Sunday, November 5, 2017

Digital single: Nightrunner

A couple of years ago I entered a competition run by ADAM Audio. The brief was to create a thirty second piece of music based on an image (of which there were five to choose from, if I remember correctly). For more about that, check out my earlier blog post.

I liked what I made so much that I expanded it into a longer track, using the original material as the intro. Nightrunner was completed at Christmas last year, along with a handful of other tracks that are waiting in the wings. But it wasn't until testing some new video equipment that I decided to complete the promo video and release the track.



The b-side is a track called 'Solve It': a quirky synthpop thing I wrote with the Korg MS-20 Mini, an iPad drum computer called 'DM2', the VTech Talking Whiz Kid, and TAL U-No-LX. My original idea was to have a friend of mine help me finish the demo, but he sent me enough material to make an entirely different song! So I finished it off in my own way and will revisit our collaboration at a later date.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Digital Album: Cybersonic: Music 'From A Fate Worse Than Death'

It's with great pleasure that I announce the release of my soundtrack to James Leeper's 'A Fate Worse Than Death.' This is a project that's been in the works since 2011. The soundtrack itself was finished early 2013, but the show didn't see a release until two weeks ago.

'A Fate Worse Than Death' is an original sci-fi thriller set in the Doctor Who universe, featuring ruthless cyborgs known as the Cybermen. I've been a fan of Doctor Who since I was old enough to know what TV was, and the sounds and music from the show are partly to blame for my love of sound and synthesis. So to write music in the style of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (who were responsible for those early soundtracks and soundscapes, and incidentally, have a new album coming out) was a dream come true.

You can hear/download the audio drama here:

Cybersonic adds up to 87 minutes of music. I've also prepared a much-shorter 'sampler' that includes some of my favourite pieces and is free to download. I could rattle on about the production techniques until the cows come home, but for once I'll keep it brief. The digital album on Bandcamp comes with 8 pages of liner notes in the form of a PDF, for those interested in the details.

Bandcamp player:

The music on Cybersonic is released under a Creative Commons by Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-ND 4.0). Need music for your sci-fi/horror production? As long as I'm credited, you can use it royalty free. Several cues weren't used in the final show, so you have a few originals to choose from.

No More Cries: Band Announcement.

A couple of weeks ago I became an official member of the local blues/rock band 'No More Cries' that have been mentioned here on this blog. It's one of those things that fell into my lap, so to speak. Being involved with the band in a 'behind the scenes' capacity for almost a year now, my responsibilities have gradually grown. Last week we did a photo-shoot with the four of us for upcoming promotional opportunities and the CD we're hard at work on (see above - that's me bringing up the rear).

As well as pushing my creative talents, being in the band is also a chance to improve my keyboard skills - not to mention take me way out of my comfort zone. In all it's been a great experience so far and hopefully it will continue.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Digital EP: Side B by Disco Antenna

Lots has been going on behind-the-scenes, so let me start with a quick update. Five finished songs for the new Manitou album are in the wings, and I'll be looking at releasing those now that the new Disco Antenna EP is complete. I've also been hard at work with the band No More Cries, arranging keyboard parts for their songs, and working with other local artists at Wild Bill's Studio.

Side B, as the title suggests, is the follow-up to Side A, the Disco Antenna release from last year. In due course both releases will be combined into a full album.

1. Disco from the Stars (suite) is a song that dates back to 2010, when Disco Antenna first became an entity. It was my attempt to write something in the disco style after Jimmy, my collaborator, and I had begun work on his song, 'There To Remind Me.' It existed as a rough demo for a long time, for which Jimmy provided some vocal ideas that eventually became 'Superstitious.' When I came up with a proper chorus for the track I decided the Superstitious vocals weren't really going to work. It wasn't until last year, and the success of the segue format of Side A, that the idea of making the two songs into one came about. There was just one problem ... it was such an ambitious undertaking that it was going to take extra time. But for me, it was worth it. We released 'Superstitious' as a single last year. I've since done some tweaking to the mix for this 18-minute 'suite.'

2. Prayer (suite). When searching the archive of Jimmy's material for another song to include on the EP, 'Prayer' jumped out at me. I'd actually suggested it would make good Disco Antenna material in an old e-mail. Unfortunately, between that e-mail and its rediscovery, Jimmy discovered he'd lost the vocals in a hard-drive crash. But all was not lost: he had the backing track and the original Orion session. It also provided him with an opportunity to write new lyrics for the verses. The demo was something like four minutes, maximum, and it wasn't my intention to stretch it out to 10 while adding my parts. I had, in the back of my mind, the idea to keep each EP under the maximum 24-minute running-time of half a vinyl LP. In this case, I had to go where the music led me.


Instrumentation-wise, these songs include the usual Disco Antenna kit: Synapse Orion, Novation K-Station, Orchestra Silver, Roland HS-60, Ticky Clav, Crumar Performer, our patented secret mix of drum sounds, bass guitar, and tambourine. A Yamaha TG-33 guest-stars on Superstitious, and a Yamaha FB-01 guest-stars on Prayer. Oh, and there's some Minimoog V for good measure.

Digital EP: No More Cries by No More Cries

I'm a bit late with this news, but the debut EP from No More Cries is now available as a digital download, having sold out its first pressing of 50 CDs. This was recorded by the band over the winter of 2016 at Wild Bill's Studio, British Columbia, and mixed and mastered by myself. It contains five original songs from the band's repertoire that best represent their sound.

If you love solid blues-tinged rock n' roll, then give them a spin.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

New Equipment: Roland JU-06

The JU-06 sitting atop its ailing predecessor, the HS-60 (Juno-106S).
Since the last update I've been spending a lot of time at Wild Bill's Studio working on other people's projects. The only project of my own that's seen any advancement is the new Disco Antenna record (Side B), which is just awaiting some last-minute vocals. With Christmas approaching like a bat out of hell, I'm looking to complete at least five tracks for the new Manitou album.

One of the things that's been holding me up is my ailing Roland HS-60. Ever since I rescued it from a thrift store, the integrity of its circuitry has been slowly disintegrating, to the point that it now pops and crackles like a popular breakfast cereal whenever I turn it on. The album in question relies heavily on its contribution. A lot of the parts were written using TAL's excellent U-NO-LX software (Juno 60 emulation). But the problem with that is this: any time you multi-track the same patch, an unflattering chorus effect is produced. Something to do with the digital waveforms being too similar. Something sciency, at any rate.

The JU-06, then, promised to be a new DSP/hardware emulation of the Juno-106/HS-60, and hopefully an answer to my problems. So far it's delivered, sound-wise - if not in other areas. Time will tell if it truly is a replacement for the original.

Here are some first impressions. The controls are a little smaller, but not terrible to work with. It sounds very close to the original. Recreating some of my U-NO-LX patches on it has accentuated the inaccuracies of that particular VST. I don't see this as a problem, however, since the U-NO brings its own flavour.

The USB and MIDI implementation are, quite frankly, terrible. For instance, USB is the only way to power it (aside from batteries) and doubles as MIDI and audio conduit. This would be fantastic but for one thing: when it interfaces with my DAW (Sonar 8 in this case) it becomes the sole audio interface, incapacitating my Focusrite Saffire Audio box that handles all my inputs and outputs. Luckily there are dedicated headphone and audio outs, and MIDI in/out jacks.

Connecting it into my rig was a complex operation. Mainly because of the way I have my MIDI controller (Akai MPK 25) set up. I use it for interfacing with VST's via USB. MIDI out and USB in/out can't be used at the same time, thus in order to control the JU-06 and VST's without unplugging this and plugging in that, the JU-06 needs its own USB-to-MIDI interface, then routing has to be done in Sonar so that MIDI out from the MPK points to MIDI in on the JU-06. Not a huge deal, but a person doesn't want to think about this kind of stuff when they want to make music!

One last gripe I'll mention about this synth: it can neither send nor receive sysex information. This would have been jolly handy for importing Juno-106 patches and exporting patches from the unit itself. However, the manual does state that the contents of the unit can be backed up via USB. I've not tried this yet - I was so annoyed by the audio interface screw-up that I uninstalled the USB driver - but this will bear investigating when I've filled the 64 patch memory slots.

So, it may sound like I'm 'hating' on this little machine, but for all its quirks it sounds amazing. And one thing I absolutely love about it is the ability to turn off the emulated chorus 'noise'. The HS-60 produces a barely audible white-noise sweep when you turn the chorus switches on. The JU-06 produces this same sound (a little louder and more digital, to my ears) but gives you the option of lowering it or turning it off completely. I used to run the HS-60 through noise-reduction software to overcome this. Some people might find that grounds for heresy, but I like a clean signal.

Now to get some work done!

Update: The JU-06 also choruses when the same patch is multi-tracked, but thankfully not when mixing it with U-NO-LX. I've also re-jigued my MIDI routing. The setup I described above would stop responding to MIDI input at random times. New configuration: MPK > computer via USB, MPK > JU-06 via MIDI Out, then the signal is routed through Sonar. Now that I know this is possible, I can route other synth modules in my collection in the same manner. I can see I'll be needing at least a 4-way MIDI switch box.

Update update: I'm pretty sure the 'chorusing' issue I'm hearing is simply a matter of the same chorus effect phasing when multi-tracked. Perhaps the HS-60 itself does this too and I just never noticed.

Monday, August 22, 2016

No More Cries

Since spring of this year I've been consulting with a local rock band, No More Cries. I was initially asked to help set up some hardware/software to get their 16-track recording studio up and running. This has led to new friendships and a deeper involvement with the band, their studio, and their recording projects. The website I've created for them is finally live (albeit a work in progress) here:

No More Cries play original songs influenced by the best rock music to come out of the 70's & 80's, and are fellow aficionados of vintage gear. They've also embraced what new technology has to offer. I hope my readers will enjoy my further adventures with these three fine human beings in the wilds of Central BC.

You can also follow the band on FaceBook.