rpm 2012 post-mortem, track 1: periapsis

peri·apsis, noun: the apsis nearest the center of attraction : the low point in an orbit

The aim with this track was to make an ambient techno track, along the lines of Aphex Twin’s work on one of my favourite albums, Selected Ambient Works 85-92. I started this on day 8, and worked straight through on it, finishing on day 11. The pad sound on the Blofeld came first, and once I decided on the chord progression to use, I sequenced it in seq24 and added simple drum patterns, using a 909 kit in Hydrogen (but sequenced from seq24 instead of Hydrogen’s pattern editor).

seq24 was a good sketch tool, but I didn’t want to use it for the final track, so I imported the seq24 MIDI file in to Ardour 3, and to my delight it split it in to its separate patterns, adding a new track for each. I added a bass part, using TAL NoiseMaker, and started arranging things; eventually I added a lead part, too, also using TAL NoiseMaker, and added some cutoff automation on each part to add some variety.

Importing patterns from seq24 in to Ardour 3 works surprisingly well

Importing patterns from seq24 in to Ardour 3

I’d already added TAP TubeWarmth on the bass and lead parts to add some mild distortion, but the overall track still didn’t have quite the lo-fi sound I was after, so I added a TAP TubeWarmth plugin to the master track, too, along with a TAP Vibrato plugin, with quite conservative settings (a rate of about 0.8Hz, and a depth of about 0.7%), to give just a bit of the effect of a warbling tape recording. Another characteristic of tape is its limited high-frequency response; the synths already made good use of their low-pass filters, but the drums benefited from a gentle high EQ cut.

I love the sound of this track; the plugins on the master bus do give it that retro vibe, and while the 909 kit was originally meant as a placeholder, it actually suits that retro vibe quite well. I do think it’s a little bit too repetitive, though — given the time constraints, I stretched it a bit longer and put in less drum variation than I should have.

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.

linux music tutorial: seq24, part 2

In the first part of my seq24 tutorial series, I looked at creating patterns in the pattern editor, and then triggering those patterns in real-time from the QWERTY keyboard. In part 2, I go in to more detail on both features. This video covers:

  • Advanced pattern triggering techniques: queuing and snapshots
  • Basic note editing: copying/pasting notes and changing velocities
  • MIDI CC automation
  • Background patterns
  • MIDI note entry (step-sequencing) and MIDI recording

It’s a little longer than I’d have liked, but there’s a lot in there! If you’d prefer smaller, shorter tutorials in future, feel free to leave a comment and let me know.

For downloaders, there’s also a 720p WebM version available (107MB).

linux music tutorial: seq24, part 1

I promised I’d make an introductory tutorial to seq24, and now, I’ve delivered! If you’ve tried seq24 in the past and been confused by it, hopefully this will clear up some of the mysteries; if you’ve never tried it, this might just encourage you to give it a go!

There’s an unspoken “step zero” here — get yourself a working copy of seq24. I’m not sure about other distributions, but on Ubuntu, especially 64-bit, the packaged version seems very unstable. The best thing to do is to grab the 0.9.1 version from the seq24 Launchpad and install that — this new release includes a bunch of bug-fixes, and a few new features, too.

The original plan was for a straight screencast, like my earlier synth tutorials, but I was so impressed by Kdenlive that I decided to have a bit of fun with it — hopefully the fun I had comes through in the finished product.

For downloaders, there’s also a 720p WebM version available.

a demo of live sequencing with seq24

Despite a whole bunch of idiosyncrasies, I love seq24, and even though I tend to think of Qtractor as my MIDI sequencer of choice under Linux, it’s actually seq24 that I’ve used the most in producing my tracks. I’m planning on making some video tutorials for it, since it’s such a strange beast to deal with at first, but before doing that, I want to demonstrate the kind of things you can do with it.

Here, then, is a “performance” of my track tiny droplets — the various MIDI loops used are all pre-sequenced, but I’m triggering them all in realtime using my QWERTY keyboard. In this case, seq24 is driving Hydrogen and my Blofeld, and I’m using Ardour as a live mixer to process and mix the audio from those synths in to a stereo stream.

UPDATE: If you’d prefer to download the video rather than streaming it on YouTube, I’ve uploaded a WebM version of it. WebM is still quite new, but current versions of VLC and MPlayer support it.

On a brief side note, I have to give a shout-out to my good friend AutoStatic for describing his new video capture process using Xephyr and FFmpeg — I used it here, and the results look great. The audio was captured with JACK TimeMachine, and in another first for me, I edited it all together using the brilliant Kdenlive.

new track: phase transition

It’s been about six weeks since I posted my little SooperLooper jam, and here it is in its final form, or at least what became of it. This was a difficult one to pull together — I initially just polished my sketch version of it, but that didn’t give me the results I was after, so I ended up ditching that effort and re-arranging it from scratch, finally getting an inspiration for the central progression and ending last week. Once I had that idea, it didn’t take long on the weekend to flesh it out.

This is another Seq24/Hydrogen/Ardour recording, with Blofeld synths, though I also created my own drum sounds (mostly on the Blofeld again) for this one. I also used PHASEX as the synth for the lead arpeggio — it’s a simple patch, but I really liked how it sounded, so it stayed in the final version.

EDIT: Turns out that the download links were broken! I’ve fixed them now, so if you had trouble downloading, please try again now.

mp3 | ogg | flac | 5 minutes 4 seconds

new track: tiny droplets

Two tracks in as many months? Madness! This is another ambient track, but without the drone — it has more of an early Aphex Twin vibe, but with some glitchy drums. I sequenced this in seq24, a pattern-based sequencer designed for live use, and in fact this was originally a “live” take, which I’ve edited and added to. Apart from that, it’s the usual suspects — Blofeld on the synth sounds and some drums, Hydrogen on the rest of the drums, recorded/mixed in Ardour.

mp3 / vorbis / flac: 4 minutes 26 seconds