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Chaos Theory: Album Progress

I’m glad to report that The Cure For Chaos Theory is progressing well, even though such progress never as quickly or as smoothly as I’d like it to. Personal life and other projects always seem to conspire to take me out of the studio. Even so, as of tonight there are eleven songs that are complete (apart from the final mixing and mastering), with another nine in various states of progress from early scratch track to full demo recording.

There’s still a long way to go, I admit, but we’re still hoping to have things out by the end of 2013, so don’t cross Psycliq off of your Christmas list quite yet. And in the mean time, there are some other cool things happening that you’ll like. Probably. Keep listening.

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Production

On Home Studios

One of the best things about a home studio is that once you’ve got it set up, you can just start using it. You don’t need to book time, you don’t need to schedule things ahead of time, you don’t need to hire somebody else’s engineer. Just pick up your instruments, fire up your control board, and go. Every note of Psycliq’s musical catalogue has been recorded in my home studio, with the execption of those couple of tracks I composed and recorded while on an airplane that one time. In other words, the studio part is pretty great.

But one of the worst things about a home studio is that your recording space needs to be shared with the rest of your life. Even if you’re lucky enough to set a room aside, the rest of the house is still likely to be buzzing with all kinds of noise from kids, spouses, TV’s, radios, pets, and all kinds of other things. In other words, the home part of “home studio” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

For one, the setup definitely makes recording things like vocals or acoustic instruments very, very tricky. But the other issue is one of distractions, especially if you’ve got kids and they want to play the instruments and push the buttons and turn the knobs just like Daddy does. One moment you’re all set to sit down and record a new idea, and the next moment you’re desperately trying to figure out why every input to your box has been padded by -15db while trying to figure out exactly where your headphones are now. You may have guessed that I speak from experience.

For these, and many other real-life reasons, I’m going to be relocating my home studio to a different part of the house. One a bit more removed from the rush of toddlers. One a little more isolated from the noises of every day life. And most importantly, one with a door on it. Pro tip: doors are good.

But even with a planned studio shuffle and all kinds of life in the way, we’ve got some goals here at Psycliq Musical Productions for 2012. As we move into the year, I’m going to be diving back into recording and making a new full-length record. The lucky folks who subscribe to the Newsletter already know the title and more information about it, and they’ll keep getting some exclusive updates, too. But suffice it to say that I’m very excited about the prospects. I’ve set a goal of getting it released by the end of this calendar year. At the moment, I’ve got 20 tracks demo’d out that might make it, but who’s to say what the cutting room floor will really see. We might even put up a preorder bonus thing that gives you access to all of the demo tracks, whether they make it in or not.

But whatever comes, I’m going to try my darndest to get this thing rolling. Here goes nothing.

Production

More Kontrol Than Ever

Right after Christmas of last year, I posted about my first run in with the KORG nanoKONTROL and my adventures in getting it hooked up with ProTools. Many things have happened in the intervening seven months, but two items are of particular note here. First off, KORG came out with an updated version of the nano series, tweaking all of them in pretty good ways all around. Second, I finished graduate school, and set about to upgrade a bunch of bits of studio equipment and software as a kind of graduation present.

I’ve only had it plugged in for a few minutes, but the nanoKONTROL2 is an upgrade to its predecessor in many ways. First off, it has native support of the HUI protocol, which ProTools speaks without any further configuration. Thus, you plug this guy in, fire up ProTools (or any number of other editor softwares), and you’re good to go. One of the most immediate differences is the support for the lights behind all the buttons. While the original nanoKONTROL does have lighted buttons, the hacked scene file I had to use to hook it up didn’t let the DAW light buttons up appropriately. Thus, you had no indication on your control of the state of any of your tracks, or even which tracks were selected. Withe the nanoKONTROL2, all of this comes working out of the box. The dedicated solo, mute, and record switches work exactly as you’d expect, and the transport controls all do what they should as well. There are a few new controls on this device as well. In particular, there are buttons for switching track groups (something that had to be done with a mouse with the original nanoKONTROL) and for navigating between markers in the song. Even a few minutes in and it’s already a better experience overall.

I feel kinda bad about upgrading so soon after getting the original, but it’s hard to argue with such progress. I’m going to keep it around for the moment and reprogram it into a general MIDI controller, with the intent of using it in software synths, effects plugins, and things of that nature. We’ll see if it ends up being truly useful in that mode, but there are at least many good possibilities ahead.

Another newcomer to the recording studio is the Akai MPD18, a 16-pad drum controller. As I understand it, this is what one uses to create Phat Beatz. Or bizzeatz. I’m not sure, really. In any case, the velocity sensitive pads on this will be much more conducive to programming drum tracks than either a mouse or a piano keyboard ever were. Since it’s just a basic MIDI controller as well, and not a drum machine in and of itself, I can also use this as a MIDI trigger for other things. Perhaps someday if I ever get up the nerve to play live, this will all come in handy.

As you can see by the low-quality smartphone shots of my desk here, all of these devices leave me with about a mile and a half of USB cables strewn about, leading me to get yet another USB hub for the workstation. Several years ago, I very gladly picked up one of these guys to keep things from falling back into the oblivion behind my desk. Cordies are totally awesome. So simple of an idea, but so well executed. I haven’t yet figured out if latency is going to be an issue with all of the intervening hardware, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

The rest of the studio upgrade is all software, most of which is still on its way. Finally able to upgrade ProTools, Reason, Melodyne, and Amplitube to their latest releases, I’ll have a shiny and full suite of new tools with which to work on new music.

Oh yeah– there is new music. There is actually quite a lot of new music, and once I get all the software installed and set up, I’m going to be working on it in earnest. Keep tuned for more of that.

Production

Tracking and Titles

Somehow, I’m finding a decent amount of time to work on this album. I’ve been able to track two more songs in the past two days. And what’s more amazing to me is that they’re nearly done in their current state. The aesthetic for this album is going to be a lot more sparse than I’m used to working with. There are songs on here that are a solo piano with nothing else involved. These last two are piano with a simple synth pad of some kind underneath them. Sure, there are more complex songs with multiple layers of guitars and all kinds of effects and stuff like that, but even those are a lot more raw than the norm. But I’m very happy with how it’s coming out, even though I’m also wanting to be done with this set of things so I can put some work into other stuff.

Titles for songs have always been fairly important to me. However, most of what I come up with is simply Too Clever for its Own Good. Which, incidentally, I’ve decided is going to be the title of my autobiography/memoir. But take for example “This Town Loves You, This Town Will Destroy You” off of halt. I like the title a lot here, it’s catchy and I felt it matched the two-part nature of the song. Problem is that the song itself isn’t as good as its title, in my opinion. You expect this epic tale of woe, but you get this noodly thing. It’s one of the most clicked-on tracks in the bandcamp page, which tells you that the title is grabbing people’s attention. But “Adoré”, what I consider to be the best track on the album, doesn’t get as much attention. The title is a much better fit for the song here, though.

And now the part that some of you have figured out was coming. I’ve told you that I have a lot of songs for Results Not Typical, and I told you that titles are important to me. Now I tell you the titles of the songs! At least, these are the probably-final titles from the most-likely-going-to-keep tracks for the album. There will be other songs, too, but I’m either not happy enough with the title yet or I’m not sure the song’s going to be good enough to make it on. These are also the ones I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to finish.

  • Amid the Stacks
  • Another Empty Hour In Every Day
  • By Pint and Pound
  • Closure
  • Dustwood
  • Ghosts of Persistence
  • Mettle
  • Open to Suggestions
  • Those Born of Kings
  • Unfurled
  • Whether or Not

Presented alphabetically so as not to imply any kind of album ordering.

Music, Production

A Weekend with the Wavedrum

I’m currently borrowing a KORG Wavedrum from a friend of mine. For those unfamiliar with this fantastic instrument, it is an acoustic drum synthesizer. It works by using vibration sensors underneath a real drum head and rim that respond to all of the dynamic playing that a hand drum is used to, and then sending those signals to a synthesis engine. The engine then takes the input waves and modulates them with various PCM sources and algorithmic sound models to create the output.

What all of that technobabble really means is that this isn’t a drum, it’s a thousand drums in one box. And unlike a drum machine or normal synthesizer, it is played like a real acoustic drum would be. In short, it’s pretty awesome.

I’ve only had it at my place for a few days now, but I’ve managed to spend a few sessions just playing with it. It has an impressive range of tones, most of which mimic real drums of various flavors in addition to a bunch of very otherworldly sounds that have very little to do with drums. However, the fact that you play these sounds like a drum adds a rhythmic character to it. Another great feature of this instrument is that it outputs directly into the recording system. This means that any incidental ambient noises won’t bleed over into the recording. As you’ll recall, this was a necessary feature for my acoustic guitar as well. It turns out that a home studio is difficult to run with a 10-month old in the house. Incidental ambient noises are the rule of the day.

After my initial noodling, I set about using the Wavedrum on an actual song. This one has a bluesy little groove to it that my traditional drum machine just wasn’t going to capture. I tried to program it in Reason, but the timing was all off and it felt horrible. Ever wonder why so many techno songs are in straight 4/4? It’s because it’s really easy to program that. I’ve programmed a few different step sequencers before, and they’ve all been 16-step 4/4 sequencers. The Wavedrum, based entirely on hand input, has no sense of quantization. Thus, I quickly found out something I knew already — that I am not a very good drummer. I’ve got a decent sense of rhythm, but translating that into a particular instrument isn’t always so straightforward. Thankfully, modern post-production lets me tweak things in software where needed. That said, I am trying to have a fairly light touch on this.

In any case, I jumped in and tried a few different drum sounds before settling on a nice round conga sound. With a little compression, it gave me a nice snappy sound that complemented the acoustic guitar and bass that drives the rest of the song. The Wavedrum, being a very different kind of sequencer, turns out to be quite difficult to program. I wasn’t getting the deep booming tones that I was after for underlying the higher accents, so I ended up breaking out the drum machine for just those bits. After trying unsuccessfully to sync with the underlying groove, I simply recorded the drum machine output to a track and un-quantized it by hand to match. This is the opposite of what you usually do with drums.

After a few sessions of recording, re-recording, and tweaking, I’m getting relatively happy with the state of the song. I have a vision of some kind of bell over the top of it, or something to that effect, but I’m not sure it needs it. I always have trouble knowing when to stop.

Oh yes, the title? “By Pint and Pound”. Now you have the first title of a song from Results Not Typical. Originally the title was “Blood and Flesh by Pint and Pound”, I thought it was a little too macabre. What do you think though? Should I change it back or keep the shorter version? Maybe you’d have to hear it first. Maybe I can arrange that, if you want.