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

just get it down

I’ve been working on recording a lot. Just getting things to sound good once they’re “printed” as it were. I feel like I’m getting there. A little bit of reverb. A little compression. Giving the master channel a little more oomph at the end with what is basically a mastering preset in Ableton. This is just the Fender Coronado through a Strymon Iridium in its Vox mode, and the Digitakt with the CR78 samples. More to come.

Digitakt meanders

I spent today working on (playing with? trying to learn?) the Digitakt. Made progress, enjoyed the experience, wrote down notes. Recorded some tracks.

The first one here, Organ, Rhythm, 65, picks up where the last post left off. That organ sample was still sitting there so I ran with it. Slowed the whole thing down to 65bpm. I really like the slow deliberate rhythm at that speed. Put the organ from that religious cardboard record on two tracks, one panned left, the other right. Randomized the loop start points, and pressed record.

The second track, Digitakt Voxrhythm, was the last thing I recorded today, just finally playing around with sampling directly to the machine. Two iterations of my voice, and some leftover stuff from the CR-78. This is fun.

The third track, Sequence, Delay, Warped, is me learning to use the MIDI tracks on the Digitakt sequencer. The sounds are from my modular synth. The Digitakt is sending notes and CV to the modular via the Expert Sleepers FH-2 (which is an amazing, couples device). The delay is the Mutable Instruments Warps, modulated with the Digitakt MIDI. I have a lot more of this stuff that I plan to edit sometimes in the next few days.

digitakt track

Got the Digitakt. Was completely overwhelmed for about four hours with all the menu diving and odd key combinations and ridiculous Elektron presets. Updated the firmware, read the manual, then erased everything. Started a new project, went about loading in a set of CR-78 samples and a few vocal oddities I’d taken from some old records over the years. Things got fun.

Yesterday afternoon, I loaded in a sampled organ from a strange old cardboard record I found in my father-law’s basement called Bernadette and the Beautiful Lady.

This record tells the story of Bernadette Soubirous of Lourde, who was visited by a vision of the Virgin Mary. The story is fantastic, the recording is goofy, but there’s a little organ number at the very end that is just lovely and made a nice looped drone on the Digitakt. I recorded a few runs with this, some with and some without using the Digitakt’s sequencer. I’m not sure which one made it here into the finished piece. I think it might be with the sequencer but with the start point randomized somewhat with an LFO. The sample is on two tracks, one panned hard left and the other right, differed lengths, and different start points. I believe one is reversed as well. This is fun stuff, and will make the Digitakt useful as much more than just a drum machine for me.

Here is the track, as well as pieces of the two samples.

The Beautiful Lady, organ at the end.
Digitakt rhythm all alone.

machine, drum

I’m getting a drum machine tomorrow. I feel like it’s Christmas Eve. This isn’t my first time down this drum machine path. Back in 2010-11 I had an Elektron Machinedrum, and it brought me great joy. I didn’t really know much about what I was doing, and I didn’t use it for much. I ended up selling it to fund my first electric guitar.

machinedrum and modular synth

The new one is a cousin of the Machinedrum: the Elektron Digitakt. While the Machinedrum was mostly a drum synth that had sampling kind of shoe-horned into it, the Digitakt is all sampling, all the time. The Digitakt isn’t new, and a quick search will allow one to watch hundreds and hundreds of hours of Digitakt videos. Which I have done, over the last three weeks, since I first realized how much I needed one. (Of course, I don’t need one.)

Drum machine rhythms have been in my head for the last several months, mostly alongside kind of slower ambient loops of electric piano and synths. The sounds of the old Roland CR-78 are what I normally hear, which began when I stumbled upon a couple of videos of Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke playing alongside a CR-78.

I suspect I’ll be posting a lot of drum machine/Digitakt content soon. Here’s a track I put together last night and this morning. A few electric piano loops from an El Capistan, and yes, a CR-78 (samples, using Ableton’s drum rack).