Life Comes at You Fast!

It is that time of year again!! I have a new CD, “Special When Lit.” it is influenced by the usual suspects: women, booze, and ennui, and is the first CD I have recorded in my new studio, which used to be a baby’s crib room.

Back in the day when I was using the on-board sequencer of an M1 keyboard and recording samples from a portable CD player to a 12-bit Roland hardware sampler it would take weeks for a track to come to fruition. However now that everything is self-contained on my PC the lapse between inspiration and execution has diminished to about the time it takes for me to blurt out something inappropriate at a staff meeting. So this CD pretty much captures the trials and tribulations of the past year almost in real time.

One of my favourite points in the process was when I was hunkered down for a couple of days in the path of hurricane Irene, alone with my two cats and a fridge full of beer. Despite the heavy winds my power miraculously stayed on while I maintained an online correspondence with VST plug-in developer extraordinaire Rurik from xoxos. He sent me inspiring synths that helped me move beyond the fear of creative erectile dysfunction brought on by staring at a blank project file.

I am also thrilled to have contributions by a team of talented people: Cystem, who brought a CD of guitar loops to one of my gigs; Upright bass player Jon Nazdin, who let me go over to his house to record his bass; Lisa Moscatiello who braved bathtub glazing fumes to record vocals at my apartment; and Heather Heimbuch who phoned in her vocals from Minnesota via google voice. This release would not have been possible were it not for the selfless, inspired contributions of music shareware developers such as H.G. Fortune, De La Mancha, and xoxos. You can get the release on CD or mp3 at cdbaby, and it is also available at itunes. Enjoy!

Special When Lit

Getting My Groove Back!

This year has been a bit tumultuous to say the least! Over the summer I ended up buying a coop unit in Silver Spring. I never thought home ownership would be within reach for me in the DC-metro area. The place is modest but I have two bedrooms now so instead of taking over the living room, my studio occupies what used to literally be a crib room.

I decided to wrap up the project I was working on and take a musical break to focus on packing and the onerous mortgage application process. I actually did not miss music as much as I thought I would, because I had decorating as a creative outlet. Who has time to ponder musical ideas while contemplating window treatments? And I also took on a few music projects such as working with droid music apps and looper apps for bass to ease the withdrawal.

It can be a little intimidating to look at the blank canvas again, but I fortunately have had some cool plug-ins from, de la mancha, and HG Fortune to inspire me. The next CD is going to feature a few songs, the byproduct of processing some of the negative experiences of this year–much cheaper than therapy! I am also using some guitar loops from Cystem and working in some of my droid app doodles from my metro commute. It feels good to be back into it!

Below is a video of the wall of LED lights in the music room–a cheap impulse purchase on ebay that has really helped the ambiance along with the silver accent wall.


If you think *I* am prolific, check out the staggering array of VST plug-ins offered by Rurik Leffanta. Below are a couple of samples embellished with the xoxos Effects Suite 2010:

Static delay with dub delay 2 preset:

Modulation delay with cross fdbk 7 preset:

Glitter with S ambience 3 preset and modulation with delay/chorus 200 ms and 10 ms preset:

As you can see here, he is giving it all away, but I am headed over to make a donation now!

May the Ohm Force Be with You!

I am about halfway to completing my next CD, which is a collection of remixes using loops from the Tapegerm Collective. Each new release is an opportunity to try out new shareware, and there are many VST developers bringing me much joy these days. One of them is Ohm Force out of Paris. Despite the fact their client list includes heavy hitters such as Trent Reznor and Martin Gore, their plug-ins are extremely affordable. I bought their Mobilohm phaser to support their efforts, but actually end up using their free filter Frohmage much more frequently.

Here is an example of the Frohmage “No Matter” preset, with the Cutoff Frequency and Resonance tweaked via midi controller:

And here is an example of the “Spra Cat” with the cutoff frequency tweaked real-time:

As if this isn’t enough reason to love them, they sign their receipts “Thanks, the Ohn Men (and their cat)” !!!

It takes a lot of work to sound this cheap!

I love the digital age yet I have to put a lot of effort into stopping pristine sound from rendering my tracks sterile. One plug-in manufacturer who has assisted in my quest for hi-fi lo-fi is de la mancha. Though they offer over 20 VST/VSTi plug-ins on their site I am going to focus on four de la mancha instrument plug-ins I have been using a lot lately.

Bassbomb’s dynamic envelops and subsonic oscillator make it ideal for modulating, wobbly bass, though I also end up using it for quirky lead sounds. I use “electro house2_bb” in the example below. (All three examples use Reaper as the VST host)

Dirty Harry has naughty, warped sampled sounds that can be readily tweaked. The best part is its imaginative preset names, such as “bipolar bear” and “wommamomma” that aren’t obviously descriptive and thus demand a listen! In the excerpt below, I use Dirty Harry for an arpeggiated line using the “bass arp” preset.

Basic64 has lo fi chip sounds that are reminiscent of playing pac man in a demented arcade after an evening of too much Robitussin.

Plastique has two very expressive knob-controlled oscillating filters that lead to exciting forays out of the preset universe. And who can resist a plug-in with “lofi” and “dirt” buttons? Both basic64 and plastique are freeware, dirty harry and bassbomb are $15 and $24 respectively and worth much more.

The track excerpt below uses basic64’s “classic” and plastique’s “Hands in the Where-O” presets for the lead sounds.

But don’t take my word for it! Visit de la mancha here.

Technological Determinism

Recently I took the plunge and got rid of my keyboard in favor of a midi controller and software synths which has made my living room a lot less cramped. I have been amazed at how many talented people out there are making amazing sounding soft synths at incredibly low prices. One of my favorite synths right now is ProtoPlasmTSM by H.G. Fortune. I recommend getting it bundled with the STS-24 and LaserBlade. The three synths feature a broad range of lush multi-layered sounds with a generous number of excellent presets. They have saved me from the musical doldrums this summer.