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.

Oliver was here

I’ve been reading Oliver Chesler’s blog Wire to the Ear for several years now. Oliver writes about gear and music, and has an alter-ego called The Horrorist. He recently started building a modular synth, and when he began looking for a sampler/looper, I invited him to stop by the house if he was ever in Philadelphia.
So two weeks ago he was, and he did.

And then he wrote about it here.

Oliver brought along his Knas Ekdahl Moisturizer, which is a reverb unit that I have my eyes on.

He also took a lot of pictures. You can see those here.

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.

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…

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.

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.