Recording Rhodes

Scott’s 73-key Rhodes, a Mark I with the Janus amp like to the one below, has been with me in Lawrence for about a year now.  I’ve been recording with it this week; two h&s songs where the Rhodes is the primary pad & rhythm sound (instead of guitar), and one Night Mode piece where the Rhodes plays counterpoint to a main synth track.

Image credit: fenderrhodes.com

I’m taking the stereo headphone output of the Janus direct into my Scarlett interface, with some guitar pedals in the Rhodes’ “Accessory” loop for the Night Mode part.  This has a nice, clean, clear sound.  I’ll probably experiment with analog re-amping and/or digital amp and cabinet simulation, but it isn’t required and I’ll try to keep a light touch with any further processing.  Some amount of compression/saturation will sound good, however it’s achieved, as you’d naturally get playing through the Janus, another amp, or a PA.

The instrument would certainly benefit from a tune-up by an experienced technician (who are harder and harder to find).  I tuned the tines’ pitches pretty well myself, but the action varies widely.  Some keys hardly sound when played, and overall it’s tricky to control volume and play expressively; the range from sort of piano to mezzo-piano is good (below piano there’s not much sound at all), and above mp it’s kind of straight to forte and then nothing further beyond forte.  To some extent this is the nature of the Rhodes, but a tune-up would improve things.

It’s a very cool piece of gear to have in the house.  I’m grateful to Scott for the loan and excited to share the work I’m doing with it.

Vistalite is Vista-Live

Forgive the photo quality; I played in the poorly-lit garage out of deference to our neighbors.

We don’t have a Dark Satellites show booked, but when we do, EDIT: The next Dark Satellites show is Thursday, July 20, in KC at minibar and I’ll be bringing this guy – a three-piece Ludwig Vistalite in smoke – and I’ll be a lot louder.

The snare is a stand-in Slingerland marching snare (not the one I’ve been using live.  I did use this one recording Ventura); Matt’s working on some custom hardware that will let me use the middle Vistalite tom as a snare.

The garage is reflective as all get-out of course, so while it sounds good I want to play it out before I make decisions about a resonant kick head, second cymbal stand, and heads generally.

It sits higher than the other kit (which, you may remember, is a tiny jazz kit) due to both the rack tom mounted on the much larger kick, and the enormous snare.  Felt good, though.

I plan to loan Cory the gold sparkle Slingerland kit for a while to see if it’s of use to him.

The Colour And The Shape

Twenty-year anniversary pieces in Stereogum and The AV Club this week reminded me that the Foo Fighters’ sophomore album reached that milestone recently.

I remember the excitement of seeing the video for lead single “Monkey Wrench” on MTV for the first time; the red room, Dave’s short hair, the impossibly high level of energy captured in the recording, and then the third verse hitting and taking it from 11/10 to 12.  It overwhelmed every pleasure center in a rock kid’s brain.  It was like switching to color TV from black and white.

Bear and Matt have been my super-geek-out fellow Foo Fighters fans.  Bear and I traded links any time there were singles out for upcoming albums, news of tours or recording sessions, or random Dave or Taylor interviews and videos.  I watched “The Pretender” video on repeat with Matt for the first time together (itself 10 years old in August) at his old house before Five Star Crush practice one night.

It’s not cool to be a big Foo Fighters fan and hasn’t been for a long time.  I think that too-cool-for-Foo take is pretty tired; they’re the best mainstream rock band of the last 25 years and it’s not really close.  Criticizing them for not being what the critic wants them to be – noisier, less popular, more arch, whatever – says more about the critic than anything else.

I don’t listen to The Colour And The Shape very often because I don’t need to; I know it by heart.

Thingsss

  • All five Falcon Heavy Drives are built and tested; the final two should be delivered this week.  This has been a successful run on both fronts I was pushing on: I broke even, and I learned some methods for making multiple pedals more efficiently and reliably.  Three of the five required zero troubleshooting, and a fourth had one tiny, easily fixed issue.  (The fifth is the one I’m keeping.)
  • Both Night Mode shows were successes musically and in terms of attendance, in my book.  The concept is proven and we’re now a fully functioning recording and performance collective.
  • Cool internet uncle, actor Wil Wheaton, has a good ambient EP out (embedded below).

With the Falcon Heavy and Night Mode projects hitting these milestones I get to transition to some other things.  For fun I’ll be working on my next solo-ish Night Mode recording and some new pedal designs, with no particular deadlines for either.  I should edit howie&scott drum tracks, which is kind of tedious work but necessary for us to have fun later.

It’s also time to release the EP Cory and I made last fall ;-0

This may be worth a listen

Link (expires 4/1): https://we.tl/7vCNMine7j

Remember those Chipmunks songs a guy slowed down? I re-created that with mid-side processing on The Romantics “What I Like About You.” Low quality (source file; mp3) but you get the point and it’s weirdly addictive to listen to. For me, anyway.

The mids and bass are glitchy and don’t resonate like they would with an analog source, I assume because of the mp3 data compression.

In a related story, I have not worked out as I planned to this morning.  The working theory is that I’m metaphorically hung over from yesterday’s political victory for health care and the weeks and months of tension that preceded it.

Synth Rig

Setting my controls for the heart of the sun:

Missing: iPad mini for upper right (used to take this pic)

I’ve set up and torn down my synth stuff enough lately, with more to come, that I built a synth board this weekend.

Naked board with red couch

Neither the board or the rig is very fancy but they’re fun to make sounds with.  Three sound sources (Alesis Micron, Korg Volca Bass, iPad mostly running the Poly app) route to a mixer.  The mixer has an effects loop (pedals are in that loop) and sends dual mono out (not stereo; one output is the dry signal, one is the wet from the effects).

Now that things are laid out I’ll buy some shorter cables to reduce all of that mess.

When I plugged in to test everything out and set levels I ended up writing and recording the backbone of a new Night Mode piece.  That’s always a good sign, when new gear or new arrangements of gear inspire music right away.

Milestones

We hit three really significant milestones on projects this week: Mars Lights finished basic tracking (drums & 2 guitars) for our double LP, I finished recording drums for the howie&scott record, and I ordered parts for a fun of five Falcon Heavy Drive pedals.

I don’t know exactly when to say we started the Mars Lights project.  We started setting up mics in 2015 on July 1, were checking placement and phase and did some recording (maybe just testing, maybe truly aiming for real takes) on August 18, and were in full swing by September 11.  Call it a year and a half, done amidst a two-year-old (Charlie) and a new arrival (Caroline); in my mind that’s making good time.

We’re going to start booking shows again, and Drew and I will work on overdubs when we’re not practicing.  It’s possible we could have something out in 2017, though 2018 seems more likely.

I’ve collected potential h&s songs and riffs for as long as we’ve written them.  Some that will be on this record date back to 2003, possibly 2002.  I started to see the outlines of the tracklist in 2013-14, and broached the subject with Scott in July 2015 (probably the 9th or 10th).  Since then I’ve been working on the demos, wrote a new thing or two, had my first drum recording session in September 2016 and now have finished the drums.

My goal now is to get the songs to a point where Scott can do his parts by the time his students are off for the summer.  I haven’t decided to what extent that means just throwing down scratch guitars and vocals for him to react to, or actually working on my real parts.  The latter is better in theory, but I may not have time; we’re envisioning layers of various guitars, bass, and keys entering and exiting throughout the songs and those parts take time to write, dial in sound for, and record.  Maybe a hybrid approach will work, trying to get the two most important parts down or something.

The Falcon Heavy Drive has grown out of my experience using the first Falcon I built (which now I think of as a prototype) and some electronics things I’ve learned since I first did the design.  It sounds similar to the prototype but everything about it has been implemented better and it’s more flexible with an added bass control and more ways to route the mid notch.  I’m pretty psyched to have it on my board myself, get it into others’ hands, and to clear off the board for new designs.

Here’s something I wrote to Dad

Dad listened to the Night Mode “Vikram Ray” single (below) and shared his thoughts.  As part of my response I wrote what’s below (in lightly edited form), which seemed to capture something I’ve struggled to express about how I hear and listen to repetition- and drone-based music.

“At its heart I’d call Dirac Spike psychedelic music, even though sonically it’s not what would typically be associated with that.

“One of the main responses the music hopefully elicits is a sort of meditative feeling, a sense of the self going on a bit of an inner journey, or relaxing its grip on second-to-second physical reality for a little while.

“The music does this through repetition and variation, so it was a very different experience to compose than other things I’ve done.  Think of it in contrast to a pop or rock song, which in some ways is a constant stream of new ideas; new lyrics, new chords, new riffs, new sounds, even as verses and choruses might repeat.

“A function of a pop song is entertainment, engaging the mind and its inner monologue.  Psychedelic music can function to free or relax the mind, slowing down our inner monologue or separating us from it for a while, which is a good feeling I think.

“There are ways to mix the two (pop / psychedelic) of course, and people might have either type of response (entertainment and engagement, or relaxation and egoless-ness) to either type of music.  I think about creating in each style very differently, and I think that on the whole people’s responses in aggregate correlate generally with what I’m saying.”