looking for a few good ideas

  amongst the irregular verbiage

Prodigal Sounds - Studio Diary

the prodigal's progress report

The Fugue arranged for String Quartet

Thanks to the trial version of Synful Orchestra, which I am currently evaluating, Here is a version of the Fugue from The God Program (a work in progress), arranged for "String Quartet":

Fugue (arranged for string quartet) (mp3):

There are 5 days remaining in my trial period and I'm still debating whether it is worth the money. Would it kick off a surge of musical inspiration? It might. That would be worth something.

With careful tweaking of MIDI data, Synful Orchestra is capable of landing pretty much in the uncanny valley of emulated instruments. It's good - but it is not going to fool anyone and they might back away from the sound, saying "something doesn't quite sound right here but I'm not sure what".

Anyway, enjoy.

New SONAR Color Scheme

SONAR 7.02 is running great, positively humming along (except with no audible hum thank goodness). To celebrate, I am releasing a new color scheme:

Prodigal Clips 8.clr (save to disk and remove .txt extension)

Preview (click to enlarge):


Two - no, Three Updates

I've just uploaded fresh MP3's of Playing With The Big BoysFuture Imperfect , and Painting Abstracts to the Prodigal Sounds section of the web site. Both hi-fi and lo-fi versions of the files have been refreshed.

I've been listening to the versions on the web site off and on over the last month, at work, and I finally made some notes about what I didn't like:

Abstracts, it turns out, was an older version. I had completely forgotten that I'd already fixed many of the things I noticed. So the new version hasn't had any recent work, but is a remix that I did a while ago but never refreshed on the web.

Future Imperfect. has been beefed up a little, with one instrument dropping out completely (no more Pipe Organ) and another returning in its place (subtle Melange strings).

Big Boys has has more radical work done: Thanks to a free VST plugin, TickyClav from Big Tick Audio. This great little soft-synth (did I mention it was free?) picks one thing to do, and does it well. After playing around with it, I decided to replace the clav sound in Big Boys, and ended up recording a few new phrases, and removing some existing instrument tracks that were no longer needed. In the process, I also decided to re-balance some sections of the song with an eye to how this would sound if there were only one guitar player. So now, where before there were clean guitar chords backing a lead guitar, the backing track is now being played on TickyClav.

Additionally, I re-recorded the brass section with a different, better sounding patch. And removed a second keyboard sound that was responding to the brass MIDI track. You really couldn't tell it was there but it was muddying things up a little.

Just a quick couple of days work, but the 2008 versions of these two songs are much improved, I think.

Packing up for now

Due to real life pushing its way into our scheduled fantasy, I have to pack up the Prodigal Sounds studio and I don't know when or where I'll get it back together. Hopefully not too far into the new year. I've made a push to finish up as much music as possible over the last few weeks, when time allows (which it doesn't, really).

Final Fugue

Here we go again, with a rough mix:

Fugue (2nd Revision) (mp3):

Voice 1: Roland VK-8 (Hammond Organ)
Voice 2: Godin Multiac Nylon
Voice 3: TruePiano VST
Voice 4: Chapman Stick

OK. That will do as far as previews go. I may revise the music very slightly from this point, and maybe re-perform the takes, but you'll have to wait to hear the "final" version of the complete song.

Tempus Fugue

I've encountered several drawbacks in my attempt at composing a fugue so far. Yesterday I spent several hours practising each melody line and took a stab at recording them. The results are here:

Fugue with actual instruments/performances (mp3):

I tried putting a ritardando towards the end. Not sure if I like it.  Because this leads in to another section of music, it absolutely has to get back up to 143bps at the end without sounding stupid.

The tone of the guitar is not really acceptable to me. (piezo again. Will try mic'ing.) I don't like how the organ sounds much at all. However, the Chapman Stick sounds really good.

In moving the voices to the actual instruments I was "hearing" in my head, I have revealed deficiencies in the composition. The instruments have a way of putting their personality on the music they play, and I think I need to let them "speak to the notes".

Fugue Revisited

Last night I finished the first draft of my fugue. I say first draft because there are still a few notes that I am not happy with. In isolation each voice sounds consistent but all together... well there are some, not dischords exactly, but places I might be able to polish.

Eldest Brother asked me how I composed (did I use score?) so I figured I'd describe the process. Basically I have four MIDI tracks defined in a SONAR project, each configured to send to a single instance of the TruePianos VST instrument.

You can tell from the segments that I have been building it up a few bars at a time, and then I tweak the notes in the piano-roll view, selecting a voice at a time to edit:

Here is what it sounds like (mp3):

This draft is very mechanical sounding. That's ok given that it is a kind of "audio score". In the final version I intend each voice to be performed in real-time on a different instrument (probably Piano, "Hammond", Guitar, and Chapman Stick).

The end of the fugue leads directly into Part 4 of the full composition, which is why it finishes up with that shuffle chord sequence.

The Cathedral of Hosts

Here's a piece of music for you. It's the introductory section of the mega-composition I'm currently working on. This is called "The Cathedral of Hosts" and is a 3-minute instrumental. It provides a sort of overture, quoting numerous themes that appear in the full suite.

The Cathedral of Hosts (mp3)

Instruments used: TruePianos VST, Korg M1, Roland VK-8, Voice

The Yamaha Jupiter-8

Yamaha endorser Alicia Keys always plays Yamaha instruments:

Even when she doesn't, like last night at the MTV Video Awards:

I wonder where I can get a Yamaha Jupiter-8?

Seriously, I don't know what the legal position is here. I'm sure that, as an endorser, Ms. Keys has a contract that says she can only play Yamaha instruments in public/publicity photos. This is kind of bending the rules, though, isn't it?

I can't fault her taste in synthesisers though. The Roland Jupiter-8. Awesome, classic instrument.

*Original picture sourced from Las Vegas Review Journal. Saw it in the paper this morning.

Review: K&K ProST Dual Channel preamp

Last post I described my experience setting up my Stick to have bass strings on both sides of the fingerboard. One roadblock is that the Stick uses a stereo output jack to carry each side. This is cool for independent processing of bass and treble registers, but if you're trying to play both registers as a single bass instrument, you might want to treat the output as a single mono source, without switching cables around.  (Basically, I wanted to mess round with chords without messing around with cords. Heh. I slay me.)

This topic comes up quite a lot on the Stickist.com forums. What equipment to use with the Chapman Stick's dual channel design? Many people invest a lot of money in capable, sophisticated and expensive processing units, but it seemed to me that I really just needed a simple two-channel active mixing device.

After much searching on the web I found Gollihur Music, and after absorbing the information on Bob's site, I ordered a K&K Pro-ST Dual Channel Pre-amplifier, for $124. It seemed like the ideal thing from the specs.

It arrived the other day. It's a nice, compact black box with two knobs (volume for each channel) and three jacks (stereo input, main mono out, and a second output that splits the output and retains the channel separation. So basically if you want to keep the pre-amp feature but process the two channels independently, you can. This seems like the best of both worlds.

There's a small screw at the side that you have to remove to take the lid off. This thing is very solidly built, it feels very reliable.

Once the lid is off, you can plug in the required 9-Volt battery, and adjust the channel gain and EQ pots. There is even a little metal "screwdriver" for this purpose, tucked away inside with velcro to keep it from knocking around.

Yes, this device allows you to set the gain and bass/mid/treble for each channel independently. Perfect for my situation, where the treble side of the Stick sounds a bit too trebly, despite the bass strings that are used.

I plugged in the Stick and experimented with adjusting the EQ.

With the volume turned all the way up, it seems as though the default available gain is about 120% unity. 

If you're looking to amplify a piezo pickup or similar (I have a Dean Markley acoustic pickup I was thinking of using with my Wendler bass, for example) then you can change the amount of gain on each channel using adjustments to the mini-pots. They are set half-way by default.

I ended up knocking back the treble pot a little to even out each side of the Stick. I couldn't get it perfect - the two registers just sound different, that's just the way it is, but I could get a definite improvement over the flat response, so it was worth it. 

With the stick hanging off my military-style web belt, the preamp's handy belt clip lets me use a short TRS "patch cord" to direct the Stick's stereo output to the preamp input. Then my regular "Monster" mono instrument cable takes the preamp output away to my POD, etc, for recording.

Initial tests are very promising.

Stick Post

I suppose I should explain why I found myself talking to Mr Chapman of Stick Enterprises the other day. I've come to the point in one of my compositions where I determine what instrument I should use for the bass guitar. It could be that I'm going to use the Stick. I'd also been doing some reading on the Stick Enterprises web site about "dual bass reciprocal" tuning, which drops the 5 treble strings down in pitch to be more in the region of a regular bass guitar. This apparently allows for some alternative fingerings in playing complicated bass lines. (The "bass" side has strings pitched a 5th apart (like a double bass), while the "treble" side is strung in 4ths (like a guitar or bass guitar)).

Since I only ever use my Stick for bass lines, it seemed like something I could try out to see if I liked it.

So I phoned up Stick Enterprises and ordered a set of medium gauge DBR strings, and at Emmett's recommendation, they also included a complete set of replacement brass slotted post screws.

The strings and posts arrived last week, and I have now completed the conversion. However, it was a little more of a project to do than I hoped.

I replaced the post screws one string at a time, and this was no problem at all. I was a little disgusted at how corroded and grubby the old posts were. The new ones are shiny and look great.

I had to widen the string slots at the base of the Stick to accommodate the heavier gauge strings on the treble side. I confess I resorted to taking a regular wood saw and - with great care - widened the slots for strings 2,3,4 and 5 (in this view, that's numbered from right to left).

The next hurdle was that the lowest string on the base side (position 6), being medium gauge and heavier than the existing set, was too fat to thread through the hole in the shaft! I tried shaving the last 3 inches of the string down with a file (this has worked before) but I couldn't get it to fit. I was convinced that I would have to leave the older, lighter string on but I really didn't like the feel at all. I ended up drilling out the hole in the tuner with a drill bit.  Yow. I wish I hadn't have to do that. But it worked - the string threaded through the hole and I was able to put the full set of new strings on.

The final problem has been with the pickup. It's a stereo pickup, with independent channels for the treble and bass sides. This has not been a problem for me, because I only use the bass side and therefore I can process the output through my (mono) effect chain. With both sides now in the base register, it totally defeats the purpose if I have to choose which side to play on exclusively. (Newer Stick pickups have a mono mode switch.) Another issue is that the two sides sound different. The combination of differences in string gauge plus pickup position means that splitting a bass riff between the two sides results in distracting tonal variations.

The solution is that I need to find a 2 channel pre-amp that will merge the two outputs, and give me independent EQ'ing. I've been doing some research and I think I've found something that might work, but that's a subject of another post.

Amusing (1)

So this evening we're going to write a Fugue.


I mapped it out in the structure of this mega-opus. Right here, see? "Part 4: Interrupt and Fugue".

Do you really think this composition needs a fugue?

Sure. Every mega-opus has a fugue in it. It's "cool" and it's how people know that you're, you know, a serious composer.

...You do know what a fugue is, don't you?

Sure! It's a fiddly bit with multiple voices that come in one by one, playing with counterpoint and harmony until everything explodes together in a joyous cascade of notes. Sometimes more than once.

...um, OK. You really think you can write one?

Come on, how hard can it be? We already have a bunch of themes to work with. And, of course, I'll have your help too, naturally.

Hello? Muse? Are you still there?


A moment of Fanboy

So I spoke to Emmett Chapman on the phone the other day...   <schoolgirl>Squeeeeeeek</schoolgirl>

Basically I'm ordering some strings for the Stick in order to try out Dual Bass Reciprocal tuning, and he wanted to discuss what I'd need to do in order to replace the brass slotted screws at the nut and bridge string suspension points. Due to the heavier gauge strings, and the fact that my Stick is a relatively early generation model, there would be some intonation differences and other minor side effects. Still, he was interested in the experiment. I'll write more about that when the strings and replacement screws arrive.

Putting it all together (V)

This series of posts began here.

Previously I covered the design of some standard controls for virtual hardware. Now let's put them together into a mockup of a software synthesiser. I chose to revise Arturia's CS-80V because it's the greatest synth ever. Here's the controls for one voice module:

(Click on the image to zoom)

Things to note:

  • The toggle buttons that enable the high and low pass filters on the voice are colored green, to match the filter level sliders.
  • The current input focus is located on the VCF initial level (IL) slider, indicated by the red dot. If you pressed the TAB key at this point, the dot would move to the attack level (AL) slider.
  • The range of the PWM percentage slider is 60-90%, reflected in the displayed value of the control. At its minimum setting, the slide shows a value of 60.
  • Likewise, the VCA sustain (S) slider shows a maximum setting of "10", while the release slider is the default 0-99.

That's all I planned to say for now on this topic. If I think of anything else I'll continue the series. Thanks for reading.

Postscript: I implemented the mock-ups using Visual FoxPro 9.0. The controls are more-or-less fully functional (even if the control panel itself doesn't do anything!) If you would like to experiment with the controls, you can download the VCX library  here.

The Toggle Button (IV)

This series of posts began here.

Last time I looked at the design of a value slider control. Another useful control that should be made a standard UI component in virtual hardware is the toggle button. This should be substituted for situations where checkboxes and option buttons (radio buttons) are space-consuming or aesthetically displeasing:

Toggle buttons can be clicked to switch between "on" and "off" states. If you group two or more of them together, you can use them to switch between many options. This design allows for color to be used to highlight contols that are related in function, and it shoulb be obvious what state the control is in and whether or not you can change the value.

Next, we'll put it all together in a mock-up of the CS-80 voice control panel.

All entries in Studio Diary:

The Fugue arranged for String Quartet
New SONAR Color Scheme
Two - no, Three Updates
Packing up for now
Final Fugue
Tempus Fugue
Fugue Revisited
The Cathedral of Hosts
The Yamaha Jupiter-8
Review: K&K ProST Dual Channel preamp
Stick Post
Amusing (1)
A moment of Fanboy
Putting it all together (V)
The Toggle Button (IV)
The Value Slider (III)
I Hate Knobs (II)
I Hate Knobs
Future Imperfect
New track, and SONAR color schemes
Replacing the Korg M1's internal battery
SONAR 6 arrives, Track Icons
Strange Prodigal Update
Mic vs. Piezo, Virtual Tonewheel vs. Rompler
My new workspace
V-Vocal on a Bass line
PS: New Website
Nut Replacement Surgery
Glide Time
Thomastik Strings
Working without a Fret
Chapman Stick + J-Station = Rocks
A new microphone
Essential Holdsworth
Erase and start again
Bastille Day
The Blueshifter arrives
The Wait Continues
It's all about communication
Stuck Soundtrack
Weekend Blues
Relishing the vintage
Symmetry (two rows of four)
Making Progress
New Hardware
Another day off
Greener Pastures
We're featured on Cyberian Khatru
The Fat Lady Arrives
Audio Hard Drive Hell
The Music Heats Up
The Archive Project