the music of the moment

there is so much news I almost don’t know where to begin…

 

of course!

first and foremost: I am very proud to announce that bryan and I have decided on a name for our new band and album!

we are very,  very proud to announce the debut album “dreamtime” from the brand new ambient band “scorched by the sun” – look for it on pureambient later this year.

sometimes it takes a while to “know” what the name of a band or an album is, and bryan and I have been discussing this, off and on, for quite some time.  the band name, “scorched by the sun”, was originally a casual remark bryan made during a conversation we were having; it caught my ear, and I suggested it for the name of the band – and he agreed.

the album’s name was also something we discussed for a long, long time – and we have always felt that this music has something to do with dreams and dreaming – since a lot of ambient music, at least in my experience, arrives when you are in a semi-conscious state, almost in a holy trance as it were, so “dreamtime” is totally appropriate since the dreamtime is the holy trance of the aboriginal peoples of australia – I really like the idea of the sun-baked australian desert, scorched by the sun, during the dreamtime…it just makes good sense to me.

so that is decided – the album, as you know, was completed a couple of months ago, and is at the mixing stage now.  we are currrently looking for a release sometime during the first half of 2012, exact date, to be announced.

so – “scorched by the sun” – that’s bryan helm: synthesizers, guitars, loops, treatments and; dave stafford: mellotron, synthesizers, loops, treatments – have arrived at last !

 

meanwhile, there is so much going on here at pureambient: the new series of “informal” music videos continues, the first four videos from the first “informal session” are all up now on the pureambientHD channel on youtube, and we are getting some nice comments from one listener in particular who has said some really good things about both “technophobe” and “ice drops / cascade” – the very latest video, uploaded just yesterday, sunday the 26th of february, 2012 for your listening pleasure.

we are really looking forward to the next videos in this series, these were shot outdoors at plean country park in central scotland, and while the january 21, 2012 session centred around the korg ims-20 application, the plean country park videos were made using nanostudio, so they are all about the eden synth – a huge favourite of mine.  there are going to be two videos from this session, takes 9 and 10 of live solos made over an existing work in progress entitled “slower”.

this to me is a fantastic way to perform, in a beautiful outdoor setting on a rare sunny winter’s day (and what a beautiful day it was!) – and since I had not prepared any material for the session, it was simplest to just select a solo voice and solo over an existing completed track using the very capable eden synth – so I chose “slower” as the track to play over (which will, of course, eventually be released in it’s pure ambient form – sans solos – as a track in it’s own right) but for now, the two videos will provide a sneak preview of the track.  playing live that day was so very enjoyable, so I am really looking forward to mixing the audio and building the videos for “slower live at plean country park take 9” and “slower live at plean country park take 10”!

there are more “informal” videos still beyond that to be processed and uploaded, but, five things at a time, we’ll wait until the plean country park videos are made and up before we move on to the next informal music videos.

from video to the world of audio, I am currently reviewing in particular all the work I’ve done with the fairlight pro over the past few weeks, and I am happy to say that this unique application has not only been a joy to work with, but I’ve produced three of the most unusual, interesting pieces of music I’ve done for a long time, because for me, it’s a whole new way of working – every sound is a sample, to start; and, you have to sequence instead of “play” which was a new idea for me – but over the past few weeks, I’ve mastered it, so I understand how it works now.  at the moment then, these three tracks are complete and ready to be mixed:

1) feast for crow – I cannot really describe this track, it’s one of the first “complete” tracks I attempted on the fairlight, it does feature a beautiful sample of a member of the crow family, not quite sure which one, letting the world know what he thinks, and to be able to include natural sounds such as birdsong (well, it’s not really “song” when a crow does it, but you know what I mean) into my compositions is something I’ve always wanted – and it sounds really natural, the music itself is gothic, creepy, dark and the crow cawing just lends even more atmosphere to this dark tune – a soundtrack to a movie that has yet to be made.

2) happy bird orchestra – as the name implies, this is a piece made up entirely of birdsong (another long-held ambition of mine realised at last) – and this piece is surprisingly musical and effective, it really doesn’t sound gimmicky at all, it sounds quite natural to me – and I hope that with the right reverb, I can make a mix that sounds natural and wonderful.  I set up a fairlight “instrument” that included 8 bird voices, originally, I had crows and rooks in the piece, but I removed them to try and keep the piece more melodic – and there is still some edge provided by the presence of doves and one lonely goose who does a great job filling that one quarter note space I wasn’t sure what to do with!  this was honestly, so much fun to make, and I will probably create more “all bird” pieces using my special “happy bird orchestra” instrument – I named the song after the instrument because it seemed like the thing to do…

3) vainglorious – this is the latest and probably most difficult piece I’ve tackled to date – I created a special instrument for this one too, which I modified once during the process, but it’s basically a mix of distorted guitar chords or distorted lead guitar and sitarlike sounds, and a couple of percussion instruments as well.  this is sort of my “breakthrough” piece in terms of really coming to grips with sequential composition, and I learned the ins and outs of specifying note duration and volume, so this piece is probably the most musically complex that I’ve done with the fairlight, and it uses some great distorted guitar samples that I plan to overdub with real guitars, I can’t really explain this song using words, it’s sort of like zappa I suppose, it has a wonderful, convoluted sitar/percussion melody that glides across a strange sonic landscape…

a fourth piece remains unfinished, not because I don’t want to finish it, but because I am unsure what to do with it! it’s entitled “resolve”, and I am resolved to finding a resolution for it compositionally :-).  it has one very strong section that I really love, that is woodwinds against chinese percussion – wonderfully early Motheresque, but another section that I am not as happy with, it needs work.  so it’s difficult to say if “resolve” will ever be finished, I need to sit down and create some copies of it, with different sequences ordered differently, to see if I can reach a state where I feel happier with it.

I am so happy though, to suddenly realise I have not one, but three complete works that only need mixing (although “vainglorious” needs to be extended – all the parts that it needs are there, I just need to make it a bit longer than it is currently) so essentially, three totally complete pieces – I have no idea where any of them came from, I really don’t!  but I am very, very glad that they arrived, as it’s some of the strangest, most utterly unique music I’ve ever had the pleasure of creating, and this tool allows a kind of creativity – bar by bar creativitiy! – that I have never, ever experienced before – a really powerful tool for composing, where you think about every note, and you build songs up slowly, bar by bar – it’s a brilliant and wonderful process, and now that I fully understand it – one I know I will happily work with for many, many years.

 

it really does look like I am going to need to dedicate an entire album to application-based music, because I’ve also done a quick review of my earliest app-based pieces – done in garage band, and, there are several really good pieces there that just need to be mixed… I am sure I already have enough material for an album if I were to combine the garage band tracks with the nanostudio tracks with the fairlight tracks (not to mention, tracks made with the animoog synthesizer – although those are just solo instrument tracks)…I would probably have enough for two or three albums…so I need to add this to my ever-growing list of “things to do…” 🙂

I am actually very, very surprised by the tracks recorded in garage band, because that was when I really had no idea what I was doing with applications – yet, I managed to record some really good songs as well as a couple of beautiful, ambient piano based pieces – very surprising – you should not underestimate the potential of garage band for recording serious music – it may not be as fancy as nanostudio or the korg ims-20, but it has plenty of beautiful sounds and you certainly can’t discount what can be done with it if you just work at it a little bit…

 

and then finally, to the world of guitar – or guitar synth to be precise – I had a very interesting session last night with the roland gr-55, this was really a session with the avowed purpose of giving the newly-reconfigured pedals and system configuration a good test, to “burn it in” as it were, and work out any bugs.  I did spend about an hour playing without recording a note, because of course, at first, no matter how well you’ve “thought out” a new set-up, it often does not work when you first try to use it properly – and true to form, when I started playing, only one of three signal paths was working (of course!).  but I very quickly worked out what needed to be done, and then started the quite tricky process of getting levels matched – not easy when you have various combinations of guitar synth, modelled guitar, plain guitar and stomp box settings to deal with.

but slowly, gradually, I achieved a balanced sound, and in fact, I am absolutely chuffed about this particular re-configuration – the pedals, for a start, are all now much more easy to access physically, yet, at the same time, I’ve (somehow) managed to make more floor space so I have more room to move.  so I was able to “match” the volumes of the guitar synth to the various “normal” guitars and get a nice balance no matter what selections I made with the a/b/c switch – I really like having that available, because I can access three very different combinations of sounds instantly – during one song.

once I had the guitar set-up properly, and the sounds and levels balanced, I then did begin recording, I created a basic idea to loop, and then used the three “preset” sounds to “solo” over the top of this loop.  in this particular case then, these are the sounds I had available and what I was able to do with them during a take:

path a: guitar synth (in this case, a TB-303 synth bass sound) and modelled guitar – semi dirty strat sound

path b: guitar synth and standard guitar through stompboxes, in this case, a beautiful stereo flanger dumped into a stereo reverb – beautiful sound

path c: guitar synth and standard guitar through a fuzz box and volume pedal – a great, standard distorted lead guitar sound – with a thick bass EQ to give me long, thick sustained notes

so regardless which of these above is selected, the guitar synth is present – except, if I want to remove it temporarily and only hear the remaining normal guitar sound (one of three!), all I have to do is briefly shut off the synth’s volume pedal – so that gives each of the three above a variant, where they have no synth voice – so that’s six voices so far…

then, for path b, I have two other options, (well more, but in this case, two) I can shut off the flanger if need be, which changes the character of the voice completely – so that makes seven sounds so far – then, I have another option, using the line 6 dl-4 delay modeler – I could add echo of course, but I tend to use the dl-4 for one thing it does really well – live reverse guitar.  so I can switch the dl-4 “on” – and I can then reverse the flanged/reverbed sound (that makes eight) or the non-flanged/reverbed sound (that makes nine).

then, for path c, of course we’ve already said we can have this fuzztone guitar alone or with the guitar synth, but of course it can be further altered by switching between the treble and bass pickups on the strat – so there is even a variant for this basic sound – two very different tones of fuzztone (that makes ten). finally, that path also contains the pitch pedal, currently set to 2 octaves up, so that bass or treble fuzztone can be instantly sent two octave up as well, either by switch, or by bending using the pitch pedal itself (that makes, uh, eleven or twelve sounds).

so – in one setup, with just one synth voice selected (which can be taken in and out at will with the gr-55’s volume pedal) there are at least a dozen possible sound combinations available – at least!!

of course, there are actually more, because any of the stompboxes could be taken in or out during the performance, but I found it daunting enough to use eight or ten different sounds during one live performance – but to prove a point, I actually managed it a few times – I probably used at least 8 of different sounds available, not sure – and at least one of the 18 takes I made last night, will eventually be released – possibly more.  it was a really interesting and informative session, I learned a lot about what is possible and what is not, when using an a/b/c switch and other pedal-based options during a live performance.

a few of those other options?  well, in path b, there is also a chorus pedal, so that could be used, in fact, any combination of chorus / flanger / reverb is available in that chain…

path b also contains a small looper, so something could be looped and stored in that as well – adding more content to the proceedings…

but overall, after playing for a few hours with the a/b/c switchable signal paths, I found it to be probably the strongest, most reliable setup I’ve ever had.  instant sound changes at the push of a button, and so much variability!  I am so, so pleased, and it all works very, very well – really solid.

now, I do still need to do the essential work on the guitar synth itself, to group like patches together so that on top of this “twelve in one” setup, I can also CHANGE the synth voice, which will give me 24, 36, 48, 96, 2048 sound combinations – I don’t know! – it quickly becomes incalculable – simply by selecting a different synth patch – while the 11 other possibilities are still there, just using the currently selected synth voice instead of the “tb-303 bass” I decided to test with last night.  and it was very effective too, being able to REMOVE the synth and just leave, for example, the thick, bassy fuzztone by itself – it sounded great when the heavy synth sound drops out, leaving just that ominous, deep buzzing sustained lead guitar – brilliant!

all in all, I am well-pleased with the new design – and the incredible flexibility I now have in my live guitar/guitar synth sound.  I’ve also arranged the mixer so that I can input all of my instruments on demand if need be – so theoretically now (and I really should try this) – I could sit down, turn the looper onto record – and input…guitar synth, guitar path a, guitar path b, guitar path c, stereo synthesizer – the new prokeys 88, mono yamaha dx7s, mono dx11s, and finally, stereo kaosillator.  if I turned all those on at once, and then set the looper onto record – I could (theoretically) create a loop using ***all*** of those instruments in one massive-live-combining of many-guitars-and-synthesizers-and-instruments…talk about input options !!! :-0

 

not currently permanently set up but always available too, is of course: the ipad itself – which adds about 20 more instruments to the list instantly! – I am still working on the best ways to record this, but once that is sorted out, it will probably become a more permanent part of the set up.  at the moment, if need be, I disconnect the stereo input cables from the kaossilator (borrow them temporarily) and replace it with the ipad – so that last input should really read  “stereo kaossilator / ipad”.

I think that problem I have now is the problem I always have – I need a spare three months just to mix, complete and organise all the music I’ve completed but never produced.  I need a big block of time to finish all these nearly-completed projects !!  I think that winning the lottery has to now become a serious priority, otherwise, a lot of this music may never see the light of day – I’ve got to sleep sometime…

 

I suppose I shouldn’t complain, it’s better to have far too much good music to deal with, than to not have enough – and I certainly have so, so much to choose from at the moment.  I am always running behind, I record audio and film video and then it just joins the queue, but I do eventually work through it all…until the cycle starts all over again 🙂

applications-based music

I am really enjoying making music in nanostudio and in the fairlight pro (while having lost a bit of interest in garage band – too simplistic, although it has the best hammond organ sounds around, so I will use it for that – definitely!), mostly during lunch time at work, strangely enough (what an odd, odd sensation to have a digital recording studio at your desk, during lunch, and to be able to sit there and create…amazing!).

I’ve started a number of new pieces, the first, a drum backing entitled “powerhouse” – this one is intended for use with lots and lots of very, very heavy guitar – so, a pounding bass drum alternating between eighth and sixteenth notes, a cracking, intermittent snare playing at odd times, and thumping toms pounding along with the bass drums…strange percussion, and I brought in cymbals from two different kits so I could have four distinct crash cymbal sounds instead of two.

I used a rock kit for the basics, and for additional sounds, a tight kit, which brought in some really lovely and strange-sounding cymbals – which I smack with precision.  So what this means is a three-minute six-second drum backing, which I think I will send straight to sonar so I can overdub it with guitar synth.  the roland gr-55 has some fantastic detuned patches, and I’ve had a hankering to create something really heavy, so maybe dave’s first metal piece is finally at hand.  I did do a couple of metal improvs of dozey lumps songs last year just to test out the detuned voices, but I haven’t made a serious recording with them yet.  so I am thinking – nanostudio drums for “powerhouse”, detuned gr-55 metal patches, and I will have me a song.  it’s very exciting…and I look forward to working on it.

I’ve also been working on two different pieces sequenced on the fairlight pro, “feast for crow”, which is creepy, creaking film music for a film that doesn’t exist, and the latest piece, “resolve”, where I used a “random instrument” with 8 voices selected by the app for me to use in the composition.  this resulted in a most unusual sounding piece that I am at a loss to describe, somewhere between chinese traditional music and a late-sixties zappa mothers woodwind arrangement.  very weird, but – very compelling, the sounds in the fairlight are just purely cool – I love it!

I think that what is happening with some of the app-based pieces that are evolving is that along with one or two other tracks that have been evolving over the past 12 months, that I probably now have completed enough songs to fully populate “gone native” – so it is getting to the point now, where, with a few overdub sessions, if I can “complete” four or five nearly-complete pieces – including 3 or 4 made in nanostudio, then I would have a finished album at the mixing stage – or rather, another finished album at the mixing stage. “caladan” is an earlier piece that is actually complete and just needs mixing, I have only just realised that it absolutely belongs on gone native, as it was part of the journey from 2008 to the present…

the interesting thing about “gone native” is the sheer diversity that is represented – starting off with a track I recorded using only the X3 live, playing live guitar on top of a live drum track I cloned from mike bowman’s excellent “fever drums” sequence – so quite primitive, live guitar on top of live-sounding drums – and then, bass added later – so a basic power trio – nothing fancy – and then, onto the future, more songs evolving, in SONAR, using more sophisticated sounds from the X3, and then, the guitar synth arrived – and began to be incorporated into the pieces, so we went from x3 live only to pieces using both the x3 live and the roland gr-55.  then, the next step in my musical evolution, making music in apps on the ipad.

so, a nearly four year journey, from a simple power trio approach right up to the very high tech approach of using nanosync to create drums, bass and synths, and then porting, via nanosync, back to SONAR to add the live guitars – unthinkable just four short years ago.  I think I would arrange the album in two parts, as well, the first part, pre-guitar synth, pre-apps-based music, the second, including all available technologies.  the modern day equivalent of a two sided concept album I suppose!  it is interesting though, because just over half the time involved pretty basic technologies, while the other “half”, or maybe it’s closer to one third, of the time was much, much more about technology – but good technology, tech that brought me a massive palette of amazing guitar sounds.

I also think that once “gone native” is complete, mixed and pressed, that I might give serious thought to making an album that is 100 percent made with the guitar synth.  I’d love to give that a try, really put it through it’s paces.  For now, though, you will still get to hear it really, really shine on tracks from gone native, including some very interesting guitar synth parts on the title track.

it’s also remarkable to me just how quickly I’ve adapted to working with nanostudio, using it’s drum sequencer is incredibly easy and intuitive, and the synth voices are heavenly, beautiful, brutal, odd, amazing – really creative sounds, really useful, and I could really just play that synth all day long.  speaking of playing that synth, last night, I organised all the “casual” cliips of me playing synth on the ipad, taken over the past couple of months, with a view to set up and publish some of them onto the pureambientHD channel, including some eden synth / nanostudio live performances from january 22, 2012 done outdoors at plean country park.

I’m excited about all of these video clips – in fact, three very different types of music being worked on – first, the korg ims-20 synth, which I do not know well, but – what a sound!  secondly, the aforementioned eden synths – really beautiful sounds there, kudos to nanostudio for putting together such a lush package of quality drum sounds and to-die for synth sounds – very impressive – and finally, more recently, a foray into microtonal synthesis, using the remarkable microtonal synthesizer “mugician” along with a tabla backing courtesy of the even ***more*** remarkable itabla which I have spoken about elsewhere in detail.  the interesting thing about all of these off-the-cuff perfomances is that in each case, I had almost zero understanding of the app or any experience at using it – yet, in all three cases, the apps worked so well and were so easy to learn – that you might never have known that I had no idea what I was doing unless I told you!

and then the utterly different experience of the fairlight pro – but once you “get it” – you fall in love with creating music a bar at a time. in fact, music happens in such a different way, that things can happen that might not when composing in “real time” – the sequencing allows you to build songs in tiny stages – something I’ve rarely done, but sometimes, you can make a strange turn – and your piece goes where you least expected it to – which to me is what it’s all about…

journey through the past – on the way to 21 and beyond

in trying to mentally catalogue all the bands I was in and projects I worked on during this time, it continually amazes me because I think I am done listing them, that I have listed them all, and then yet another comes to mind – of course, on the web site, I do mention “slipstream” * – a covers band I was in when I was about 20 or 21 (so, 1978 -1979) but, also in my early 20s, I was in a band with my friend michael dawson, a bassist who also plays many, many other instruments – he excels at bass, flute, sax, piano – we had met in a record store a long time ago now, both being very much into prog, so we formed this band – and it was a bit different from most of the bands i’d been in, because I picked some of the material – we played roxy music; “love is the drug” and talking heads; “psycho killer” – it was a trio, bass, guitar and drums, and is yet one more example of a band that I was in, for some period of time – and then maybe the drummer would quit, so I would move onto the next band or project…

*slipstream mark I lineup:

mike packard – guitar / lead vocals

elen maisen – lead vocals

dave stafford – lead guitar, keyboards, lead & harmony vocals

pat garrett – bass

lee walters – drums

(notes: later on, after the first year, we had a third guitarist briefly, but only for a few months – John, I believe – but the above lineup was the core group – also, elen couldn’t always rehearse and perform with us due to other commitments so she is on some recordings, and not on others).

we are hopeful that some live and studio tracks from slipstream will eventually appear on the “pureambient blog audio companion” web page which has been set up, but doesn’t yet have any audio content – we are working on that as we speak…

the dave stafford “cassette restoration project” is of course, bringing to light many, many interesting archival recordings, so once some basic cleanup is done with the digital captures from the cassettes, we will start posting samples of the music that we are speaking about here in the “journey through the past” series on the audio companion page.

I mentally consider that this “learning period” really ended when I was 20 or 21, because that was the time in my life where I had to “get serious” and get a regular day job, and of course the moment you do that, you lose a lot of time that was previously available to you to work on music.  i’d had jobs before, part time, full time, from when I was about 16 – 17 onwards, but once I was 20, I started serious work at a “real” company – and that led to not being able to practice, rehearse or perform nearly as much as I had in the prolific seven year period from 1973 – 1979.  which then, and still, now, I find very frustrating.
i still played in bands whenever I could, it just meant late nights during the week and then still having to get up and go to the day job, but luckily, when you are in your 20s, you still have enough energy to both work full time and play in a band.  or at least, sometimes I did.  so another set of bands went by, I was in a sort of hard rock band, two guitars, bass and drums, and we played a lot of material that was a bit strange for me – the who, ufo, cheap trick, things I ordinarily wouldn’t listen to or play – but that was a fun band, and we did a few good gigs in the beach area – it was based near the beach, although I have no recollection of who was in the band or what we were called!  no idea.

i also think the band with michael dawson, again, name unknown, was during this period of the early 20s…i was probably already working steadily when we met at the record store, and it was some time later that we actually started to play in a group, so I was maybe 22, 23 when we did that project.  I don’t think we ever recorded, and, similarly to pyramid, I don’t think we played any gigs (well, pyramid played gigs, but not their real, prog repertoire) and the band with michael had no repertoire except quasi-prog or things like the talking heads, so we never played any gigs at all!  but whether the band gigged or not, whether the band ever recorded or not – I learned something from each experience.  in some cases, I even ended up fronting the band – and one instance of that would be olympus, the prog band I was in.

this band was formed by an english guitarist and writer who played nylon string guitar – he had a bass player and drummer, and they brought me in to play guitar and keyboards.  but very quickly we realised that I had probably the best voice in the band, the writer/leader couldn’t really sing his own songs, so I asked him if he minded if I sang them.  he agreed (reluctantly, I think) so I would sing these songs, his lyrics, but making up my own melodies to suit whatever chord progression he had for each piece.  we had just two or three long songs that we really struggled to learn, and our drummer had a curious sense of time that made life difficult sometimes.  I remember doing a great live jam of “black magic woman” that was excellent – in fact, there were two guitarists, as well as the nylon guitar, bass and drums, so it was a good, full sound.  I did find myself in the curious position of fronting a very prog sounding band, so I adopted a singing style that was like my own weird cross between peter hammill and fish – with a california twang no doubt added in unavoidably.

i loved it.  I sang the songs with venom, I played keyboards, I played guitar solos using my new digitech dsp128, a great little unit, and we had a blast.  we worked really hard (somewhere, I have some rehearsals recorded) on our original music – and then one day, the singer just melted down.  he didn’t like the arrangements.  he didn’t like what i’d done to “his” songs, he didn’t like the way I sang them (only because he couldn’t) – he basically wanted to get rid of me, get rid of the drummer, and go back to his core three piece of nylon guitar, electric guitar and bass.  so he did.

again, as the “journey through the past” series unfolds, we hope to uncover the recordings of “olympus” and possibly present some of them on the “audio companion” page as the series continues over the new few months.

i was a little bit pissed off about the breakup of olympus in particular, because i’d invested a lot of time and sweat into this band – and then we just break up, without…you guessed it, yes, once again….ever playing a single gig.  the story of my life it would seem!  I was quite unlucky with bands, but, part of that has to be down to the essential unreliability of many musicians – (uh, no offence to anyone living or dead) let’s face it…musicians are not always the most reliable people 🙂

a few of the bands I was in lasted a year or so, slipstream managed maybe two if you count all the different versions – so at least some of the effort, the long rehearsals, lugging guitars and amps and drums about for years on end, paid off – well, not in financial terms, but in sheer enjoyment – even the worst moments, being in a cover band playing a song that you despise, for example (let’s say, an eagles or a fleetwood mac song) – can be vindicated when you get to play a song you love (let’s say, an allman brothers or a steely dan song) – and then, it’s all worthwhile – for that ten minutes or whatever it is, while you get to play the music that you love…

(for a moment, back on stage again, eyes closed, playing the guitar solos from “in memory of elizabeth reed”…)

special announcement – the pureambient blog “audio companion”

hello, this is a special announcement to formally introduce both the pureambient.com “cassette audio restoration” programme, as well as to introduce the brand new dave stafford / pureambient audio companion.

there are no audio files on the audio companion just yet, as we are just beginning to pull them off of the cassettes and catalogue them, but we’ve set up the structure of the page, and there are already some notes, photographs, and so on – we are very excited about the “audio companion” (please use the link to your right on the blog side bar to access this feature of the blog) as this will be a place where we can upload historic audio clips, recently digitised from cassettes, which will be real time examples of the projects, bands and performances dave has been describing in the “journey through the past” series of posts about the early days of his music.

at first, we will be “catching up” a bit, we’ll be presenting some of the very earliest examples of dave stafford music, as described in previous blog posts in the “journey through the past” series, and then as things proceed, we will gradually move through the various bands and cover bands that dave was in, on up into the late 80s and the beginnings of the dozey lumps and bindlestiff.  you’ll hear the struggle to learn the instrument, you’ll hear dues being paid in the form of “having to” perform songs that are not to one’s personal taste, and you’ll hear triumph when rock, prog rock and experimental music are the order of the day, evolving over time into looping, ambient and a host of other very personal musical forms.

the “cassette audio restoration” programme will also lead up to and incorporate the creation of the planned “lost” 1994 bindlestiff album, “longest”, so we are excited that we are moving towards the beginning of that ongoing virtual release – a large number of rehearsal tapes were made that year, with a lot of good music on them, none of which has ever been captured or heard since – so that’s another very exciting aspect of the “audio companion”.

of course, the official releases are all available on the pureambient store at any time, and, you can hear free audio samples of many of the same tracks on the various discography pages for each artist, but it’s our hope that by adding in another stream of rougher, “audio verite” performances captured via the medium of the cassette, that it will increase the musical richness of the standard catalogue through alternate takes, live versions, prototypes, sketches, covers of other artists, even comedy – there is absolutely going to be something for everyone both in the written word of the ongoing “journey through the past series”, but at the same time, in the songs, ideas, and realistic view of an artists’ life – the good, the bad, the ugly and the ridiculous – all presented in the finest digital sound available for free streaming or download on the  brand new “audio companion” page.

additionally, all of the tracks will receive a basic cleanup – boosting levels, removing hiss and hum, but some of the material may be presented in both it’s raw form, and in enhanced form – there is the opportunity to do something unusual here, and I could easily see myself adding new parts, or vocal harmonies, or new solos, to material I, or one of my groups, recorded back in the distant past.  it should be a lot of fun – please come along for the ride !!!

see you there…on a journey through the past

the “other side” of set-up: patches, sounds, programming, documenting, storing, and recalling…

of course, it’s one thing to get routing, cables, and set-up done – that’s great, but then there is the other”set-up” the one that takes even longer, which is setting up each individual tool.

so there is still an enormous amount of work to be done, particularly with the newer hardware – so that will be my next task.  I’ve been working with the roland gr-55 for almost a year now, and while I’ve done some work on customising it, I have reached a point now where I “know” what sounds I like to use, I have created a handful of “custom” patches…but I want to create many, many more (because the combining of sounds is what this device is all about!) – so I have my work cut out for me.  I need to plan out how I want the user bank to work, and “group together” voices that I use and prefer, into trios of voices that make sense for live looping.  so I need a good long session with the pedal, so I can set up several banks of sounds suited for ambient looping, which would incorporate some normal guitar patches suitable for ebow, as well as synth voices such as “rich strings” and the many, many other ambient synth voices I’ve used over the past year, so that when I do ambient looping, all those sounds are grouped together; then I would want some “loud” banks, with trios of voices that I know will work well together in a live loop situation, for the loud/active material, and so on.

there are so many programming tasks ahead it’s not funny: choosing my favourite voices, modifying them where needed, creating new voices, grouping together voices for live looping purposes, and just generally working on guitar sounds: synth sounds, normal guitar tone, and hybrid combinations thereof.

the other new device is of course the delay, which doesn’t have as much programmability, but it does have some, so again, I’ve worked with it for a number of months now, I need to identify the sets of delay settings that I use the most often and put those into the memory banks, and make sure my switching is in order.  and I also need to set up the expression pedal and test out what it is capable of with this device, I am really looking forward to that, as I don’t think I’ve ever really had an expression pedal available on a delay device before (well, I would have done so with the digitech tsr-24s continuous controllers, but it wasn’t a dedicated delay – so effectively, I’ve never had an expression pedal dedicated to a delay before), so being able to manipulate delay parameters via continuous controllers while I play will be a lot of fun.

and given how incredible the time bender sounds, use cc pedals with it should be very, very interesting indeed!

so while everything is hooked up now, physically, there is still much to be done in the setting up of individual tools, but I am confident that over the next few weeks, I will make the time to get this done, although as with everything, it will probably have to be done in stages – starting with the ambient patches and banks, of course ! 🙂  I want to create some brand new, very atmospheric and creative patches to use on the sketches for the upcoming orsi / stafford record, so I will also take time to create some patches that can be dedicated initially to the project, but then can probably also be used ongoing.

it does seem as if when I was younger, I had “more time” to prepare sounds, to tweak patches and especially, set up interesting continuous controller pedals – because I did spend what seemed like endless hours working on patches, working on tweaking sounds, working on presets – and I do find it very difficult indeed to find time to dedicate to this kind of “other” set-up work now.

instead, I think what I have tended to do lately (well, for the last several years, actually), is look at the set up of each recording session, and sort of…”on the fly”…take whatever measures I need to, even if that is creating a new hybrid voice for the synth; or working out a delay sound that suits that newly created voice; or storing three or six patches into convenient banks so that it’s easy to switch between the desired sounds during that particular session.  the latter is of course crucial when it is a live session, if it is studio work, less so – but I do really wish I could sit for about 40 or 50 hours with the roland gr-55, test each and every preset sound again, organise, modify, and save those that I intend to use, document all the best sounds and categorise them based on how they will help me achieve the best active, standard and ambient sounds possible.

I am really looking forward to doing more of this kind of advanced programming – I find that the more that is pre-prepared, the quicker I can adapt sounds for the actual requirement of the session – but strangely, on the other hand, even if I did no preparation, no customisation, I would still be able to set something up – I just might have to rely on more “stock” sounds – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

users are often quick to say “oh, this device, device x, or, device gr-55, the presets are all rubbish” – I’ve been hearing that about device after device that I’ve owned, and I must say – I disagree.  many of the presets on many devices are not just usable out of the box but sometimes, incredibly beautiful – and for me, it’s more about recognising which presets sound great (even if that is a small percentage), good, ok, and not so good…and then taking the appropriate action based on that assessment. to dismiss them out of hand as rubbish – I don’t get it, personally – I think that is probably ego-driven, “oh, I am the artist, I can make better voices than roland – or digitech – or whoever – can”.

I disagree, because the staff at these companies are often musicians themselves, and they understand just as well as you or I do “what sounds good” – so I would speak in their defense, they do the best they can, they create presets that will hopefully either be useful right out of the box, or, with a little bit of work and customisation, voices that have potential.  if you look at it that way – all the presets are “good”, because if you tweak them enough, they will be good! of course, they aren’t “presets” at that point, but, if you haven’t changed much about them, they are very close to being presets – and I often use presets without modification.  if they sound good…if the shoe fits…if it isn’t broke…don’t fix it.

in the end, it’s always back to time though – if I can figure out how and when I have the time to work on the other side of set up, customisation and programming – obviously, I will need to find a way to do this “in stages”.  I have already begun a document that categorises some of the voices I use, and describes all of the custom voices I’ve built so far,for the gr-55, but I want to take that much, much further than I have to date.

for musicians mostly – toolset reconfiguration

a rare block of time became free, so I did what I feel compelled to do every few months whether I need to or not – rebuild the studio.  or rather, reconfigure it, find better ways to process and route, alter and effect, record and playback…loop and delay.

each time I go through this process, hopefully, things get a little better.  there are fewer long cable runs, devices are more organised, and new signal paths are invented that should, theoretically, at least, give me the most and best sonic options to record with.  time will tell!

it used to be that this was just a pedal board rebuild, but the last real pedalboard I built, in 2005, is long since retired, and now I have “floating” pedal boards – the kind without the board. 🙂

so this time, I wanted to ensure that I would have as little as possible to do in the way of “custom connections” when I want to record.  the idea being, that every instrument, plus a selection of special paths for guitar, has it’s own pair of stereo tracks on the mixer (or mono in a few cases) – and I mean every instrument.

one part of the configuration that did not change is the final processing prior to the signal paths terminating in the sound card – as I had in the last set up, I take a stereo output of the mixer (which is not being used as a normal mixer, but rather as a guitar and keyboard processing mixer, if you will) and it goes first to the roland rc-50 in stereo, and then the roland goes out in stereo to the digitech time bender delay so I can have beautiful, long fades of either the loop that’s running, and/or any live material at the end of a piece.

this particular set up, with my “best” stereo looper and “best” delay as the last two items in the chain, after the OUTPUT of the mixer, but prior to the sound card, has worked so well, that I think I will probably reiterate it in every new set up – I just can’t think of a better way. my only regret with this routing is that I don’t have a very, very expensive and beautiful hardware reverb to put after the delay. 🙂

while that used to be a priority, it isn’t now, at least not at the moment, because having the full version of breeze allows me to apply amazing reverberant sounds in post-production, which is fine for the moment.

since I’m in hardware dreamland for a moment, please add in an eventide harmoniser too, just before the looper I think.  🙂

so in the current rebuild, knowing I would want to keep the end of the chain the same, I made sure it was set up first – so I completed the configuration of the last part of the signal chain before I even began to think about the instrument and input side !

then, working backwards, I started to try and map out how I wanted the routing to be with a view to make things as simple as possible when improvising live and recording.

starting with the guitars, then, since they are the trickiest.

the core of the guitar system is of course the roland gr-55, and the first part of the signal chain is based on it being the central input device – so the guitar synthesizer itself, is connected via the special cable to the synth – and this is simplicity itself, actually, it then goes out as a stereo pair to the first two channels of the mixer.

that takes care of three of the four component sounds the synth produces: synth voice 1,

synth voice 2, and the modelled guitar tone – all three, in stereo, taken from the main stereo

out of the gr-55 directly to channels 1 and 2 of the mixer.

guitar synth > stereo out > mixer channels 1 & 2

then we come to the fourth component, which has a separate output on the back of the gr-55, which is the unaffected, normal guitar sound. what happens to it…is a little more complex.

in my previous set up, I had this particular component, the unaffected guitar out of the synth, split via an a/b box, one line going to the line 6 X3 live, the other, through the stomp boxes chain.  that worked OK, but I wanted more finite control, and more choices – so this time, it’s now the a/b/c box instead – why not? J

so the unaffected guitar out of the gr-55 comes out of the synth and goes into the “common” or “in/out” of the a/b/c box.  it can then be switched to either path a, path b or path c.  those are now to be configured as follows, each returning to its own mixer pair or channel:

path a: guitar > whammy II pitch pedal > line 6 x3 live > stereo out > mixer channels 3 & 4

path b: guitar > v-wah (modelling wah/distortion) > rc-20xl looper > boss ce-5 stereo chorus > boss bf-3 stereo flanger > boss rv-5 stereo digital reverb > line 6 dl-4 stereo delay > stereo out > mixer channels 5 & 6

path c: guitar > boss md-2 distortion > roland volume pedal > mono out > mixer channel 7

optionally: path c can be routed to a small, miked up practice amp instead of being routed through the mixer.

(note: mixer channel 8 remains unassigned – for future stereo device options)

so, by creating this scenario, any of the three paths a/b/c can be played in conjunction with the currently chosen guitar synth voice, and, of course, using the a/b/c switch, allows me to switch between three pre-configurable guitar sounds.

additionally, this “unaffected voice” on the guitar synth can actually be set up with it’s own internal effects within the gr-55’s programming parameters, so additional sounds can be set up to sit “before” the three paths as well – talk about flexibility.

of course, in reality, most of the time, I will use a blend of stereo guitar synth and stereo x3 live (or sometimes, just one of those), and the stomp box chains are just for the occasional foray into some of the different sounds available via the stomp boxes – all of which have their own unique characters.

each of the three chains was designed carefully so as to be unique as possible – the x3 chain, path a, of course has a massive library of amazing sounds just by itself, while path b allows me to use the combination distortion/wah sounds of the v-wah to drive a classic chain of modulation, reverb and delay devices – total pedal-mania there! and finally, path c is really just for fuzz tone soloing, with the volume pedal mainly present to clamp down on output noise once a solo completes, or to fade in a sinister buzzing solo…

future work is to re-invent using S-PDIF digital input for the X3 which supports that, recording it’s output directly, digitally, to the sound card – and once I get that working again, I might actually not use the mixer inputs any more – since I would have a super clean digital version recorded on the separate s-pdif channels – although I may also investigate routing the x3 live mixer channels to a different pair of inputs on the sound card, instead of having them “all in one basket” – the only disadvantage of that being that I would then “lose” the ability to instantly loop and then delay the sound of the x3 live – but that might be ok.

I also want to think about using amplifiers again, a small, low level amp with a great tone, miking that up and recording it on separate sound card channels, so I can then mix that raw guitar amp “tone” with the sounds captured by the mixer into the sound card.  that is for the future though – and I could see a classic pignose amp in there too, perhaps someday, and maybe an envelope follower to go with it, so I can do some proper fz tones…

and that is pretty much it for the guitar “section”, except to say, there are various continuous controller or expression pedals here and there in the set up, which I am developing slowly as I go to control real time parameters with during live performance, I am particularly interested in what I may be able to accomplish with the expression pedal for the digitech time bender delay that currently sits at the very end of the signal chain, but many of the devices support expression pedals, and I want to work more with the amazing sounds that can be achieved by being able to control effect levels of devices as you are playing.

finally we now move to the world of keyboards and x-y pads, which is a much more straightforward affair, except this time, I’ve made all three of my synths and the kaossilator available in the mixer, so that if I so desired, I could turn all three of them on, and play all three at once – live.  one in stereo and two in living mono. J

to accomplish this, here’s how the “keyboard” half of the mixer looks now:

m-audio prokeys sono 88 stereo keyboard > stereo out > mixer channels 9 & 10 (ganged channel)

note: of course, this is just the stereo out of the audio of the prokeys – for it’s stock audio voices. at the same time as these can be recorded through the mixer, of course the same keypress that drives the stereo audio out ALSO drives MIDI, which can of course run one or more pianos, synthesizers, or mellotrons within SONAR – so this stereo feed is just one part of what the prokeys can create in terms of sound – and in fact, early trials show that a “blend” of MIDI keyboards and this live audio out can be very effective indeed.

yamaha dx7s keyboard > mono out > mixer channels 11 & 12 (ganged channel)

yamaha dx11s keyboard > mono out > mixer channels 13 & 14 (ganged channel)

korg kaossillator x-y pad synthesizer > stereo out > mixer channels 15 & 16 (ganged channel)

and remarkably, that is it.  reconfiguring this took most of the afternoon, but the majority of the work is done, so all that remains is testing (you never know when one or more of your trusty cables will just pack up and stop working), level setting and to see if it all works as expected, make any last minute tweaks – and then go back to work!

of course, the unknown right now is…will it work, and, will it sound good?  but, the good news is, if either is a problem – well, that just means a little more effort will be required until it does sound good.

you can’t really go wrong, because the two core devices sound very good already, without a lot of help from me, it usually the stomp boxes that are a little trickier to get “sounding right” – but, I am sure it will all work well enough, and I should be all set for another six months or until I get another “idea” about how I can make the system work more efficiently, or if I add new devices in, and so on…

I will find out what works and what doesn’t, and respond accordingly.

now, I am going to turn back to the assessments of “the dozey lumps” (including electric material, and progressive rock covers, from the same band in electric mode – a band I am calling “proto-bindlestiff” at the moment mentally) rehearsals and concerts that I’ve been converting from cassette few days, and see what sonic gems I can extract from the distant musical past, as well as beginning to transfer some of the very earliest dave stafford recordings – starting with the first known recording of dave stafford playing music – a band concert from 1971 when I was just 13 years old…58 minutes of musical history?? 🙂

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!!