Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.
 
March 18, 2014

Let's Talk Mono-Synths...

by Chris Randall
 



I was joking to my wife the other day that I have like five jobs right now. Which made me sob a little on the inside, because I actually do. In my ludicrous amount of free time, I'm trying to come up with the archetype mono-synth design. And I thought it'd be interesting to get some input from people that aren't me on this subject.

The mono is kind of a beast unto itself, and that platform is the source of some of the most enduring sounds in the synthNrrrd's arsenal, to the point where we refer to particular sounds not by the place they fill in the sonic spectrum (e.g. "squelchy, knocky bass") but rather by the machine that makes the particular sound best. (e.g. "303.") I find that interesting, because with other instrumentation, we don't generally dwell on the toolset used to create it (say, Strat through Fender Super Reverb) but rather we generally reference a player who used that combo ("I think this song needs a Stevie Ray tone...")

We do this with keyboards too, but much more specifically. The Hohner D6 Clav and "Superstition" are so intertwined as to be functionally synonymous, for instance. Likewise the Mellotron and "Strawberry Fields Forever." But by and large, these are still machine-specific references. P-Mac is hardly recognized for his keyboard chops. You never say "get me that Paul McCartney keyboard sound." You say "I want the Strawberry Fields Mellotron flutes."

Anyhow, how about it? I'm not asking for a running litany of everyone's favorite monosynth. Nobody gives a shit. What I'm wondering is more about the "why" of it. If you were going to make a mono, what would you absolutely require of it?

 
March 7, 2014

My Current Toolset...

by Chris Randall
 



Hey, hey, it's time for WORKFLOW talk! One thing that has been happening to me with alarming frequency lately (due in no small part to dipping my toe in the torpid waters of academia) is that Dude makes a declarative statement about Gear in the context of Task, then says "what do you use for Task?"

Now, I often point out that my way for Task, and the Gear I choose to accomplish it, is in no way the right way, or even the best way. It's my way. Sub-conversation: tools are just that, tools. You don't look at a beautiful house and say "gee, I wonder what hammers the carpenters used?" Same thing here. While it's nice to learn new techniques and move your craft forward, at the end of the day, figuring out a way to accomplish Task without knowing how Dude did it is far more satisfying than aping his technique. To that end, knowing how to produce is far more useful than knowing what to use to produce.

Anyhow, as a merciful return to the subject, it was recently pointed out to me (and the which is something I knew, but hadn't vocalised before) that when I'm doing an album project, I pick a palette of sound sources and tools, and use pretty much only that to create the end product, not straying from it too far. This conversation was started by way of inquiring what palette I had chosen for the album I'm working on now. It was further intimated that perhaps I could write this down as a conversation starter. Since this album is far more "produced" than my last few, and the first album to which I've applied significant production in some years, I agreed it merited some talk. Anyhow...

DAW: I'm actually splitting duties almost equally on this album between Ableton Live 9 and Bitwig Studio. The WORKFLOW is nearly identical in both DAWs, so it's not much trouble to flip back and forth between the two. There are things that Live does that Bitwig sucks at (M4L being chief among these, plus far more control over MIDI sync) and things that Bitwig does that Live sucks at (hosting 32-bit plug-ins and 64-bit plug-ins side by side, a much better arrange view), and I like keeping my brain nimble. I've mixed all the Live-based tracks and have moved on to the Bitwig-based ones. We'll see how things shake out.

Synths: For this project, I find myself using Monark for bass almost exclusively. I'll go out on a limb and say this is the best 3-osc subtractive mono-synth plug-in made currently. I wish it was a real plug-in and not Reaktor-hosted, but that's not a big deal. Most of the pads and FM-ish tones are coming from the DK Synergy II+. Bleeples and blorps are from the Euro, the Analog Four and Aalto. I just acquired a Novation Ultranova the other day, and it may make an appearance. A surprisingly handy little synth.

Drums: Here's where things get interesting. 99% of the rhythmic information on this album is location recording or real-time recording, to cassette or Nagra loops. I'll put up a detailed explanation of how I did this once the album is released, but I'm using a lot of ambient "open-mic" noise as rhythmic source material. This is very satisfying. Every track on this album has 10 to 20 tracks of ambient noise from tape loops that are gated, sliced, diced, Beat Tweaked™ (©2014 BT, All Rights Reserved), or otherwise coerced in to being drum-like. I'll put up a more detailed post of what I did once the record is released, but this is the unique aspect of this album and I'm fairly proud of what I came up with and how I pulled it off.

Effects Plug-Ins: I have, via either purchase or NFR trade, pretty much every native plug-in ever made. There's a strong temptation to go buck wild with the plugs, and thus, for this project, I made a separate plug-in folder, and only put the stuff in it that I'm "allowed" to use (circumstances permitting.) As a result, the only effects I'm using here are the Audio Damage plug-in suite (duh), Valhalla Vintage Verb (along with Eos, the main send 'verb on all tracks), Ozone 5 Advanced, DMG Compassion, and Trash 2. I am, aside from Rough Rider Pro, using the built-in compressors and EQ in Live and Bitwig exclusively.

Anyhow, that's my palette for this project, in its entirety. I personally find using everything to lead to non-finished tracks, which is why I do this sort of thing. Do you guys, when you're committing to a full project, similarly limit yourselves? Or do you just use everything you have all the time?

 
February 26, 2014

The Usual Wednesday Bullshit...

by Chris Randall
 



Time for an omnibus update. In no particular order:

1. I'm deep in the mixing for my next release, which is, as it happens, a full album, not an EP, and far more "produced" than my last few releases (which are mostly compendiums of improvisational stuff.) This thing is shaping up to be pretty slick, and full of techno. I'm pretty happy with it, overall. Lots of field recordings, lots of tape loops. No idea how long this is going to take, but we're making good headway. I have four songs mixed at this point.

2. The next module from Audio Damage, Æverb, is in production. Couple weeks away. While I deal with that, Adam is building the prototypes for our first "big" module. (And "big" is an understatement. 36HP!) I won't give anything away at this juncture, except to say that it has almost 50 panel controls.

3. TRASH_AUDIO's next synth meet is in PDX, on May 24th. Both Adam and I will be attending. We will unveil the afore-mentioned prototype at that time.

3. Avid got de-listed from the NASDAQ yesterday. Next step: bankruptcy, and they'll start selling off assets. We'll see how this shakes out. Korg might be jealous of Yamaha and Roland, both of whom have professional recording apps, and pick up PT. That's just a guess. I don't have any inside info.

This is an open thread. What do you want to talk about?

 
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?

 
January 25, 2014

Another One Down... (NAMM Report 2014)

by Chris Randall
 



Another January, another winter NAMM. Thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Once again I'll state the obvious: Anaheim hates you if you're not there to go to Disneyland. I will again propose that NAMM move to the LA Convention Center, where at least if we have to put up with bad food and no parking, we can do it somewhere we don't have to drive two hours to get to.

2. The little synth pictured above. This is the Murmux Semi-Modular, a new product from Freaqbox, who are nominally guitar pedal people. Bog standard, mediocre silk-screening, a case that is way bigger than it has to be, and tweed, of all things. Somehow, that combo works. There is also a non-modular version called The Initiate, and one with a big ol' foot-pedal keyboard, if you're in to that sort of thing. There is zero shortage of simple analog desktops, and this is one of them, but the filter is to die for, and the big-ass knobs... PEW PEW PEW!!! No idea what the MSRP is, or availability. But me likey.

3. The Waldorf 2-Pole. Mono I/O, no MIDI, no USB, no runs, no hits, no errors. Another box that is way bigger than you'd think. It sounds farking awesome. $250-ish. Outstanding.

4. Bitwig Studio. I'm now running this jank. Haven't dove in to it in detail yet (i.e. made a track with it) but it shows promise early on. It's good Ableton has some competition now. All consumers benefit.

All in all, NAMM 2014 was exactly like NAMM 2013, only more so. A good time was had by all. Anything you see in the firehose of social and normal media that caught your eye?
 

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