New Instrument Day

I got a new instrument to learn this winter, as we keep staying home to avoid and prevent the spread of COVID-19; a Roland SP-404SX sampler, the defining box of lo-fi hip-hop.

To start learning I recorded some terrible beatboxing on my part, and CA singing the chorus of Dessa’s “5 Out Of 6” and an improvised accompaniment part.

Here’s that material chopped up, with effects applied, and arranged into something like a song.

Next up is working through the manual in detail (yeah, I RTFM) and pulling some samples from Night Mode and Dark Satellites.

Bear & Joe

My sister’s co-worker and friend Allison has a brother, Scott, and Scott’s friend Jon was a staff member of Joe Biden’s in the Senate. (That’s four degrees of separation, if you’re counting.) (Thanks to Allison for telling this story on FB a couple weeks ago and reminding us of some of the details. I also think Lisa Silberstein was involved from Bear’s posts on the 6th, but I’m not sure how.)

As Bear’s cancer was progressing in 2014, Allison and Scott asked Jon if he could get Joe to send a selfie or something to give her a little boost. It doesn’t sound like Jon was optimistic, but said he’d try.

On March 6, Joe actually called and left a voicemail:

Mary, Mary, Mary, this is Joe Biden, Vice-President Biden. I just called to say hello to you and tell you I’ve kind of been where you are, and you’re an incredible young woman. And also to wish you happy birthday, and I hope if I’m around Chicago on March the 20th I’d come to your birthday, I don’t know whether they’re going to have me…

I’ll try you again but I just wanted to, I hear nothing but wonderful things about you, and you know, you’re going through hell now, and that’s happened to my family too, but guess what; don’t give up hope, don’t give up hope…

I’m going to try you again if that’s OK, and I hope I’m not being presumptuous calling you, but I’m going to try again later. Love you, kid. Keep it up.

Joe Biden to Mary Howard, 2014 March 6

Remember that Joe’s son Beau was also in treatment for brain cancer at this time, having been diagnosed in 2013.

True to his word, he called back on the 20th and left another message, only hours after returning from Poland following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Bear was unconscious by then but we’re told she could hear, and Joe’s message was played for her:

Mary, happy birthday, this is Vice-President Joe Biden. I told you I’d call you on your birthday kiddo, and I’m thinking a lot about you. I’ll try you again but I just want you to know I’m thinking about you, you’re a wonderful woman. Anyway, happy 30th birthday, child.

Joe Biden to Mary Howard, 2014 March 20

Fight Songs

I’ve mentioned it in passing before, but here it is officially; recording for “Fight Songs,” my seventh solo record as Sally Ride and first since 2015, is well underway.

“Fight Songs” is the punk-, Motown-, and Elvis Costello-influenced follow-up to “Ventura” (“Valiance” being a kind of one-off).

The view for the next few weeks

My aim on “Fight Songs” is to absolutely nail the rhythmic feel of those influences, and the key to that is the bass. I’m using a James Jamerson-style rig, with the foam-deadened strings you can see above and a fully DI sound.

Customizations to the bass sound include:

  • Running the pickups in series for a bigger timbre
  • Using my Falcon Heavy prototype pedal for some clipping and saturation
  • Using my Wheeler Leveling Amplifier pedal
  • Using a transformer-based DI box with a wider pass band than Jamerson had available (I may end up high- and low-passing the signal a bit more in the mix)

I’m really happy with the timbre, have four songs down (out of 14, one of which will be a Cool Drugs song), and am working at a pace of a couple songs per week.

Writing bass parts has become one of my favorite things to do, musically. It utilizes all of my rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic sensibilities while not requiring me to step into the spotlight like a vocal or solo would. Mid-major solo artists and bands seeking ringer bassists, get at me! Cory and Drew can provide unbiased references!!

“Dimension” Processing In Any DAW

The Boss Dimension C / Dimension D effects are famous for their seemingly unmoving modulation, providing a widening and deepening* effect on sounds without being warbly like a traditional chorus effect.

Here’s how the same effect can be created and customized in almost any DAW. I use this often for turning mono synth signals into stereo.

It takes four channels of audio. In Reaper I do this all in one track, with an extra set of track channels and plug-in pins. In ProTools you might use a send from the main track to a stereo auxiliary or two mono auxiliaries. The details will vary; the important thing is four channels, Ls panned 100% left and Rs panned 100% right.

The signal path:

Source – Can be mono or stereo

Split/send – Duplicate both the left and right channels of audio so there are 4 total (4 track channels in Reaper, original track plus two mono aux tracks in ProTools, etc.). One L/R pair (the “dry” signal) will go straight through to the mix stage with no further processing

Highpass (“wet” signal) – Adjust this to taste. On an individual sound source like a mono synth sound this could be skipped. On a full mix with drums, bass, and other sounds, I probably wouldn’t set it much lower than 140 Hz but I might set it higher; 200, even 300 Hz. The reason for this is to keep bass frequencies from bouncing back and forth between left and right

Chorus – The different sides of the wet L/R pair need different chorus settings, so you’ll almost certainly need two instances of your chorus plugin (this is where two mono auxes can be helpful in ProTools, rather than a stereo wet aux). Both need to be set to 100% wet output. Adjust depth to taste but use the same depth on both sides. To the best of my knowledge the original Dimension effects use the same medium-slow chorus rate/speed on both sides, with the LFO polarity inverted for one side (so when the L channel is high the R channel is low, and vice versa). I like just using slightly different rates for a less predictable, almost polyrhythmic type of movement

Invert polarity – This is key; invert the polarity of *one* of the wet channels. This has the result of phase-cancelling frequencies that are the same in both channels, leaving only the differences (like mid/side processing)

Mix – Bring it all together. In Reaper I use an 8-to-2 track channel mixer to mix back down to stereo. In ProTools with auxes your “mixer” is just your master track, and you mix via the volume levels on your dry and wet tracks. The more wet-to-dry in the mix, the wider the stereo image will be.

By creating our own processing instead of using a Dimension unit we can have greater clarity (bypassing the hardware’s inevitable amp stages and filtering) and control (setting our own high pass cutoff, chorus rates, and mix levels), making new sounds in the process.

My hat is off to whoever came up with the idea for this circuit, though, it’s truly brilliant and sounds fantastic.

*Creating “dimension,” natch

Meet the Thereatari

The Thereatari is my own adaptation/revision/expansion of the classic 555 timer / Atari Punk Console noise synth with photoresistor control of 4 parameters, tone control, alternate voicing (gives alllllmost a full chromatic octave on the fine pitch control), current starve, and control voltage inputs for the oscillators.

I had been doing research for this project before the lockdown, designed and breadboarded it in late March / early April, ordered parts, made some other music, soldered, made some other music… and finally got it troubleshot and put together last weekend.

The jacks on the sides are separate passive mixers; in addition to the noise synth, this box is designed to pull together my Monotribe / Volca Bass / pedals mini rig.

They were out of blue 1900 knobs when I ordered parts so the “Fine” tuning knob is temporarily black.

More music with the full mini rig is definitely coming. Even in the half-assembled state it’s been in it is super fun to jam on.

Three big album releases are coming in fairly short order, too.

< sunglasses >

This is how Night Mode records start sometimes

  1. Piece of gear (Dreadbox Utopia in this case, the orange thing)
  2. List of things it can do musically (additional things will be discovered in the course of #3 below)
  3. Patch up something from the list and start messing around until a piece emerges

If history is any guide, spontaneously discovered sounds will add between half again as many and double the patches on the initial list.

I haven’t started this record yet, and I’m in no rush to. Plenty going on, and I’m trying to decide if this is a collaboration or a solo jawn. It’ll be waiting for me when I’m ready.

New Night Mode Friday

On Friday we will release Night Mode’s Your Pain Matters in celebration of Bandcamp’s fee waiver. We hope you’ll add it to your list of purchases on Friday!

Your Pain Matters is my follow-up to Dirac Spike. It’s a solo Night Mode effort recorded from March to July 2017, with the setup* used on the first Night Mode trio jams** and shows*** plus some overdubs****.

* Alesis Micron, Korg Volca Bass, Poly app for iPad, effects pedals

** What became Load Exceedance and Load Transcendance

*** April 2017

**** Rhodes, guitar, etc.

Musically and emotionally, Your Pain Matters is really the beginning of my story with making instrumental synth music. I absolutely stand by Dirac Spike but it was only a first experiment, and all of its pieces are based on the Poly app. (The app is fun, but I have not used it since Dirac Spike.)

For Your Pain Matters I began writing and performing parts for synthesizer with no sampling or sequencing; just me, at the keys & knobs, coming up with sounds and playing/recording live. This is largely what I continued to do for several more albums yet to be released, and am still doing. I did a bunch of it last weekend.

For the few who might care to trace Night Mode’s sonic development, here’s an attempt to sort out who was doing what, when. Of course reality was and is messier than can be fit into these boxes. We’ve had this idea of a Drew solo > Howie solo > Some type of collaboration (duo or trio) release cycle; Capsule was a departure from that, and it seems likely we’ll continue to deviate from that idea. It was a cool plan, but it doesn’t line up well with the pace at which we finish things individually or together.

Feb – Dec ’15OTHER
Jan – Aug ’16Dirac Spike
Feb ’17Duo (H/Damon) –
Mar ’17Trio –
Load Exceedance
Load Transcendance
Mar – Jul ’17Your Pain Matters
?? – Jul ’18Gentleman Scientist(there’s a Drew/Damon
noise / Marshall reamp /
drums project in
here somewhere
Jan – Apr ’18Working Bears Or Barely Working
Jan ’18 – Mar ’19Only Mostly Dead
Come In Alone / Stuck On You (Sep ’18)
Jun – Nov ’19Not One Person Left Out
Jan-Feb ’20Duo (Drew/H) –
Mar ’20Duo (Drew/H) –
In progress:
Seen Heard and Known,
Monotribe record(s) (Oct ’19 – ??),
AX60 record (Nov ’19 – ??),
Medusa record (Apr ’20 – ??),
Noise record (Mar ’20)