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rustyjaw

Music Production (Tools and Techniques)

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After cluttering up the Music thread with off-topic posts, here is a thread dedicated to the tools for making music. For me, this really means synthesizers, effects processors and computers, but I assume there are acoustic instrument players here as well who may want to chime in with what they are doing and what they are playing.
 
I started making music around a decade ago, I pursued it for a few years, but then gave up and sold off the little bit of hardware that I had. I had become frustrated with the whole process, feeling that I wasn't developing at all. I think some of that was due to the tools I was using, but also I think my mental approach was setting me up for disappointment. I was equal parts impatient, easily frustrated and overly ambitious. Bad combination! Also, I later came to realize that I was frustrated by working in software almost 100% of the time. I work all day in graphics software, and then I came home to do something creative which meant more mouse-dragging...and most soft synths have decidedly skeuomorphic UIs that aren't all that mouse-friendly. I eventually did buy a couple of hardware synths, but both were rack-mounts with a minimum of knobs, and menu-driven UIs. Not exactly instruments that lend themselves to learning or interactivity.
 
Fast-forward to last Sept (2015). I struck up a friendship with a guy who has had a life-long interests in synths and electronic music. In the late 70's he was a student at a college that had a modular synth in a studio where he was able to study synthesis. This encounter reignited my interest. I shared my frustration with my first foray into music-making and with the limitations I imposed on myself with software and rack-mount synths. It didn't take long for me to find myself gazing once again at synths online and then at Guitar Center. Ever since, I've been nothing short of obsessed with hardware synths with one-knob-per function interfaces, and along the way I got even more obsessed with modular synths.

 

And now, here is a tour of my small home studio:

 

studio-overview.jpg

 

The corner of my "AV" room (you can see the bottom of my projector at the top, and my classy window darkening tech). The white keyboard is the Nektar MIDI controller with 49 semi-weighted keys. I'm not a keyboard player, but I do like the feel of these keys. I bought this controller because it has a lot of control surface functionality. The screen shows the current Logic instrument and allows you to edit settings right from the controller. It works very well, but I find myself not using that ability very much.

 

studio_JX-MX-System1.jpg

Just to the left of where I sit, the all-Roland section, System-1 to the far left (my first synth purchase back in Sept), the MX-1 mixer at center, and the JX-03 bottom. The MX-1 has a metric shit ton of features that I am not using yet. But I got it used for a good price.

 

studio-Minilogue_SparkLE_JP-08.jpg

And to the right of where I sit, the delightful Korg Minilogue at the bottom, Arturia SparkLE drum machine controller, and in the back the Roland JP-08

 

studio-Modular_4-2016.jpg

And the modular in it's new home (the old case is sitting vertically on the left). I got this case (which has a detachable lid so it can become a suitcase) from Craigslist for a very good deal. I added the translucent plastic panels and the black paper panels to keep dust from getting in. Since getting the case, I've added all the modules on the second row.

 

And finally a very short video I took a few days ago of the first patch (self-generating) I made with the two newest modules in the case. I'm still very much learning what I'm doing. I manually open a filter to brighten the sound during the video. The sound is recorded via the iPhone mic.

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Very cool. I don't have much to offer in this thread obviously but, i like reading through it and listening to the music.

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Very cool. I don't have much to offer in this thread obviously but, i like reading through it and listening to the music.

I'm not sure how many folks here do music stuff. I don't consider myself a musician, although the concept itself is modern. In tribal cultures, music is an activity (literally in many, the word for music is a verb), and almost everyone participates in its creation. Of course, as part of modern society, most of us do have some specialized niche we fill and therefore less time for other activities, like learning to make music. I regret not studying an instrument when I was younger, I think it's a great skill to have and I expect it broadens one's appreciation of music in general.

 

One big difference between my musical attempts of late and my first go-round a decade ago is that this time, I've actually done some investigation of music theory. And even the little bit I know has helped immensely. Getting a sense of scales and chords in particular has helped. Before, in my impatience, I figured I could hear my way into pleasing sounds...and while I'm sure that's possible to do, for me, it was way more frustrating.

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A few years ago I did a story about my lifelong MIDI journey. Here it is:

 

http://www.engadget.com/2010/06/10/midi-gear-of-the-80s-16-channels-of-want/

 

Nice, Josh. I found this line amusing

 

Yes, there was once a day when crazy kids were choosing digital over analog.

 

 

It's hard to fathom now, but I've talked to a few people who picked up amazing analog gear incredibly cheap (in one case, a guy I work with got stuff from the trash behind a recording studio!) because it was suddenly out of fashion. Now, that same gear is worth 100x more.

 

Although I don't want to give the impression that I think digital synthesis is inherently inferior. You can easily get to sonic territory than analog can't reach, but so much of it sounds somehow cheesy. It reminds me of how high refresh rate TVs make film look like video.

 

That said, the very last touch I added to the track I just finished was a subtle pad from the Korg iM1 app on iPad (I actually played it using the on-screen keyboard). It's not a lead sound, but it had an airiness that I wanted.

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Although I don't want to give the impression that I think digital synthesis is inherently inferior. You can easily get to sonic territory than analog can't reach, but so much of it sounds somehow cheesy. It reminds me of how high refresh rate TVs make film look like video.

 

Hahaha - that's an apt comparison.

 

I think the two go incredibly well together. The warmness of analog synthesis is like the kick and the tightness of digital sampling is like the snare. Or cheese and wine. Or dogs and cats. Or... ok I'll stop.

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I want that Minilogue, damn it. 

I think it's the hottest thing in the synth industry right now. Last I saw, they are about 2 months backordered. I'm certain Korg has a smash hit on their hands, and I'd bet a big brother edition using a beefed up version of the same synth engine will be coming next year. Personally, I'd like to see a desktop version with all the knobs but no keyboard.

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This should tip the scales for you, Dan. When you start the Minilogue it enters a short tuning phase (true to analog, it needs to be tuned, and will fall out of tune if the temperature changes too much). If you turn the voice depth encoder during tuning, it activates an adorable minigame.

 

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I mainly record guitar ramblings but those modular synths look awesome (Needs some Nine inch nails :))

 

 

I use Reaper ( http://www.reaper.fm ) for my DAW software

 

For electric guitar I use an Axe-FX II which provides guitar amp emulation + effects (http://www.fractalaudio.com/p-axe-fx-ii-preamp-fx-processor.php)

Superior Drummer 2 for drums (http://www.toontrack.com/product/superior-drummer-2/)

 

And to monitor I use a pair of active Atomic CLR speakers (http://atomicamps.com/portfolio-item/atomic-clr-frfr-monitors/) - best speakers I've ever used - I really would like to have a full 5.1 setup with these for home theater - but they are massive.

 

For acoustic I use a couple of cheap Behringer Mics - normally in x/y setup - through a mackie 402vlz4 into the Axe-FX II (which has really nice converters):

 

 

Lately though I've been getting more into piano playing though - I use PianoTeq 5 (https://www.pianoteq.com/pianoteq5) which is awesome software (complete physical model of the piano, no samples):

https://soundcloud.com/alberta-1/saties-gnossienne-no-1

 

Last X-mas I got a Kawai VPC1 piano controller (http://www.kawaivpc.com/en/) which I upgraded from a Kurzweil PC1X

 

 

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I may have missed it posted elsewhere, but do you have some recent samples of the 'music' you've been exploring Ed, like maybe on Soundcloud? Some audio to accompany the pics of that sweet gear.

 

Any chance that studio space has led colored lighting? Not only would it look kick ass with your gear, I just think lighting can really help in the creative process, getting you in the right frame of mind.

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This should tip the scales for you, Dan. When you start the Minilogue it enters a short tuning phase (true to analog, it needs to be tuned, and will fall out of tune if the temperature changes too much). If you turn the voice depth encoder during tuning, it activates an adorable minigame.

 

 

 

NUU7J93.gif

 

 

One day, one day.... I do have a birthday in five weeks but.... gah..... Must resist. 

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Last X-mas I got a Kawai VPC1 piano controller (http://www.kawaivpc.com/en/) which I upgraded from a Kurzweil PC1X

 

Very nice. I'm looking for an old Fatar MIDI controller. I remember loving the feel of those and they're pretty rare now since no one gets rid of them.

 

Love the bluesy sound you get from your guitar. Wish I could play guitar, but I just never had the hands for it.

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I mainly record guitar ramblings but those modular synths look awesome (Needs some Nine inch nails :))

I've only been able to listen on my phone since yesterday, but your playing, both guitar and piano, sounds awesome. I'm envious. Love the Satie piece you played.

 

For some perspective, I'm just now getting to the point where I can visually pick out which notes the keys on a keyboard correspond to. Haha. And if I want to play a simple line in real-time, I need to practice it. But it's great fun when it comes together.

 

Oh modular. Did I mentioned I'm obsessed? It's almost scary because the dollar amounts involved are not insignificant (although historically, the Eurorack format is far cheaper than prior modular systems/formats). On top of that, the field of available modules is absolutely bewildering to a newbie. More than a few times I've woken up at night fretting about wtf I'm doing pouring so much cash into this hobby. But in the light of day, it's just so deeply fascinating to consider the limitless possibilities for sound manipulation.

 

There are some fantastic resources available for the curious. First, the YouTube channel Tuesday Night Machines has an essential series on getting started in Eurorack:

 

 

I watched these all, some of them

2 or 3 times, to get my head around the basics.

 

The definitive forum on the internet for Eurorack (and other synthesis formats and topics) has to be "Muffwiggler":

 

https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/index.php

 

Also, modulargrid is a wonderful site where you can build out a virtual modular synth. As you add modules, the site keeps track of the cost, the power requirements and in some cases you can do virtual patches. It's an indispensable tool for planning.

 

Here is what I currently have, as laid out on modulargrid.

 

modulargrid_272481.jpg

 

And here is a rack I put together to help remember modules I'm considering:

 

modulargrid_227097.jpg

 

Beware all ye who enter Eurorack!

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Very nice. I'm looking for an old Fatar MIDI controller. I remember loving the feel of those and they're pretty rare now since no one gets rid of them.

Yeah my PC1X has a Fatar TP30 keybed. Certainly the best keybeds for OEMs, but doesn't compare to the Kawai Action - that is if you are looking for piano action.

 

The Kawai VPC1 mechanism:

 

I swear the VPC1 has better action than some of the cheap small acoustic grands I've seen in piano stores - at least to my taste.

 

Love the bluesy sound you get from your guitar. Wish I could play guitar, but I just never had the hands for it.

Thanks! The Axe-FX II really helps there as it does really accurate edge of breakup emulations.

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I've only been able to listen on my phone since yesterday, but your playing, both guitar and piano, sounds awesome. I'm envious. Love the Satie piece you played.

Thanks man!

 

For some perspective, I'm just now getting to the point where I can visually pick out which notes the keys on a keyboard correspond to. Haha. And if I want to play a simple line in real-time, I need to practice it. But it's great fun when it comes together.

I completely suck at sight reading... I just cannot do it... I just try to memorize pieces and try to concentrate on applying the right dynamics - that's what lead me to the VPC1 (it must always be the hardware's fault :) )

But same here, I have to practice a section quite a bit before it clicks - and when it does yeah great fun!

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I'm sure you synth folk are familiar with this excellent documentary:https://vimeo.com/97374616https://vimeo.com/81576339

 

Yes! I posted a link to that in the music thread once we started to go off-topic. That movie is what made me realize modular might be a reachable goal for me. I've seen it twice. And a friend has the 4-hour "hardcore" version which I plan to watch soon.

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I'm sure you synth folk are familiar with this excellent documentary:

 

OTOH, I had not seen that full Reznor/Cortini interview (which I assume is part of the "Hardcore" edition). I couldn't agree more with what they are saying!

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I may have missed it posted elsewhere, but do you have some recent samples of the 'music' you've been exploring Ed, like maybe on Soundcloud? Some audio to accompany the pics of that sweet gear.

 

Any chance that studio space has led colored lighting? Not only would it look kick ass with your gear, I just think lighting can really help in the creative process, getting you in the right frame of mind.

Hey, sorry I missed this post. yeah, in the music thread I posted a couple of things:

 

A drone ambient track

 

and

 

https://soundcloud.com/rustyjaw/adrift-ashore

A lighter, downtempo ambient track

 

There are some other, even lighter and perhaps even "poppier" tracks in that profile. The main unifying theme in everything I've done so far is ambient. When I got back into this hobby, I wanted to make a kind of hazy electronic shoegaze .

 

Funny you should mention lighting, I'm kicking myself for taking pics without turning on the Hue strip I have under the shelf that the computer sits on. The whole room has Hue lights and sometimes to break the monotony, I run color-shifting animations on all the lights.

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:wub:

Holy Jesus. So gorgeous. Every single module she mentioned has been on my list at one point or another. I think she must have upwards of $30K in gear there...maybe more.

 

I love her approach, which sounds measured and unrushed. This is a problem for me because I want to understand it all NOW. I can get frustrated quickly if I don't get results. It's nice to hear someone so accomplished talk about just taking time and listening to the sounds. I need more of this.

 

I had a moment like that on my last track "Overflow Expanse" when I created the drone which is the backbone of the track. I overlayed two oscillators (Pittsburgh Modular and Intellijel Dixie II) and listened to how they interacted with each other as I messed with their parameters, and slowly honed in on a pattern of interference between them. They slowly drift in and out of phase, which sounded lovely to me and that was the basis of the whole thing. (incidentally, you don't hear the full phasing interference until maybe the 5-6 minute mark because I have the filter closed down on that sound, but it slowly opens over the length of the track)

 

Thanks for posting this, it's inspirational

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Nice share Daniel! The synth doesn't quite work for me musically, however I certainly appreciate the art and skill of producing.

 

I'm a sucker for a confident, musically talented, thoughtful & beautiful woman, and she's all of that. Like I said, it may not be my thing musically, but I certainly enjoyed listening to her talk and produce that work so thoughtfully & passionately.

 

The wires though, I'm too obsessive, so seeing that was painful. :)

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