New-old music workflow

Here’s an idea to inject a bit of what’s missing from the recent tracks that I made in the 80s and early 90s tracks…

Some of this is specific to Ableton Live but it doesn’t have to be.

First, start the track as usual, which in this case means use Push in more or less the “standard” way: get a bassline going, duplicate scene, add hi-hats, duplicate scene, add kick + snare, duplicate scene, add strings… and so on.

Then mess around with it finding good combinations of scenes and clips so it starts to sound like a song. Get an idea of how it should play out. Add “performance” effects here – stuff that’s not really targeted at mixing: delays, sweeps, whatever.

Start recording the session to arrangement mode, and run through the performance that’s been developing. Make it longer deliberately so sections can be cut out easily (if you like – maybe there’s no need?)

Possibly add some mixing type effects to the tracks in arrangement mode.

Record each MIDI track in the arrangement to an adjacent audio track, not necessarily with the effects in place.

Now it gets weird: record each stereo wave track to cassette around the 0dB mark, then immediately record it back in from cassette to another stereo wave track. If you have a 4-track, do two tracks at a time; with an 8-track, do four.

Once these newly “degraded” tracks are in you’ll probably have to do some lining up, but that’s another of the naturalistic effects we’re after. You might (will) end up with some micro-phasing artefacts which may or may not be interesting.

Now you can mix down with a combination of pristine stereo and cassette stereo tracks, even giving us the possibility of sliding from one to the other. How about making a track fade continuously from cassette to pristine as the track goes (or the reverse?) How about widening the stereo of the cassette track and narrowing the stereo of the digital? And so on and so forth…

Bass Space

We all dig some serious bass these days – given that my favourite artists are funkers, house acts, synth wielders in general – I certainly do. But it seems like I’ve been listening to a lot of music that consciously avoids clogging up the bass recently. Even more oddly the artists are conspicuous for their bass deployment: Bootsy, Prince, New Order…

In the case of Bootsy, if you pick almost any Rubber Band track, the low-end is occupied more by the drums – toms and even chunky snares as much as kick – than Bootsy himself. It also leaves a niche for Bernie Worrell to insert his unique lines. Everybody’s favourite funkateer lands above it with the extra high frequencies of the distortion and Mu-Tron sweeps, quite apart from the fact his lines are often clanking around higher frets anyway. That last point is generally agreed to be the defining sound of Joy Division and New Order: Peter Hook’s home territory of the top half of the neck. It still clunks nicely, but it leaves plenty of space for a DMX or acoustic kick – or a deep, pained voice in the former case. And when Prince’s When Doves Cry came on the radio in 1984 it stood out a mile – because it’s amazingly crafted pop, but also because it doesn’t sport a bassline at all. The Linn had all that space to work.

Dope on wax! (er, clay…)

This is quite a mad one – and yet obvious when you think about it. Pottery from thousands of years ago carries an ambient recording superimposed into the work of the artesan. A Belgian team have managed to extract the recording from a 6,500 year-old South American vase and some 1,000 year-old Latin from another from ancient Pompeii (if my French understanding is to be believed…) Follow the link, check the video.

ultra303 [TB-303 CPU replacement project]

The title says it all… well, no, it doesn’t really, does it?

The ultra303 is an impressive mod for the Bass Line that not only completely replaces the CPU with a new one to add totally new features, but also has a very cool LCD display which looks at once out of place and comfortable on the front panel. The original sound-making part is still used and the new system completely emulates the old one. But it adds MIDI, realtime PC-based editing, a SID emulator to add new sounds, velocity and a whole load of other stuff.

Check it out.

Livin' La Vida Loca!

The Death of Dynamic Range is an interesting piece about how dynamic range has been progressively more and more mashed in modern music production in the recent years. While this in itself isn’t exactly news, it’s interesting to see the examples and discussion. It’s also interesting to see how the same sound gets maximised quite differently for different formats and/or markets.

The article’s main point is that crushing the dynamic range into (or past) the clipping limit of the medium is destruction of the sound. Of course, it is, but so is using a distortion pedal. That said, it’s not such a “musical” usage of the effect and applying something to the whole mix isn’t the same as applying it to an element to create differentiation in tone colour. Anyway, it’s an interesting page.

Knobs 'n' stuff

I’m looking around for music control surfaces, leaning towards Behringer’s B-Controls, especially the flying-faders-equipped BCF2000. But I have to wonder: are they going to come out with a daddy unit for this series? Like a box that contains the faders version and the rotary one? Or 2 of each? And if not, why not? In any case, could I just buy the bits and stick ’em together in a bigger case? Watch this space…