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

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