Friday, 29 January 2016

"Interpretations" Update

With the GTK Studio computer now fully operational and possessed of a lot more grunt on the processing front, I've been hammering ahead with the "Interpretations" album in pretty much every bit of spare time I have (which hasn't been a lot, I can tell you).

Tonight, I've been working on a piece of music from one of my favourite composers, Sir William Walton, and it's called "Crown Imperial". William Walton wrote it for King Edward VIII's coronation scheduled for May 1937, but alas it didn't get used because the king decided to abdicate to marry an American divorcee called Wallis Simpson (a bit bloody inconvenient if you ask me). Fortunately, it managed to see the day of light later that year with the coronation of Edward VIII's brother, King George VI and then, with something of a substantial revision in 1953 for the coronation of the present monarch, Elizabeth II. It's a very stirring piece of music that, even in its quite modernist form, invokes all the pomp and circumstance that so many associate with our country.

This one has been something of a challenge, because it's quite tricky to take a piece of music that has been written for a high state occasion, full of fanfare-type themes and motifs with orchestral string passages and present it in a more electronic form. I'm kind of there, but something of a concession has been made in terms of the use of percussion and certain instruments, namely the strings and the church organ. To minimise the overall impact of this compromise, I turned to one of my main influences for this project, Wendy Carlos, and listened very carefully to her first two albums, "Switched On Bach" and "The Well-Tempered Synthesizer" to try and draw inspiration for a way through. That happened and manifested itself with one synthesizer that has now seen extensive use throughout this track (and indeed the album thus far), Arturia's Mini V2, an excellent Minimoog emulation. When you eventually hear this piece, the fanfare brasses, woodwinds and some of the basses (alongside basses from ReFX's fucking amazing Nexus²) are all the Mini V2 - it's proven to be a hugely useful piece of software and something of a workhorse.

I still have a way to go with "Crown Imperial" as I replace orchestral sounds with electronic/synthesizer sounds, in particular the percussion sections, the timpani kit really makes the piece come alive and finding an electronic counterpart without compromising the integrity of the track and the project is a bit of a challenge. That said, it's really getting there and I'm very confident that I'll retain the intense majesty (no pun intended) of the original.

Here's a YouTube video of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra playing "Crown Imperial":

Whilst working on "Crown Imperial", I took the opportunity to try out a demo of Waves Audio's latest release, the Nx Virtual Mix Room. The idea behind this is to allow the user to conduct mixing sessions using headphones, something that's a bit of a no-no in the production world. This is achieved by attaching a webcam to your computer, which then tracks your face. You also have to tell the program the circumference of your head and the distance between your ears, measuring around the back of the head. You can then alter the position of the speakers within the program and get it to lock onto the sweet point (the optimum listening position). A lot of people will be highly sceptical of this program, and some would say with good reason, as headphones really are not ideal for mixing because you don't get a true spectrum of sound or a properly defined stereo field. What Nx does is to evaluate the speaker positioning and the  physical properties of the user then adjust the output of the headphones accordingly. I approached this with a totally open mind, not placing any expectations (negative or positive) and found myself pretty much blown away by the clarity, depth, balance and transparency of what I was hearing through my StudioSpares M1000 closed-back headphones. If you're in this music game thing, I seriously and strongly suggest you try out the demo. I've just finished nearly three hours of studio time, all done on the headphones, and the mix sounds as good across my studio monitors as they do on the headphones. I think it safe to say that I will be parting with my cash for the licence before the demo expires!!!

More "Interpretations" updates coming soon :-)

Friday, 15 January 2016

Software Update - Celemony Melodyne

Just had to pop a quick note here about the recent update to Celemony's truly amazing Melodyne pitch-shifting software, of which I use the Melodyne Assistant option.

I installed the new version 4 of Melodyne Assistant last night and it's a really cool piece of work. Amendments to menu systems and a one window interface have given it a really nice look and made it much easier to navigate around it, the pitch detection algorithm seems to be more precise and there's more keyboard short-cuts, something I am a big fan of.

Very pleased, nice work Celemony.

The GTK Studio

My little studio.

My little piece of heaven.

My sanctuary.

My retreat.

It's true to say that over the last four-five years it's seen a number of changes. From next to nothing, to being filled to the brim with synths and tech, back to virtually nothing again. It's really been a whole lot of fun seeing the equipment come and go, doing the deals, plumbing it all and moving it all around only having to plumb it all in again, selling it, doing more deals and then going VERY virtual.

18 months later, I don't miss the hardware at all, in fact, it was probably the best thing to do for me as an individual. I really do prefer the immediacy and flexibility of software-based synthesis and music creation, but it's not for all. And personally speaking, I don't care one little bit if the Arturia Modular V 2 doesn't sound like a real Moog Modular system - never played with a real one and probably never will, so it makes any kind of comment or remark totally invalid and a basic waste of time doesn't it. Anyway, it's software all the way now with a few cool (and aged like me) MIDI controllers to keep it in check.

2016 saw a much-needed update to the GTK Studio music computer. It's nearly five years old now and whilst working on the "Interpretations" album, I've been experiencing it's limitations. However, the positive side of this is that there was no need for me to buy a whole new system (and really, this is where a lot of people go wrong and the computer shops rub their grubby hands with glee), because DIY upgrading is as simple as it comes. Here was the plan:

1. Renew the processor (the most important upgrade)
2. Replace existing HDD with a Solid State Drive (SSD)

I had a budget to work to and so I decided that I would go for a newer and significantly more powerful processor, but, because of the budget limitations, it would not be the very latest one. On the RAM front, I had already upgraded the system's memory from 8GB to 16GB last year, so that was one less thing to consider.

The GTK Studio computer came with an Intel Pentium G840 2.8ghz dual core processor, and it has been brilliant to work with on the music and photography. However, my increased use of high end processing and synthesizer plugins pushed the G840 well past it's capabilities, plus 2016 will see more photography and also more video work linked to the music. I opted to stay with Intel, and the processor I chose to upgrade to was the Intel i5 3570 3.4GHz quad core, which is proving to be an absolute diamond of a thing.

For the SSD, I chose the Kingston SSDNow 120GB V300. It's bloody amazing. The speed at which Windows 10 boots is phenomenal, as is how fast programs such as Photoshop, Cubase and VideoStudio fire up - I certainly wish I'd invested in SSD long ago. However, I made something of an error regarding the choice of SSD size - 120GB has proven to be too small and I am still having to use the original hard drive for the music software, so I have somewhat held the speed back thereby slightly defeating the object of getting an SSD. That said, the 120GB configuration is actually working fine at the moment, but I plan to get a much larger SSD later this year which will mean another re-install session, but I'm okay with that as it will be worth the time investment.

The sale of the hardware back in August 2014, provided me with the funds to really go to town on the software, and one of my first purchases was the incredible Omnisphere synthesizer from Spectrasonics. It's a beast of biblical proportions and can create the most amazing layered sounds and textures. Coupled with the equally fantastic Nexus² from reFX, and you have a real behemoth of a sound palette.

Another favoured company of mine is Waves. Highly regarded and with good reason, their  products are basically excellent. Over the last year, I have taken full advantage of their regular sales and stocked with some pretty stonking bits and pieces, such as the indispensable C4 multi-band compressor or the fabulous V-EQ3 and V-EQ4 equalisers. I have a new and very loving relationship with their dbx-160 compressor/limiter as well as their linear phase multi-band compressor and linear phase EQ.

So, the GTK Studio computer is now beefed ready to tackle the demands of the "Interpretations" album and I have to say that it is like having a brand new computer, such is the speed provided by both the processor and the SSD.