May 2011

Three weeks ago I finished the drums for "Painting Abstracts" and moved on to the piano. I'm using Modartt's Pianoteq Play instead of Truepianos this time around: for some reason it just seemed to work better. Both VSTs have a fine selection of "pianos" to choose from, but Pianoteq's "K1" model seemed best. There's a jazzy middle section coming up, however, that might prove the selection and see whether it sticks.

Last weekend I took a break from Abstracts and worked on "Strange Finale", loading it up into Cakewalk's SONAR X1 Producer and seeing how it behaved. Before long I was completely comfortable with the newly revised "smart" tool in the MIDI editor, and only once did X1 crash, taking out my recent edits.

Much has been written about the mad, crazy, and user-annoying changes between SONAR 8.5 and SONAR X1 so I won't re-hash them. Suffice to say, I am not a fan of X1, and I've been cautious about using it full time for my projects. It's a very buggy release, but in Cakewalk's favour, they have been releasing regular patches to deal with the most troublesome niggles.

I just wish I could get SONAR X1's "smart" editing tools into 8.5's robust and stable UI.

*

In other news, lousy blog spammers still get through the captcha gate on this blogengine site, but it seems managable. I'll keep comments open for a while longer.

New Amplifier

The AudioSource AMP100 recently experienced a 50% price cut in my "save for later" shopping cart on Amazon, so I took advantage and purchased:

It replaces the old Dick Smith Electronics kitset amplifier that a) runs on 240 V and b) was starting to crackle. One nice thing about the AMP100 is that it has an A-B speaker switch on the front, which allows me to switch between my Behringer TRUTH 2031P monitors, and a pair of Boston Acoustic bookshelf speakers.

Next step: Obtaining an SPL meter and calibrating the room for K-System monitoring.

Progressive rock should involve some progress

It's April and I find myself sitting in the studio batting away at the SPD-20, laying down some drum tracks on Painting Abstracts. That sounds like exactly where I was in November last year. Could this mean zero progress?

Yes and No. In November, while starting to record some drums, I realized the bass and guitar were out of tune. So I re-recorded the bass. Then I realized that - given the recent shift in lyrical content - I would like to have some acoustic guitar behind the verses. Suddenly the whole damn thing was transposed down a tone, and the bass and guitars re-recorded. In the case of the acoustic guitar, capos and unusual tunings were used.

Now I'm back to recording drums. But it's not zero progress. Of course, I'd like to be finished already, but at least it is forward movement.

String Machine

If you are looking for an emulation of a Solina String Ensemble, I recommend the free eSLine VST.

Just hold down an open fifth somewhere in the middle of the keyboard, and you'll swear you're hearing the opening seconds of Hergest Ridge.

Alternatively, throw a phaser on it and Jarre-out.

Gibson L6-S Deluxe

Serial# 968739

The annual Marin County Guitar Fair was held in January. This was the second year in a row that we've gone along to see what's on offer. Not with any intention of buying or selling, of course, but just to admire the work of local luthiers and to maybe catch a glimpse of a genuine '53 blackguard tele, or similar.

Last year I joked to Lisa that there were only two possible models of guitar that we might find that would put me in a "difficult position", one of which is the Gibson ES-Artist, as played by Steve Howe on all Asia albums in which he contributes; and a Gibson L6-S Deluxe, as played by this guy shown on the right.

That model of guitar is all over Oldfield's albums, from Incantations to QE2, and specifically the '79 live concerts exemplified by the Exposed film and album.

Oldfield's playing has a particular tone and quality on these albums that I covet, and it was always tempting to think that the guitar was partially responsible. I've kind of always wanted one.

Last year I remember seeing a related model, a black L6-S Custom but it didn't pique my interest at all.

This year, the real thing showed up.

After a couple of seconds careful thought*, it came home with me. 

According to Wikipedia, Gibson only made 3500 of these models, from 1975 to 1980. They are not really considered collectable by guitar experts - at least, not currently - and so prices vary. I consider this particular purchase to be good value, while "true collectors" who wet themselves over $30,000 blackguard teles and 50's Les Pauls probably haven't even heard of the L6-S, and might think it too much to pay for an old, "unknown" Gibson.

The body shape is somewhat unique. It looks like a classic Les Paul that has been left out in the sun: Thinner and "spread out". I like to think of it as a cross between a thin Gibson SG and the Les Paul profile. Also unusual is it has 24 frets, with a thin neck joint and body cut-away making runs up the fretboard a breeze.

I think the pickups are designed by Bill Lawrence - they were on the original L6-S but the Deluxe model could be using something different. Either way, I know they are factory-original**, along with the guitar case.

Both the guitar case and guitar smelled rather musty, but after I brought the guitar home, I have been airing the case out in the sun, and I stripped the guitar down and cleaned off all the accumulated gunk from the hardware and rubbed the body down with Murphy's Oil Soap. Now it has a pleasant, vintage wood aroma.

To celebrate the addition of this first "vintage" instrument to my collection, I spent some time recording some excerpts of my favorite Oldfield tracks with the L6-S.

The first thing I noticed is that this guitar is BRIGHT. Very trebly, not at all Les Paulish at all, despite the humbuckers. Secondly, the guitar is seriously resonant. Play almost  any note on the high E string above the 12th fret and you can hear various harmonics on the other open strings singing along. Also, the pickups are very microphonic, reproducing clicks, and pick noise, and even my cursing at duff notes. I think these factors contribute to the tone of the instrument and do explain some of what you can hear in the Exposed recordings. The "honk" of this guitar is definitely present on the Oldfield albums.

So here's my attempts:

First Excursion (excerpt) 

I don't have an amplifier, so I couldn't try and replicate that wonderful sustained feedback on the original version of First Excursion.

 Incantations Part 3 (excerpt) 

 QE 2 (excerpt) 

These were all recorded with the same settings on the L6-S: bridge pickup with the treble control rolled all the way off.

(*) Actually, I went back the following day and bought it.

(**) Often, owners will swap out the factory-original pickups and put in their favorite brand of humbucker. When considering a vintage guitar purchase, it's always better to have the original components.

A comment about comments

I disabled comments a couple months ago, due to spam issues. At some point I'll upgrade to a new version of BlogEngine and implement some kind of captcha or similar. Until then, you can email me with comments.

Getting through the squeeze, abstractly

It got really busy at work and I haven't made much progress apart from setting up the SPD-20 on the desk and verifying the signal chain (Midi etc) is all working. Perhaps this holiday season will provide some time to get those drums done. Also I have some ideas for getting the acoustic guitar into the mix.

In the abstract

Moving on to the next track: Painting Abstracts. This is a challenge because the current version is pretty much finished and rather good as it stands. However, I want to revisit some of the lyrics, and update the instrumentation.

The first task is to re-record the bass guitar using Guitar Rig 4. 

Playing with the Big Boys

192kbps MP3

Notes

This song is made up of three themes that seemed to want to be in the same piece together. Walter and I collaborated on the music and lyrics. As I recall, Walter had an alternative set of lyrics and melody for the the bridge section, but alas, we don't have a recorded version of that.

Although pretty much all instruments have been re-recorded and performed by yours truly, I do want to point out that the D-550 synth solo is Walter's original performance, captured in the MIDI sequencer back in 1990-somthing.

Instruments

From the archives: Early Stages

Diving back into the cassette archives turns up some interesting fragments. I try to do this research before finalizing anything in the project, in case there is something worth recapturing - an odd note, a turn of phrase, or something, that was present in the early versions and deserves to be retained.

However, in the case of this song, I think we got everything we were looking for. These (edited) historical archives are for true fans and paleontologists only:

Themes 1 (1988)

Themes 2 (1988):

Themes 3 (1990):

Instrumental demo from 1990:

Lyrics

I watch them run and jump and play outside my window
I want to go out and join in the fun
Mother tells me no, she says that I'm just too young
They play too rough, and I'll get hurt in the end

      She stops me playing with the big boys
      Playing with the big boys
      Playing with the big boys, is where I want to be

Watch them throw and catch the ball, down in the park
I want to go down, and join in the game
Sometimes is rough, being the smallest kid
When they choose the sides, I'm always left at the end

      I want to play with the big boys
      play with the big boys
      playing with the big boys, is where I want to be

And one day, when I am big and strong
I'll walk through the gate, and feel I belong
And when I get there, will it have to be so hard?
the big boys are playing in another back yard

      Playing with the big boys
      Playing with the big boys

At night, when Mother tucks me into bed
I always dream, of staying up late, instead
In the morning, though I have grown by one day
I'll always be too young, to be a part of their play

music & lyrics © 1990 Colin Nicholls & Walter Nicholls