Saturday, 8 July 2017

GTK2 Studio update......

Getting on with the "Altered States" project, but slowed down a little by YET more software acquiring. That said, good purchases. I've got a good few tracks well and truly underway now and they're currently called:

A Deficit of Attention
The Garden of the Mind
Perception
Oblique
Principles of Uncertainty

The style of this album is already seeing interesting changes from my previous releases, mainly through the use of Softube's Modular synthesizer, which is giving me a nice insight into the world of Eurorack modular synthesis, and the little CRAFTsynth from Modal Electronics. Electronic rhythms, percussive and melodic sequences and droning textures are in in abundance.

With regard the software purchases, there's a few new synths joined the fold as well as a number of interesting processing plugins.

The first synth is the excellent "cross-fusion synthesis" Blue II from Rob Papen. I also use his splendid Albino 3 (very sadly now discontinued) and Predator 2 synths. Blue II is a lot more digital sounding than Albino and Predator, but that's a good thing as it has a whole host of terrific features as well combining FM, subtractive, phase distortion and wave-shaping synthesis. It has truly wonderful presets to get you started and the potential to make interesting new sounds is immense, and the mix is awesome when coupled with Predator 2 and Albino 3.


The second bit of synthesizer software is from XILS-lab and is called Poly-M. It's a positively stunning software emulation of the (in)famous PolyMoog synthesizer and I have to say that it's really captured both my attention and imagination. From a young age, I have always yearned for a hardware PolyMoog - something that is very unlikely to happen. The original hardware PolyMoog didn't enjoy the best of success sadly, and for a number of reasons, not least it's unreliable nature and unstable oscillators. What it did enjoy was a great set of filters and a resonant section (some might call it a glorified EQ section) that gave real life and depth to otherwise weak sounding patches. Although used by a number of prominent musicians, the PolyMoog is best heard on anything done by Gary Numan in his Replicas/ The Pleasure Principle/Telekon eras.The Poly-M captures the essence and spirit of the PolyMoog perfectly, beautifully emulating those resonant filters and running with them, backed up with a very usable modulation matrix which gives any patch animation and substance. The Poly-M is very easy to use, it sounds incredible and, this is the killer, it does so much more than the standard and thoroughly over-used Gary Numan "Vox Humana" sound - no seriously, it does, honestly. I make no apology for my liking of this soft synth, I'm already using it on the "Altered States" project.


I'm also happy to have LennarDigital's rather splendid Sylenth1 synthesizer as part of the GTK2 Studio arsenal. It's a virtual analog synthesizer and looks, on the face of it, to be quite a simple affair, but it's appearance belies it's power. The filters are sharp and sassy and the sound can go from delicate and ethereal to downright big and dirty. This is another synthesizer that I have been interested in for some time, but it's recent upgrade to version 3 and 64-bit status meant it was time to get it on board. No regrets.


On the processing front, I've added a very interesting panning tool from Waves Audio called Brauer Motion - it's billed as an innovative circular auto-panner and I must say, it's doing very pleasing things with sequences and rhythm loops.


Sticking with Waves Audio, they recently decided to make the E-Channel of their SSL 4000 Bundle (three plugins based on the famous and highly regarded Solid State Logic 4000 series mixing console) available as a single plugin - this is very pleasing as the bundle in it's entirety is quite a price, and to get this single channel strip on it's own for a mere $29 was simply a no-brainer.


And a third purchase from Waves Audio was their excellent L2 Ultramaximiser - a very cool and great sounding limiter. I now have the 3 incarnations of this incredible limiter.


I'm a big fan of plugins from Audio Damage and when I saw they had updated their Dubstation to version 2, I was there. I love delays (nearly as much as reverbs!!!) and Dubstation 1.5 was always a favoured delay plugin. Version 2 has a cool new interface and some very interesting new options on board. I doubt it will be used any less than it's illustrious predecessor.


Another big (in terms of plugin numbers!!!) is the acquisition of Nomad Factory's Integral Studio Pack 3. A mega-bundle of processing and effects goodies, it contains no less than 50 separate plugins including some fantastic mastering and tracking plugs. I've been using their PulseTeq EQ on my master buss from the day I got it, so I'm pleased to have been able to avail myself of an expanded collection of Nomad Factory stuff, not least their British Bundle (compressor/limiter and EQ based on classic Neve designs) and Motown Retro Bundle (retro style EQ).


That concludes this update, onward to some more music-making and synth-learning ;-)



Saturday, 10 June 2017

Additions to the GTK2 Studio......

Simple title eh?

A few new additions to the software collection on the studio computer.

First up is a multi-effects plugin called Frostbite from a company called AudioThing. I've really got into the AudioThing products and now have a few of their plugs. Frostbite is a curious little thing as it combines a ring modulator, a freeze function and a feedback module. Combined, these three effects provide for a really interesting ice-like shimmer on anything you put through it, or you can go for complete resonant FSU (fuck shit up) on your audio signal, but what ever you do, it's great for ambient or cinematic stuff.



Next up are two very major inclusions to the GTK2 Studio software collection, and they represent something of a major investment.

The first is Native Instruments Komplete 11. This collection of top drawer quality music software comprises 45 products that cover sampling, synthesis, rhythm and percussion and sound processing. Synths such as Massive, Absynth 5 and FM8 are included as well as the industry standard sampler, the mighty Kontakt 5. Also within the package are a several sample packs to use with Kontakt 5.


And the second is Spectrasonics Trilian total bass module. As it's name suggests, it's all about bass, but it really is so much more. Grooves, synth basses, electric basses and acoustic basses are all covered in this, pretty much, one-stop plugin. It also integrates itself into Spectrasonics' flagship product, Omnisphere 2 and it's one hell of an awesome combination!!! It quite simply sounds incredible.


And lastly, on the hardware front, the Arturia SparkLE drum machine controller has arrived and is now in situ in the GTK2 Studio. It's brilliant and definitely more in line with my way of working than the M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro (which I now have for sale!!!). It's smaller footprint means it sits nicely on my desk and for me, it's like going back in time to using drum machines of old. It also has lights, lots of them. And it looks pretty cool as well :-D

So, now I'm completely broke but I do have a very full studio with some of the best software on the market. And with the time I have now found through altering various aspects of my life, I suppose I really ought to get on with doing something with it all!!!

Monday, 5 June 2017

GTK2 Studio stuff and the like......

A little period of change going on here at GTK Towers, and for the better.

Following a little health issue, I've made some changes to my working life by cutting down on how much I do. Whilst financially I lose out a bit, in real terms of the work/life balance thing I seriously gain. I've had very little time to get cracking on the three music projects I have started and my photographic side has nigh come to a stand-still. I sincerely expect that to all change now.

I've invested a lot in my little GTK2 Studio, I am very fortunate to now have some of the best software that is available on my studio computer and it's really time to get back to making music. Some recent hardware and software purchases have been and will be making a massive difference to workflow and the sound palette.

On the hardware front I've added a couple of very interesting pieces and am selling another. Starting with the latter but leading nicely to the former is that I've decided to sell the M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro. I can't get on with it and it simply doesn't fit into my workflow. It really is a great piece of kit, loads of lights and even more functions and capabilities, but not for me. If I had more hardware synthesizers etc, then it would be ideal, but being 99% in the box means that I'm not getting the use I want from it and I hate seeing gear lying around unused. It's being replaced with Arturia's Spark LE drum machine controller which will connect to the Spark 2 software - that will resolved my rhythm programming side. I also recently purchased the rather fantastic CRAFTsynth by Briatol-based Modal Electronics. For a measly £80 you get a 2 oscillator synth that's as big as a large tub of margarine and sounds as big as a house. I've been blown away by it and you will be hearing on future releases for sure.

I've gone a bit mad on the software front.

No surprise.

Waves Audio have had a massive sale from which I've picked up one or two bits including the Aphex Vintage Exciter (adds some harmonic brightness to the mix) and the S1 Imager (very effective stereo widening plugin). I've also added a new spectrum analyser from MeldaProduction called the MMultiAnalyzer - it's great as it allows me to compare the spectrums of several tracks in one go and shows you where there are frequency collisions - very useful. Found a rather nifty MIDI arpeggiator/sequencer called Cream made by Kirnu Interactive - very handy for those sequenced synth patterns. Another useful piece of programming added to the GTK2 Studio computer is a program called Noatikl made by Intermorphic. It's a generative program meaning that you give it a set of variables from which to work from and then it will generate notes. One of the first iterations of this program was called Koan by a company called SSEYO - it was used to great effect by one of my personal musical influences, Brian Eno (considered to be the godfather of ambient music). It's taking a bit of getting used to, but it has the potential to be a lot of fun. Next up is another analyser-type plugin called Levels by Mastering the Mix. Not had a lot of time with this but I have to say, as someone who does not have a properly acoustically-treated studio, this might just be a big asset. A very nice upgrade has been Audio Damage's Eos to Eos 2 - a far better interface and more options - sounds really nice as well.

On the synth front, I've upgraded the IK Multimedia Miroslav Philharmonik to the version 2CE edition - 64-bit and better resolution sounds. Also upgraded has been my Arturia V Collection 4 to version 5. It's a significant upgrade and sees many parts of the products included completely revamped including the user interfaces. A big improvement and something I'm using regularly now. Upgrades seem to have been the thing of the moment, as Xhun Audio upgraded their Little One synth to version 3 - 64-bit and bigger sounding than ever, I absolutely love this little take on the Moog Little Phatty. Another incredible sounding synth addition is Spectral from LinPlug, with which I also purchased 3 sound packs including one by eminent U.K. synthesist, Ian Boddy - the synth has an amazing sound and Ian's presets are truly something else. And now to the two major upgrades and additions to the studio computer - first of these is the upgrade and finally I now have Omnisphere 2 from Spectrasonics - it is in-credi-ible. Completely lives up to the hype and along with ReFX's Nexus², one of my "go to" synths. The major addition that is with me tomorrow (Tuesday 6th June) is Komplete 11 from Native Instruments - I got an absolutely marvellous deal from Absolute Music in Bournemouth that I simply couldn't possibly refuse and I am very much looking forward to having this powerhouse collection on the GTK2 Studio computer.

My recent health thing required me to have two weeks off work, and I put that time to use by getting my MIDI controllers properly assigned and fully integrated into the Windows 10 DAW system that I use, as well as getting my audio inputs (via my trusty old Mackie 1202 mixer) all sorted and sounding quite lovely.

I am now looking forward to using the newly-found spare time I have to getting back to doing what I love best, making music and taking photos :-)


Friday, 28 April 2017

Further to the last post......

......after reading it back and seeing how many software synthesizers I have recently added to the GTK2 Studio computer, I am so glad that my synth collection is all software - could you imagine trying to fit all them soft-synths into this if they were hardware!!!!!!


Bits and bobs, this and that......

Work and other commitments have really taken away my focus from the music AND the photography, however, I am currently approaching a week in of a two week annual leave stint from the "day job" and hopefully, I will be getting things a bit more "back on line" as it were.

So, today I have set up three photo sessions for the middle and end of next week with some very interesting people.

First off will be a visit to my chum Kent Spong, a man who is as solid and as down-to-earth as they come and at the same time, is a leading synthesizer technician with a client list and base of friends that read like a veritable who's who of the recording and film music industries!!! I always look forward to a visit to Kent's house just outside London, the tea and coffee flows, the supply of biscuits always seem endless and the conversation is rich beyond imagination. This is a man who has classic synthesizers with some seriously heady price tags sitting in his toilet. Yes. His toilet. His toilet is famous for the amount of vintage synthesizers it has stacked up in it.

Following the visit to see Kent, I shall be heading westwards to Windsor where I shall be catching up with another synthy cool dude who goes by the name of Tim Dorney. He plays keyboards for Republica and has a rather toothsome collection of synths and the like. I look forward to visiting Tim as he is much like Kent when it comes to the synth chat, and he has already indicated that the kettle will on. Good start ;-)

The end of week will see me heading westwards once again (living in East Anglia, I suppose I shall always be heading westwards - unless I go to North Norfolk of course. Then I'll be heading northwards. I digress) to the East Midlands to meet leading experimental electronic music artist, Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner. I am quite delighted, and not a little excited, that Robin has been kind enough to make time for me to visit as he is an exceptionally busy individual, with a diary that seems to take him around the globe.

This of course means that there will be pictures.

Lots of pictures.

I'm also hoping that the weather will show some signs of continued improvement as I would really like to get out and about with the Canon and do some exploring. It's been far too long. I have a couple of places in mind and with a bit of luck and a fair wind, I'll get to photograph them. Watch this space ;-)

On the music front, I have been using time this week to explore some of the amazing new software that I've been gathering over the last few months as well as a couple of bits of new(ish) equipment I've bought recently.

It's been quite fun playing around with my Korg MS-20ic MIDI controller (hooked up to their Legacy Collection software) again. I recently availed myself of a new set of short leads for the patchbay and I'm really glad I did. As it had been so long since I last messed abut with this cool little bit of kit, I decided to work my way through the totally brilliant video tutorials made by American synthesist Marc Doty (who I had the pleasure of meeting last year in Sheffield at SynthFest). I was more than a little pleased that what my software was creating was near perfect to the hardware MS-20 used by Marc on his videos. I've also had my little Korg Monotrons (Monotron, Monotron Duo and Monotron Delay) out as well - feeding them through ValhallaDSP's Shimmer reverb, Illformed's Glitch2 and the now defunct Camel Audio's CamelSpace. I had a great evening creating some seriously cool (but at times very screechy) sounds. Not really sure that my beloved Anne thought the same thing...... I've also been enjoying reprogramming my MIDI controllers (Evolution UC-33e control surface, Akai LPD8 pad controller and Novation ReMOTE 61 SL keyboard) to get the best I can out of them - these gadgets make life so much easier and definitely improve workflow. 

On the hardware front, I now have a rather intriguing piece of kit from M-Audio called Trigger Finger Pro. It's essentially a MIDI controller for percussion software, however, it also has an onboard sequencer that can control both software and hardware synthesizers/drum machines. It also has lots of really cool blinky lights that you can change the colour of. What's not to like!!! I'm going to see how I get on with it over the weekend as it was something of an impulse buy from evilBay, mainly so that I might program drum machine software using a system that's not unlike the old Roland drum machines. As a side note, I tried to create a programming interface on my Hudl Android tablet using a really fab app called TouchOSC - I got so far with it, but sadly my aging brain simply couldn't around it all, that said, I did create a nice little interface for Reaper that can use when recording vocals or any of the little bits of hardware I still have left. If the Trigger Finger Pro doesn't work out, then I'll sell it on and try the Arturia Beatstep Pro - similar item but I think it might be a little more flexible in terms of connectivity and it's certainly smaller. When the postie arrived today, I nearly fell over because the Trigger Finger Pro was a whole lot bigger than I expected. You've seen this studio, space is not something I have plenty of!!!

Software-wise, things have slowed down. A bit. Not much. But still noticeably slowed down. Waves have had another of their rather fab silly-daft sales this month which has proven to be a bit of a bonus as I managed to snaffle their MaxxVolume plugin - very useful for vocals, synths and rhythm loops I have already found. I've added Xfer Records's Serum wavetable synthesizer and KV331 Audio's SynthMaster One wavetable synthesizer - both of which are VERY cool pieces of programming. I've taken advantage of the new idea of subscription-based software packages from Softube and Roland. The Volume One package from Softube offers a pretty comprehensive set of tools including compressors, EQ's, amplifier simulations, synths (Modular - it's based on the EuroRack modules from Doepfer and has optional modules from leading manufacturer Intellijel) and drum machines (it's called Heartbeat and it is FAB!!!) - I'm impressed and look forward to using much this stuff on my projects. The Roland package is called Roland Cloud and features software versions of their classic synths - and let me tell you, they are quite simply astounding - Jupiter 8, Promars, SH-2, SH-101, Juno-106 and System 100 are the classic synths and they are worth every penny. You also get software versions of their latest Aira synths, the System-1 and System-8 - very modern and sounding great. I picked up something by the name of Outer Space - it's a very nice sounding software emulation of the Roland RE-210 Space Echo from a company called AudioThing. I pushed a few synths through it and I have to say I like it a lot - very useful for spacy Radiophonic type stuff. AudioThing also do a couple of very cool drum machine emulations of the SoundMaster SR88 and Latin Percussion which might have found their way onto the GTK2 Studio computer (!!!) - very retro, sounding quite lovely and certainly not cute toy-like units as their hardware counterparts were oft to be regarded.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



I'm still contemplating the upgrade for Spectrasonics Omnisphere and buying their Trilian bass module. Both are really cool products (I simply could not do without Omnisphere!!!) and I am loving Stylus RMX, but it comes down to the outlay - if anything, Trilian would be the one I would go for first if I go ahead.

The three music projects I have on the go at the moment are progressing slowly. Too slowly. Time has not been in abundance in recent months, but I have come to realise that I simply must make time. I have the studio, I have gear, I have the software and I have the ideas - so I'm now telling myself: "let's make it happen".

And as another day draws to a close, I once again feel that little buzz of achievement through getting things done and making things happen.

Back on track ;-)

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Fostex X-15 Multitracker - travelling back in time

I first started composing music, writing songs and recording my efforts back in the 1980's and my tool of the trade was the utterly wonderful little Fostex X-15 Multitracker, a stonking little 21st birthday present from my parents in 1986.


The X-15 is a cassette-based 4-track recorder, that (along with all other cassette-based multitrack recorders of the time and since) used only one side of the tape - each side of a cassette tape has two tracks for the stereo recording you listen to, meaning that when you play these cassettes in a normal player, you only get two of the tracks - turn the tape over and you get the other two tracks......in reverse. Whilst very limiting in some respects, it was a truly fantastic introduction to the world of multi-track recording - record your drums, then play them back whilst recording your bass and so on. When you reached your limit, you would "bounce down", or in other words, record three tracks onto the fourth, leaving you with three more tracks to play with. When you did this a few times, your recordings tended to get a little muddy and dull, but hey, it was still better than nothing.

I loved my little X-15 and was quite sad when a career and a marriage dictated that it had to go a few years later.

So, moving to the present time, whilst rootling about in the loft sorting out some bits and pieces that needed sorting after last years' double house move, I found a bag with a load of cassette tapes that had the recordings I made "all those years ago", and so decided to avail myself of another Fostex X-15 Multitracker. Inevitably, evilBay came up with the goods and few days ago, an X-15 arrived "chez nous". It's box was pretty battered (after 30 plus years, not really surprising) and within, following a truly weird sort of pass-the-parcel moment (wrapped in muchos newspaper), was my new (to me) little X-15. No power supply, but it still had the battery pack (taking 10, I said 10, C2 batteries) and after purchasing and installing the required 10 (yes, I said 10) C2 batteries, I was utterly delighted to find that it worked perfectly.

I wasted no time in getting it up to the GTK2 Studio and integrating it into my system (integrating sounds a bit more butch than saying "plugged it into my mixer with a set of phono leads......"), jammed in a tape and wow, the recordings I made so many years ago, my 21 year old self screeching like a cat in a Nutribullet and melodies and tunes I had long forgotten about, were emanating from the Alesis 520's. It brought a smile to my face as I was back there, but as an observer, quietly watching my younger self delighting in this creative tool and marvelling in the opportunities that lay before me - a pity I didn't pursue those opportunities as I should have done, but as with all things, it's in the past and I'm doing "stuff" now instead of back then. What also brought a wry smile to my face was how utterly shit the recordings are :-D

I don't if I'll keep the X-15 or not. I can't see that it will be a tool I could or would use regularly, if at all. Certainly, I am discovering things that I had forgotten about, things that could be given a new lease of life and I found songs that I couldn't remember how they went or couldn't find any written copies of lyrics and pieces of music that were an outlet for my mind and being at that time.

A few pieces will find their way onto the project I've called "The Splendour Cascade", mainly songs - they'll need a bit of re-arranging or the lyrics adjusting slightly. And some of the instrumental ideas I re-discovered will surely see light of day on the "Altered States" project.


Thursday, 26 January 2017

New album update: The Splendour Cascade

Yesterday I started work on a new project to be called "The Splendour Cascade".

It will be made up of songs and pieces of music that I created when I first started writing back in the early 1980's, some of which have already seen the light of day, in various guises, on my Geigertek albums. The idea is to present these songs using the equipment and software I have now which I didn't have 30 odd years ago, my hope is that they will sound as I originally envisaged, maybe even improved by the options and choices that modern software has endowed us with. The pieces that were used on the Geigertek albums will be recorded in their original forms, not the same, but not different - makes sense in my head :-D

I made quite a good start yesterday with a song called "Moonlight Strangers", no vocals but a significant amount of drums, bass, pads and sequences were laid down and it very quickly started to take shape - I find that really encouraging. I did another version of this song about 6 years ago - it was more "pop" in it's style and never really sat that well with me, so I thought I would revisit the original idea I had back in 1987 (when it was written), using a constant marimba riff/rhythm - it worked well, and sounds great with added sequences. The screenshot below shows the Reaper screens with Toontrack's excellent EZDrummer 2 (using the "Rock Solid" expansion), Native Instruments' FM8 (the marimba patch from the Yamaha DX21 via sysex) and the Lexicon MPX Native reverb (amazing buss reverb and it's the bottom of the range one!!!):


Today I started working on a piece of music called "This England". This instrumental was used as an opening number for a band I played in back in the mid-1980's, it's up-tempo, but something I always wanted to do was alter one of the instrumental breaks to make it sound a little more grandiose, with timpani and fanfare trumpets, I suppose as a kind of nod to the pomp and ceremony for which our island nation is so well known for. I did that today, and I have to say that it sounds far better than I could have ever imagined it would. Still much to do, but it was fun actually using a real life bass guitar for......yes you guessed it right......the bass :-) The screenshot below shows the Sonivox Brass and Big Bang Cinematic Percussion and ReFX's fantastic Nexus² synthesizer (one of my favourite plugins):


I have some guide tracks already recorded for another 3 songs, "The Edge of Nowhere", "Go-On" and "The Wild Heart" and another couple of instrumentals called "Just A Little Imagination" and "Dreaming of Thee".

I've taken a look at the "Autumn's Breeze" files (the second F/R-F album I'm doing with my son, Callum) - a lot of work to be done.

And lastly, I've recorded a few "snapshots" for my "Altered States" album - combining Spectrasonics' Omnisphere (I'm still on the MK1 version - not a cheap upgrade!!!) with ValhallaDSP's fantastic ValhallaRoom reverb plugin is providing for some interesting textural ideas, watch this space ;-)