Genius Lists on the iPod

I received a replacement iPod classic for my birthday for my stalwart and constant iPod companion. It had been my companion for 3 years but the hard drive was starting to make some suspicious clicking noises once in a while and it was having a hard time syncing for podcasts in the morning. With a heavy heart I put it in a box as a backup iPod* and replaced it with a cooler and thinner and younger model.

The new iPod classic has Genius lists. I have 60G of music for it to search, sort, and mess with. Being who I am, I was instantly curious and made it cough up a few playlists. What spit out of it is essentially my core playlist from 1995.

I’m a little disturbed and freaked out.

Let’s see… I tell it to give me a Genius List based on Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” and I get Pearl Jam, STP, Offspring, Alice in Chains, Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden, Metallica, a little bit of Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath. All excellent — how does one go wrong with Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused?” But I feel like this thing is reading the inside of my brainmeats.

I did get newer and stranger songs when I fed it Radiohead.

These genius list searches are weird and will keep me entertained for weeks but still, man. I feel old. Old old old.

* I have been asked why I did not replace it with an iPod Touch from several avenues.

A. The iPod Classic holds 160G of music (!), where I cannot get all my music on an iPod Touch.
B. The iPod Classic is basically the perfect gizmo for carrying music libraries. Anything else is over-engineering.
C. I have an iPad, the world’s most expensive dispenser of Puzzle Quest.

Music Recommendations!

Perhaps you are lying there thinking, “Gee, I enjoy Sigur Ros, especially agaetis byrjun,  but I want that Sigur Ros sound with a more prog-rock edge and less Hopelandish.” If you are that person I offer to you a band called Mogwai from Glasgow and their extremely excellent album, Mr. Beast. Guitar, Bass, Drum, Piano and Computers! They sound marvelous. The sound is richly detailed and multi-layered and the album goes from alternative to metal to that sort of sweeping soundscape. As a taste, you can watch the video for “A Friend of the Night” from Mr. Beast on the Youtubes. Get thee hence and make with the clicky-clicky. I am completely hooked on this album. You should be, too.

If, for some reason, you have never listened to or heard of Sigur Ros, Youtube hosts full channels dedicated to Hopelandish. Search for them on Youtube and click on pretty much anything.

In a completely different vein that sounds nothing like Sigur Ros or Mogwai, I saw that Since I Left You by the Avalanches has been starting to appear quietly and sheepishly on “Best Of” album lists and this made my heart grow three sizes bigger. If you have never heard Frontier Psychiatrist or listened to the other fine and excellent tracks off Since I Left You, you can watch the video on the Youtubes as well. Yes! A Frontier Psychiatrist VIDEO! GASP! It’s an album that richly deserves to be on the best-of lists.

New Song #15: VALIS

New Song: VALIS
Key: Bb, Genre: Trance

For 90% of this project, the song’s name was BOG for Bog Standard Trance. Although it took me a month to put this song together it is my best effort so far. I am quite fond of this one.

I learned several things on this particular project:

* Mastering the Trance arrangement template that nearly all Electronic Trance and Melodic Trance follow.
* Using some of the new features in Zebra 2.2.
* Learning the power of the low cut and the high cut to manage voices and get them to sit in their frequency spectrums.
* Controlling that compressor and holding back on the EQ unless absolutely necessary.
* Mixing groups and layering samples.

This is also the first time my drums are sampled live instruments that are heavily processed instead of synthesized instruments.

The VOX pieces are all deeply insane quotes taken from VALIS created by hand and passed lightly through the vocoder, doubling delay and short room reverb for extra weird. Philip K Dick is an endless source of awesome and it sounds extra creepy when vocoded.

I particularly like this track. Download and enjoy.

New Song #14b: Network

New Song: Network
Key: D/Dm, Length: 5:16, Genre: Electronic Dance Protest Music!

When Eric first heard this song, he said:

“So what do you really think about TV, Em?”

Presented for your amusement is a mash-up of electronic dance music and the movie Network. I am channeling my innate hate into music and giving it a hot, hot disco beat. What comes out is total, complete, red-hot awesome! It is so full of awesome that even awesome has awesome. It has awesome piled on awesome. You must take my word for it.

It is very much aimed at today’s culture — Network is every bit as apt today as it was when it first came out in 1976. Perhaps even more so, since we walked down the road Network was parodying. It would work great with a montage of, say, FOX News and the Bush&Dick show.

Listen to it. If you like it, pass it on to your friends.

I also took shots of my work area to demonstrate why putting something like this together takes me weeks. This is my arranging area and my mixing screen. They’re both longer than the screenshot, but it’s a balance between squishing everything in to the shot and seeing things clearly.

Continue reading “New Song #14b: Network”

New Song #14a: Network (Oontz Mix)

New Song: Network (Oontz Mix).
Key of D, 157 BPM, Electro House! Disco is in, baby!

Behold the instrumental version of my project for Art Weekend 2007! It’s been through some serious work and I’ve been picking at it for almost two weeks, but now this thing rocks the freaking house. It even rocks through my awful MacBook Pro speakers. It rocks so hard, it even rocks in my socks. Now I have no socks. That’s how much it rocks.

Art Weekend allowed me to have a huge chunk of completely anti-social time to work out a ton of my previous issues and I overcame both some confidence blocks and some technical blocks while I had the quiet. Combined with an excellent pair of new monitoring/mastering headphones, I am full of awesome.

Part B will be a complete remix using a collection of vocal clips. But it is late now, so that is a project for tomorrow.

New Song #13: Bright Lights

New Song: Bright Lights (Instrumental)
Key of E, 120 BPM, Laid Back Electronic Dance

Bright Lights is a peppy little dance tune in the key of E. It’s a pretty accidental track and more a product of perfecting workflow than anything else. It’s also the first one that actually starts to sound polished and professional. It has none of the problems of previous tracks. It could use some vocal bits, but I didn’t have anything I really liked handy, so I may produce something else in quick succession that does have vocal.

Workflow is a big deal. A process that takes the grains of an idea and turns it into something of substance helps to keep the ideas going without having to stop and think and wonder what the next step in the process is. I’ve been thrashing around for almost a year trying to come up with the right way to work and this seems to function for me.

Step #1: Noodle around on the guitar.

I don’t have a big piano for generic noodling, and I’m not convinced I could noodle on a piano if I had one. I do, however, have an entire room full of guitars and banjos, and it is relatively easy to mess around with the placement and the rate of 3 or 4 chord sequences. The sequences these days come from a bunch of places: tabs for other songs, big books of songwriting swag, me messing around with chord sequences, and an hour or so of screwing around. Eventually, something that sounds plausibly good falls out and defines the parameters of a song. (Is it a Major or Minor Key? Is it in Mixylodian mode? Etc.)

Step #2: Write something in Finale

Finale is a godsend. For some reason, I cannot really compose anything in MIDI roll. I know plenty of people can and do. I need to look at notes, even if it is big chunky whole and half notes that play over complex chords with 9ths and 13ths. My little lizard brain understands all the little black marks on the white paper. Finale lets me move notes around, lengthen and shorten notes, build in little riffs, work out arpeggiated sequences, and change keys until I find a key I like. I can technically write a ton of music in C and then key shift it to something a little more interesting and colorful, or write in C and then play the music and cycle through keys until something sounds right.

Finale Notepad is free, but it does not save. All other versions of Finale export to MIDI which is easily imported into a DAW. The Finale suite comes with Native Instrument’s Kontakt 2 and Garriton Personal Orchestra, but I find that I use general MIDI instruments most of the time.

Step #3: Toss it in Garageband

Garageband has a use in this universe: to mess with ideas quickly and easily. That’s its job. It makes truly crappy finished product, but it works as a wonderful scratchpad. It’s simple to load up a chunk of MIDI, load up a synthesizer, and play some sounds over the composed music. Be aware, though, that it is extremely easy to kill Garageband so dead that it won’t even play over frozen tracks. The trick is to turn all effects completely off and play only through the AU synth.

Step #4: Import Garageband Project into Logic

By this point, the music is 90% done. All that is left is the mixing. Unfortunately, Garageband tacks on a bunch of dud effects and bad instruments on to tracks, so every track has to be purged of GB nonsense. Also, the faders are always crazily out of whack. Zero out the faders and remix the volume from scratch.

This is also the point where I would add in vocals, special effects, big swoops, and automation. I didn’t here because this is mostly an accidental song, but the next song’s goal is to start incorporating more advanced mixing techniques and some vocal parts.

Step #5: Share!

And here, I share. So, enjoy!

Tiny Trance Demo

I finally laid hands upon an actual copy of Zebra 2.1. Herein is a whole 20 minutes worth of work and a demo of Zebra doing its impression of every other bit of European Trance in the history of the known universe:

Trance Demo.

Yeah, it just kinda ends.

I use garageband like it’s the musical equivalent of notepad. Instant scratch space. It’s like a “drabble,” but with a wall of noise.

Chords Demo and Some Partial Work

This is a 2:15 song written in the Key of E. It is only the framework — the chords that build a verse, chorus and bridge. The verse and bridge are in E and the chorus modulates to C# minor. This is an example of writing music in Finale and backing it with Garriton Personal Orchestra.

Sequence in E.

The peanut gallery has voted for me to finish the song, so I’ll pick at a melody and see what falls out.

Also, here was something I was working on earlier. I don’t think it was working out, but I think the drum loop is a keeper. It was my first attempt at some pure ambient:

Test Bounce (ambient nonsense).

I’ll take what worked and roll it into something else.

New Song #12: Saltarello (Heavy Mix)

It is that time again! Time to unleash another tune upon the world!

Behold and tremble! Behold the unholy mash-up of a perfectly good, happy, and danceable Medieval tune and Heavy Metal! RenFest meets hair metal! Make with the clicky clicky and listen to Saltarello (Heavy Mix)!

It has been market tested on precisely one two year old! It causes small children to dance! It will take you more time to read this post than it will to listen to the song, so what’s stopping you?

You will be amazed.

I had been planning on mashing up Saltarello with a screaming guitar solo for some time simply because the song has a great pulsing beat and long runs of 16th notes which lend themselves well to towering solos.

First, the song went into Finale. If you want to do some real composing, not simply schlock loops together, Finale is the way to go. It’s a very expensive program, but if you actually write music on actual paper and use actual instruments, it’s a very powerful tool. Because the original song is in G, and G is a terrible key for guitars, it got transposed to something more guitar-friendly. Guitars do well in A, E or B, but B made it sound a little too sparkly, so E worked well. That ends up with the power-chord friendly chords of E/F#m/G#m for the bass riff.

Finale kicks out 103 measures of expressionless bit of MIDI. Logic pulls the MIDI in. Markers slice up the regions.

A few hours later and a drum loop pops out. Each drums part — bass drum, snare and hats — get processed differently with different effects. I use Ultrabeat’s multi-sampled rock kit since it has the right about of wumph without the heaviness of a TR-808 or TR-909 unit.

Once the drums begin to sit with the top, MIDI tools inject a little life into an otherwise lifeless solo. Parts get transposed up and down for dynamics. The (utterly amazing) Sculpture synthesizer models a single string of a Fender Stratocaster. It is largely a preset, but a little tweaking helps it perk up. Pitch bend signals simulate pitch bends, which causes us to exclaim like Jack Black doing Tenacious D, “I’m doing the bendy!” (“One Note Song,” for those who wonder.) The guitar amps is set to huge distortion with a big scoop pattern for that strat plugged into a stack feel.

The bass, a sampled fretless, sits against the bass drum.

Another sampler picks up the rhythm guitar. The sampler has separate samples for palm mute guitar and regular open chords. Somewhere in here, I spend 3 straight hours doing 103 takes of me playing the rhythm part, and I end up synthesizing it anyway.

Then I spend hours and hours and hours learning some hard lessons about mixing. It still isn’t perfect, but it’s not bad.

If you like Saltarello, Dead Can Dance produced a fantastic version on their album, Aion. If you do not own any DCD, this is a good introductory track. Hie to iTunes and hand over your $0.99 for awesomeness.

Name: “Saltarello (Heavy Mix)”
Genre: Metal
Key: E
BPM: 123bpm
Running Time: 1:47
Tools Used: Apple Logic 7.2 and my throbbing brainmeats

New Song #10: Sci Fi Pornography (Remix)

This isn’t technically a new song. It’s a remix of a song I wrote earlier, but now I’m using professional calibre tools and sometimes a tool does make a difference. Also, I know what I’m doing and how to do it.

I remixed Sci Fi Pornography into Sci Fi Pornography (Remix). Gone are earlier problems: a weak bass sound that was washed out in the bottom, an anemic middle, clipping issues, and badly mixed shakers. Now it’s a punchy little tune with thuddy trance drums, a fuller sound, tamed shakers and some newer, weirder science fiction sound effects. It came out, if I must say so, awesome.

For reference, the original Sci Fi Pornography is here.

I have a sneaking suspicion that GarageBand downsamples somewhere in the engine. As a free tool it is not bad and it makes a great little sketch pad. But much like attempting to write a full novel in notepad (or, god save me, vi) it’s not something I recommend.

Song here: Sci Fi Pornography (Remix)

Name: “Sci Fi Pornography (Remix)”
Genre: Electronic Dance
Key: C
BPM: 95bpm
Running Time: 3:01
Tools Used: Apple Logic 7.2 and a hat-full of loops

(This is the halfway point of my 20 song project! WOO!)