journey through the past – mid-teen years – a strange diversion

journey through the past – mid-teen years  it was also during this time, around age 16, that I got involved with christian bands (quite unlikely in itself for someone heavily into led zeppelin, jimi hendrix, cream, and zz top) – but, nevertheless, I was in two of them that I can remember, one, an early one formed again by mike lewis, and then the second one, “soul benefit” when I was probably 16 going on 17 – and both of these did gig quite a bit, playing covers of larry norman, as well as several original christian songs penned by none other than the redoubtable and very flexible mike lewis. I was sort of like the token hippie in the band, the one guy who had long hair, and would still rather play “smoke on the water” than play lead guitar for his pal mike – but I did it because it was work, it was audiences, it was recognition – and occasionally, maybe, it was a tiny bit of money, too – what a concept, gigs that paid. but it was known to happen.

this phase of christian rock lasted for less than two years, off and on, and, again, two good bands with good players, particularly soul benefit, because when I started I was 16 and the bass player and drummer were “older” – 17 or 18 – so it was good to get the experience of playing with a more mature, and better than many, rhythm section. oddly enough again, I did run into the bass player from this band just a few years ago – not long before I moved from california to scotland – mitch chavira, who I learned had ended up owning a carpet company – we had a couple of good chats about these days. but, thinking back now to those formative times – I really had a great musical education, and the secular bands I was in listened to and played the music of the recent past and of the present – beatles, cream, hendrix as well as the music of the moment, zz top, van morrison, neil young (we couldn’t play zappa, it was far too complicated, and you could not learn it by ear easily) – I remember teaching jim how to play the riff from black sabbath’s “paranoid”, we played allman brothers, anything that we fancied – always music with a lot of lead guitars :-).

it was pretty amazing living in a house full of guitarists, guitars, guitar amps, and records – that was pretty much all we had! at age 16, I started spending a lot more time over at my pal ted’s house, and I really think that despite a great grounding and a lot of early experience in bands and learning songs and riffs and techniques from age 13 to 15, it was really during the years 16 – 20 (so, 1974 to 1978) that it all really started to come together. ted and I loved to play music, and we were best friends, so generally, every evening, we would work in his studio – which was a giant bedroom in his parent’s house, downstairs – and the funny thing about it was, the entrance was the window – I can remember carrying guitars and amps and effects in and out of that window continuously, for years – otherwise, you would have had to go upstairs, through the whole house, back downstairs, through the garage to get to the room – so it was just easier to use the window!

and it was a great place to play: a big, big room, and ted, as well as being a pianist, was also into pa systems, and building speaker cabinets, and he had weird and wonderful technology like “power amps” and exotic things like that, so we always had the best speakers and amplification and mixing boards to play through – all mostly unknown luxuries to me at that age.  later, we would stage elaborate  jam sessions at night (some of which, I still have on tape) with either one or two drummers, so we really had a great time in “ted’s studio”. the jamming group was called “trd” (for ted, rick and dave) or occasionally, “trdj” (for ted, rick, dave and jennings) when we had the second drummer. we would just jam, and tape the whole thing, and hope to get good bits.

we would spend hours just setting the studio up, ted was absolutely meticulous about sound and sound quality for our recordings of improvs, so we would carefully set up and mike up both drum sets. on some occasions, I played my guitar through my reel to reel deck so I could use it’s delay – I couldn’t afford effects pedals, so I used my tape deck as a primitive analog delay – that was fantastic! ted by this time had expanded his keyboard ability to take in both hammond organ and a primitive string synthesizer, the arp omni – and he was good. at the same time, music itself was changing radically – progressive rock had arrived – and ted and I shared a love of bands like genesis, elp and so on.

earlier on, when we were younger, we had recorded things like “no reply” by the beatles, or “questions 67 and 68” by chicago – but now, we were playing something that sounded more like prog, with extended organ and guitar solos atop our crazy dual drum section. I can remember learning and playing fragments of strange selections like the intro to “lilywhite lilith” by genesis – although we couldn’t quite manage the actual song! this was a time too, when I was learning a lot from ted, about the piano. he would learn things like the amazing arpeggio that powers the elp classic “take a pebble” – and I would get him to teach it to me. now that is something that I could admire, but not learn – while ted had the chops – he’d had lessons where I really didn’t – and he had an ear as well, so he could learn and figure out quite complex piano parts that I could not…so when he did, I would then get him to teach me how it went. there are still songs and bits that I play today, that ted taught me – that I could never have figured out using my ear.

pieces like “anyway” by genesis (again, from “the lamb lies down on broadway”, which was just out in 1974) or parts of “the lamia” – we both really loved “the lamb”, or the aforementioned elp part – anything he learned, I would ask him to teach me – which he patiently and very kindly  – did. so my ability to play the piano absolutely leapfrogged ahead of my ability on guitar for a while, because I was learning from one of the best – ted holding. and ted could sing – a remarkable talent, and he invariably ended up being the lead singer of any band he had anything to do with – he had the voice. but his ability as a keyboardist was often overlooked because the attention would be on the singing – which was great, but I saw him as an incredibly talented pianist, and I wanted to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could. what this meant was, that by the time I was say 18, I could play pieces on the keyboard that most people would only dream of being able to play – which was cheating, because ted had done the hard work of figuring out those difficult pieces – and then I just copied them from him. but that helped me so, so much, and from that point on, I actually was a force to be reckoned with on the piano – because with my ear, I could also improvise, adapt, alter and improve any piece I learned.

I later put this to good use in 1978 when I was in the band “slipstream” as lead guitarist and keyboardist – I could quickly learn pieces on the piano, so I learned steely dan’s “barrytown” and we played that – but at the same time, since I could improvise, I could play the keyboard with equal alacrity on “superstition” or “in memory of elizabeth reed” – a song where I had the double duty of playing the organ part and the lead guitar part, and both the organ solo and the lead solo – no mean feat for a 20 year old self taught guitarist/pianist. i could and probably will write a lot more about those formative years, particularly the years at ted’s place, where I learned so, so much, both on piano but also as a guitarist, and where also, we had a blast playing music all the time, day and night. I can remember too, ted’s dad, who sat upstairs with the tv blasting every night (because we were so loud, and directly below his feet!) who would shout down in his unique voice…”ted…telephone!”. preceeded of course, by stamping on the floor to get our attention below 🙂

ted’s parents were separated at some point during all this, but they were both wonderful and wonderfully patient with all the racket coming from that downstairs room. but I suppose it was good for them, because if we were down there playing or recording, well, then we weren’t out getting in trouble! so it was all good. we did go out, but not for trouble – one of ted and my favourite things to do was to go to julio’s, a mexican restaurant in san diego that stayed open late, we would play for three or four hours, listen back to the tapes, and then at about midnight say “julio’s”? and we’d be away – which is where I learned to love chilli rellenos and we would drink and eat far too much good food, and stay at julio’s until 2 am – talking about music, what else? – and then eventually make our way home…

what we’re listening to

frank zappa, who I started listening to when I was 15, so that would have put it around early 1974, is absolutely in my top five guitarists of all time (not that I could say who those are at any given moment…). the first album I ever heard by frank was “apostrophe” which blew me away then and it blows me away now – the guitar work alone is astonishing, and yes, OK, this is maybe not the best version of the mothers (the late 60s / early 70s versions of the band were probably better than the apostrophe band, but to me, the music was no less remarkable) but when it’s your first album by an artist, it occupies a special place in your heart.

only it wasn’t actually on an album – it was actually an 8 track tape belonging to one of the guys in the guitar house…and I always found it really frustrating to listen to “st. alphonso’s pancake breakfast” because right at the most exciting moment of the solo, when the synth and the marimba are playing at lightning speed in unison…the eight track’s volume faded down to zero briefly while it “turned over” so you missed the best part of the solo!  it wasn’t until many, many years later, when I finally bought the album on CD for the first time, that I heard that solo properly, although I half-expected the volume to go down at that point.

apostrophe absolutely does have a huge place in my heart, from the beautiful melodies and piano of uncle remus, to the rocking jack bruce fuzz bass and zappa guitar on the title track to the aforementioned remarkable synth-and-marimba “schizoid man style” precision solo during “st. alphonso’s pancake breakfast” there is not a dull moment on this record, and for me, zappa was the odd man out of guitarists, there was no one like him, and maybe never, ever will be again – with one possible exception: his son dweezil, who has become a force to be reckoned with playing his father’s music in his own band, “zappa plays zappa”.

the old saying “like father, like son” was never more appropriate, and watching and listening to dweezil grow as a player has been an amazing experience – frank would be so, so proud.

frank was utterly unique, and had a playing style that developed at an absolutely mind-boggling pace, even as a very young man, he already had very respectable chops, but as you listen to his lead guitar style through the mid-sixties, it is almost as if he had been given some kind of mysterious guitar/dna growth hormone – until by the late 60s, he was rivalled, in america at least, only by jimi hendrix.  in britain and europe, there was some strong competition, mostly from people like robert fripp or steve howe, but in america – zappa reigned supreme.

then probably the most amazing few years of his development occurred, from 1970 – 1974, for my money, in 1974, all there really was in the world of truly intelligent, truly remarkable young lead guitarists was zappa and fripp – since jimi was by that time gone.  zappa was innovating on top of the innovations of those who went before him, those amazing guitar tones, the use of the pignose amps on apostrophe…and his amazing ability as a composer and arranger and bandleader – he was unsurpassed.  and then…there was the way he played lead guitar.

sure, we still had todd rundgren, and steve howe, and steve hackett emerged as a contender in the world of prog rock, and steve morse, the third steve, and so many other brilliant guitarists in the early 70s…but when frank started playing the guitar, you stopped what you were doing, and you listened.

and frank shone equally well in the studio and in live performance, one particular favourite show of mine is the live swedish television broadcast from august 21, 1973, where the band is astonishing…but frank is even better – you can catch most of this performance on youtube – and I could watch it over and over again, even just to listen to zappa and violinist jean-luc ponty trading solos – sublime!

words aren’t really the right thing to use to describe the guitar prowess of frank zappa, the only way you can really experience is to listen to the albums, watch the videos – and try to learn something in the process.  listen, and prepare to realise that you know nothing about the guitar – nothing.

we’ll absolutely delve further into the music of frank zappa and talk a lot more about his guitar playing in future editions of “what we’re listening to” – but if you haven’t listened to frank properly – do yourself a favour and try a few albums for yourself – you may be surprised.

kaossilator news

besides the two “informal” video  improv sessions I spoke of in a previous post, the main work of this past weekend was uploading the two latest kaossilator videos, “back to basics” and “coal train raga” – both now available on the kaossilatorHD channel on youtube for your viewing and listening pleasure.

I believe that bring the total of videos uploaded so far from the December 27, 2011 session to eight, and I am also fairly certain that there are four more to produce and upload from the session – which will mean in the end, twelve full length videos from one session!  that might be a record – well, of course, you don’t always publish every take that was recorded, if that were the case, there would be about 30 videos from that one session – so I think twelve is good, and those 12 videos give a very, very good representation of what the kaossilator is capable of.

if we are able to keep to the schedule and deliver two videos a week – which we have managed so far – that means in two weeks’ time, there won’t be any more videos to make, so I shall have to try and find a few hours to go in and record some more new improvs with “pinkie”.

by the way, while I am thinking of it, and while we are on the topic of the kaossilator…I want to thank all the folk who have left such amazing, positive comments on the kaossilatorHD video channel and on the videos themselves – some, from well-respected synthesists in the uk – I really appreciate the kind words, given that I am a guitarist, receiving acknowledgement and positive praise from synthesizer experts is both a humbling and somewhat surreal experience.

I am very, very fortunate though, having played the piano “in the background” as it were, to the main work of the guitar, since I was very, very young, I have the experience on both acoustic piano and later, hammond organ and various hardware synthesizers such as the yamaha dx7s – I think that long experience, coupled with a shorter but no less intense experience of looping, (when I say “shorter”, I mean something like 25 + years’ experience looping, as opposed to 45 + years’ experience of playing the keyboard), puts me into the ideal place to make kaossilator loops – because I “get” synthesis, and I (especially) “get” looping – so it just feels very natural to use the kaossilator – as if I’ve been playing it forever – a very comfortable experience.

some of the listeners have expressed some discomfort with the tracks made with the kaoss pad – when compared to my normal guitar-based output (which admittedly, it is a device that uses some very “modern” sounds – especially in the percussion section), but for me, it is a sheer creative joy to play – all I can say is, once you play it, you don’t ever want to stop creating with it.

sometimes, amazing things happen – solos that seem impossible – and of course, all achieved (somehow?) without the use of keys or strings. for example, during “miles of files”, when I started playing the unplanned, unrehearsed trumpet part, I could not believe the sheer musicality of the device – what a remarkable tool the kaossilator is!  or how you can play an “organ solo” by moving your finger horizontally across a pad…

possibly, though, the most remarkable aspect of performing with the kaossilator is that you can just…record with it; without a plan, without rehearsal, just start a beat – loop it – add a bass – loop it – add some chords – loop it – solo as anything, trumpet, piano, synth (many, many), organ, noise, sound effects, you name it – and before you even realise, you have a song, a complete piece of music.

and it doesn’t have to be drums/bass/chords/melody – it could just be four different melodies from four different instruments, but just … working together.

I would say too, to anyone who feels a bit uncomfortable with the sound of the beats, etc. that this is not meant to be an ambient instrument (even though I think I’ve shown that it can be used for ambient – or at least, drone ambient) – and that is exactly why I took the extra step of creating a dedicated channel for this particular work – because I knew that the music it would produce would not “sit well” with the guitar and guitar synth music normally heard on the pureambientHD channel. so by giving it a dedicated channel, we can have beat-based/synth-based music on the kaossilatorHD channel, and the more ambient (well, sometimes) guitar-based music on pureambientHD – at least, that is the theory.

in hindsight, I probably would have actually created two channels for the guitar music, one, for very quiet, very ambient work, and the other, for louder, less ambient music.  however, hindsight being 20/20…I can’t imagine undertaking the work of uploading 30 odd active videos to a new channel, so for now, the “active” and “ambient” playlists will hopefully suffice to keep these two levels of musical activity separate and distinct.

one can never have too many youtube channels I suppose!

the work this past weekend then was mostly about beginning to learn how to use the korg iMS-20, which I’ve only had for a short while, as well as continuing the work with the eden synths within nanostudio.

while on the one hand, I feel quite comfortable with the interface and the processes within nanostudio; on the other hand, I feel utterly uncomfortable with the korg – only because I’ve had no time available to learn it properly.  once I learn how to record and sequence using it, I feel it will take it’s proper place next to nanostudio and the fairlight pro, which will give me three very powerful recording studio environments to create with – and, luckily, the characteristics and sound of the korg are unique and quite unlike the sounds of the eden synths in nanostudio, and lucky again, the sounds of the animoog and the filtatron are different again from both the korg and nanostudio, and double lucky again, the sounds of the fairlight pro are unique and quite unlike the sounds of the eden synths in nanostudio, the moogs, or the korg – so really, I have four very distinct synthesizer vocabularies (eden, korg, fairlight, moog group) giving me a synthesizer palette that rivals (or possibly exceeds) the one I have on my computer desktop within and/or includable in sonar.

of course, there are a number of quality synthesizer apps that I still haven’t tried, such as the oft-lauded nlogpro and many, many others that may indeed boast similar extensive voice vocabularies – so the vocabulary I describe above, with that vast array of sounds available – of course, could theoretically be even larger – there is really no limit to the number of virtual synths that one might end up using…the mind boggles!

and even more luckily, on the desktop, I have not only all of the amazing synths that are built into sonar, including true piano, but the m-tron pro mellotron as well – so when you add that capability, to the korg / moog / nanostudio / fairlight pro powerhouse combination available in the world of apps – you end up with an enormous number of amazing sounds to work with when recording.  truly remarkable, and a truly huge variety of fantastic sounds to choose from!

a universe of voices with which to create.

not to mention sampling…which several of the apps I have installed offer, so I can sample any sound imaginable and play it back from the keyboard at any pitch – so that make the number of sonic possibilities nearly infinite.

of course, believe it or not, I have not forgotten my first love, the guitar, and it’s successor, the guitar synthesizer, and I plan to use a lot of both over the coming months.  the “gone native” album is all about guitars: lots of guitars, from standard rhythm guitars to multiple harmony lead guitars to blistering solos to guitar synth madness – it’s all there, and I can’t wait to release it – of course, I have to finish it first, but that’s just a detail.

I do love using all these synthesizers, and I am learning more each day, and re-learning things I’ve forgotten, such as how applying just a little frequency modulation (fm) to a synth voice makes it very, very interesting to listen to….

now – finding the time to sit down and play all these lovely virtual instruments…that is the real challenge!!

journey through the past – early years continued

[…continued from the previous edition]

 

while I still lived in uganda with my family (from 1967 – 1971) we would sometimes take the train or drive across uganda, then across all of kenya (crossing the absolutely spectacular rift valley, I might add) to the seaside town of mombasa, on the indian ocean.  we stayed at a resort called coraldene, well, not quite a resort, but you had a small dwelling with a grass roof, a restaurant on a big open patio overlooking the beach and that amazing sea, and, the best part (besides the ocean itself, the coral reef, the tide pools, the surf, the sun, the sand…and the most beautiful beach in the universe) for an aspiring guitarist of 11 years of age – a live band.

this was the first live band I had ever seen, and I don’t remember much about them, except they were kenyans (since we were in kenya, that made sense) and of course, I befriended the lead guitarist, bombarding him with questions, and learning whatever I could – it’s odd, from this distance in time and space, the strange details you remember – I don’t remember the name of the band or the guitarist, but strangely, I remember the brand of all of their amps: teisco.  now, I’d been reading fender and gretsch and gibson catalogues for a couple years already, so I’d seen amps before in pictures, but never in person.  it was a wonderful feeling, standing up there inches away from the band, hearing them playing, watching the guitarist play his lead parts (I can close my eyes and still see this happening) – this was all on a large, outdoor patio, and after the band quit, there was limbo with fire (more entertainment directed at the white tourist I am afraid) but I was far more entranced with the band than anyone was…

that early exposure to live music really set me on fire, I really, really wanted an electric guitar – which I did get within the next year or so, and I really wanted to make that sound – that lead guitar sound that I’d heard george harrison make, and I was now hearing this unknown african rock band make their own sound, through what were doubtless super cheap imported from britain guitar amps, and no name electric guitars – but, it sounded great to my ears.  the only song I remember that they played, again, so strange what you remember, was their cover of “yellow river” by lou christie, which of course came out sounding more like “della reeba” when sung by a kenyan who was almost certainly pronouncing the words phonetically rather than actually knowing or understanding what those words meant – singing by rote as it were, by ear.

later, as we travelled to and from africa (we had a 3 month break back in california at the two year mid-point of our four year stay in uganda) the family went on a 4-day cruise in the mediterranean sea and again, there was a live band on board, and in this case, I befriended the drummer, who loved nothing more than to stroll around the decks at night playing his acoustic guitar – which he very kindly let me play – I taught him the rather unusual major/minor/major/minor chord sequence to bob dylan’s “lay lady lay” (which was a radio hit at the time) which he really enjoyed. that places that memory in probably late 1969, a world away in time now…

 

so at age 11 – 13, I was beginning to collaborate with other musicians, even if only on a very, very small scale – but, once we returned to california, those collaborations would expand and grow and I would end up playing in a very large number of bands between the ages of 13 and 21 – so many bands that I actually cannot put a number on it, but that was the time to be playing, when you are young and full of energy – so, play I did.

applications-based music – the work of the moment

the most recent work on applications-based music involved capturing some film this weekend of dave stafford trying out the korg iMS-20 for the first time (and later, performing live with the nanostudio eden synth) – in a very casual setting, but we think that one or two of the takes might be good – despite live, mono sound, I am hopeful that I can produce video that will be eminently watchable and listenable.

I think it’s important to try and capture some less formal recordings, outside of the studio environment, it gives me a chance to relax and “let my hair down”, and just play anything – without the avowed purpose of “making a video” and it’s surprising, the quality of music that sometimes arrives in these more casual settings.

so with a few short, “cinema verite” videos in the can already from january 21st, 2012, made with the korg iMS-20, sunday (the 22nd), being a somewhat rare winter’s day in scotland, a day when it is both clear and bright and mild, we decided to take a drive out to plean country park to take photographs and film some more app-based performances as well as capture video footage for use in future music videos – both projects succeeding beyond my wildest dreams.

I sat down on a metal park bench, and had a go at playing live improvs on top of one of my works-in-progress, “slower” – this time, using the eden synth from nanostudio.  I did several takes that were acceptable, but I didn’t record the audio of the first few (and the video’s audio – from the camera – won’t be useable for those anyway, due to  noise from high winds) but I did record the audio from the last two takes, take 9 and 10 – which I am very glad I did, as it turns out…

so I’ve just now done preliminary rough mixes of the audio from takes 9 and 10, and I’m very happy to report that they are both a “go” – two live solos on top of a portion of the 99% completed track “slower” – and we checked both video feeds last night, so I’m very pleased to say that “slower improv live at plean country park” [obviously a working title!] – in two versions – will become a reality at some point.

it’s very odd listening to it now, indoors, hearing it without the massive external backdrop of wind and birds and forest sounds – but it still works very well as an improv, the only regrets I have are that there are not ten of these recorded; just two, and, that they are both quite brief – take 9 is approximately 1:10 in length, while take 10 clocks in at 1:25 – but it’s as an improv, a sketch, that’s fine with me – a good length even if a bit short.  right now, I am slightly favouring take 9, take 10 is perhaps not as concise, but both are quite musical and I look forward to mastering the audio and creating the video for both of them.

it is entirely possible then, based on the success of these two takes of “slower improv live from plean country park”, that there might be…four or five very short, very informal dave stafford synthesizer videos forthcoming, all depending of course on how sorting out the rest of the audio and video goes from the earlier session.  I’m hopefully positive that we’ll be able to produce a few good videos that we can publish – watch this space. at a minimum though, I am absolutely sure that these two takes from the session on the 22nd at plean country park, are both “good to go”.

we also took the opportunity to take a lot of photographs, and do some other filming, and with the beautiful, clear blue skies and a lovely strong, cold breeze, the forests never looked so beautiful. of the various videos taken, perhaps the most exciting were two different “video views” of the wind blowing the tree tops about – one, looking upward at an angle, another, looking straight up which created a most unusual video!  a very unexpected angle to be watching the wind blow the treetops, almost as if you were lying on your back in the grass looking straight up at the winter sky…

in other applications-based music making news, one of the very first proper pieces done with nanostudio, using the eden synth, is entitled “atlantis rising” – a very unusual piece, it has bill nelson-style “superflanged” drums (where the whole kit has been heavily effected, giving it a wonderful 1981 feeling – but, hopefully, not to the point of “vomitus oversynthesis” – a musical disease that many 1980s bands, unfortunately, suffered from), but the rest of the song resembles a strange, science-fiction like atmosphere inhabited by those whooshing drums, raga-like droning basses, long, serious string synthesizers playing elegant chords – and lots and lots and lots of sprightly, quick synthesizer melodies, in a variety of excellent eden synth voices (I love the sounds in nanostudio!!!) – a very full sound, but at the same time, eerie, loose, a strangely vibrant world of synthetic sound.

I think it’s close to being done, it needs a tiny bit of editing, I was so excited by the possibilities of the device, and I was just recording everything in sight, so I need to perhaps edit out some of the more “excessive” solos, but, having said that, when I listen to it, I wouldn’t know where to begin editing– because I really like all the solos – even if there are a few too many of them…so perhaps some very few, very subtle edits to ensure that it’s full, but not over the top, if you know what I mean.

clocking in at a very respectable 6:45, “atlantis rising” is a new kind of music for dave stafford – I wouldn’t call it prog, it is certainly not pop, or ambient, or rock – but it is something else again – maybe a new genre of synth music – “app synth” if you will – I don’t know.

I am also finding myself much more comfortable with pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable (to my own ear, to my personal taste I should say, to qualify this remark) regarding the absolute pitch of synthesizer notes, and some of the scales I end up playing in this song are out of this world – very odd, not “normal”, musical scales, but warped, bent, detuned and sometimes almost disturbing scales that are just fantastical pieces of unusual melody – all of which contributes strongly to the very science fiction atmosphere of this piece.

part of that is of course due to the genius of whoever programmed the voices in this synth, some of the sounds in the eden synths are just the most beautiful, unusual, musical sounds I’ve ever heard in my entire life.  working in nanostudio becomes a pure joy because every sound has been lovingly created, some, emulating vintage, classic synth voices, others, futuristic, obviously heavily customised/complex waveforms meant to appeal to the musician – and appeal they do.

I also find that having “real” pitch bend (right there on the synth, just like a real one…), a pitch bend wheel as useful and accurate as the ones on my hardware synths, as real as the one on my dx7s, is a brilliant innovation, and it’s very odd indeed to play solos while manipulating the pitch – again, just like a “real” synthesizer…

 

I really can’t see including a unique piece like this on one of my “normal” albums – it wouldn’t fit in, but at the rate that I am creating synth music in the various apps, I am probably going to have an entire album of application-based music very soon anyway – so it will end up on “that” record, whatever “that” is to become…

late-breaking application based news: today I created a complete, new drum track, using the excellent drum sample and sequencer within nanostudio, so I have now have a brand new four and a half minute long song with powerful drums – not sure what it will evolve into, but a good, solid drum performance that I am very pleased with so far – working title: “alien – or sutin”.

 

the more I work with applications for music – the more I fall in love with them, nanostudio is just so easy to work with – excellent product, allows you to create and capture music, working on the creative side of the music, without worrying about the recording side – brilliant.

apps are here to stay at studio 17 !!!

 

the new bryan helm / dave stafford album

moving on now back to the world of audio, I am listening this morning, as has been my tendency of late, to the rough mixes of the entire bryan helm / dave stafford album – as yet untitled – and I am very, very excited about this music, it’s such a far, far cry from anything bryan and I have worked on before, and it touches on so many different musical moods – one moment, it’s serene, intensely beautiful, floating triumphantly across the speakers or headphones, the next, it’s dark, challenging, frightening, moody – strange sounds appear briefly, then fade away, some musical events seem looped, others, random – but over it’s 13 different sections, an amazing set of different sound sculptures drift in and out of your consciousness, and you are almost unaware of time passing – the songs don’t change abruptly, they morph and glide and drift into each other, and then out again… I am very, very encouraged by how good the rough mixes sound, and I believe that when this album is fully mixed, that it will be one of the best / most ambient works that I, or bryan, have ever been involved in.

 

I am still trying to get to the point where I can sit down and say to myself “right, let’s mix this” – because each time I sit, as I am this morning, and listen to the rough mixes – I just get overwhelmed, how can I make THIS….sound better? I realise, that of course, by properly setting levels, balancing, normalising, equalising and so on, that I will indeed be able to make the sounds clearer, and more well defined, but the problem is not getting swept away – every time I listen to this record, I just end up…listening to it, not working on it! which I think is a fantastic thing, even in it’s raw, unmixed state, it has enormous capacity to engage the listener – in this case, me. so while I am meaning to analyse it mentally, to think about what it “needs” in terms of mixing and arranging – so, I set out to analyse…and I end up just listening!

 

I think that is a good thing, a good sign, and it bodes well because I often find that if I really like a record, then other people do too…and this is an eminently likable record. curiously, too, I did not “loop” once during this record – I just played the mellotron live, and always a full track at a time – nothing piecemeal. so this is so atypical of dave stafford: no ebows, no guitars, no guitar synth, and no loops – what is the world coming to? I think sometimes it’s a really good idea to break with tradition, to NOT follow a winning formula – for example, when I first began work on this record, I tried out playing ebow guitar along with some of bryan’s sketches. and it just sounded completely…wrong.

 

so I went away for a few days, came back, and it hit me – use the mellotron. because I’d recently completed the very successful “sky full of stars” album, and the m-tron pro mellotron had served me very well there, with it’s very beautiful and compelling voicings – so why not try it in the collaborative environment on the record with bryan? and that proved to be it – from that moment forward, the sessions were a dream – everything worked, and there was no more awkwardness as there had been when I tried to follow the formula of our previous work together – ebow and synth – but, curiously, the moment I broke that tradition – everything fell into place musically and sonically.

 

unfortunately though, it is going to have to wait in a small queue before it reaches the mixing desk, this is the price I pay for trying to work on and mix three albums by three different musical entities, at once. but it will be worth the wait – there are some very surprising pieces on this record, some of the more non-ambient pieces are quite “in your face” (for lack of a better term) and they really grab your attention in a spectacular way. and then, after these bursts of furious ambience…peace returns, another beautiful sinuous synthesizer or mellotron drifts into range, and once again, you float gently on waves and waves of beautiful sound…

 

so I guess you could say that the new helm / stafford album is coming along nicely!

a new way of working

over the past two months, I’ve been working with various applications that create music, notably garage band, the animoog, moog filtatron, korg ims-20, ikaossilator, fairlight pro, and in particular, nanostudio which I find to be (so far, anyway) perhaps the best overall sort of “do-all studio” app (for midi, anyway) – so far. as well as the stand-alone kaossilator, which is unique in itself, and quite different from the iKaossilator in many ways – two different, remarkable pad-driven synths!

 

I’ve been working on pieces of music in most of those apps, the ones I’ve had for a while anyway, off and on, as time permits, and while I have completed a couple of test pieces, and some nice bits of hammond organ and so on, nothing has really yet grabbed my fancy as something “good enough” to release – until today.

recently, I went through the pieces I had started in nanosync, and cleaned up their names and structures, and I found I had a couple of really good possible songs, but in particular, a piece that I’ve been concentrating more on over the past few weeks entitled “slow”.  this is an ambient piece of synth which also, strangely, has a minimalistic drum part, but it’s mostly a synth track.  I did a new arrangement of “slow” today, and it suddenly really started working.

 

then for fun, I did a couple of other versions of it, the best of which has the current title “slower”, which was really the “proper build” of a copy of “slow”.  “slower” has all the fixes and none of the issues, and it’s a lovely piece of very….slow ambient, perhaps reminiscent of some of the darkest tracks from “sky full of stars”.

so once “slower” was complete, or rather, a very rough mix of it was complete, I made another copy, and totally mutated it (for a completely different purpose I had in mind) – I found a very unique way of using a sound called “thin strings” but by abusing the double keyboard, I played circular glissandos (across and over and around the nanostudio’s double keyboard) which really sounded fabulous – a sort of “swirling” circus-like noise in the background of the bass part, with the occasional moment of string-like sound creeping through.  I created a few different “sections” of this lovely stereo noise, which is also processed through a fantastic effect called x-delay, a sort of reverse delay sound – and then pasted them across the whole song as if they were bits of cut up magnetic tape (a la “being for the benefit of mr. kite”).

the end result will hopefully become, once I add a fast drum track, a sort of pre-prepared backing for a bill-nelsonesque e-bow song.  or at least, that is what I am thinking it will become – but you never know, anything can happen – it could easily mutate or split again, reproduction by budding (a la spongebob squarepants)…

so from that original idea, “slow”, have come two full songs, each approx. 11:17 in length: “slower”, which is dark ambient synth music, and the new mutation/backing track, which is tentatively entitled “fastest pussycat”.

I will probably mix “fastest pussycat” to wav, move it to sonar, and create a proper drum track in BFD so I can really do it justice, but it’s down to the beauty of the synths within nanosync, and the fact that I could create on the fly so quickly, two completely different variations on a single theme.  when I am done, I am hoping that you won’t easily be able to discern that these songs actually have the same bass / synth part :-).

 

it would not be the first time I’ve done this, actually, in fact, the track “opium” from my album “sky full of stars” is simply the bass part of a so-far-unreleased track from my upcoming album “gone native” called “sinuous thread”, I liked the bass part of “sinuous thread” so much, that I copied a section of it from “sinuous thread” into a new, empty sonar session, and then developed the entire song from just that bass part.  so when “sinuous thread” is finally released when “gone native” is complete, then you’d be able to hear the uncanny similarity in the bass line of “opium”.

 

so, “fastest pussycat” will then need extra work; syncing a new drum track to it might be challenging, and then, I think it needs energy bow guitars, so that’s a full session to try and complete that one…

…while “slower” will also get mixed to wav and sent to sonar (via the beautiful nanosync, another brilliant feature of nanostudio) but it’s pretty much done – all it needs is the “right” breeze reverb and it should be a complete work.

 

like it or not, application-based music making is here to stay – the tools are serious, the sounds are totally authentic and amazing (I will never, ever get over the sensation of owning a full-fledged moog synthesizer for under £5.00 !!) and while it means new ways of working, the portability, the potential to share via soundcloud, or even to collaborate in real time with tools like korg’s “wist” – this is going to become a big part of my life, and of the lives of many, many musicians all over the world.

already, artists such as “gorillaz” have produced an entire album on the iPad, and even though I’ve only personally been working with application-based music tools for a short while, I can easily see myself working much more in this realm (a portable recording studio, anywhere you go? who could say no to that?) and I will probably end up creating and releasing many, many synthesizer based works, along with, and mixed in with, the more traditional studio recordings.

anything is possible!