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Winter is coming…Time to hunker down in the recording studio.

It’s a great time to start staying warm in the recording studio. I spent the last 6 months stockpiling ideas mined from my time spent in the mountains of New England. Since May 12, we climbed 42 mountains, taking in the mountain air, the fantastic vistas, the waterfalls, the wildlife, and the bugs. This winter will be a great time to feast on all this inspiration and harvest some of these ideas. The first track to come out of this is called ‘Melody Meal’. Recorded over the month of October, this track marks a shift towards the goal of a more atmospheric weight in my music pieces. I found the best way for now to achieve this is in the mixing stage. I tended to always spend the most time in the sound design stage, creating my own sounds from scratch. However, how these sounds gel together in the same space and over time, is something that I’ll be looking to improve this winter. Studying tracks in a Spectrogram Analyzer during the mixing stage has really changed the way I mix together a song. It allows you to target specific frequencies and to get better results from the application of EQ and Compression.  Hopefully we’ll hear some improvements, and any suggestions are welcome.

The Making of Melody Meal


Dave Smith Instruments Poly Evolver keyboard

The idea for this track came to me as I was cruising north on I-93 towards Franconia Notch, NH. As the landscape turned more mountainous, the excitement of heading into a more unstructured environment increased and the anticipation of an epic experience in the woods made me want to rock out on the radio. But since reception is poor in the mountains, I started thinking about the type of track I would make for this situation. I decided it was going to be chunky bass with stacks of competing melodies. Something that sort of sounds danceable at first, but more just for keeping your mind busy and foot tapping. Something for behind the wheel.

Melody Meal was fun because since I was reacclimatizing myself to my studio after a hiatus, I wanted to throw every machine I had at my track simply for old times sake. Every synth contributed a melody, but not all of them made it on the final cut. However, there’s some good stuff kicking around for a later updated version if needed. The result is a track that blends both Analog and Digital sounds together in a way I found interesting.

At the heart of this track is the Dave Smith Poly Evolver Keyboard. This monster set the tone with it’s soaring opening sound, and tries to get the point across that this track is going to go in all directions. It also provided many sound effects and processed some of the other sounds that make up the other tracks. The great thing about the Poly Evolver is that it’s both an analog and digital synth with a unique signal path that lets you use it strictly as an analog or digital synth, or you can construct a signal path that is a hybrid of the two. It’s a sound designers dream and most everything I make these days is scratched out first with this synth.

For the bass, I needed something to drive the track forward through it’s many ups and downs, so I ended up sounding off some old school type acid bass lines. The Korg Monotribe is perfect for this kind of job so I went with this little machine. I found the trick with getting usable Monotribe sounds is to turn down the output volume as low as possible without losing bite. Once recorded into the DAW, you can use utilities or compressors to amp the sound and an brick wall eq to roll of some of the higher less appealing frequencies this can generate. This helps avoid some of the pops and noise you can sometimes get out of this machine. Once I had a couple acid basslines playing well with each other, I felt I needed another bass line to anchor these down before they floated away on their own. The rest of the bass was made with the Vermona MonoLancet, processed through some Moogerfoogers. Once I had the sound, I was able to modulate the MonoLancet and MoogerFoogers with some cv from an analog modular. So even though the thick retro bass from the MonoLancet anchors the playful acid basslines, it still has some movement of it’s own to keep it interesting.

Vermona MonoLancet and MoogerFoogers

The rest of the track was just about throwing melodies where ever I can fit them. I had a week where I was playing with digital synthesis methods and wanted an FM or Wavetable based melody. I ended up layering the same melody with both and came up with a motive that added a certain skip. For this I used Native Instruments’s FM8 & Waldorf’s PPG 3.V and once I had the short sounds patched, I simply recorded a the melody onto a midi track and copied it, one for each sound. The chorus’s arpeggio was first recorded with a sound I made with the Poly Evolver, but then towards the end of the recording stage I picked up a copy of Arturia’s iSEM Oberheim emulation for the iPad. I recreated the sound parameters from the Evolver into the iSEM as a way to get to know the synth and was so pleased with the result I rerouted the recorded midi on that track to the iSEM and chose to use that instead. The iSEM has a fantastic modulation matrix and a really cool feature unique to it called a voice programmer. This feature allows you to add different variations of your patch as each voice is triggered. The sound quality is excellent and nothing I have sounds quite like it. If this is the ‘Oberheim sound’ I’ll be looking for some retro steals on eBay soon enough. If only for the voice programmer alone, this synth should be on every sound designer’s iPad.

Arturia iSEM

After the track was recorded I spent about 3 weeks working on polishing the recording and learned a great deal by experimenting with the various processes involved in the mix down stage. Getting to know better signal processing techniques has been pretty rewarding and in the process I also found some new ways to use these processors in sound design. Over the next few weeks I’ll be revisiting some of my old tracks and reworking them back at the mixing stage with my new found knowledge. I will then package them all together for a download in a compilation of sorts. Watch this space!

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