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

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