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.

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.

Moogfest Destination: Durham, NC

Exciting news announced today! The next Moogfest will be held in Durham, North Carolina, May 19-22, 2016. I’ve never been to this event as it has historically been held in Asheville, North Carolina, a 4 to 5 hour drive from my house. So to have Moogfest held locally? Can’t wait!

Moogfest Screen Capture

50th Anniversary of the Moog Modular Synthesizer

From the Moog Music Youtube Channel:

October 12, 2014 marks the 50 Year anniversary of the unveiling of the Moog modular synthesizer at the Audio Engineering Society’s (AES) New York convention. On that day in 1964, Dr. Robert Moog introduced the world to a completely new type of instrument that would go on to change the course of music history and influence decades of future instrument design. Told by a Moog engineer, Moog Historian, and Bob Moog himself, this mini-documentary explores Moog Music’s quest to resurrect the original methods, materials and designs used in the foundational modular synths. Through recreating Keith Emerson’s modular system, Moog Music rediscovers the power, elegance, and enduring legacy of its first instruments.

Find out more at Moog Music Modular System.

Footage of Keith Emerson from the film “Isle Of Wight” used with permission of Murray Lerner.

Photo of Keith Emerson & Bob Moog at 4:28 by Mark Hockman.

It’s The Little Things

It’s the little things in life that bring happiness. This past Friday, I received my copy of the March 2014 issue of Keyboard magazine. Lo and behold, I find that I’m mentioned and quoted in the Editor’s Note. I finally made it into the pages of one of my all-time favorite magazines! Honestly, I was as thrilled as a little kid on Christmas morning. 🙂

Yeah, I realize that in the grand scheme of things it’s not really a big deal. People have their names printed in stuff all of the time. But it is kind of cool to see one’s name printed in a periodical one grew up reading and devouring every word of.

Yes, it’s the little things. And this little thing made my weekend.

Keyboard Magazine Mention

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!