dittoed, looped, grinded

130513_bw dog walk_001

Every now and then I have the notion to set up some recording gear and record whatever it is I make that day. Lately I’ve ben looping a lot. I recently acquired a Pigtronix Infinity and more recently a TC Electronics Ditto. Basically, the two extremes when it comes to loopers, and both equally up to the task.
I should write more about the Infinity, as it’s worthy of a post of its own what with it’s frequent firmware updates and the custom sidecar pedal I had made for it. The Ditto I bought so that I’d have something small at my studio and to take to lessons and elsewhere with me.

These three pieces were made a week or two apart. “Loopy McCoy” is the earliest, and was made with the Infinity (nothing fancy, however, so it’s not as if I used all its tricks) and my new Ebow. The other two tracks were made this past Saturday and use the Ditto. All three feature the sparkly blue Jazzmaster into the RMC3 Wah, then to my Rivera Venus 3 amp. On “Loopy McCoy” the amp has its boost stage on, which basically coats the sound in sticky syrup and makes it thick like a hot humid evening. It’s just great, but easy to lose control over as you can hear a couple of times when the Ebow gets a bit close to the pickup.

All three tracks are improvised playing over the loops that are set at the beginnings.

it's the solstice, so let's make a song

snowy january day

I was listening to the rain two nights ago as I realized it was the solstice. So to celebrate, I recorded several minutes of the rain falling from my bedroom window and added some music to go with.

This is basically three parts. The background layer of the recording of the rain is the backbone of the whole thing. I made some drips and drops with the synth, which are heavily reverbed and echoed. And then there’s the guitar, which the sparkly blue Jazzmaster recorded directly into Ableton with an El Capistan delay pedal.

The idea was to merely create a soundtrack for the weather and for the sense of this night — the longest night of the year.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Andrew Bird, dammit

I’ve been listening to Andrew Bird all day; on the bus to jury duty this morning, during the breaks that come with duty on a jury, on the bus ride home, walking the dog, and now here in the studio, late evening, as I get some work done that I need to get done even though I have jury duty. (Homicide trial, four days, fascinating if not exactly the best timing.)
In addition to today, I’ve been listening to Andrew Bird pretty closely for about eight years, ever since I bought the CD Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production Of Eggs while visiting San Francisco back in 2005. I thought it was his oddball literate lyrics and mysterious imagery that I liked. However I’ve been realizing over the last few months that, while the lyrics and songs are just terrific, I’ve been opening up my head to the next layer down and realizing just how much Bird uses various fun studio tricks and weirdo effects in getting that sound that I love so much, that saturated fuzzy plucky noise, the really interesting loops, and the long harmonic drones. It’s the idea that even though he uses all these loops and effects, rather than constraining Bird’s music to some grid or box like loops and technology can do, it opens up and makes it, to me, even more organic. Not to mention that he leaves in the stuff like the click of guitar pedals and stuff being knocked around at times.

I just dug up an internet thing from back in March that focuses on this studio geekery and I figured I’d share it with you here.

So, here.

So there’s something about it being un-fussy and intuitive. I mean, it’s just a click of a button with my foot. And the other key thing is it doesn’t save my ideas. If I want to get a new idea, the thing I am currently playing has to be erased. Something about that keeps it just ephemeral enough that you don’t get to precious about your ideas…and it just remains “on the fly”. -Andrew Bird

And a YouTube thing that shows all this at work.

g&l asat, fuzzed and looped

Recorded another bit of improvising yesterday, this time with my G&L ASAT, which is Leo Fender’s post-Fender Telecaster. The signal path here is guitar > Shoctopus (custom octave-down fuzz) > Strymon Timeline > Strymon BlueSky reverb > Vox Night Train amp. The first section relies on the Timeline’s Lofi mode to get that honky grind, and the second section uses the Shoctapus.

I’ve reached the point now on the guitar where that what I can hear in my head and I want to do is just out of my reach to make it frustrating. When I started playing nineteen months ago, I might listen to something I like, or have a tune or sound in my head, and it may have well have been made my martians cause I had no idea what they were doing or how to get to that sound. However now I can hear this stuff in my ears or head and it often seems right there, but my technical abilities aren’t there. In many cases, not even close. It’s both frustrating and inspiring at the same time…

jazzmaster, delayed and crinkled

I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff from the Soundcloud feed of Kirk Markarian, known as Deuterostome. He records using various tape recorders and is perfectly happy to make use of the imperfections in the tape speed and saturation.

I spent a few hours with my blue CiJ Jazzmaster on Friday night, late after everyone here had gone to bed. I decided to see what I could do with my Strymon Timeline in dTape mode and the vibrato setting on my Clone Theory chorus pedal. The complete chain is guitar > Clone Theory > Timeline > BlueSky > Boss RC-3 > Night Train. This 8:49 here is edited down from about a half hour of recording using a Zoom H4N sitting next to my Vox Night Train head and Egnater cabinet.

The Clone Theory is a hell of a noisy pedal, and this is exacerbated by the delay and reverb. I suppose, it actually adds to the effect I was looking for in this case, but I’m still pretty certain that it’s going to get replaced this week by, hm, maybe a Strymom Ola?
I’d also like to see how to push this further, this sound. The Strymon ElCapistan does a nice job, but with the Timeline it’s hard to justify that. My favorite guitar shop down the street is expecting to get the ZVex Instant Low-Fi Junkie soon. Or maybe I’ll just do it right and find my old tape recorder down in the basement…

way hey and away we’ll go

I keep apologizing and making excuses for the recent foray into the waters of things of an acoustical and guitarical nature. I mean, even the title of this blogsite here says it’s about music electronica. Alas, the adventure continues and, frankly, I have a feeling that this trend will continue. In my head, the music I hear is a good mix of all of this. Guitars and overdrives, synth bleeps, delay pedals, droney sounds and filed recordings, drum machines and even ukuleles, banjos and accordions. I have no idea where this will lead in the end.
But for here and now, it’s leading below the surface of the sea. This is a melody called “Hieland Laddie” that I found in a book called The Folksinger’s Wordbook, compiled by Fred and Irwin Silber. This wordbook is what it says, which is about 400 pages of lyrics from various periods and locales. The chords for Streets of Laredo were found there, in fact. Folk songs can be corny, but they can also be a rich source of melodies and ideas. Hieland Laddie is a traditional Scottish tune to which there are about a million variations of the lyrics. When I first played it a few months ago I imagined a storyline where a woman is missing her love as he is out to sea, and stands upon a tower looking over the horizon. The song is in Dm, and the first part, Dm, Am, Gm, is melancholy and full of longing. Then the verse kicks in, all in major chords, and I imagine seeing a ship come over the horizon. “Is that the ship I wait for? Is that the ship that will carry my love back to me?” Alas, as the minor chords kick back in, of course, it’s not, and as we can imagine her love is more than likely dead and at the bottom of the ocean. After standing there for years and years and waiting and waiting, she loses hope and drowns herself. Going a bit further, she’s now dead but her ghost still haunts the tower and still waits for her love.

When I was in Maine a few weeks ago, I took some field recordings at Nubble Lighthouse in York. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with these, but it’s always good to have twenty minutes or so of waves crashing and gulls making noise in one’s archives. So tonight I’m walking the dog and listening to Ugly Casanova’s Sharpen Your Teeth and thinking about that recording of the sea. Like these things do, it just suddenly made sense to put this Hieland Laddie tune over it with plenty of reverb and whatever else I could find that would work.
The thing came together in about an hour. I recorded the guitar and laid it down in Ableton over the field recording. I added a low verby bass with the Teenage Engineering OP-1, which I’ve been playing with a lot lately, and which is really such a versatile little gizmo. I added the bass drum last, and it took some work to get it to sit in the mix nicely. As with most of the stuff I post, I see this as more or less a sketch. I’d like to work on this some more and add an accordion and some modular synth somewhere.
Enjoy the tune.

everything goes in your ear

While this music thing is a hobby in the strictest possible sense, I rationalize a lot of it by telling myself that I obsess over synthesizers and amps and guitars and effects pedals for the purpose of creating soundtracks. This is far more reasonable to me than imagining playing on stage and driving around the Mid-Atlantic in a van.
Every now and then I actually put this logic to use and make a soundtrack. My picture book, Everything Goes: In the Air, will be out in about three weeks and to that end I’m ramping up the publicity and teasers leading up to publication in September. I put together a video promo for the book.

In the past, most of my soundtracks have been created with various synths, either the modular or software. In this case, I use a guitar. While I have two really nice guitars and gear at the house, this soundtrack had to be done rather quickly yesterday afternoon. So I took the cheap Squier Stratocaster that I have here at the studio and plugged it in directly to Ableton Live via an audio interface. I used Ableton’s Amp and Cabinet effects to get the sound I was looking for, and added some EQ-8, compression via AD’s Rough Rider, and Uhbik A for slight reverb on a return channel. The percussion is made up of samples from a goofy little Casio keyboard I found years ago at a garage sale and sequenced in Ableton’s Impulse.

While on vacation in Maine last week, I spent a lot of time listening to Luna’s 1994 album “Bewitched,” and the influence is, to me, definitely there. I’m rather surprised that it sounds a lot like Vampire Weekend as well.

Laredo, the Streets of

If you read this blog, I am pretty certain that you don’t tune in for the sounds of a lonely guitar on the high plains, or cowboy tunes strummed in a saloon. You’re here because, like me, you’re kind of synth nerd and you want to read about and listen to the finer points of control voltages and weird software.
The thing is, if you read this blog, you also know that I’ve developed an affection for the esoteric instrument called “the guitar.” When I’ve had a few hours to kill in the music room, it’s more than likely been in practicing pentatonics and managing the fret board than wiggling knobs and patching cables. This will not always be the case, i promise. Stick with me here for a bit. I’ve fallen for a diversion, but it will lead somewhere, eventually, that will come back around to beepy buzzy beats.

In addition to learning the guitar for the last eighteen months, I’ve also been trying to understand and learn about recording. I’ve been ingesting old TapeOp magazines and any information I can find on the internet about recording methods and gear.As I do this, I realize that I need to expand the purpose and mission of this website to include these newfound links and informations and, well, gear. I recently installed a patchbay, I now have a decent little mixer, and I’m all set up to where it’s very easy now for me to press “record” and create some tracks. Like many music hobbyists, I find that I end up reading about this stuff more than actually using it (there are legitimate reasons for this that I’ll get into some other time) and last Sunday I decided that I need to actually play some music and actually record it.

Just a couple nights earlier I picked up a very large book at a local bookstore called The Folksinger’s Wordbook, edited by Fred and Irwin Silber. As I browsed it, I ran across The Streets of Laredo, which is an old cowboy song that I like. I believe the first version I remember hearing was by Marty Robbins, and more recently I discovered an odd cover by The Blue Aeroplanes. So here I had the lyrics as well as the basic guitar chords. True to the old saying that all you need are three chords and the truth, the chords were D7, A7 and G. That’s it.

On Sunday, I set up some mic stands, opened a few recording tracks in Ableton, and set forth. First was the acoustic guitar rhythm track played to a click at 115 bpm. D7, A7, G. Done. I played around with some positions for the microphone, an Audio-Technica AT-2035 until I found something I liked, and I used a software compressor and EQ to get something I thought sounded good. Once this was down, I spent fifteen minutes or so recording some picking on the same acoustic guitar. Over the next hour, I recorded two or three tracks of accordion, some whistling, some singing, and various electric guitar tracks. The electric guitar was mic’d with an Electro-Voice 635, which is odd in that It seems to have a very low output. I plan to test this specifically, because I also noticed that my Onyx 1220i mixer seems to have a wildly different gain structure than the Motu Ultralight I use. When I had a mic plugged into the Ultralite, I left the input gain/trim at 0. I assume that this is unity. It recorded a nice clear sound at a good recording volume. With the Onyx mixer, I had to turn the gain up near its maximum to even get a usable signal at all, and it was still significantly quieter than the Ultralite. The last little bit on the gain knob ramps the input up from barely audible to overdriven. I don’t know yet enough to know if this something that is supposed to be — like they’re using different input gain methods — or whether it’s even an issue. With digital recording, I read the tracking levels aren’t as vital as they are in analog, since the noise floor is so low and the bit-rate is so high (48k in this case). I can (and did) raise the level up in mixing with no noticeable noise. So maybe it’s no big deal.

Once all the recording was done, I gave myself a break for a day, and went back on Monday to listen to the tracks. It was easy to pull out the whistling, singing, and all of the electric guitar since it was all pretty bad. The whistling and singing was terribly out of tune (I’m not good at either, though I would like to be) and the electric guitar parts were uninspired. I knew my window for time to record this was running out before the house got noisy with people, and I was not into it.

In the end, what I got was a bass line of accordion with two acoustic guitar parts. The rhythm strumming and some surprising lead picking. Surprising because I don’t remember all of what I did here and it’s all one take with no edits. It’s simple and might not warrant all 1000 words of this post. But I’m pretty pleased and it led to a week (so far) of thinking how I might add in the modular synth to something like this, and really giving some thought to recording techniques and some more gear that I could use (like a compressor). After mixing this, I thought of some stuff I’d like to try and make some changes, and I plan to get back in, maybe this weekend, and visit The Streets of Laredo again.

Jazzmaster

A couple of weeks ago I accidentally bought two Fender Jazzmasters. How does that happen? I don’t know, use your imagination. I have no sense when it comes to Stuff I Love and The Internet. The Jazzmaster that I’ll be keeping is a Japanese-made sparkly-blue guitar from around 1999. It came with a pair of Lollar Jazzmaster pickups already installed, replacing the stock pickups that many people seem to hate on these CIJ (“Crafted in Japan”) Jazzmasters. After spending a couple of weeks playing it, I’ve decided to go one step further and put a P-90 in the bridge position, hopefully giving it quite a bit more oomph there, as I find that I never ever play it with just the bridge pickup. The Lollar neck pickup on the other hand is just great. Oh, did I mention it was sparkly blue?

blue sparkly Jazzmaster

I bought this guitar knowing that it was going to be kind of a modification playground for me to try stuff out, unlike the G&L ASAT which I haven’t touched and don’t plan to. To that end, other “improvements” I have planned are replacing the stock bridge with a Mastery Bridge (already ordered — I didn’t expect to do this but I really understand now why people hate these stock Jazzmaster bridges), replacing the white pick-guard with a black one (already received), and as long as I have the guitar pulled apart, putting in 500k pots to roll of a little of the harsh trebly business it has when up on 10, and soldering a nice Jensen capacitor to the tone pot. A lot of Jazzmaster players do stuff to the rhythm circuit as well, but I’ve not decided anything about that yet. On one hand, I don’t use it much yet. On the other hand, I might find something that would encourage me to use it more one day. So when that happens, I’ll open it back up again.

I was concerned at first that the guitar was too close in performance and tone to the ASAT, but as I’ve played it the last three weeks I’ve noticed that this isn’t the case. The ASAT has a much glossier (?) tone and a plucky attack. It chimes nicely, while the Jazzmaster is more mellow and subtle. They’re both single coil Fender designs, so there is obviously overlap. I’m curious how it all plays out once I install the P90 in the bridge. (By the way, I’m planning on putting in a Novak JM-90, which is a little less expensive than the Lollar P90 for Jazzmaster, and Curtis Novak tells me that he can make a custom one to pair with the Lollar JM pickup that I’m leaving in the neck.

Like a new car, since obtaining this Jazzmaster (these Jazzmasters), I’ve noticed how many are out there played by some of my favorite guitar experimenters and bands. Some I knew of, some I didn’t.

Swervedriver
Raveonettes
cline
Elvis
sonic youth
frisell

I’ll be posting about this work in progress as it commences…

pedal playing

A really nice video of Bill Frisell playing with a collection of stompboxes. The simplicity of the EHX Freeze really shines at the beginning. I’ve seen that thing around and wondered, creatively, what’s really possible with it. This makes it desirable, though I suppose I can cover it with a bit more work with a loop pedal or a delay. Though it won’t sound like Bill Frisell.

Another proponent of the stompbox is Nels Cline. He’s slightly more frantic about it than Bill Frisell.

As for me, I’ve finally got the music room and studio put back together. I’ve installed a patch bay, hooked up a nice mixer, obtained a Fender Jazzmaster (actually two, but only keeping one), and now it’s a breeze to stick a guitar into the modular, and run all that through, say, a looping pedal and into a Kaoss Pad, then record it all on the Mac. So, I hope this leads to me posting more of my own stuff along with these tv shows I’ve been watching. One of the first things I intend to do is write about my own collection of pedals. Let’s cross our fingers, right?