Archive for May, 2009

In which our author switches to hip-hop.

I was just feeling silly tonight – I’m feeling rather good for someone who had a terrible day filled with expenses that I just can’t afford – so I decided to mess around a bit in MIDI loop-making.

Q: Can you guess where this tune comes from?

A: It’s the backbeat for one of the world’s best commercials.

I first discovered this song about two years ago through my wife, and unlike most of the rest of the world, I still can’t get it out of my head.  For one thing, it’s as good-natured as can get; there’s literally nothing about it that is cynical or jaded, even though it is probably making that guy a lot of money now (but this is a good thing).  For another, the song is catchy, a two-bar riff and this guy singing over it with very little regard for the beat.  I love a good accidental masterpiece, and this is a prime example.  Anyway I got bored so I recreated it in Ableton, and had a good time doing so.

Another thing I have had some fun doing lately is discovering the joys of panning.  As in, “my god these vocals are mushy, what can I do to bring them out?”  Well, I found out that in fact you bring them out by separating them to the left and right (with the main melody remaining in the center, most times).  And of course, the same goes for the bass and rhythm parts. It seems so obvious now but I tend to think of my monitors as a monolith, or like a wall of sound, but of course in reality one has from two to seven separate channels to work with.  Now that I know this, I’m going to start working on an a capella piece that I’ve sort of been toying with for the last little bit, as I think it might turn out really well. It’s not pure voice, as there will probably will be some kind of minimalist backbeat to it but still, now that I know this panning trick I’m not afraid to break out the big guns anymore.

note to self

possible name of the coming album:

Guitar Diet

Indifference is the essence of humanity.

George Bernard Shaw.

Sometimes I just shouldn’t even roll out of bed in the morning.  You too? Yeah, some days are just shit…this one started out as hot as fresk milk and just got hotter, and when you’re in and out of the car all day it kinda drags you down.  But work was a frustrating mess, and I hung my hat at the end of the day having accomplished only very little for my trouble.  But then, even after winding down with the family and getting in a somewhat better mood, I couldn’t figure out a way to fix the last song I’ve been working on…..my luck points for the week have already run out I guess.  See, I have no instinct at all for how to create a good beat but I generally manage to click around until something works out, but tonight was just a waste of my time.  Everything just came out disco, you know?  Not a desired effect in this instance. (Or any instance.)

So here I am to complain and then to drag off to bed.  I suspect I’m just a little depressed because my professional life (what little professionalism there is to it) is just stagnant as all hell.  I began this blog partly as a way to keep myself motivated for all the certification testing I’m doing.  I’m one test away from my MCSA in MS Server 2003, but that last test, boy…..it’s a doozie.  I started studying for it last December and gave up after about two weeks, because things were practically just leaking out of my brain.  So, three tests in and then I faded out, did basically nothing for the next two months, and then decided to start recording music again, which I have been doing now for about a month.  Got four new songs to show for it too, so that’s a nice feeling.  If having new songs were somehow monetizable, that would be great, but I don’t have the slightest idea how to make money off creativity, so now I’m stricken with the ever-present guilt that comes along whenever I start to inspect our situation.  We live in a crumby apartment, we’re both over 30 and getting no younger, neither one of us finished school, and neither one of us has much chance of getting back in until we can somehow afford it.  How is that going to happen?  It’s either going to be a tough road that leads somewhere or one that leads nowhere, you know?  I don’t which road I’m on and would like some kind of clue.  I’m not a foolish person, and in fact my brain claims to me all the time that it’s pretty smart, so why can’t I get it to come up with an idea to get me out of this ridiculously great but scandalously underpaid job?  I don’t want to leave, but I can’t stay: it sucks to realize that, but it’s just a simple truth and the only truth there is.

Hopefully tomorrow will bring better news, or at least a song that makes me feel better.

Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

Bruce Lee, in Enter the Dragon.

Meditation is kind of the topic for me tonight.  I recorded a song with meditation in mind.  It’s probably crap, as it’s not the sort of thing most people would sit down and listen to.  It’s too slow even for me to get into, but it was a great relaxing experience, and surprisingly easy.  You’ll know what I’m talking about when you hear it.

I hear the influence of two of the best bands ever in this one: Radiohead and Cocteau Twins.

Without reference to its overall qualitative value – because that is questionable – you’d think it would be a very hard song to do.  The words and melody for the verse are almost random.  Speaking of that, here are the lyrics (because I know my diction has always sucked):

my stamp upon it
damaged as you want it
i know the words as well as
i know the scene (2x)

another angle of view
like a heads up display
worn-down string for a brand-new candle

hands out front

lights up the dark (3x)

It’s just a plain odd progression of notes, and even though the words don’t mesh together very well, I find them revealing in the sense that a Rorschach test might reveal some hidden image, depending on the inclination of the viewer/listener.  I don’t know; sorry if it’s not your bag; it’s not really my thing either, but it was fun to simply sit down with nothing in mind and just rip out a song, even as an abstract exercise in harmony-making. It was great to give myself a challenge like that and actually see it through in one evening, because most of the time it takes me several days to put something together, even if I’ve been playing it and singing it for years and years.

It’s funny to me now, thinking back on the previous seven years or so.  I just up and left the whole music thing alone for awhile.  Probably went more than three years without even picking up a guitar, and without even very much liking for listening to music at all.  Imagine guilt must have been behind most of it, because I had such a hard time finding a decent job while my family sort of suffered through it, and while my wife worked the entire time.  It’s not that it would have caused trouble, my playing: I mean, I’m not about to go on tour or anything; hell, nobody around here even knows that I play at all.  So I guess it was just some psychological thing, really.  Well, for the moment at least, that’s over, and even though the change doesn’t fix all the other stuff that I’d change if I could, at least it’s a start.  A pretty good one, actually.

I LIKE IT AGAIN, part two of a two-part epic struggle.

So after wrestling with the lead guitar for awhile I decided, “hey who needs lead guitar anyway?”, and just added a new bassline to my song instead.  *edit:  OK, I finally added a small lead part at the end, nothing special but enough to give it a bit of flare at the end.  I just updated the mp3 file here at this post, so you might need to download it again if you were quick on the draw.*

I think it’s just about finished, so give it a listen. I really like the bassline, although it also pisses me off at the same time: if I had a MIDI keyboard, I’d be able to hit the next octave down, which would make it groove better, but I only get to play one octave at a time since I’m still using my PC keyboard to make the upright bass sounds. Apart from that, though, I’m really jazzed about how REAL the bass sounds to me.  I mean, it’s getting to the point at which even if you tell me it’s MIDI, I have a hard time verifying that for myself.  The samples are getting really good, and there’s a nice variation of sounds that fool you into believing that it’s a real instrument.

More than any of the other songs I’ve done this month, I believe this one is a really neat way to show the evolution of a song.  My first upload to the blog was just a simple guitar part and one voice.  Then came the other voices and the rest of the verses.  And now finally, we get all the tertiary instrumentation, which can really make or break a song.  So you get the full treatment of a song, or at least you get MY treatment of a song, which I suspect though is much the same the world over.   As last time, I come away from the experience feeling both very good to have accomplished something, while at the same time feeling sort of unworthy of the technical side of recording.  I just know there’s so much I am missing: EQ, wise use of compression, gating….all stuff that might make this music sound even better, but it’s all still Greek to me thus far.

I did manage to locate a set of tutorial videos for Ableton 7.  I’m using version 8 but much of it should still be perfectly relevant, so I think it’s time to dig down into those and see what I am missing.  Here’s the thing though: I found out (much too late) that Ableton is really geared more towards DJs and live production people, and thus, much of the tutorial videos have to do with making techno music.  All of which is great, because I definitely plan on trying some of that stuff out, but a simple guitarist like me really needs to know more about acoustic live recording, and unfortunately I’m such a n00b that even the simplest prerequisites are flying right over my head.

Well that was something.

If God could grant me one wish, it would be to spend more time with you.

Tiny dancer, hold me closer, hear me update.

Got a new version of the song out now, you’re welcome to listen:    LISTEN!!!

Anybody have any idea how to minimize the pick noise when recording a guitar into Ableton?  No?  Well me neither, and as a result the sound of the guitar is very annoying.  Tomorrow night I’m going to add other instruments and more lead guitar so maybe I can find a way to sort of cover it up.  I could try to minimize the treble end of it with compression but then I would miss out on a lot of necessary tone.  I already tried EQing, but that is another mystery to me and I didn’t get very far with it.

I know these pages are meant for more, umm, words, so more later, I promise.

Uh Huh Hey Hey Huh Hey

– any number of songs by Buddy Holly.

I wish that these recordings would do better.

This is another retread of one of my old songs from the late 90’s.  Most of the stuff I’m into now is an offshoot of this earlier folksier stuff so to me it still seems relevant, although I have no idea how I would go about marketing this sort of sound.  I am not, repeat, NOT a country and western kinda guy.  But I like the sort of camptown sound that this tune has.  This is just the first rough vocal mix, once I get some time to really concentrate on it, you’ll hear the vocals increase both in note precision and also in harmony complexity. This is the sort of sloppy guitar sound that begs for a precise vocal, and it is hard to pull off, especially when trying to record it.

Not to be a contrarian, but I wonder whether or not the song needs a change from the old days.  I tried to do it with Require (the last song) but got stuck in a mire of re-takes, and now I feel like I’m going to just have to scrap it and start over.

Anyway these are all issues for another time.  You, my careworn dears, look like you all could use a nap.  As could I.


May 2009
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Currently Reading:

Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame - Charles Bukowski

Currently Listening:

Mr. Bungle - California

Why, yes, I am cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce.

You lika de juice????