Sunday, February 15, 2009

[ RPM09: ] Day 14b

Sometimes a piece or tune just kind of explodes on you. "trains" was a song like that. I went from something that was hardly even a riff and over the course of 4 days just kinda built up my maybe second most favorite song of mine so far.

This B minor thing was just a... vague notion a couple weeks ago. A lot of my stuff tends to get rather dense (see Half Moon Bay for example) and for a long while I wanted to do something _extremely_ minimalistic. So I came up with a very basic notion - just four or so notes in a quasi-ostinato sort of thing. B - D - A - E.

It's a fairly open progression and I've bounced between 4/4 and 6/8 in my head. Had the outline of a melody and even a couple sections where the guitar would go down to G# instead of the E and then down to G... Very somber. Very moody.

Someday I'll have to revisit this idea and see if it would have worked out...

Anywho, I started futzing with it. I had this open harmonics riff that... I don't know. I really heard something high frequencied and somewhat constant - like a hi-hat really. So I recorded that and then decided to reverse it.

Nothing makes something eerie like the old "reverse" tool!

Anywho, then I recorded the basic guitar idea. I wound up not doing just 'whole' notes. Had to get a *little* something rhythmical going - especially with the harmonics riff. Staying too completely simple no longer really seemed to work.

From there? I don't remember everything. Started playing around with transposing the riff down an octave and then transposing 16th notes of the riff back up an octave. That helped to create something of a pulse. Also futzed around with panning causing things to move around on 8th and 16th notes - another way to create pulse.

Started throwing various 'resonators' and distortion type things as well as some delay. I'm not *quite* happy with the delay - can't control it quite the way I want to. I know what I want to do but... not sure how to get the software to do it.

After that I went and put down a couple other layers - some guitar 'whispering' and atmospheric treatments. Also but something of a melody in the beginning. Again I had aimed for something more simple and moody but... couldn't manage to keep it stupid simple enough.

*sighs* I suck at the simple...

Anywho I'm actually really happy with where it's going so far. I need to fuck around with it some more. The distortion and effects get a little *too* much and right now I have no head room and too much is peaking. I like how it sounds half the time but... not all the time.

I decided around then to take a break and switched over to "Give you a load/Second Chances".

I shouldn't have...

I like where this song is coming from conceptually and lyrically. Plus I just love the vulgarity of the lyric. There's something refreshing about singing, "I would give you a load if I thought it would bring you hope".

Most literally it's about my HIV+ friends who go around and continue to engage in unprotected sex. There's a kinda... discomfort I feel about this. They already have one major STD - do they need to risk more? On the other hand I can very well see myself sliding into this sort of headspace were I to acquire HIV.

Metaphorically it's just kinda about going down in a blaze of glory, I guess.

But the song just is NOT coming together. (Pun not intended...) The middle section/bridge just seems forced and... I don't know. Just doesn't go where it should. I'm not sure what to do other than put this song down.

So I aborted, went back, and put some vocals down over the B minor song. I have a bunch of work to do. I'm not entirely really sure what this song will be about yet so... Just singing, "blah blah blah" basically. Plus I need to shape things up a touch. Bring back the chorus (where it goes into E minor) and think about percussion...

Yeah, all the sounds are from the guitar so far. I think that's so awesome!

After I did that I put it back down for a while and started recording some free improv on my recorders, tinwhistle, flute, a soda can, and a wine bottle. I have notions of incorporating this stuff into the current RPM Challenge but... not sure if that will actually happen.

Maybe I'll get some cool samples out of it. Not sure.

After that I went back and just put down some of the ending vocals for "Midnight Train" and was less than pleased with the quality of my singing. But I keep them for now.

    Give you a load/Second Chances
  • draft 2

Saturday, February 14, 2009

[ RPM09: ] Day 13 + 14a

I'm actually like fucking excited for a change. This track came from just a bare idea - a simple practically whole note riff. (Okay, it's in 6/8 time but... just a note per measure!) B - D - A - E.

Anywho, I won't go into the process yet. But it's just kinda taking the *right* path. And I LOVE how it kicks in at 0:55.

Sock it to me!

Friday, February 13, 2009

[ RPM09: ] Day 11

It's a Thursday and thus one of my days off. Unfortunately I didn't get as much done as I'd like even though I woke up at 9am.

Yay, me.

I did revisit my 'upbeat' tune and really reworked the chorus. While I was at the school yesterday (meaning Wednesday) I came up with a different chord pattern that fist the song just a million times better. The former one... just went somewhere not right.

So I spent a bunch of time recording that.

I also spent some time putting down some layers of electric guitar. Wound up... I guess cross-splicing my first take and second take. Parts of the first take were a little more lead-ish here while my second take was more lead-ish there...

I'm beginning to recover some of my lead guitar skills. I'm no virtuoso but I was definitely feeling the flow better than ever. I didn't wind up recording much of that, though. It definitely needs to get in there, however - in between bits of the verse that's what's supposed to be going on.

But first I wanted to back and throw down a layer of mock vocals. I... I really need to warm up for this... LOL. The vocals aren't serious as usual. Just kinda wanted to get a rough idea.

Rough indeed... Whew!

But then, as I was listening, I had a sudden bit of inspiration. There's something about the way I was singing the chorus that reminded me vaguely of "Big Love" by Fleetwood Mac. So I threw down a four-part harmony which didn't really quite turn out as "uh... ah... uh... ah" but... *shrugs* Still like it.

I did indulge myself and worked on some mixing/production issues. There was just too much peaking and distortion going on so I threw some more EQ and compression into the gambit just for the sake of clarity.

Spent too long on that tho... *sighs*

After that I started futzing around with some electronic ideas. I really need to get back into how to use some of this new software for weird sounds and patterns. That's one area I've definitely been lagging in.

Pulled out a beat I'd been fucking around with in Reason. Messed it up a little more and then bounced it down as a sample. Pulled it into Live and, in a moment of goofiness, switched the tempo.

Suddenly it was kinda cool! Very digital distortion. The kick actually took on a pitch, too, which was very unexpected.

Started digging around my hard drives and found a couple other samples to use - the initial noise rhythm, for example. I also found a reversed guitar clip I'd discovered some ages ago and spliced that in. Dropped some of the beats to make it a tad more interesting...

Then I decided to check out the sampler tool. I... I'm a little lost. I've worked with some of the samplers in Reason but these... they just work differently. I did find a couple cool sounds that I'm using as extra bits of percussion.

It's okayish. I still need to figure out more shape, I think. But for the learning curve I guess it's decent.

    upbeat tune
  • draft 2 - more pr0n-tacular!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

[ RPM09: ] Day 10 + Recap

Got home from work around 7:30ish and got to work shortly thereafter on Midnight Train. I wanted to get some simple electric guitar parts down - not too different from what was already there just with a very different tone.

That's about when the dismay hit.

*sighs* I began to realize just HOW craptacular my electric guitar is. The humbucker is falling apart, the intonation has been problematic for most of the time I've had it... It's amazing that the thing managed to service me through 3 years of NYC.

No, I really don't know how. Maybe just 'cuz I didn't do enough electric guitar work.

Anywho, I got the parts mostly down eventually. Some of the takes are horribly out of tune. But at least they're there so I can start to work around them.

The song started getting long REALLY fast. It's amazing how you have this thing in your head and you don't realize just HOW long it is. I'd gotten up to the second chorus and was hitting 4'30".

Daaaamn. I mean I know I tend to write on the long side, but... I still wanted to get in another chorus, an instrumental section, and an outro...

Yeah. Whee!

Anywho, I got the skeleton shaped out - cut and pasted bits into a whole. Took one of the verses and copied that for the bridge. Tossed the third chorus in. Spliced in a bit of a cadence for the end of the 4th verse. Then spliced out two bars and basically looped them for the outro.

(The end of the song will reference another song of mine - trains - which is actually about someone who has just died and is watching their body being taken to the grave. I wrote it a couple years before Karl passed.

Personally they're not connected. I'd hate to think that anyone thought I was making a point about Karl. I'm not. But the artistic/thematic/musical connection is just to spot-on to pass up.)

So at that point I started going back and thinking about what I had and how the shape of the tune was progressing. There's a lot of dense, strummy, jangliness and I felt too much like the energy of the piece just really going anywhere.

At 5'36" that's NOT a good thing.

So I started playing with the textures a bit - dropping down to just bass and drums at the 3rd verse. Took out the main acoustic part here and there to thin it down and allow the electric to take over the texture and thus change the timbre.

I still need to get a couple layers of keyboards on there but I think that what is there is mostly sufficient. They'd definitely help, though - especially in keeping the timbre constantly changing and evolving.

After that I started looking back at what I have in progress. There's roughly 30 minutes for 8 or so tracks. Not too bad. None of it is finished, of course.

Not terribly coherent musically. They shift pretty drastically from the completely electro beats to the almost completely acoustic ballad. From country-ish, to electro, to ... funk/R&B-ish. Though the acoustic ones *DO* rely rather heavily on a V-IV-V-IV-V-IV sort of chord progression...

Ah well. I guess continuity would be a bit much to ask from me. *HEEEE*

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

[ RPM09: ] Days 6-9

The past few days have been less productive than I'd like to admit.

Friday I had virtually no time to record for RPM. Took off out the door at 9am for some recording with James. Got home for an hour and did get some minor adjustments to the E Major 7th tune. But then I was back out the door and didn't get home till _late_.

I did get some stuff started Saturday but nothing really to the point of being worthy of showing. I opted to head out to a local event with the bear community. I had some fun, of course, but... yeah productivity = minimal.

Sunday I got some more stuff started. In fact there's a couple tunes I'm digging up out of the scratch pile - one which dates back to... high school?

Another... another is a highly personal song for a friend I lost. In fact my first attempt at the RPM Challenge was short lived since I was busy helping him through chemotherapy. I don't regret this, of course. It was a life changing event for me.

Lyrically it basically pits the two of us struggling with our own demons at the same time - me with a VERY dark time in my life and him, of course, with cancer. The mood I'm going for is one of... I guess resignation?

No, that's not really it. More of endurance, I suppose. There's a kind of strange feeling when one is fighting because there's really not much other choice.

Sadly, he didn't survive his fight. He passed away August 24th, 2007. I have yet to make all of my goodbyes to him.

So yeah, I think I'm finally going to be able to get this song done-ish. It's on the project list now and I hope to do it some justice. So far most of the music is written in my head. Lyrics are in desperate need of finishing (as is often the case for me) and a number of things need to be found.

I'm not happy with the drums at all, really. I want them to sound a little more train-ish. They're more for texture than anything else, really - the slow trudging of things moving along. And, beyond that, I need some more atmospheric keys/synth stuff. I really want it to sound a tad more spacey and haunting.

Plus I still need to work on the shape a bit. It's kinda... long and doesn't really go anywhere. :/ I mean that's kinda fitting but... Doesn't make me happy musically.

    track 5 - 'E Major 7' (working title again)
  • draft 3 - minor tweaks
    track 6 - "midnight train to nowhere"
  • draft one

Thursday, February 5, 2009

[ RPM09: ] Day 5

Thursdays are one of my days off so today was a nice long day of writing. Yay!

Got up quasi-early - around 11:30. After the coffee was brewed and making its way into my system, I pulled up Live for some more experimentation. Decided I should stick to mostly electronic stuff today and all completely new, too.

My first goal was to start something more rhythmical, more beat-oriented. I hear a lot of rhythms in my head but... as I've said before, not so good at getting them out. I started on one idea which I've already forgotten. I just wasn't feeling it - too... *shrugs* Not me.

But after I 'wasted' that time I started cruising around and checking out other drum samples. Came across one that caught me somehow. I honestly don't remember what or how any longer. Pure luck, really.

But next thing I new, I was off on a new idea. It's essentially a pretty basic rhythm - the rhythm that starts off the track.

But I started getting a little kooky with it. I split it out amongst instruments. I also threw in one of Live's little "randomizer" features which help to keep it 'evolving'. Then I threw in a basic kick/snare line and also incorporated a piano riff I'd come up with yesterday but forgotten till after I blogged last night.

At that point I had most of the pieces - phrases and stuff - and was playing around with Lives' arrangement feature and exploring structural options. I wasn't happy with the original keyboard sound I'd chosen so I went back to testing out the other patches.

In THAT process I stumbled across one sound and happened to play an ascending E Major 7th arpeggio and...


Yeah. It was pretty much as ADD as that. I quickly saved what I'd been working on and opened up a new project.

Most of what came next is a pretty big blur of inspiration. I heard a descending sequence of suspensions. Found two patches that I loved it on and decided to use BOTH of them but offset by a bar creating an interesting echo effect.

The beat? For a change I think I kinda actually got close to what I heard in my head. Right now it's pretty simple but I plan on going back and adding some spice. It just needs more variation.

As for the live guitars and bass I heard something stupid simple - basic arpeggios and a fairly stable running 16th bass line.

About there I took a break and went to the coffee shop to get out of my space for a bit and relax. Sat there and listened back to the mixdowns of what I'd done and just kinda let my imagination go.

Maybe it was my body reacting to an a-typical infusion of caffeine but I got the itch to try and reverse the WHOLE tracks I'd done. For the beat piece it works AMAZING. I'm trying to figure out if I can somehow use this for the intro and outro of the 'album'.

That would rock.

Went back home and got to work more on the E Major tune. I got a little snazzy and threw in some reversed guitar, too, just to help with atmosphere. Added some bridge-esque sections...

I need to add some more keyboard layers in there and change up some of the patterns. It's a little too monotone still. But so far I'm really happy with where it is.

    track 4 - 'industrial beat' (working title. don't ask...)
  • draft 1 - forward
  • draft 1a - reversed
    track 5 - 'E Major 7' (working title again)
  • draft 1 - forward
  • draft 1a - reversed
  • draft 2 - bridges added, structure more developed

[ RPM09: ] Day 4

I'd thought about taking my recording gear in to the school today to record some piano stuff but... Well I got up later than intended so I aborted 'cuz I just wasn't up to the whole dismantling of my "studio". It's not the most complex system but... it's not exactly an H2 or something.


I futzed around with some piano ideas between lessons but, aside from the piece I wanted to record, nothing really stuck too much. A few riffs I may follow up on but... nothing really engaging.

Got home around 9:45 pm in kind of a nasty funk. Still a lot of residual pain from a recent break-up. It's fueled my writing a bit but... sometimes pain is just pain. And today it's just kinda sat on me.

But I did break through it enough to start another track. Again it's a bit of a cheat - it's a riff I've had for ... a couple weeks I think. Something upbeatish, something groovy.

Whipped up a quick beat in Live and then started tracking stuff. As I was laying stuff down I actually came up with another part for it - a stop beat pre-chorus-or-maybe-bridge sort of thing. I hopped on that and worked up something that's actually based on an even OLDER riff - at least chord-wise.

The only thing I really need is a chorus. I worked up something but... I don't know. The character changes just TOO wildly. It leaves the groove idea too far behind and becomes a little too pop-ish. Kinda... urk.

I'm keeping it for the moment, tho. Nothing else to do till tomorrow at best.

After I got that squared away and the structure worked fleshed out a bit better, I put down some bass tracks. Decided it was time to bring a little slap bass into the picture and started a slappin' and a poppin'. Got a little crazy with it but I think it works mostly. After the last couple tunes it's kinda nice to show off a little bit.

By this time it was too late to record anything that required volume - ie vocals. So... tomorrow. It's my day off and I hope to get quite a bit of writing done.

Overall I'm okay with this tune. It definitely needs a new chorus. I just... yeah. Not feelin' it.

I do need to start working on more complex tunes, too. I love more composed things usually and these past three seem a bit too... straight ahead. I need changing textures, I need weirder atmospheric ideas...

I really need to push my writing.

*sighs* I'm still a little terrified, I guess. I *know* I have it in me. I just have to work a LOT harder and face a LOT more self-criticism, a lot more doubt...

    track 3 (no working title yet)
  • draft one - no vocals

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

[ RPM09: ] Day 3

After last night's 'official cuttoff' I spent a little time working with beats in Reason. I've long felt my drum programming... just doesn't quite line up with the strange things I hear in my head. Or I just find the product dull.


I did get a couple things going that I will follow up with but... It was short a lived venture since I had to be up at 8 in the morning to get to work.

yay. work.

I got home around 7:20ish PM and, instead of revisiting said beats, opted to start roughing out a new tune. Okay... new-ish.

I totally admit I'm cheating a little bit. This particular song is one that's been slowly developing long before this year's RPM Challenge kicked off. I've had the main guitar riff for many months and the basic lyric concept for almost as long. Ironically I'd actually thought about starting this one the other day but, instead, developed "too close".

Anywho, I set a basic-ish drum beat and set to work capturing the guitar. It's a fun soul-ish tune and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Bb minor. (Well, okay. It's really in Fminor but... details...) Alas it is kinda on the simpler side like "too close" but... *shrugs* There's basically only three sections - verse, pre-chorus, chorus. There's a solo section but it's just a verse.

Once I got the guitar working I went back and made a couple tweaks to the drums - cutting them out in a couple spots. I really wish I had time to work with a live drummer on this one. The synth drums just... don't have the soul I really want.

Ah well.

Then figured, wtf, and laid down a vocal track. Again I have partial lyrics but not much more than a verse. So there's lots of, "blah blah blah" kinds of mumbling. :)

At about 8pm I actually ran off to try and catch a show here in West Philly but it got cancelled on account of significant snow. BOO. Instead I caught up with a friend over a couple beers for about an hour and then... well waddled my way home, I guess. (Yeah... I'm still not so big on snow...)

Once I got home I fleshed out the structure a little better - splicing parts into bits and arranging them into something with a bit better build. I had all the sections so it's just a matter of dragging and dropping!

I love digital audio processing!

Decided I just wasn't happy enough with the original vocal track so I completely wiped it and laid down a new one. This one I was much happier with! I think I got the words a little closer to what they'll be but not much. And then, since loud-time was drawing to a close I pulled out my bass and started laying down some groove.

For all that I play more guitar these days, I still consider myself a bassist. I noodle more on bass, actually. :D But I kept listening back and felt that I was noodling a bit too much. Time to K.I.S.S. (yeah - Keep It Simple Shitface) Eventually I started settling on a groove that was fun and didn't bore me too much.

I still need to add a couple layers of keys - a B3 or some sort of organ and/or maybe a rhodes. The solo needs something blisteringly soulful. Yes, I do play keys, too. :)

Other thoughts? I want to go back into the solo section and finesse somethings - work out some of the riffs, add some better punches, etc. Just kinda make it sparkle a bit more.

But overall? Not too bad for about 2 hours of work, I guess. *shrugs*

Took a break then to let my head sorta clear a bit. Then I came back and sat in Live and started working on something totally new. Decided it's time to get back to some of the more goofy/abstract electronica that I've enjoyed in the past. So started digging around a little with Live's drum samples.

I've got the seed for something. Not sure what all it will be yet. Not really enough to demo. But hopefully it will grow.

I really am... intimidated here. I mean I know *how* to program. Kinda. But, like I said, my fluency doesn't match up with what my brain concocts. I spend too long getting side-tracked searching for *THAT* sound or lost playing around with whatever goofy thing I find... And the result is rarely anything I'm really happy with.

Ah well. That's what part of this month will be for me - diving into new software and refreshing myself on the stuff I used to use.

    tune 2 "40 Days / 40 Nights"
  • draft one - no keys

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

[ RPM09: ] Day 2

Got home tonight at about 10:30 and almost immediately returned to "too close". It took a couple passes but I re-recorded the chorus guitars and even added a third. Then I sat down and put down a couple more layers of background vocals. (If you've listened to any of my stuff you'll notice there's almost ALWAYS a choir of Tosh's somewhere...)

Then I got in a mood and decided I wanted to put down a (VERY) rough track of vocals. They're mostly a guide - something to listen to and get an idea of what I'm hearing melodically. I only have a couple lyrics at all and those few are all at the beginning. Otherwise I'm just kinda randomly singing thoughts that come into my head that are maybe marginally subconsciously related.

Actually I'm kinda liking my voice on this for a change. It's taken me years to be able to listen to my own singing without wincing too much. *sighs* But this time there's something kinda nice somehow. Maybe it's that I hear so much of the.... grit.

Otherwise there's obviously a bunch of things I still need to do. Gotta soup up the drums. (I really suck at drum programming...) And I want to get some keys down on it, too - more textural stuff. After that there's the production...

Hopefully the rest of the writing will branch out from here. This one is kinda... tame, I guess. I'm loving where it's going but there's a lot more to my general writing. I've got some heavier ideas, some less tonal ones, some moodier ones...

I guess that's part of what this challenge is about, tho, eh?

    tune 1 "too close" (working title)
  • fourth draft - redone chorus, new vocals

Monday, February 2, 2009

[ RPM09: ] Day 1

Alas my day was shorter than I'd like. Tomorrow? Virtually non-existent. However I did get a decent chunk of one completely new song mocked up. Like I just kinda had this one riff and then played it out to myself and, when I got enough ideas I just sorta sat down and recorded them.

I still need to fine tune some things. I realized the verse actually kinda works as a chorus, too, but that I need to re-record it so that I can make some differences. Plus I decided to reshape some of the sections - repeating a few bars here and there for extra emphasis.

And then I need to actually tune my instruments... *heh* ouch.

Currently I'm using Ableton Live. It's... different. I've used it before but I'm *MUCH* more used to working in ProTools, Reason, and now Sonar. I haven't *quite* figured out how to do some things.

For example - one of the huge 'assets' to Live is supposed to be the whole using of loops. You're supposed to be able to use clips and mark them off into sections so that you can mix and match. Yet I'm not entirely sure how to record in and then turn that into a loop. Maybe I'm making it hard on myself. I don't know.

Or then I'd hit some random button and suddenly one (or more) of my tracks just won't play. It's greyed out as if inactive. But I have no clue how to reactivate it. And if I right click on it, the only relevant seeming option is to 'deactivate'. Bwah?

I also haven't figured out how to route things effectively. In PT and Sonar I could send tracks out to an aux bus and put the effects on the bus *kinda* saving myself some CPU. (Or at least some mental anguish...)

I guess I'll figure it out.
I may hop into Audacity later and record some narrative/spoken ideas I have. Sorta want to do some more ... spoken word type things, I guess. Audio blogs with background music.

Podcasts really, I suppose.