rpm 2012 post-mortem, track 3: free return

“A free return trajectory is one of a very small sub-class of trajectories in which the trajectory of a satellite traveling away from a primary body (for example, the Earth) is modified by the presence of a secondary body (for example, the Moon) causing the satellite to return to the primary body.”

This is perhaps my favourite track on the album, partly because it’s the closest to the direction I want to head in, with chilled-out but downbeat vibe. It was also the first track I worked on, on day 1. It started as a live SooperLooper jam, using a Rhodes sound to play some chords and melodies over some Blofeld drums.

On day 5 I picked up that jam and imported it in to Ardour, though I ended up replacing those recorded loops with MIDI versions almost immediately. I kept the chord progression from the initial jam, but replaced the Rhodes with a pad sound from the Blofeld that uses an LFO synced to the MIDI clock to pulsate up and down in time with the music (in theory, at least). The Rhodes is still there, though, but just for the lead part, using the MDA ePiano plugin.

By day 6 the arrangement was mostly in place, and I added the bass and the synth lead parts, both using TAL NoiseMaker, and several extra drum parts, using the Blofeld. I also used my Behringer VM1 delay pedal on the Rhodes sound, to give it some lo-fi feel. The “snare” in the chorus is from TAL NoiseMaker, too; I was never entirely happy with that sound, but it was the best I could do at the time. I posted it to Soundcloud on day 6, but I ended up tweaking it a bit more after that on day 7.

Even though I really liked this track, I could make a list of all of the things that are wrong with it. In fact, let’s do that:

  • The lead sound is a bit too clean and proggy, and its levels are a bit up-and-down
  • The rise and fall of the pad sound doesn’t always fall in line with the beat
  • The kick drum all-but-disappears sometimes, due to a cancellation problem in the patch that I’m yet to sort out
  • While I initially liked the sound of MDA ePiano, I found myself liking it a lot less by the end of the recording process — some of its limitations had started to shine through
  • That “snare” sound in the chorus needs a rethink, or at least a lot of work

With some work, though, I think this could be a really good track — the basics are definitely there, and none of the above is unfix-able by any means.

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

fingerplay: a midi controller for android

I’ve been slack in updating ye olde blog, but I have an excuse — I got a new phone! It’s a HTC Desire, running Android of course, and I’ve been having great fun trying different apps and discovering what I can do with it. I started a lengthy post covering my thoughts on both the Desire and Android, but in lieu of finishing that, I present you instead with an introduction to FingerPlay MIDI, a very cool MIDI controller app for Android.

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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

live brainstorming with sooperlooper

One thing that’s always a challenge as a solo music-maker is being able to just goof around and try new ideas quickly. With just one keyboard and a single pair of hands, I can’t play a bunch of parts at the same time like the members of a band could. I’ve wondered if software could come to my rescue, and indeed I have used seq24 quite a bit now, but it’s really designed more for live arrangement of pre-written patterns rather than true live improvisation and performance. I think I’ve found a solution now, but I took quite a round-about path to find it.

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