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.

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Long overdue review of 19 A.D.D. “Dead River”

19 A.D.D. “Dead River” cover

19add review (odt format)

19 A.D.D. “Dead River” (2010, 36 Records)

Is your favorite music the likes of, for instance, Lady Gaga, The White Stripes, MGMT, or Arcade Fire? Then stop reading now since you are definitely in the wrong place. However, if bands like King Crimson, Tool and Mahavishnu Orchestra get you excited, then you are in for a huge treat.

19 A.D.D. is a trio from Colorado mainly playing electric guitar, bass and drums. With that seemingly conventional instrumentation they have hammered out a monstrous, fire breathing set, one of the very best I’ve heard from a long time.

To try to get a point of reference, I suppose you could characterize it as “instrumental progressive/experimental jazz/metal.” Besides the bands named above, in my opinion it contains elements of Dysrhythmia, Liquid Tension Experiment, Black Light Syndrome and Attention Deficit, but is not by any means imitative or derivative of them. The songs are primarily complex, joyously loud and brutal, and leavened with odd little sound sculptures and breaks just to add interest and variety to the mix.

The 45 minute release consists of 15 tracks. 6 of them are short sound collage or experimental pieces (one sounds like a 50s Ken Nordine riff) , mixed in with 9 somewhat more conventional pieces. Conventional is probably not the operative word, as the band manages to throw in countless tempo, key and time signature changes into their tunes, still managing to keep the flow and power moving.

Musically I give them a 9 out of 10—I feel like they’re still going to get better.

If I had to carp about anything, I guess it would be the hypercompressed mastering. For their style of high power music, I know it’s common and does make sense, but I can’t help but wonder what their material would have sounded like with the limiters backed off a tad. The CD release not surprisingly sounds better than the MP3 versions, but both have plenty of beef. Obviously…you must have this. On top of that, the CD artwork is beautiful. Don’t just rip or get the MP3 of this, actually go out and buy the CD.

(As of late 2011 their second record GAIA has been completed. More about the band etc is at www.19add.com)

Track list

1 0:57 Siddhapur

2 3:46 Diadem

3 3:45 Spoim

4 0:40 Patan

5 3:48 First World Paine

6 4:33 Sailing Blinde

7 8:37 Slomosexual

8 0:56 Umari

9 3:45 Tendre Crotch Play

10 1:08 Danta

11 3:24 Carnivalium

12 0:53 Jamhuri

13 1:21 Khapan

15 2:52 Bikarni

You should get this and Gaia! Highly recommended.

Updated 4 Jan 2014

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)

“The Producers Conference” notes: San Diego 14 May 2011 stop

See the description here

This was well worth the nominal $35 admission fee. It’s difficult to get good technical and business information about the music industry so these rare events are very welcome.

This seminar struck a great balance between technology and industry. The first two presenters, Matt Piper of Line6 (Reason’s US distributor) and Kurt “PEFF” Kurasaki (Reason expert from its earliest days) concentrated on technique, focusing on the Neptune pitch correction tool and advanced compression methods in Reason 5/Record 1.5. Even for producers not using Reason this was valuable info.

Ted Breuner then spoke about his journey into the innards of the music industry from his days as an amateur songwriter in his hometown band to working with L.A. A-list artists. At first I thought he minimized the business aspects in favor of “touchy-feely” concepts, but what he was trying to get across was that, if you enter the business to get rich it will be a miracle if you do, but with passion, commitment and persistence you will be rewarded. You could argue this point but I wouldn’t with someone as experienced as him.

Finally, dance music production wizard Jake Stanczak of Kill The Noise showed some secrets of producing monster tracks using Reason. But with his intensity and commitment, he could probably make fantastic tracks using a handheld cassette recorder and the contents of the average kitchen. Props to him for sharing so generously of his experience as well as his techniques.

I hope there are more of these sorts of events in the San Diego area.

It’s ironic how pop music production seems to have returned back to L.A. again just as it was decades ago…

Last modified (fixed page title!) 2012 01 12

Computer music pioneer Max Mathews dies at 84

The influence of Max Mathews on all aspects of electronic and digital music since its birth has been enormous. The seminal music programming system Max (originally sold by the now-defunct Opcode Systems was named for him. It has recently been rearchitected to work with Ableton Live as Max4Live.

Appreciation of Max Mathews at createdigitalmusic.com

NWEAMO festival in San Diego – Feb 2011

This year the two-day festival occurred on 25-26 Feb 2011. The performances were once again in the wonderful intimate Smith Recital Hall at San Diego State University. I saw two video cameras recording everything; hopefully these tapes will be made available for those who couldn’t make it in person. As in the previous years, the compositions and performances were stellar and most intriguing.
Here’s a PDF of the program:
NWEAMO 2011 Program

Review of the Korg Pandora PX5D effects unit

I don’t have a page in this site that this belongs on, so I’m just throwing this post out there for anyone who might be interested.

This model appears to be discontinued already (2012) but the replacement (the Pandora Mini) looks excellent and sells for only USD100.

Korg Pandora PX5D

My new favorite toy...

Review of the Korg Pandora PX5D

Processor, tuner, phrase trainer and USB interface for electric guitar and bass players.

Executive overview

Pros:

  • great sound
  • great guitar effects including difficult-to-model crunchy/heavy distortion varieties
  • numerous drum/bass patterns for practicing with
  • rugged (metal case)
  • very compact (the fingers in the photo above are average size)
  • runs (up to 7 hours) on 2 AA batteries (YAY)
  • USB computer interface to edit patches, or record from device
  • aux input
  • switchable display backlight
  • good features for bass as well as guitar
  • other useful features like a tuner, transposing of input audio signals, and audio interface mode

Cons:

  • small size (!) buttons and knobs can be a bit tiny to manipulate
  • no included A/C p/s
  • not dirt cheap (list is USD330, but most places sell it for less than USD200)
  • support software is for WinXP. No problem for me but many musicians do use Macs

Introduction

I felt the urge to replace my 10-year-old DigiTech RP100 pedal. As nice a device as it was, it wasn’t the most convenient for me, mainly because I don’t play live. I was tired of having to stick the pedal up on the table to edit things. And I thought I had got all the best sounds out of it I could get.

So my plan was to get a new efx processor for my guitar, but also soup up the axe by replacing the old pickup set with EMG active pickups.

Before I did any of that however, I paid the local guitar experts to set up and intonate the guitar. This was long overdue and made the instrument 100 times more enjoyable to play.

After a fair amount of research on guitar effects, I decided on the Korg. One of the things I particularly liked was the design for electric bass as well as electric guitar. Since I play both this was a plus. The smaller and less expensive PX4 model looked interesting, but for its additional features the PX5D was relatively not that much more in price–so that’s what I ordered. (I read somewhere that the “D” part of the name meant “dual”; i.e., guitar and bass.)

The Korg can be used live which I’ll talk about later but that is not the way I use it, so this review will be mostly aimed at the studionaut.

Effects use and editing

The simplest way to begin, once you tear it out of its box (batteries included!) is to plug in your instrument, connect your amp to its output and just start hitting presets. There are 100 presets and 100 user patch slots. The last 30 presets have names that begin with “B ” and are particularly optimized for bass.

There are 4 dedicated buttons A-D for your absolute favorite patches. The other way to access a group of your favorite patches quickly is to copy them into adjacent user slots. For instance, I liked patches P00, P02, P04, P09, P17, etc., so I copied them to user memory locations U00, U01, U02, U03, etc. You can then tweak those Unn patches, match their output levels, etc.

The tweakability of the effects is great. The effects structure is a chain of 7 blocks (plus a noise reduction block). The blocks are:

  • dynamics/pickup modeling (including octave, ring modulator, compressors, limiters, distortion, etc.)
  • amplifier models (15 guitar amps, 10 bass amps, guitar and bass synths)
  • cabinet models (11 types of guitar cabinets and 12 types of bass cabinets)
  • modulation and filtering effects (chorus, flanger, pager, pitch shifter)
  • delay effects (slap, echo, pingpong, reverse, with adjustable delay times)
  • reverb models (11 types)
  • noise reduction

The coolest thing is to hook up the USB connection and install the Pandora patch editor. This makes it simple to try patches, which you can then also save from and load to the device. If you for some reason find the 100 user patches too few, you can create your own banks and download them when you need them.

As is often the case in these type of devices, in a lot of cases they can only hint at the amp models they are intending to emulate. It’s fun to try to guess which models they are intending to refer to.

For instance “BTQ CLN” (“Boutique Clean”) is described as “clean channel of a high-end 100W hand-made amp.” Some of the other models you can choose from are (just listing the guitar ones):

  • BTQ OD
  • TWD1x12 (“Tweed 1×2”)
  • TWD4x10
  • BLK2x12 (Fender Twin  series?)
  • AC15/AC15B – they actually use the name VOX AC15 in the description
  • AC30/AC30TB
  • UKBLUES (“UK-manufactured vintage stack guitar amp head”) Orange, Marshall, Hiwatt?
  • UK 70s/UK 80s/UK 90s (UK-manufactured guitar heads from 1969, 1983 and the 90s)

Rhythm section

The next feature you need to play with is the Rhythm section. This consists of 120 rhythm patterns, including a number in non-4/4 rhythms, and 8 metronome patterns. The cool thing is that most rhythm patterns have 4 bass options: off, basic pattern, variation 1 (major key) and variation 2 (minor key) for your selected root note.

You can string up to 16 patterns in a Chain. Up to 20 Chains can be stored.

The rhythm set sounds OK but you can tell just one sample is used for the snare which becomes a little mechanical after a while.

Phrase trainer

This is a very powerful and handy feature. You select a phrase buffer length of 20, 40 or 80 seconds, and you can either record your instrument, and audio source or even load a loop into the device via your computer. Then you can play it back in a loop and work out your leads or rhythm parts with it. A cool feature is the speed adjustment where you can set the playback speed to one of 6 values from 50% to 100% of original. It’s not a high fidelity adjustment but useful for practice.

Summary

In a nutshell, this is an extremely feature rich, well designed, compact and useful device. The criticisms I have of it are so minor as to be negligible. I think for around USD200 or even less it represents and excellent value. Korg may not be the first name you think of when it comes to guitar effect but it’s well worth checking this out.

I just ran across a very detailed review of the PX5D on Harmony Central, and I hope they won’t mind if I throw the link here: Review of PX5D by Jon Chappell (April 2010)

Last edited 20110109

Life is like that…

I had really wanted to release another “on-line album” by the end of 2010, but it doesn’t look like I’m going to make it. I hate to disappoint all the tim p scott fans of the world, but there’s no help for it.
Meanwhile, this gives me a chance to consider the whole concept of an “album” in the 21st Century. It’s been pointed out that the model of mainstream pop music consumption has returned to the “pre-album” days of the 1950s and 1960s, when the unit of music purchase was the 45 RPM record with the “hit” on one side and the “B-side” on the other. Today, people still have their pop music favorites, but they are more interested in the individual song or track than in an album. Part of the problem was (once again) the “industry” where record companies (and even artists, I’m sorry to say) released their hit song on an album where the rest of the tracks were little more than filler. Or released what looked like and album with 5 or 6 remixes of the same one song. In combination with the artificially high price of records (and CDs), consumers got fed up with this and embraced the a la carte world that the internet age brought.
I hope I don’t get kicked out of ASCAP for talking this way, but it was the RIAA and its constituent company members that were primarily responsible for that boondoggle.
Meanwhile, I have a bunch of individual tracks I’ve produced since 2008, and those are mostly available easily for listening. Go to http://wp.me/PnrSR-nY to check them out.
Meanwhile I’m going to have some good new stuff out I promise, but my other work committments are weird and require travel and other strange scheduling stuff…