Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Instrumental: Complexion

December 6, 2011

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Instruments: Valencia 3/4-scale Classical Guitar (modified to Bohlen-Pierce scale), FL Studio 10: Convolver plugin + bass and triangle samples.

For a while, I've been meaning to try composing music in the Bohlen-Pierce scale. Using FL Studio, I had previously been able to modify synthesizers and sample-based instruments to the scale, but since my primary instrument is guitar, I found it difficult to compose using those (somewhat artificial-sounding) keyboard-based instruments.

After running across a video on YouTube showing that you could use zip ties to create temporary frets on a defretted guitar neck, I decided I felt comfortable enough to buy a cheap guitar and perform the operation to turn it into a Bohlen-Pierce guitar.

With "frets" in place.

Note that I chose a 3/4-scale classical guitar, knowing that a) the frets would end up further apart after the operation, and b) nylon strings have a smoother tone, which ought to make the unfamiliar notes of the scale easier to digest.

Having done that, I could now jam on the guitar to come up with Bohlen-Pierce chords and riffs that suited my taste. The present instrumental is my first attempt to bring together chords, a bass line, and a melody into a listenable Bohlen-Pierce track.

Stay tuned for a variation of this track with lyrics!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Instrumental: Sunderland

June 22, 2011

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Instruments: FL Studio 10: Convolver plugin, Open Instrument Cable, Tambourine Sample, Hofner Bass Guitar Sample, 12 String Guitar Samples.

No organic instruments were harmed in the making of this track.

FL Studio has a plugin called "Convolver", which loads an audio sample and triggers it continuously according to the levels of an input sound source. In this case, I used tambourine, bass, and 12-string guitar samples as the samples to be triggered. For the triggering sound source, I used an open-ended instrument cable, tapping rhythmically on the end with my finger. When you have the cable plugged into an amp, this creates an abrupt buzzing noise which stops as soon as you let go of the end. It was this staccato buzzing that triggered the samples. Variations in impact force and friction created variations in the final sound of the samples.

For the chords being played, I ran together an octave's worth of separate Convolvers with 12-string guitar samples and mapped the notes to a MIDI keyboard. I fudged the chords with one hand while triggering the samples with the instrument cable in the other hand. It was fun.

P.S. The "rain" and banging/thunder/explosion sounds were produced the same way as everything else. Just, like, different samples. Secret percussion samples.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Instrumental: Dunderhead!

June 16, 2011

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Instruments: FL Studio 10: Convolver plugin + vocal sample and electric guitar.

FL Studio has a plugin called "Convolver", which loads an audio sample and triggers it continuously according to the levels of an input sound source.

So here, the sample I am triggering is an old (like, 2003 old) clip of me singing a Weird Al song, "Since You've Been Gone", backwards, backwards. That is, I took the line "Well I'm feeling like I stuck my hand inside a blender and turned it on", listened to it backwards, sang that, and turned the result backwards, arriving at a really goofy sounding version of the original. The words "blender and" came out sounding more like "dunderhead!", thus the name of this track.

The input source for this track was an electric guitar (now I can't remember whether it was the Kramer Focus or the Epiphone Wildkat; I'm leaning towards Kramer Focus). I just jammed out whatever popped into my head. The more trebly and staccato notes result in more obvious triggering of the speech sample; however, the sample really is triggered by every note, which is why there's so much ambient "reverb" and glitchy effects.

Here's the full original vocal sample from 2003 (apologies in advance for your poor ears):

P.S. If you know where I might have ripped off the main chord progression from, let me know. I keep thinking it reminds me of Harry Potter music.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Song: Secretly

Mix 7
July 3-October 6, 2007

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Secretly I've been wondering why I was waiting here so long
When all the faults I found are gone.
It seemed to me that the way in life was to do it as I'm shown;
I might go crazy on my own.

Yeah, recently I've been wondering why I was waiting here so long
When all the faults I found are gone.
It seemed to me that the way in life was to do it as I'm shown;
I'm going crazy on my own.

Influences: John Lennon (guitar).
Instruments: Squier P-Bass Special, Kramer Focus 111S, FL Studio BooBass, Boss VT-1 Voice Transformer, Drum Samples.

The bass line and some of the words to this came to me in a dream in the middle of 2003 — although at the time, it sounded more like '90s skate punk.

By August I had finished writing out the refrain, but I couldn't really think of anything else to go with it. I had plans for combining it with another song idea that never took off, and so it ended up on the back burner for about four years. Finally, I caved and decided to just record what I had and try to make the most of it.

Rather than be overly creative and try to write more lyrics, I said to hell with it (as I often do!) and made the song just be the refrain repeated several times. If it hasn't sunk in by the fourth repetition... well, that's why we have the "loop" toggle on music players.

So, there are three vocal lines -- one low octave, chill vocal; one higher octave, slightly manic vocal; and a female vocal (sounds a little weird because it's run through the VT-1) jumping between unison and harmony with the higher vocal. And I must have been thinking about John Lennon's scratchy guitar — featured at the end of the songs "I'm Losing You" and "I Don't Wanna Face It" (the version on Wonsaponatime) — when I did this.

Mmmm... Oh, the "bwah" drum is a DNC kick sample with some sine modulation fx added in FL Studio.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Instrumental: T-mbourine

August 5, 2007

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Instruments: FL Studio 7: 3x Oscillator, BooBass, Percussion Samples; QWERTY Keyboard.

In FL Studio, there is an option to use your computer keyboard as an input device for instruments. The keys are mapped so that Z, X, C, V, B, N, M, comma, period, and forward slash make a set of white keys, with Z representing a C note; Q, W, E, R, T, Y, U, I, O, P, [, and ] represent the next octave (and a half) up, with Q representing a C note. S, D, G, H, J, L, semicolon, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 0, and = represent black keys.

For the purpose of this instrumental, I wanted to come up with a tune that stayed within a scale on the white keys. Therefore, I started looking for common words that stayed within the two sets of "white keys" on the QWERTY keyboard. Using familiar words gives the player the opportunity to experiment with new sequences of notes that can be easily repeated on the fly. I finally settled on the word "tambourine", which I chose to represent as "t-mbourine" because the letter A does not trigger a note in FL Studio. All the letters in the word are given equal length except the initial T, which is double length to make up for the missing second letter. The resulting riff is repeated for the duration of the song.

With the letter T (which would be a G note on a piano keyboard) as the root of the scale, and with extra preprogrammed backing, the tune ended up being in the Mixolydian mode (a scale formed by running from G to G on the white keys of a piano keyboard). The note sequence of the lead instrument (a high-octave BooBass with lots of effects piled on) was improvised by using other words that fit within the set of white keys, combined with more random improvisation. For example, the beginning of the lead sequence was typed as follows: "z poetry petry utyrterw" (spacing provided for clarity). Other words included in the song are "return" and "erotic", interspersed with improvised riffs. The second half is more abstract and not based on any particular familiar words.

In the background you hear a heavily modified vocal sample of me, Ray N, and Kevin S discussing how different English-speaking areas have their own different (and, for the record, totally made-up) terms akin to "poppycock".

Thursday, May 24, 2007

GSnap Messing

GSnap Messing
May 24, 2007

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Instruments: GVST GSnap + FL Studio, Whistling, Vocals.

I can't remember what my original motivation was for getting GVST GSnap — other than the obvious use it could have for tweaking vocal pitch flubs, though as it turns out I'm too heavy-handed of a producer to do something so subtle. So, in order to explore what I could actually do with GSnap, I made this. First I laid down the droning vocals in the background — a good old "ohhhhmmmwaaahhoohhmmwwwaah", technically describable as modulating the formant spectrum of my voice by slowly wembling my lips. Those were run through GSnap and pinned to one invariant pitch.

So, whistling ended up kind of cool. Very world-music sounding. Not immediately obvious that it's human whistling. I started out with the whistling locked to a couple pitches, then switched it up to an F major scale.

Ah, this might explain part of my motivation. I heard a song by They Might Be Giants, called Bastard Wants to Hit Me that used Auto-Tune (or something akin to it). So when the vocals come in on this, around 0:56, the line "He says he knows me, but I don't know that guy..." is from that song. Then I switch to singing the first verse of another They Might Be Giants song, Hope That I Get Old Before I Die.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Song: Nuclear Spin (Man Will Never Fly Version)

Nuclear Spin (Man Will Never Fly Version)
Version 2
February 18, 2007

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Alright, I think we've got everything we need here,
Where's the uh.. oh...

Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello.
Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello.

Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello.
Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello.

Instruments: Oscillators; Pulse Pro Jr. Drum Set + Hi-Hats; Kramer Focus 111S; Hands, Feet, and a Chair; Kramer Baretta 5-string Bass (plunk, slap, & slide); Clock Chime; Sofia Mari SM3448 Accordion.

Not a far cry from the version mixed the previous day, this is a stripped-down mix with no acoustic guitar and only one vocal sample from the archives (my friend Andrew saying "Alright, I think we've got everything we need here..."). The intro is also different from Version 1 — instead of a glowing, ambient oscillator sound, here we have a gritty, low buzz that hangs for a few seconds and then jolts into the guitar riff.

Oscillators come back for revenge during the last repetition and then taper off at the end. A sample taken from a chiming clock in my house is also snuck into a couple spots.

For more info on this track, check out the blog entry for Version 1.