Learning is HARD. It seems like it was a lot easier in school, when I was used to it. These days I find myself in the middle of a project moaning to myself:
“WHY IS THIS SO HARD?!”
And then I realize it’s because I do not know what I’m doing. I’m learning how to do it, while I do it, and often times it turns out OK. The older I get, the more difficult it is to start a brand new thing.
These days I’m learning how to use hardware electronic instruments. Previously I’ve worked long and hard making electronic music, mostly with computers. That method is more about composition than performance. You have a zillion variables, but almost all of them can be visually edited, automated, or otherwise carefully instructed by the composer. When it’s done the computer plays it all back for you, and you can say “Hell yeah, that worked!” and send it on its way.
There is a great pleasure in working physical machines for music. I like the feel of turning knobs, pressing keys, bending strings, hitting drums. I like the word “tactile.” Please don’t wear it out though. I’ve had a number of Moog synths over the years. Great machines in that they are user friendly up front, but also very deep thanks to MIDI and even direct DAW integration. With The Ronald Raygun we’ve been rocking a Moog or two since 2012, but in a very “live band” context, no midi sequencing or synchronization. All the “tight” or “timed” electronics you hear on our songs were done in Propellerhead Reason. Which is handy, because it’s where we recorded and mixed a lot of it, too.
In an effort to combine the physical pleasure with the electronic sound, I’ve been picking up bits of hardware, first the Volca beats, because I love drum machines, and then the Electribe Sampler, because I love drum machines that can play samples, too.
I generally use the sampler by itself. Although it is very capable of integrating with lots of other equipment, it’s (relatively) simple interface and portability (BATTERY POWER?!?) let you do an awful lot quickly and easily, provided you are cool with doing music “on the grid.” It took me a while to remember, but I actually fucking love making dance music, even though I’ll never be able to dance worth a shit.
The Volca Beats practically dares you to hook up to effects. The built in delay effect gets the mind running right out of the box. Thankfully I have a job that affords me a great many effects pedals. I tend to leave it by the testing station, hence all the instagram videos of Dwarfcraft devices with no knobs mangling the patterns churned out of the VB.
So for my first trick/video I wrote a very simple pattern on the sampler, knowing that I could clock the sampler with our Happiness pedal, utilizing one of my favorite effects combos, fuzz into filter, in perfect sync with a drum machine. Just because I was feeling masochistic I added another keyboard into the mix. It turned out pretty well, but was still kind of “rock bass with effects” in my opinion.
Last week I started experimenting in earnest with electronics only. Don’t get all shitty with me, I know the bass is an electromagnetic instrument, therefore it is electronic. I know amplified music is electronic, you know WHAT I MEAN WHEN I TALK ABOUT ELECTRONIC INSTRUMENTS. THE THINGS OLD PEOPLE THINK ARE NOT INSTRUMENTS. Anyway, I thought I was pretty clever when I split the voices on the sampler left and right in order to process them separately via effects pedals. And I thought I was pretty clever when I remembered my loop pedal had two inputs. Perhaps the most clever was the Boredbrain Patchulator. When using that handy little patch bay, you don’t have to decide what order to put the effects in! You just pick a bunch you like, and try out combos without ripping up velcro and re-arranging all the pedals!
The video below shows you pretty much the first cool sound set I came across. It doesn’t seem quite complete, but that’s OK. I’ll be using this technique, and patch in an upcoming full band performance for our new Echoes video series (coming sooooooon!).
Well, It worked, more or less! Like I said, I’m still learning this. I’m actually enjoying learning this, now that that learning muscle isn't so out of shape. I worked on the setup off an on for a few days, testing equipment and sounds, all while fighting off the head cold you can hear so well in the video. And then it took another couple hours to get familiar with the raw sounds, and the processed products. Last night I had all my parts chosen, my patch cabled up, and sound checked.
“camera rolling!” I shouted into the camera mic. I ran back to the control room and hit record. I scurried back to the table.
“audio rolling!” I shouted into the mic, and SPLAT. A big old blob of blood fell on my hand from my sick AF nose. Oh great.
“CANCEL.” I yelled even louder and I sat down to sop up my bloody nose.
“Why is this so fucking hard?” I asked myself. And then I remembered: I don’t know what I’m doing. Thank goodness for that nosebleed. It forced me to sit down and have a think, rather than just blasting through, and staying frustrated.
Nope, I don’t know what I’m doing. But if you want to watch me learn, you’re quite welcome. There’s another synth on it’s way to me, so expect another installment soon. I think next time, as much as I love my amps I will dump everything to a mixer and directly into Reason, so I can maintain better level controls. Oh, and you can bet your sweet bippy I’ll wreck some shit with that Necromancer.