Friday, June 01, 2012

Gino Strikes Back

The year was 1994 (I think).  My studio consisted of a bunch of hardware synthesizers, an audio mixer, a few outboard effects such as reverb and a DAT machine to mix down things too.  I had recently left my old 4-track behind, in favor of sequencing everything in Cakewalk for Windows, on Windows 3.0, running on a Intel 386-based computer.  Compared to my studio today, these were the dark ages!

But I managed to create some memorable tracks.  This is one of them, I think.  The title of this track comes from combining the name of recording artist Gino Vannelli, whose keyboard sounds and grooves definitely influenced this composition, and the film The Empire Strikes Back, which was playing on cable TV the afternoon I decided to finish this track instead of watching TV.

Gino had some serious hair, didn't he?

I had just purchased a used Korg M1 at the time, and though it's 128 factory sounds had already been used on thousands of pop recordings, I was oblivious to this since I was going through a period of time in my life where I listened to absolutely no popular music (if I could help it).  The first M1 sound you will here in this recording is still in use today as the theme song to the radio program "Marketplace" from American Public Radio.  Anyway, two distinctive M1 sounds are what started out this track at the time, followed by some hard-driving synth bass and slamming drums, and a bit of raw B3 organ.  Later on, these sounds are joined by some lead synthesizer and clavinet.

When I decided to rework this song in Pro Tools 10 recently, I ported only the MIDI tracks over from my PC and started choosing all new virtual instruments to play the parts.  Thing is, I simply could not recreate the original vibe with anything other than those two Korg M1 sounds.  Lucky for me, Korg makes perfect virtual recreations of their M1, Wavestation, PolySix and MonoPoly synths!  Once I dialed in those first two sounds, the original vibe was totally there, ready to be augmented by much better-sounding instruments for the rest of the track.

One set of instruments that didn't translate very well from the MIDI files was the drum and percussion tracks.  They sounded robotic and stiff; and way to repetitive to me.  So, I fired up Toontrack's EZDrummer plugin and started searching for some appropriate grooves in 6/8 time.  Luckily, I found a set of MIDI grooves that are part of their Songwriters' Drumpack series that fit pretty well.  The tough part was having to edit and reprogram some of the fills to match the really busy and progressive kinds of fills required for some of the turn-arounds.  But once I was done, the track absolutely came alive.

So, without further delay, here is the track titled "Gino Strikes Back", available on SoundCloud:

And here is a direct link if you would like to download it: Gino Strikes Back.mp3

And just for kicks here is the original mp3 of all those vintage hardware instruments mixed down direct to DAT in the late 90's: Original 90's version

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Happy Christmas" from Fragile Forest and Hybernation Music

Yes, it's that time of year again.  And so this is Christmas...and what have *I* done?  Another Christmas "cover tune" of course!

This year I recorded John Lennon's classic "Happy Christmas (War is Over)", a song released in 1971.  According to Wikipedia, this was a Vietnam War protest song, though I doubt many people realize that (I sure didn't).  Over the years, the song has gone on to top the charts of favorite Christmas pop songs.

Quoting from Wikipedia: "The lyric is based on a campaign in late 1969 by Lennon and Ono, who rented billboards and posters in eleven major cities around the world that read: "WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko". In 1971, the United States was deeply entrenched in the unpopular Vietnam War. The line "War is over, if you want it, war is over, now!", as sung by the background vocals, was taken directly from the billboards."

I tried various arrangements with me singing the "War is Over" part, and it just came off cheesy and not "authentic" to my ears.  So, I decided to just focus on the main theme of the song, sort of like the Moody Blues did on their holiday album "December", released in 2003.  I think the main thing that differentiates my version from all of the many cover versions I have heard is that mine is produced with no guitar whatsoever :-)

So, Happy Christmas everyone, and thanks for listening!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Serious Music (1979-1983)

I have blogged about these individual pieces a lot over the past few years. Some of these compositions I have recorded many times over the last 30 years, with various levels of technology and to varying degrees of success.  Some of them I have just recorded for the first time recently.  So finally, using SoundCloud, I have gathered them together into a "set" that you can listen to without having to press more than one play button.

Please press play when you have 20 minutes to spare.  Headphones are highly recommended.  Comments are welcome.

Catching up with the DAW Wars...and a whole lotta remixing going on

The DAW Wars continue unabated here at Hybernation Music.  I really felt that when I switched to the iMac in the spring of this year, my search for the ultimate DAW (digital audio software) was over.  After years of suffering with the instabilities of Cakewalk Sonar, I felt that once I had switched to the Mac, as I posted here before, Apple Logic Studio seemed to be "the one".  It was stable, intuitive and efficient, and it's 64-bit mode worked better than any DAW had for me before.  I still liked Pro Tools, and when Pro Tools 9 came out I did start using it more, but it's lack of "offline rendering" and it's limited 32-bit memory space can be a big frustration when working with larger projects with many complex virtual instruments.

My only real complaints with Logic have been that sometimes the workflow seems a bit "clunky", and the mixer and arrange windows just aren't are visually appealing as some other programs (it hasn't seen an update in a couple of years, which is part of the problem).  Then when this year's debacle over Apple's Final Cut X revamp hit, it became a little scary to think about totally putting all my eggs in that Apple-cart (to mix a few metaphors).  I feel quite certain that the next release of Logic (probably "Apple Logic X") will be a radical departure, though perhaps not as radical as this video suggests.  Great, just as I am getting comfortable with it!

In the meantime, Steinberg came out with Cubase 6, which finally offers full 64-bit support on Mac OS X.  Though I was impressed with Cubase 5.5 on the PC as I noted in several past posts, when I installed it on the iMac, I was disappointed to learn that is had no 64-bit Mac version.  And, to be honest, it was a little unstable on my iMac.  It just didn't feel as solid as Logic or Pro Tools.  Heck, it didn't feel as solid as Reaper, for that matter.

But after asking around, I decided to download the fully-functional 30 day trial of Cubase 6, which prompted me to go ahead and buy the reasonable priced upgrade this weekend.  Yes, I am impressed.  Very stable and efficient.  I'm going to be working with it.

And speaking of Reaper, that program was just gone "4.0", and it continues to knock my socks off, for the money.  I guess I bought a $60 license back when it went to 3.0, and you get two full version upgrades for that price!  So, my license will continue to be good through all of the 4.x releases.  Sweet.

So, in the last few months, I've been using all of these programs, and below are a few things I have to show for it.  I'll be including screen shots of all these DAW's, so let me start out by showing you what the new Cubase 6 looks like (I've not finished a track yet, so just pictures of this one):

Cubase 6 Tracking Window

Cubase 6 Mixing Window

Here is a new little dance number I came up with that I call "Afrikan Techno".  I did this one in Reaper:
Afrikan Techno (Reaper Mix) by fragileforest

Reaper 4 Tracking Window

Reaper 4 Mixing Window

I did a complete rework of the song "Ancient Violence" (which I blogged about here two years ago).  I did this completely in Pro Tools 9, reworking all of the virtual instruments used.  This was an exercise in "getting rid of Native Instrument Kore 2" in a track which was heavily dependent on that technology.  Kore 2 is being discontinued by this group of professional rip-off artists who call themselves music technologists.  I have a lot invested in their software, but they'll not be getting any more of MY money, I can tell you.  But I digress...anyway, I really like the way the new version of this 20-year-old composition came out.  It has a completely different vibe than the original version:
Ancient Violence (remix) by fragileforest

One of the first tracks I did on Pro Tools 8 a couple of year ago was this one that I call "One Lonely Desert".  I felt the need to remix it on the iMac recently, to take advantage of Pro Tools 9 and some recent plug-ins I am really loving, especially IK Multimedia's Black 76 Limiting Amplifier, which is simply the best track compressor I have ever used!  This remix sounds really superior to the original, I think:
One Lonely Desert by fragileforest

Pro Tools 9 with Tracking and Mixing squeezed together on my 27" monitor

Lastly, I still use Propellerhead's Reason/Record duo some as well.  It's just so quick and immediate (and is hands-down the best at "cross-platform" session compatibility, due to the closed nature of the system.  Something I start on the PC will sound EXACTLY the same and load up with absolutely no issues on the Mac with Reason/Record).  I'm really looking forward to those Swedish folks rolling all these feature into one product with the recently announced Reason 6.  I recently fired up Reason/Record and remixed this piece I call "Piano Idea Two", using the Yamaha C7 grand piano found in the Reason Pianos Refill:
Piano Idea Two by fragileforest
Reason / Record Duo with Tracking, Mixing and "Rack" on one screen

Saturday, July 09, 2011

My 50th Blog Post...and two Piano Solo pieces

Welcome to my 50th post on the Hybernation Music blog. Wow. Can it really have been five years ago that I decided to take the blogging plunge with my inaugural blog post.  Yes, is was May 12, 2006.

I just want to say I quick "Thank You" to the (few) folks who take the time to read and listen, and occasionally comment, either here or on Facebook.  Speaking of Facebook, it's hard to believe that Facebook was barely even around back in 2006 (it was, it just hadn't gone viral yet).  I joined Facebook (as myself) about a year after starting this blog, in April of 2007 and didn't have a clue what to use it for.  So my first post was: "Visit my blog at".  LOL.  I say "it's hard to believe..." because so many people I know, including myself, use Facebook now as a primary mode of communication! 

I created a "Fragile Forest Page" on Facebook in January of 2010, sort of as a companion to this blog.  Lately when I finish a track,  I first post it there and then later, if I feel like it, I blog about it here.  In fact, the Fragile Forest facebook page now has over 70+ "followers" (or "friends", or "likes" or whatever the heck they are calling it these days) so I suppose more people listen to my music there than here!

Anyway, I have decided to make more of an effort to blog every piece of music I work on here.  Facebook is hard to navigate and go back and review old posts, due to all the clutter there.  This blog is concentrated Fragile Forest, and it's my musical diary.  I just need to make myself be more consistent with it.

Tonight, have a listen to these two piano solos.  These are the two final pieces I mentioned last time I blogged in this post, which I have revised with a hyperlink to the future.

The first one is called "Searching" and it's actually part three of the "serious music suite" I wrote between 1979 and 1984.  At one time I called this song "Song In Search of a Continuing Daytime Drama" since I felt that it was a bit on the sappy side, and the initial arrangement DID actually sound a little like "Nadia's Theme" (the theme from "the Young and the Restless").  In that original version written in 1979, I didn't play the arpeggiated left-hand part...I played simple quarter note triads, similar to "Nadia's Theme".  I believe that it was a bit later (very early eighties) after I heard Keith Emerson's soundtrack to the horror film "Inferno" and that spurred the idea for the left-hand part.  I remember being in Youngstown, Ohio when this happened, traveling with a top40 band.  Isn't it funny how the mind retains some completely trivial bits of detail?

This recording was performed last year before I got the iMac, and was recorded into Cubase on the PC.  The interesting thing about how I did that recording was that I played the entire piece to a metronome against a strict tempo, with no slowing down or speeding up.  Then I went in a manually created all of the tempo variations you hear after the fact.  I did this because I intended on orchestrating the piece and I wanted everything to line up perfectly on the bar markers, but then I later decided NOT to orchestrate after all.  It was just too much work for someone who knows almost nothing about formal orchestration.

A few months ago I exported the MIDI file, with the tempo information intact, and then imported that into, you guessed it, Apple Logic Pro 9 on the iMac.  I then constructed what I feel is "the perfect piano" sound....or at least as perfect as I can get at this time:

So, first for tonight, here is "Searching":

The second solo piano piece in the suite, which was the last piece I wrote and was always meant to be the last one before the reprise, I am calling "Unnamed" because I cannot for the life of me remember what I used to call it.  I probably have the old title written down an a piece of paper somewhere...I'm just not sure.  I'm also not sure if I've even recorded it before.  If I did, I probably recorded it on a Fender Rhodes electric piano....that is the way I first envisioned it.  For this recording, I chose to use the exact same Piano sound as I did for "Searching", thinking this would give the suite a little bit of needed cohesiveness.

So, to end the night (and perhaps put you to sleep, this one is pretty mellow), here is "Unnamed":

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Victory Theme

I meant to post this song when I finished it a couple of months ago. I am behind in my blogging!

This is a piece of music that I wrote many years ago as part of my suite of "serious music".  The other pieces in the suite that I have blogged about are located at these links:

3) Searching (piano solo, blog post here)
4) Victory Theme (this piece)
6) unnamed piano solo (blog post here)

If I ever finish completely recording this suite, perhaps I will post a "playlist" link where they can be listened to, in order, without clicking all around the place.  For tonight, I hope you enjoy listening to "Victory Theme":

Here is the obligatory image that I usually include in my blog posts:

Technical details of the recording:
This track was started in Cakewalk Sonar 8.5 many months ago (perhaps more than a year).  After letting it bake for that long, I finally ported the MIDI file over to Apple Logic Studio on my iMac, and then re-assigned many of the same virtual instruments used on the PC:

1) Native Instruments Kontakt 4 (Piano, Electric Piano, Bass)
2) Toontrack Superior Drummer 2 (using the "N. Y. - Hit Factory" drum set).
3) IK Multimedia Philharmonik (Strings)
4) Spectrasonics Omnisphere (String Pad and Vocal Pad)
5) Arturia Analog Factory 2.5 (two lead synth parts)

High-end Plugin maker Waves have been running serious discounts on their "Renaissance" line of plugins.  This is the company that makes plug-in bundles that cost thousands of dollars.  Well, for a ridiculously paltry $38, I picked up their Renaissance Compressor, and I'm very glad I did.  I ended up using six instances of it on this mix, on drums, bass and master buss, and it really does add punch and warmth in a very subtle and professional way.

Another thing I did different on this track, that I used to do and just haven't lately since switching to Logic, was that I created a "drum submix" where I broke out the kick, snare, toms, hat and overhead drum "mics" onto separate tracks, and then did different EQ and plugin settings for each track.  I also created a separate reverb buss for the drums, feeding just the right amount of post-fader output of each track into this channel.  I also used several instances of Toontrack's EZMix plugin on some of the drum tracks to give them some extra sparkle.  In the end, this drum mix sounded so good to me, I wanted to go back to all of my recent Logic projects and drop in this drum mix!  In fact, I did on one, and Logic's "selective import" feature makes this incredibly easy to accomplish.  You can copy pieces and parts of tracks and track settings very easily from one project to another.  Very cool.  Try THAT in Pro Tools!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Deep Space Music: "Lullaby"

Occasionally, I like to compose and record completely dreamy space-music tracks.  

Back in the early eighties, I began listening to a radio program on NPR call "Music From the Hearts of Space".  This program showcased the kinds of artists that created this style of music, long before "New Age" became a "genre".  I used to record the programs which aired very late on Sunday night, and then play them back at bedtime every night.  To this day, I still listen to this kind of music pretty much every night at bedtime!  And although I don't still follow the program, I understand that HOS is still very popular.

So occasionally, I start playing with a very dreamy, atmospheric synth sound, and something like this piece is born.  I call this one "Lullaby", and I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rising Tide

Digital painting by Mitchell Mohrhauser, USA. Software: Photoshop.

Recently, Apple released the iPad 2 to much acclaim and hoopla, and they will no doubt sell a gazillion of them. I have been enjoying my iPad since July of last year when my wife sprung it on me for father's day. I use it mostly for reading books and blogs, surfing, facebooking and email.

Part of Apple's recent announcement included the release of GarageBand for iPad . Personally, I believe this achievement in software development is a much bigger game-changer than the iPad 2. The day it was released, I scarfed up my copy (for a whopping $4.99) from the App Store and started playing around. Though this is very much a "1.0 release" product, I expect Apple will probably build on this platform and use it to sell all manner of add-ons in the form of "in-app purchases" in much the same way as they sold all those "Jam Packs" to go along with original GarageBand (for Mac).

The second day I had the program, I spent about an hour putting this track together. I was sitting in the TV room with my wife and we were jumping from channel to channel soaking up news of the recent catastrophic events in Japan, and looking at videos on the internet as well.  Disturbing and surreal.  Shocking and startling.  So much many people affected...words just don't do it justice. So if this track, which I call "Rising Tide", sounds a bit dark and foreboding, well now you know why.

It wasn't until days later that I realized how much this track sounds like the intro to the Genesis song "Mama".  Completely unintentional!

Apple promises a future update to GarageBand for Mac that will allow you to start a track on the iPad and resume working on it on the Mac, in GarageBand OR in Logic Studio, my confirmed DAW of choice. While this feature isn't there yet, when it does come I suspect that the iPad will finally find a place in the heart of many a "scratch pad" tool that can be used anytime, anywhere an idea strikes. Very compelling.

So, here is my first track composed and recorded completely on the iPad. "Rising Tide". Enjoy!

March 31, 2001 update!

An update to GarageBand (for Mac) has been released, as promised!

Yep, all I had to do was apply this update, then when I launched GB to open the "Rising" file I transferred from my iPad via iTunes, I got this message:

And sure enough, after 10 minutes or so, the project opened.  And it played FLAWLESSLY.  It sounded EXACTLY like on the iPad (well, better I suppose since the Audio on this iMac is high-end) and it allowed me to do all the wonderful edits GB provides:

Pretty bloody amazing, actually.  Now you really CAN use GB for iPad as a mobile musical sketch-pad, and then continue building on your idea with all of the instruments and editing features offered by GB on the Mac, which is an awful lot.

Although GB projects on the Mac can normally be freely opened in Logic, sadly this is not yet the case for these GB for iPad projects.  When I tried to open the saved GB file in Logic, it said the "GB Synth" instrument was not found, and that this project had been created with a "new version of Logic".  So, I guess there is a Logic update coming down the pike soon that will bring all of this together.  Can't wait!

Actually, I could continue to edit the project in Logic and save it there, I would just have to pick a different Logic instrument (or AU plugin) to replace the missing "GB Synth".  Not a big deal if I really wanted to continue working on this track.  But, for now, I think I will let the iPad version stand on it's own two feet for the sake of this blog post.

Last year, I took a Laptop, small keyboard, audio interface, headphones and USB hub with iLok and e-Licenser dongles on vacation with us, just in case inspiration struck!  This year, I will be able to travel a bit lighter and just take the iPad and some earbuds.  Nice.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


ex·cur·sion  (Ĭk-skûr′zhən) n.
[Latin excursiō, excursiōn-, from excursus, past participle of excurrere, to run out : ex-, ex- + currere, to run; see kers- in Indo-European roots.]
  • A usually short journey made for pleasure; an outing.
  • Organized outing to a specific place of interest.
  • A side trip, usually short, made with the intention of returning to the starting location
  • Round-trip completed within a specified period of time.
  • digression: wandering from the main path of a journey
  • The movement of the cone or diaphragm of a speaker. Higher volts or amps will increase excursion.
  • Lateral movement of a well logging curve or trace in response to a galvanometer deflection. "Excursion" is often referred to as deflection.
  • Moving the jaw from side to side
  • A range of movement regularly of a joint or muscle
  • The Excursion by William Wordsworth, published in 1814, in nine books, a philosophical poem which shows his disillusion with the French Revolution
  • Excursions, Op. 20, is the first published solo piano piece by Samuel Barber.
  • Excursions is the latest track by "Fragile Forest" (aka John S. Hagewood), produced entirely in Apple Logic using a variety of virtual instruments including Kontakt, Omnisphere, EZ Drummer, Moog Modular V, M-Tron Pro, Korg Mono-Poly and B4II.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Piano Idea Two

It's been too long since I last wrote something here, and a lot has been going on in Hybernation Studio. Since getting "Mac Fever" a few months ago, Pro Tools 9 was released to much acclaim. I finally scored my upgrade copy a few weeks ago and I was and remain very impressed with this update to the standard in digital audio workstations.

I was also again impressed by how much more stable Pro Tools is on my under-powered iMac than my honking quad-core PC. And I was missing using Apple's Logic DAW. You see, in December when I was recording my "Big Christmas Production", I realized quickly that I had to revert to the PC, since the iMac was just not powerful enough for all those tracks. Since then I have also been working on several other compositions, and experiencing the same thing...I start them on the iMac, and then have to port them to the PC once I exceed eight tracks or so. And since Apple Logic is a "Mac Only" program, well, I just wasn't able to use it, so I have been using Pro Tools almost exclusively.

That is until Valentines Day came. My incredible wife insisted that I let her treat me to the "iMac of my dreams", and how could I argue? So I scored a 27" iMac with a quad-core i7 processor, 12GB of memory, and a 2TB hard-drive. This is one amazing and beautiful machine, and now I'm able to port those projects BACK from the PC and work on them on this amazing machine. And it looks and feels absolutely amazing!

But I'm still in the "Pro Tools vs. Logic debate" internally. Logic is incredibly intuitive (like the Cakewalk/Sonar I grew up with), and it's way more CPU-efficient than Pro Tools. And Logic now has a full 64-bit version, so those extra 8GB of memory don't go to waste! (Pro Tools 9 is STILL only a 32-bit program, so it can only address 4GB of memory at the most). So, I have begun to re-explore Logic, and I'm reading another book on the subject and planning on starting and finishing all new projects in Logic for the time being.

This little project I'm posting tonight was one of those 10-minute deals. I had Propellerhead's Record/Reason up on the new iMac, I thought of a quick idea, and I played around with it for 5 minutes, building up a little arrangement in my head. Then I hit record and played it through, only to notice that I didn't really hit record. Then I REALLY hit record and played it through, and that was IT! Done.

I posted the rough mix on Facebook and got some positive feedback, so this lead me, tonight, to import the MIDI file into Logic and remix it. I removed four notes that seemed superfluous, added some compression and EQ, and chose a different piano sound. Ironically, after auditioning several of my favorite multi-gigabyte pianos from SampleTekk, none of them seemed quite right. I ended up going back to Reason and using Sonic Reality's new refill called "Classic Rock Piano". I added IK Multimedia's T-Racks 3 Vintage Compressor 370 to the master buss, and bounced the Rewire track down to audio prior to mixing. The whole thing took me less time to accomplish than to type the last few paragraphs. Like I said "intuitive".

Here is what Logic looked like when I was done:

So, here is "Piano Idea Two", an exercise in simplicity.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Believe In Father Christmas

If you have been reading my blog for the last few years, you probably know how I feel about Christmas, since I have blogged about it before.  I suppose having two children has probably softened me up a little bit about this whole Christmas thing :-)

Last year, I got kind of deep and personal, and posted a synthesized rendition of one of my favorite carols, "What Child Is This".

In 2008, I posted a much less serious cover of Peter Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" (be sure to listen to it all, as it has a surprise genre-spanning ended).

Doing "cover tunes" is fun.  I don't do it that often, but I always learn from the experience.  This time, I actually learned a song (note-for-note) that I have always loved, and previously only dabbled with.  I did the entire learning and recording session in one four-hour span, with a single hour-long follow-up session of final overdubs and the mixdown.  The song is "I Believe In Father Christmas", recorded and released by Greg Lake in 1975, and then again by Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1977, and yet again in 1993.  In addition to the Wikipedia link above, you can read more trivia about this song, and about the controversy it created at this songfacts link.

Bottom line is, I believe that lyricist Peter Sinfield left the lyrics to this song ambiguous on purpose.  Unlike some of his other blatantly atheistic lyrics (for instance, in ELP's "The Only Way" from the album "Tarkus") the lyrics to Father Christmas, the middle verse anyway, can be interpreted several ways.  In an attempt to make my version a little less ambiguous, I altered the lyrics in very subtle ways (just one word really, and a couple of pronoun substitutions is all, hardly worth mentioned fact, forget I mentioned it).

I will let you draw your own conclusions.  I hope you enjoy my rendition of this timeless holiday classic.  The lyrics, as I sang them, are posted just below the song links.

I Believe In Father Christmas (Lake/Sinfield)

They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the virgin's birth
I remember one Christmas morning
A winters light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me the fairy stories
Still I believe in the Israelite
But they believed in father Christmas
And they looked at the sky with excited eyes
'till they woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And they saw him and through his disguise

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
Hallelujah noel be it heaven or hell
The Christmas we get we deserve

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

First track done on my Mac

Yep, you heard that right.  Hybernation Studio now has a Mac.  A 21.5" iMac with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 2.66gHz, with 4GB of RAM, to be specific.

I bought this used machine on a whim for a paltry $600, from a friend who no longer needed it after getting himself a MacBook Pro.  I was thinking it would just be an experiment.  A Toy.  Something to mess with, and entertain the kids with using Photo Booth.

Little did I know I would fall in love with this unbelievably stable platform.  I've been a PC user for my entire life, and have always stood by them.  I still love them.  Windows 7 64-bit is, without a doubt, the best and most stable Windows platform ever.  But, now I see why everyone was telling me I needed to try a Mac.

So of course now I am wanting a full-blown 27" Core i7 iMac pretty bad, after acquiring Apple's DAW program "Logic Express".  Logic is so intuitive and feature-rich.  And incredibly stable.  I believe it is my new favorite DAW, edging out Pro Tools.  So, I'm willing to live with the somewhat limited hardware of this current Mac I own (compared to my quad-core PC) and will probably continue to use it as the platform of choice for composing, just because it's so incredibly stable, and Logic is so unbelievably productive for me.  "It just works".  Help, I'm turning into a Mac Fanboy!

This track is the first one I recorded completely in Logic on the Mac.  Enjoy!

here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

Friday, May 14, 2010

Jamming on Indian instruments

I've always liked the sound of the "trademark" Indian instruments such as Tanpura, Sitar and Tabla.  Well at least since I was a youngster and first heard George Harrison experimenting with them to great effect.  So I was delighted last year when Native Instruments released their Kore Soundpack entitled "North India", which contained these and other Indian instruments.  I won't say they are "authentic" because, to be honest, I wouldn't really have any way of knowing!  But they advertise that they are, and they sure sound that way to me.

This track was just me experimenting with the three instruments that I mention above, and then layering in some more conventional western sounds....synthesized voices, electric guitar, drums, percussion and big Moog Synth bass.  I must warn you that this track doesn't really "go" anywhere, it just presents a few simple melodies and provides an ambiance that is a blend of eastern and western tonalities.

I tried to get my son Jonathan to "name that track" a few days ago in the car, playing him an earlier mix.  When he first heard the "vocal synth drone" part he said "Hey Daddy, that sounds like a bunch of Indian guys burping!".  Funny, but not a great title for the track.  I couldn't think of anything either, so I just stuck with my working title, which was "Jamming India".


here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The original version of "Passage"

I have blogged quite a lot about this composition in the past, which you can read here, and also referenced here and most recently here.

I decided it would be good to record the "original version" as it was composed for that Freshman Composition class at the Belmont College School of Music in 1979. This is pretty much exactly what I heard in my head at the time, and the music is exactly what I played for the class (if my 30 year old memory can be trusted). As I mentioned previously, I eventually want to showcase the entire "Suite" of "Serious Compositions" which I wrote between 1979 and sometime in the early 80's in a single blog post, and I only have a few more pieces to record before I can do that. But this is the piece of music that started it all, and this was my very first attempt at actually "composing" (not to be confused with the art of "songwriting" which I gave up on years ago!).

Recently, my amazing wife insisted I buy myself a really top-end laptop computer on which I can do my music "anywhere, anytime". After looking around at commercial laptops such as Dell, HP, Toshiba, etc, and reading music blogs (including many horror stories) and otherwise researching this, I decided to stick with ADK Pro Audio, where I purchased my main studio computer over two years ago. I have nothing but great things to say about Scott and his whole crew based on my past experiences...they are fabulous people with a passion for great, continuing customer support long after the sale. They sell computer systems specifically for the Digital Audio market, and they are extremely well respected in their field. Scott fixed me up with a killer laptop based on an Intel Core i7 M620 processor, with 8GB RAM and all the fixings, as we say here in the south (the "K" in ADK does stand for "Kentucky" after all!).

I was thinking that this new addition to "Studio B" would give me the ability to "start things", but that I would probably still transfer the projects down to "Studio A" to finish them. Well, I had no idea how much processor speeds have improved in the two years since I bought my quad-core machine from ADK! This laptop will do everything my big machine will do, and without breaking a sweat. It actually runs Pro Tools better than the other machine (still not completely sure why that is).

I recorded this version of "Passage" in Pro Tools 8 M-Powered using Kontakt 4 for the Rhodes and CP-80 piano sample that makes up the main "piano" part. The synths you hear are all from the CPU-hungry folks at Arturia, specifically the Moog Modular V (Taurus bass sound), the Jupiter V (String machine sound), and the Arp 2600 V (lead sound). I laid on the mastering and EQ plugins pretty heavy while mixing this down, and saw my CPU meter holding steady at less than 20%. Amazing.

In the few weeks since Studio B got this upgrade, I've only spent a couple of hours in studio A! I actually did start and finish this piece completely on my new laptop. Amazing technology. What a great time it is for musicians to be alive.

A HUGE "THANK YOU" to my lovely and amazing wife LoriLea for upgrading "Studio B"!

Hope you enjoy this "Original Version" of "Passage", composed in the 20th century...recorded well into the 21st!

here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

Thursday, April 01, 2010


The year was 1981. February. I had been on the road touring with "Amy and Members Only" for several months, my first "professional musician" job. We landed this really sweet gig in Stratton, Vermont, where Olympic skiers train, to play a one night party for the U.S. Olympic Team. Payment was 6 days worth of lift tickets and lodging in a huge chalet for the whole band.

First day there, me and the bass player, Dow Tomlin, took some skiing lessons, since we were the only two newbies. It went pretty well, and by the end of the day we were doing the beginners slopes, him more successfully than me by far. I have never had a good sense of balance, and NOTHING about downhill skiing felt intuitive to me (plus I hadn't and still haven't ever been water skiing). I could get down and only have 3 or 4 major falls or tree crashes with each run.

Second day there, back at it that morning, my hardware kept malfunctioning and one or both skis would pop off when I would put any stress on them. They tried to tune them twice but it kept happening to me. Then it happened at a very bad time and I took a horrible fall, dislocating my "trick shoulder" which I had major surgery on just 18 months prior. Not good. As I writhed in the snow in excruciating pain, bellowing at the top of my lungs, I was finally able to pop it in myself, and then I somehow got down the rest of the way and went to see the on-site doctor. Well, he took one look at my surgical scar and dished out a huge bottle of pain-killlers. No more skiing for me this week.

With several days alone in the chalet with my keyboards, I decided to continue composing additional sections to the suite of "serious music" that I had started in college, and which I blogged about here and here. I had actually started a slow and very melodic piano-solo piece and finished it in my head for a third "movement", but since I couldn't actually play very well with my arm in a sling, I started writing a fourth movement, one I envisioned as being a very strong Proclamation of life.

I stumbled upon some very cool chords...the right hand playing F major and Bb major, over the left hand playing Bb and Eb (a 4th higher than the tonic). Sounded very progressive to me at the time...still does actually. Probably borrows quite heavily from Keith Emerson and Aaron Copeland, not surprisingly. Some shifting time signatures, and then a B-section in 5/4. I wrote it all down on staff paper, and got very excited about this piece. I remember that the guitar player, Dan Searles, loved the B-section and couldn't get enough of it. That is, until I kept playing (through headphones of course) after everyone else crashed. They would yell down, "Hey John, that clunky sound is keeping us awake" -- me banging the keys!

The amazing thing is that I have managed to keep up with the hand-written scores of this piece for the last 30 years. You can view the A-section here...and the B-Section here. Notice the pretentiousness on page one: "Sonata #1 for Polyphonic Synthesizer and Piano". LOL!!! and "Part 1 - Exposition". Ah youth...pretentious and didn't care a bit.

Now, those of you that listened to the the song "Passage" earlier may notice that the final section of Passage is exactly like the B-section of this piece, Proclamation. Here is the story. Originally, Passage was JUST the A-section, repeated twice. It only had to be 16 measures long to meet the requirements of the Freshman Music Comp class! But as the years went by and I continued to work on this "suite", I started playing a "reprise" version of Passage that ended with the 5/4 section of Proclamation, and that is actually what I recorded a few months ago for that other posting. Perhaps soon I will record the original Passage and the other three pieces in the suite and put them all up on one page so they can be listened to in order.

Anyway, for tonight, here is "Proclamation". Enjoy

here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

Painting courtesy of Ken Ahlering

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pulsation - first new track for 2010

Here is a happy little tune I tossed together in Ableton Live 8 the other night, using Rob Papan's Blue and Predator synths, joined by an Absynth5 pad sound processed through a trippy CamelSpace effect, Arturia's Arp 2600V and using the Roland TB-303 sounds from the Electronic Expansion for EZDrummer.

Ableton Live 8 is yet another contender in the "great DAW race" at Hybernation Music. I've have had a copy of Live "Lite" for years which I got for free with an audio interface. When Live Lite 8 came out last year I thought I would give it another try. Their integration with Propellerhead's Reason is very good, second only to Pro Tools 8, but their real claim to fame with "Live" is the "Session View", which is an interactive clip-based way of working that lends itself to spontaneity and the whole "DJ" thing. While the "DJ" thing interests me not in the least, I do always appreciate experimenting with other ways of working while composing which might produce ideas that otherwise wouldn't be realized, and Live 8 definitely offers that!

Ableton Live 8 Session View
Ableton Live 8 Session View

So I began this piece by recording several bubbly little pulsating parts into the Session View and chaining them together that way. As this evolved into no less than 5 of these parts coming and going, I then added the lead lines using the more conventional "Arrangement View" which works pretty much the way all the other "linear" DAW's do. Having used a very simple "guide track" for the electronic drums, I then had a great time auditioning various TB-303 patterns in EZDrummer and stringing my favorite ones together to create the finished drum part.

This whole process took about 3 hours, spread out over 2 nights.

I wondered after-the-fact if it needed a proper "bass part", but I didn't labor over the idea. I just decided to mix it down and get on with it. So here it is. I call it "Pulsation". Enjoy!

here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Child Is This ?

I've never been a big fan of Christmas. Ask anyone who knows me and they'll say I'm a scrooge, and I suppose they are right. Part of this is most likely due to the sad fact that December 25th is also my birthday. For the most part, this was a huge rip-off when I was younger. Did I get twice the gifts at Christmas time as people often suggested? No, I was lucky if people even remembered my birthday. And the whole Santa Claus thing has always totally ticked me off...people basically lying to their kids and trying to get them to really believe this whole pagan fantasy thing, whilst side-lining the REAL reason for Christmas: Christ.

But that's not the whole story. Some of my most stressful and sad memories were formed during the holidays. Seems like a lot of people die around this time of year, and we also tend do a lot of "reflecting" as the year-end draws close, making us miss people who died during the year, or even years before.

And then there is the shopping, and the traffic, and the crappy weather that sets in this time of year in Nashville (cold, gray, wet and hardly ever white). And worst of all, there are the "Social Events" and all the STRESS that they bring with them. Yep, I must admit, I pretty much hate it. "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch".

But then, musically, I do have this little soft spot for it. There's the "Carol Candlelight" services that are always beautiful and awe inspiring. There's the radio playing John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" and ELP's "I Believe in Father Christmas". I even like the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling" (shhhh, don't tell). And although I despise the horrendous "Christmas elevator music" you hear while shopping, there have been many good Christmas albums I have listened to over the years. Just last year I discovered what has to be the most unique one ever, an album called "Chris Squire's Swiss Choir" which blends an adult choir from Switzerland with Yes bassist Chris Squire's arranging a vocal skill, along with some other great progressive rock players. Great stuff.

Of course the real reason for Christmas is important and vital. I believe that choosing to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important decision a person can ever make.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we should also celebrate the Reason for his coming, and how much his life and sacrifice means to mankind. It is everything. He is the way, the truth, and the light, and yes for a time he was also a precious, helpless baby.

What child is this?
Emmanuel. God is with us. The word become flesh.

here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

What child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary's lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear for sinners here,
The silent Word is pleasing.

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come peasant king to own Him,
The King of kings, salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Raise, raise the song on high,
The Virgin sings her lullaby:
Joy, joy, for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!