Sunday, October 21, 2012

It don't mean a thing....

Its no secret to anyone who listens to my pieces that I've been on a bit of a jazz kick since getting my EWI wind controller. The EWI lets me use my breath to control any number of instruments which I find much easier than keyboarding since I used to play trumpet. Coupled with good software instruments, it sounds very authentic. My favorite software instrument for jazz is Wallander's Wivi Band. Wivi band provides about 14 software modeled instruments that sound extremely authentic. The one knock is that they sort of have an orchestral bias so for jazz, some of the sounds are a bit "clean". I find that with some equalization or subtle distortion in Logic 9, I can get what I want.

Another great set of sounds that I am investigating is samplemodeling. They provide more sample-based instruments (rather than software modeled), but are much more expensive. So far, the budget has been holding and I haven't sprung for them!

This interest in jazz has got me researching as well as playing. Lately I've been reading The Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet 1965-1968 by Keith Waters. It goes into great depth about the recording techniques, improvisational methods and modal jazz used in these recordings. The more I read the book, the more I realize that my music theory is rusty! I've gone back and have been reviewing jazz theory and chord progressions. Miles Davis is sort of like jumping into the deep end! The speed and techniques are beyond my playing skills - particularly with the EWI.

I have one piece I attempted in a phrygian mode with Noatikl where I composed a combo piece - the Miles quintet was the inspiration, but it doesn't reach that level:

Its a fun and fast-paced piece, but probably doesn't have the "live" or real feel to it.

Since Miles is a bit of a stretch still, I started reviewing more basic jazz progressions which brought me to Big Band jazz. In the late 1970s, early 80s, my high school years, I played trumpet in a community symphony, a pops orchestra and a high school jazz band. The jazz band played tons of big band numbers since our director was a big band freak.

I put some basic chord progressions together, changed to 6/8 time since 4/4 gets boring and started hearing more Bennie Goodman phrases. The piece started with the piano chord progressions and I added in the wind ensemble using ewiVoicing. As I've blogged before, this is a great library that will auto-harmonize your notes. With the EWI, this lets me set up 4 instruments, and play them all in diatonic chords at the same time. Basically, the wind ensemble - I used a trombone, tenor sax and 2 trumpet parts for the wind section.

The next step was playing some of the solos. Here I just noodled out a basic clarinet solo, tenor solo and muted trumpet solo. The great thing with the EWI instrument is that I can use the EVI fingering method (based on trumpet fingerings) for all of the instruments.

The last part was to pop in a piano solo - my usual cheap trick there. Record the chords in one track and the lead on another (I'm a lousy keyboardist!). The results are I think pretty good:

I'll probably keep experimenting as long as I am on the jazz kick. In between, I still pop out quite a bit of synth noise on the iPad and desktop. Another cool trick is to use the EWI with synthesizer lines - the breath control adds a new aspect to electronica as well. Sort of a "super" mod-wheel.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Figuring it out

Recently, Propellerhead put out a new version of their Figure app on the iPad and with the new update finally provides audiocopy to the program. This makes it one of my favorite beat-making apps and provides a great starting point for many of my songs.

Figure uses the underlying sound engine from Propellerhead's famous Reason DAW but presents the interface in a touch manner fully suited to the iPhone/iPad. The app itself is an iPhone app but scales beautifully on the larger iPad screen.

Originally the Figure app would only play 2 bars of music and had no save or copy abilities. Now you have the option of recording 2,4 or 8 bar sequences and with Audiocopy, you can easily paste the resulting sounds into a DAW to create larger compositions.

The "wheels" in the app let you set up syncopated rhythms that cycle in the pattern and my lifting and lowering your fingers rhythmically, you can also syncopate the syncopations! This lets me put together some very funky rhythms very quickly.

My favorite technique is to record a few 8 bar licks, then copy the individual parts into Garageband or some other DAW to assemble into larger pieces. I add in additional synths and parts from there.

If you are making use of the "Pump" option, however, you should audiocopy the parts together and not in pieces since the "pump" causes a side-chaining effect to occur in the melody and basslines based on the bass drum.

With the ability to put together complex rhythms, the ability to tweak and bend the sounds with just your fingers, Propellerhead have taken full advantage of the touch interface of the iPad without just throwing a "virtual" keyboard in front of your face.

I think products like Figure, Animoog and iElectribe are where music making on the iPad should be going and I'll be making good use of them moving forward!

Here's a few recent pieces I did using Figure as a starting point - one was composed in Garageband and the other in Tabletop: