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Make Noise upgrade complete!

Make Noise workspaceThe heavy lifting of the Make Noise Studios redo is complete! And it's been a lot of heavy lifting, mostly figuratively but a tad bit literally, as well.

Following last week's installation of the Mac mini, Logic Pro, and MainStage, I replaced the Mbox Pro (3G) with an Apogee Duet 2. The primary driver behind this upgrade was to simplify the working environment. The sound quality of the Apogee is stunningly pristine.

I lost the MIDI port on the Mbox so I also added an Motu FastLane-USB 2x2 MIDI port to support the MIDI Moose / MIDI Solutions Pedal Controller for computer-based looping. I am going to keep the Mbox on the sidelines for now, for its routing capabilities which I expect to use for more complex mixing challenges. For stereo recording and mixing, though, the Apogee is superb.

Speaking of computer-based looping, I spent several hours today configuring MainStage for guitar and guitar synth looping. The initial learning curve was steep but the results are outstanding. I am more excited about this looping setup than any I've ever used, including both hardware and software loopers. I spent several hours throughout the day playing with the setup. It is rock solid and wonderfully functional.

MainStage provides the capability to build virtual controls, define how the controls interface with the real world hardware controls, and how those controls then interact with software plugins. I spent quite a bit of time building a control panel for Loopback and saved it for later use as a building block. MainStage does not allow the use of Program Change messages to do anything except, duh, change programs. This presented a conundrum in that the MIDI Moose only outputs Program Change messages. I installed a nifty utility called MidiPipe that hijacks a designated MIDI input port, manipulates the data stream, and puts the data back out into a MIDI pipe. In this case I simply converted the Program Change messages to Note On messages and configured MainStage to use those to control the Loopback plugin.

With the MIDI problem solved and the Loopback control panel created, I built two looping templates, each with three loopers, one for guitar and another for guitar synth via the GI-20. I can add more loopers if needed in just a few moments, but three is a good working number for most of my looping situations. I can also easily save the sound files from a looping session and import them into Logic or Pro Tools to use in a song.

Make Noise workspaceThe final step was an upgrade from the Line 6 POD X3 Pro to a Line 6 POD HD Pro. The HD is the latest in modeling technology from Line 6 and the amp models "feel" like real amps with the same kind of sensitivity to nuance and touch. I still have the FX Loop for both line level and stomp box effects, a feature I routinely use to patch in Alesis ModFX units, a Boss SP-303 Dr. Sample, or a Korg KP3 Kaoss Pad for serious sonic manipulating, filtering, and mangling. As the HD only requires 2U of rack space, as opposed to the X3's 3U, I consolidated into a single 4U rack with the Furman Power Conditioner, PreSonus MP20 preamp, and POD HD Pro. I use the PreSonus when the job calls for a "straight" signal, such as feeding computer-based amp models or recording DI bass lines.

The new Make Noise configuration is incredibly powerful and sonically outstanding! Just as important, the workflow is greatly simplified with the technology disappearing in the face of creativity. Which is, of course, as it should be!

Journeys and Migrations

It was a big weekend here at Make Noise Studios with a slew of changes. I implemented a new Mac mini with 2.0GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 processors, 8GB of memory, and 2X750GB 7200 rpm drives as a standalone recording machine. The MacBook Pro has been recommissioned as my general purpose computing device. The Mac mini is a screaming machine!

I've found myself growing frustrated with Avid's, the maker of Pro Tools, lack of responsiveness to Apple's operating system upgrades and a general sense of declining stability with new releases. Quickly on the heels of my upgrade to v9, which took a bit to bake in before stability emerged, I was faced with another upgrade to v10. This upgrade didn't go well either, so I downgraded to v9 for the time being. That being the straw that broke the camel's back, I installed Logic Pro v9.1.6 and, for good measure, MainStage v2.2, both of which are now available in the App Store at attractive price points. I've been thinking about adding Logic Pro to the tool kit for quite some time. It is my intent to become fluent in Logic Pro but reserve the option to port my sessions to Pro Tools prior to final mixing in the studio.

I also added another Arturia plugin to my virtual instrument arsenal, the Oberheim SEM V. It's another classic synth tool along with the Arturia minimoog V. Both instruments sound ridiculously good.

Excepting the Pro Tools v10 issue, the conversion to the Mac mini was pretty painless. I tested all of my major components, including SooperLooper inside of Ableton Live, and I couldn't make the machine break a sweat.

This evening I began tackling Logic Pro in earnest. While the concepts are similar to any DAW, the workflow is different than Pro Tools. A bit of experimentation yielded a bit of confusion before I decided to RTFM, or more accurately, skim it. Light bulbs gradually rheostat-ed up and I was able to track some guitar and Oberheim in a test song. My instruments of choice were the 2008 Box Guitars SRB-640 12 String and the 2006 Godin xtSA to control the Oberheim plugin. I recorded three tracks with the Box Guitar; a chord pattern, a melody, and bass line achieved with a pitch shifter. I used the Oberheim plugin on a fourth track, loosely following the bass line. The experiment was a successful first step, much learning awaits.

The method this evening was to plug the Box Guitar straight into the mBox and use amp plugins inside of Logic Pro. I'm intrigued by this approach and expect to use it regularly. I'm also fascinated by leveraging my array of classic and modern analog and digital effects devices in front of the Pod X3 Pro running only amp/cab/mic models, a more traditional guitar chain with POD simply replacing the amp/cab/mic. I suspect I'll be using both of these techniques, along with a heaping helping of post recording manipulating, filtering, and mangling. I'll be working with both models over the next several days.

Surely, dear reader, I wouldn't be doing this heavy lifting if I weren't going to be doing something soon, would I?

Tips to manipulate, filter, and mangle VI

I recently added an Electro-Harmonix Freeze Sound Retainer to my effects arsenal. What, you might ask, is a Freeze Sound Retainer? The official EH description is "The Freeze Sound Retainer delivers infinite sustain of any note or chord at the press of a momentary footswitch." A looper it is not. The Freeze captures the tone and sound of the exact moment and sustains it infinitely. Whether the a dense chord or a single note, the Freeze grabs the moment and offers it up for all time, or at least until the player once again presses the foot switch or the power goes out.

So, you might ask, what might I do with a Freeze? Right out of the gate, can you say "real time drone?" The live performance applications are mind boggling. How about capturing source material for further manipulation in the studio? Yeah, that's right! Real time or not, the opportunities are fascinating. Can I use a Freeze with a looper? Oh yeah, no problem, I'm terribly excited about this particular combination. Are the possibilities endless? Yes, grasshopper, they are.

Spingere - "Recall"

Will Cruttenden has put the finishing touches on his fascinating project marrying voice recordings "recounting childhood memories" with his music. The project is a wrap and is most cleverly entitled Recall. You can download Recall beginning September 29, 2011 at the Spingere bandcamp page.

I received my copy of Recall today and I'm thrilled with what Will has created. Thrilled, but not surprised! I don't want to give away the wondrous discovery that comes from listening to the childhood experiences of people from different countries and continents, but the project provides an insight into the common threads of the childhood experience. The effect is compounded by the various accents of the storytellers. The music Will composed for the project fits perfectly with the stories, a delicate and open sonic foundation that would very well stand on its own, had Will chosen a different path. Will has created a brilliant piece of art and I'm honored to have contributed.

Spingere project to be released on Sept 29th

I traded messages with Will Cruttenden on his fascinating project marrying voice recordings "recounting childhood memories" with his music. Will tells me the project will be released on September 29, 2011 on his Spingere bandcamp page. He hasn't released the title yet, I'll provide an update as the details are finalized and shared.

Will relays that, in spite of the very limited instructions to the storytellers, themes organically emerged, commonalities on growing up in different parts of the world. I find the concept of those shared experiences intriguing! With the sense of of art the project exudes, it's not surprising how Will approached my contribution; "As a tribute to One Feather Shy I made sure the only instruments under your voice were guitars." Now that's way cool!

Be sure to check out the Spingere bandcamp page to get a sense of Will's music. More on his latest release as it develops.

Precision work

I'm past lurching toward activity and into activity. I've been sketching song ideas in Live and will be moving to demos in ProTools shortly. The ideas are coming hard and fast and I'm pleased with seeds I have to plant, water, weed, and grow into real songs for the next release.

I need to spend some time on basic guitar maintenance for the instruments I'll be using on this project; new strings, truss rod adjustments, etc. It is my intent to use fewer instruments than I did on One Feather Shy with the aim of a less dense, more live feel. The road to hell being paved with good intentions and all that, I may just find myself grabbing from the pile o' guitars as my work proper gets underway. Worse things, of course, have happened, but I'll start with a core group of guitars and take it from there.

In Kevin Gilbert's brilliant concept album The Shaming Of The True there's a song titled Suit Fugue (Dance Of The A&R Men). One of the lines is "Got hands that move like clockwork"; I find the lyric incredibly descriptive and quite visual. Well, point of the story, I'm doing some precision work to get my hands to move like clockwork. For me, there's no better way to hone my edge that through Guitar Craft Primaries and a couple of closely related pieces, Steve Ball's The Airport Exercise and Tony Geballe's Hammerhead, both of which are co-credited to Robert Fripp. The exercises and pieces require concentration and accuracy. Far from being boring or chore-like, I find the work hypnotic and invigorating. And the impact on my precision is always apparent to me.

Stay tuned...

Will Cruttenden - "Another Weird Musical Adventure"

In February of last year I received an email from Will Cruttenden with the subject "Another weird musical adventure". Will and I were collaborators on the Centrozoon Lovefield Commentary project. Will's instructions were to provide a voice recording "recounting childhood memories". Easy enough.

Well, time got away from me and, in spite of my desire to contribute, I failed to get off my duff and get the job done. This past week Will sent a subtle prod my way - "I've got a cut off date for recording my voice/music project (must get a title for that) so if there's any chance I can have your contribution in the next few weeks I'd really appreciate it." Nothing creates urgency like a deadline!

This week I scripted out three stories for Will. I'm not sure if he'll use any, some, or all of my contributions but once I got rolling, I figured I'd give him some options. I got the scripts recorded today at Make Noise Studios, zipped 'em up, and yousendit-ed them his way. The titles of the pieces are:
  1. My 1st self-inflicted near death experience or when I discovered the concept of brakes
  2. My 2nd self-inflicted near death experience or when I discovered the dangers of thin ice
  3. My initial exploration in aviation or how I almost burned down the house
I could have gone on forever on this project but I imagine I've overstayed my welcome with three submissions! I'm stoked to hear what Will puts together, he's a wonderfully talented and creative musician. Be sure to check out his work at his bandcamp page. I'll keep you posted on his progress on this project.

The session was my first experience with ProTools 9 and the Mbox Pro (3G). It went flawlessly, I'm ready to break out the guitars and get down to it! More as it develops...

Lurching toward onward

After an extended period of little meaningful musical activity, I am lurching toward onward. I have some setup work to do first. I've ordered and received an mBox 3 Pro FireWire interface that I need to install, test, and learn. In addition to recording at a higher resolution, I will be able to use hardware devices as inserts. In my blog post Brushing sound I wrote about using different types of devices and plug-ins to manipulate sound; the insert capability offers a variety of new techniques and workflows. I also will be upgrading from ProTools LE v8.0.4 to ProTools 9 and am excited about the new features that await. I have a few other software upgrades to execute, as well. Getting through this setup work will require the better part of a day.

And then the good stuff begins! My brain is teaming with musical ideas I am excited to explore. I am itching to begin the Breathe project along with another project that I'll announce later. The two projects will run simultaneously. I also owe Will Cruttenden my input to a project of his that will be my first work out of the gate; Will has been way too patient with me!

Along with getting back to work on the music I'll be increasing my activity on the blog. Not only do I enjoy sharing the behind-the-scenes stuff, blogging also serves as a memory expander. I can, and do, refer back to my blog posts to remind me where my headspace was during a session.

In the meantime, we're still shipping One Feather Shy and the staff at Clayphonic RecordsTM would love to ship a copy to you! The response has been fantastic... and much appreciated. Order yours today!

Prep and entertainment

I'm in the final preparation stages before I hit the record button. Right now I've got the key components in the studio disconnected. I'm putting them back together and testing each piece to make sure I know how everything is impacting the signal path. I hope to have that wrapped up this weekend and be ready to go. I'm also preparing a quick survey on distribution to help with planning that part of next project. More on this soon.

But right now, I'd like to share what's in store over the next couple of months on my concert calendar! And it begins tonight:
  • 03/20/10 - Bryan Beller and Kira Small in Brown Deer, WI
  • 03/21/10 - Experience Hendrix in Milwaukee, WI
  • 03/26/10 - Kansas in Milwaukee, WI
  • 04/20/10 - Transatlantic in Chicago, IL
  • 04/21/10 - The Flaming Lips in Milwaukee, WI
  • 04/26/10 - Jonsi in Milwaukee, WI
  • 05/10/10 - Pat Metheny in Chicago, IL
  • 05/17/10 - Stick Men in Milwaukee, WI
  • 06/25/10 - Jeff Beck in Milwaukee, WI
  • 06/26/10 - Tom Petty and ZZ Top in Milwaukee, WI
And, of course, there will be some late announcement surprises that pop up, too! Pretty good lineup, eh?

Off now to do some stuff.

The Rack v2

The Rack v2After a wonderful time playing with my friends in The B.O.A.R.D., it's time to get back to work on my project. I have a session lined up tomorrow to prepare several sketches, moving now to writing and arranging. I'll blog more about the project over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, and in conjunction with the work ahead, I completed the overhaul of The Rack this evening . The lower unit contains a Furman power conditioner and POD X3 Pro. The upper unit contains three Korg ModFX units; a Bitrman, a Philtre, and a Phnlgr. I connect into the upper rack from the output of the loop send on the POD. The output of the upper rack goes into the unit on top of the rack, a Korg KP3 Kaoss Pad. The output of the Kaoss Pad goes into the loop receive on the POD. I can easily substitute my trusty Boss SP-303 for the Kaoss Pad, if needed. I can knock the entire loop out on the control panel of the POD or bypass any of the individual units if the loop is active.

Can you say manipulate, filter, and mangle? I knew you could...

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