Halls of Wonder and Decay

Once every year or two since I began playing guitar in 2011, I have these revelatory moments (literally, moments, and on them I must act) where I suddenly need to unload what I’d previously believed were Very Important guitar pedals (or synth modules) and replace them with something different. Almost always, the pedals that need replacing are some expensive device that maybe does amazing things, but just does too much of them and ends up eating away at the attention that other devices might deserve. It seems like this is always a Strymon thing. It’s happened twice with the Strymon Mobius. Once with the Timeline (which I’ve since bought another that I barely use). Definitely happened with the Big Sky, which I guess sounds nice, but good lord.

Last week it was the Strymon Blue Sky and the Flint that were suddenly causing offense, and I replaced them. They’re both fine guitar pedals. If I was stuck on a desert island with a guitar, a Flint, and an amp, I’d probably starve to death with a smile on my face. The harmonic setting on the Flint is spectacular and the trem and reverb interact very nicely. The Blue Sky I liked the first time I owned one (my first Reverb pedal) and I bought this one last year planning to keep it on my desk to use in the send/return bus of my synth mixer. But I just didn’t use it much. I’ve noticed a particular sound that is of the Blue Sky — maybe of Strymon reverb in general — and I’ve noticed that when I’m working with synths I’m either using the spring reverb module and tank on the modular synth, or plug-ins. Reverbs with more character and personality, like Goodhertz’s Megaverb. The Blue Sky had made its way down to the pedalboard again, and really, who needs two Strymon reverbs on their pedalboard? Not me.

So let’s talk about that pedalboard. Mine’s been a mess for some time. Cables and wires everywhere, all rather haphazard. I’m not a plug-it-in-and-leave-it kind of guy, and I like checking out new things and trying new arrangements. I also have more pedals than can fit on my Pedaltrain 3, so swap stuff in and out at times. I’m not going to stop doing any of that, but I decided to really give it some thought and consider how I might work with these issues and make a flexible, capable board. First things first, get rid of the two Strymons… (the third Strymon is an El Capistan which is probably my all-time favorite guitar pedal, so it’s not going anywhere. It occasionally gets temporarily swapped out with a Volante or an EHX SMMH/Hazarai, but not often).

I replaced the two Strymons with three Walruses and still saved money. First is the Walrus Monument tremolo, which has the harmonic trem that I loved so much on the Flint. Second is the Slö reverb which I want to use for creating pads before the loopers, and last is the more straightforward Fathoms reverb to sit at the end of everything, including after the Infinity. I’ve never had a reverb after the Infinity looper before and I’m curious how it affects what I’m doing.

I’m waiting on a custom loop switcher and some new patch cables in order to get everything down, and will make a longer post about this process then. But I’ve got most of it down and so far running quite nicely. Two nights ago I started playing around with the expression pedals controlling the speed of the El Capistan looper and the Count to 5, with a big Slö reverb behind them, and just hit record on the Infinity looper (wasn’t about to get up and turn on Ableton, hit record, etc). I took the results and added some stereo compression via Goodhertz Vulf Compressor, and posted them on Soundcloud. I listen to a lot of Califone instrumentals and William Basinski while I draw. This is good for that, too, I think. Please enjoy thanks.

dance robot dance · Halls of Wonder

Distancing, with distance

Do you ever record things, forget you recorded them, then find them on a hard drive and not have an idea how they were made, but man, they sound just right?

That happens to me often. Sometimes the sounds and phrases are scattered around, and sometimes at some point I’d actually formed them into something but I have little or no recollection of the doing so, nor the process I used to do so. Maybe this is a product of just getting older. More likely it’s because making music is for me a place where I like to just do, and I end up sometimes just not remembering that just doing, and when I get back to the things that I actually have to pay attention to, like writing and drawing books, spending time with family, whatever, the just did fades away.

I found an Ableton Live set the other day that I recorded a month ago with what is to me some of my favorite melodic stuff I’ve ever made on the modular synth. There is also some electric piano, some guitar, and a pretty decent Digitakt drum track.

This piece I’m posting here, called “Distancing,” is similar. I remember actually sitting at the desk, and I remember certain aspects of the process. I don’t remember recording the guitar at all, but my notes and the sound tells me it was my Fender Coronado, which has been my favorite guitar to record with in the year since I assembled it. The notes I refer to are those on Soundcloud that I luckily wrote the day after recording this:

Started out innocently enough: Some random Op-1 sounds in the key of C into the Volante SOS. Let it degrade some, freeze it and record it. I figured I’d just save the odd little rhythmic piece as a loop to use later. But before shutting it down, I unfroze the loop and started playing the minilogue against it while still recording. Let it fade out for several minutes as the “tape” degraded, and thought it might be done then, But then tried playing some guitar against the whole thing before turning out the lights last night and I like where it went(Fender Coronado through the Strymon Iridium into Ableton). Added some compression and some tapey effects to the guitar via Goodhertz Wow Control, and voila.

As with the guitar, I don’t recall anything about the OP-1 stuff, but okay, Soundcloud tells me that looped vocal thing at the beginning is an OP-1. I must have fiddled with that while recording into the Volante, looped, press record in Ableton, let it slowly degrade (God how I love the Strymon Volante and how it degrades loops. I like the El Capistan fine for this too, but the Volante is just velvet.) then in a stroke of genius (thank you I’ll take it) played that rough sine patch directly into the Volante as the background loop degraded and faded and where any mistake couldn’t be corrected later. (Yes, fine, key of C, and who screws that up anyway? Well, I do.) The inexplicable decision to go up an octave at 1:45 is to me, is the key to this track. Otherwise it would have merely repeated and faded. That gave me an anchor.

This piece is probably my favorite thing I’ve made in the past year or two. It’s one of the few things I actually keep on my regular playlist and just listen to at times, along with actual proper music that musicians made. I need to take a morning and try to organize and arrange it this Ableton set I found. Maybe similar miraculous discoveries are hidden in there. What’s that called, mixing? Yeah, I need to mix it.