Category Archives: Electronic Music

OK – back to music

After clearing up the “studio housekeeping” problems I am back working on songs. I have a few things currently in the works, early versions of which I hope to offer here soon.

I’m interested in extreme and death metal lately, which means guitar playing. I have been wrestling with my cheap electric solid body for a long time: with mediumweight strings and all 5 springs installed on the tremolo I still have too high strings. So finally a huge light bulb went off; I detuned all strings by a whole step and I get perfect action and a nice fatter sound.

I have been agonizing over guitar amp sims too, trying every demo in sight. The problem is that I’ll dial in a sound that seems perfect, then come back in the morning at hate it. Currently my strategy is to layer the fabulous free Dirthead 0.80 and Voxengo BoogeX as a group in live, tweak each plugin for a different part of the sound and then mix them. I also find myself returning to the built-in guitar processors in the humble but might Zoom R8 recorder. So maybe I won’t plunk down money for a software guitar sim for the moment….

Meanwhile let me recommend the interview with Oneohtrix Point Never in the latest (December 2015) issue of Electronic Musician. His process is intriguing and I note with satisfaction that he is also an Ableton Live exclusivist.

It all makes sense … ultimately

OK! After attacking all the bad smelling stains in my studio I have reassembled it and moved back in. It’s a much more pleasant space to work in now.

In order to avoid actually working on music, I spent a week experimenting with overclocking my PC. I can’t afford new computers right now. Cats are too expensive.

I got my home built PC with a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad CPU overclocked and running stably at 3.2 GHz. That’s like buying a newer computer for free.

The next step is for me to clean up this site. The design that I thought was so nice 5 years ago is badly out of date now, and needs to be streamlined. But maybe even more important than that, I want to at least make sure that the sample tracks on other pages at least play correctly.

It’s all on the schedule to be done before I die! Stay tuned…

 

Studio temporarily out of commission! Now what?!

So as mentioned in another post…for reasons mostly beyond my control the studio is temporarily a toxic danger zone. So music withdrawal time.

Everything I need to make noise

Everything I need to make noise

What you see here is my desperation equipment. Amazingly, I am actually nearly as productive in just hammering out riffs and ideas with this minimal gear.

  1. Charvel 6 string with EMG active pickups
  2. Zoom R8. I’ve raved about this elsewhere. Built in rhythms and loops, minimal drum machine, and 2 built in decent microphones.
  3. Kaoscillator.
  4. Sennheiser HD280.

Note that this is all actually usable on battery power! Although generally I use a power supply so as not to worry about using up batteries…

Zoom R8 recorder – review after using a year

Updated late 2014…

…(awesome) briefcase-sized 8 track recorder…!

See the excellent review and photos by Rich Menga. I’m going to add a few of my own impressions here.

For various reasons I wanted something very small and portable I could use as a songwriting/scratch pad. I looked at several from Boss and Tascam but settled on this unit. It can be actually battery powered with AA batteries; and even supports rechargeable AAs (! which is an extreme rarity.) It runs several hours on fresh 4 AA alkaline batteries.

The recording medium is an SDHC card. It ships with a 2 GB card containing a lot of excellent drum loops, but you can install up to a 32GB card. I copied the loops to the larger card and there is tons on room now for projects and takes. If somehow you fill up a card just put in a new one…they’re not expensive now.

Two mics are built right into the device.

The audio effects and processing options are very good. In particular, the guitar effects are great. With an electric or acoustic guitar, or a piano and your voice you can create really good tracks.

I cannot recommend this too highly! One of the things I’m finding out is that I’m more likely to record a passing idea when I can boot this up in 20 seconds, plug in my guitar or sing (or even take a voice note!) into it. You don’t even need to set up mics, but can play an acoustic instrument or sing right into the built in mics!Later on when the whole studio is booted I can easily transfer the audio files to Reaper or Live.

The included loops and rhythm patterns are surprisingly good. Not only that, but if you have a collection of your favorite loops, you can use your computer to copy them to the R8 and use them just as you can with the supplied ones! Of course they have to be 44.1k WAVs, but plenty of those fit on a 32 GB SD card.

Real guitar players have dissed the R8’s built in guitar effects, but for my money I never use my Pod or Korg Pandora. I never play live so for my needs the built-in effects are outstanding. Not to mention the bass, clean channel, mic channel and mastering effects.

The display is bright enough to actually see!

Yes, it can be cumbersome to operate (e.g. trim audio files) but for its size you just can’t beat it. I was looking at the R16 but I really have no need for 8 track simultaneous recording. The R16 uses 6 batteries too, and doesn’t have the rhythm unit that the R8 and R16 does.

Maybe it’s just my own personal taste, but I demoted my Line6 PodXT off my desktop (and onto ebay, sayonara) and only use the Zoom to record guitar tracks into my computer.

Last modified 20 Dec 2014

Mr Blue Sky: genius of Jeff Lynne in great documentary

Yes, there is probably some element of marketing in this, with Lynne about to release new albums, but if anyone deserves to be exposed to music fans it’s Mr. ELO. This guy, besides his stellar career in ELO, has produced Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and the re-formed Beatles (you have to see the documentary for explanation). This is a short (60 min) production but packed with meat including drool worthy shots of (apparently) his home (walls covered with gold and platinum records) with expensive condenser mics and instruments in every room. Yet Lynne comes off (to me) as a modest, hardworking journeyman who just happens to be one of the five best producers in pop/rock music. See it if you can (I caught it on Palladia).

Last modified 2012/10/13

Lost gems: Sami Takieddin tracks from 2000-2001

In the early 2000s there was a site called mp3.com. An artist whose work I discovered there named Sami Takieddin released two albums of really great new-agey tracks. Digging around a bit I did find a third one “Stories” on last.fm. Outside of that I don’t know what happened to him.

I would like to make a couple of tracks available for you to hear, but I don’t own them. I’ll try to track the artist down and see if I can talk him into this…they say the internet never forgets but I am not sure that’s really 100% true…

Updated 4 Jan 2014

What the hell am I doing? Nothing??

update 2012/05/11

Well, as the grave draws ever nearer I am stuck in an obsessive-compulsive loop working on a couple of new pieces. Besides Life As Usual, the main thing delaying progress on these works is my attempts to play parts that are way beyond my musical abilities. But the good thing is that I believe I have SOME perspective on my own work. My best technique is to put aside a piece for one or preferably two weeks. When I return to them, I strip out whole chunks of them or even abandon them.

update 2012/02/18
I did buy a beautiful 25 inch LCD monitor from Fry’s Electronics in San Diego. Of course, within a week or two there were 27 inch models for less money. But I guess I can’t chase technology around forever.

I really like this monitor. Now I can see more stuff in my DAWs with less eyestrain.

update 2011/10/22
The good news is that I have a full time job = income again. The bad news for finishing songs is that it’s a full time job. I am not looking the gift horse in the mouth. For one thing I finally was able to afford upsizing my monitor again. As I get older I need larger and larger screens!

I’m in too-many-choice-hell again with Ableton Live. I have been working on a piece for about a year, it has 50 killer riffs and leads in it, and I just can’t seem to prevent myself from adding new or better ones. At least I’ve got it mostly arranged. But I think the years of 1 album per year are not to happen now unless I win the lottery or retire…

update 2011/10/22
Since finishing Pangur Ban I revisited some older tunes. And I’m wrapped around the axle on those as well, partly because I am obsessed with not throwing anything out. I got the bright idea of not working on anything for a week or so, hopefully when I get back to work I will hear pieces with new ears.

The other thing that I do that’s a huge time waster is spending a hour on a snare drum sound, or half a day of a 2 bar rhythm groove. I think it’s pretty obvious at this juncture I would not really be capable of writing anything to deadline…

update 2011/09/12
No one ever accused me of updating this blog too often. Since March 2011 I have actually had a full time job. Really more than that as I am averaging 10 hour days. Not so easy for someone of my advanced years. But it’s nice being able to pay my bills without draining my meager savings. At last I have finished my piece called “Pangur Ban”. For more info and a link to a player for it, see this page. And here’s the background on what Pangur Ban is from Wikipedia..

I’m content enough with it. I gave it its own page since I think it has some interesting production aspects. Briefly, it started with a sample from the OLPC that I thought was interesting. When I slowed it down like 75% it revealed an interesting melody — sort of reminiscent of something you’d hear out of the Buddha Machine. So I arranged, orchestrated, looped and generally mangled it into the new piece. I’ll try to get it loaded on SoundCloud soon with a link to it here. update 2010 11 30Yeah, even though I have time I have urped out nothing new in too long a time. Well, I’m trying to finish this piece:

46-channel Ableton Live set

Well, that and buying some new toys for my studio… update 25 Dec 2010 OK, I finally finished “Haborthelem” (what does that mean? I have no idea but I probably should.)

update 11 jan 2011 The good news is I have more time to work on music. The bad news is that I don’t have any more income for the time being…

update 17 feb 2011 Yesterday I attended a lecture on Pd. This is the Open Source software reminiscent on Opcode’s venerable Max audio programming system. It’s sure come a long way since I last looked at it five years ago or so. At that time it was only partly ready for prime time, but the current version appears much more stable and functional. I’m going to update my comments about it on the “Free or cheap music software” page.

NWEAMO San Diego – Feb/Mar 2012

I feel really blessed to have this wonderful event just a few miles from my house. Sometimes I think it’s a pity that more people from the community don’t attend.

This year there is a very nice article, mainly based on an interview (with a handy description of the festival schedule) with festival adjuvant Dr Joseph Waters, that hopefully will raise the series’ profile. But unfortunately it is still 90% music students from SDSU attending.

Tonight the Partch ensemble is playing; I only hope it will not be sold out before I can buy a ticket.

Spotify and Pandora

Update 2011 Nov 18

I still had the free Spotify account. So this is supposed to be the future of streaming music? Well, let’s give it another spin.

I sign in and the first thing it wants to do is connect me with Facebook. Besides the fact I quit that service, I can’t understand why I should care what other people are listening to. Why on earth should I want to do that? Furthermore, why should anyone care what I’m listening to? Is this really such a big deal to people?

So I skip that screen. I say to myself, let’s listen to some Ozric Tentacles…one of my all time favorite bands. Search the name, wow, quite a few tracks and albums show up. Impressive. Wait a minute, “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” is not an Ozrics album! Yup, they have a Candlemass album (which happens to be a metal act I do love) listed as an Ozrics album. I submit  a problem report.

Finally the song ends, what’s it, 4 minutes? A chirpy female voice comes on with some kind of long message about scrobbling. I don’t care about scrobbling, but I can’t listen to anything else until that message ends.

Spotify? You have got to be kidding. I’m so out of here. Premium service is better, you say? Well, then I’ll go back to Pandora. I would like to be able to specifically choose albums and songs, but not that badly.

Original post

I got an invite to sign up with Spotify this week. I’ve been hearing all this buzz about it, so why not?

It has a lot of tracks. Not everything but a lot. It’s nice being able to hear tracks from artists I’ve heard about for free.

Naturally being ad-supported, the free version has limitations.

It will only sync up the tracks on your local machine with an iPod. It might not work with generic mp3 players, but it any case I don’t care.

You can’t download the streaming tracks. Not too surprising.

You can queue up tracks.

However, after 10 minutes or so of listening it plays commercials. You can’t fool the commercials by muting or even turning the volume down low; the timer stops until you raise the volume. That’s mega annoying.

For my kind of listening Pandora was much better. It now has a big enough library that you get a good variety of new tracks once you set up a station.

I suppose Spotify is better if you know pretty much exactly the artist/album/tracks you want to hear, Pandora if you want to find out about new things (I stumbled upon Animals as Leaders, set a new channel up with that and have already learned about a dozen incredible new post-rock outfits.)

YMMV of course..

last modified 18 Nov 2011

Scary developments

update 2012/02/19

Well, that turned out to be a false alarm. I’m back to my version of black metal compositions for the time being.

I still reserve the right to do vocals some time in the future. Maybe I can be the Gordon Lightfoot/Leonard Cohen of my generation (*snerk*)

original post: 2011/07/27

OK, confession time.

Probably giving my age away pretty badly; in my rotation of CDs to listen to during my commute, I pulled up my old Talk Talk collection.

The embarrassing admission is that I actually sing along to them in the car. So what the hell? I thought. I hooked up a mic on an improvised stand (adapted from an old camera tripod I had), hooked it to my ART preamp, and sang along with a bunch of songs on “The Party’s Over” and “It’s My Life.”

So far, I am persisting in my folly but I’m sure reason will return before I make too big a dope out of myself. My plan at the moment is to take one or two tunes and cover them. Basically, I’ll gradually build the track back up using my own tools around my own lead vocal.

This is a lot of fun, even if the tracks never see the light of day. For instance, one track I want to slow down just a few percent which is not much easier with the better elastic audio tools available in most decent DAWs.

Meanwhile I’m also working on a couple other tracks I started as long ago as 10 years which I hope to finish before I get too old to know what I’m doing. Hopefully there will be more frequent progress reports than I’ve been making.

(posted 2011/07/27; updated 2012/02/19)