Friday, July 26, 2013

New Equipment: Sabian B8 Crash-Ride Cymbal

I'm back at work on the soundtrack I began producing in the winter of 2011. The script has been rewritten from the ground up and thus all my carefully-timed cues no longer fit the scenes. It was always my intention to extend the cues into album-length pieces, so it's not a huge deal. In fact I'd made a start last year, so it's now a case of finishing the process. I also had several new scenes to write cues for so it will now be a much longer 'record' when at last it sees the light of day.

Without going into details, the music is inspired by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's science fiction output from the 60's. I'm using a lot of the same techniques to create it, but with modern tools. It occurred to me that the sound of cymbals, processed by various methods, would lend itself to the new material. Initially I was going to buy a crash cymbal, until I discovered the 'crash-ride.' It has a much longer decay than a regular crash, and can be played as a ride as well. I wanted the sound of both, so it worked out perfectly.

As well as using it in the conventional manner, I've done some close-micing experiments that yielded good results. Putting a microphone right at the edge picks up deep wobbly bass tones that are great for 'spacy' atmospheres. Playing it with rubber mallets produces a nice dark shimmery tone. The decay is indeed long. I wouldn't say that the 'crash' is particularly bright on this cymbal, but I've never owned one so I can only compare it to samples. This is also a used cymbal and has a degree of tarnish to it, which I'm told darkens the sound. It actually suits my work so I won't be polishing it.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Sample Pack: Yamaha PSS-130 rhythm loops

Cleaning up the studio a bit, I uncovered some old toy keyboards that I never use. It was my plan to fit the PSS-130 with a line-out jack so I could record it cleanly, but upon re-evaluation, I've decided to just sample it and let it go. The sounds/patches aren't all that impressive, but the electronic rhythms are worthy of archiving so I've recorded all 8 of them and edited them into loops. If, like me, you're into programming your own rhythms, these can easily be edited into their component sounds for loading into your sequencer of choice.

You can download the pack here on

Monday, July 1, 2013

DIY Instrument: Spring Thing MkII

I employ the sound of springs a lot in my music, particularly for my soundtrack work. To that end I've collected field recordings of many different-sized springs found on industrial and farm equipment. A few years ago I salvaged two springs from the door of a broken dishwasher, mounted them on a board and named the resulting contraption the 'Spring Thing.'

In my travels around the internet I found details of an instrument with much longer springs, played with a violin bow. This inspired me to attempt something similar, although mine is a far simpler in design. For this project I bought a zinc 'storm door' spring, which is used to keep screen doors closed against the weather. It's a half-inch wide and about a foot long unextended. Armed with this, a length of 1x2 pine, and some hooks and hardware, I set about creating the Spring Thing Mk II.

The storm door spring has a smaller spring threaded inside it for adjusting tension. The first order of business was to remove this, and after much trial and error I cut it out (along with a half-inch or so of the larger spring) with a Dremel cutting blade. At one end of the board I mounted a 2" hook, and at the other a 1/2" eye-hook. One end of the spring was threaded over the hook, then the free end was threaded with an S-hook and stretched toward the eye-hook with pliers. The S-hook made attaching the free end a lot easier, as the coils are exceedingly tight and difficult to thread anything into, so doing so while it's under tension would be nigh impossible.

I was able to stretch the spring to roughly twice its original length: not as much as I'd hoped for, but decent considering the strength of the spring. The lower end contacts the board and imparts some vibration to the wood. Because the opposite end is raised, there's room to mount a contact mic beneath the spring. I had good results about three-quarters of the way along. I've also done some sessions with two condenser microphones, one placed at either end. The sound of this spring is much brighter than the Mk I.

 The 'striker' seen in the pic is a chromed rod salvaged from a faucet set. Its intended use is to open and close a built-in basin stopper. It has a nice weight to it, with a hammer-like metal disk at one end and a smooth surface for scraping along the spring. It almost seems designed for the job!