Monthly Archives: January 2012

Priority Mail, or Shuffling Envelopes

Today’s a quickie, poorly written, and it pertains to FXpansion’s Strobe synth, but it’s a good bit of knowledge to keep in the brain no matter what kind of synth you’re using.

One of the cool things about FXpansion’s modulation system is that it allows a great deal of routing flexibility–there’s a hardwired signal flow, and a few modulation sources and destinations with dedicated knobs (envelope-to-pitch, LFO-to-filter, keytracking to filter) but the way the TransMod system (whoa futurespeak) allows you mess with the default routing is pretty cool. Here’s a quick example that can be extended to all kinds of other stuff:

Here’s a simple Strobe patch. It’s a punchy, slightly gritty sine bass with a long release. By default, the Amp envelope shaping happens at the very end of the signal path. Which is cool. But in this example, the envelope is modulating a few things before the voice even reaches the Amp stage. First, it’s directly controlling the oscillator’s output before it reaches the filter. This is cool because the filter has great overdrive characteristics that depend a lot on the level of the input signal. So instead of feeding it a constant-volume tone to work with, it’s getting the enveloped oscillator to work with, giving it a nice gritty overdriven attack with a smooth, deep decay. I’ve further exaggerated this effect by modulating the filter drive with the amp envelope. Keep in mind, the amp envelope is still modulating the signal post-filter so the sound retains its punch and shape, which it would lose if we’d simply moved the envelope to its pre-filter location. Thinking this way lets you get a lot more depth out of a simple synth than you’d think. (One sweet thing about this patch, for example, is that when the oscillator’s amplitude drops to a level where it’s not overdriving the filter, the filter self-oscillates and fades in with a cool creepy feedback, which, since the filter’s keytracking is all the way up, follows the input pitch. A little reverb on the mids and this sound is terrifying. Bing zing!)

In other news, I’m making an incredibly unpopular move here–I’m using my soapbox to call bullshit on the Lil Phatty. Yeesh. $1300 for a monosynth with four encoders to program it? Sweet, all the limitations of analog combined with the incredible inconvenience of menu-based digital! One of the reasons my TX81z was so cheap is because no one wants to be bothered to program it. This is…well, a little bit better than that. I play a Lil Phatty at at a friend’s studio periodically, and every time I go there, I expect that I’ll somehow start to like it. Not yet. I run it through a huge bass amp and yes, the sound can be vast and savage and incredible. But so can the sound from this, if you know how to program it. Having to shift through eight pages of parameters to use the single envelope knob (for example) is a bit much. They couldn’t have given us at least dedicated ADSR knobs and provided pages for amp and filter? Yeah, Moog can shit on a paper plate and get away with selling it for a mint because of their LEGENDARY NAME but if anyone else had released this synth it would have raised some WTF eyebrows. Says me.

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Comping Vocals in Live (Part 1)

People seem to have this idea that Live’s great for loops and warping and beats but that you can’t do vocals with it. Rong! Here’s why you shouldn’t hate it.

Recording in Arrangement

This is perhaps the most common way of recording full takes to an arranged track: lay it out on the arrangement view and run it like a tape machine. You can punch in and out manually like in any DAW, plus you can use the loop brace to do (wait for it) loop recording, or to define auto punch in/out points. Here we’ve got three takes of the same vocal, with no punching:

Always name your tracks before recording, that way it will automatically name everything you record to that track with the name of the track and the number of the take. It’s a bitch trying to sort through a gigabyte of files called “#Audio###” when you want to locate a file. Next I put a marker on the downbeat of Verse 1. This helps us visually arrange the set, but also allows us to use it as a zero-point when we want to keep extra takes stashed in our Session clips, sort of like a Playlist in Pro Tools. More on that later…

So we’ve got three takes and I’ve colored them all differently. I’ve grouped them to a group track, which serves two purposes: it acts as a container to keep the tracks organized and it also serves as a submix. To make switching between the takes quick and painless, I’ll map each channel mute to a hotkey. It takes two seconds and you can undo it as soon as you’re done. This is why I always keep the bottom row of keys on my keyboard free from assignments, so I’ve got them available for tasks like this. Next, create a Comp track above the other three.

Go through and pick the best parts of each take. I like to do this right away, while the vocalist is still in the room and the energy from the session is still going. It sucks to do this stuff after the fact. If a take, or a section of a take, is bad, just delete it right away. With digital audio, you’ll almost always suffer from Too Many Options since you’re not paying for tape. Work your way through the takes, dragging the best portion from each take to the Comp track. Since all the takes are color-coded, it’s very easy to see what you’ve done. Then you can mute and collapse the other vocal tracks and do any crossfades on the new comp.

Clean up any edges, breaths you don’t want to hear, long bits of silence, any recording fluff that you can easily trim, etc. Now’s also the time to do any pitch correction you want to do.

Session Clips as Holding Tank

Let’s say we want to keep these individual takes for posterity or in case we want to do some doubling later. We don’t need them in the Arrangement right now. We can store them in the Session view, where they’re instantly available but out of the way. This is why placing the track marker is important, so we know where our clips start. In this example, all the vocal takes begin at a different point, and all three begin before the downbeat of the verse. Let’s start with take three. I’ll rename it to Verse1 (to match the marker) and keep the original filename after that so now it’s “Verse1 1Vox3″) So we know that it’s the first take on the third vocal track, and it starts at the Verse1 marker.

Whew! But wait…the clip doesn’t actually start at the verse1 marker…Well, since we’re not cropping or consolidating this clip, let’s just split it so that it starts exactly where we want it to. The file remains unchanged, no information is lost, but the start point is moved to where it should intercept the timeline marker. You can then select the new clip (whose start now conveniently coincides with the marker), cut it out of the Arrangement it and paste it to a free Session slot.

So now, if you begin playback at the marker by hitting play on the session clip, it will be perfectly in sync, and if you want to revisit the take for any reason, you can paste it back on the Arrangment at the marker. If you need the section before the downbeat, just drag the beginning of the clip back and your clip will be back the way it was.

I’ll usually wind up using these extra tracks for vocal adlibs, doubling, glitchy cut n paste effects, filtered pitch-shifted madness or whatever. The extra takes will still live in the Session view so if I need a snippet of vocal to loop, sample or tweak, I can always find them but they’re never in the way.

Now go check out this interview with Wolfgang Gartner where he talks about how Cubase stomps all over Live for vocals. I haven’t pulled out the Steinberg dongle in a few years and I can’t imagine why I’d want to, but hey, different strokes.

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Josie’s Frostwire Release

It’s out there, glowing press and all!

They did, however, cut “Teardrops” from the release because we didn’t write it, and SOPA put a big scare into everybody, so it’s only a six-song release if you get it from them. You can, however, still get the full 7-song EP on our bandcamp page because we are fucking outlaw gangster cowboys and we do not care. Also, we did an awesome job with that song and I challenge Sir Elton John or anybody else to say otherwise.

Aaaaand here’s the original, in case you don’t know it.

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Time’s Up Valentine’s Day Party

Here’s the flyer. I’ll be spinning. Come and make out with somebody.

Time’s Up Valentine’s Party (TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OLD!)

Feb. 10


The Living Theater, 21 Clinton Street NYC

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File Management for Complete Assholes

This is a good exercise in staying light on your feet.

Step 1: On Monday, begin working on a project for an art gallery installation. It opens on Friday, so you’ve got some time. It’s going to be a dark room with some drum pads in the middle, some ambient sounds and a DMX-controlled lighting rig running from MIDI triggers. Make it fun, make it interactive, make it a little bit random. People are going to wander in here between looking at art and seeing bands. Give them something to do, something to listen to!

Step 2: Edit the project from a flash drive all week. Get it sounding nice.

Step 3: On Wednesday night, put in a ton of work meticulously multisampling yourself and a hot female friend singing sustained vowel sounds. Lay them all out in a convoluted series of Sampler racks, creating semi-random paths for cool, evolving monkish choir chords. Add thunderous percussion. Wrap it all up tight.

Step 4: Collect All And Save. Make sure all your samples are gathered in the project folder. Save the project.

Step 5 (important): Drag file from hard drive to flash drive to take it with you in the morning, forgetting that you’ve been editing the project from the flash drive copy this whole time. When the “do you want to replace File X with File X?” dialog appears, don’t think twice. Hit OK and voila! Your work is irretrievably gone and now is when the fun starts.

Step 6: You’ve still got to deliver something for Friday night, right? Now is when a little improvisation can go a long way. For example, you could still strip down to your briefs, grease yourself up with some kind of conductive fluid and allow visitors to touch hot electrodes to various parts of your bodies. Put a microphone in the room and amplify and modulate the ensuing screams for a haunted interactive soundscape.

I have no idea what’s going to happen with this, but if you’d like to find out, this event will be fun and free. Facebook page is here, more details after the jump. Continue reading

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Drop A Few My Way

Gotta love Doug.

Check out Dude’s scripts are way rad. A lot of them are geared towards organizing iTunes libraries, and a few of them (like this one) use iTunes as a tool to do other tasks. This one is called a “droplet” which makes me fond of it off the bat. One of my favorite new OH SNAP DAWG tricks is this script he wrote called “Drop A Few My Way” which uses iTunes to convert audio file formats. I make a lot of MP3s for web and this is by far the easiest way I’ve found to do it. You can do individual tracks or batches.

Grab the file, follow the instructions to put it in your iTunes scripts folder, then drag a copy of it someplace convenient, like the Dock.

Then you can drag any audio file on to the icon and it will give you a short list of audio formats to choose from. Pick one, specify a directory to drop the converted file and it will spit out a copy in no time. iTunes immediately “forgets” the event, so you’re not cluttering up your library.

I cannot stress enough how awesome this is. And most of his stuff is donationware, so if you like it, throw the dude a few bucks.

I also cannot stress how awesome this EP is:

This kid has a studio in my building and his tracks are awesome. I heard a few of these through the wall as he was working on this record and I’m psyched to see it out there. He’s recently hooked up with the Trouble and Bass crew and is going to be getting some good exposure to augment his already-solid fan base. I’ve definitely cribbed a few style notes from him in my recent productions. Nasty swing and clean bass–dude’s got a good ear. The EP is out January 31!

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You Can Touch It (Part 2)

Today’s thing is really easy. Let’s make a Remote Script to get this controller working! This is deliberately nonspecific because you can use this method with any MIDI controller. If you’re using TouchOSC like I am, you can look on the Hexler site and find all the info for setting up an ad hoc network to get your iOS device speaking in MIDI-tongues. Done?

Go to this folder (Mac):

/user/Library/Preferences/Ableton/Live/User Remote Scripts

and open “InstantMappings-HowTo.txt, which contains the basic instructions for doing this. These are as follows:

1. Create a directory in ‘User Remote Scripts’.

The name of the directory will show up in the

list of Control Surfaces in Live.

Naming: The name of the directory should not

start with ‘_’ or ‘.’.

2. Copy the the file ‘UserConfiguration.txt’ into

your directory. The name of the file needs to

  remain unchanged.

3. Edit the copy to adapt it to your needs. The

comments in the file will tell you what to do.


So I’ve got a folder called TouchOSC Remote Script. I grab the UserConfiguration file copy, stick it in the folder,

open the file and change it up to correspond to the channel and CC#s I’m sending with TouchOSC,

(Ch. 5, CC#1-8…the -1′s just mean that it hews to the global channel specified at the top of the file)  save it and open Live.

In the MIDI Preferences tab, HOLY SHIT my device shows up on the list!

So select it in all three columns (surface/in/out) to get the Instant Mappings going.

Then it’s as simple as activating IN/OUT under the Remote column for the new device (as well as Track, if your device has keys or pads and you want to use it to play instruments…mine doesn’t, it’s a bit too laggy to be useful as a drum trigger)

And you should be good to go. The terrifying Blue Hand will grab any selected device and will (more or less instantly) transmit the current state of the 8 macros to the controller. The controller will, yeah, send CCs to those macros and you can get all touchy with your racks.

If you’re wondering about the IAC stuff on my MIDI menu, stay tuned. It’s a simple “talkback” loop that sends MIDI from Live through a virtual bus and back to Live, so you can do things like map note clips to device parameters. It’s way cool, and it is to Live what the kickflip is to skating, so you should learn it and flex it at parties like whaaaaaaaa.

I don’t even have jokes or a stupid video today. I do, however, have a picture of this tiny-ass frog, rumored to be the world’s smallest. I aspire to one day be this dope.


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You Can Touch It (Part One)

I used to have a roommate who would regale me with stories about his legendary “bodega-candle” dong. He once told me that girls were so fascinated by it that he’d use this line on them when they’d gotten to the heavy-makeout stage but were stopping shy of The Deed. Real casual-like. You can touch it. Non-threatening, permissive. Apparently the “once-in-a-lifetime” appeal was just so great that he managed to change a few minds with it. Or so the story goes…

Back in the present day! DAWs are great. Hooray for technology. Everything lives in the Machine. You can call up a year-old mix and have instant, perfect recall of all your patches and effects and samples and whatnot. I’ve spent a lot of time working with hardware samplers and sequencers that store things on 3.5″ floppy disks, synthesizers with super-limited preset storage (oh cool, I can dump banks to audio tape!?), noisy effects pedals, etc…and in some ways I miss the limitations of that gear. You had to do creative shit like record drum loops at double-speed and then slow them down, that way you only used half the RAM. Which was a big deal when the sampler only had 1 or 2 megabytes. It was a squeeze. I’m really good at programming my TX81z, which I got for a song because no one wanted to deal with the ninth circle of FM hell that was sound design on these boxes. Just four buttons to control this huge number of parameters, all these nested menus, nothing laid out very logically…nothing really happens by accident with this synth unless you’re into really harsh industrial scraping or aliased siney bass. When you got a good sound, it was something you’d worked for.

I’m always wary of that glassy-eyed nostalgia. Yeah, there were certainly cool things about Back When, but I wouldn’t trade kit with myself in ’98. Sure, 12 bit / 32k samples have a great sound, and hardware looks cool, and racks of gear means Pro Status…anyway, one of the big drawbacks to software instruments is that you’ve got to talk to them somehow and using a mouse isn’t always the best thing for that. I’d say it still beats the hell out of a rotary encoder and a set of Fn buttons under a 4″x1″ LCD screen, but that’s me. So, a few years ago, like most people making the leap from “hardware” (simple, dedicated computers used to perform discrete tasks, connected with MIDI and audio cables) to software (a single soft throbbing jellybrain running everything) I went out and got a control surface. It was a novation somethingorother and it was a real piece of garbage, so I sold it. I tried a number of control surfaces (and built one of my own) but still found myself using a mouse in the studio. One thing that became clear pretty quickly is that any control surface worth using in the studio would need to dynamically map to its assignments. There are THOUSANDS of parameters for any given production and you aren’t going to make a controller that big. Besides, DAW’s let us craft strange monsters, we can build our own mixers and effects and modular synths, and part of the sweet deal with that is that we aren’t tied in to any specific layout. Try to marry that to some hardware and you lose all that elbow room. Anything that ties up controllers with specific functions is going to be useless. After you’re done recording your filter sweeps or pitch risers or whatever, are you really going to delete all the MIDI mappings for that device and reassign them elsewhere? Over and over again? At some point you give up on the dream, forget about knobs, marry a girl you don’t really love and buy a cheap lawnmower.

Long story short: I completely gave up on hands-on control until I found TouchOSC. It’s a little iOS app that costs five bucks. And you need an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or some kind of Android device. It now supports CoreMidi, which means you don’t need an osc-to-MIDI converter like Pure Data or Osculator. It communicates wirelessly via ad hoc network and it’s pretty stable. I began by building a template for my iPod Touch that looks like this:

Which should be pretty self-explanatory: Live Racks all have 8 macros, this template has 8 faders (1-8) that are automatically mapped to any selected device and another 8 (A-H) that I can manually map to anything that’s seeing a lot of action in a particular set. I’ll make set-specific notes on the Master track’s Info Text field to keep things orderly. The small buttons below the faders have two functions: there’s a readout of the current value (0-127) of the selected parameter, and when pressed it will return the fader to neutral (64) which is handy for bipolar controls with neutral in the center (like pan and gain.)

I have a blank Rack template with the 8 macros color-coded to match the colors of my TouchOSC template. I then build racks with the most commonly used parameters of the devices I like, such as:

which I’ll stick on a track instead of this:

I pretty much only use these 4 parameters on the Saturator, so now this is the device I’ll drop on a track when I want that effect. If I want to get into all the tweaks for the Waveshaper mode (like I do, maybe once a year) I’ll just do it with the mouse, but this is good for 99% of the stuff I do. The Blue Hand is something I’ll cover in tomorrow’s post: The secret to making this thing automatically glom onto your device of choice is in Live’s Remote Scripts. It’s easy to write one; they provide you with a template to work with. Remote scripts have some serious limitations, but for this kind of thing they work great. You can actually control a lot more parameters than these eight. You can define BANKS of parameters that you can step through. For me, though, this sort of defeats the purpose. When it takes longer to figure out what parameters my controller is supposed to be modifying at any given time than it does to change a value with the mouse, it stops being useful.

And to bring our titular theme back again, here’s a gem from 2010′s “Another Day, Another Fake Dollar” which was I think the second track I ever made with Ableton. I recorded it with some friends in my bedroom in Bushwick. I didn’t know how to use any of the Live instruments yet so everything was coming from Reason via Rewire and it got very complicated and messy.

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Use a damn PHASOR

I used to live in a warehouse in Fullerton with these awesome dudes from a band called the Paradise Project. Eric, the guitar player, had a “PHASOR” pedal for his rig. I think it was blue, and old. Ever since, I’ve spelled it that way in my mind (with caps on too) and this is how it’s going to be presented today.

All-pass filter: What the fuck? Phasers are based on them and they look like this:

and unlike a high-pass or low-pass, which allow, derp derp, the highs or lows of a signal to pass above or below a certain (usually user-sweepable) frequency, an all-pass filter allows all frequencies to pass but changes the phase relationship between them. If you want to know more, Google it. I know just enough to be troubled by how little I know, but the effect unmistakable and is a useful one. Obviously, different units make different sounds, but they all work on similar principles. In practice, the device can work as a sort of comb filter and can be really useful for things like hi-hats and reverb tails that aren’t quite sitting right, allowing them to sit back in the mix and get out of your damn face. Low feedback values keep the effects less obvious. You can play around with thinning things out via EQ notches but a lot of the time, a static, non-modulated phaser setting can tilt a sound just enough that it fits in with the mix, and it has that pleasantly random quality that means you’re never quite sure if it’s going to work or not. Check out how it sounds. I employ it a lot when I’m stuck and start making bad EQ decisions. Try it the next time you’re stumped with a wooly, squirrely or overbright or unruly sound. Also, you can create resonant peaks with a PHASOR that will do nice things to a distortion. EZ dynamics.


Let There Be Light (Part Two)

In which the playing of drums results in the lighting of lights.

I’ve already got an instrument track set up with a drum rack in it.

Input monitoring is on and the drums sound good. I’ve set up my drum triggers to send on notes 36-51 (C1 – D#2). On a parallel MIDI track set to pipe data to the ResponseBox, I place the following rack to get us in the ballpark. There’s a Note Length plug set at 70ms to give the notes some quick sustain–the drum triggers send notes that are so short that the lights don’t respond well to them. I have no idea why there’s a velocity plug there; I seem to recall that very low values didn’t translate to the lights very well.

This transposes the notes so that C1 is pitched down to D#-2, the first note that the 4bar recognizes. It turns the leftmost light’s red LEDs on. Up from there, in semitones, it’s 1G, 1B, 2R, 2G, 2B (# being the number of the fixture, RGB being colors.)

I wanted to be able to quickly build “light kits” to go with my drum kits–I had to make a way to quickly assign different behaviors to the lights based on what kind of sounds were coming in. So I went for a modular approach. Assuming a fixed incoming note (D#-2), we can make presets that will transpose the notes as needed. I decided to go by color. Pictured is the BLUE rack, which has a chain for each fixture. Each chain’s mute switch is mapped to a macro, and the appropriate transpositions have been made in each chain. So if I want a kick drum to trigger blue lights in fixtures 1 and 4, I drop in the rack and set it like this:

And it’s like bammmm. If I want yellow, I’ll create a new MIDI rack and nest a RED and a GREEN rack within it, and set them the same. This provides an easy way to flesh out the kits without having to think too hard about it Every Single Time. Of course, this requires that every pad transmit the same note, so each rack has a Pitch plugin to bring the incoming note back down to D#-2.

This might seem overcomplicated, but it makes things a lot easier down the road. If I were building one type of light setup, I’d figure out a way to streamline it, but this system allows for the creation of modules that can be easily swapped to create new presets. Speaking of modules, here’s a Decay rack:

Pretty simple stuff: there’s a Note Length to hold the note for a specified duration, and an arpeggiator that will repeat that note (while fading the velocity according to the Decay parameter, mapped to Macro 2) which, as long as it’s set to a shorter time than the Note Length, will fade nicely. This works well for crash cymbals, big sub booms, noise blasts etc. as it allows for the light to have an envelope, as opposed to a simple gate.

Without getting into too much yawn-inducing detail, there’s a lot that these MIDI racks can do here. Note Length devices set the appropriately timed blasts for the sounds you’ve got. Kicks at 350ms, hats at 40, snares at 200. (Ish.) Set up a Random device with some carefully constrained parameters and you can have a hi-hat that will trigger lights at random or semi-random–let’s say you only want blue lights with a random order, or only two fixtures for the same trigger that will switch back and forth from purple to yellow with each stroke. An arpeggiator can also make a nice decaying Knight Rider-style light chase. If you constrain the octaves and keep all the notes in the range that the light fixture will pick up, you can do some cool stuff with keyboard/synth parts too. Let’s say octave 1 is all green, Octave 2 is yellow and octave 3 is bright fucking white, with the pattern randomized and everything velocity-sensitive and you’re playing a screaming, totally non-ironic lead–it creates a really impressive visual that tracks your performace quite nicely. You know, if you’re into that kind of thing.

One last thing. The wild card. You’ll need one of these groovy “dimmer on blast” racks tucked away someplace.

The 4bar is insecure and it wants constant reassurance that its dimmer should be on BLAST, so this chain takes every single incoming note and converts it to a really long C -2 @ velocity 127, which is what the fixture needs to hear to keep its spirits up. Otherwise sometimes it will just sit there being dark and there’s no way to know what’s happening. This is a little clumsy but it works. MIDI data is like Mardi Gras beads–it doesn’t cost much to throw it around and as long as you’re seeing what you want to see, why not?

Or, for an even better example: treat MIDI like Prince treats motorcycles. Maybe not limitless but close enough that the question becomes academic.


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