woo, distortion

Now that I’ve got one track out the door, it’s time to move on to the next, and the plan for that is to get as far away from the clean and somewhat cheesy sound of “atlantis”. I certainly don’t have anything concrete yet, but I’ve experimented with running various drum sounds from Hydrogen in to a range of distortion effects, including overdriven tube amp/preamp simulations, my old sample-rate-reducing favourite, the Decimator, and the rather awesomely named Barry’s Satan Maximiser, which is some sort of crazy compressor.

Hydrogen can be configured to send each drum to a separate JACK output, rather than just using a single master output, so I’ve routed the various drums in to three separate Ardour tracks: one for the kick, one for snares/toms, and one for hats/cymbals. This setup lets me control the types and amounts of effects on those groups of drums separately and listen to the results in realtime, so I can just put Hydrogen on repeat and tweak away until I’m happy.

For other parts, the Blofeld should be perfect, as one of my old sketches will attest. It can create some crazy sounds from scratch (using FM with the noise source or a wavetable oscillator is always good), or distort even the simplest sounds to hell and back with the drive curves on the filters.

new track!

I said I’d have this track done by the end of the week, and here it is! If anyone wants to have a listen and give me some feedback, that’d be great. It’s a synthpop-kinda thing, a little reminiscent in my mind to early 90s video game soundtracks. I don’t have a name for it yet, so I’m calling it a sketch, but it’s definitely a finished track (though I reserve the right to revisit it later).

20090514: 3 minutes 55 seconds

*surprised look*

I actually found something that Ardour can’t do last night — send level automation. In the track I’m working on at the moment I replaced all the individual reverb plugins on each track with sends to a bus running a single reverb effect, and it works very well, but there’s no way to automate the level of a send. At least I can get around it if I want by adding a new bus for each track that needs the automation, but given Ardour’s otherwise excellent automation features, it was a surprising omission.


Songbird is an interesting creation — the result of cross-breeding an iTunes-style music player with a modern web browser. It’s based on the Mozilla XULRunner platform (you can essentially read that as “it’s based on Firefox”), and that’s probably partly responsible for its lust for resources (while running, it likes to use ~30% of one CPU on my laptop), but you’d be surprised just how useful it can be to have the power of a web browser in your music player.

There’s perhaps no better example than the mashTape extension. It appears as a bar along the bottom of the Songbird window, and when you play a track, it automatically pulls in related information from all over the web: artist info and a discography from last.fm and Wikipedia, photos from Flickr, videos from YouTube, reviews from Amazon… you get the idea. The LyricMaster extension pulls in lyrics in much the same way.

The other really neat example, which I only just discovered, is website streaming. Just like in Firefox, you can hit Ctrl-T in Songbird to open a browser tab, and while I wouldn’t use it for general browsing, it’s very handy if you have a page that’s full of links to MP3s. When you open such a page, Songbird detects the links and lists them in a playlist panel at the bottom of the window, where you can play them using the standard Songbird controls, or download them to your library with a click. It even fetches the tags from the files in the background, so while it only lists filenames at first, it soon fills in the full details.

As you’d expect, Songbird also has quite complete last.fm support — it’ll scrobble your tracks for you, and also give you access to your streaming radio. If you’re a music junkie, and you’re not wedded to your current player, Songbird is definitely worth a look.

sketchbook: comin’ atcha live!

Here’s some generic electronic stuff — it’s listenable enough but it’s hardly exciting. I had fun making it though, because it was recorded live in a single take. The other week I watched Moog, a documentary about the humble engineer that changed the face of music, and his remarks about music becoming an increasingly solo, recorded affair got me thinking about the idea of performing, rather than producing, music.

This, then, is a combination of some pre-programmed loops and some live performance, choreographed live using seq24, a simple sequencer that’s designed for live use, much like a hardware sequencer or drum machine.

20090504: 4 minutes 3 seconds