rpm 2012 post-mortem: release

I think I’ve post-mortem-ed my RPM album to death, but I did want to talk a little about the final release. The official release is, of course, on my Bandcamp page, alongside my compilation album of older tracks, sketchbook: vol 1. At first, I had the album available only as a free download, but after receiving a bunch of positive feedback, and discussing it with some of my fellow open-source musicians, I decided to make it a pay-what-you-want download, with a $0 minimum.

The sales figures so far have been a very pleasant surprise. To be honest, any sales at all would’ve been a pleasant surprise — I’m just happy when people bother to download my work at all — so I was very glad to make enough cash to buy a nice plugin or two (right now I thinking about Loomer Aspect).

Physical release?

Out of interest, I also looked in to what it’d cost to produce physical copies to sell. CDs aren’t too expensive to get made — CD duplicators just burn CD-Rs, so it’s cost-effective to make even very small quantities, like 20-50 discs. Even so, I don’t think I’d be able to sell even a small run of CDs; I really like my CD design, but I don’t think a CD is special enough to really warrant the cost increase over a digital download.

If anyone does desperately want a CD copy, let me know! I’d be happy to make a few more by hand, even if the disc is still just a plain CD-R with the name scrawled on it.

Vinyl would be far more awesome, but it’s also far more expensive because of its up-front costs; the absolute smallest practical run size is 100 discs, at about US$1200-1500 total, which is far more than I can sell. If my next album turns out really well, though, I’ll think seriously about making vinyl copies, even if I have to pre-sell most of them before getting them pressed.

Next steps

My RPM album was meant to be a source of rough new material that I could then sort through and rework in to a few proper tracks, but now I’m not so sure about doing that. These tracks aren’t as rough as I expected, and putting them together in to an album has given them a real sense of finality, so I think I’d prefer to move on to something entirely new.

I have some ideas, but whatever comes next, I plan to approach it in a more RPM-like fashion, sketching out a bunch of tracks and then deciding what works and what doesn’t. My earlier tracks were all written, recorded, and mixed from start to finish in isolation, one-at-a-time, and I think that shows.

sketchbook: sooperlooping the rhodes

I’m starting the new year the right way this year — with a sketch! It’s just a rough, simple, improvised jam, captured using SooperLooper, but I love the mood that the sound of the Rhodes imparts, especially as more note sustain over the top of each other and intermingle. I put the Rhodes sound through a rotary speaker emulation (Calf’s, in this case), and the melody part went my VM1 delay pedal, but it’s otherwise free of processing. It doesn’t really need much, anyway — those high notes sustaining that are left at the end are just magic.

SooperLooper is great for capturing new track ideas, especially for the kind of music I make, which is often driven by repeating patterns. In the past I’ve started with a drum beat and recorded loops on top of that, but this time I went freestyle. The nanoKONTROL is great for controlling it — I was able to add a bunch of empty loops, and map a separate fader and record button to each of them, making it easy to both record your loops and control their playback afterward. Once I had some appropriate loops I just played them all at the same time, using the faders to control their relative volumes while recording the output straight in to JACK Timemachine.

I don’t know if this sketch will go any further than this, but with some glitchy drums, some additional synth parts, and a bit more complexity (like, more than two chords), I think it could work as a track.


mp3 | vorbis | 2:51

sketchbook: rd3 groovebox for android

Audio apps for Android are still coming of age, fighting a bit of an uphill battle against the platform’s current latency limitations, but there are already a few neat options, ranging from fun toys to genuinely useful tools. Somewhere between those two extremes sits RD3 Groovebox, which combines a 303-style synth and sequencer with an 808/909-style drum machine.

The drum machine certainly isn’t as full-featured as Electrum, with a fixed 16-step layout and just a few sets of built-in sounds, and the 303 is similarly simple, with just the classic options you’d expect (three-octave range, no real velocity, etc.). It all works really well, though, and it’s great fun to play around with, especially once you get your fingers on the 303’s real-time controls. That unavoidable Android latency is there, but because everything’s sequenced, it never seems to get in the way.

You can write four patterns for both the 303 and drum machine, which is just enough to scrape out a basic song; here, then, is such a song! There’s nothing here you haven’t heard before — just some simple 303 lines and 909 drums — but it was still fun to make. RD3 has no export facility (you can save your songs, but only in its own format), so i had to use my laptop’s line-in to record it.

RD3 is 3.49€, which is perhaps a little steep for what’s there, but it’s definitely a lot of fun, and with a few additions, such as audio export, more patterns, and some effects, it could be a cracking little app. Check it out!


mp3 | vorbis | 2:46

sketchbook: a sooperlooper jam

SooperLooper is proving to be a lot of fun! Last weekend I fired it up and did some impromptu jamming, following this basic formula:

  • Slap together a basic four-bar drum pattern in Hydrogen
  • Export that pattern as a loop and import it in to SooperLooper as loop 1
  • Play a bunch of random crap over the top, and if it sounds okay, grab a loop of it
  • Lather, rinse, repeat

I saved those sessions, and had a quick stab at turning one of them in to a proper track, which I call “sl3”, by importing the loops in to Ardour and moving/coping them in to an arrangement. I also threw in some effects for good measure: EQ, a couple of delays (can’t help myself with those!), and an insert out to Rakarrack to add some guts to my fairly limp bass loop. I’m sure I could make it more interesting by re-recording a few parts — replacing the drum loop with a properly programmed part with a bit of variety, for instance — but hey, for an hour-and-a-half’s work, I think it sounds okay!


mp3 | vorbis | 2:27

sketchbook: phasex shenaningans

This one comes right from the Where The Hell Were You Last Month department — playing around with PHASEX, one of the more feature-packed and better-sounding softsynths for Linux. PHASEX’s interface is a little confusing at first because it has some interesting and unique features, but at its core it’s essentially an analog modeling synth.

One very cool feature that I only just discovered, though, is the support for audio input. Lots of hardware synths have audio inputs, which you can use to run external audio through the synth’s filters and effects, and that’s exactly what the inputs in PHASEX do, too. There’s even an envelope follower, so it can trigger its filter envelope based on the level of the incoming signal. It’s exactly the kind of thing that might have been brilliantly handy when I was making that sample-based Tunestorm piece!

This, then, is a cello sound from Qsynth running through PHASEX — I’ve used the filters with a bit of resonance added (shifting the cutoff on the fly with the mod wheel), and a square wave for amplitude modulation to gate the sound.


mp3 | vorbis | 60 seconds

sketchbook: enjoy the silence

Here’s one for the Depeche Mode fans — a cover of Enjoy the Silence, which is fairly faithful to the original. Since buying my fancy-pants mic last year I hadn’t actually sung anything (even though I have done a crapload of podcast recording), so this is me correcting that, and also having some fun with synths and sequencing. I did a lot of this on the laptop, so there are more Linux soft synths in there, but I still pulled out the Blofeld for the bass and the “beeeeow” sound in the chorus. Let me know what you think of the results!

mp3 | vorbis | 4:10

sketchbook: supercollider? i just met her!

It took some doing, but I got SuperCollider running a sequenced filter cutoff pattern effect. It actually does a little more than just changing the filter cutoff — it also gates the incoming sound, to get more of a synth arpeggio effect. Here’s a sample, running a cello sound (a soundfont played by Qsynth), with a stereo delay added for good measure:


mp3 | vorbis | 44 seconds

You can check out the code after the jump: Continue reading

sketchbook: ambient exploration

After that Tunestorm bit I’ve been keen to try something different and experiment more with ambient sounds, and this sketch is definitely ambient! There’s no rhythm or melody — just a simple held chord, evolving over time. You won’t walk away humming it, but if you’re after something relaxing, it might fit the bill.

It’s essentially a seven-minute filter sweep, but there’s a tonne of little variations bubbling away inside that sound, so I gave it the time I thought it needed to explore the how the sound changes with every step of that filter. I had it running through my VM1 analogue delay pedal, too, so I turned some knobs on that for good measure as well.


mp3 | vorbis | 7:25

sketchbook: stylophone!

I had a surprise knock on the door just before I left for work this morning — the delivery of a mystery package. The excitement only grew when I ripped open the satchel to reveal a surprise Xmas present: my very own Stylophone! They went back in to production a few years ago, but apart from a few minor additions it’s virtually identical to the classic units of the 60s: it works identically to the old models, and it definitely sounds just as cheesy-good.

In honour of my new toy, here’s a brief bit of Stylophone-infused doof-doof. I couldn’t help but put a filter sweep on the bass line, but apart from that, and copious echoes, the Stylophone sound is untouched. Enjoy! Let me know if you can’t play it, too — I’ve changed the streaming setup a little for this one.


mp3 | vorbis | 52 seconds

sketchbook: not-quite-guitar

I’ve never learned to play guitar, but I wondered the other day if I could synthesise something similar to the sound of a distorted electric guitar, and I don’t think this sketch is too far off. The raw sound is from the Blofeld, and is very vaguely guitarish, but running it through a guitar amp/cabinet sim on the PC adds that distorted character to it.


20090920: 34 seconds