Serenity in F Major
It has been a while since I posted, thanks to the @#??!!@! coronavirus pandemic sucking away all of my time and motivation to be creative...
But I had to decide to get on with my life. I hope people are responsible, I hope our global and national leadership can get things together and get us to the other side of this, but I can't just sit and wait. We had a great socially distanced jam last week, and it just served to remind me how important playing music is to me. So, on to this project!
One of my new prized possessions is the NuRAD wind controller from Berglund Instruments. It is a modern (and evolving constantly, thanks to creator Johan!) evolution of the Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) invented by Nyle Steiner and later licensed by Akai. Akai's instruments are great, but the market is not not large enough for Akai to invest much into developing the instrument, so Johan and a handful of other musicians and designers tackled the project (originally to revive the Electronic Valved Instrument, or EVI, as there was no option on the market for brass players since Akai discontinued production many years ago).
I won't go into great detail on the NuRAD here (probably another post and video in near future), so here is the run down on the recording I made this morning:
Sitting on the deck of this cabin, I am looking at an incredible view of the Tennessee River Gorge, known as the "Grand Canyon of Tennessee." While drinking a cup of coffee early yesterday morning waiting on my family to wake up, I decided to break out the mini synth rig I brought with me. I also sampled some birdsong using the Koala Sampler app on my iPhone. I wrote a short sequence in the key of F Major on the SE-02, and played around with the sound design and effects a little.
This morning I started the recording and improvised with the sequence. I am controlling my Behringer Neutron with the NuRAD, and using the really cool harmonizer function in the beta firmware I got from Johan recently - and, as an example of how the NuRAD project is a living, evolving thing, I got another email from Johan with beta firmware with improvements on the harmonizer just this morning while I was uploading this video!
More detailed note on the sequence can be found in the description of the video linked below.
I hope you enjoy the video - I surely enjoyed creating it.
I am really having a lot of fun working on a couple new projects, including the upcoming recording session for my "main" band, TwiceSax, planning a session for my mostly-a-trio project (upright bass/drums/saxophone), and a new project with my old college roommate, Logan, which may end up being called "Duophony." I feel overwhelmed at work (nothing new), and I fight against my lazy brain (nothing new), but this music gives me energy and motivation (ahhh, definitely something new, or at least something that has not happened in quite a long time).
TwiceSax has been playing together for a loooong time, and we have never recorded more than a raw demo. I have written a lot of music for the band, my brother-in-law and co-bandleader Dave Williams II has started writing some really cool music for us, and we have raised the money for the recording session. Time to just make it happen.
That's my theme right now; while attending a professional conference this week I was taking notes, and the thought just hit me: stop waiting for someone else to tell me to do something. Like an old possibly Chinese proverb says: the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is today.
So, today I will talk to some people about getting these projects into the home stretch. In the meantime, I continue to really enjoy using my iPad as a music creation tool, and I am loving the explorations I am undertaking into improvising with semi-generative music from the electronic toys I have accumulated for a few years. This video is entirely produced on my iPad, using a handful of synths, effects, and utilities. Check out the video description for detailed info.
New to this video: animation that responds to the music! I just got this app yesterday, and it is way over my head, but I managed to cobble something together this morning before I started my work day. This may be nothing but a fun time-waster, but at least it was fun!
About the music...
I sequenced the drums in the Rozeta X0X, controlling a drum set in Patterning 2. The main feature of the track is the bass line (which needs much better mixing and compression, but hey, I'm learning) and the evolving delay, filter, and glitch/stutter effects. I set up parameters in all of the sequencers to make this generative texture. I want to create several more of these "Themeless Variations" and then I am going to start creating larger compositions and adding improvisation on various instruments, including EWI, tenor and soprano saxophones, and perhaps some flute and bass clarinet.
If you have comments, critiques, criticisms, questions, jokes, book suggestions, or anything else that fits in a comment box, please hit me up. - BD
It has been a long weekend...which brings me to Sunday Jams. On the way home from a concert (my day job is being Arkansas Symphony Orchestra's Marketing Director) I sometimes stop for a 30 minute to 2 hour wind-down, depending on how much I need to unwind. I often set up some portion of my synth rig, and I sit down with no rules and no plan to make some spontaneous music. Sometimes I jam to a playalong track, sometimes I patch something up and noodle, sometimes I write and arrange a tune from scratch...like I said, no rules.
This Sunday I set up my Behringer Neutron with a t.c. electronics M350 effects processor for some killer spaced-out reverb and just noodled around. I accidentally connected the bipolar LFO to the envelope 1 gate, and was pleasantly surprised...BAM...modular synthesis in a nutshell, I think. After some tweaking to get the right sound, and right pulse from the LFO, I soaked it in some dark reverb from the M350 and explored for a while. Since I was digging it, I made a short, room miked video. Enjoy - or don't, and let me know why not. - BD
My first EWI exploration with VCV Rack, an Open-source virtual modular synthesizer. As VCV Rack approaches version 1.0, things are getting interesting, and the upcoming stability is getting me excited about the sound possibilities for EWI!
All modules used in this video are free, and they are POWERFUL. Wrapping my head around the work flow for designing a dynamic, expressive synth voice with breath control has been less formidable than I thought. One of the custom modules (Dual MIDI to CV) makes it easy with dedicated CC #02 routing! Of course, a much simpler voice could be made with a simple oscillator, a low pass filter, a VCA and an ADSR filter. Routing CV gates and breath through a multiplier to trigger/control everything, and a slew-rate limiter/inverter to smooth the translation of MIDI to control voltage should go in the category of "minimum" needs, too.
Now, for some short educational programming...
When I first started using a breath controller I was very much in the dark about how breath control worked. It took reverse engineering several patches made by other people to figure out the basics. In its most basic form, you are modulating some parameter (usually volume or the cutoff frequency of a low pass filter) with data from your breath sensor. Note data is pretty straight forward: your controller says "start playing C4 now, and stop playing now."
Now, to turn the electronic sounds into something more organic we need to smoothly adjust a parameter and cause a change in perceived loudness. This change can be achieved by gradually increasing the amplifier volume as you blow harder, but if you want to create a sound with more "living" characteristics you can instead gradually increase the cutoff frequency on a low pass filter from 0 (completely closed, and there for blocking all frequencies). As the filter opens, more harmonics are allowed through, causing the perceived sound to get louder AND brighter. I have heard this setup (breath sensor routed to a closed low pass filter cutoff frequency parameter) on a pure saw wave called the "heart and soul of wind synthesis."
If you experiment with Eurorack (or any other kind of synthesis) and breath control, let me know - I love this stuff! - BD
I play saxophone.*