Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Dear Friend" - Mix in progress

A month or so ago I posted a blog about mixing "Dear Friend."  Here is an updated video of the mix in progress describing some of the details of the changes to the opening of the track.  This song was started around 2003, and the first version appearing in the video was what I completed at that time.  Originally, it was created entirely on an ENSONIQ MR-61 synth, and a video demo of that keyboard including the opening to this song is in the video annotations.  However, the "finished" mix was polished up using SAWPro.  When I began to get songs ready for a new CD I wanted to include this one, but I also wanted to update the piano sound to a newer KORG sample that I was using for most compositions since then, as well as tweak the mix a bit with my current DAW of choice, Reaper. I found that while I still had all of the MR-61 MIDI files, I no longer had the SAWPro edit lists or associated WAV files, so the ending of the song that I had initially created was no longer available for importing into Reaper.

My first goal was to simply recreate the original ending in Reaper, but I was unable to do that to my satisfaction and ended up making an entirely new ending based on the opening of another mix of the song I had created in the years between.  After making a new ending (which I liked better than the original anyway), I found that I needed to adjust the opening of the song as well to make it more at home.  This video shows some of the changes I made.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"New Zealand Coastline"

"New Zealand Coastline" came to me in a dream. It doesn't happen very often, but once in a great while I will have a song playing in a dream, and once in a greater while I will be dreaming lucidly enough to realize that I am dreaming about a song, and once in an even greater while I will be able to make myself wake up and play enough of it on a keyboard so I will remember it.  Even then, only a very few of those middle-of-the-night doodles have eventually developed into what I felt was a good song.  Of those, this is my favorite.  

In the dream, the song was not specifically about New Zealand, but I think there was a general implication that this is where I was at the time it appeared.  I was not playing the song in the dream, nor was it even my song.  It sounded sort of like something Enya would do, and it was just kind of the "soundtrack" to what was going on at the time.  Once I realized that I was dreaming, and was able to wake up while still retaining the song in my head, I knew that the song didn't belong to anyone so I figured it was a case of "finders keepers."

Once I began to properly work on the song, a New Zealand coastal theme started to properly take shape.  I kept in mind a picture that was in a family album from a trip we took in the late 1980s, using that as a basis for the texture of the piece as it continued to take shape.  I eventually obtained a copy of that photo and included it in the booklet for the CD along with the track listing for the song.

"New Zealand Coastline" was initially created without any PC software.  I recorded each of the tracks internally with the ENSONIQ MR-61's built-in sequencer, using MIDI to control one patch on the ENSONIQ SD-1.  There is a patch on that synth which has a huge, multi-leveled feel which was perfect for this song.  You can clearly hear the single patch from the SD-1 once you know what to listen for.  It is where the high notes come from at about the :40 second mark and is the sound that carries out with a long sustain at the end of the song.  Everything else is the MR-61.  Because the whole thing was done on board the MR-61, to get this ready for the CD I simply pushed "record" on the computer and "play" on the keyboard.  Unfortunately, the multi-voice chorus effect used for that patch on the SD-1 has a glitch, where random click noises somehow get into the audio chain - and are replicated by the chorus - so they have a watery-echoey sound to them.  I used that same patch in "A New Beginning" on my first CD and a few of those clicks inadvertently made it into the final recording.  I didn't want to repeat that error here, so I painstakingly edited every click and its multiples from the recording using some software prior to mastering.  Other than that, this song is a good representation of how these keyboards sound "live."  ENSONIQ made some cool gear and I still use both of these synths on a regular basis.

The coastal scenes used in this video were shot in 2008 and include the Moeraki Boulders, Queen Charlotte Sound, Punakaiki, Waipapa Bay, Akaroa and Hokitika.

You can get a CD, including the booklet with New Zealand Coastline picture here.


This song was written late one night in 2001.  It was one of those moments where everything seemed to be aligned just right, the magic was in the air, or whatever happens when creativity peaks happens.  "Secrets" went from inspiration to completion in about 30 minutes, and the decision to make it the opening track on the next CD also came rather quickly.

Now that I am finally moving forward on preparing that CD, I revisited this song to see if it needed anything before being committed to the album.  Although the timing is a little sloppy in a couple of places and there is some unintended variation in the left-hand arpeggios, I decided to do absolutely no quantization or other "fixing," because a more intimate, human or perhaps "imperfect" condition is more true to the spirit of the song.    I had originally planned to extend the piece with a bridge leading into something as yet undetermined, but after listening to the initial draft I felt that this particular composition was certainly a case where one could easily break the spell by overdoing it.  The instrumentation is nothing fancy; little more than piano backed by strings, and so it seemed as though the basic structure of the song was appropriate as well.

I only made two significant changes (other than re-recording each track into the DAW at a higher sample rate).  First, I updated the piano sample from one on the ENSONIQ MR-61 to one from the KORG Triton.  I didn't yet own the KORG at the time this song was composed, and for most purposes I find its piano samples to be more lifelike.  Changing that patch did necessitate some level adjustments and effects processing in Reaper in order for it to properly fit into the mix.  After that, the only other change was a very small addition to the strings at about the 2-minute mark.  For some reason, every time I listened to this song I would hear - in my head - a specific note in the strings at that precise moment... that actually wasn't there.  So I put it there.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Some songs are never done

The new Reaper mix of "Dear Friend" is currently at 23 tracks
Quite a few of the songs I create sit in a state of partial completion for months or even years before I will go back and finish them. "Dear Friend" is an exception as it was brought out to its full length only a few days after the first note was written, and has been sitting on the shelf for the last eight years.

However, as I began working on the next album, I decided to re-record as many of my already completed songs as I could at a higher sample rate and, if possible, update some of the sounds and recreate the mix in Reaper instead of SAWPro

When I tackled this song I found that I had all of the original MIDI tracks, but I was unable to exactly duplicate the mix for the ending that I had made for the original version in SAWPro, so I had to come up with a new ending. In the years since I originally finished the song, I had made a lighter piano-based version for use in massage therapy. Just for kicks, I inserted the opening to that version as a new ending for this version, and found that it actually worked very well. In the process of doing that, I came up with a few new ideas, and those ideas spawned other ideas, and now I have ended up nearly completely redoing the mix. The picture here shows the mix as it is now in Reaper - 23 tracks at the moment.

You can hear the original mix of "Dear Friend" on my MySpace page.  The new mix will be on the next album.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Welcome to Doomsday... again

Just remember that any day could be your last, so live each one to the fullest.