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)