New Music Monday: A Song Started In 2011

Here is a song that I first started writing back in 2011, thus the rather plain title “2011 09 01”. The title and date associated with it has no meaning; it’s simply the format I use when creating project files.

Yeah, it sometimes takes awhile to finish a piece of music. 🙂

When I write, sometimes a bass line inspires me. At other times a particular sound inspires me. It’s different for every song. If I remember correctly, this one started with the bass line and grew from there.

It’s only at the demo stage and I don’t think I’ll take it any further. Nevertheless, I figured why not let it see the light of day. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

Electronic Head-space

I’ve been getting into a different musical head-space these days, one that is tending more towards electronic. Having grown up in the ’80s, this is sort of like returning to my first love. I’ll always love modern progressive rock; I thoroughly enjoy the complexity the genre offers and it’s been so much of my writing and listening focus the past decade. However, the compositional simplicity of electronic music with a focus on the sound palette (ala Depeche Mode) has of late become so very interesting to me. So much so that I’m busy writing and recording new music with a strong focus on the electronic. It’s actually quite liberating artistically helping to spur lots of new and interesting ideas.

To be continued.

Blockage

I’m having some blockage. No, not the bodily kind. It’s the dreaded creative block. One song I’ve been working on the past week is almost done, but I just can’t quite figure out an ending. The section I’ve set aside as the bridge could act as the finale, but then I feel the song would end up being too short. And what I’ve added after the bridge as an initial stab at an ending kinda, sorta makes the song too long. I don’t know. Maybe I should just let the song write itself and not worry about the length. A lot of The Beatles’ songs run under three minutes, so if it was good enough for them…

Finally Underway

Finally underway towards finishing some songs. It’s going on two years since I released anything and that’s been personally frustrating. Nevertheless, the past month or so has seen an increase in a level of creativity I’ve not had in awhile. And with a recent rearranging of my studio, that’s helped to spur things along even more.

The Lair

I’ve been able to finish one song and get it ready for mixing. Close to finishing another with at least three more in the wings ready for completion.

Looking forward to a rather productive midsummer!

Use What You Have

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Use what you have. That has become my motto of late, particularly in regards to music equipment. As a gear junkie, it’s easy to get trapped in the mindset that just one more piece of gear will spark some sort of creativity, crush any writer’s block, make me ultimately happy and solve all the world’s problems! Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. It’s easy to allow the desire for some piece of new gear to get in the way of, or the “latest and greatest” software release to distract from, the fundamental reason I’ve invested in musical hardware and software: making music.

I remember as a young teenager trying to eke every bit of functionality out of my first real synth, a Korg Poly-800. I learned to program my own sounds, to program the step-sequencer and to record it via a poor man’s multitrack (i.e. two separate cassette decks feeding into each other). It was all that I had and could afford at the time. When I had few choices in regards to gear or functionality, I was (if I’m remembering non-nostalgically) more creative. Nowadays, with the wide availability and affordability of powerful soft-synths and the myriad functions they come with, there’s almost too many choices to make when using a software instrument. They come with such an array of features and sounds that it would take a person years to explore it all. Now this is great for those just starting out in this crazy world of music-making as it provides a big bang for the buck, particularly if one is a cash-strapped teenager. But once you’ve spent some time creating music, you begin to realize that too many choices can lead to a stifling of creativity. More isn’t always better.

The DAW (digital audio workstation) that I use for recording, like most software, has periodic updates, typically on an annual basis. And like most software, there is usually a fee for major updates. This year however, I decided to break the cycle and stick with the previous version. Yes, the update that was released has new features I’d like to have and could find useful. But here’s the thing: “last year’s” version is really all that I need. Indeed, it’s much more than I need as there are features buried in it that I’ll likely never use. Can I record and mix audio? Yes. Can I record and edit MIDI data? Yes. Can I do pretty much everything I need to do from a recording studio standpoint with an older, non-current version of DAW software? Yes.

Another driving force for me putting off any new purchases and to use what I have is that, over the past several years, I’ve been moving back into the hardware world. Don’t get me wrong, software plugins sound great and are economical when compared to hardware, but the tactile thing is not there. And as a musician, I miss that. Sitting in front of a computer and mouse-clicking around in the GUI of a soft-synth program feels too much like work. Also, as operating systems are updated, the soft-synths I have today may not run on a future OS due to potential incompatibilities. At least hardware instruments, barring any breakdown in the components, will continue to be playable for decades. That’s not being seen, at least yet, with software instruments.

For me, the solution is a hybrid setup of things I already own: select pieces of quality hardware instruments combined with a few pieces of powerful software. I have not only the immediacy and tactility of hardware instruments but also the convenience and power of software. For me, a focus on just one or the other is unduly limiting. A hybrid setup is, to use a well worn cliche, the best of both worlds.

At the end of the day, it’s not the hardware, it’s not the software, it’s not the latest and greatest gear that makes music. They are just tools that are useless without someone to play them. Take a second look at those tools currently at your disposal: the older instruments, that “out-dated” software, your aging computer. Squeeze every last ounce of creative juice from them to achieve your creative goals. Use what you have.

New Music Thursday: “Waiting For Light”

It’s Thursday, so it’s time for some new music (any day is a good day for new music 🙂 ). Here is my latest work, “Waiting For Light”.

Somewhat in the spirit of the RPM Challenge, my goal was to write, perform and mix this quickly in several hours as opposed to agonizing for days and weeks over trying to achieve a perfect production. It’s more about getting back to the fun of recording.

No, it’s not perfect. But that’s not the point.

MIDI: 30 Years Already?

This video is several months old, but I just got around to watching it. It’s a very interesting discussion about the impact of MIDI on musicians, engineers and designers during the first 30 years of its existence. Jordan Rudess, Dave Smith, Alan Parsons, Craig Anderton, the late George Duke and Tom Oberheim all weigh in on a hugely successful technology that is still at version 1.0 after three decades.

I found it wonderfully fascinating to watch and remember my own experiences as a young teenager, in the days prior to multi-timbral instruments, of being able to layer sounds from 2 or more synthesizers in a live performance setting. And to hear insights from these gentlemen about what MIDI has meant and means to them was a treat.

New Music Monday: “Separation”

2013-09 Studio Alesis iO DockAlthough I’ve downloaded a few iPad synth apps, heretofore I’ve been unable to fully implement them into my home studio. Being a bit OCD when it comes to how a given space is arranged, I prefer to have as few cables in view as possible. So utilizing the Apple iPad Camera Kit or some other separate box along with the required cables to add MIDI functionality to the iPad just isn’t my cup o’ tea.

So, after months of not-so-serious searching, I stumbled upon the Alesis iO Dock for a rock bottom price at a local music store. It adds several recording functions to the iPad including MIDI, which is primarily what I bought it for. And it’s working beautifully so far! Now, I can use my keyboards to easily play Animoog, Thor, Addictive Synth and the instruments in GarageBand to my little heart’s content.

And to show just how good this little setup works, here is some ear-candy utilizing only Propellerhead’s Thor iPad synth for sounds (except drums). Enjoy!

Of Progress & Old Cassettes

Keyboard Close Up ShotDue to time constraints, other responsibilities and interests, the Ashes and Dust project has ended. (Updated 6/4/2013)

Greetings and hallucinations!

Busy week this one was, not only with the day job of course, but also with D and I working on our culturally defining EP release (or perhaps one that only the two of us will listen to :-P).

We are making progress as we’ve chosen 5 songs to flesh out and a sixth one that may or may not show up on the work. Our plan is to have something to share with family, friends and any other willing listeners in 3-4 months, barring any unforeseen interruptions from our normal lives.

At the very least, it’s just a lot of fun to collaborate creatively, feeding off each other’s ideas. The tedious aspect of the whole thing, and this is something I’ve noticed even working on my own, is the arrangement and mixing of a song. It not only takes a good bit of time and thought but also some trial and error to accomplish. But if one is going to do it right, then it should take some time and effort, right?

Oh for the long ago days of recording into a cassette player and ping-ponging into another cassette player to mimic multi-track recording. As a financially-strapped teenager not able to afford a real four-track recorder, this was my solution to the problem. And quite frankly, it was a lot of fun. I vividly remember programming a song into the sequencer of my Ensoniq SQ-80 workstation and then recording it into a normal cassette player whilst playing live drums. After finishing that, I’d record the first recording into a second cassette player whilst laying down additional synths and leads. Such simplicity. It’s interesting that at times when resources are limited, we are at our creative best. Necessity is the mother of invention. An oft-used, but very true, proverb.

I just wish I’d kept those grainy sounding cassettes.