Thursday, June 30, 2011

Going back to basics!

26 bliss by oldlibmike

OK, after doing a piece in 5/4 time on the iPad, another with only one synth plug-in and another in under 1 minute, I sort of wanted something basic.

I put together the song above in Garageband for the iPad, uploaded it to the newest version of Logic 9 Express and remixed there. Very basic track with drums, bass, 2 guitars and a synth. This one sort of sounds like it needs lyrics and vocals - maybe if I get ambitious or find a singer that will happen.

Garageband on the iPad is equally amazing and frustrating. The performance aspects are incredible and then you try to edit/mix....not so much there. Thankfully, it is now possible to upload to either Garageband '11 or Logic 9 easily and continue the process there. It is a one-way trip though.

My wife isn't a huge fan of electronica but 26 years is a very long time for me to be so happy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

One Synth Challenge - MacJams

My first and still favorite music posting site is MacJams. Since 2004 I have been posting songs there that I put together in Garageband or Logic. The site is mostly very welcoming and has a mix of amateurs, semi-pros and pros contributing songs. I fall solely into the amateur status.

Recently they posted a challenge to use an open-source synthesizer to make a song using only the one plugin. I wasn't familiar with it but TAL is a pretty nice freeware synthesizer.

The hard part of using only the one tool for me was in putting together the drum track. Normally I use sampled drums or drum loops. Here I had to create one track per drum - bass, toms, snare, high hat etc.

There were some really cool submissions in the electronica vein and even a tango! You can see the submissions from all folks here. Since most of my genres were covered, I went with jazz and tried to put together a keyboard heavy jazz funkish piece. I was hoping to use Thumbjam as a MIDI controller but was disappointed to find that it suffered some real latency issues and worse still was dropping a few notes. This might have been on the iPad side of things but I resorted to using my Akai MPK-mini keyboard instead. I did cheat and I transposed the keyboard for G-Minor so I could play on white keys.

I was reasonably pleased with the results and it was pretty cool having the limits imposed. I think it actually took less time since I wasn't searching for that perfect sound or effect.

Anyway, my own piece is here:

TAL in the saddle

Apologies for the title but I took this over TALoneous Monk. I have posted other songs with single synths such as the iMS-20 on the iPad or NanoStudio's Eden but this was pretty fun.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I got some time to spend with my iPod touch and new Akai Synthstation 25 and NanoStudio. This combination works very well for the performing aspects of a song. The Synthstation is nice in that it has a pitch bend wheel and Mod wheel (but no knobs or drum pads).

I found the actual editing and sequencer tasks to be a bit maddening and I decided to finish the tune on the iPad rather than on the SynthStation/iPod combo. I think overall, I prefer the iPad for sound creation - it is very hard to control the small screen of the iPod and the battery life is much lower than the iPad.

To make full use of NanoStudio, I decided to try a piece in 5/4 time. This forced me to play the tracks one by one and was really quite fun - not Brubeck worthy but I like the result!

Anyway, one more example from an iPod/iPad only effort - comments are welcome and since it is free, I will gladly refund 125% of the purchase price to anyone dissatisfied.

Givin it 125 by oldlibmike

Thursday, June 16, 2011

FInally Moogin' it

I finally had time to put some Moog tracks together. I had a groove that I had sitting around on the iPad created in Xenon Groove Synthesizer.

The track from the iPad involves 4 synths and a drum track. I took this into Logic Express 9 converted to Apple loops and performed two MiniMoog solos along with it.

One uses the Formant filter giving a sort of "vocal" feel to the track and the other is just a fast paced jam - both played on the AKAI MPK mini keyboard.

Took awhile mixing and refining but I was happy with the results. The first 32 bars are Xenon only and the rest involve the other synths.

Hope you like it!

Tiny Tim finally sees God by oldlibmike

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Still smaller...

I guess my iPad wasn't small enough for my music noodling, so a new addition to my collection is an iPod touch 4th gen and the Akai Synthstation 25. Some of my music software runs well on the iPod (NanoStudio, Xenon Studio, Moog Filtatron) but a few others I had to buy again (Nlog Midi is a nice mini version of NLog Pro synthesizer with a few less oscillators).

I also picked up the synthstation software from Akai which lets you play with 3 synths and a drum machine all of $2. Overall, however, NanoStudio is the best product that supports the synthstation.

NanoStudio runs flawlessly, uses some of the buttons to easily switch from window to window and sounds great. The synthstation is a bit different than the MPK mini that I also use in that it has no drumpads or knobs but does include the pitch bend wheel and mod wheel. It also can work with my iMac or iPad if I need the wheel features. I will probably almost never plug in my old Edirol PCR-30 now.

I have used the iPod touch by itself for a few NanoStudio pieces and it is actually not that terrible, but plugged into the Akia synthstation its a pleasure to use.

It doesn't have speakers so to hear your sound you have to use headphones and it is not compatible with every iPod music app but it is a very nice addition to my music gear.

It is a bit of a pain moving project files around for NanoStudio right now since you have to run NanoSync to move files from the portable devices to the computer and back again. Perhaps the new iCloud product from Apple will be of use in future versions - I would love to seamlessly work on projects from any device. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mixtikl 3!

It's been a busy few weeks. Besides a work trip to Denmark, two of my favorite tools upgraded. NanoStudio is now at 1.2 and Mixtikl 3 has come out.

I think NanoStudio is getting a fair amount of coverage so I thought I'd write a bit about my use of Mixtikl. Mixtikl first got my attention in it's ability to create generative music which is basically music that evolves algorithmically. In fact, the authors of Mixtikl previously had a product called Koan that was used by Brian Eno on his Generative Music 1 album.

The product had previously been released on pre-iOS devices and the interface sort of reflects that heritage. It is very quirky and seems to usually take more clicks than necessary. Nonetheless, once you get the hang of it, it is very quick to put together mixes.

I started with the iOS version and liked it so much that I bought the iMac version (it is available for Windows as well). The desktop versions will function as VST or AU plugins for other DAWs. I love using it where I want a nice evolving drone sound in a piece. No longer do I need to find a loop or play complicated synth sequences - just drop in a nice evolving sound and it is done.

On any platform, Mixtikl can also function as a DAW on it's own if you wish. The app gives you 12 tracks each with 4 cells that can contain either loops from the program or WAV files of any length. With the ability to repeat any cell as many times as you want, this allows you to put together fairly complex mixes.

You can set cells to repeat a set number of times and then a random number beyond that. If you are careful about your math, you can also create some non-evolving simple looping pieces. You do have to be careful that you count your measures properly so that the tracks cycle at the same rate if that is what you wish. For example, if you put a sample in a cell that is 2 bars long, you use the repeat count x 2 for determining length. You can set a "blank" cell to repeat if you need rests or delays.

The best features of Mixtikl are the generative capabilities though. You can put generative loops that slowly evolve as they play and you can now tweak the notes used, rules for generating and even change the sounds. The one part that is a bit difficult is that the built in synthesizer (Partikl) does not take any keyboard input - you have to feed it either a Noatikl loop or a MIDI file so you have to first bang out a melody elsewhere.

The track below is a nice chilled generative piece (though since it is recorded, it sounds the same everytime). If you were to play this in Mixtikl, it would be different every time you heard it!

Adrift in the passing lane by oldlibmike