Do You Hear Crickets?

This past weekend I put the cover of “Fix It” on the back burner and worked on another song, also featuring Chapman Stick as the main instrument. This is a cover of “Night Ride Home”, the title track of Joni Mitchell’s 1990 album. Posted to Soundcloud this morning.

Still using the technique of recording the Stick parts piecemeal and stitching them together in Caustic for Android. This time I recorded both hands simultaneously through the Scarlett 2i2, and used Audacity to split the two channels into two separate recordings. This resulted in each part having a little bleed-through from the other half of the instrument, making it sound a little more natural and “live”.
Still sliced each recording into pieces for importing to the PCMSynth in Caustic, between 9 and 12 iterations of each chord for each hand, and arranged into several sequenced patterns so as to sound less like a looped recording.
The vocals are okay, though the high G in the verses is near the top end of my range and the tone is not great. I’ll get better eventually. I even spent some of my Amazon app store credit to buy an app for vocal warm-ups; we’ll see how that goes.

Church of the Instrumentality

At long last I’ve been recording through the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB interface that I got last December. The current project is a cover of “Fix It” by Psapp, with a Chapman Stick arrangement and some supporting keyboard (organ and maybe some pad as well) plus a basic drum beat programmed in Caustic.

I started with each side of the Stick output plugged into one of the 2i2 channels and recorded in Audacity for Windows, about a month ago. More recently, a couple of weeks ago AmpliTube for iOS was a featured free app (normally $20) so I grabbed that and started putting the melody strings of the Stick through the iRig into my iPad running AmpliTube.

I still can’t play the arrangement live, so I started with fingering each individual chord and sounding it multiple times, with a metronome set to the song’s tempo (102), with the resultant recording to be sliced in Audacity and stitched together in Caustic as PCMSynth samples.
Fake it until you can make it, right?
At first I did both hands at once – holding the bass chord while tapping off-beat eighth-note chords in the treble – but soon decided to record each hand separately so that I could adjust the balance between the two more easily. I’ve even more recently thought of importing each hand into a separate PCMSynth so that I can treat each part with a different effects chain and mixer channel.

As a leftover from the both-hands-at-once recording technique, I left both Stick outputs plugged into the Scarlett with the treble being processed through the iPad and the bass recording dry. Now I want to re-record the bass parts again, putting them through the iPad as well – AmpliTube has one bass amp setup available without any further in-app purchases, though I think I’ll keep any effects in Caustic since slicing and looping a processed source signal might show some obvious artifacts.

Once the Stick parts are recorded to my satisfaction, I’ll work on playing the keyboard through the 2i2 as well, rather than just program synth parts in Caustic. I’m planning that the beatbox will be the only Caustic native instrument I use on this track.
Also this will be the first time I record vocals through the Scarlett, which should yield much better results than just plugging into the computer’s mic input.

“Drink All the Booze, Produce All teh Things!”

Got a chance last night to play with the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and the Ableton Live Lite software that came with it. I got it set up sometime last month but getting it set up was all I really had time for. I think the pack-in software was Ableton Live 7 or 8, but I downloaded version 9 from Ableton’s site and the provided registration key still worked.

Watching tutorial videos for Ableton I learned how to record audio, and also how to tweak the settings to reduce the signal latency. The input and output buffer sizes were stupid high, but following the instructions in this video I was able to determine the minimum necessary buffer size, and reduce the latency down to around 20 milliseconds.

I don’t have an actual “MIDI controller” to connect to the computer, but I have a MIDI interface that I bought about fifteen years ago that connects to a PCs gameport. I don’t know if the PC I’m using even has a gameport though, so that might be obsolete gear and I would have to get a USB/MIDI interface to use my Yamaha keyboard. At least I can record the audio out from the keyboard, which has about a hundred patches so I’m not lacking for variety of timbres.

Next I look into exporting stems from Caustic and importing them into Ableton, and using them as scratch tracks as I record actual instruments like bass or keyboard.

Resumption

After some weeks of procrastination, I worked a little more on “Butter Yo Shit” last night, finishing the bass line for the “verse” portion and making a tentative bass part for the “chorus”.

In other news, got a Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 USB recording interface for Xmas, which I won’t be able to make use of until after I move sometime within the next month.

Also, last week I got an iRig interface for iPad/iPhone , which will let me plug an instrument into my iPad and use the AmpKit app to simulate a signal chain including effects, amp/cabinet, and microphone. Tried it for about five minutes with the Stick melody strings, and it sounded okay in the “clean” amp setting, but when I switched to “lead” I got screeching feedback. I remember reading about the feedback issue when checking reviews of the iRig, and that there’s a simple solution to the problem, but I don’t remember what it is, and I don’t really have the time to spare at the moment to figure it out (being in the middle of a house move, as stated above).

Anyway, hoping to get more done on “Butter” in the coming few days.

Matthew 14:28-30

Work on “Butter Yo Shit” is stalled at the moment; still trying to come up with a bass part that doesn’t sound hackneyed and pedestrian.

In the meantime, keeping busy with another song pulled out of the distant past. I think I was not long out of high school, around 1987 or 1988, when I was visiting my longtime friend Jason Katz, who I’ve known since 4th grade, and found a page of words he’d written entitled “Peter’s Lament”. He told me it was about the Biblical disciple Peter trying to walk on water and failing due to a lack of faith. I was inspired to use his words in a heavy metal song. The song “Cruel Sea” by Cities was a major influence on the music I wrote.

Back then I had a guitar to compose the song, and I’ve managed to remember almost all of it (nothing was written down). I’ve been assembling the track in Caustic for Android, since that’s where most of my music work happens these days. Guitar modeling PCMsynth presets by Jason Blann of EIP Studios Ohio provide the lead and rhythm guitars, and another PCMsynth set to one of Blann’s Pocket Kit Pro patches makes the drum sounds.

This song runs up against the two major limitations of Caustic: fixed 4-4 time signature, and fixed tempo. The time signature problem is solved by using the unbounded piano roll feature of the step sequencer – I’ve used it once before for my track “Monsters and Magical Girls” although it turned out to be unnecessary; I could have done that entire track in the pattern editor since the odd-time section has a divisible-by-four total number of beats.

The tempo issue is another matter – most of the song is at a steady tempo in a triplet rhythm, but one part of the chorus goes into a duple rhythm at a slower tempo. My tentative solution is to finish all the note placement in Caustic, output to .wav, load that .wav file into Audacity, and selectively “change tempo” on the sections that need to be slower. It remains to be seen how that will work out, but I’ve at least used Audacity’s “change tempo” function once before on a whole song.

Once the instrumental is finished, then I can record a scratch vocal – I think of this track as a demo; I’m considering soliciting input to make a “real instruments” version, from Facebook friends that I know from the now-defunct YTSEJAM.com messageboard; I still know at least one guitarist, drummer, and vocalist from there (of course I will play the bass myself).

Wish I Had Some Cheese…

Current project “Butter Yo Shit”, a basically instrumental rock tune complemented by samples from Hannah Hart’s first My Drunk Kitchen video.

Usually I start with some melodic or chordal element of the music and build from there, but nothing was coming to me. I remembered¬† a video from the RecordingRevolution channel called “The Creativity Switch”, which suggested stimulating blocked creativity by switching something up in the usual routine – using different software, or starting from a different instrumental part of the composition, or even doing something different in the daily routine that has nothing to do with making music (change your diet, take a different route to work, whatever).

So instead of trying to force a chord progression or a melody, I assembled the drum patterns and then laid the vocal samples in. I’ve got that just about finished, with some minor adjustments still to be done, and that will have the basic skeleton of the track in place. Then I’ll work on adding a bass part; from there it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with some accompanying chords.

This will be good practice for “Once Upon a Time”, my long-form instrumental with samples from the penultimate episode of The Prisoner, which I’ve had as a concept for over twenty years now.

November 1-9 in review

Since completing my two covers I’ve been working on a piece to express my emotional state (which has since passed). The working title is “I Feel Nothing” and was to be followed with two more tracks “I Feel Everything” and “Everything is Nothing” – all three titles taken from the three volumes of k.flay’s mixtape I Stopped Caring in ’96. Last night I finished it just to be done with it and threw it up to SoundCloud. I might revisit it at some point though, augment the dull repetitive beginning with another synthesizer part, and make the other two tracks as well, but retitle them thusly:

  • Nothing Is
  • Nothing Becomes
  • Nothing is Not

…all three titles taken from Aleister Crowley’s The Book of Lies which is also falsely called Breaks.

Apart from the general state I was in, the track is also influenced by Frank Klepacki’s “Creeping Upon” from the PC game Command and Conquer‘s add-on pack The Covert Operations.

* * *

Also I’ve broken my “no more covers for a while” resolution, to make a version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” based on the Leon Redbone/Zooey Deschanel version from the movie Elf. I recorded my vocal part last Monday night – I did a couple of takes in my normal voice, and one take in my best Leon Redbone imitation, but decided to use the straight takes. Friday night I asked my wife if she would contribute the other vocal part to the track, and she reluctantly agreed (she has no great opinion of her own singing). Saturday night we went into the booth and I set her up with what she said she needed – a version of the original track slowed down to match the tempo of my remake*, which she listened to on headphones and sang along with while I had my tablet running Easy Voice Recorder Pro – I didn’t want her to have to hold the Radio Shack mic which I don’t have a stand for.
We did a couple of practice runs, and then I took three actual recorded takes. I haven’t done any further work with them yet though, but will probably do so tonight after dinner.

*the original track’s tempo is, as far as I can figure, 90.5 bpm. I determine a track’s tempo by using the “tap” function in Caustic to get close, and then play the metronome along with the track to see if it stays synched. A metronome set to 89 would start to lag behind around the middle of the track, while a metronome set to 90 would be ahead of the beat around the middle of the track. This shouldn’t be an issue though, as I will be cutting the vocal takes into chunks no longer than 8 bars, as Caustic still only handles samples of up to 20 seconds or so.