Monstertown

My latest recording project is the soundtrack to a rather silly film called “Monstertown”.

Actually, the film was created to fit the music rather than the other way round. I have been going through the massive jumble of tunes created during my Tune A Day project, and picked a selection that had a similar  banjo-accordion-and-harmonica sort of feel. There were lots of good bits, but no complete tunes, and it occurred to me that they sounded like a film soundtrack. So “Monstertown” was created around them.

15 Seconds

Towards the end of 2014 my children remarked on several occasions how they missed the tune a day project (which finished in April 2014). It was far too time-consuming to consider doing the same thing again, so I came up with a compromise – a short video recording of a performance each day, posted to Instagram (thereby limiting it to 15 seconds).

Obviously you can’t do much in 15 seconds, and some days are certainly better than other.  But it was quite fun to look back at a month at a time in the videos below. There’s quite a good selection of instruments involved:

  • Tom played drums, cajon, saxophone, piano, guitar, trumpet and a strange Chinese flute
  • Ellie played flute, piano and recorder
  • Anne played flute, clarinet and guitar
  • I played bouzoukis, accordions, piano, harmonium, baglama and mandolin.

There were also a variety of out-and-about recordings from the various bands the children play in, and street musicians we came across during a trip to Barcelona.

By the beginning of May, the children were getting bored of it though and I was running out of ideas (looking back, I realised that some tunes appeared up to 4 times), so we stopped. Or at least paused – maybe we’ll go back to it later in the year.

 

Zoom Q8

text_img_5177I recently acquired a Zoom Q8 video camera. It’s quite an unusual gadget – hard to know whether to describe it as an HD video camera with a great microphone, or a great microphone with an added HD video camera. I think of it more as the latter, because sound quality seems to be the priority here over video quality… which is why I got it. Oh, and it is also a 4 track audio recorder.

It’s definitely something you should work out in advance what you want to use it for. I wanted something that would enable me to record my son’s drumming and my playing simultaneously onto separate channels, so I was thinking of getting a Zoom H4 or H6, but when I discovered the Q8, the camera was an unexpected bonus.

The way the four track recording works is that the built in mic (which is interchangeable with other Zoom mic modules)  uses two of the channels, and you can plug in two mono sources, or one stereo source. So in this example, the built-in mic recorded Tom’s drumming, my electric bouzouki is on the third track, and we used the fourth for a guide track (which was then discarded).

The Q8 can either record  a single video file containing a mixed version of the audio, or (as in this case) separate audio tracks for each channel. I imported the video and audio into Logic Pro X, adjusted EQ, overdubbed the other instruments, and generally messed around with it.

The camera has a wide angle lens, which means the edges of the video curve it (as you can see above). One of the advantages of this though is that you can have the camera (and mic) very close to where you’re playing and still get a good view with the camera. There’s another example of this in the next video, recorded in garden with a much quieter instrument. Somewhat ironically (considering the name of the manufacturer), there is no optical zoom on the camera, but it does record very high resolution (above 1080p, but below 4K), so you have plenty of scope for cropping the video and still leaving a good image.

Outside, the mic does suffer a bit of wind noise – a foam windshield is included, which I used in this video but you still notice it (e.g. around 1min 05sec). There’s a lo-cut filter to reduce the impact of this, which was turned off during this recording.

The Q8 can also be used as a USB mic for an iPad or Mac/PC. This is the one feature I’m a bit disappointed with. Yes, it works, but the latency is so bad, it’s pretty much unusable. If all you want to do is record the audio onto the iPad, I suppose it’s OK, but even with direct monitoring, it’s impossible to keep multiple tracks in sync. I was particularly disappointed with Zoom Support’s unhelpfulness when I asked them about this – they tried to tell me that such latency was inevitable, which is clearly nonsense, because I can use a Zoom H2n with my Mac with no noticeable latency (doesn’t work with the iPad though). Anyway, although this is disappointing, it wasn’t the main reason I bought the Q8, and hopefully it will get fixed with a software update in the future.

Apart from that, overall I’m delighted with the Q8. It does what I wanted it to do very well indeed. But it is a very specific device for a very specific purpose so probably won’t suit everyone.

 

Catching Up #5: Friedlander Violin

Despite the huge array of music apps for the iPad, I’ve never found a really good solo violin app. You can use Garageband’s strings section as a solo violin if you turn all the other instruments off, and ThumbJam has a violin, but neither of these are particularly convincing.

So one of the reasons I have done more recording with my Mac than my iPad recently is that I bought the wonderful Friedlander Violin from Embertone. At $120, it’s many times the price of the average iPad app, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

It requires the free Kontakt player, which can run as a standalone app on the Mac, or an AU plugin within Logic Pro X. The instrument uses a staggering 3.5Gb of samples, and while it worked OK on my 2011 iMac with 4Gb RAM, it certainly ran a lot better when I upgraded to 20Gb RAM.

I can’t say I’ve really scratched the surface of what it’s capable of – one of the interesting features it has is the ability to use TouchOSC on the iPad to control the expression of the playing of the violin. But even without that, it’s a terrific virtual instrument.

Here are 4 tunes I’ve recorded using it….

…and for comparison, here’s the original recording of the second of those tunes (“August”) played with Garageband’s (rather anaemic) violin.

Catching Up #4: Card Tricks

8SQM_DE035D4D-861F-4C02-AF99-134F216B4D8A_largeOf all the infuriating we-know-better-than-you limitations that Apple place on iPad users, few annoy me more than the inability to copy anything else photos and videos from SD cards. I have two Zoom portable microphones that record to SD cards, but I can’t transfer these recordings to the iPad using the Apple camera connection kit (CCK).

However, I have discovered a useful workaround using a Kingston MobileLiteWireless (MLW) device. There’s a newer version available (which I haven’t tried), but you can get the original for less than £20 now.

Once you’ve installed the MLW software on the iPad and connected it to the device (fairly easy – just follow their instructions, basically the MLW acts as a WiFi access point), you can transfer files to Cubasis using the process describe below.

First, choose how the card is connected to the MLW – you can either put the card in the device or (as I have done in this case) connected the microphone to the device with a USB cable and turned on the mic’s card reader mode.

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Then you can browse the files – in this case I am using a Zoom Q8 so I have both audio and video files.

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Choose the one you want, and you can play the audio.

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Now if you tap the icon in the top right corner,  choose the “Open in” menu.

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Now choose Cubasis (or app of your choice). Bizarrely, you can open in iMovie, but not in Garageband.

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In Cubasis, go to the Media browser and you’ll find the file under “Audio”

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And finally, just drag it into your project.

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It sounds like quite a few steps, but is fairly easy when you get the hang of it. In some ways it’s actually better than using the CCK because:

  • you don’t need to take the SD card out of the microphone
  • you can preview the files before you copy them to the iPad
  • if you haven’t already got the CCK SD card reader, it’s actually cheaper to buy a MobileLiteWireless than a CCK.

The only disadvantages I can think of are:

  • the WiFi connection to the MLW can be a bit erratic at times
  • I haven’t worked out a way of importing the files into Garageband yet

 

 

 

 

Catching Up #3: Spider Tuning

SpiderCapo-2This is one of those nothing-to-do-with-iPads posts. While idly browsing eBay one day, I stumbled across the spider capo. It lets you fret the strings individually so you can come up with some really wacky tunings.

As well as the obvious guitar version, there’s a four-string version for banjos, mandolins, etc. My instrument of choice is the Irish bouzouki, and I have never got on well with capos because of the way the pressure on the octave pairs of strings make them go out of tune. But with a bit of fiddling around with it, this one sounds quite good because you can put different pressure on different pairs of strings.

10835141_10152959849163993_2681850240952818110_oAfter playing around with it for a while,  I discovered a tuning that I liked so much I semi-permanently retuned my bouzouki and stopped using the capo. I tuned the 2nd & 3rd pairs of strings up a semitone to change the GDAD tuning to G-Eb-Bb-D. Not quite easily pronounceable as the DADGAD guitar tuning, but lovely nonetheless. The open chord is an Eb maj7, which also makes it easier to accompany Tom’s Eb alto sax, and suits Ellie’s preference for playing her flute in Bb and Eb.

Since this discovery, many of the tunes I’ve written have used this tuning. This set of three short tunes is probably my favourite recording I’ve made in the last year. It also uses the Friedlander Violin – more on that another time.

I also created a video for it using the visualiser in iTunes, which is rather hypnotic.

 

Catching Up #2: The Wrong Connector

MC531I must admit that over the last year, I grew increasingly frustrated trying to record music on my ageing iPad 3. The iOS 8 upgrade made it perform rather sluggishly and I started having a lot more trouble connecting USB audio devices via the camera connection kit (CCK). This mystified me for a long time, and seemed to get progressively worse to the point where nothing was working any more. I would constantly get the “this device is not supported” error.

Then, quite by accident, I discovered the cause. I had two USB  CCK connectors – one of which I bought, the other of which I was given. In the past I used the two interchangeably without problems and never really noticed which was which. But at some point I must have lost the one I bought (which was definitely a genuine Apple one). I then realised that the one I was given wasn’t genuine Apple – I had never noticed before, because they looked identical. While it had worked OK in iOS 7, it almost never worked in iOS 8.

So I bought a new genuine Apple connector, and everything started working again. So, moral of the story – all those people who warn you not to use 3rd party USB connectors are right.

Anyway, the result of this (now-fixed) iPad frustration is that I spent a lot more time recording on my Mac with Logic Pro X. Here’s one of the results, a combination of two of my favourite tunes from the Tune A Day project. It makes use of another reason I was spending more time with my Mac – the wonderful Friedlander Violin. I wish there was an iPad violin that sounds as good as the Friedlander.

 

Catching Up #1

Looking back at my most recent posts, I’ve realised I’ve only posted twice in the last year – not very good. After my tune a day for a year project finished in May 2014, I’ve drifted from one musical thing to another – I started to record two EPs/short albums and didn’t really get very far with either; I recorded 15 seconds of music a day for the first 4 months of 2015, then ran out of enthusiasm for it; I’ve written some new tunes; I’ve played along with Tom’s drums; I’ve posted a lot of links to my Facebook page. So while I haven’t finished a lot, I have recorded quite a lot of music, some of which I’m quite pleased with.

So this is the first in a series of catching up posts. To start with, a series of three tunes recorded while we were on holiday on the Isle of Mull in August 2014. These were all recorded through the iPad’s internal mic, so the sound quality isn’t great. The first track also uses Thumbjam‘s “Scottish Smallpipes” sound.

WholeWorldBand Revisited

I’ve had quite a long break from WholeWorldBand, after getting a little frustrated with it for a variety of reasons. A lot of the recent updates have focused on the new iPhone version, but as I don’t have an iPhone, those haven’t been very interesting to me. However, the latest update has finally added a metronome, making it easier to make a quick recording. There’s also a MIDI clock to let you control external instruments, but my preference for “real” instruments means I’ve never really got the hang of that.

I remain very excited by the idea of WholeWorldBand, and am very pleased to see the app getting gradually better. I just wish it was a little less gradual!

Here’s my latest recording on it…