Here is a performance I recorded last August of my Jean Guillou influenced piece, The White Flame. I am using my trusty Roland GR55 which is the same unit I have used extensively with Karl Hyde and the rock opera, Pop’pea.
Jean Guillou’s magnificent flames of hair and the inspiration for the title of my piece!
I was interested to see how writing a piece of music within a particular large room would affect my note choices and phrasing. The hall I used in this example is the Upper Room at Cairns Road Baptist Church and I’d like to thank them for the opportunity. The room has a long decay, around the 2.5 second range so therefore lots of long legato notes would work best in that setting. I also wanted to try and use tones that would resonate well within that space so I created a trombone woodwind hybrid using the dual PCM layers of the GR55. I mapped the trombone sounds to the expression pedal which let me create swells over the woodwind base. The GR55 has an incredibly deep programability which I think people aren’t aware of. I have to say though that editing on the unit is no fun and I highly recommend Gumtown’s astonishingly excellent free editor for it available here.
The terrific Jesse giving the audience cues to join in!
The crowded venue earlier. You could hardly swing an ewok in there!
The concept behind the Fantasy Orchestra is that it is open to everyone no matter what instrument they play. The selection of songs initially was centred on the incredible music of Ennio Morricone but has expanded to take in such disparate film score composers including Dominic Frontiere, John Barry, Alexander Courage,Jimi Hendrix and R D Burman. This is interesting music to play, Burman for instance is one of India’s seminal film score composers so it’s highly rewarding to perform in this Bollywood style. Hendrix’s name may seem odd included amongst these cinematic composers but the arrangement the F.O performs of “1983 (a merman I should turn to be)” reveal Hendrix’s music to having terrific film scoring potential.
Here I am singing with the Orchestra, new years eve 2013 at The Cube, Bristol
The show today however featured a lovely song that was originally meant for Disney’s 1967 The Jungle Book but didn’t make the cut. It’s called Brothers All written by Terry Gilkyson. Jesse has a particular talent for locating obscure gems and performing them makes being involved with the Fantasy Orchestra such fun. My original involvement within the ranks of the F.O had me playing bass (along side Eels, PJ Harvey producer John Parish) but due to being otherwise occupied I had to bow out. Upon rejoining at the tail end of last year and with the bass job now handled by the psychedelically funky Stefano Manfredi , Jesse asked me to sing lead vocals instead on a bunch of songs including this one, which is a low baritone crooning style. This is in contrast to my normal quoggy wail style as ably demonstrated here.
Another element to playing within the Fantasy Orchestra is that we have to perform wearing whatever the dress code happens to be. When we played at Bristol’s venerable Cube Cinema, new years eve 2013, the code was Wildermann. This is French photographer Charles Fréger name for his project of trying to capture the spirit of tribal Europe. This resulted in some inspired outfits that evening! There are many awesome photos of those outfits here.
Korg created a real surprise today when they launched their new iOS music app Gadget at the Namm 2014 winter show. It is a music production suite of 15 “gadgets’ within a sequencing environment. I had just returned from a late night rehearsal when I read about the new launch. I immediately downloaded it and thought it would be great fun to film a first impression of it without any preparation. Below is the first part of my first look:
And here is the second part:
In order to make this little film, I downloaded a piece of software for my Mac called Reflector. It allows you to use your Mac as an Airplay client for your iPad, therefore able to record the screen. I hadn’t used it before so I apologise for the audio glitching which I think was due to that.
I had written a full review following my first impression but sadly due to incompetence on my part, I lost it all 😦 If I can be bothered I’ll get around to writing it again.
*Update* I decided to do a follow up video after I’d had a further investigation of the app. Here it is:
Back in early 2012 I was asked to play bass in a modern reworking of the Monteverdi opera masterpiece L’incoronazione de Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea) to be held in early summer that year in Paris’s beautiful and prestigious Théâtre du Châtelet on the banks of the Seine. It was a star studded affair featuring Carl Barât in the lead role as Nero, Marc Almond as Seneca and French lothario, Benjamin Biolay. The whole rock opera is currently available to view online at the moment in 2D here and in 3D here.
The principals from left (back) Valérie Gabail, Carl Barât, (front) Pete Howard, Marc Almond and Benjamin Biolay
This production was the brainchild of the director general of the Châtelet, Jean Luc Choplin and follows the long tradition of taking the original top lines and bass lines of the opera and orchestrating it using current methods. Back in 1643 when this opera was written, that is all that essentially existed of it and various productions would sound quite different due to differing approaches of the orchestrator. The opera had largely been forgotten until it was revived in the 19th century and since then has become a staple for Opera productions worldwide. What made this particular production of Poppea unusual was the bringing together of the classical world and the rock’n’roll world of which I inhabit!
The director of the Chatelet, Jean Luc Choplin
The well known American composer Michael Torke was commissioned to carry out the musical adaptation which although a skilled arranger, his original interpretation lacked rock music’s contemporary edge. To counter this, at the suggestion of the English librettist, Ian Burton, a much more credible source in ex Clash/Queen Adreena drummer Pete Howard was brought in to act as musical director. Pete duly brought on board Max La Villa, former bandmate from their time in early 90’s alternative rock band Eat to co orchestrate. Together they set about deconstructing Michael Torke’s adaptation and using a very contemporary approach mixing all sorts of musical genres and instrumental sounds to give it a timelessness. There is a good video here which has Max explain the approach. This did prove to be a fairly controversial idea as the much hyped “Rock” element of the production was partially subsumed within this esoteric and peerless arrangement which featured a never heard before blend of unusual sound sources. The advertising for the opera featured a flaming Les Paul (as shown at the top of the page) but this kind of balls out rock was very much in the minority in Pete and Max’s treatment.
The Hammond Novachord – a major part of the sound of Pop’pea
Samples of the rare and groundbreaking 1940’s Hammond synthesizer, The Novachord rubbed shoulders with the 80’s sampler The Fairlight mixed with liberal splashes of analog classics the Mellotron and Korg’s Monopoly along with a whole host of other well chosen sounds. These synth parts were played by two exceptional musicians, Angie Pollock (who I would have a musical future with playing together in the Karl Hyde band in 2013) and former Cardiacs keyboardist and solo star William D Drake (Bill).
(From left) Marcus “Matic Mouth” Smith, Carl Barât, Angie Pollock, Max La Villa, Me, Bill Drake, Chris McComish, Pete Howard plus some of Carl’s fans!
The band was rounded out with the astonishingly talented drummer and percussionist Chris McComish and myself on bass. Max was the sole guitarist and Pete was the primary drummer with Chris bringing a more electronic percussive element along. Pete Howard is a phenomenally powerful drummer and his über rock dynamics brought a genuine edge to the show. Max’s elegant and spare approach to guitar playing interwove beautifully amongst the complex and dense keyboard lines. Although initially brought in just to play bass, I ended up working intensively with Max preparing the music technology to be used within the show. Below is a video tour I made for Sonic State giving a tour of the theatre, a rig rundown of the equipment and interviews with the band:
To try and stay faithful to this new orchestration, I needed to play a midi bass as many of the bass lines were in fact synth parts. I used the Roland GR55 (as shown in the above video) and attempted to program parts to be as close as possible to Max’s carefully chosen timbres. This was mostly successful but on a few numbers the bass parts were performed in unison along with Angie on the keyboard. Using this approach did make what was already extremely complex baroque bass lines even more difficult as I had to seek ways to minimise the inherent latencies to trigger the sounds cleanly. I discovered using a capo increased the tautness of the strings and prevented false triggering. Since then, I have used capo on bass significantly for many purposes and found it helpful on a couple of numbers on the Karl Hyde tour. I must strive for a signature bass capo at some point!
Rehearsals for the band began at the end of March in Stoke Newington, North London before moving to The Châtelet itself in April. We laboured under extremely stressful time pressure once at the Châtelet as we were expected to perform in front of the Theatres top brass much earlier than expected. Here lay an obstacle, The Châtelet were not used to rock musicians and certainly not what the technical requirements were. Ideally we should have had a technician with us at all times due to the ferociously complex sound mix plus getting the scores to be playable and all the instruments to behave as they should took much tweakery and adjustments. Our original brief was that there was to be no sheet music on stage which especially for the keyboard players would have been impossible so thankfully that restriction was lifted. There were so many unexpected developments that all seemed to heap on the pressure; reports that the French Prime Minister was coming to the opening night, Kanye West and Jay Z would be attending, that it was going to filmed for national French TV, that it was going to filmed in 3D! And so on. Tensions were running high as we worked for 21 days straight without a day off often working from 10 in the morning to midnight.
The trailer for the show
By the middle of April the rehearsals moved from the Châtelet to a fairly dilapidated studio on the outskirts of Paris in the district of Montreuil. This was a huge contrast to working in the confines of the beautiful Chatelet but the workload didn’t let up though it just mean that we had to travel daily to this location. The studio it transpired has an incredible history as being setup by Georges Méliés, the famous early film director who created A Trip To The Moon, there. This isthe famous 1902 short film where a space rocket gets fired into the eye of the moon. Ben Kingsley starred as Méliés in the recent Martin Scorsese film Hugo.
That famous scene!
The first run throughs with the principals was interesting though. Marc Almond astonished everyone with his precise and convincing performances each time playing it as if it was the real thing. His professionalism was outstanding and his stage presence, mesmerising. Marc was playing the philosophic tutor Seneca and he brought a real depth and sincerity to this rather melodramatic role. Carl too was impressive. Being a punk rocker, it was a huge challenge for him to take such a large role on and manage to pull it off. He had to sing some extremely challenging vocals but managed to achieve it with some aplomb. His Nero was maniacal, unstable and vicious which was just what the role required. For me, and many others, one of the big star turns was that of Swedish singer Fredrika Stahl. She was playing the role of Nero’s rejected wife Ottavia and although she only had a few songs to sing, she sang with such chilling precision and with an utterly convincing intensity that was genuinely moving. It was interesting to see these performances at this stage of the rehearsals as it gave us a much clearer idea of how it was going to turn out.
Around this time, we met this wonderful character called Julien Lambert who was the most prolific character to appear in Pop’pea starring in virtually every scene as a mime and acrobat providing much comedic relief. Julien had just starred in Les Fraises Des Bois , a critically acclaimed film which at the time had not long been released. Julien once told me how he used to have a party trick whereby he would surprise guests by unexpectedly leap out of a nearby window to the gasps of the horrified onlookers only to have utilised his considerable acrobatic skills to have discreetly grabbed the balcony and would be safe hanging just outside of view. After he told me this he surprised me by doing exactly that and leapt off my fifth floor hotel room balcony, I panicked and rushed out to see him dangling with this enormous grin!
The unmistakeable Jean Guillou
Towards the end of the rehearsal period (and back at the Châtelet), things relaxed slightly for us musicians as the focus became more about the staging and technical matters. We found ourselves having moments of spare time where we could start enjoying being in the dead centre of Paris. Acting on a tip from a friend, most of the band went to see an organist by the name of Jean Guillou perform at the nearby Saint Eustache cathedral. Jean has been the resident organist at this magnificent building since the early 60’s and had studied under the genius Olivier Messiaen. Jean performs most Sundays there around 5pm and it is truly a magnificent experience that I highly recommend. Having had the organ rebuilt to his specifications some years back, we realised that he not only played the instrument but in his use of sub bass and echoes, he played the whole building! Myself and Bill Drake became obsessed with him and attempted to see him perform as often as our busy schedule would allow. His compositions rank as some of the most spiritual and psychedelic music I have ever heard. During one break Bill and Angie were invited to play on this extraordinary piano in the Chatelet. Below is a film I made of Bill playing his wonderful composition The Moth Surrenders To The Flame
The remarkable William D Drake
Two English rappers had been brought in to play the roles of Nero’s guards, Achilles “AC” Charrington and Marcus “Matic Mouth” Smith. Both extremely talented, they provided an almost comedic element to the show and were both lots of fun to hang out with over the two months or so of production. Marcus would dazzle during impromtu jam sessions back at the hotel whereas AC blitzed my mind with his amazing grasp of history and philosophy! Myself and AC went together to witness the amazing scenes at the Bastille the day that the narcissist and bigot Sarkozy was deposed at the French general election. the scenes that greeted us were astonishing as we could hardly move amongst the thousands and thousands of revellers who had gathered to celebrate.
Crazy scene of the madness and joy following Sarkozy’s defeat
Marcus and AC discuss their involvement
As show time approached we started to understand the odd staging that Pierrick Sorin and Giorgio Barberio had planned. Essentially what this involved was the actors would perform in front of a green screen whilst various cast members would manipulate minature models or props around the stage edge. All of this would be projected on to a huge screen overhead whereby the audience would see the amalgamation of all these images as a cohesive whole.
Fredrika as Ottavia being projected against a stormy sea scape
This was an ambitious idea that the directors had used in other projects prior to Pop’pea. Its idea being that the audience are as interested in the process as they are the finished item. In the most, the ideas worked really well but in my opinion were let down by the lip synching delay caused by all the computer processing. During dress rehearsals we all thought this was a glitch that would be solved in the main shows but sadly not.
The costumes for the production were made by the world famous Nicola Formichetti, most famous for designing Lady Gaga’s far out costumes. Nicola being have Italian and have Japanese had the rather enviable life of growing up in both Rome and Tokyo. He is now the artistic director for the Italian (and my favourite) fashion label Diesel. His involvement with the show ensured that the fashionistas were fascinated with the production and it featured in the pages of Elle, Paris Match, Timeout and many, many more. In fact when the show was over we were presented with dossiers over an inch thick of the various international press the show had garnered. Sadly us musicians were not clothed by Nicola had had to just look smart instead of ridiculous. Probably a good move!
Valérie Gabail as Pop’pea wearing one of Nicola’s fantastic outfits.
Here I am modelling the shiny suits the male band members wore.
A news article about Pop’pea
The publicity around the show was huge. Everywhere we went in paris we saw huge billboards advertising the show, it was splashed across all the major publications and the principals were interviewed on many of France’s leading cultural programmes. There was a large amount of healthy scepticism too as this was a very daring production. Rock opera to most conjures images of musical theatre a lá We Will Rock You and true like but here was a genuine baroque opera conforming in many ways to a traditional opera but yet casting one of France’s leading female opera stars (Valérie Gabail) against a notorious punk in Carl whilst messing with post modern ideas of presentation with the most surreal approach to orchestration and there is a recipe for disaster or triumph!
A poster for Pop’pea outside Paris’s famous Hotel de Ville
Well what happened? I think in many ways it was a triumph. We received generally very positive reviews with some naysayers but I think most were in agreement that this was an audacious and enjoyable show. Opening night was thrilling too say the least as Paris’s great and good turned out in huge numbers including some very prestigious actors, musicians and politicians. For me the opening night was the best performance too as is often the case as the months of hard work all come together. If I was to sum up what I thought of the show it was remarkably brave, noisy, exciting, sometimes silly, sometimes sad, innovative and ultimately slightly flawed. The video below was taken at the party on the Châtelet roof top after the opening night performance. I am interviewed early on and can hardly contain my excitement!
As I mentioned at the top of this piece, the whole show is currently available online to view in 2D here and in 3D here. I’d love to hear comments about what you think. If you are just interested in a taste of the show I’d recommend watching the powerful opening but then skipping on to Marc Almond’s appearances or Fredrika’s as I think they are the show highlights. Be warned though if there are youngsters around though, Marcus’s and AC’s turn as the rapping soldiers is loaded with expletives and some of the scenes are quite saucy!
The band about to take their bows (from left) Bill, Max, Pete, Chris, me, Angie
Being involved in this production was something I’ll never forget: The generosity of the Châtelet, the friendly and charming crew, the bizarre collection of actors and musicians, the beautiful Châtelet Theatre, the incredibly difficult baroque bass lines, being personally thanked by the mayor of Paris, the challenges and resolutions amongst the musicians, the list goes on. I’d like to thank Jean Luc Choplin, Sylviane Borie, both Stefans, the crew at the Châtelet, Pete Howard, Max La Villa, Angie Pollock, Chis McComish and especially a huge thank you to Bill Drake for bringing me in to this life changing production!
The sad news today of the great Nelson Mandela’s passing brought back vivid memories of when I had a chance encounter with him back in 1998.
Nelson in Cardiff 1999
Nelson was a huge figure in my life since the first proper concert that I ever attended was the Mandela 70th birthday tribute concert in Wembley stadium in 1988 when I was a mere 16 years old. The impact of seeing some of my then favourite bands and comedians making tributes and the various films that were shown interspersed amongst the 12 hours of music had made lasting impression on me and had introduced the awful notion of apartheid to my naive young self. Nelson seemed to stand for true freedom more than anyone else and the joy I felt at his subsequent release from prison in 1990 after 27 years was immense. It was astonishing to see him then become the president of that very same country that had incarcerated for so long. His speeches around that time were beautiful, full of wisdom and positivity with a remarkable lack of vitriol or anger aimed at his former captors. He gave true definition to the word hero.
A t shirt from the 1988 concert I attended as a fresh faced 16 year old.
Fast forward 8 years or so and I found myself having to attend a pesky back to work course that benefit claimants (as I was back then) were forced to do to keep receiving payments. These courses were generally to antagonise long term doleys into getting off their arses and into a mind numbing succession of CV writing and interview techniques for non existent jobs. I had been at a music festival all weekend but had to attend if I wanted to eat that week. I blearily wandered in at 9 am and sat through the tedium and blather of the course introduction and disengaged from the waffle spouting out from the advisors who frankly didn’t want to be there either. Finally at about 3pm, I was a free man, I could leave and hurried down the stairs only to run in to a bunch of other course attendees who were idly chatting near the entrance, everyone bade their farewells and headed off in different directions leaving me with the social dilemma of walking with someone from the course who I’d rather not socialise with or walk in a different direction from my house until safely out of sight then making my return. Being British of course I had to do the honourable thing and walk in that different direction, this was something that made me chuckle as I realised I was walking completely the wrong way than I needed to go!
How strange the gods of fate operate though, as I wondered down Cardiff’s Queen Street I saw a large gathering by Park Lane. Being naturally inquisitive, I squeezed through the throng whereby I saw a limousine pulling up outside a hotel. Someone exclaimed “It’s Nelson Mandela!” which I found hilarious as I saw an elderly African man clearly not Nelson step out of the car but then immediately behind him there he was! I had no idea he was visiting Cardiff and to make matters even more bizarre he had seemingly singled me out and was walking straight towards me hand out stretched and an enormous smile on his face. He moved with an elegance I’d never seen before, bolt upright and supremely dignified, there was an aura around him that felt genuinely spiritual. The next few moments seemed like a fairy tale or wonderful dream as he clasped my hand. He had beautiful soft hands and as I enthusiastically shook them he steadied me with his other hand as I blurted out “Nelson, so wonderful to meet you! On behalf of my fellow Welshmen, welcome to Wales!” He laughed so sweetly and jokingly pointed at my face and said “Thank you, thank you, by the way I like your nose ring!” Ha, my controversial nose ring that my family hated just had Madiba’s seal of approval! I was in shock, the whole episode so surreal, unexpected and infuriatingly without fellow friends to witness until I spotted Cardiff’s baffingly great and odd urban poet/bin drummer Ninjah who had been trying in vain to offer Nelson one of his cucumber sandwiches!
This is very close to the moment although I am not in this shot, grrr. Ninjah can be seen though on the left near the middle.
Nelson Mandela 1918 – 2013, you wonderful humanitarian, inspiration to so many, rest in your well earned peace.
Cubase has received a new update today so I thought I’d write up some notes whilst waiting for it to download. I think Steinberg’s servers are under heavy demand!
This update takes Cubase up to v7.5 but beware it is a paid upgrade (49€/49$). If you happened to have upgraded to version 7 since October 15th then you can get this update for free but for other users of v7 there is that fee. Although I always look forward to a Cubase .5 release, some people complain bitterly about these halfway house paid upgrades – i.e It is expected that you’d pay for a major v6 to v7 type upgrade but to pay for an intermediate step? I think this is Steinberg’s business model now as evinced by the same strategy when v6. came out with a similar fee. It could be argued that this is a way to ensure that Steinberg manages to get a yearly revenue from it’s customers with a major version dropping every two to three years and a half version in between. Well, what does this update offer and is it worth paying for or should users just simply hold out for the next big update which will include all these intermediate features anyway?
Well I guess the headline features are:
TrackVersions: Playlists for creating, renaming and managing parallel variations of tracks
This looks highly interesting to me for a bunch of reasons. I think sometimes its nice to come back to a song and have a fresh crack at say the vocals but rather than creating a new track, you can simply create a new track version which flows through all the same processing and automation. You can then simply toggle between your two versions. Both versions of which could contain lots of comping. The great thing with track versions is that it applies to most of the track types and this is especially interesting with the chord track. If you have your midi tracks (and monophonic audio tracks) set to follow the chord track, changing a chord will mean that all the tracks will change their note contents to follow suit. This could mean that if you wrote a song within a minor key you could create a track version in a major key and then toggle the version and have the whole song change. This has huge repercussions for composers who want to try out different keys for singers, different moods for film makers etc
Track visibility: Shows only the tracks you want to see in the Project window
This is another very nice and a “why didn’t they think of that before?” feature. This lets you select any tracks on the arrangement page and make them the only visible ones. You have been able to do this with the mixer as of v7 so it’s nice to see it be part of the arrangement page. You can also link the arrangement page and the mixer now so they both look the same. Examples of this could be just showing the drums tracks. You can conveniently save track view presets so viewing and editing large and complex projects will become significantly easier.
Instrument (t)rack 2.0: Supports multi-outputs and multi-inputs, and merges instrument tracks with the Instrument Rack
Again a sensible streamlining of workflow. Prior to the invention of instrument tracks, to host a VST plugin, one had to put the plugin in the rack, and then create a midi track and assign it to that. Instrument tracks sped up the process by just creating an instrument track and midi track combined but lost the ability to have a single VST instrument output multiple audio outputs, this new combining of both approaches is definitely welcome. Put an instrument in the rack and it instantly creates a midi track routed to it or create an instrument track like before and the instrument appears in the rack automatically.
HALion Sonic SE 2: Giving you tons of fresh new sounds plus a totally new synth
Since Steinberg was bought by Yamaha some years ago, the Halion synths have benefitted from Yamaha’s considerable experience and feature sounds from some of their synths (Motif range I believe). It will be interesting to see what these sounds are like (a separate download from 7.5)
Groove Agent SE 4: With over 120 drum kits and smart user interface for creating beats and hits in no time
This looks like a radical overhaul of the rather simplistic version of Groove Agent in v7. They have obviously taken a good look at Native Instruments Maschine (see my feature here) and also Akai’s long running MPC range and have tried to incorporate some of those workflow ideas. It has a huge slew of new features on board including pattern editor and a suite of dedicated effects. There are also new drum kits to play with.
New construction kits: Adding flavor to your productions and giving you new song ideas
Could be interesting to some. They are essentially 30 complete songs made up of midi files that are assigned to the various synths and drum machines within Cubase. The idea is that they give you starting blocks to inspire. I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing I’d use but maybe good to build tracks in a hurry and then fiddle with the content later.
LoopMash FX: For real-time modern-style breaks, tape-stops, stutters and more
Ah this looks fun. Fans of Izotope’s innovative stutter edit will like this as you can apply those peculiar twists and turns and beat repeats on any material now not just the loops within the previous Loop Mash plug in. Assign a midi tracks output to the track with Loop Mash FX inserted on and then have some serious fun making your audio jump through hoops!
REVelation: Super-smooth and silky-sounding algorithmic reverb that brings back the memories of those old fancy hardware units
We are getting a bit spoilt now with this sumptuous collection of new stuff. A good quality algorithmic reverb would have cost at least double the update price so this alone makes the €49 cost seem a bit like a bargain. This reverb is a bit overdue mind as the previous algorithmic reverb Roomworks (and Roomworks SE) have been sounding (!) a bit long in the tooth and compared to the shinier, newer convolution based reverb, Reverence, it has seemed a bit lacking. I am looking forward to pitting this against my current favourite algorithmic reverb Aether
Magneto 2: Adding warmth to your tracks
Aha Magneto returns! Long time Cubase users will remember the original Magneto, a tape emulation plugin, from way back. It’s nice to see it return in hopefully an even better sounding incarnation. Interestingly it appears in two formats within Cubase 7.5, as a vst plugin or as a component within the channel strip which makes a lot of sense for those who want to run it on every track to emulate a tape based project.
VST Connect SE 2 (available in Cubase 7.5 only): Unique remote recording plug-in now with MIDI data transmission
I am still yet to try this which came out with v7 and allows musicians all over the world to essentially become plugins within an input track ! The new version allows not just audio but midi to be recorded from your connected contributors.
Transient navigation: Tab to transients on audio events in the Project window thanks to the new instant hitpoint navigation
This has been in Cubase for a long time but now takes place automatically without you having to go into the audio editor and set it manually. Also being able to do this within the arrange page will speed up editing significantly.
If you are a user of the score editor, you may be pleased to learn that you now have a whole wealth of midi editing facilities within the score editor now rather than having to tediously swap to the key editor every time you want to say quantize or other such midi edit operation.
I will return to this post once I have completed this download.
a short extract from the Cube performance by Asteroid Deluxe
I played a cool gig last Friday night with Asteroid Deluxe, the free form kraut rock inspired space rock band that I setup with my great friends and musical collaborators Andy Taylor and James Phillips. Dani Landau and Mat ‘DJ Dinnermoney’ Wigley are also sometime members but this gig was just the three of us initially. I was using my Roland GR55 midi bass for all sorts of odd brass, detuned flutes and distorted cellos as heard in the video extract. Dani was up at the back of the auditorium mixing the whole shaboodle when he sneakily started playing along out of sight on his bass clarinet. Andy the guitarist naturally assumed it was me on my midi bass!
We played this non stop 45 minute warpathon to a small but dedicatedly frazzled crowd at Bristol’s venerable Cube Cinema. This is a real jewel of a venue as it is run by an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers and has an always inspiring combination of films, music and art events happening. There is an attempt to buy the freehold for the building which would be great of Bristol ensuring that it will keep running the way it is not cowed by commercial concerns. Read about that here. The performance was part of an evening called ¡hen~do which was a multimedia event of much mayhem curated by Dani Landau and Mr Hopkinson. The XYZ Saw Ensemble, Attacked by Wolves and The Da Da Workout were just some of the performers taking part in this good natured and completely batty event.
The XYZ Saw Ensemble
Asteroid Deluxe’s mission statement is to play the most mindbending, psychedelic and freaky music this side of Alpha Centauri! We recently recorded a suite of tunes called The Moons of Jupiter at The Manic Street Preachers’ Cardiff based recording studio. This will hopefully be ready for release early next year. Here is an excerpt from Callisto.
Another new episode of our iPad/touch devices show Sonic Touch has just been released, episode 27 no less. In this show we look at Positive Grid‘s new amp modeller Bias which I think is rather nifty. I enjoyed making this show as I got to twang away on a guitar for a change!
We also looked into a new feature of iOS7 called inter-app audio which allows for the routing of the sound of one app into another. This is similar to the third party Audio Bus which has been with us for a year or so but is built in at an OS level and thus is more practical. Currently there are not too many apps which support this but I think that will change drastically over the next few months.
More music tech goodness to chew on folks! I decided to make a short film showing the integration of a bunch of new things, Logic Pro X, the iPad Air plus the Native Instruments Maschine Studio running the V2.0 software. They play really well together!
Logic Pro X
I have made no attempt to hide my distaste of the music software Logic in the past, perhaps because I am a long time Cubase user it is ingrained in me but also I just think that for years it has really lagged behind other DAW’s too. Well, I have changed my mind, slightly! I had to buy Logic due to a collaboration with an artist I am working with. It just made sense to do this rathe than both of us lose time with trying to convert the projects back and forth between our systems. Besides this artist, there is another that I will be working with soon who is also on Logic X too. I had previously bought (against my wishes!) Logic 9 which I hated with a passion so I wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of spending more time in Logic land. We’ll I need not of worried too much as Logic X is a huge improvement over its predecessor. The much needed facelift has finally banished those tiny menus and the relocation of things like the transport bar to the top has made the workflow more intuitive. Track stacks bring a Reaper like function when you group a bunch of tracks into a folder, that folder gains a dedicated fader – are you listening Cubase? There is now a bass amp emulation called Bass Amp Designer and low and behold when I first instantiated (correct term!) the plug in I was faced with a graphical reproduction of my classic old bass amp a Mesa boogie 400+ and my old cab too, the quirky 1516. I have never seen these emulated before and I was really impressed with how it sounded. There is the much talked about Drummer plug in which lets you choose drummer by personality (?) and also you now have a basic Melodyne like functionality called Flex pitch which I have yet to try amongst countless other improvements.
My old bass amp amp now in Logic Pro X – Mesa Boogie 400+
Logic Remote showing mixer
The show stopper for me though is the clever Logic Remote app for iPad. Borrowing heavily from the iPad version of GarageBand, this controller allows you to mix, edit and perform using a very intuitive control surface. Interestingly they have taken the Smart instruments idea and made them in to controllers for the Logic instruments. I marvelled at the design of these a few years back when they debuted on the iPad GarageBand so they are welcome here. These essentially let you turn the iPad into various types of midi controller, a guitar simulator, drum pads and chord strips on top of a regular piano keyboard that can also have notes stripped away to display only in key notes. Cleverly these follow whatever the region’s key is which is set in the main info panel at the top of Logic X. I have been banging on for nearly a year now about the wonderful chord track in Cubase, well Logic gets a halfway house now with the arrangement track combined with being able to set keys for regions. In practice I have found the Logic Remote to be the most robust and reliable of all the different iPad based control surfaces I have tried. Probably to do with some secret voodoo that Apple have going on that is closed to all and sundry however it works very well and maintains connection quickly after bringing the iPad out of sleep. This was the killer in the past for other controllers as it would often mean that you would have to jump through a few hoops to get things synchronised again. One feature I particularly like (which the Cubase Equivalent, IC also has) is the ability to create shortcuts and macros and give them dedicated buttons.
Logic Remote showing shortcuts page
Maschine Studio Intergration
You may have read my Maschine Studio and software review or saw my Sonic State review. If not you can find them here so I won’t go over old ground as to what it is needless to say though that you can run Maschine software as an Audio Unit (AU) within Logic X. The cool thing with doing this is that the Smart Instrument controllers operate on the Maschine too via Logic’s own routing. I didn’t have to set anything up, they just worked. This is very cool as it allows for Ableton Live Push like functionality which was left out of Maschine v2.0. This means you can use the aforementioned preset scales on the sounds within Maschine. I try and demonstrate this in my video so I recommend watching that to see it in practice although the tune I make is quite meh!
Karl released his first solo album, Edgeland and I was recruited to play bass for the resulting tour. Karl had been searching for someone who was a bassist but also adept at music technology. Our mutual friend, the fabulous Dave Spiers from GForce software, recommended me to Karl and we instantly clicked. Karl had spent his formative music years in Cardiff and to our great surprise we had numerous old friends in common. Karl put together a great small band for the tour including Angie Pollock (Goldfrapp/Peter Gabriel) and Peter Chilvers (Brian Eno).
Here is the band (from left to right) me, Angie, Karl and Peter. The photo was taken in Yoyogi park in Tokyo on our first visit. After seeing this photo, we joked that it is my arm resting on Peter’s shoulder!
Karl is an extremely likeable chap. He is funny, smart and restlessly creative. In fact to accompany his album Edgeland he made a feature length documentary with notable Welsh director Kieran Evans called the Outer Edges which explores the largely unloved areas where a city touches the countryside. These themes of loneliness, isolation, dereliction but ultimately salvation crop in numerous songs on the album lending a cohesive feel to the proceedings. Below is a short clip outlining Karl’s decision to make both the album and the film.
Below is a video from the superb gig we played at London’s Union Chapel. The song is 8 Ball, an Underworld classic from the Danny Boyle film The Beach.
Karl has had an incredible career which dates back to the late 70’s in said Cardiff. Through the synth pop of Freur to the guitar centric Underworld mk1, Karl went through various musical shifts until him and partner Rick Smith hit on the perfect marriage of techno beats and stream of consciousness lyrics in the early 90’s.
Freur were an interesting amalgam of influences and although they didn’t have big hits in the UK, they were very popular in Europe especially in Italy where their biggest hit Doot Doot is still often heard. Below is a link to Freur playing Doot Doot live. for some, this song represents a pinnacle of synth pop as it has become a cult classic over the years. During this tour with Karl, we resurrected Doot Doot and played it at a few of the venues to much acclaim. The show in Berlin was especially touching as the noted (and sadly departed) German producer Conny Plank’s son was in the audience and was visibly moved by this performance. Conny had worked extensively with Freur hence the connection.
I distinctly remember being in a party back in early 1994 when someone put on dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworld Mk2’s seminal debut. It was the first time I had heard dance music work with a proper frontman. previous attempts at this had resulted in novelty fluff like The Shaman’s Ebeneezer Goode. Underworld were a genre defining, zeitgeist surfing phenomena who’s influence is still apparent in many of today’s top dance and electronica acts. One of the standout tracks from that album was the sly and seductive Dirty Epic. We revisited this tune on the tour too which was always extremely well received. Here is the Underworld version:
And here is a very early version of us playing it live at the tiny warm up show we played in Komedia in Brighton. This was a terrific gig for us as there was a fabulous atmosphere in the audience with plenty of friends. Some of the UK’s electronica royalty turned out for this including Orbital, Future Sound of London and The Grid.
2012 saw Karl’s biggest endeavour to date as he and partner Rick Smith were the musical directors for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. Reuniting once again with director Danny Boyle, they set about creating a truly memorable event which blew peoples minds around the globe and defied the British expectation that following on from Beijing’s astonishing ceremony, that ours would be ‘a bit rubbish’. Underworld even composed the music (Caliban’s Dream) for the lighting of the Olympic cauldron!
A scene from London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony
Karl’s album was the next thing he did after being involved with such a magnificent event. In fact he wrote it in downtime during the punishing rehearsal schedule for the ceremony. He collaborated with the London based and supremely talented guitarist Leo Abrahams who produced the album. After the album (which I did not play on) was complete, it was then he set about putting the band together for the tour. Karl had been working with Brian Eno, the legendary producer and inventor of ambient music (amongst other accolades) and through him got to know long term Eno collaborator Peter Chilvers, who became the musical director of the band. As well as being a terrific musician, Peter has also worked with Brian on the generative music apps Bloom, Trope and most recently Scape.
Peter at Fuji Rock, Japan. July 2013
The lineup was complete with the addition of myself and the inimitable Miss Angie Pollock. Angie has had an unbelievable career to date. She started her professional work with ex Specials front man Terry Hall at the tender age of 17 and then went on to play with (amongst many others) Shakespear’s Sister, Lightning Seeds, Suede’s Brett Anderson, Peter Gabriel and Goldfrapp, who she is currently touring with.
Angie in Tokyo, April 2013.
The tour took us around the world and we played some amazing gigs such as Sonar in Barcelona and in fact we headlined at Tokyo’s own Sonar festival too. Australia was particularly exciting with a sold out gig in Sydney Opera House.
Here I am on the top of the Harbour bridge surveying the scene before the evening’s gig!
The show in Sydney was part of an annual festival they have there called Vivid Sydney in which the harbour becomes a giant canvas for some spectacular lights and lasers. The Opera House itself is used as a backdrop for projections and it was remarkable how detailed they were and how well the projections mapped to to the sails of the building. It was thrilling to know that we were to be playing inside that iconic place especially with those glorious projections going on.
Here is the full 2013 projection onto the Opera House
The tour finally wrapped up at the end of July with the biggest and best show at the venerable Fuji Rock festival in Naiba, Japan. This is the Japanese equivalent to the UK’s Glastonbury and is set in the stunning mountains of Naiba in the central part of Honshu. We were the second headliners on the Saturday night on the main stage and had the much coveted sunset slot i.e. starting in the light and climaxing in the dark.
Playing at Fuji Rock!
We changed the set around a bit for this show too, taking out some of the slower numbers and adding some more uptempo stuff more suitable for a festival crowd. Something made this show extra special for me was that it took place at the tail end of my honeymoon and my new wife was sat in front of the mixing desk, clearly visible to me amongst the tens of thousand Japanese music fans!
Here is a video that my wife Fiona took of the finale, 8 Ball.