered beneath the canopy around midnight, I just turned it on and left it for about 10 minutes, what it captured was ... well ... what you hear.

This track isn't a great song or anything. Its a few layered chords on a neat synth, some rain, and deep thoughts in the midst of the seasonal darkness.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Found My Sound!

"I left my harp in San Fran's disco" - Awful Punchline

Interruptions (Zombie Jazz Mix)

A year of beats started in February of this year. A cocktail of equal parts creativity, frustration, and (let's face it) narcissism. The whole process has been, more than anything else, a search.

Here at the 10 month mark, I think I've finally found something. Like sorting a pile of puzzle pieces and finding the few that fit together just right, and from there the rest of it starts to make since.

Beats, Trumpet and "The Smooth", are the pieces in question, and for me, they fit together like peanut butter and chocolate. This is it! This is the sound I was meant to be making; the genre I was meant to be working in. It just feels so right, I don't know how I could have been so blind to it all this time.

Embracing "The Smooth" has not been easy for me. Sure, I've tossed out a few darker things like The Song With No Name remix and Catharsis, but even these guys have an undeniable thread of smoothitude running through them. I've often complained, "no matter what I start with, it ends up sounding like an after school special soundtrack". I think the reason for that is because the smooth is gonna be there no matter what I do. It is apparently encoded in my DNA.

For me, trying to deny the smooth results in something forced, something residing in the uncanny valley of "almost but not quite".

Embracing the smooth and shaping it; attenuating the cheese quotient ... this is the only way to go for me. Understanding how the pieces fit together, I'm now ready to embark on the next phase of this musical journey, and I'm pretty excited about that.

I've got a bandcamp site, where I'm putting together what I hope will be my first honest to God album: "Brass Beats", which will feature more more beats, more trumpet and more smooth than you can shake a stick at.

So ... what is this track that snapped all the pieces together for me? It is, at it's core, a remix of Interruptions. I'd decided about 6 weeks ago to rework that song, write some lyrics to it, and generally see if I could make something a little better out of the idea. The only problem is that I never could get lyrics written past the first verse (which was pretty good, but still) ... I got frustrated with it.

On Tuesday nights, Victoria has a dance class. As the dutiful parent I hang around in the lobby for about an hour with all the other dutiful parents, reading magazines and the like. On this particular night, I had brought my laptop and a pair of headphones. I listened again to what I had so far on the Interruptions rework and basically just because I was killing time, I exported the whole thing and loaded it up into a sampler, then started playing around with it. By the time the class was over, I'd made the basic beat.

Later in the week, Victoria quit her band class at school. She did give it a real shot, but it just wasn't for her, unfortunately. Hey, at least I've still got one more kid to try and inflict band-geekdom upon (and don't you think I won't try, Andrea!).

The upshot was, she had a seriously nice rental trumpet being left regularly around the house, and it was only a matter of time till the old man picked it up and played it. When I did, it just gave up the most mellow Mangione tone almost effortlessly. That tone inspires "rise" era Alpert instantly. I was hooked.

It's not a mellophone, but it's got a larger bore and a shorter form factor ... kind of like a big pocket trumpet type thing. It's really nice, and it is now residing in my music room.

One thing has serendipitously led to another!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hippy Hat Powers Activate: form of Wobble Bass

"hey man, I mean hey man, I mean heeey man ... it's like ... far OUT ... man. Can ya dig it?" -Chong

Big Cycle Beat

I bought this hat from a gen-u-ine-bona-fide hippy last weekend at the Flying Monkey Art Market. Its probably been knitted from sustainably harvested soy cotton, watered by the tears of mother Earth. Or something.

I mean, it looks cool. At least I think it looks cool. Over the course of the week, I have observed it to impart what I can only describe as "Groovy Hippy Powers". From risky football picks, to insane musical inspiration, it's clearly all been the result of the hat this week. For instance: the wobble bass on this track.

It started out as this sample I made of a bamboo toy, which I also bought at the very same art market. The dude called it a "blingaling", and claimed it to be from an unnamed asian culture. Google's never heard of it. So I find that a bit suspect. That's it on the right. Basically you hold the base with one hand and slap the prongs across the outstretched palm of your other hand yielding the sound of Beavis getting excited.

I put that into Logic's ESX sampler and I slowed it waaaaaaay down. So it sounded like this. Stretched out in this way, you can clearly hear the individual transients created by the prongs slapping together. I added a little reverb to smear them out slightly, and I bounced it out to a file. Once the file was loaded up as audio, the waveform also clearly illustrated the prong slapping pattern.

slapping transients!
So what I did then, was I zoomed way in and sliced it between the zero crossings on the waveform, and looped it. The faster you loop it (i.e. the shorter the sample) the higher the frequency. Not exactly a new idea in sampling. I used to do this on my old Radio Shack SK-1 knock off in the 80's (about Andrea's age actually). You could sample a finger snap, loop it real tight and get similar results. Anyhow, I sliced up a pretty long one and looped it. It sounded pretty much like an idling diesel engine. Check it out.

ATTN Apple: not obvious
The next step was to load that loop up in esx and loop it. ESX's loop button wasn't at all obvious, so I offer this illustration as a public service. This column is hidden by default. You must open the "View" menu and select loop first. In any case, once you've got that, you've got your big, nasty farty pulse wave thing, but the pitches are gonna be way off. What I did was I inserted a tuner plugin on the channel strip and picked a random note that wasn't too far off the correct pitch, then I used the ∫course and fine columns to tune it until it was on pitch.

At this point the sound has a very energetic, sort of hissy high end. A vaguely 80's Atari or Nintendo NES type of sound. Like the world's nastiest humming bird.

It does not, however, wobble. The kids these days, they like "the wobble". Thankfully, "doing the wobble" isn't just a fabled dance craze from 50's, it's also super easy to set up in ESX.

The first thing to do of course, is to turn on the filter, and select a filter mode to your taste. For proper wobbling you're really gonna need the big 24 db low-pass. You'll want to pull up the drive and the resonance and play around with sweeping the filter around until doing so sounds cruddy and "wompy" enough for you.

Wobble can be achieved by running the cutoff sweeps from the LFO, tempo syncing the LFO, and sweepimg the tempo sync interval (1,1/4,1/8t, etc, etc) manually. Myself, I like to use the modulation (vibrato) wheel to do my sweeps.

So,  starting at the first arrow, set the LFO1 Speed from "Ctrl #1" (the mod wheel). Go to the next boxover and set the filter cutoff from LFO1. BAM! done and done! I embiggened it further by adding sub-bass, overdrive and compression. Slapped some drums and got to slicing and dicing and out came the track you hear.

All thanks to the hippy hat, really. It's clearly infused with funky vibes. Here's Another track using this instrument.