Practice ‘til your hands hurt

I’m having some difficulty making progress compositionally on a couple of new pieces, so I decided it was time to go back to some mostly-recorded works and see what needed to be done to get them ship-shape for album #2.

I should probably document my manifesto for album #2, but one of the tenets is to go back to the first demos for each piece, and respect the original instrumentation, if it makes sense to do so.

For the piece currently known as “Listen”, the bass riffs were developed shortly after I acquired my Chapman Stick, and certainly the early demos all featured it. So why, I have to ask, does my current work-in-progress project use a regular bass instead?

So I take out the Stick case from the back of the closet, and give it a good cleaning and a new set of strings (standard 10-string tuning). Usually I spend a long time trying to find the perfect recorded tone, but this time it came together pretty quickly (see below).

Another tenet in my manifesto is to avoid building up tracks by stitching together multiple takes. I’m not normally a “one-take” kind of guy, so this means, practice. And in the case of the Chapman Stick, which I hadn’t seriously played for a couple of years at least, lots of practice.

Finally, I think I got it down. In one take.

Here’s a little video I made while (re)recording the bass:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mB38yCU6D0

The backing track is not final; it’s a special mix that keeps things simple and un-distracting.

Now, with respect to that tone, here’s how it is achieved in the DAW:

image

I’m recording a mono track (#6 in the picture) direct into computer’s audio interface via a Dual Channel PRO ST Preamp, to buffer and merge the two channels from the Stick into a single mono signal.

This mono signal is then routed in-the-box to an Aux Track “Stick FX” that contains an instance of Guitar Rig 4 virtual amplifier. A pre-FX Send duplicates the signal to a second Aux Track that allows me to mix in some of the clean, un-effected sound of the Stick.

Re-releases and Resets

You may notice that things have changed color since your last visit. I got tired of the blue and decided a change would be a good idea for the next phase of existence.

Steel Tree 2.0

Okay, the biggest news is that I have created a 2.0 version of the Fruit of the Steel Tree album, as a digital release on BandCamp. The songs are also available to stream on this site - I’ve updated the Production Notes and you can read about the changes there.

Album #2

Album #2 is taking longer than expected, due to reasons that aren’t worth discussing. I have one track 100% completed, and I’m working on a couple of others that have been around for years but have never been finished. I have another long piece in demo form, 70% of it anyway. And finally, another large piece that is in the process of being written and I’m feeling very challenged by it both compositionally and thematically and it’s been hard to make progress on it.

Bottom line: I’m not giving up. There’s too much here that I value to throw in the bin. In order to get Steel Tree finished, I had to get serious and “reset” my activity and treated it like a project, requiring management and discipline.

I need another reset, to not despair of how long things are taking and instead satisfy myself with continual, gradual progress. And also, I’ll blog about it. The studio diary lives again (hopefully).

A new arrival : Agile 53437 Bass

So here we have a lousy picture of an Agile Defiant 53437:

 

 It's not a trick of perspective; those frets really do fan out along the fingerboard. The bass B string has a scale length of 37", while the top G string is 34".

 

 

August Blues

Mastering on all tracks finished so far is going well. I've identified a few problems with the mixes - not many - and addressed them, so that's good.

Slaying the Dragon is almost completed, instrumentally, but the lyrics are giving me pause. So I'm currently playing a kaoroke mix in my car and singing along and it's taking me somewhere slightly different than from where I started. So, there's some on-going work to do here.

I've completed the album cover artwork. It's getting really close!

July Update

I've finished the instrument tracking for Slaying the Dragon, including figuring out the solo section. Downside: I currently hate this tune, I'm hearing it in my sleep for crying out loud. I need an earworm pill.

I've decided to re-do the vocals, the guide vox just ain't good enough, and I have some ideas for tweaking the lyrics.

This means that the August deadline probably isn't going to be achieved. Oh well. It won't be the first time I've blown a deadline.

June Tunes

Work continues on Slaying The Dragon. In the last month I've:

  • re-recorded all of the acoustic guitar, and added some strummed chords in selected sections;
  • re-recorded the Chapman Stick bass line
  • re-recorded the drums
  • laid down a new E-Piano track

Still to do:

  • I have to decide whether the "guide" vocals are O.K. as they stand, or whether I should re-record. I'm leaning towards re-doing them.
  • Re-record parts of the Hammond organ track (some parts of the guide track are perfect as-is).
  • Figure out what the solo/bridge is doing

Over the last week I've mostly been tweaking the Chapman Stick track, and reworking some of the drum fills to get a nice, tight rhythm section.

Not perfect yet

As a break, I went back to Future Imperfect and decided that most of the L6-S lead guitar needs to be benched in favor of the BlueShifter, so that basically all of the guitar is performed on the same instrument. I've retained the L6-S on the outro, which is fine because it seques into the Finale which is all L6-S anyway.

I know: No-one but me cares about these things. It's all just guitar, right? Wrong. These different instruments have character - even if it is only in my own head - which instruct the performances that end up in the track. 

It is easy for me to be infatuated with the sound of the L6-S, but on reflection I could tell that there were two "characters" of guitar in the song when really there should only have been one.

And since the BlueShifter only shows up on one track on this album, it should have that track mostly to itself, I think.

May 2013

Since finishing up "Future Imperfect" in February, I've been going back over the other components in the "Strange But True Steel Tree" suite and tidying up a few loose ends in the Prologue, Interludes, and Finale sections.

The song "Strange but True" became a problem, because I want to re-write the lyrics and re-title it "The Steel Tree". In the process of doing that, I decided I needed to re-record the drums, guitar, and bass. Now it's just waiting for me to finish up the lyrics and get the vocal re-recorded.

I also decided "Head in the Game" needed a third go-over, with some tweaks to the drums and a more aggressive bass. Then I went crazy and re-recorded all the guitars, using the Ibanez 540s instead of the telecaster. It's sounding better, I think.

Now it's time to return to the last remaining song on the album: Slaying The Dragon. I'm currently in the middle of re-recording the Chapman Stick and acoustic guitar.

I really think I have a shot at finishing this project up this year. (I mean the album, not the song, cheeky!)

Drums are done... and the bass I think

Well, that trick worked, mostly. I copied the nice, tight drum track from the 120bpm project into the original, 135bpm project, and started re-recording the bass, locking in to the new timing.

Here's a teaser, from the end of the guitar solo where everything is getting quite excitable:

160kbps MP3

Just listening to this, I can hear some places where the drum velocity levels should be tweaked a bit. The toms are a bit loud and brash, and could do with a little less reverb.

Still... it's much better. Now to adjust all the other instruments to fit!