two siblings

Two pieces I’ve posted recently on my Soundcloud account remind me a little bit of each other,and therefore present a coherent enough connection to post them here together. The first one, “The Strange Child,” was just two loops I had tucked away saved in my Infinity Looper a while back that I shoved against each other in an arrangement, messing with the starting points and letting them roll.
The second, “valse de pog,” was the result of only slightly more thought. I was playing with a Am to Dmajor7 thing. I’ve been playing and learning a lot of sea-shanty stuff lately and that 3/4 time signature was fun to mess with here. The EHX Pog 2 is behind the sound of the melody part.

A lot of guitar stuff lately. Tonight I’m showing off some of the modular as well as my OP-1 at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I plan to record some of that output today as well as the show tonight so maybe I’ll have some synth stuff real soon.

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.

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…

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?

curly noodles

The music room in my house is currently in flux. I’ve realized that I have an ongoing frustration with the fact that when I want to do something more than merely play the guitar through the amp or poke around on the modular synth, it usually takes as long to set up the audio path as I actually have time in the studio. So I’m unplugging cables, replugging cables, setting up series of stompboxes, unraveling wires, and so on. And I’m sure that it’s related that when I get all this ready to go and sit down with the headphones on it takes another ten minutes to figure out why I’m not hearing anything (it’s usually because the audio in the MOTU Ultralite is being routed to the main outs rather than the headphone outs, or else the channel I’m using is muted).
So in hopes of fixing this and making it all a bit more fun and efficient, I’ve spent some time this last few weeks learning about things like mixers and patchbays. I recently ordered, and received this afternoon, a Mackie 1220i mixer, and an acquaintance gave me a 48-point patchbay as well as a wad of patch cables. I’ve diagrammed it all out and when I imagine being able to plug in anything to anything and inserting effects into any path, the possibilities really start getting interesting. Due to real life issues and deadlines, I’ll not get to test this theory and put it all together for about a month. But I’ll document this work and write a post or two about the process and results.
On a related note, while looking for mixers and patchbays I came across a used Zoom H4n digital recorder. This is a giant leap of an upgrade from the M-Audio Microtrack I currently use for recording duties. This beast deserves its own post, which I’ll get to at some point. The night before it arrived, however, I decided to bid good riddance to the Microtrack (it’s for sale if anyone is interested) and record some playing around with the guitar and some pedals through my Vox Night Train amp. The path here is G&L ASAT Classic -> MXR Tremolo -> Teese RMC3fl Wah pedal -> Strymon Timeline -> Strymon Blue Sky -> amp. The Multitrack sits in front of the cabinet (a 1×12 Egnater) and as you can tell picks up every bit of hum my system creates.

I’m just noodling here and mainly playing with the reverse mode and looping on the Timeline.

layering reality

not necessarily friends

When Marc Weidenbaum first began the Disquiet Junto project five weeks ago, my first thought was that it seems like a good idea, but there was no way that I was going to be able to take part every week. Just due to the normal schedule of life — work, kids, partner, dog, “things to do,” friends… I couldn’t conceive of how I’d find the time every week to sit down, basically escape from weekend life and responsibilities, and make a complete track (update — I didn’t make this week’s due to the above issues).
However, a funny thing has happened. Having these projects has led to really thinking about process and workflow and goals in a way that fiddling around with gear previously never did. In my day-job I draw pictures every day, and in twenty years I’ve become a believer in deadlines. When I used to teach, I would tell students that if it weren’t for deadlines I’d never complete anything. It’s also kind of a running in-joke that a work is never “done.” Rather, one just has to find a good stopping point, and in my case the deadline is always that stopping point.
Screwing around with gear often creates interesting results, and I often post the results here on Dance Robot Dance. Quite often those results are twenty-second gems buried in eighty minutes of dreck. That signal-to-noise ratio isn’t really acceptable when one has to somehow fit it in between preparing dinner for the family, doing laundry, going to Ikea, walking the dog, and it has to be done by Monday night.
The genius of this project is that it’s an assignment. A specific goal is in mind, which has in all five cases been something I’d never have on my own attempted (field recording? me?) except for the Junto. Limitations are the key not only to the parameters of the projects, but to the workflow and process as well. I’ve written before that when staring at the sonic potential that is my studio desk, and multiplying that potential times infinite when software is considered, the very act of beginning can be daunting. The analogy I use is Photoshop. Given a piece of paper and a pencil, one can focus on the thing one wants to draw and focus on that creative end. One draws a line with a goal in mind. One can erase that line, again with the goal in mind, but chances are that there won’t be a lot of wanking with the tools. When faced with a new open file in, say, Photoshop, knowing that one can use any number of millions of colors, a smorgasbord of tools, and, even more importantly, one can erase and undo forever, never having to commit to anything. With the aforementioned time limitations imposed by ” real life,” this Disquiet Junto project just doesn’t allow for that.
So let’s review: by giving the assignment, the project takes away the lack of direction and focus inherent in sitting down and futzing with musical gear. And by requiring the piece to be done by Monday night, it takes away the possibility for indecision and mental masturbation that is inherent in never having to make anything permanent. For each project I’ve chosen a specific set of tools, sometimes at the beginning of a project and sometimes in the middle of the work, and really focused on what that tool does and how does it contributes to what I need, which in turn gets me to find certain limitations and personalities inherent and applied to my neat-o tools, which leads to better tracks and more interesting results.
The time limitation also encourages one to use what one knows rather than, again, putz around for hours trying out new things.On its face this might seem like an unacceptable limitation, given the want for creativity and breaking new ground. But what it really does is takes us back to that pencil-and-paper analogy. It’s easy to worry oneself into a corner with the idea that one isn’t “good enough” to record, or play live, or whatever. But when it comes down to just making a song and getting it out there, one uses what one has. Right? This plays a big part in this most recent Junto, which I’ll explain in a moment.

This Junto’s assignment was thus:

Plan: The fifth Junto project is about amplifying the inherent musicality of everyday life. Of all the Junto projects so far, this one may call for the lightest touch. Of course, achieving a light touch may require the most amount of work. The project will be accomplished by adding sounds (notes, riffs, tones, beats, noises, processing, drones, what have you) to a foundation track that consists of an original, unedited field recording.

Pre-Production: First, you will make an audio field recording from everyday life. This track will serve as the foundation for your piece. This recording can be made anywhere — on the bus, or while riding a bicycle, or sitting in a field, or waiting in the lobby of a building, or in the kitchen, wherever. There are only two rules regarding the field recording: (1) Do not include intelligible voices unless you are certain that recording people, wherever you are, is legal. (2) Do not edit the field recording, except to fade in and out to achieve the desired length. Chances are you’ll record quite a bit, and then select your favorite segment. You might even, after starting work on one foundation track, make decisions about what constitutes a good foundation and then go and make a new field recording.

Length: Keep the work to between two and five minutes.

Sensibility: In the end, the foundation field recording track should remain fairly discernible in the mix.

I happened to be walking out of a grocery store when I read this email, and since I knew I’d be looking for something to record as the basis that had some significance, I opened FiRe on my iPhone and hit record. I recorded the drive home, and became enamored with the tick tick of the turn signal as a rhythmical base. Once I took a listen to the recording I was bummed that it sounded awful. The internal mic of the iPhone just didn’t cut it. I don’t usually mind inherent flaws in equipment, but this had a lot of noise, was very low-level, and had a weird distortion through-out. So the next day when I had to go to the grocery store again, this time with my 13-year-old son, I carried my little M-Audio digital recorder along for the ride. I recorded the entire trip — shopping, paying and the drive home. But the drive home, again, with that tick tick of the turn signal was what I fell for and ended up using.
The music I recorded was based on a D G A progression that I’d learned that week in my guitar lesson. We’re dealing with triads, and these chords are using just the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings with the first D chord starting on the fifth fret. It’s a simple little thing but sounds nice and worked well. After recording the first set of chords at 84bpm (which by the way is the BPM of the turn signal of a 2001 Honda Civic), I just played against that in my headphones for about a half hour. Plucks, strums, rings, different settings on the amp and pedals, different patterns within the chords… just trying to get different sounds so that I could edit it all together later.
In the end, the parts I used were either straight from the guitar to the amp (a Vox Night Train) or with a Real McCoy RMC3 Teese Wahwah, set just so the filter is on a bit, which really gives this G&L ASAT a nice tone and even overdrives a little.

These are some of the guitar parts, isolated.

This first one is two overdubbed parts. I really like the overlaying.

There are two variations on the same thing here — only the first one is in the final track.

Lastly, after playing the guitar parts, I had the inspiration to drag my accordion out of its case and see it might work out. I’m happy to say that it worked out brilliantly. It’s no lie to say that in the year I’ve been taking guitar lessons I’ve learned more about my accordion then in the ten years previous. My accordion lessons ten years ago were about reading music and developing technique for playing. They were never really about understanding how music works and why it’s structured the way it is. That’s a topic for another post, I realize, because I could cover a lot of ground with that.

Here are the accordions near the end of the track, isolated. The very last bit you hear is some editing in Ableton to have the accordions jive with the beeping of the car when the door is opened.

So here’s the finished piece.

In the end, I don’t think it comes together as well as I’d like. But that’s part of the nature of this Junto project. To me, it’s like sketching. Just get it down. Yes, I could have edited the original field recording. I could have worried about the levels differently. I could have rewritten and edited parts to make it hold together. But instead it was time to make dinner for the kids and get some work done. And move on to the next project*, having learned a lot from this one.

rose's water ice

* After all this, I didn’t get the next week’s project done. I’m way under-water with my current children’s book deadline. Number seven is due tomorrow night and I suspect I’ll be able to get to it. I hope so.

pedal heaven


From Chris Randall’s Flickr stream. Taken at NAMM out in Anaheim.

I plan to post some beauty shots of the pedals on my board pretty soon.
Here are some more from a Flickr search.

via mongchacha

my pedal collection
via konditorei

Boss'ed Nanoloop
via Chris_Carter_ (I go back to this one often to remind myself that cool things can be done with simple tools)

Malekko Heavy Industry Guitar Pedals
via Nova Musik