Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.

Archives: 2013

October 26, 2013


by Chris Randall

When I first began releasing instrumental music in, what, 98? (I think that was the first Micronaut record, but I'm sure about 85 people will correct me...) most of the instrumental music I made had one purpose: to appear in Bunnim-Murray produced shows for MTV, Red Bull extreme sports videos, and X-Box games. I was pretty good at this, and from '99 to about '05 ASCAP checks were half of my yearly income, as a result.

The style of music I made throughout this period was Big Beat. That genre is now almost 19 years old now, counting from the release of "Exit Planet Dust," the first real Big Beat record, in 1995 . Weirdly, many younger people don't really know about it as a genre; they know the biggest acts, but never seem to connect them in to a cohesive group. I only discovered this last night when I put up that video, mentioning in my Twitter and Facebook posts that I thought Big Beat was ripe for a comeback.

So, a primer: Big Beat is easily described as sample- and breakbeat-heavy electronic music done with rock arrangements and stylistic nods. The key acts are, of course, Chemical Brothers (Exit Planet Dust, 1995), Propellerheads (Decksandrumsandrockandroll, 1998), and Crystal Method (Vegas, 1997). There are a bunch more, many of which put out some pretty amazing shit. The thing about Big Beat is that it wasn't really something you could make in your bedroom; to do it right, you needed more of a band presentation. This greatly limited the number of artists involved, and ultimately the form died out when the easier-to-make EDM styles gained popularity.

Anyhow, one earmark of a Big Beat track is the attention paid to the song structure; most tracks in this genre have a clear ABABCAB format lifted straight from rock music. (Or, more specifically, the popular industrial rock tracks of the early 90s, when that genre ruled the roost. You're welcome.) Perhaps that's why the genre appealed to me, specifically; I easily understood its structure, and it utilized my already-extant skillset.

When I got some of my tools shoehorned in my new office this week, I sat down to play and make sure everything survived the move, and the above video is the result. While it only loosely deserves the "Big Beat" moniker, having no defined structure (it is, like almost all my "live" videos, a pure improvisation), it borrows that genre's sound palette. And once I'd made it, I wondered out loud whether Big Beat was ever coming back. In my opinion, it's time. Can I get an "amen"?

October 23, 2013

You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin...

by Chris Randall

Spent an entertaining morning sniping at the Apple Mavericks announcement yesterday. Right up until the point where Craig Federighi said "Free. Today." Once I got done wiping the orange juice off my MacBook Pro, I settled in for the usual nightmare.

Now, to be clear, I in no way _want_ to upgrade OS X. Ever. But the nature of Audio Damage's product line makes it so I have to, the second it comes out. So as soon as a new version of OS X is available, it's off to the salt mines for me. I strongly suggest (and not for the last time in this post) that you absolutely do not follow my lead.

First things first: there is no reason whatsoever to upgrade to Mavericks. Aside from all the memory compression fapping (which doesn't affect us, not being idle users of memory) and pipeline this and yadda-yadda that, there is nothing in Mavericks that will improve your songwriting skills or make your DAW run better. At all. Just don't bother. What you get, for all intents and purposes, are tabbed finder windows (which don't work as well as TotalFinder's do) an update to Calendar, and a mediocre mapping app. If an hours-long update process to get some kind of shitty tabbed finder windows is how you want to spend your time, knock yourself out. Otherwise, don't do it. Not today.

Since you're gonna ignore my advice and do it anyhow, here's what I've discovered so far:

All Audio Damage plug-ins, both 32- and 64-bit, swallow the update seamlessly. They are, as best we can tell, unaffected by Mavericks, which doesn't touch the folders they live in.

I did cursory checks of some other plug-ins. I had a couple crashes with Maschine when trying to load kits. Other NI stuff seems fine. I'm personally having some issues with FXpansion plugs, but I don't know if this is me or Mavericks or what. Studio One Two crashes on instance. Plogue Bidule seems to work fine. Max/MSP 6 (and M4L) require a Java update, but otherwise work fine.

So, spotty, basically. If you want to dick around with crashes and strange performance, and some plugs not working, by all means, update. If you have a show coming up, or are in the middle of a project, and you update, you're stupid, and I don't want to be your friend. You deserve all the problems you're having.

October 11, 2013

I'm Givin' Her All She's Got, Captain...

by Chris Randall

This post initially was just a quote of the complete St. Crispin's Day speech from King Henry V. But I thought that might be a bit opaque. So, in the interests of providing a pop culture touchstone, I'll say "Houston, we have a problem."

The above photo is my little work desk on any given day. Some days, you can replace the Arduino stuff with splicing tape and reels of 1/4", or various little desktop synths, or like four laptops, but in general, that's what I'm looking at. That needs to stop. We need to think about WORKFLOW, basically. Part of the problem is that my office is equal parts R&D lab, light industrial assembly, recording studio, and graphic design shop. I'm hoping, at some point in the not-too-distant future, to move the "light industrial assembly" portion of the proceedings to points elsewhere. (This depends on you, dear customer. Make it so!) So I'm left with the other three, all of which are messy.

Anyhow, my point, such as it is: with our new house, which we're (finally) moving in to this week, I have a blank slate. Cooks always talk about the Triangle (stove, refrigerator, sink) and I feel that musicians generally use a similar setup. What I'd like to hear about are crafty solutions for the instruments <-> desk <-> multi-purpose area. What did you do that solved like 18 problems and left you with a ton of storage and a clean work surface? Please tell me.

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