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!

Friday, December 18, 2009

It isn't ALL about computer music here at Hybernation Studio!

Just so you know, I do have a few vintage instruments (and otherwise non-computerized things) here at Hybernation Studio.

Pictured above is a 1956 Hammond M3 organ, recently acquired from my good friend and musician extraordinaire Dan Tracey. On the bench is the Ovation acoustic/electric guitar I bought just before my son was born 6 years ago.

And left over from my days on the road, above is my 1980 model Rhodes 88 Suitcase. After carrying this beast all over the country for three years, I just couldn't bear to part with it (not for a fraction of the purchase price anyway). Honestly though, nothing else sounds like a real Rhodes (or Hammond for that matter). Though I seldom use these two vintage keyboards in recordings, it's still nice to have them around to provide that "vintage vibe" to my recording space.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009's been 29 years

In December of 1980, I had just dropped out of college as a music major to join a traveling top-40 band. We spent the holidays learning five sets of music prior to beginning what would be my first tour, and the beginning of my 3-year stint as a "Professional Lounge Musician".

We had to learn a wide variety of music for the types of clubs we would be playing, not just the current "top 40" and "dance" music, but also a "dinner set" (the early set) which needed to contain mostly laid back stuff and ballads. I suggested we learn "Imagine" by John Lennon, and everyone agreed it would be a good we did. I sang it. In my mind, this was to be one of the high-points in the evening gigs. This was not to be...for a while.

About 3 weeks before the end of our 8 week rehearsal period, I walked into rehearsal to a bunch of very sad people. I was not into "news" so I hadn't a clue what had transpired the evening before, on December 8th, 1980. John Lennon had been shot and killed outside his home in New York City. An, a living legend was gone. I was devastated, and we all agreed to can rehearsal for that evening. I cried...a lot. I got very drunk. Then I cried some more. For days it seemed. I tried to watch some of the "tributes" and such that were on TV, but I couldn't. Every time "Imagine" came on the radio, for weeks to come in fact, I cried.

Since age 8 in 1969, I had been a huge Beatles fan. My first two LP's were "Let It Be" and "The Beatles Again" (the US-only LP that was a collection of singles, including included "Hey Jude", "Paperback Writer", and "Lady Madonna"). I had always said that Paul was my favorite Beatle...his first solo album was the 3rd LP I acquired. But I loved plenty of John's songs as well, and I always held out hope that they would re-form in the 80's, and conquer the world all over again. I was actually quite SURE that this would happen. When John "retired" in NYC I got a little worried, but then those rumors of "what almost happened" on Saturday Night Live kept the flame alive.

With John's passing, part of me died. No chance of a Beatles reunion now, for one thing. For another, I carried around this visceral fear and loathing for this type of evil that I never really admitted, before now, could exist in the world. How could ANYONE be so evil as to deprive the world of someone like John Lennon? It was just unimaginable.

Even five years later, I recall seeing TV shows marking the December 8th date and crying. My sadness was not for myself, or for John, or Julian, Sean or Yoko. My sadness was for a world so pathetic that something like this could happen. For a world that would never again know the magical synergy that was The Beatles. I'm sure I sound like I'm being overly dramatic here, but as I write this, the feelings are as fresh and real as they were 29 years ago.

So flash back to the spring of 1981. After three months on the road with "Members Only", a show band fronted by singer Amy Runion, the band started asking me, "hey can we go ahead and play Imagine now". I said I would try. The first few nights were hard, but I made it through, then it got easier. We didn't waste this song on the "dinner set", which was often played for 3 people, 2 of them waitresses. We actually saved it for a "slow dance" number in the rocking-out last set, and it was amazing to see the dance floor FLOOD with people during the first few chords of the song.

People LOVED it. Almost every night, I had someone come up to me after the last set was over and tell me how much they enjoyed us playing "Imagine". Some said "I've never heard a band play that song in a club". Some people begged us to play it one more time before we went home. During the summer of 1980 when we spent 12 weeks at the same resort, we began to get requests for "Imagine" from the regulars, and would sometimes end up playing it 3 times in one evening!

All for this little three minute song with about 6 chords in it. This simple little ode to world peace, written by a man who may have actually been capable of furthering that concept, had he not been so rudely interrupted.

"Members Only" was Randy Runion, Dow Tomlin, Amy Runion, me and Dan Searles

I first recorded "Imagine" almost four years ago, but I was never happy with the mix. Listening back to that original mix which you can hear here, I can't believe how bad it sounds to me now. So, I decided recently to completely remix it. I think the new mix is light-years better than what I produced originally.

All the MIDI parts (just 5) were recorded with new virtual instruments. The biggest difference there is that the modern "pad synth" sound was replaced with a more retro sounding "Mellotron Strings" sound, produced by IK Multimedia's SampleTron.

The Hammond is a different sound altogether, a sound called "Preston!" from Native Instruments B4II, obviously named after Billy Preston, a man often referred to as "The Fifth Beatle". The bass guitar sample is a vastly superior sound to what I had back then, a 3GB sample of a Fender Precision from Native Instruments called the Scarbee Pre-Bass. The drums are the EZDrummer engine playing the "Nashville" expansion, while the drum part itself is me playing drums on the keyboard, as recorded back then. In fact, ALL of the actual MIDI notes are exactly what I played back then with no editing. For the Piano, I used the same sample as before (a 7GB sample of an upright piano from SampleTekk called "Vertical Pop"). And the vocals are the same tracks as before. They were recorded using an AKG C3000B microphone through an older DBX tube pre-amp.

So, I imported all of this into Pro Tools 8 M-Powered (which I should probably admit is fast becoming my DAW of choice, over both Cubase 5 and Sonar 8) and started completely over on the mix. First re-working the MIDI instruments used, then completely re-thinking the vocal effects and the effects on the instruments. I used a LOT less reverb on everything, in fact the piano, bass and organ are completely dry, and there is some intentionally fake-sounding reverb on the Tron (to give that Moody Blues strings effect)....I was going for a real "live-in-the-room-with-you" band sound.

For the vocals, I used a rather complex (for me) effect chain of EQ + compressor + De-Esser + Reverb.

I left every bit of the "slop" in the timing on the MIDI parts and didn't fix a thing. I was tempted on a couple of parts where the bass and kick are not completely tight, and especially tempted to just completely quantize the drum part, but I resisted the urge. I wanted this to sound me in the studio laying down this classic track with very little editing or other studio trickery. And it is.

I hope you enjoy my latest rendition of John Lennon's timeless classic, "Imagine".

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

Scary, my elbow is giving me song ideas

Scary things happen in the studio sometimes. Usually it's late at night, but this time it was Saturday afternoon. I was messing around with Ultra Analog VA-1, which I raved about in an earlier blog post. I was diligently trying to get it's sounds to load up in Native Instruments Kore2, and not having much luck. While Kore2 was doing an exhausting and subsequently futile scan of my whole hard drive, I leaned forward and rested my elbow on the keyboard, and my chin on my hand (you know, the famous pose of "The Thinker" statue, only in front of a keyboard (the kind with 88 black and white keys) and two 24 inch monitors...

Well, my elbow held down three simple notes, the A, B, and C right there at middle-C on the keys, and VA-1 was on the initial sound, an arpeggiated sound that was the starting point for the song in that other post mentioned above. What emanated from my headphones was a mesmerizing little figure in 9/8, actualy A-B-C repeated as eight notes in three ascending octaves. Well, it immediately sounded like something in the key of A minor to me, so I reached over to my hardware keyboards and started jamming. Yes, I still have some of those hardware keyboards around, the kind that make sound all on their own without being hooked up to a computer: an Alesis QS 8.1 and a Roland VR-760 (which incidentally, Neal Morse plays live).

Later that afternoon, I couldn't get that little figure out of my head, so I fired up Pro Tools and recorded a bit of it. Then I started playing with the Boom drum machine plugin, or "dumb machine" as drumming legend Chester Thompson once referred to them in a clinic appearance I attended. Rather than using any canned patterns in Boom, I wanted to play some things in real-time and loop them, and I actually created three separate instrument tracks with three different Boom sounds on them. Then I realized just how hard it is to play along to something in 9/8 when each eighth note has the same accent amount. Impossible. There is no meter. Where the heck is the downbeat?

Actually, the effect I got was kind of cool, in an Alan Parsons sort of way. I love the way "I Robot" can't figure out "where one is" until the drums finally kick in. I sort of recreated this effect by playing several drum patterns at the beginning that were definitely NOT in 9/8, and then after a few bars it all comes together and syncs up.

The track rundown showing plugins used looks like this:
  1. Ultra Analog VA-1 - Arpeggios
  2. Boom - basic rhythm
  3. Boom - "Urban" fills
  4. Boom - kick/clap sound ala Peter Gabriel
  5. EZDrummer Latin Percussion - shakers
  6. EZDrummer Latin Percussion - wind chimes and fills
  7. Vacuum Synth - Bass
  8. Ultra Analog VA-1 - spooky lead sound
  9. Structure - String sound, a mix of real and synthesized
  10. Xpand!2 - Electric Guitar
  11. Rob Papen's Blue - Phased Synth Pad
As usual lately, I played this track for my son Jonathan first, just this afternoon, and ask him to help me name it. After he heard the whole song, I soloed the "spooky lead synth" sound and said "doesn't that sound kind of spooky". He said "let's call it Haunted House". Alright then, just in time for Halloween, here is "Haunted House".

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

Friday, October 02, 2009

Winter Dream

Yes, I know it's not winter fact it's turning into a beautiful fall here in Middle Tennessee, and I'm in no hurry for winter to get here! But I continue to let my son Jonathan name my tracks as I finish them and audition the early mixes in the car with him. He decided this one was to be called "Winter Dream", so who am I to argue?

I started this track using Reason 4.0 in "Studio B" about a year ago. After laying out the initial parts and the haunting piano melody, I thought it had a striking resemblance to something that Patrick O'Hearn might have been doing in about 1989. So my working title was "O'Hurt Me". Often my working titles make no sense at all to anyone but me.

Recently the final version of Propellerhead's Record 1.0 software, which I raved about in an earlier post, arrived in my mailbox and so the last few weeks I've been having a bit of a "battle of the DAW's" here in Hybernation Studio. I seem to be rotating projects between Pro Tools, Cubase and Record! This track I finished in Record, since importing the Reason 4.0 file and converting to Record's format is so easy. In fact "easy" is the one word that perfectly describes Propellerhead's new product. Anything I want to do, for the most part, I can figure out within a couple of minutes without ever looking at the manual. With Pro Tools and Cubase, I am continually referencing the copious documentation (granted they are both deeper programs than Record). But with Record, they really went out of their way to make the software incredibly easy to use and intuitive. And it still manages to be a very powerful and professional tool.

So, this is officially the first track that I have completed using Record. This is also another first....the first track I have ever actually PLAYED all of the drums on...on my Roland V-Drum kit, triggering drums sounds from the Reason Drum Kit Refill 2.0. I'm not talking about the many percussion tracks, just the "rock drums" that come in the "B section" and again at the end of the song. Ok, so it's primarily just the kick and snare, and some cymbals, but it really is "all me" playing them. Alright, I admit I did quantize the part later to clean up the timing, and I edited a few mistakes, but other than that...

Alright granted, Alan White and Bill Bruford don't have anything to worry about. Learning to play drums is hard, they say especially so for keyboard players. I've only been at it for about four years. Really makes me miss Alan, trying to pound it out myself.

Record is different from Cubase and Sonar in one large way: everything happens in just three windows. I usually put the "track" window on the left monitor:

And then I put the "rack" and "mixer" windows side by side on the right monitor:

As I explained previously, the "virtual mixer" in Record is quite awesome, it being modeled after the classic Solid State Logic XL 9000 K Series, a piece of kit that will run you in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I'm not really an audiophile with "golden ears" but I can tell you that this mixer sounds very good for what it is. The only thing I can't really come to grips with is the "master buss compression". I just couldn't make it do what I wanted on the final mix. So I ended up exporting out a 24-bit WAV file (uncompressed) of the final mix, importing this into Sonar and using the excellent Voxengo Elephant plugin to "master" the song, adding compression and limiting. This plugin is amazingly transparent, giving you that "loud" sound without colorizing the mix in any way.

I should also mention that this track resembles the one I call "Ancient Violence" in several ways. I believe I actually had that 20 year old composition in mind when I started this one, intentionally going for the same kind of vibe. I guess there is no law against ripping off oneself is there!

Here is "Winter Dream". Enjoy...and stay warm.

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

One Lonely Desert (giving Pro Tools another try)

Pro Tools and the company behind it, Avid/Digidesign, has been in the news a bit lately. It's really pretty amazing actually, that a company that until recently only catered to "Music Industry Professionals" has done an about face in just a few years. It started a number of years ago when they began selling Pro Tools LE and their series of project studio interfaces. Given a decent Mac or PC, one could get into a system like this for way less than the original Pro Tools "HD" systems. Like $1K to $4K for an LE system (even less later) compared to something in the $10K to $40K price range for the HD systems that practically all major recording studios run. With Pro Tools LE, like the more expensive HD systems, you bought the rather pricey interface and the software came bundled with it.

Then came the software only "Pro Tools M-Powered", which is what I own, which is basically Pro Tools LE designed to run on the more generic M-Audio interfaces instead of the proprietary Digidesign ones that only run Pro Tools. As I've said before, it's really quite a lot of DAW power for the money ($249). I'm running it on a $99 M-Audio Audiophile 2496 Interface (which also runs Cubase, Sonar, etc). This was a version of Pro Tools for the project studio person who already owned an M-Audio interface, either FireWire, USB or PCI (of which there are many, and they have been popular for quite some time).

But in the last couple of weeks, things have REALLY changed. M-Audio is now selling something called "Pro Tools Essentials" which is a limited version of Pro Tools M-Powered that is bundled with several different pieces of M-Audio hardware, targeted squarely at beginners. This is truly "Garage Band meets Pro Tools"...Pro Tools for the masses...and you can now buy these packages for $99 to $149 at places like Best Buy, just one aisle over from that silly "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" trash that kids are going nuts over. From a marketing perspective, it's really quite clever: those 9 to 12 year old kids that are playing the games today may at some point decide they want "the real thing" and here it is -- A fully professional, though somewhat limited, recording rig that hooks up easily to your computer, and costs less than most gaming consoles. Pretty Sweet!

OK, enough news and advertising links!

So, in the last few weeks I've been really stretching my brain and learning Cubase as well as digging back into Pro Tools, which I have managed to get "stable" in both Vista64 and Windows 7x64. The key to stability with Pro Tools is what RTAS instruments you use (RTAS stands for "Real Time Audio Suite" and it is Digidesign's proprietary instrument and effect plug-in architecture). RTAS for Pro Tools = VST for everybody else, well except for Apple Logic, they have their own format as well, something called "AU". Most of the Virtual Instruments I have purchased say they support RTAS, but many of them are not really "approved" by Digidesign, and those are the ones that make Pro Tools unstable!

So, I got to thinking I would try to do a track using ONLY the virtual instruments that come with Pro Tools 8 M-Powered, and this is what came out of that. They say that placing limits on the tool set you use, in any medium, will often foster creativity, and in this case it seemed to work for me. One thing is certain, I am "spoiled for choice" when it comes to software instruments!

The guitar parts were produced using the excellent Structure Free sample playback unit, which I also used for one of the string synth parts. The other string synth / pad part was done with Xpand2. I used two instances of Vacuum, a virtual analogue modeled synth, one for bass and the other for the lead synth sound. I used the Mini Grand piano plug-in as well. On many of these instruments I also used the out-of-the-box effects plug-ins for things like Chorus, Delay, Reverb, and Compression.

Lastly, I used the new Boom drum machine plug-in. This one is very cool and nostalgic for me. It's modeled very much after the Roland-type drum machines from the 80's, of which I once owned two, a TR-707 and a TR-626. Even before those "sample-based" units came along, Roland made units like the CR-78, TR-808 and TR-909 which had all analogue circuitry. These distinctive sounding units are still used today, especially in Hip Hop, Rap, Chill and D&B styles of music. The sound set I used in Boom sounds a bit like a TR-808 or a CR-78.

I learned to program drum beats in 1986 on the above unit, a TR-707. The interface was just amazingly "immediate" and became very popular and imitated by other manufacturers. So, when I saw the user interface for Boom I felt right at home!

I don't have much to say about this track, other than it's kind of a happy, trippy little bit that started as a "guitar idea", so I called it "Guitar Idea One" for lack of a more inventive title (and because this little ditty probably doesn't deserve a more inventive title). But the morning after I first mixed it, I was playing it in the car, as I often do to see how the mix sounds outside of Hybernation Studio, and my 6-year-old Jonathan said "Daddy, what's that song called". I told him I didn't really have a name and would he like to name it? So, he listened in complete silence for 4 minutes and then said "I like it, I want to call it 'One Lonely Desert'". Ok, Jonathan, "One Lonely Desert" sounds good to me!

The "genre" is a little hard to pin down...I guess you could call this "progressive acoustic ambient chill" music.


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

Monday, September 07, 2009

Heroes, revisited

As I began thinking about the 9/11 anniversary this week, I wanted to do a track in honor of the "heroes". Not just something to honor the incredible bravery of the FDNY and NYPD that served on that day, many making the ultimate sacrifice, but also to honor those heroes all around us who serve every day, usually unnoticed.

I remembered that I cranked out a quick track a while back and called it "Heroes", but in reality, I didn't give it that huge, heroic sound that it deserves. That takes time, and for some reason I just didn't feel like spending the effort back then.

So, I resurrected this track and completely redid it, probably spending about 20 hours reworking it in Cubase 5 Studio. This program continues to be an absolute pleasure to work with and is rock solid. It still hasn't really crashed on me a single time (though my sound card did start misbehaving and causing the BSOD one night, forcing me to reinstall the sound card driver). Though the interface in Cubase is not as visually interesting and "pretty" as the one in Sonar, I'm now realizing that Cubase is MUCH easier to look at for long periods of time. All the "3D-ness" in Sonar becomes completely distracting after a while and as much harder on the eyes that the generally 2D look of Cubase.

About the only part that remained completely intact from the first incarnation of this composition is the piano part, which was rendered using SampleTekk's "The Big One" piano library. The other tracks were cleaned up, overdubbed and rearranged, and some totally new elements were added, such as bass guitar and drums. I made heavy use of the Halion Symphony Orchestra plugin that came with Cubase 5, and also used IK Multimedia's Miroslav Philharmonik on several tracks.

I think the end result sounds quite "heroic". Let me know what you think?

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

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Fun with the Delay Lama (total silliness)

When I first started getting into VST instruments (back in 2005) I was looking around for freebies one night, and I discovered a VERY unique little plugin called "Delay Lama", from AudioNerz. Here is the description from their site:

Delay Lama is the first VST-instrument to offer both vocal synthesis and a real-time animated 3D interface. Its advanced monophonic vocal synthesis engine enables your computer to sound just like an Eastern monk, with real-time, high resolution control over the vowel sound. What's more, the plug-in window displays a 3D animation of a singing monk, that reacts directly to your input!

As I played with it that night I was extremely entertained. It was FUNNY, it was MUSICAL, and it was very very clever. Last year I was fooling around with a couple of synths and decided to actually try to create a short track using Delay Lama, and here it is. This is NOT to be taken seriously, folks!

You really have to SEE this thing in action to appreciate it, so I recorded the VST window to a shockwave file during the playback using the open source CamStudio software. Watch the little fellows face as he sings. Amazing! Especially toward the end when he really gets going.

I had technical difficulties embedding this video into, so when you click the link below, a new page will open and hopefully you will see the video and hear the audio, after a short pause during which the shockwave file downloads.

Click here to view/listen to "Fun With the Daly Lama"

(and yes, I know it's really spelled "Dalai Lama", but I didn't want to get sued or anything...he looks like a pretty intense and powerful man)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ancient Violence

I wrote this piece of music 20 years ago when the news was all about Tienanmen Square. I was deeply affected by the images and stories being shown in the media, and I was of course appalled by the Chinese government's response to the pro-democracy protests. As a young man, the whole idea of this kind of basic lack of freedom was incredibly alien to me. As an older man, I'm appalled at the lack of progress made towards democracy and human rights in many parts of the world. I can only pray that the next 20 years will see more progress toward peace and freedom in China, not to mention Korea, Palestine, Iran...I guess the list could be long indeed.

I started this track a couple of months ago in Reaper, making heavy use of Native Instrument's very unique True Strike Tension Kore soundpack and EZDrummer's Latin Percussion Expansion. The main melody line, a rather haunting vocal synth, was produced with Tone2's Gladiator 2 synth. Today after I installed Cubase 5 Studio, I imported the MIDI file and reassigned the same virtual instruments and got to cutting, pasting and tracking some new overdubs. I worked probably 5 hours on this track in Cubase today without a single crash, hiccup, glitch or unexplained behavior. Those clever German software developers, I gotta hand it to them...this is one smooth and slick program!

I didn't expect to finish this tonight, but I did. Wow....two blog posts in one night, that is a first for me.

Warning: This song is NOT pretty. But then Ancient Violence never is.

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

***EDIT: remixed in Pro Tools 9 on the iMac in July 2011, using many different sounds, including some African drums at the end:

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

Friday, August 28, 2009


This track is a recently completed, all new recording of a very old composition. It will be 30 years old this fall, in fact. This was my very first "serious composition", written when I was a freshman music major at Belmont College and blogged about previously right here.

Some of the many definitions of "Passage" include:
a short section of a musical composition
a way through or along which someone or something may pass
the act of passing from one state or place to the next

If memory serves, I believe I was thinking of the first two definitions above when I originally wrote the piece. But over time, this piece of music has become somewhat representative of the "life passages" I have experienced over the last 30 years.

I suppose life is all about Passages, isn't it.

I still remember how insecure and out-of-place I felt as a music major at Belmont. I just didn't fit in, I knew it, everyone knew it. I knew I wasn't there for the long haul, and I didn't even last 2 years. After three semesters the "call of the road" was too strong (not mention the call of making money playing music) so I joined a "show band" and embarked on the "Holiday Inn Circuit". I saw 24 states in 2.5 years, playing in 3 main bands over this period.

While the first passage of this three-part piece was written as an assignment for that freshman music composition class at Belmont, the 2nd and 3rd passages of this three-part song were actually written about a year later, in late 1980, during a band stay-over in Vermont at a ski resort. The first day of our week-long stay there, I dislocated my shoulder skiing, so for the rest of the week I took painkillers and played my keyboards. This was long before I had any kind of portable recording apparatus, so I actually wrote down the new sections of music, along with the old, on staff paper. I still have that document somewhere!

I probably have played this piece (at least the first passage) at nearly every "sound-check" I have ever every music store where I sit down and try a new a test piece when I try out a new piano-emulating piece of software. It seems like this piece is always there. Burned into my brain to a degree far exceeding anything else I've composed. It's like a familiar old friend, and I always feel a sense of peace when I play it.

In the late eighties, I recorded this piece for the first time on a borrowed 4-track cassette "Portastudio" (a term invented by Tascam) using only my old Fender Rhodes 88 Suitcase Electric Piano and my Moog "The Source" synthesizer (which are, incidentally, the only instruments from my road days that I still own). Having only four tracks made me really think about which melodies I wanted to augment with the Moog. Somewhere along the way, I decided to use the Moog's "arpeggiator" function at the end of the track as an effect. I liked that effect so much I copied/emulated it for this recording.

I won't go into too much detail about the VST instruments used on this new recording, but suffice to say that in the first part of the song I was trying to emulate the kind of keyboards you heard in the 70's....Fender Rhodes, Arp String Machine, Mellotron (flutes), Moog synth and Moog Taurus bass pedals, etc. Then in the 2nd part, the main keyboard sound advances to a very 80's sounding emulation of the Yamaha CP-80 Electric/Acoustic Piano. And for the ending, the instruments once again seem to morph into a more modern-sounding blend, carried forth by the pounding drums (once again created with EZDrummer running the Drumkit from Hell expansion, using some awesome 5/4 MIDI patterns from

Which brings me to tonight, since a major technological "Passage" is happening here at Hybernation Studio. Today I purchased a new DAW software package, Cubase 5 Studio from Steinberg. I have been a Cakewalk/Sonar user since Cakewalk for Windows was released for Windows 3.1...sometime in the early 90's. More than 15 years! I've seen this product mature and morph into today's "Sonar 8 Producer" product. It's robust, feature laden, and visually it has a beautiful user interface.

But it's just not stable. At least not for me. I've reached a point of nearly zero-tolerance for crashes, unexpected errors, flaky and inconsistent behavior and the dreaded BSOD, and believe me, I see them ALL with Sonar. Frequently!

In the PC DAW market, Sonar has always played 2nd fiddle to Cubase. Cubase is cross-platform, but the PC version alone has many more users than Sonar. It's supposed to be more stable and consistent, with much better support for the VST standard (well, it should, since Steinberg, who was acquired by Yamaha a few years back, invented the VST standard). Today I installed it and imported a track I've been working on in Reaper for a couple of months. I worked with it non-stop for several hours without a single hiccup or glitch. So far, so good. I hope to post that track soon.

This recording of "Passage" will most likely be the last one I do using Sonar.

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

Friday, August 14, 2009

White Rock

I just finished a new track that I call "White Rock". I call it that for no particular reason whatsoever, other than that's just what the melody invokes in my mind's eye.

This is the first track I have ever composed, recorded and mixed in Pro Tools. I recently purchased a copy of Pro Tools 8 M-Powered, which for the money is really a very good deal...when it works. I wasn't sure if I wanted this blog post to be about the music, or about the technology. Well, remembering what my Granny used to always say ("If you can't say something nice, then just don't say anything"), I think it best that this post be mostly about the music.

Mostly. Ok, so I've spent the better part of probably 60 hours using Pro Tools, most of that composing, recording and mixing this track. I've read large portions of the generous and well-written documentation. I've read most of Mike Collins' excellent book "Pro Tools 8: Music Production, Recording, Editing and Mixing" on my Kindle. All in all, it's been a very good learning experience, but it's also been quite frustrating. The program offers excellent work-flow and well-engineered tools (I suppose that is why it's the industry standard) but the stability...well, let's just say I've had some issues and leave it at that. I'll probably stick with Cakewalk Sonar for most of my future projects.

As I began to dabble about I had in my mind the idea for a very simple "Yes-like" kind of groove in D major, with all the Wakeman arsenal: Piano, Organ, Mellotron, Synths, Harpsichord and so on. I spent several days, a few hours each day, working on the "A" section, and at some point my son Jonathan wanted to hear it. What was really interesting was how much he LOVED the melody. He started humming along almost instantly, and would continue singing it for a long time after listening. It was really quite funny to hear a five-year-old humming along with the synthesizer! Every time he would come into the studio he would insist on hearing it, and he kept asking me "can we listen to this in the car?", to which I would have to reply "not yet, it's not finished"!

I had a bit of a struggle coming up with a good solid "B" section. Often times my "A" sections seem inspired, but my "B" sections feel contrived. But once I hit on it, I felt good about it. The next morning, I woke up singing the "B" section in my head, which is for me a good indication that it's a keeper. Though I wrote the chords for the "B" section on the strings, I ended up orchestrating that section using mostly harpsichord and Mellotron "flutes". I really enjoy the dynamics of the orchestration switching to these instruments from multiple synthesizers playing melody and harmony.

I remember reading something that electronic music composer Jean-Michael Jarre said once about his famous recording "Oxygène". Though there is a fair amount of repetition involved in this and all of his music, he mentioned that from an orchestration standpoint he tries to never do the same thing twice the same way in a track. So, part of the brain is hearing the repeated melody in the "A" section, and getting that sense of familiarity, while another part of the brain is noticing that each time it sounds slightly different, thus generating more drama and keeping the interest of the listener. Well, at least that's the idea, and it's what I tried to do here. So, while the "A" section repeats a total of three times (the last time after the "C" section, or bridge, and after having modulated from D to E Major), each time the choice of synthesizers changes and grows, as does the accompanying instruments.

Speaking of synths, Pro Tools 8 comes bundled with several, and I used two instances of the excellent "Vacuum" virtual analog synth for the initial melody lines, which I then later doubled and tripled using the Korg Mono-Poly and Arturia MiniMoogV synths.

For the organ, I tried out another Pro Tools bundled offering, the DB-33, a virtual Hammond organ and rotating speaker emulation. The piano is also another Pro Tools instrument, their Mini-Grand piano instrument. I must say that originally, I used my old stand-by's from Native Instruments, the B4 and Akoustic Piano for piano and organ, but then I decided to give the Pro Tools instruments and try, and they really stand up well in a track...the other benefit being that they are stable, which is more than I can say for many RTAS plug-ins not made by the Pro Tools people.

The strings and harpsichord are from IK Multimedia's Miroslav Philharmonik.

The Mellotron flute sound comes from GForce Software's M-Tron Pro.

The Bass Guitar samples are a custom sound I constructed in Kontakt3 using the DirectBass product from

The drums sounds you are hearing are from Toontrack's Superior Drummer 2.0, while the patterns themselves are from a company called "Odd Grooves" who sells MIDI drum patterns in all kinds of crazy odd time signatures (perfect for progressive rock), these being from their more tame "FourFour Drummer 2" product.

Hope you like this track! Don't forget to leave your comments (and remember what Granny used to say...)

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

Friday, July 31, 2009

New software and hardware

I just entered into the "public beta" test of Propellerhead's new "Record" software. It's pretty freaking awesome, I must say. "Public Beta" means that anyone who has obtained a "code" from (free for the asking) can download the full software and use it until the September release date. Though it's marketed primarily to folks who want to record "audio", ie. guitars, vocals, etc., it also integrates incredibly well with their "Reason 4.0" software, which I have blogged about several times, such as here and here.

The skeptic in me says that this is simply Reason 5.0 and those clever Swedes at Propellerhead has found a sneaky way to market it in order to make more money. Of course the reality is a bit more complex than that. But for me, since I rarely record audio and do mostly virtual instrument tracks, this release means one thing: Reason 4.0 is now multi-core aware. Record does a very good job of utilizing all four of my processing cores when I play back a complex song like the one shown below, which Reason has never done. (and the skeptic in me is now reminding me that in an interview, one of the propheads said it was going to be incredibly hard to ever make Reason support multiple cores.)

The other thing Record offers is a much better virtual mixer than Reason, which has been modeled after a high-dollar professional board, the SSL 9000k.

So, if the goal of this "Public Beta" is to get Reason users like me completely hooked on this software so that we have to buy it when released, they have accomplished their mission with flying colors.

Like Christmas in July, the same day I got into the Record public beta, my two new Acer 24" wide-screen HD monitors arrived. I've got a lot more screen real estate now, as shown in the before and after pictures below. Click on the pics for a close-up look. These pictures show exactly how much of the beautiful Record UI will fit on my screens, before and after. Awesome. Just Awesome. (Thanks LoriLea!!)

Left Monitor (Tracking and Instrument Rack)


new - Notice that you can see ALL of both sides of the instrument rack without scrolling, and about 40% more of the timeline of the song!

Right Monitor (mixing desk and Tool window):


New - notice all that black space where a whole bunch more mixer channels would be visible without scrolling

Friday, July 17, 2009

Last track I recorded with Alan Wiseman

When I originally recorded the track "Reasonable Persons" using only Propellerhead's Reason, I knew that I wanted a "real" drum track on there eventually. And who better to do it that my old pal Alan Wiseman. I've known Alan since 7th grade, and we've been playing music together since 8th grade...over 30 years. His drumming style was something I had grown so accustomed to, I think when I "programmed" drums they sounded a lot like what he would play (in fact he said as much during the session).

Anyway, I provided lunch and access to the swimming pool, and that was all he needed for payment. We had a great time. I really played producer on him, pretty much telling him what to play in every spot. I tasked him with exactly copying the basics of what I had programmed on the original track, but also to make it his own, which he did with the usual flair and taste. I especially like what he did with those two "build ups" on the toms during the last two turnarounds, toward the end of the track. We did a couple of takes before his swim, then when he came back he nailed it after about four more takes. I don't think we did ANY punch ins; the take you hear was played start-to-finish in real time.

I did very little editing of his MIDI part, which he performed on my Roland V-drums triggering Native Instrument's Battery 3 plugin. Originally, I thought I might replace all of the Reason instruments with higher quality VST instruments in Sonar, but I ended up not doing so, just dumping each Reason instrument, raw, to it's own Sonar track and mixing them down with Alan's drum track. I did use three instances of IKM's Classik Studio Reverb on the various instruments to provide a "stage" ambiance.

My friend and musical comrade Alan passed away in March of this year. I'm still struggling very hard to deal with this loss, so I suppose resurrecting these takes (which were recorded in summer of 2007) and finally finishing this track was a form of therapy for me. Several times during the mixing and tweaking I could swear he was right behind me pounding the skins.

I am indeed blessed to have had his friendship and musical companionship for all those years.

So long Al, and thank you for all the drumming! I love you, man.

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

Friday, March 06, 2009

Tribute to Tim Conrardy

I just learned today that respected sound designer and electronic musician Tim Conrardy passed away. Tim's sounds have found there way into countless tracks I have composed. Whenever I am needing inspiration, I can load up any number of virtual synths and find "The TC Bank"...never fails to provide the needed inspiration. Recently, the release of Camel Audio's Alchemy synthesizer once again spotlighted his skills, and made me realize all over again just how talented Tim was.

I always found Tim to be a gracious and humble person. He always answered email questions and forum posts promptly and with a dignified patience not often prevalent on the internet. In addition to his sound design and production skills, he was a gifted composer. He frequently shared his work on KVR and elsewhere, and I always enjoyed his tracks, many times downloading them to the iPod for repeated listening.

In honor of Tim, I am re-posting this track I composed and posted some time ago which features one of his sounds prominently. It's the "TC Ozricky" lead guitar sound from the ManyGuitar VST. I used this same TC patch on another track found here.

Rest in peace, Tim.

direct download to the MP3 file here


Click on the play button below to listen:

Friday, February 13, 2009

A little romantic interlude

Just in time for Valentine's Day, here is a "romantic" orchestral piece that I composed some time ago, and recently recorded using just one VST Plugin Instrument. The instrument of choice is the Miroslav Philmarmonik orchestral workstation from IK Multimedia. The realism of the samples in this thing are just scary. You can hear the bowing noise on the solo strings, the breath of the winds, etc. And it has a pretty cool looking "wood grain" interface as well (see picture below).

Hope you enjoy the piece, which I titled "Lament".

here is a direct link to the mp3 in case player won't play for you