Solo Flight

 192kbps MP3

Notes

This peice evolved out of a jam session we had, many years ago. We've tried rebooting it several times - see below for a complete evolutionary tree.

For the longest time, this remained an instrumental, but recently I noticed when I played it in the car on my way to work, I was humming a different melody and lyrics started coming to mind. So, it got revamped, and I think it's the best thing I've done so far. 

I think this marks the 50% complete point of the album. Yay!

Instruments

 

Lyrics

It was the day that Terry took me flying
Drive the Great South Road to Drury field
Outside the car we stand and watch the gliders
See a flash of sunlight from the keel

A month ago, I tried, but could not end it
Howard Jones was on the stereo
Bailing out before the song was over
She trusted me to never let her go

Feel the vector from the tow-rope's tension
The cockpit lurches with the winch release
Cast aloft in limbo, wind suspension
The breath of God above, the scars beneath

Indicates a left and checks the rear-view
The white Ford changes lanes, the traffic passes
Hands fixed to the wheel, at 10 and 2
Tears refract the light behind her glasses

   Stop! Let's roll the backup tape, restore the memories
   That's it; the moment that I broke her heart

And for a while, we share the ride with angels
See them smile, and think we've found a home
Dragging at our feet, the Earth is calling
No wings to hold us up, we're falling down

Falling
Falling Down
Falling
Falling Down 

music © 1989-1993 Colin Nicholls & Walter Nicholls, lyrics © 2011 Colin Nicholls

From the archives: The Evolution of a Track

(These tracks have been taken from a series of very old cassette tapes on which we used to record all our ideas, many years ago.)  

Solo Flight 1989

 96kbs mp3

I don't know where the rhythm sample came from. Possibly an Icehouse or Mr Mister track. In delicious 12-bit resolution, looping on the Akai X7000 sampler by taping down the low C key. The bass is definitely another sample, I'll assume a note from one of my acoustic guitars. Ethereal pad from the Korg Polysix; drones from the Roland Jupiter 6. Then we jammed for 8 minutes. And then we did it again, only this time we pressed RECORD on the tape deck. It was impossible to stay in time with the looping sample... but somehow, it didn't matter.

I have nothing around today that can emulate those luscious tones from the Polysix... I really should invest in the Korg Legacy VST collection.

Solo Flight 1990

 96kbs mp3

Once the Korg M1 showed up, we gave it another go, using the sequencer and multi-timbral features to best effect. The Roland D-50 lent it's unbeatable "Glass Vox" patch to the mix. But somehow, something was lost in translation. On the plus side, the piece gained a new middle section.

Solo Flight 1993

96kbs mp3

With multi-track recording at our disposal, I gave this piece another try, using Chapman Stick, guitars, and sequenced drums to push it in a new direction. 

And here it stayed for 15 years.

Solo Flight 2008

 128kbs mp3

I remember loading up the TruePianos VST, and experimenting with digital delay effects, playing around, and suddenly I was playing the Solo Flight chords... and sometimes that's all it takes for inspiration to hit. 

March 12, 2012 13:48 by colin


Changes

In a fit of energy I re-arranged the layout of the studio slightly. Keyboard against the wall; desk facing the window. The custom-designed-and-built studio furniture unit is unchanged positionally except for sliding a foot to the right.

Reflections from the window are reduced. Mission accomplished. On the other hand, when I'm working at home in day-job-mode I now have my back to the door which is not great. On the gripping hand, I can look out the window as I daydream work.

February 2, 2012 08:54 by colin


The Prodigal Dad: 1929-2011

My Dad passed away 2 months ago, from cancer. 

I know Dad was proud of the musical activity of all his children, although as far as I know not much of my personal creativity appealed to him. However I do know that every CD of our music that I burned and gave him was in his CD rack.

There are many treasured memories to choose from, but one in particular might be appropriate for this forum: Many years ago, I was living at home, and I raided Dad's toolbox for a pair of wire cutters to trim the ends off the new strings on my guitar. Of course, the hard strings notched the gentle wire cutters, and of course, Dad noticed.

Instead of getting angry, he went out to the garage and came back with a newish looking pair of Knipex wire cutters, handed them to me and said, "This is the right tool for the job".

I've used this pair to trim my guitar strings ever since. (no sign of notching, yet.)

 

In September I travelled to see Dad when he was in hospital. I played him an unfinished version of a track i was working on, which did not have a title, and I think he appreciated it. It's hard to tell with Dad sometimes.

Inevitable, this piece is now associated with Dad and therefore it now has a title, "A Sample of One", which I will not explain here. This month I completed the track, recording the acoustic guitar using one of Dad's Zoom H2 units.

January 27, 2012 07:52 by colin


Painting Abstracts On Location


 192kbps MP3

Notes

Chorus in 7/8 time, verses in 4/4. Pulsing guitars, sustaining keyboards, offbeat bassline, jazzy middle section. Walter and I collaborated on the chorus lyrics, which are perhaps a little too busy. In the last couple of years I threw out the mediocre verses and replaced them with new ones that actually told a real story. Much improved.

I am very proud of the jazzy piano in the middle section, it took a lot of practice. Walter could have played something more interesting in just a few takes, I expect, but he wasn't around to do that.

Instruments

Lyrics

Across the room I saw your face
You caught my eye with a hesitant smile
I took you home, showed you the place
I remember your words, you said:

   I'm painting abstracts, on location
   faking a picture and signing my name
   Painting Abstracts, no salvation
   from the painful pictures that collect in my brain

   Painting Abstracts, my creation
   is the one way I know, and it's never the same
   Painting Abstracts, one solution
   is disolving the memories, and forgetting the shame

Under your sleeve I saw the scars
You told the truth and not the usual lie
a secret wrapped inside the past
a line was drawn, I turned and looked away

Across the years, I lost a friend
Not suicide, but a stupid disease
I should have seen you at the end
Regret is a stone, in my head

   We're painting abstracts, on location
   ignoring reality and enduring the pain
   Painting Abstracts, on probation but 
   we're robbing the bank to keep playing the game 

   Painting Abstracts, our protection is
   the color's so vivid we don't have to explain
   Painting Abstracts, on location
   we're taking a remedy, that is keeping us sane. 

music & lyrics © 1990/2011 Colin Nicholls & Walter Nicholls

From the archives: Early Stages

(These tracks have been taken from a series of very old cassette tapes on which we used to record all our ideas, many years ago.)  

The first relic features a Roland Jupiter 6 and Korg Polysix. I don't own the Jupiter anymore (stupid, stupid...) but I think Walter has the Polysix in working order still. The second relic demonstrates the power of the Korg M1 sequencer, if not the talents of the guitar player... for dedicated fans only, I'm afraid. The chord sequence of the middle section is the same, yet completely different.

Coming up with the riffs (1989)

Taking Shape (1989):

 

January 26, 2012 14:02 by colin


A Sample of One


 192kbps MP3

Notes:

This little instrumental was hiding inside my Yamaha nylon-string guitar in 1989, and took shape in 1990 when the relatively new Korg M1 sequencer allowed us to throw some strings, drums, and acoustic bass at it.

For the longest time this piece was "Untitled" but recently one seems to have become appropriate.

Finally last year I re-recorded this track, but I was having trouble settling on which guitar to use. I couldn't record a version that had the same quality of sound that the original demo had. 

Most recently I completed the track this month, using my Ovation Balladeer, recorded using a Zoom H2 portable recorder as a stereo feed into my computer. 

Instruments:

music © 1990 Colin Nicholls

January 24, 2012 09:51 by colin


January Update

I had some family stuff to deal with over the last couple of months, but I've been enjoying the new A-80 keyboard. A very comfortable play.

I've completed the tracking on Painting Abstracts some months ago, and moved on to finishing up Untitled (which now has a title - more later) and Solo Flight, which is turning out to be pretty epic.

I feel like I'm on target for an August 2012 completion of volume 1.

January 20, 2012 15:45 by colin


Weighty New Arrival

Here's something I've wanted for a while. Having lost my eBay virginity recently, it seemed like a no-brainer to bid on this:

It's a Roland A-80 master MIDI controller keyboard, circa 1989-95, with 88 piano-weighted keys and polyphonic aftertouch. Some cosmetic dings from its earlier life in a smoke-free studio, but all in working order.

One of the other nice features of this board is that it offers both sprung pitch-bend stick, and independent (non-spring) pitch and modulation wheels. For some reason (economy?) it is very rare to find both types of controllers in one instrument, yet there are many situations where you need one or the other. It is impossible to do realistic manual vibrato using a wheel (in my opinion), but on the other hand, some software instruments (Garritan Personal Orchestra for example) the mod wheel is used to control volume. The springy pitch/mod joystick is useless for that. (Clavia/Nord gets this right.)

Having lugged it into my room, minor problem: It was 1.5 inches too wide for my custom-built studio desk, but the nice thing about furniture that you've made yourself is that you have no qualms performing a quick mod to provide a work-around. Here it is newly installed:

Can't even see the joins. 

The feel of the keyboard is pretty good. More resistance than I'm used to, and doesn't really feel like a true piano (the escapement mechanism isn't quite the same) but the keys have a nice solidity and thunk to them, and the OS allows various response curves to be selected and a lot of tweaking options.

I've located a copy of the service manual, which is good to have, because the default aftertouch sensitivity on this board is, well, rather insensitive unless you're the Incredible Hulk. Fortunately, there's a hardware mod you can do to adjust this, and I expect at some point I will give it a go.

November 6, 2011 13:33 by colin


Best Update Ever?

I was so excited by the feature set and demo videos of Presonus' Studio One v.2.0 that I went onto the online store and ordered the wrong upgrade package.

Fortunately it is now sorted out...

I'm a long-time Cakewalk SONAR user, but earlier this year I took advantage of a $20 license of the "Artist" edition of Studio One 1.6. After reading about the Project Mastering window in the Pro version, I soon upgraded, and have been using Studio One Pro for mastering my CD compilations for the last few months.

v 2.0 of Studio One, announced a couple of days ago, might just be the best update ever. It seems to address pretty much all the concerns I had about potentially switching to the Studio One platform from SONAR, and the upgrade price was very attractive.

Given my dissatisfaction with the development path of Cakewalk SONAR X1, there's nothing to prevent me from switching except perhaps inertia. I have a new project that I'm ready to start... and no excuses for not giving it a whirl in Studio One 2.0.

October 20, 2011 05:45 by colin


September 2011

Painting Abstracts is finished. The L6-S and the Telecaster battled it out and finally agreed to share. Tele on rhythm and "spooky" guitar; L6-S on lead, all the way.

I promise I will get back and finish my series on vocal production as soon as I can. I have to attend to other business for a while, though.

September 15, 2011 19:25 by colin


Hearing voices (3)

After completing the "comping and correction" stage, I now have five or so mono tracks of vocals ready for the next stage. I like to apply one last destructive edit before applying any FX or panning or mixing: "normalizing". 

Audio Normalization is generally understood as making a collection of audio clips have the same peak value of 0 db. Many audio tools let you do this at the click of a button, but that's not going to be helpful here. I need to do two or three things:

  • ensure that the average level throughout each of the vocal tracks is constant, i.e it sounds like one consistent take;
  • reduce breath sounds and noise between vocal phrases;
  • make all vocal tracks sound the same volume when set at 0db gain.

I do this by adding a Gain Envelope to each clip, boosting and cutting where appropriate, and comparing across each of the five or so tracks:

on average, I'm generally boosting the tracks 3-6 db, and reducing the "intake breath before each line" by 6 db, and silencing anything else. When I solo these tracks, I can actually hear the bleed-through of the backing music from my headphones being picked up by the vocal microphone, so I make sure to replace those sections with silence.

After a final listen to each complete track to check for things I've missed, we get to the destructive part: For each track, I select all clips for an entire verse or chorus, and "bounce to clip". This replaces the audio data with the new version, with the gain envelope applied:

That screenshot is of backing vocal tracks, showing the last phrase of a verse, followed by the chorus (hence the separate clips on each track).

I know it is unfair of me to talk about this process without providing audio samples, but I'm not quite secure enough for that. Even with pitch correction and gain normalization, these "naked" vocals are pretty unimpressive. Perhaps later.

Next: Mixing, routing, and effects.

July 31, 2011 07:42 by colin


The Prodigal Sounds: Fruit of the Steel Tree

About

Our debut collection of songs is now available on CD Baby!

Melodic progressive rock songs and instrumental interludes, a touch of 70's influence but a product of the dystopian Now.

 

"Very smooth, hi-tech sounding delivery..."
- Chris Jemmett, alt.music.yes

"This guy is awesome."
- Dazed, on the Carvin Forum.

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