rpm 2012 post-mortem, track 6: direct ascent

Direct ascent was a proposed method for a mission to the Moon. In the United States, direct ascent proposed using the enormous Nova rocket to launch a spacecraft directly to the Moon, where it would land tail-first and then launch off the Moon back to Earth.”

After a few downtempo tracks, I felt like the album needed perking up around the half-way mark, so I chose this upbeat chiptune as track 6. This was the second track I started on, back on day 2, though I ended up scrapping much of that sketch and using the chord progression from its intro instead. I also kept the bass rhythm and the drum part, though I later embellished both of these a bit.

I started expanding it on day 15 by writing the intro melody, and then used a variation on that as the starting point for the main melody. I also reused the intro bass line as a second melody line in the start of the second loop through verse. There are four lead sounds that move between different roles; one lead sound for each verse, a separate lead part that’s used for the chorus, and an arpeggio part that also acts as a lead in the section just before the first verse.

As with hohmann, the percussion sounds are from the Dirty Dose sample set and LinuxSampler, while the synth sounds are made by TAL NoiseMaker, with the exception of the arpeggio part, which is Calf Monosynth. I did bend the rules a bit, though — the bass is more of a typical electro bass, with a nice punchy envelope on the filter cutoff, and one of the leads uses two oscillators and a delay plugin (Calf Vintage Delay) to add some more variety.

This is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Breaking the rules didn’t diminish the chiptuney feel at all, and with a few different sounds to play with, I was able to jump between them to keep things interesting. About the only thing I wasn’t entirely happy with was the start of the chorus — the chorus lead part has always seemed a little startling. With more time, a better mix may have fixed that, but some musical rearrangement to give the chorus a better lead-in would probably work better.

rpm 2012 post-mortem, track 2: hohmann

“In orbital mechanics, the Hohmann transfer orbit is an elliptical orbit used to transfer between two circular orbits of different altitudes, in the same plane.”

This was one of the quickest recordings on the album — I recorded it all in one night, on day 21, when I was starting to worry that I wasn’t making enough progress to finish on time. The inspiration was actually a modern game — I’d been meaning to make a track based on a Mass Effect-style “spacey” arpeggio for a while — though the actual sound was inspired more by the Metroid title theme.

The arrangement came together very quickly. I started with the bass sound, then added the arpeggio, and then worked on the melody, all using TAL NoiseMaker. There are a few rules you need to follow to create genuinely chiptune-like tracks, and while I bent some of these rules on the album’s other chiptune track, direct ascent, I stuck with them all here:

  • Don’t play more than three notes at once
  • Use only very simple synth sounds: use only one oscillator, and leave the filter wide open
  • Don’t play more than one percussion sound at once
  • Don’t use effects, such as delays (can I really record a track without at least one delay?)

Those self-imposed limitations on synthesis features forced me to use other features to make each sound unique and interesting, so I played more with envelopes and vibrato. I also used a lot of slides in the lead, both using legato in the synth patch and using the pitch bender, to add expressiveness to something that might’ve sounded quite static otherwise.

The percussion sounds are from the Dirty Dose sound set, loaded using LinuxSampler. To create the echoing effect without using a delay plugin, I used an old tracker-style method of simply repeating the note at lower and lower volumes.

While I’m happy with the overall sound of this track, and how chiptuney it sounds in particular, I think it’s one of the weakest tracks on the album; it just drags on for too long, and the lead actually starts to get a bit annoying. In hindsight, cutting off those long held notes in the lead part, and replacing them with some faked echoes, might have worked better. It was a great learning experience, though, and I certainly plan to make more chiptune tracks in future.

sketchbook: nanoloop for android

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged much — the last few months have been quite a busy time for me, as I’ve been transitioning jobs. Things are returning to normal now, though, as I settle in to my new full-time role at a sysadmin/developer at Bandcamp, which is a totally awesome job with totally awesome people. That’s all beside the point, though, because I’m really here to talk about nanoloop, a great little sequencer that’s just been released for Android.
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