No Excuses

Just a quick note here before turning in for the night, that I bought an electric guitar today. I went to Portland Music Company’s store on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway to check out the selection of used guitars, and tried out one that was tagged $140 – a nice one with pointy symmetrical horns and what looked like dual-coil (humbucker) pickups, two of them. But my wife pointed out that some of the new guitars were even cheaper, so I settled on a white Squire “bullet strat” with three single-coil pickups, for $130. Adding a strap, gig bag, and spare set of strings, brought it up to┬ájust under the $200 budget.

For some months now I’ve been thinking of the half-written material I’ve had on the back burners, some of it as old as when I was in high school, and telling myself “I could work on that if I had a guitar.” Now I have a guitar and I’m out of excuses.

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.

Creativity and Obsolescence

Monday (2 days ago) the same kourier driver who gifted my vocal mic to me, gave me a Creative Labs SB0490 “Sound Blaster Live!” external USB sound card to try out; if I liked it he was going to sell it to me “at cost” (eight dollars).

I tried it out that night, plugging in not just the mic but also the Chapman Stick and recording into Audacity. It seems to be okay; I was able to leave the input level higher in the software and adjust on the external box – unfortunately the headphone output didn’t seem to work. I never bothered to connect speakers to it.
So I’m going to pass on this, even for eight dollars; it’s probably fine for somebody who wants to digitize their LP or tape collection, or to improve gaming sound or music playback, but pro audio gear it isn’t.
I’m still holding out for the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB interface, which goes for a buck and a half everywhere I can find it. Hopefully around the end of the year I can have that much saved up.