Lose Your Lover Boogie

Audio Recording, Composition, Education, Software, Songwriting, Synthesizers Comments Off on Lose Your Lover Boogie

[UPDATE: rant and ‘Loopie’ Groove Clip project added below]

Ok, I got inspired after I started working on one of the Basic Ear Training assignments for week 9 last night and just had to roll with it. I’ve been itching to put my new BMPR-177 chops to some use, and I’ve had these blues lyrics laying around for, like, ever, so I figured what the heck.

These maybe aren’t the best production choices in the world, and blues in C is just at the tippy-top of my very rusty range (next time I’ll knock it down to A), but it came out pretty fun for about 10 hours’ work, total, including sound-deadening my little office/studio.

The assignment was to use a pre-recorded blues bass line to write a melody with form AAA or AAB. Overachiever that I am, I had to do both. And the second one two different ways. With a tempo change. And background vocals. And synth horns, swing drums, a little reverb. You know… 😉

Form is: AAA – {break} – AAB – CCD (?) – AAB – CCD (?).

Not sure if the CCD verses would actually be categorized as “CCD” – they’re different from the AAB ones but they still follow an AAB form of their own.

BTW, this track uses the provided accompaniment bass / drum track throughout, I promise. I just, uhm… “tweaked” it a little. I kind of rolled the drum part off with EQ and sped it up just a ‘smidge’ after the break. Thankfully, whoever originally recorded it did so at precisely 120bpm, which made it very easy to work with.

Lose Your Lover Boogie – MP3 – 192kBps – 2.1MB – 1:28 min.

On the Producing Music with SONAR side, I’ve unfortunately grown a little disappointed. The class hasn’t had near the depth I’d hoped and no one at Berklee seems interested in helping students with the numerous technical issues that always arise when using software of this type. I’ve posted more forum entries as ‘tech support’ than I have in doing actual coursework (I’m guessing readers like Jim, Bill and John can relate).

The course has been invaluable in terms of providing a structured exploration of SONAR 8, and of all the things I’ve learned about myself over the years, structure is an absolute necessity for learning. But in terms of discussing the rationale and/or technical details involved in using SONAR’s myriad features, or covering any of the logic behind, say, when to use a compressor vs. a gate, etc., the lecture content has been far too light for a $1200, 12-week course. Scott Garrigus’ SONAR 8 Power! (at about 1/35th the cost) has far more vital detail. As an example, the assignment for week 8 was to lay out the insert and send effects we’d apply to each track in a 16-track mix (standard pop music instrument array). It would have been great if we’d ever actually covered the rationale behind using specific types of effects on specific instruments, or groups of instruments, but we didn’t (and there’s no prereq that implies this foreknowledge, unfortunately). The exercises in the lecture consisted of “open the effect plug-in and experiment with the knobs and sliders to see how the sound changes,” which wasn’t exactly the sort of instruction I was hoping for. I can “experiment” on my own – what I take classes for is to learn how to do things correctly, and why.

Last week we covered ACID and REX audio Loops – “Groove Clips” in SONAR-speak. Again, we were pretty much left to “experiment” with the functions that control these, rather than being offered detailed information one doesn’t get in a book, but even so some folks managed some pretty creative sounds. The ditty below was constructed from a combination of both types. Scott G. may recognize some of the loops from his Groove Clip Exercise in SONAR 8 Power!‘s Chpt. 9.

‘Loopie’ – MP3 – 64kBps – 200kB – 0:24 min.

Star Trek Music

Audio Recording, Composition, People, Performance, Synthesizers Comments Off on Star Trek Music

We went to see Star Trek last week (twice). I was impressed and completely enjoyed it (hence the second viewing) and expect lots of other folks did too – it’s grossed almost $200M in only 8 days – but I’ll save a real review for another time.

Although I’m not awestruck by Giacchino’s new Star Trek theme – maybe it’ll grow on me – I was fascinated to hear how he worked Alexander Courage’s original into his new one for the end credits.

Here’s Courage discussing the concept, composition and production of the original T.V. theme, with a little surprise near the end.

The underlying “train” feel, with an overlaid, lyrical melody that Courage describes here is exactly the sort of thing I was shooting for in the little T.V. theme I did with SONAR and the JV-1080 years ago.

Forward Motion

Audio Recording, Software, Songwriting, Synthesizers Comments Off on Forward Motion

Assignments from the last two weeks of SONAR class have yielded positives, I think.

Last week we began to lay out the tracks for our final project, just to get a feel for some of the MIDI elements. I tend to start things at the beginning and work through sequentially, so I put together a very rough pass at the Intro section for Volo Flamenco. This snippet adds just the bare beginnings of percussion and strings – all synthesized via plug-ins, specifically, the TTS-1 and Session Drummer synths that comes with SONAR 8.

Volo Flamenco Intro – MP3 – 256kBps – 2.5MB – 1:21 min.

This week was an overview of sound synthesis, which technically isn’t a huge part of the SONAR course (synthesizers are a course of study in their own right). The idea was simply to understand the various types – additive, subtractive, modeling, sampling, etc. The task I chose here was to manipulate a few existing sounds’ elements – attack, decay, release, modulation (vibrato) – to create new ones. This short bit has tweaked piano, bass and percussion, tied together with a melancholy little melody inspired by the piano tone.

Masque – MP3 – 256kBps – 2.7MB – 1:30 min.


Synthesizing the Tabernacle

Audio Recording, Education, Software, Synthesizers 3 Comments

This week’s assignment for the SONAR course was kind of interesting.

Last week we recorded a MIDI performance into a track – anything we wanted – just to get the hang of it. I chose something I picked out on the (mostly) white keys back when I was about 14. See ‘Organ Part’, below.

This week we had to take that single track and expand it without adding any new recorded material. Just copy-and-paste, edit the notes with SONAR’s tools, add whatever synthesizers and effects we wanted, etc. So I turned the organ part into Ron’s Tabernacle Choir (with orchestra).

Note: everything you hear is being created in the computer using the “software synthesizers” that come with SONAR 8.

Organ Part – MP3 – 192kBps – 2.1MB – 1:27 min.

Organ, Choir and Strings – MP3 – 192kBps – 2.2MB – 1:27 min.

Volo Flamenco

Audio Recording, Guitar, Performance 7 Comments

It took almost as long to come up with a name for this as it did to finally get around to recording a scratch copy – again, this is SONAR running while I practice. Kinda sloppy here and there, but it has the basic feel.

This was inspired in part by Steve Stevens’ Flamenco-A-Go-Go (thanks again for turning me on to that, Bryan). I plan to use this file as a scratch track to build a much more complex piece (more guitars, orchestra… the woiks! use your imagination), as my final project for the Producing Music with SONAR course.

It’s pretty dynamic, so if it sounds really low-volume when it first starts (about 8 seconds in, or so), don’t turn your volume up too high. It’ll get louder soon enough. Enjoy!

Volo Flamenco MP3 – 128kBps – 6.1MB – 6:41 min.

Music and Moodle and Mayer (oh, my!)

Audio Recording, Education, Software, Synthesizers Comments Off on Music and Moodle and Mayer (oh, my!)

Too much time between the last post and this. Lots of other stuff has provided ample avenue for distraction.

Happily, though, recent developments include pursuing something I should have done decades ago: formalized musical education. As a Christmas present to me I enrolled in Berklee School of Music’s online program: Berkleemusic.com.

Berkleemusic’s programs include numerous certificates and a lot of standalone courses. See the link above for a sample course (I think it’s an excerpt from the Electric Bass course). I decided on the Preparing for Berklee ‘Specialist’ certificate, since it includes topics I’ve wanted to explore and starts where I really needed to start: Basic Music Theory (BME-101). Just finishing that course this week (actually, I’ve completed everything – just waiting for a grade on my last assignment) and I’m happy to say I learned a good deal that would have meant a lot over the years in all manner of situations. Not the least of which, in that regard, would have been an overall reduction of the frustration that has often led to discouragement and lack of, shall we say, “follow-through” with respect to a number of musical endeavors.

Next on the agenda is Basic Ear Training (BME-115), which starts next Monday. I’m kind of excited about this one, as virtually everything I’ve done by way of musical performance and composition has been “by ear”. I’m anxious to learn how to translate that ability into something more structured and (*shudder*) formalized.

I also decided to ‘jump ahead’ a bit and enrolled in a course that also starts next Monday, but which is not part of this particular certificate curriculum: Producing Music with SONAR (BMPR-177). This is actually the course responsible for my learning about Berkleemusic in the first place. Through the magic of Google Ads, one day last November I was corresponding with someone (using GMail) about some aspect of SONAR and over on the right column, in the list of related ads was an entry listing Berkleemusic’s on-line SONAR course. I hadn’t known Berklee even had an online program, much less that anyone was teaching courses on SONAR (which I’ve used since about Cakewalk Pro Audio Ver. 2 or something). Looking into that, I discovered all the other areas where Berklee provides on-line music instruction, and I decided it was something I wanted to try.

Some folks will undoubtedly note, correctly, that there are all manner of books and instructional material available to learn pretty much everything in Berklee’s on-line catalog. What I’ve found over the years – and something likely at the heart of the delay in my formalized musical education – is that when I pursue learning along those lines I invariably “lose interest” and move on to something else. Sometimes I’ll pick whatever-it-was back up again later, but that’s rare. I just don’t have the self-discipline to study in a vacuum. I’d be surprised if many people do. So the rationale here was that if I paid for the course – which has a very specific calendar schedule for completion – I’d be inclined to follow through. And so far that’s pretty much how it’s worked out. We’ll see how that translates to these next two courses, but I’m optimistic since they’re both in areas of “musical recidivism” that I’ve gone back to several times.

One interesting aspect of Berkleemusic is that the system they use for their online instruction is a highly customized instance of Moodle – an Open Source distance learning software package. Although we didn’t make use of a lot of its capability, or spend much time customizing it anywhere near as well as Berkleemusic has, we used the Moodle package at my last job to manage training for various technical courses on BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) and other related technologies. It was also the system used for administering our Certified BPEL Engineer exam. Kinda cool to use it as a student and see how flexible it is. Patty’s talked about putting the course of study she’s developing (as a doctoral student) on-line at some point, and I may go back to considering that as a system to support it in my next career as “Obi-Ron: Househusband and Tech Guru”… now potentially scant months away.

One final thing to mention, because I personally got a lot of inspiration out of this as well, is the access to stuff like John Mayer’s workshop (students-only, sorry – but there’s a preview there). I’ve always liked his music, but didn’t know he was such a philospher as well – at least with respect to his art – and on top of that he’s able to communicate that philosphy and make it accessible to others. Musical composition and performance is, at it’s core, an emotional activity. Mayer’s managed to rein in that emotion with a kind of enlightened pragmatism that has worked (exceptionally well) for him. If nothing else, it’s enjoyable to watch that expressed in a forum like this workshop, where I think a lot of Berklee students learned quite a bit that they weren’t expecting to. John has a blog – Battle Studies – where he’s intermittently chronicling the development of his next album. Interesting stuff there. He describes it thus:

It’s a house,
in a clandestine location,
that’s being converted into a music studio.
No, not a music studio.
An entire music experience.
A living, breathing, ever-evolving organic space that contains every part of the record making process.
Everybody involved has left their comfort zone. Including myself.
I need to be disoriented again.

I can relate to the need to be disoriented, again. Looking back (as I’m guessing John has), moments of best inspiration and motivation have come from disorientation. The need to make some internal sense of the externally unfamiliar is, I think, a kind of rocket fuel for musicians. I don’t know if The Music Room we keep talking about adding on over our garage would qualify as a disorienting environment. Likely not. But since all my Grammy nominations are in the future, and I can’t afford to remodel an entire house yet, that’ll have to do.

New Music – Indiana Fields

Audio Recording, Guitar, Songwriting 1 Comment

I’ve decided to leave the recorder running when I practice. If nothing else, it gives me a reference for what I need to work on and whether or not I’m making progress in specific areas.

While doing so today I was able to rattle off a somewhat clean rendition of an original composition for guitar called Indiana Fields. The piece is unique in that it virtually played itself out of the Larrivée when I first got it 14 months ago.

This was something inspired by my cousin Alessandro’s current movie project, working-titled Red Gold (more info available here, but you may want to ride the volume control on your computer, as the ambient music is a bit loud, IMHO, and there’s no ‘off’ widget).

The script, which is a love story loosely based on events that occurred at Camp Atterbury, has apparently gone from a one- to a three-hanky tear-jerker since I read the first draft, which was compelling enough in its own right.  Prior to reading it, in fact, I was completely unaware that either Italian or German POWs were held in the continental U.S. at any time. But apparently there were POW camps established in Indiana during WWII. I’m anxious to see the film, once completed.

Anyway, my apologies for the room’s ambient artifacts and low-rez mic. This was taken with the dynamic just laying on my rack setup, not the condenser on a stand. The latter stays in its moisture-controlled container unless I’m actually recording.

Indiana Fields, 1943 – MP3 – 192kBps – 5.5MB – 4:00 min.

Take One

Audio Recording, Guitar, Performance 4 Comments

Ok – finally got something recorded that I can stand to listen to. This was the best single take of Those Who Wait I could throw down this morning. Not as dynamic as usual, but then I’m playing “sound engineer” while performing, so it may take some time to minimize that distraction. One step at a time…

Those Who Wait (Tommy Emmanuel) – MP3 – 256kBps -10.2MB

Those Who Wait (Tommy Emmanuel) – MP3 – 128kBPs – 5.4MB

Larrivée OM-09E -> Rode NT-1 Condenser Mic -> M-Audio AudioBuddy Preamp -> Tascam 1804 -> SONAR 6

96kHz x 24bit Stereo Track -> Compressor* -> Reverb* -> Eq* -> Export to 44.1kHz x 16bit WAV -> MP3**
* All Cakewalk effects
** Used AudioGrabber for conversion from WAV to MP3.

Feedback appreciated.

First Time Using the Tascam FW-1804, Part II

Audio Recording, Gear, Software 2 Comments

I started this some days back but got distracted with the return on the ’52 Telecaster and then other stuff that’s come up since (still waiting for the B-Bender, by the way – that’s fodder for another post, once I actually have it in my hot little paws). Unfortunately, because it’s now all set up and I really don’t want to go back and start over, this follow-up is going to be somewhat abbreviated from what I had in mind, which was a step-by-step on getting from installation to a clean, direct-input guitar recording. Hopefully this will be helpful to some, though.

SONAR – even my old 2.2 version – was pretty smart about connecting to this unit. Once the drivers were installed, everything just kind of appeared where it needed to be, as I would have hoped. Of course that didn’t mean I could get the thing to record without some work. Here’s what I ended up with. It will at least get you on the air, but I make no claims that this is optimized – or even ultimately correct for all purposes.

SONAR Settings

Power up the 1804 and then start SONAR. The order is important because SONAR detects what’s available when it starts up. Confused hardware drivers can cause BSODs and I prefer not to see those any more than necessary. So if I start SONAR and realize I forgot to kick on the 1804, I’ll shut SONAR down first, then turn on the AI. Call me a namby-pamby. It’s just how I roll.

That done, select Options / Audio… from the main menu. On the Advanced tab, locate the Driver/Mode drop-down list and select WDM/KS to use the WDM drivers you installed with the FW-1804. SONAR may tell you you’ll have to restart the program when you do this. If so, do it, then get back to the Audio Options dialog. Note – you may run into an issue here if your sound card doesn’t support WDM. Most newer ones do. This is just a heads up. I’m not sure of the implications if you have an older card but want to use WDM.

Next, go to the General tab (Advanced in SONAR 2, IIRC) and locate the Wave Profiler button. Click that to profile the new hardware and verify all goes well, meaning no errors. The profiler will assess the AI and any soundcard(s) you have installed.

Going through the tabs on the Audio Options dialog, here’s the settings I’m currently using (these are working).

General Tab – I changed the Audio Driver Bit Depth from 16 to 24, on Rich the Tweak’s recommendation that this increases dynamic range and eliminates the need for compression during recording. I don’t have a standalone compressor, so this seemed like a good idea. I set the Sampling Rate to 44100 (this has to match the FW-1804 Control Panel setting – see below). I also had to spend quite a bit of time getting the Mixing Latency settings correct, and it’s something you’ll probably have to experiment with because the settings will interact with those on the 1804’s Control Panel (again, see below). With these settings, you’ll definitely experience a bit of a delay if you’re monitoring using your computer’s sound card output, so monitor using the output(s) provided on the 1804. I found the headphone output on the unit’s front panel to work just fine for this, and the ability to switch between monitoring the unit’s Inputs, the Computer or Both was definitely a boon.

General Tab

Advanced Tab – Don’t think I changed anything on this one, other than the Driver Mode setting. If your settings are still at the default, you can check me on this below.

Advanced Tab

Drivers Tab – Enable what you need, disable what you don’t. They’re in pairs, so my settings are shown below, since I’m going to be recording from the audio interface’s inputs 1, 4, 5/6 and 8, as follows:

  • 1 -Microphone: vocals, cello, acoustic guitars, amps, etc.
  • 4 – Guitar direct-in: for use with Effects Inserts
  • 5/6 – JV-1080: left/right Mix Output, respectively
  • 8 – Guitar direct-in: this is the one on the front of the unit, designed for Guitars but with no Effect Insert jack

Drivers Tab - top of the lists

Drivers Tab - bottom of the lists

Driver Profiles – these are as set by the Wave Profiler, and I haven’t changed them, so no screenshot for these. Tweak at your own risk here. Get familiar with the manual(s) first though.

FW-1804 Control Panel

When you install the Tascam software, it places a TASCAM FW-1804 applet in your list of XP control panel widgets. I copied this to the desktop as a standard shortcut for easy access. When you run (double-click) this, you see the AI’s control panel application. The screenshot below shows my current settings, not the defaults.

FW Control Panel Settings Tab

When you check Compensate for Converter Delays (WDM), you get the following pop-up message:

FW Caution Dialog

At this point I of course went back to SONAR and set the Buffers in Playback Queue (General Tab) to 3. Aside from this, as I mentioned previously, the Sample Rate naturally has to match what you’ve set in SONAR. Beyond this, the most time-consuming effort was getting the Audio Latency setting correct. The optimum setting here changes depending on a combination of the Sample Rate (in both SONAR and the FW) and the Buffer Size setting (General Tab) in SONAR, which I currently have set to 90mS. I adjusted this by monitoring SONAR‘s output and/or playing back recordings and trying different settings each time. This was the first setting that worked. I tried a few others unsuccessfully, and went back to this (128). Don’t know what units this setting is in, but since it’s labeled “latency” I’m guessing milliseconds.

The other optional step you can take is to enable “Quick Start” for the FW inputs and outputs you plan to use. I’ll be using input 4 rarely, so I enabled the others to match the list above.

FW Quick Start Tab

Recording and Monitoring

With these basic settings, I’m able to set a SONAR track’s Input to a given FW input and monitor with no latency through the Headphones jack on the FW’s front panel while recording. To monitor tracks I’ve already recorded I set the track’s output to “FW1804 Analog 1:2” or to a bus that’s going out to same (set the FW Monitor button to Computer or Both for this). During recording, the JV-1080 synth output is monitored directly through the FW via the Headphones (set the Monitor button to Inputs or Both for this).

For playback monitoring, right now I don’t have standalone monitor speakers, so I simply have the FW’s monitor output connected to the Line In on my soundcard. It’s functional, but I wouldn’t use that for a professional mix. (UPDATE: since modified – I now take the 1804’s outputs and patch them directly to the input on my self-powered computer speaker system. No studio-quality monitors yet, but at least now I have the soundcard out of the loop. It does sound noticeably better, even with this older speaker system, as I’m using the 1804’s D/A converters, not the soundcard’s.)

For direct-input guitar recording, I got a pretty decent sound with the following settings:

  • Input 4 – FW Trim @ 4:00; SONAR Trim @ +9dB / Volume @ -9dB
  • Input 8 – FW Trim @ 12:05 (just before jump in gain); SONAR Trim @ +9dB, Volume @ -9dB

Initial recordings I did were with the ’52 Telecaster, with its single-wound (noisy) coils. I was able to get the hum level down to where I could easily strip it off later with compression / gating. The hum was more noticeable on input 8 than input 4, which I’m sure is due to the differences in impedance. Later recordings with my Paul II (dual humbuckers) were almost completely hum-free, as one might expect.

Next experiments will be mic’ing the 12-string and cello. Right now I only have the one low-rent dynamic mic to work with, so it’ll probably take some ingenuity to get a clear sound on those. At some point we’ll get a condenser, so this is just learning at this point.

Hope this is helpful.

we have ignition…

Audio Recording, General, Software Comments Off on we have ignition…

The move went fairly smoothly yesterday, and the exercise was a good point to clean up a lot of the cruft that has been accumulating behind my desk here over the years. I ended up replacing some long, bundled CAT-5 cables with shorter ones, removed some of the tangle… that sort of thing. Plus, I had an HP LaserJet IIIP sitting on the ‘top rack’ above my monitor (I have an old O’Sullivan Corner Cockpit) that has slowly quit feeding paper over the last couple years (the rollers are just worn out). It’s now history and allofasudden I have LOTS of room to put a growing stack of books on my reading list, plus other stuff. I was toying with the idea of stacking the Tascam and JV up there, but (1) the FireWire cable I have wouldn’t have reached and (2) it would have been virtually impossible to get at the back of either unit to change patches, etc.

I can’t imagine one of today’s HP printers lasting 15 years anymore. Of course they’re about 1/5-to-1/10th the price for what you get in terms of functionality these days. At over 15 years old, I figured I’ve gotten my use out of this one and decided not to take it in again for a repair, which would only be its second. It’s functional, though, so I’ll likely drop it off at the local tech school and let them fiddle with it. Truth be told, I probably have 5 or 6 old computers I should bring along as well. They’re just taking up space. Kind of amazing how many computers I’ve (we’ve) gone through in 17 years living here. I count …

  1. Arche Rival 286 Desktop
  2. Gateway Desktop #1
  3. Gateway Desktop #2
  4. Homebuilt (from parts) Tower – Windows
  5. Homebuilt (from parts) Tower – Overclocking experiment / Linux
  6. Dell Desktop (purchased when I left Meca) – Linux
  7. Dell Latitude CPxJ Laptop
  8. ABS PC Desktop #1
  9. ABS PC Desktop #2 (current -mine)
  10. Dell Inspiron 9400 Laptop (current -Patty’s)

Scary. I wouldn’t even want to count up all the CRTs and peripheral crap stuffed in drawers, chests, corners, closets, attic, boxes, basement, crawlspace, etc. The Linux boxes still fire up, as well as a few of the others. None of them older than the CPxJ will run XP or the more recent versions of the various Linux GUI desktops, however. Probably time to take the hard drives out of those and just donate them someplace. If I didn’t throw it out, I may also actually have an old Atari 520 ST (w/upgrade to a full megabyte of RAM!!!) in a box somewhere in the attic. I’m pretty sure I sold my Atari 800. The Arche was the first “IBM Compatible” I ever bought. These days I sometimes almost wish I’d taken the Mac route. Still could, I suppose.

SONAR‘s now updated to Producer ver. 6.2.1. Nice installer. Doesn’t require uninstall or overwrite of your older version (this is discouraged in their Read This First sheet, actually), which still functions fine as far as I can tell. Also does you the favor of tracking down and copying over your previous version preferences and INS settings. This was particularly appreciated, as it’s not a trivial task to get the JV-1080’s INS files installed and set up so that SONAR can make sense of them.

I loaded up the Wannabe Life project, saved it as a new copy (be sure to do this if you ever want to open the original in a pre-6 version of SONAR), moved a few of the outputs around and – after recovering from my initial confusion about the “new” MIDI latency coming out of the sound card (introduced by the Tascam), plugged a set of headphones in (to the FW-1804 monitor) and things sound great! So of course now I’m thinking about a pair of active studio monitors. Since I can simply send the 1804’s analog output to the Audigy card’s Line In, for the moment monitors aren’t really a priority. Although I have a feeling the sound difference is going to be pretty serious, as the 2.1 sound system I’m using came along for the ride with that first Gateway desktop you see up there. I’ll definitely get a pair before trying to actually “master” anything. For now, this works just fine.

Oh, and I’ve decided on Fender’s American Nashville B-Bender Telecaster.

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