rpm 2012: the final update!

I’ve just posted my RPM 2012 entry off to RPM HQ, so the challenge is officially complete! The album is called “far side of the mün”, in honour of Kerbal Space Program, and you can stream it from Bandcamp right here! If you want to download a copy, just follow the “Download” link below.

While it wasn’t required at all for the challenge, I think the time I put in to the jewel case design paid off; I even took my final design down to the local office store and had it printed on some nice weighty gloss paper. Here’s how the final CD looked:

far side of the mün -- front cover

far side of the mün -- back cover

As you’d expect, it’s all electronic, but it spans the genres a bit, from sombre ambient pieces through to more upbeat electronic, chiptune, and industrial tracks. None of it is perfect, but given the time constraints I’m pretty happy with the overall result; I’ll post a more detailed post-mortem later on. For now, feel free to stream, download, and enjoy!

the salamander drumkit is out!

This is just a quick post to mention that the Salamander Drumkit is now available! As you might expect from the author of the Salamander Grand Piano, the Salamander Drumkit is a sampled acoustic drumkit that’s distributed in SFZ format under a Creative Commons licence. There are a lot of individual samples in there, but instead of using a lot of velocity layers, it instead has many “round-robin” samples — samples of the same drum hit in the same fashion which are used for successive hits.

Having so many round-robin samples adds a tonne of realism, especially for rolls, because you can trigger the same drum multiple times in quick succession without ever hearing the same sample twice. I think it also helps make this a really fun kit to play, too — even with just my MIDI keyboard to play it with, it feels lively and dynamic in a way that sampled kits often don’t.

Being in SFZ format means that you’ll need LinuxSampler from SVN to get it running. If you haven’t used LinuxSampler before, this guide should get you started.

rpm 2012 update: day 26

I’m on the home stretch now! I just completed track 7, and track 8 shouldn’t be far behind — with any luck, I’ll get that done tonight. Track 7 is a pounding industrial track with heavily distorted synths; I’m not entirely happy with it, but it has its moments, and it was definitely fun to try something different.

Track 8 should be a bit more of a success — it’s a bit more like one of my older tracks, with looping bass and pad patterns and 909 drums. It’s hardly going to set the world alight, but once I get a lead part in there and finalise the arrangement it should be a nice enough little track.

If I get that finished tonight, I”ll have two tracks left to complete (both of which I’ve started) and three days to complete them, which is a great position to be in. I’ve left these until last because they’ve caused me some trouble — one of them is a solo piano piece that I’m not sure how to expand past about one minute, for instance — but I’ll just have to get stuck in to them and hope for the best.

Come February 29th I’ll have to burn these tracks to CD, and instead of just using Brasero to burn my exported tracks to disc, I’ve decided to master the CD in Ardour. Within Ardour, you can import your finished tracks in to a new session, arrange them in order, add CD track markers, and then export the entire project as a single CD-length WAV with accompanying TOC/CUE files, which you can then pass along to cdrdao.

The main advantage of working this way is that you can run tracks together with no gaps between them, just like on a “real” CD, but it also gives you a chance to adjust relative volumes and the length of any pauses between tracks, which helps a lot to make the CD flow as a whole.

rpm 2012 update: day 19

Just a brief update this time — my rate of progress has slowed a bit this week, so I’ve just finished one extra track. The new track is pure chiptuney goodness; I used TAL-NoiseMaker and Calf Monosynth to make suitably retro synth sounds, and some genuine vintage sampled drums. Melodies are something I tend to struggle a bit with, so writing chiptunes, where you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) play more than two or three notes at once, is great practice.

I’ve also spent some time on cover art this week. With 10 days to go and 5 tracks left to finish, it’s going to be a rush to get things done, but I’m still confident that I’ll finish, and when I do, I want the finished product to look great, too. To submit the album to RPM I’ll have to burn it to CD and post it in, and if I’m going to burn it to CD, I want to do it properly, with proper jewel case cover art and some brief liner notes. The cover work is all done, so now I just need to finish the music!

an electro remix of “move along”

AutoStatic has been busy working away on an electro remix of my track “move along”, and he’s now posted the results. “move along” is by far my most acoustic track, with piano, bass, drums, and vocals (the instruments were all actually softsynths, but it certainly sounds fairly acoustic), so it’s very cool to hear it so completely altered in to a danceable electro track, with a tonne of vocal processing work and all manner of synth sounds.

It’s obviously very cool to hear what’s been done with my original track, but I think it’s even cooler just to see this sort of track being made under Linux, and with all software instruments, no less. Check it out!

rpm 2012 update: day 12

Just a quick update on my progress: I’m up to four completed tracks, though I currently only have a couple of ideas ready to expand upon. After finishing the track that I had in-progress on day 5, I started on an old-school ambient techno track, which I wrapped up yesterday, and today I recorded another ambient experimental track, using Argotlunar and TAL-NoiseMaker.

The ambient techno track was good fun. It started with loops in seq24, but with seq24 having poor support for JACK transport, I moved the work in to Ardour. As it turned out, that was pretty easy — seq24 saves its sessions in standard MIDI format, and when I imported the seq24 file in to Ardour, it imported each loop as a separate region on a new track, so I just had to do a bunch of copying and pasting to get the basic structure in place.

17 days and 6 tracks to go! I’ve been posting tracks to Soundcloud as I go; you can check them out here. I’ve been uploading them to Bandcamp too, of course, but hidden — if all goes well I’ll have a finished RPM album there, ready to reveal, on March 1st.

rpm 2012 update: day 5

It’s the end of day 5 of the RPM Challenge, and I think I’m making good progress! I may have to pick up the pace a little to finish by the deadline, but I’m still fairly confident that I’ll manage it. The strategy that’s been working for me is to brainstorm and come up with demo ideas of a weeknight after work, and then flesh out those ideas on the weekend when I have more time to work with.

So far, I have one finished track (an ambient experimental piece), one half-finished track (a lo-fi downtempo track a la Texel), and two short demos (a chiptune and a solo piano piece). I’ll try to finish the track I have in progress tomorrow, so with any luck by this time next week I’ll have three or four finished tracks, and four or five demos ready to be expanded upon.

Some random things I’ve learned so far:

  • Plugin soft-synths are super, super handy when you’re in a hurry — just drop them in a MIDI track, load up a preset, and you’re good to go, without worrying about routing signals or configuring external software or hardware.
  • Speaking of soft-synths, the TAL-NoiseMaker native VST synth is my new go-to synth. It’s a standard analog-style synth, but it sounds great and has a straightforward UI and a solid feature set.
  • Ardour 3 is still a bit crashy while working with MIDI, but it’s made some nice improvements recently, like being able to double-click to enter or leave note edit mode, and the addition of a drop-down list of synth plugins in the “new track” dialog, so you can start composing more quickly. I could switch back to Qtractor, but even with the crashes I think I’m more productive in Ardour, just because I’m more familiar with it.
  • Sound design is fun! It’s hard not to have a good time when I fire up the Blofeld and start twiddling knobs. I should do it more often!
  • In fact, I should do this whole music thing more often. I might not come up with something interesting every time I sit in front of the keyboard, but definitely won’t come up with anything if I don’t try.