Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Patch 1: Marimba Roll

The ARP patch book is a curious artifact. With patch names like "Trucker Bass" and "Small Barking Mutt", it's obvious that the authors had fun writing it. (The same goes for the owners manual, which is, oddly enough, quite funny.) So anyway, a romp through these hallowed pages may turn out to be more fun than I anticipated.

That said, patch number one has a fairly mundane name: Marimba Roll. It's supposed to sound like ... well, mallets doing a roll on a marimba. Here it is:

01: Marimba Roll (mp3, 3MB)

Here's the patch:

(Click for a full-size PDF.)

Not very "marimba"-like I suppose. It actually came out sort of hearts of space. That's not a bad thing, just not something I've ever done before. The spacy-ness (not to be confused with spaceship-ness) results from two factors. First, I am just learning how to use the instrument, and I didn't feel confident in tackling a musical style that would require more, how you say, finesse? Second, I'm still working through some recording issues on the MBox, and I can't quite overdub in real time with recorded tracks yet (there's a slight delay). I'll be a bit more adventurous as I figure that out (the next patch is "trumpet and french horn" ... watch out!)

Where did this piece come from, musically? For starters, I've been spending a lot of time with Cygnus X-1 (a Rush tune, thanks to Nuje for the introduction), and there's a solo guitar part in it with fast octaves. This sound reminded me of that part, so I started out using that as a target in my mind. Things quickly descended from there, and I made lots of use of sweeping the faders for the filter frequency and resonance. I did 3 basic tracks of octave swells, and panned them left, right and middle (with a bit of reverb). I then added a noodly little background part (Uberjam referred to it as the sound of petting a soft, tubular underwater creature.)

After about a dozen listens through, I decided it needed a little more "marimba" (that's the ring modulator effect creating that mallet-striking-wood sound) and faded in a high moving line, with a stereo slap delay (so it sounds like it's way out to the left and right). That did the trick - not too overbearing, but still interesting to listen to.

Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Technical Details

In case you care about the technical details of this project, here's some info for you. You probably don't, so you can skip this entry. :)

The first thing I had to do was get this ARP in playable condition. After my dad passed away, it had sat unnoticed in closets for years before it came to live with me in Houston. (Many thanks to my friend Erique, who kept it for years at his place in Saratoga, NY; thanks also to in-laws for giving it safe harbor in Beamont, TX.)

I knew when the ARP finally came to me, it was not in playable condition. I didn't know what to do about that, though, since ARPs aren't exactly the kind of thing you bring down to the local instrument shop. Fortunately, a friend in Houston gave me the tip that I'd best send it off to Mr. Phil Cirocco in PA.

Many months (and dollars) later, the ARP is restored to near it's original glory. Thanks Phil!

The next step was to get a keyboard interface for it, since I was missing the cable for the original one, and opted not to have it restored. I've got a Midi controller keyboard sitting around, so that's fine, but you can't plug a midi keyboard straight into an ARP (midi not being invented until some 10 years after the ARPs creation).

For this purpose, you need a MIDI->CV ("control voltage") converter. I found mine in the form of a JKJ CV-2 MIDI/CV box (similar to this thing) that I purchased online. You plug the keyboard into the converter, and then the converter can be plugged in to any of the jacks on the ARP (depending on which oscillator you want to control via keyboard).

For recording, I started by taking the most obvious output (stereo headphones) and patching it into my computer. I didn't like this for 2 reasons: 1st, the jack seems to be only sending one stereo side, and 2nd, it's got quite a hiss on it. I searched for a cleaner signal, and found that if I take a line directly out of the left / right outputs that I had missed earlier, the sound is close to pristene.

The setup from there goes:

  -> PreSonus BlueTube Preamp
    -> Behringer UB802 Mixer
      -> Protools MBox
        -> ProTools LE

ProTools is running on a Dell 2CPU machine running windows XP. (Normally I'd prefer my mac, but the ~4-year-old iBook I have is crawling compared to this desktop, which is on loan from my place of employ. If I had my druthers, this would all be running on a big fat mac desktop machine with a huge cinematic display. Stupid money.)

The Preamp is to give the signal a boost and warm it up some (it's a nice little tube preamp). I thought about putting my stereo compressor in the line (a Yamaha GC2020B) to make the end results a little more friendly to the average listener. But I decided against putting anything extraneous in the signal chain.

So, anyway, now I'm off to the music store to buy a few cables (patch cables for the ARP as well as for my other outboard gear).

Monday, December 05, 2005

A new adventure: ARP 2600

Today I embark on a new project. I'm recording an album of music using nothing but an ARP 2600.

This project is in memory of my father, who bought this ARP new in the 70s. He was a pioneering electronic composer - a genius - whose light never shone far enough.

He passed this ARP on to me, though, and I intend to use it.

This will be a learning experience for me, because I don't know much about the ARP. I understand the basics - oscillators, filters, envelopes, etc. - but I have no visceral knowledge of using this amazing piece of equipment.

My method, at least to start out, will be to traverse the 100 patches in the ARP patch book, and for each one, create a piece of music using that as a theme, or a jumping off point. Along the way, I'll think out loud about craft, composition, eletronic music, and the process of creation.

My father died in the summer of 1997. I'd like to finish this album by the 10th anniversary of his death. Now I've said it, so I have to stick to it. :)