February 4, 2014

It's Process Day!!!

by Chris Randall

My attempts at creative endeavors over the weekend were utterly and completely foiled by hardware (not software!) problems. My Maschine Studio got crashy all the sudden, I had to whittle a new tape loop for the echo, the old Doepfer modules/Stackables problem reared its head, and basically everything was conspiring to keep me from making music.

However, creativity struck last night and I was able to pull things together on a track I've been making on and off for a couple weeks now. Just for fun, I let the GoPro Hero 3+ run while I was trying to come up with a part on the DK Synergy for this track. So the video above is actually a snapshot of my writing process, not a finished and arranged song (or real-time improv, like most of my videos, although it does smell like that.) When I'm doing a track with full production that isn't real-time, I like to separate the parts out in the Clip view in Live, blow up the UI so I can run it from the touchscreen, and dick around with different arrangement ideas while I'm trolling for sounds, and that's essentially what I'm doing in the above video.

Sidebar: the DK Synergy is a strange and wonderful beast, and I dearly love owning and playing it, but Jesus fuck the fan in that thing is loud. Something needs to be done about it.

I'm intrigued to learn about your writing process. Since electronic music is almost more about sound design than songwriting, do you play parts first, then do sound programming like me? Or do you come up with cool sounds, then figure out how to use them? Or some other method entirely?


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Feb.05.2014 @ 10:54 AM
Either I start making weird sounds on the modular or I start making rhythmic patterns on the Elektron boxes. The former will generally end as it started, the latter may actually become a "song" (as in something with a song-like structure).

If I start with the Octatrack, I build a few patterns which could be seen as the equivalent of verse/chorus kind of structure. At that point I open Live and Numerology. I record the patterns I made on the Octatrack to clips in Live for more fine editing and I start making more asynchronous patterns in Numerology with my trusty LaunchPad. Sound sources at this stage might be V-Synth, Evolver, modular, Analog Four and VST plug-ins. I may even break out an electric guitar, bass or one of my many toy instruments, these of course can't be sequenced until I have something recorded.

Now I probably have a shitload of clips, most of them audio because I tend to bounce or freeze tracks at the earliest point possible. I tend to use a grid-of-buttons controller to do most of my arrangement on the fly. Probably the most time consuming part of making this kind track, is the editing process. I'm just really obsessive about editing for some reason.

I try not to spend to much time mixing. If something I recorded doesn't sound right, I record it again. I run the drum bus through an API 2500 and the whole mix gets hit with a UBK Fatso and after that everything sounds pretty much the way I want it. Even if it doesn't I'm probably tired of working on the project, so I won't do any more work on it.

If I start by doing sound design in the modular, I usually end up with a one-take recording consisting of one or two synth voices and maybe a highly processed guitar. No editing, maybe a little reverb and compression (compression only to get the dynamic range even, if there are any nasty peaks). This has been a fun process for me lately and has gotten me away from some of my obsessive habits.

Sorry for my long wind.

Feb.05.2014 @ 1:19 PM
Chris Randall
The first sentence in that second-from-last paragraph is key. People often ask me what channel EQs I like, and they're always stunned when I answer that I don't really use channel EQ, unless something's not sitting and I can't re-record it for whatever reason. I do almost all my tone shaping in the recording process, via sound design and/or mic placement.


Feb.05.2014 @ 2:09 PM
I am always trying to find new ways to write as I usually write a lot, and fall into traps of muscular memory with certain guitar chord shapes or keyboard chords etc... The iPad has been nice for getting me out of a rut, fiddling with the Polychord, Sylo Synth (great freeware field sampler!), Animoog etc... Thanks to the iConnectivity Midi 2+ I can now take my couch noodlings to my DAW without too much fuss....
I know I am late to the party on this, but have recently been having a lot of fun writing parts with a LaunchPad midi, modified for different layouts (push, diatonic etc), which pulls me out of my usual patterns.
My old midi guitar is nice to synths as well, and despite the latency etc, is nice to hook up to different synths to get more out of them then I would with the typical input methods.

Darktime step sequencer has been fun... and stuff like Cthulu help....

Rambling this all off, it does seem I am trying to basically find different ways to input sounds or interface with them then my traditional techniques as I am bored of them. Perhaps I don't trust myself anymore, or like having happy accidents change the course for me...

I still generally right songs with structures, so I try and get ababcb etc structures down early, but after that, it's a matter of sound design chicanery and fun...

re:eq- i use it a lot, but pretty much just on a subtractive level, usually just the stock ableton eq8 to roll off lowend on everything to make a mix more clear. Most of the synths I use tend to output so much damn lowend that if I don't, everything gets muddy real quick! I guess I could spend more time when I am committing the sound etc... but I'm usually trying to move pretty fast, and dialing out lowend in Monark or the Minitaur etc is not as important to me at the moment....

I don't do much additive eq, so not worried too much about high quality boutiquey eq's that deal better with harmonic distortion with gain....

Your tones are sounding really good CR, do you like using the touchscreen a lot? or is it as carpal tunnel inducing as I fear it may be?

And Chris: more importantly (to me at least :)!), using Bitwig, how do you find the CPU efficiency/PDC in comparison to Ableton... looking forward to see if it fixes some long standing problems I have with Ableton (but still love as my main "instrument" per se)

Sorry for the long post, interesting to read how others have been working lately though!

Feb.05.2014 @ 2:38 PM
Chris Randall
Bitwig on the PC is still a little janky, so I can't really do a direct comparison. (I do most of my music work on the PC, not Mac. Because OS X is really, really shitty with touchscreens.) As far as the PDC and such-like, I didn't notice anything odd. Right now the dealbreaker is that it doesn't output MIDI time code, and I use that for all kinds of shit, so until they add that, I'll stick with Live 9.

As far as the touchscreen, it's pretty easy on the wrists, since you're not putting any weight on them. (The opposite, in fact.) Like with all touchscreens, though, your arms get tired after a while. Different muscle group entirely.


Feb.05.2014 @ 2:46 PM
thanks for the info Chris, no midi time code output sounds like a bit of a deal breaker for me as well.... How difficult is that to implement? (rhetorical question) ... my main questions no one seems to answer outside of the "feature set" in Bitwig are in regards the engine, which I assume being built from the ground up may work a little better then the tacked on nonsense that can exist in Ableton or Logic... (analogous I imagine to what you dealt with with your new home:))

I have never seen anyone use a a touchscreen with a mac, so i imagine it is herculean task to accomplish.

that said- sorry to derail interesting thread...

Where did you get the Synergy? pretty rare beasts...

and on with your regularly scheduled programming......

Feb.05.2014 @ 3:45 PM
Chris Randall
I scored the Synergy (which is a full II+ with all the trimmings, natch) off Craigslist here in PHX for $500. Definitely one of my better finds. I love it, except for the fan thing, which is probably solvable by replacing the janky 1970s fans with modern ones. Just haven't got around to it yet.

As far as the audio engine in Bitwig goes, it's pretty tight, from what I can tell, although I haven't tried a mix yet; I've just messed around. The included synths are much better than their Ableton counterparts, and the drum synths are quite good, albeit a bit spare in the feature-set. Live Suite comes with a lot more built-ins, though.

Bitwig is written in Java (which is why it'll run on any damn thing) so it's probably gonna be a bit burly on the CPU compared to a platform-specific C++ app, but even so, it still seems pretty okay. I made a drum rack with 20-odd of their internals, a bunch of plugs, and with 4 instances of Massive, and it was kicking about 20% on my MBP CPU, with the caveat that I have a latest gen top-of-the-line MBP. So I'd expect that to be about 5% on my 16 core PC.


Feb.05.2014 @ 7:20 PM
I program/sample sounds when I don't feel like writing music, then write with those sounds when I don't feel like programming. When that works, it's great. It gets derailed when I can't easily load said sounds because I was sloppy about saving and/or I try to reload an unstable combination of SW and HW to recreate a sound.

I'm heavily nostalgic for earlier times when I worked the same way, but only had a few synths and a sampler to manage patches. That seemed a lot faster and easier (and more fun) though I suspect I had most of the same frustrations as now, I've just forgotten them.

Feb.06.2014 @ 2:05 AM
I've got to ask.

What was the writing process for rt60? Not production, but writing.... Coz I'd imagine the production process was just 'painstaking and nerdy', and I'd like to hear if the writing was the same or very much separate?

Feb.06.2014 @ 6:44 AM
Chris Randall
We did that the old-fashioned way. "I have an idea for a song, it goes like this," and then build it. That's the way I always did SMG stuff too, and how I still work now with "real" songs. The song, of course, defines itself after a while. "It needs this..." or "this part doesn't work..." and eventually you have a finished track.


Feb.06.2014 @ 2:35 PM
> Bitwig is written in Java

I used to build server code in Java that was part of a vastly larger system - heavily used by consumers 24x7. I'm not deeply familiar with Java's MIDI and Audio I/O, but I would be shocked if a DAW could be built in Java without native code. And I've never seen a stable Java service that incorporates native code. I've seen it stable "enough", but never as stable as well written-and-tested pure Java code.

Theoretically, it could totally work. But my gut is saying NOPE.

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