looping looping gnipool looping

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I’m getting boring.

I have a lot of neat-o gear. In fact, I have what I might say is too much. The only reason I don’t say I have too much is because I frequent internet forums dull of people who are way way deeper down the hole than I am. I’m lucky that I have teenagers, debt, and other hobbies or else I’d be in real trouble.
But I digress. I’m getting boring. All I want to do for the last many months, music-wise, is sit down with the sparkly blue Jazzmaster and make guitar loops. I’m perfectly happy to sit for hours with this guitar plugged into any one of the several looping devices that I have* and dig deep. Granted, before hitting the looping device in use at the time, the guitar first goes through any number of the other gear things that I have. But still. It’s just a guitar, right?

These are Jazzmaster through various pedals to the amp, a Rivera Venus 3. I think I recorded these with the built-in mic of a Zoom H4N recorder.

The good thing about this single-mindedness is that it allows me to kind of focus on learning about some stuff that I need to learn about. Like recording, on the technical side. Typically, before I sit down and hit record, I decide on a particular method of capturing whatever I’m doing. For example, I have this fantastic amp that is somewhat noisy. So I’ve been trying to figure out some method to record where this is less of an issue. Also, this amp has a line out from the power section and it’s interesting to record this output while at the same time micing the speaker (which by the way is really awesome — the line out that is. It’s nice and tight and clear. The next time I do this I’ll take just the line out, and then set up a microphone about ten feet from the amp to pick up this more distant room sound. Stay tuned.)

Another thing I do is work on the guitar/music stuff by hammering away on modes and scales. My guitar lessons move a little faster in my head than my fingers do on the fretboard. I’ve been diving into and understanding modes (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian etc.) lately, and we’ve been working on triads and arpeggios alongside. But I rarely ever seem to know when these fancy things would be useful while actually playing songs. So I typically start out these looping sessions by repeating a couple of notes or a chord, and then playing some improvised loop on top using these modes and scales. I actually learn a lot this way, but it’s still all pretty much abstract theory. If I was jamming with dudes I have no idea whether any of this would be useful. (In related news, I recently glommed on to Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl, and since I’m not the kind of guitar learner to want to learn to play, say, Jessie’s Girl exactly the way it was played on the record, Lou my guitar instructor is showing me how to use these modes and scales while working out my own rockin’ solo. Stay tuned for that too.)

The recordings below were made with the line out of the amp on the right and the mic’d amp (SM57) on the left.

Hope you like these. I like making them. Leave some comments, let me know what think you.

*Pigtronix Infinity Looper, Strymon El Capistan, Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man w/Hazarai, Korg Kaoss Pad, TC Electronics Ditto, The Harvestman Tyme Sefari mk2, Make Noise Phonogene, Teenage Engineering OP1, various software…)

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.

fractured and screwed


A few weeks ago I found myself in an actual record store with an unexpected hour to kill, and I had a jolly time shopping for music the same way I shop for wine. I look at the label and take a chance. In this case, I ended up with a half-dozen CDs* (remember CDs? I’ve bought more vinyl over the last three years than I have compact discs).
One cover caught my eye that I ended up not buying? It was Nils Frahm’s CD “Screws.” I liked the cover and the description of the music — apparently Frahm, a pianist, had messed up his thumb pretty bad and was relegated to playing the piano with only nine of his ten fingers. The title of the album refers to the hardware in his thumb to help with the healing. However, a quick google of the album informed me that the entire thing is available for free on Frahm’s Soundcloud account. So I went that route. It’s some lovely music, and much more appreciated for the intimacy of the recording. One can hear him shift around on the piano bench as he plays, even. Having recently broken my hand and dealing with the limitations that this injury forced upon my own musical output, I appreciated this idea even more.

As a result, it was exciting when, a few weeks later, the Thursday night Disquiet Junto came along and I realized that it was a remix project for this Nils Frahm album. Frahm himself is hosting this particular project, and Marc Weidenbaum latched on to this for the 55th Junto project. The idea was as follows:

This week’s project involves a shared set of source material. The source audio is the free solo piano album ‘Screws’ by Nils Frahm.

Frahm, who’s based in Germany, posted the nine-track album of short solo works for free download while he was recuperating from busting one of his thumbs. He subsequently created a site to house all the remixed/reworked versions that admirers sent to him, as well as the videos and other responses that he received.

For this project you will take two of the source tracks — “Do” and “Re” — and create a new track from them, in the process creating a work for two pianos.

Source Audio: You can download the files as sets of MP3 or AIF audio:



You can only use those two Frahm tracks as audio source material for your track, and you cannot add anything other sounds, but you can transform the two Frahm tracks as you please. In the end, though, the sound of a piano should be evident.

I was away for the weekend with friends, in New Haven, so I decided to attempt this project using only the OP-1. I recorded large parts of the two pieces into the tape recorder on the OP-1 and quickly found this to be a much more difficult thing to do than I expected. I wanted to keep the piano-ness of the pieces to a large extent, so merely sampling a small part and sequencing it wasn’t going to work. So I began cutting sections and looping them in the tape machines. I got some interesting parts, but creating an entire work from this was going to make me a bit insane.
When I got back home and was with laptop, I dumped a lot of what I’d done into Ableton, and put it all together there. The results are a mix of straight Frahm, and my mechanical whirring from the OP-1 loops.

*The CDs I bought are as follows
Bob Dylan: The Basement Tapes. I can’t believe I bought a Bob Dylan album. I also found all the bootlegs related to the basement tapes and have them now as well. Great stuff.
Modest Mouse: Good News for People Who Love Bad News. So good. Califone led me to Ugly Casanova, led me to Modest Mouse.
Land Observations: Roman Roads IV-XI. Felt ambivalent about this after a few lessons. But I now realize it has affected my guitar-playing in a lot of ways. I’ve become a little obsessed with looping, which is a post in itself.
The Notwist: The Devil, You + Me. I burned out on Mrs. John Soda and Lali Puna back about five years ago. This is good, but it is a lot like those other Weilheim bands.
Fruit Bats: Spelled in Bones. I got it because Brian Deck of Califone produced some Fruits Bats. Apparently not this one, but I still like it.
Dntel: Something Always Goes Wrong / Early Works for Me If It Works for You. Highly recommended. I love Dntel and this early work is fascinating. It was sitting on my coffee table and my kid Wilson sees it and says “Oh cool, Jimmy Tamborello, can I borrow that?”

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.

apexart performance

I played a live performance on November 27 in New York City. This was the first time I’ve performed with anything more than an accordion in a live and public setting, and as small and esoteric as it was, it was thrilling.
My performance was part of a Disquiet Junto set at apexart, an art gallery just below Canal Street in Manhattan. Six contributors to the Disquiet Junto were asked to perform two works: one being something we’re currently working on, and another being a piece based on an earlier Junto, in which field recordings from department stores were utilized “to create pieces that interrogate the atmosphere and sounds of a department store as described in an Émile Zola novel.”

For the first part, I continued my explorations of my baritone ukulele sampled and looped with the Phonogene and the Tyme Sefari. This segued into the second part, for which I mainly used the Teenage Engineering OP-1 and its four tracks on the tape player. I’d previously loaded four earlier Junto field recordings from other Junto members, and layered them to create the chaos and mechanically-inspired noise of the Zola department store.

There were six performances that evening, of which I was the second. I was preceded by Kenneth Kirschner, and followed by Arcka, Ethan Hein, Joon Oluchi Lee and Roddy Schrock, and Tom Moody.

apexart shot video of the event and posted in on their website. I reposted it to Vimeo, which is here.

If you would rather just the audio:

Videos from each of the performances are on the apexart site, and is worth the time. Each artist used different tools and created something quite different from one another. I hope to get to do this kind of thing again. A lot. In fact I think I need to write a post specifically about playing live with this kind of equipment. Thanks to Marc for having me out, and to Arcka for sharing the ride and for the photo at the top of this post.

performance at ApexArt

I’ve been invited to take part in a life Disquiet Junto event at ApexArt. in NYC next week, November 27, along with several other musicians. I’ll be creating an improvised composition based on one of the past Juntos, as well as a short performance of my own doing. I’m planning to bring a small case of modular synth gear, the OP-1, some guitar pedals, and a ukulele. We’ll see what happens.

This is the first time I’ll have attempted this, playing live, in front of people who aren’t my family.

Information about the event here.

Information about ApexArt.

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…

duo for ukulele and saxophone and tyme sefari

I’ve not been able to take part in Marc Weidenbaum’s Disquiet Junto assignments lately, but when this week’s edition came along I knew it was perfect timing. I played the saxophone in middle and high school, from 1979 to 1986. I haven’t seen my old alto sax since then, until my sister drove it up from Arkansas when she came to visit last week. It’s not in the best shape — the pads are pretty tough and the thing smells like a horrible dirty towel. But my sister had recently bought some reeds for it, and in the end it’s actually playable. Moreover, and more than slightly surprising, I still remember most of the fingerings.

So this week’s Junto is as follows:

Disquiet Junto Project 0042: Naive Melody

You will employ just two instruments in the production of this week’s track: (1) the instrument you have used for the longest period of time and (2) the instrument in your possession that is newest to you. You’ll record a backing track with the oldest instrument, and overlay on it a simple melody of your choosing performed on the newest instrument.

Definition: The term “instrument” can be interpreted as broadly as you’d like; ultimately this is a project about the restraints inherent in the gadgets, tools, and software that you have obtained or created.

Background: The inspiration for this project is the song “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” by the band Talking Heads off the album Speaking in Tongues. For that song, the band members traded instruments, each playing something they were significantly less familiar with than the instrument they normally performed on.

Restrictions: You can use any source material, any instrumentation, except the human voice.

It should now go without saying that this old sax is by far the the musical instrument I’ve had the longest. So this track started right there.

For the newest instrument, I have two that I came into possession of within a day of each other, and they work together extremely well. The first is the new version of the Harvestman Tyme Sefari. You may recall some previous posts about the Tyme Sefari. This new one deserves a post of its own, but the short version is that it’s got more memory, better sampling, a redesigned user interface, and, my favorite feature, a trigger output at the end of a loop (this feature alone deserves a blog post. It’s especially wonderful when working alongside the Makenoise Phonogene, which also has this output, and they basically play tag. Stop reading for a minute and think about this…). The second instrument recently acquired is this old Dixie Leader baritone ukulele that a good friend gave me as a wedding present last week. It’s a mystery uke, as neither of us have been able to find any information about the Dixie Leader brand. He had it strung funny, with typical re-entrant uke tuning (gCEA) rather than the baritone DGBE, and the third string is a big guitar string that won’t stay in tune. I’ve ordered proper strings for this uke, but in the meantime it presented itself perfectly for this Junto and the necessary “naive melody.”

The results are what follows. I played this sax to the best of my abilities, which is the very definition of “creative limitations.” Because of its issues with the pads and my not remembering a few things, I played every note I could. I’d even like to say that the vibrato was on purpose, but I’m not certain that it was. The best part is that I know a bit more about chords than I did when playing this thing back in the 80s, so I overdubbed a second part on the first which I’m quite happy with.

The uke was recorded just plucking as many notes in tune as I could into Ableton. I took this fifteen seconds or so of ploinky boinks and looped small parts into the Tyme Sefari, and then manipulated the loop points and sample rate, and bounced them back into Ableton. It was mixed together this morning.

Before I began this Junto project, I spent some time with the Tyme Sefari along with the Phonogene, manipulating and chewing on some similar plucks from a little concert-size ukulele. Here are the resulting three tracks from that. At the time I wasn’t sure that I was going to keep both the Phonogene and the Tyme Sefari. However, being able to play two separate parts independently but have them trigger each other with those end-of-loop outputs is very much awesome.

bending and cranking the op-1

In the last few weeks I’ve gone through an OP-1 love phase again, where I start thinking about interesting things to do with it, read the manual again, try stuff that I hadn’t considered previously, and so on. For instance, I plugged the output from the Doepfer A119 module (which is an external input preamp, meant to take a mic or guitar signal and boost it to modular synth levels, but which has the “problem” of overdriving very easily and therefore creating fuzz) of my modular synth into the input of the OP-1, and recorded the fuzzy guitar just like if the OP-1 was a tape deck. This audio can then be sampled, looped, processed, rerecorded, and so on.

Teenage Engineering, the weird little Swedish conglomerate that produces the OP-1, keeps reminding me why I splurged on this little machine by releasing not just updates to the operating system, but entirely new reasons to want the OP-1 if I didn’t already have it. A week or so ago they announced a new operating system with a new filter effect, and some “accessories” which include some overpriced little plastic gadgets, a guitar strap (really?), and a very nice (if overpriced) case. The plastic gadgets are what caught my attention. There’s a little crank, for instance, and an odd-lloking device that, partnered with a rubber band (included) creates a “bender.” The crank and the bender attach to one of the four knobs on the OP-1, and the software update includes some bits that allow these devices to be used to, say, manually crank the tape recorder, or (my favorite) crank one of the sequencers, like a music box. This adds yet another tactile and rather funny method of working this device, and one that fits my aesthetic pretty much perfectly. The bender works with a new “LFO” setting, where various synth or effect parameters can be “bent.” Anything that could previously have been controlled with an LFO can be bent. For some of the synth engines, this suddenly makes them much more interesting. Playing around with this on Wednesday night, I found some stuff that I felt I should record. So here’s that.

I also picked up the case that Teenage Engineering is offering, which is what I’ve been needing since the recycled cardboard paper packaging that it came in has pretty much started disintegrating. On the OhPeeWon forums there are various threads of people building wooden cases and using alternate means (I have a silly-looking bag meant for a hair-curling-iron that I bought on Amazon), but it’s much nicer to have a case with a pocket for the accessories and cables.
As I said, these little parts are kind of stupid expensive. AC Gears in New York is selling them for $15.99 each, and the case for about $90. But if you already have an OP-1 then it’s really a no-brainer, unless you can somehow fabricate your own for less; in which case get in touch cause I’d like more.