Sunday, 15 October 2017

Last night......

Last night wasn't a good one for me. A combination of my getting the photo thing completely wrong and a venue that, in my own personal opinion, was possibly not really suited to the act.

That said, there are times when you just simply have to hold your hands up and admit that you screwed up, because that's what I did last night with the Public Service Broadcasting gig. I don't know what I did or how it happened, but my camera's settings were way off, despite, as I thought, setting them up yesterday afternoon. Whatever I did or did not do resulted in poorly focused, darkened and blurred images, and my composition was just awful as was my pit positioning. I would have been better off using my phone!!!!!!

So, this morning has been something of an intense forensic post-mortem, spent re-checking the cameras and ensuring that the settings stay in place. One misplaced setting was exposure metering - I had set it to evaluative when it should have been spot metering - why didn't I notice that, it's a standard setting I use for every concert I've photographed since owning a DSLR. Canon has a useful feature called Picture Style, I always have it set to Landscape which leans towards a sharper image (very useful for concert situations), it was set to Faithful which is nothing like close, and boy does it show!!!

Bottom line is, if you screw up, accept it, get over it, sort it and get right back in that saddle 😎

Not sure that the UEA, good and all as it is, was the best venue for an act like PSB. I've seen them twice before (Epic Studios in 2013 and Open in 2015), both absolutely fantastic each time, but I feel those venues were better suited. PSB are a highly visual act and their stage set was nothing short of amazing. But once the three songs were done and I was out of the photo pit, it was impossible to see what was happening, unless you were at the front or in the main auditorium. Also, from the side and back areas, which were full, as well as poor view, the sound was simply dreadful, though I know from people who were there that it sounded great from the main auditorium. You know, I'm not sure about bars being open whilst a gig is underway. Want to get pissed and chat? Great, but go to a pub or a nightclub, please. People were talking and drinking, not even looking at the show and talking as best they could to be heard over the music, so many with their backs turned to the stage and standing in places where those that wanted to watch what was happening couldn't - and that's not about me, but for people who had paid good money for a ticket (which I didn't - important to make that point) and who couldn't enjoy the show. And thoughtless people slopping beer everywhere in the audience - along with a few others, I got covered in beer (as did my camera bag - fortunately the Canons weren't affected unlike my entire right side and my jacket) by some twat with pints in both hands and that led to an early departure, some three songs from the end of the first part of the set.

A proper review now seems impossible to do, because how do you review something you couldn't see and couldn't hear properly with no decent images of any quality.

Sounds like a whole lot of complaining really doesn't it - lol, but apart from the alcohol thing, it's actually not. It's a positive realisation of how easy it is to become complacent, how easy I've had it in the past (Access All Area passes are gifts from the gods!!!) and a positive affirmation of how I really need to work now at re-establishing myself after a significant break from this sort of thing. That's a really good thing because it's grounding, it's a positive learning experience and nothing feels better than getting up and dusting yourself off when you've fallen before getting right back into the saddle, for me that further fuels the fire of determination 😉

All said and done, I got a cracking shot of the set list with my phone:

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Forward motion......

I have so much going on and so much to do at the moment, and not enough time to do it all!!!

But that's not a complaint, though it probably comes across as that.

I don't believe in luck and I don't believe in good fortune, but I do believe we can really create our own luck and good fortune through a bit of application and organisation - i.e. hard work.

In my last posting, I said about a strong desire to re-focus my energies into the music and photography, well that's basically what I am doing now. I have an endgame, a pathway that has a definite final destination, being that place I want to be. I can't put a time limit on it, if it happens as I hope, it'll happen when it happens.

Today I invested in a new website for my photography, a site that will allow me to not only display my photos but sell them and share then with the people I hope I will need to share them with. It's time to take things to another level and move beyond the hobbyist to something a little more. I'm getting more dates in the diary for the gig photography and I have plans for the website that will allow me to indulge myself in all manner of different styles and subjects, but with a possible financial outcome. It's early days, but the blueprint has been made, now it's all about making it happen.

Tonight, I kick of a new era of gig photography with the excellent Public Service Broadcasting at Norwich's University of East Anglia. It's a new era for me as it sees a return to something that I loved doing, but now doing it with different eyes, a different attitude, experience and new and better cameras and lenses (all out on their maiden voyages tonight!!!).

Excitement and anxiety combined are a truly glorious sensation.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Updatey Thingy......

Not been around for a month, time goes so incredibly quickly!!!

Anyway, as per, I've not been idle. Far from it.

Inevitably there are some new bits of software for the GTK2 Studio, a couple of new camera bits, gig photography news and album update. Best I get on with it.

Buying music software is still a thing with me, however, it really is coming down now to what the software can offer, rather than just buying stuff for the sake of it (though I suspect it seems that way - lolz). The few bits I have recently acquired certainly fit the bill of what they can offer and are definite work tools.

The first up is iZotope's Neutron 2 channel strip plugin. I got the first version earlier this year and it has been quite invaluable because of it's track assistant and track comparison capabilities. Version 2 sees a definite step forward with the track assistant and it was enough for me to make the upgrade move. It's a real beast to learn as it has so many facilities within just one program, but it is a definite bonus to the studio.

I've been hankering after iZotope's Ozone mastering plugin for some time and with the release of version 8, I decided it was time to take the plunge. I have a definite learning curve to overcome here, but a little time invested will, I know, pay off. More on this as and when I get to grips with it and start using it.

I've been watching and wondering about Audified's MixChecker since it's release a while back. It basically lets you hear what your mixes sound like on a smartphone or a laptop or a tablet and even in your car!!! I umm'd and ahh'd until the proverbial "price drop" came along and like the vulture I am, I swooped in and snaffled it. It's a cool piece of programming and I like what it offers as I get an insight as to how my tracks will sound on different devices and sound systems. This is useful when mixing and helps you get the EQ right - MixChecker is a really nice tool alongside Neutron 2.

Now, I am a big fan of Softube's Modular synthesizer - it's their virtual take on a Euroack modular synthesizer system, based on the Doepfer A100 and with pay-for expansion modules from the likes of hardware module makers Doepfer, Intellijel and 4ms. When I saw that the Buchla 259e Twisted Waveform Generator was the latest addition to the expansion module list, my debit card immediately swung into action!!! As you might have guessed, it's a virtual recreation of Buchla's revered and sought after hardware module of the same name, and reports already suggest that it's pretty accurate facsimile of the original.  It's a dual oscillator module that performs the duties of digital waveshaping, aliasing noise and foldover frequencies, capable of traditional synthy sounds but also adept at self-modifying, screeching and snarling digital sounds and textures, morphing effortlessly through it's many disguises. I'm finding a lot of similarities with the Madrona Labs Aalto semi-modular software synthesizer in terms of sound and approach - this is a good thing, trust me!!! I've already started using it on "Altered States".

Waves continue their phenomenal Summer sale as well as continuing to drain my bank account - lol. Vocal Rider is as it sounds, it provides the ability to ride the fader for your vocal tracks, keeping them from getting out of control. Used it for the first time on a vocal track for a singer recording a song for his wedding, and it worked a treat. As did the second acquisition from Waves, that being the Waves Abbey Road Reel ADT. Artificial double tracking was a technique developed was back in the 1960's by those awfully clever people at Abbey Road Studios in London, it's purpose being to provide an artificially created second take using a specially adapted tape machine unit - the sound became something of a signature thing for The Beatles. The effect is still quite something, even in this day and age, and can save a lot of time by NOT having to have your singer do a second take. I used this with the singer mentioned earlier and it's effect was seriously cool.

Sticking with Waves, they released SSL G-Channel component of their SSL 4000 Collection - it was cheap, the E-Channel sounds great and it seemed a logical step to get it. So I did :-)

Moving away from music now and onto the other passion in my life - photography. Last year, I bought a Canon 60D digital SLR camera from a good friend of mine, who's a professional photographer, called Simon Watson. It was a step up in many ways from my trusty 1100D's which I have been using since 2012. Now, I have been increasingly wanting to re-focus energies back into photography, and in particular gig photography (more on that in a bit), and I came to realise that it would be wise to invest in a second camera that could match my 60D with regard capabilities. And this is what I did, and that investment went into a second 60D - it made sense to get the same camera so that I could match settings etc when out and about. Got it at a good price as well ;-)

Alongside the new camera, I felt a need to improve how I work whilst shooting a gig. To date, I have been using a Canon 10-18mm wide angle zoom and a Canon 55-250mm zoom lens, but that gap in the middle, normally filled by the Canon 18-55mm kit lens, had proven to be a bit of a hindrance as there isn't time to change lenses during the window of time you have to get your shots (normally the first three songs). So, I raided the bank account and decided to invest in a Tamron 18-200mm zoom lens. Okay, it's 50mm short on the zoom from the Canon, but that isn't too much of a big deal for me, the main thing was that 18-55mm hole I previously had is now a thing of the past and, hopefully, will provide me with a wider range of opportunities in the photo pit.

I mentioned earlier about a desire to re-focus energies back into photography, in particular gig photography. I reached a certain level after 4-5 years of intensive work and enjoyed a reasonably good reputation for what I did, however, as happens to everyone in life, things come along that take you off the path you had before you and either steer you  in a new direction or impose something of an involuntary sabbatical. Fortunately, the latter was the case and I have now reached a point whereupon I am properly kitted out, have some degree of relevant and positive experience and have the time to commit to the pathway I set out for myself a few short years ago. It really is time to get back into the saddle and get myself back out there. And that is the case for the music as well, and once more, I'll bring that into some clarity in a bit. I'm now actively chasing gigs to photograph, looking at different avenues to explore with the photography and contemplating a number of options that I may have open to me within the next year or two.

One thing that I started and because of the sabbatical was lost, was the music review website called "Review Elektro". It was fun to not only photograph gigs, but also talk about them afterwards, sharing not just my pictures, but also my thoughts and feelings on the concert I had been to. I'm struggling to get the Review Elektro domain name back for some reason, maybe next time I post here that will be sorted out, so in the meantime, I have set up a page at this wonderful Blogger place, under the name of, yes you've guessed it, Review Elektro. It will do to get me started again, it can pretty much cope with what I want it to do, so it seems logical to take advantage of this cool site to get the ball back rolling again. I'm considering whether or not to include reviews of albums and electronic music gear, but for now, the main focus will be on gigs.

And talking of gigs, I haven't been idle on that front either. I already have two in the diary and I'm hoping within the next few days to have a few more lined up. The two I have are a couple of acts that are particular favourites of mine, and I'm already excited by the prospect of being at these evenings. The first of these is none other than one of my most favourite artists in the history of everything, Gary Numan, who I am so pleased to see is enjoying something of a major renaissance with the release of his critically acclaimed "Savage (Songs from a Broken World)" album. I'll be attending the LCR in Norwich on Tuesday 17th October 2017 and please do say hello if you're there!!! My second confirmed gig is another outing with the fab Scots rockers, Big Country. I first photographed them back in 2014 and had a great time, so I can't wait for this one to come around. They're playing the Waterfront in Norwich, so again, come and say hello if you're there.

With everything that has been going, including a day job (yes, I also have a full-time day job!!!), you'd think I wouldn't have time for music-making. But, against the odds, I have!!! The "Altered States" project is coming along nicely and has taken something of a surprising shift in it's character, tone and style. Without realising it, I have changed direction from where I originally started with it and how I wanted it to sound. I have kept the elements I have already done, so it's not a re-start, however it is a re-start because the focus of the music's style and dynamic has completely shifted. Rather than fight it, I have opted to go with it and let it take the form it needs to take. This is not going to be like anything I've done before and certainly, there will be some who just will not like it. As with the photography thing, I've been experiencing a very strong desire to re-focus energies regarding my music. My little studio is now properly set up, the hardware that I use is now fully programmed and integrated into the studio's computer system and a new way of looking at things/approaching things has brought me to a place where I want to commit and invest myself into it. I have new sounds, new skills, new ideas, new approaches, fresh thoughts and altered ideals, all of which combined with the photography, have created something of a boiling cauldron that's bubbling away. Whereas before I felt that I really wanted to do these things, I now know I have to do these things.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Opening a new DAW......

My Digital Audio Workstation (DAW - pronounced "door") of choice for the last few years has been Reaper 5 from U.S. software house, Cockos. It's been a hard-hitting contender in the world of high-end DAW's for a while now, retaining high-end features at a hugely affordable price.

And that remains so, but today I played around with a DAW from top-marque hardware mixing console manufacturers, Harrison Consoles called Mixbus32C.

The Mixbus32C is based upon Harrison's epically famous 32C console (hence the name), a desk which was used to record such modern musical luminaries as ABBA, Michael Jackson (of note, albums like "Thriller" and "Off The Wall"), Paul Simon's "Graceland" album, Blondie, Queen, Led Zeppelin and Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) amongst many others. The virtual version has been emulated down to the last resistors and is considered to be a fine rendition in digital form of a classic board. The image below is of the hardware Harrison 32C console:

I tried it out today, taking a couple tracks from my "The Timeless Mind" album and mixing the stems in Mixbus32C. I only spent a couple of hours on these two pieces, nothing serious or too in-depth, but I have to tell you that the results were outstanding. The workflow was very organic, making me feel as though I were using a hardware console, such is it's routing and approach. The GUI is very good, capturing the essence of a classic mixing console and easy on the eye.

The MIDI part of Mixbus32C wasn't to my liking though, I must admit. That will be down to the fact that I have gotten used to Reaper 5 and am very happy and comfortable working my around that DAW. Mixbus32C is different, and for me, it's too different. That said, I will be continuing to track/record in Reaper 5, but I will be trying out mixes and mastering in Mixbus32C.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Bloody Waves Audio!!!

So Waves Audio has another sale.

Only this time, they push down prices to the lowest I can remember.

Yep, I fell for it.

The CLA Classic Compressors bundle comprises four compressor limiters, based on units owned by renowned producer, Chris Lord-Alge. Included are emulations of the Teletronix LA-2A (CLA-2A - see what they did there?), the Teletronix LA-3A (CLA-3A - amazing huh?) and two versions of the Urei 1176 (CLA-76 Blacky based on the Revision D-LN Blackface and the CLA-76 Bluey based on the Revision B, also known as the Silverface Bluestripe). Only briefly tried them out and they do sound pretty good so far.

Also purloined at a VERY good price was the new F6 dynamic EQ - sort of like a multi-band compressor but based on EQ. It makes sense, honestly. Sound-wise, early to say, but I can see that it will get a lot use, particularly with the C4 multi-band compressor which is one of my favourite and definitely most-used plugins.

And lastly, the Abbey Road Reverb Plates, a plate reverb (as if you hadn't guessed) based on the four massive reverb plates housed in the Abbey Road Studios in London. Again, first plays with it, using a loop from Spectrasonics Stylus RMX, are really quite interesting and the effect is quite lovely.

They have the Studio Classics Collection (stonking emulations of API, SSL and Neve consoles) up for a mere $199 - but I can't quite stretch to it!!! :-(

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

An emptied purse!!!

Just had a week off work with just about the nastiest throat infection I've ever had and a bout of sinusitis which I NEVER want to have or experience again. Sadly, this caused me to miss the Modular Meet in Leeds last Saturday (19th August) and I spent my birthday (Sunday 20th August) surrounded by used tissues and issuing dark green mucous at an alarming rate - it was like a scene from "The Exorcist"!!!

Anyway, the sad story now told, the time off work gave me a valuable opportunity to have a good think about things in general as well as time to learn about a few of the bits and pieces of software I have gathered over last couple of years. And, surprise surprise, a couple of new bits of programming (one of which is VERY much more than a bit).

First up was a new product from Audio Damage (based on three of their older products) called QuatroMod. It basically takes their classic through-zero flanger called Liquid, their multi-mod chorus Fluid, their diffusion chorus Vapor and their Eurorack hardware frequency shifter FreqShift and put them all into a single plug-in, and let me tell you, it's a really powerful stereo-insert modulation plug.

Also from Audio Damage (who are releasing some stonking upgrades to their products of late) is Replicant 2, a damn fine Fuck Shit Up (FSU) plugin. A very well featured looping delay/buffer effects unit, you can get some seriously wierd shit out of this thing. It's great with everything you put through it, but I'm really enjoying shoving different loops from Spectrasonics Styus RMX through it's delays and filters, some quite lovely fractured rhythmic somethings happening all the time.

Sticking with Audio Damage for a third time, another upgrade this time to their Phosphor synthesizer, this new version being......Phosphor 2. Based on the vintage alphaSyntauri digital additive synthesizer, this gives you a couple of additive oscillators (with the original 16 partial complement of the alphaSyntauri, or optionally with 32 or 64 partials), each with its own amp envelope, closely following the alphaSyntauri. Naturally it has a lot of added modern features such as full velocity control, a full-on modulation routing system, tempo synced LFOs, a couple of delays, and two monophonic modes, plus host of other enhancements and tweaks. I really liked the first version, but I love Phosphor 2.

I've added D16 Group's excellent emulation of the Roland TR-808 drum machine to my drum/percussion collection. Called Nepheton, it's a sparkling companion to their fab TR-909 emulation Drumazon. It sounds great and is a joy to program.

One piece of processing software I've been waiting patiently to get is PSP Audioware's VintageWarmer 2, a really cool analog-style, a single- or multi-band compressor/limiter. I love multi-band compressor/limiters as they can really open up your mix (if used very carefully) and VintageWarmer 2 has a very good reputation. I saw this being used by David Wright and Dave Massey (AD Music, Code Indigo and Callisto) and was always impressed by it's sound. I now have it and hurrah for that :-D

An impulse buy that has proven to be a good buy was Panagement from Auburn Sounds. They describe it as a spatialisation toolbox, and you know, I can't disagree with that description. It's essentially a panning tool with added extras that lets you control stereo space quickly using a number of well-thought out features. I've been using it a lot with rhythm loops and the effect is very pleasing - as an experiment I worked it alongside Waves Audio's Brauer Motion plugin and discovered a very cool partnership between the two. Highly useful for adding depth and movement to the mix. Recommended.

And so to my latest "investment". After a bit of mulling about whether or not I really needed to take this particular path, I finally decided that yes, it was time to subscribe to the EastWest/Quantum Leap ComposerCloud X. This subscription gives me access to a huge array of software products that covers 10,000 of the most detailed, professional-quality virtual instruments, with a total combined monetary value of more than $12,500 (that's about £9800 in proper money). One year's subscription doesn't even cover the cost of one product and there's something like 59 products with new releases being added to the plan automatically. So what do you get? Pianos, choirs, full orchestras and solo orchestral instruments, drums, percussion, loops, synths and pretty much everything else. From what little time I've spent with it, the overall product is of a hugely high quality and very configurable - more learning!!! I'm predominantly interested in the orchestral and choral aspects, though I have to say I have found some of the ethnic instruments to be very useful.

With the addition of the ComposerCloud X, I think that any future software acquistions will have to be carefully thought out as I am running out of hard drive space!!!

Whilst being off work, I've been looking at the generative software Noatikl, from Intermorphic, that I got a while ago. I set up one instance of Omnisphere 2, putting it into multi-output mode (8 channels) and then added Noatikl a the start of the chain ahead of Omnisphere 2. Have a listen to what I achieved here:

This is the on-screen appearance of Noatikl with Omnisphere 2:

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
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 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 ;-)