Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

2010 New Years Resolutions

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Another year, another decade, another set of aspirations for the following 12 months. Jay our guitarist is always reminding us that satisfaction equals results that exceed expectations. So I guess the key to being happy with the resolutions of your, uh, resolutions is to either work your ass off or aim low. :)

Anyway, taking the middle ground here’s what I reasonably expect we can get done in the next 365 days:

  • Get the Subway to Another Life album finished and out the door
  • Start some heavy gigging to support the album
  • Keep blogging on this site more steady
  • Write enough material for the next album.
  • Dramatically improve my piano playing
  • Really lock down the use of my second vocal bridge up to a high C

On the, it’d be nice but I’m not sure it’s gonna happen list is:

  • Record another album or at least a Mesmers EP
  • Do a music video
  • Take a long tour across the Country that ends with me playing a gig at Burning Man

So what about you? Planning to buckle down or go easy on the expectations?

Exploring Drum Machines

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

While not shoveling or marching around in the snow I’ve been experimenting with drum machines in the studio. To be more precise, drum machine plugins and samples. Here’s what I found…

I’ve always favored real drummers but the one track on the upcoming album uses a drum machine really seems to work so I’ve decided to take a second look at them. I’ll admit I’m attracted to their minimalism if not always their sound. In the hands of a skilled programmer a drum machines can impart enough groove into a song to obviate most other rhythmic elements. You can ditch the bass and rhythm guitar or keyboards and construct a while tune with just the drums and a vocalist. It’s an enticing promise of sparseness, sonic space, and reduction of effort.

So diving into the drum machine world, here’s what I found

Physical Drum Machines

I did some research on them and it seems to my mind all the really great drum machines were made in the 80s. Why? It’s the same old story: usability. Just look at a Linn LM-1 or a Roland TR-808. These devices are simple, simple, simple! They have one set of sounds, physical controls for almost all features and just invite experimentation. Newer drum machine have too many options, too many sounds, and too many menus. Ugh! Why are electronic instruments are so vulnerable to feature creep? You don’t see guitars with 37 strings and function menus do you? But I digress. It seem the most revered drum machines (and thus most expensive) would be:

  • Early Roland TR-anything (303, 606, 808, 909) but particularly the 808 – THE synthpop and hip-hop drum sound. By all accounts these are great machines with the 808 being iconic. Personally, I’m not big on that iconic sound, but hey, to each their own.
  • Linn LM-1 – Only 500 made but it IS the sound of 80s drums. It has a mere 12 instruments but with them you can summon up enough classic pop tracks to reduce your fingers to stumps.
  • Linn LinnDrum – less desirable than the LM-1, but still very good
  • Oberheim DMX – competitor of the LM-1 which while less ubiquitous, has some great punchy sounds – just try to use the clap without instantly being transported into Prince’s “1999″. In many ways similar to the Linn LM-1 but with fewer sounds and slightly less signature kick and snare. Overall, I prefer it to the Linn.
  • Sequential Circuits Drumtraks (Drum-Traks?) – Not as punchy as the Linn or Oberheim, somewhere in the middle in ease of programming, and shockingly – has midi. I might actually buy one of these just to play around with.

I’m going to add in a personal favorite, the Korg Minipops 7 which is more a rhythm box than a drum machine and plays “organ preset” patterns. Its most famous for being prominently used by Jean Michel Jarre on “Oxygene”. Though hardly a “great” drum machine it’s low-fi and cheesy sounds somehow work for me.

As I said before, the Roland TR-808 is positively worshiped in some circles and several companies make faithful hardware recreations of it with The Miami from Acidlab looking like the best.

Drum Machine Software

If you want to keep cost down and avoid having another piece of hardware cluttering your studio, there are tons of software options. Here’s a few:

  • Yur DAW - Most DAWs these days seem to have drum machine-like functionality built in. Ableton has Drum Racks and it seems to work pretty darn smartly. Before buying you might want to see what’s already lingering on your hard drive.
  • iDrum – I tried this once when it first came out and wasn’t too taken by it. Now that it has an iPhone app I may give it another chance.
  • Nepheton – This is a very cool emulator of the Roland TR-808. I downloaded the demo and it’s very nice, and yes, the TR-808 is perhaps the greatest of all the drum machines – I just don’t like the way it sounds…
  • Tattoo – This doesn’t actually exist yet, but I love Audio Damage’s products so much I’m definitely going to try it when it comes out.

Drum Samples

There are endless drum sample libraries and no, I haven’t tried even a tenth of them, but here are a few I have tried and liked:

  • GarageBand – You can mine the samples or import the whole kits into your DAW (they’re mapped to standard GM midi). Great bang for the buck. I particularly like the “African” kit from the world music expansion pack. To do this just go fishing around where Garageband keeps it’s instruments and see if your sampling software can do an import. I used Ableton’s sampler with no problems.
  • Ableton Drum Machines – I sprung for this and generally like the results. The sounds are good and they are all pre-programmed for Live. There are some issues though. Again, they got a little fancy in creating the kits and I find doing any real tweaking to be a bit confounding. Also, for some reason the nice pitch transpose option in the Live Mixer doesn’t work. You have to go into each specific instrument to find its tuning option and it would have been nicer to have the level, panning, and pitch front right there in the mixer.
  • DubSounds – They sell a great many samples of vintage drum and rhythm machines.
  • GoldBaby – This guy has an interesting take on samples where he runs the drum machine thru various tape machines or even presses them to vinyl before recording them. This gives his samples a lot of grit and character.
  • Freesounds – a bunch of, well, free sounds. I found a very serviceable set of Korg Minipops 7 samples here and nabbed them for nothing.

Other Drum Machine Resources

Bliptronic 5000

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I know what I want for the holidays…

the Bliptronic 5000

ThinkGeek is selling a very cool monome-like synth toy called the Bliptronic 5000. Ha ha! Looks like a ton of fun. I’d love to do a live song with it. According to the Website specs are:

  • Unusual retro synthesizer is played with a grid of glowing buttons
  • Create looping patterns and change them dynamically while playing
  • Chain multiple units together and create more complex melodies
  • One octave range. 8 notes can be played simultaneously
  • 8 different old-skool synth sounding instruments to choose from
  • Sounds created using FM waveform synthesis
  • Set the BPM (beats per minute) from 60 to 180 in 20 BPM increments
  • Built in speaker with headphone jack and line-out jack
  • Front panel is constructed from brushed aluminum
  • Includes, manual and 2 link cables for connecting additional Bliptronic units
  • Requires 4 x AA batteries (not included)

All that for a meager $50. Not bad!

Afternoon Delight! – by Lea

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

the mandolin used in afternoon delight

That’s right! So Sunday was Jay’s birthday. He was 39 for the second year in a row-not that he is 40 and freaking out or anything- he just thought that he was 39 last year, so this year is kind of a repeat of 39 for him. Anyway… naturally I wanted to get him a great prezzie.

Now hold on a minute….I know what you’re likely thinking that prezzie was due to the title of this blog! That is not what I’m out to discuss here.

Jay has been wanting to learn how to play a mandolin for awhile now. So, I told him I would like to get him a mandolin. Off we went to Action Music and Jay sat down and played every mandolin they had. After what he estimates was about 30-40 minutes in the acoustic guitar room (it may have actually been closer to 3 hours…), he chose his favorite – a 1973 Gibson F2. As we stepped up to the counter to pay for it, the owner of the store told us that there was a story that went along with that particular mandolin. It turns out that Jay’s new instrument was THE actual mandolin that was played on Starland Vocal Band’s big hit from 1976- “Afternoon Delight”! How exciting!!!


Wednesday, August 12th, 2009