Zen Meditation 1

What do you do when you’re web surfing? Some people play with paper clips or chew their fingernails… I typically play the keyboard that sits in front of my monitors. It’s something that occupies my hands while I read. Other times, I do the same thing and just sit and think, or simply lose myself in the repetitive sound and melody.

I don’t really consider this composition in the true sense because I’m rarely trying to achieve something… it’s just something that comes out. Still, people have sold millions of records doing little more than that, so there must be something of value in it for someone.

Mary gets angry when she hears me playing something for an hour or two and then asks me the next day to play it again. I often don’t even remember playing much less remember the melody or chords. For me, it’s the mental equivalent of sitting on the couch and munching potato chips while watching TV.

I’m trying to capture more of this if for no other reason than keeping the wife happy. I often don’t record what I’m doing because I have this huge perfectionist streak and get upset when what gets recorded isn’t what’s in my head. I’m not the best performer or engineer;  I’ll tweak and wiggle sliders for days and still not arrive at something I like. But I’ve gotten better about that.

I was talking with my brother the other day and noted that with the rise of cheap recording equipment and MP3 files, the bar for “acceptable quality” has gotten a lot lower. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it gets more music into the world, though it also makes it a lot harder to find the stuff you like.

This morning I loaded up a sound in Omnisphere that I had been playing last night while my other brother was over playing guitar. I fell into a short, repetitive motif and decided that I’d try to record it since it was calming and fit the cold, rainy, Saturday morning I’d experienced so far. It reminds me a bit of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, though it’s a bit overdone for that… Richard James has a knack for leaving things alone at exactly the right point. I often wonder if that album took two weeks or two years to make. I can see it going either way.

In any case, I present Zen Meditation 1. I hope you enjoy it.

Colophon:

  • MOTU Digital Performer
  • Spectrasonics Omnisphere (Guitar)
  • Access Virus TI Desktop (Bells)
  • Kurzweil K2600XS (Piano)
  • E-MU Mo’Phatt (Water / Wave noise)
  • Waves Trueverb, MondoMod, L2

UPDATE: I’ve written a followup post – Zen Meditation 1 Revisited.

Studio Cleanup Day

Today is Studio Cleanup Day. Time to throw away all of the paper scraps, untangle the spaghetti, reconsider the routing matrix, track down that ground loop, rip the pile of CDs that’s starting to fall over, get rid of those eBay boxes and peanuts, and figure out what the hell I’m going to do with the extra crap from the World of Warcraft collectors edition I got.

I also need to start putting all of the software I’ve acquired over the years into piles: obsolete, not using anymore, must have. If you make great software with crappy DRM schemes (Waldorf and Native Instruments, I’m looking at you…), you’re likely to go in the “sadly acknowledge that I won’t be upgrading again” pile.

It’s also time to revisit the studio wiring diagram and decide if it still makes sense given the increasingly hardware-based approach I’m taking with the studio. Everything old is new again, and I’m heading back to the 90s – before I bought into the idea that plugins were the answer to my problems.

Or, I might write some music in a desperate attempt to avoid all of that.

Odd Connections

I crossed another synth off my “acquire” list this week, the Korg DW8000. If you read about it, you’re unlikely to be overly impressed. It came out in the late 80s and is a digital/analog hybrid with sampled waveforms and a nice analog filter. I played around with one in college and remember teaching myself “Coming Around Again” by Carly Simon with a stock electric piano patch. I couldn’t afford to get one when they were new and, like so many others, forgot about synths when I got my first sampler.

Ultimately, it was on my list (I really should write that list down…) more for sentimental reasons than anything else. I wasn’t quite sure if it would live up to my memories. Until I plugged it in.

I love this synth.

Ok, to be fair, there aren’t many synths that I don’t love, but there’s something about this period in synthesizers that I find satisfying and the DW8000 sits squarely in the “tweener” age group of synth history. It’s got digital grit, but that analog presence that you just don’t get anywhere else. As with so many things, it’s the unique constraints and features that make this keyboard special. Want more than eight note polyphony? Tough. Need that arpeggiator to use a custom pattern? Forget about it. Up and down, that’s it, buddy.

But there’s also a dedicated unison mode that stacks all eight voices at a touch. A cool auto bend parameter that makes notes just slide into place. A portamento pedal jack. And the sound is actually better than I remembered it. The bass is full and thick. It can be delicate and digital, but it can also bark and growl.

What struck me the instant I started playing, though, was how I immediately connected with the sound. It just made me happy, and that was both odd and surprising. I’m always “happy” when I get a new toy, but this was something more. This was Happy.

I’m relearning how fantastic it is to have an actual keyboard under my hands instead of a master board with soft synths. I also picked up a Roland D-110 module this week, but it’s going to have to wait. The DW has my full attention this weekend.

Paralysis

I’m sitting in my home studio, surrounded by gear that would make many musicians weep with joy, but I can’t seem to get a single thing done. I have several excuses at the moment.

  1. I either cracked or severely bruised the tip of my left pinky a few days ago while tearing up a bassline on a weighted keyboard. It still hurts and is interfering with my mojo.
  2. My studio is a wreck. The mess is bugging me.
  3. Distractions abound. There’s a stack of CDs I picked up in Korea that need ripping. I need to archive some stuff off my hard drive to clear up some space.
  4. Skyrim.
  5. The Internet. How many times can one human being check Facebook, Google+, Twitter, eBay, GearSlutz.com, and YouTube in an hour? I’m apparently trying to find out and Mr. Owl is nowhere to be found.
  6. I have some work (for the day job) that needs attention.

Of course, none of these (except for the last one) are valid excuses. There is one other thing that’s been working its way into my brain, though. I’ve “written” four or five things that I really liked over the last week or so while noodling around with sounds. But they’re improvisations and I’ve never figured out how to capture them effectively. I’m too self conscious to do the same thing if I know the DAW is recording, and by the time I’ve worked out the bugs in what I’m doing, the moment is gone.

I am, however, putting an action plan together to address at least some of these problems.

  1. After a learning experiment with various social media sites (partly to learn, partly to protect my online brand…), I’m about to contract my efforts and limit them almost exclusively to Google+ and this blog. I’ll try to check the others once or twice a month for private messages.
  2.  I sat down yesterday and wrote out a list of my gear and the gear that I want or think I need. I’m going to try and rectify this list with what I perceive to be the significant holes in my studio (e.g., outboard processing) which should help with my Gear Acquisition Syndrome problem.
  3. I sense a “to hell with all this crap” purge session coming on, so I’m trying to get things organized into piles that will help bring about a hasty exit of much of the junk from my life.

I’ve been doing a GTD action dump for the last couple of weeks, but that becomes another action in and of itself.

What do you do to give yourself a kick in the pants when there’s so much to do you can’t seem to pick a starting point?