Time to bring back the equipment blog!
It’s been over a year since the last posting, and while I’m still producing content out of my studio, I’ve decided to reintroduce my gigging journal. I’m still quite active as a live player, and I’m constantly shaking things up and trying new things (even if only slightly) from job to job.
As I’ve detailed here in the past, I’ve been using Mainstage to drive my rig for the last several years. The rig almost always consists of a two-keyboard stack: a Kurzweill PC88 or Yamaha P200 (88-key controllers), and either a Yamaha Motif 7 or MO6. While versatile, the dual-keyboard/Mainstage requires a fair amount of setup and maintenance. Mainstage alone accounts for easily 50% of my rig setup. I love the flexibility of sound that it offers me, but being able to simplify and streamline other setups has been a new goal of mine. In the last year, I’ve decided to try and wean myself off of using Mainstage on every gig, which is forcing me into programming my Motif 7 and MO6 to make up for the lack software synths.
It’s also occurred to me that I might even get away with a single-keyboard setup in many settings. This is really where the Motif 7 has come in handy. On one recent gig, I decided to use just the Motif 7 and Mainstage. Surprisingly, the setup was still pretty involved in spite of lacking a second keyboard. But the Motif 7 had enough keyboard real estate for me to setup enough splits to cover most of the parts I needed to hit during the set. The 7 also has two expression pedal ports, so I could have a great deal of control over those sounds without using my hands.
In the absence of the second keyboard tier, I tested out adding a laptop mount just over the Motif, while using heavy-duty binder clips to secure the MacBook in place. This setup was effective and convenient, but somewhat cumbersome as the laptop stand sandwiched in between the keyboard and a flat wooden shelf that was resting beneath. Again, if my goal is to bring less gear into the venue, this didn’t exactly do the job.
In this setting, the Motif was replacing the PC88 or the P200, both of which are fully-weighted keyboards and have a fair amount of space on the top of the chassis for placing a MIDI controller or USB interface. The Motif has a great deal of flexibility as a performance keyboard since it has a lot of on-board sounds. I’m not crazy about it on account of not have weighted-action, though. Tough to play some piano parts.
The next night I figured I’d bring back the MO6, and put the laptop mount on my equipment box. This turned out to be a pretty effective approach, as the Mackie 1202 fit nicely just underneath it. And there was still plenty of room for both the USB mixer and the Focusrite to fit on the top of the Motif. This setup is useful in the event that the laptop rig fails (which happened about a month ago an hour into the gig). I have both the Motif and the MO programmed as a backup to handle a laptop failure.
This week I decided to take advantage of some great sales on some plugins, most notably by Native Instruments, Waves, and Computer Music. I’d heard some good things about the NI Session Horns, and thought 50% seemed like a good opportunity to test it out. I find myself usually unimpressed with canned horns on most synths, so investing in a decent horn library has been on my to-do list for awhile.
Now, I don’t claim to be a horn arranger at all, but in putting together this tune, I felt like the Session Horns were able to provide a fairly convincing alternative to a real horn section. There are a variety of articulation options, and you can play isolated instruments one at a time, so each note isn’t a stack of all three or four instruments or whatever. Plus, buried in the mix and with just the right amount of reverb, and it sounds pretty musical!
In this particular piece I was going for that 70’s cop show car chase scene vibe, or something not unlike it. I’ve also had Snarky Puppy and Billy Cobham rolling around in my head a bit too, so some of that might be seeping out too (minus the drum and horn chops). That stuff has me interested in learning more about arranging for horns, so I’m glad to have the Session Horns to get in some practice on that front.
I also added the Waves L1 Maximizer on the drum track and gave it a bit of grit. Not that I really know how to use the Maximizer…..but I like the effect I achieved here.
I’ve been experimenting a bit this week with third-party sample libraries for Kontakt and Reaktor, and I’ve discovered a few real gems. One is the Novachord ensemble for Reaktor, featured here in this week’s song of the week.
I have a bit of an obsession with the Novachord for some reason, possibly because of the mysterious sounds that come out of it. For those of you not aware, the Hammond Novachord, manufactured between 1938 and 1942, is one of the first polyphonic synthesizers ever created. It’s sound is lush and other-worldly, and playing just a single note on it could be a complete soundtrack to an episode of Dark Shadows.
Anyway, after tracking down my Novachord emulator, I whipped a quick little vinnette, loosely based on (of all things) the second installment of The Hunger Games…..largely because I was watching it while I had my Logic session open and was auditioning the presets.
In this track, I’m primarily using the Novachord ensemble: two instances, in fact….one for the chordal harmony, and one for the melody. I also layered it with another Reaktor ensemble, the old-school Soundforum Synth, and the Arturia CS-80.
As for some other interesting third-party synths, I highly recommend checking out some of the libraries offered by Hollow Sun (who have their own excellent Novachord library, as well as some very good Polymoog samples), Sonic Couture (some really cool RMI samples, a music box, another set of Polymoog samples, and other stuff), and Audio Genetics Lab (who has a free Magnus Chord Organ).
I walked outside this morning and was struck by the light coming through the trees and thought “Morning Light would be a clever name for a tune.” It was cold, too, so I went back inside.
I’ve been experimenting with session templates inside of Logic recently, so this piece has a similar vibe as a tune I did a few weeks back called Almost There. It’s pretty much the same instrumentation, though this tune is in 7/4. I also tried doing a bit less quantizing on the acoustic drums track, to make is sound a bit more realistic….short of getting a real drummer playing real drums.
In sifting through some older material I rediscovered a project from back in May. A friend had asked me to create a piece of music for a video game he was developing, so I turned this around in rather short order. Though nothing has yet materialized from his game project (which has working title), I thought it best to leave the title of this tune as still “untitled.”
I also discovered that I’d apparently just purchased a full version of NI Reaktor shortly before creating this tune, as there are several Reaktor plugins on this track.
This week’s offering started as just a simple acoustic piano motif, played on the Native Instruments Giant plugin in Kontakt. Something about the sound of it I found inspiring, and I’d initially thought to compose just a simple piano piece with very little orchestration. I thought I’d keep the mood cinematic and pensive (I’ve been listening to a few new movie soundtracks lately), but still wanted the instrumentation to be sparse. As I meandered along though, it seemed appropriate to add a pad, then a drumloop, then bells, then bass, and so on. I’m still experimenting with orchestration techniques with Miroslav Philharmonik inside of Logic (still in version 9). Still lots to learn, but I’m not too disappointed with the results here.
I was inspired to try my hand at remaking War Pigs after I did a piano trio gig a couple of months ago. We always like to try off-the-wall stuff to keep ourselves entertained, so I recommended we try and play War Pigs. I’d picked out a few riffs before I showed up to the gig, so I had some idea of what to play, but it was otherwise completely unrehearsed.
It went so well (or at least I thought it did) that I decided to improvise it again at home and work out a more thorough arrangement. It’s long, and still pretty rough, but that’s part of the idea. I’d love to have it recorded with a full band, and hopefully will be in the future.
I’m trying my hand at giving my drum mix some sense of realism, and it was suggested to me to use only the room mic setting from within Kontakt. Thus, I muted all of the close mic channels, with the hopes of getting more of a room sound. I’ll let all of you good people be the judge of that.
Another Frisell-inspired tune, this is more just a jam over a groovy bassline. I used the same instrument configuration as last week’s Song of the Week, which centers around the NI Guitar Rig 5. We could just say that guitar envy is very much alive and well in the heart of at least one keyboard player (though I suspect that this condition is a bit more widespread than that). If I have time, I’d like to flesh this out into an actual composition with chord changes and a form, but for now this is it.
In spite of being very productive this last month, I’ve struggled to maintain and meet my “post a week” objective. I guess I’ll just make the same excuse every time I post.
This week’s set of material was used for a video project I helped to develop for an Intro to Video Production course I took in May. The video is a promotional piece for Adopt A Greyhound Atlanta (AAGA), a non-profit greyhound rescue shelter located in Stone Mountain, GA. I composed three songs, though we only used two in the final piece. A big shout-out to my partner Karah Hagins for producing a great video!
Not too many production notes to offer on this one, except that I played guitar on “Greyhound”. I also tried out Twangy Amp in Reaktor for all the guitar effects. I almost sound like I know how to play!
I wrote this as a tribute to Charlie Haden, who passed away this week. In honor of his passing, I composed this simple soundscapey, Bill Frisell-inspired tune called “Song for Charlie.” Strange as it sounds, he had a pretty big impact on me musically, largely (I think) just because he’s on so many recordings that I love. I can’t say that his playing style is particularly noticeable to me, but there’s just something about knowing that he’s on the record that has always given me a sense of “hey, Haden is on here….it’s gonna be solid!”
I used Komplete 9 for all of the instruments:
Charlie Haden (1937-2014)
Musings about keyboards, synthesizers, and music in general.