Friday, December 30, 2011

The Soundcheck With Unexpected Results

I did a brief soundcheck to make sure all of my recording equipment was working with the new computer. It was, thankfully, and so I recorded this little snippet. I plugged the guitar direct in without an amp, so don't expect a fantastic-sounding recording. The precision on my guitar playing is not the greatest either:

Now this is pretty boring, I must say. I would have no desire to listen to this. So then I decided I would apply some strange effects using a program called Ardour. Ardour is what I use for recording and mixing. It has the same functionality of commercial programs such as Cubase, but it is free and open-source. There are a number of effects plugins that are created for Linux that can be used with Ardour, and they are collectively known as Linux Audio Developers Simple Plugin API, or "LADSPA." Both Ardour and the LADSPA plugins can be installed simply in Linux by searching for them in the software list.

Ardour is a more powerful program than other free recording programs, such as Audacity, because effects can be applied non-destructively. This means that the underlying file is always there as it was, not matter what is layered on top. If you apply, say, a reverb effect, and you decide you don't like it, you can remove it or adjust the settings without having to undo all the moves you made since you applied the reverb in the first place.

There are many LADSPA plugins, and they can do a wide range of things, including the standard effects of distortion, reverb, chorus, etc., but also more unconventional effects. For this example I decided to apply some weird ones to the sample you just heard. The "rhythm guitar" sound has an effect called Pointer Cast Distortion (using extreme parameters for maximum weirdness). The "lead guitar" sound has several effects, including Standard Reverb, Barry's Satan Maximizer (awesome name), Calf Rotary Speaker, and the Dyson Compressor.

The result is a file called "This Makes No Sense. (I got this title from an error message that Ardour gave me, saying that what I was trying to apply a plugin in a way that made no sense) Take a listen:

A little quirky, for sure. I then wondered what would happen if I edited the file using an obscure free program called Mammut (many thanks to Baljinder Sekhon for telling me about this one). Mammut describes itself as "Non-intuitive Sound Transformation." It can be downloaded here:

I was having trouble installing Mammut on Ubuntu, so I actually downloaded the Windows version and ran it through Linux's Windows Emulator, known more commonly as WINE.

Mammut has a very cool effect called the Stretch Effect. I took the file "This Makes No Sense," and using a stretch value of 1.3, made a new file that sounds quite severe. For lack of a better title, it is called "This Still Makes No Sense.":

For all you audio geeks out there, I hope you try out Mammut. You will be able to make sounds you didn't know existed. With all this technology , just remember to use your powers to make your music sound evil...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Elements to Reject

I remember after music theory class one day Prof. John Covach said to me "Your musical tastes are defined not by what you accept, but by what you reject."

This quote struck as odd back then, but recently it I have come to agree with it quite a bit. I still reluctantly enjoy my two most recent albums "Speak Away" and "Nine Questions," but they clearly suffer from a lack of focus. I was trying to cram too many styles into one disc. But if you try to do everything, you will do nothing well. The style of "Hydrogen" must be focused an consistent, and out of necessity, something has to be sidelined.

So after some consideration, I have made a list.

"Elements to Reject":
-Folk songs with only guitar and voice
-Very heavy rock
-Instruments drowned in digital reverb
-Political music (for now)

That's not to say that I don't like these things, but focusing on too many elements will cause things to get sidetracked. The removal of political music is a strange choice for me, since so much of my previous music is political, but after doing two albums about the world and all of its problems, it's about time I did an album that was about me, and all the dissonant harmonies going on (or not going on) in my head. I actually find this change of focus a tad selfish, especially since I believe we need political music now more than ever. But don't worry, I will be back.

Elements to include:
-Jazz chords
-Authentic instruments: acoustic piano, organ, and guitar (recorded clearly)
-Contagious and "non-cheesy" electronic beats
-Unusual sound effects

Welcome to Hydrogen

One of my favorite things to do is write and record music, and right now I am in the process of writing for a new studio album called "Hydrogen." This blog is meant to capture that album as it is in progress, as well as provide an outlet for me to offer comments on a wide range of musical topics.

There is a piece of drum machine software for Linux called Hydrogen. This is where the word first entered into my artistic landscape. Hydrogen seemed to fit as a potential title, especially since I use Linux exclusively for my recording and mixing. One of my goals is to show that it is possible for a person to create really high-quality recordings using entirely open-source software and a minimal amount of equipment. "Hydrogen" is a metaphor for the kind of rugged do-it-yourself approach to audio production. The open-source movement seeks to be as inclusive as possible, and to freely and legally provide to the masses the kind of software that was previously only available to those with money.

My second use of the word Hydrogen came when I wrote a poem one day, and the first line was "Imagine all the Hydrogen of the universe, and this is the abundance I seek within." For me, Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, is a metaphor for spirituality, and the incomprehensible enormity of the universe. This is a theme I have touched on in earlier recordings, and will no doubt return to.

Finally, Hydrogen being as tiny as it is, is inside all of us, and "the abundance I seek within" is about trying to live life as a confident and fulfilled person, while at the same time acknowledging and accepting one's own sense of powerlessness.

So welcome aboard. Streaming mp3 samples will be on the way soon!

(special thanks to Edie Hanson for giving me her old laptop and helping me set it up, as well as to Andrew Riker for helping me become familiar with the Linux platform and installing additional software)