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!

Breaking the Block

It's February, already. Dammit.

I've been stuck on the drums in Future Imperfect for ages, succeeding only in making tiny incremental advances. Not working. 

I'm not a drummer, but when I flail wildly with the sticks on the old rubber pads, sometimes great stuff happens that couldn't have been done on the step programming/pressing the keys on the synth technique. And I'm greedy. I want the coolness, all the way.

But this incremental thing isn't working. There's some drum fills and hihat stuff that I can't do at 135bpm.

Therefore, I'm trying something slightly different. I've copied the entire project's timeline and dropped the time sig to 120 bpm, and I've got a simple guide click track that follows all the 4/4 : 7/8 changes with beat hints, and I've replaced the new bass track (which rocks, by the way, no problem playing that in time) with a cloned MIDI version and dropped that into the new project - instant 120bpm guide bass to play along with (I know, I could stretch the original audio track using tools like Audition or even the built-in tech in SONAR, whatever it's called, to get it to 120bpm, but this quantized MIDI bass track is working better for me, so there.)

If it breaks the block, it'll be worth it.Now I'm trying to record the drums again, but at 120 bpm instead of 135. When I'm done, I'll just copy the MIDI notes back into the original project, and hopefully we'll have an excellent drum track, at the right tempo, that meshes with the existing bass audio and other instruments.

A new Head in the Game

I've refreshed the Head in the Game mp3 on this site. The Chapman Stick has been retired in favor of the Carvin 5 string bass, processed using Amplitude 3 the Line6 POD 2.0.

I think it is much improved. While I was mixing the bass I improved the balance of some of the other instruments (most notably turning down the jangly rhythm guitar in some places).

Updated 14.April 2013:

Also re-did some of the drums. And re-recorded the bass. And all the guitars. And the lead monosynth. Then I remixed it.

Heading into the new year with the bass-ics

For the last twelve months or so, I've been riding this big rig of musical energy that just kept moving forward, but it seems to have run out of steam. Future Imperfect sits on the hard drive, begging for me to finish up the drums which are only half-done, and I'm not able to push myself to do it.

My experience has been that if the muse isn't there, don't bother. I'm never happy with the results. So, as the new year looms on the horizon, I'm coming to terms with the fact that the revised schedule for completing album #1 is going to have to be, um, revised.

Still, that's what plans are for. Revising.

All is not lost, however. I've recently picked up the Bass again, partly because I discovered my nephew was getting into the instrument and I wanted to review some reference material I was planning on sending him.

Then I started playing with Guitar Rig 4, trying to emulate the famous Chris Squire bass sound from the Fragile era. Some success, too. After running through some classic riffs, I loaded up the Head in the Game project in SONAR and started playing along...

Hmm.

As you know, I hate re-doing material that is supposedly finished and complete (/sarcasm) but I think the muse might be telling me that I need to put a little bit of work in on this.

Oh, and the Tone is in the Fingers, people.

Recent past: working on Future

November was eaten up by being sick and taking a couple of weeks in New Zealand for a family visit. Then I got sick again.

Now it's back to working on Future Imperfect, re-recording the drums.

September went fast

I'm so close, I can taste it. After finishing up Into The Shade, I moved on to Interlude #1, re-recording all the guitars and replacing the string pad with a string quartet (thanks to Dimension Pro).

I've left Slaying The Dragon as-is for now - but it is only 70% complete so I will have to come back to it eventually - and have jumped into Future Imperfect, re-recording the bass; revising the "trumpet" synth with CS80V goodness; and re-doing the drums with my current SPD-20 + Addictive Drums combo.

Oh, and Cakewalk released a new version of their flagship digital audio workstation software, SONAR X2. I didn't expect to adopt it (because I hated the X1 release) but I've been impressed with the changes - look out for my review/criticism write up in the near future.

One other thing: I've decided to give Strange But True another look. I think I rushed the process of review earlier this year, and when I hear it in context of other work I've finished recently, it's not holding its own. That's depressing for me (see the first sentence in this post) but I think it is worth the extra effort.

Lose a little, gain a lot

Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that things aren't working out. For whatever reason, I could not get the drum, bass, and acoustic guitar tracks to gel. I got tired of tweaking to no effect, and decided it was time to shake things up.

  • Mute the drums and the Chapman Stick.
  • Activate the click track.
  • And break out the Carvin BK5 and lay down an alternative bass track.

In my head I'd always heard the bass lines played on a Stick, and almost instantly, the feel of the piece changed, but in a good way. The change in feel is inevitable: a normal bass guitar lends itself to a completely different vibe than the Stick, but suddenly I was thinking of alternative cool riffs and laying them down in places where, before, magic was missing. This was a good thing. Sure, that one particular riff that kinda wanted to be a Stick riff didn't sound so cool anymore, but this was offset by all sorts of good stuff coming in elsewhere.

Once I had a good, clean, complete take, I moved to the acoustic guitar, and re-did any part where it wasn't locked in to the new bass line. Yeah. 

Now it's back to the drums for the same treatment. There's some places that need tidying up, and the second half of the track never had anything more than guide drums on it anyway. So... it's progress. I wish it was faster, but at least I'm happy with the results.

Here's a teaser:

256kbps MP3

Time Locking

Chapman Stick is all recorded.

The timing was getting a little sloppy with all the "guide" tracks, so I went back and created click track that was locked into the acoustic guitar, because that's a track I'm least likely to want to re-do... then recorded the Stick bass to the timing of the click.

Now, of course, I need to tweak the drums into line, and re-do a couple of places where I need to complement bass flourishes. Progress is good.

Tracking in July

Yes, it's tracking time. "Into The Shade" has crystalized at 110 bpm after all, and the key signature resolved down a 4th from E to B.

For various guitar-related reasons, the middle-8 bridge section really wanted to stay in D (originally the same root as the choruses). I've compromised: it stayed in D. So now we have a nice little key signature change from the second chorus in C into the bridge in D, and then we stay up a 4th for the last verse and outro in E. This actually works really well, and makes the piece more interesting harmonically.

A side-effect of dropping the main body of the song by a 4th is dealing with the finger-picked acoustic guitar part. Obvious in hind-sight: Switching to Lute Tuning means that I can play with exactly the same fingering, one string down, and in the appropriate key. Also, it gives me an extra string at the top for added embellishment.

I've also learned my lesson: The first serious track recording has been the acoustic guitar followed by the vocals. So next up: lock in those drums and bass (Chapman Stick).