Okay, I promise: tonefiend is not going to become an all-digital blog. I’ve got two new DIY analog pedal projects in the pipe, plus a piece on that delightfully retro technology, the book.
But while there’s more to life than MIDI, for the last few months my particular life has been all MIDI, all the time. I worked on the documentation for the Fishman TriplePlay MIDI guitar system, then demoed the product at MacWorld and Musikmesse. And now that the smoke has cleared and I’m off the Fishman clock, I’m still obsessed with the musical possibilities here. In fact, I’m just getting to the fun part: bending the technology to taste and making
weird-ass music for weird-ass people compelling new sounds.
I’m posting two new pieces spun off from my Musikmesse demos. Technical and musical comments after the videos.
In my first TriplePlay demo, I used simple, recognizable acoustic instrument samples. For the second one, I focused on aggressive/distorted sounds. But now I’m getting into what really interests me: solo guitar arrangements featuring hybrid colors, deployed so that it’s often difficult to tell the guitar sounds from the synths and samples.
It’s not the best approach for demoing the technology, since it’s admittedly tough to tell what the hell is going on. But right now it’s sparking my imagination in a way that makes me want to leap out of bed in the morning and explore the guitar, much the way I used to feel as a pre-teen back in Çatalhöyük, the neolithic Anatolian city where I was born in 6,000 B.C. (Or at least that how it feels after several trans-Atlantic flights and many eight-hour playing days.)
Anyway, I’m using the same gear setup picture here. It’s still working well for me, or at least as well as any setup that involves putting a frickin’ laptop onstage can be expected to work. The real fun has been the sound design, especially combining timbres from favorite sound libraries with “organic” guitar tones.
“Paneer,” named after the Hindi work for cheese, is an attempt to integrate guitar with modern electronic sounds, though more than anything else, it reminds me of some discarded Timbaland track from around 2001. (At least I made it into the current century!) The bass and sitar sounds are both 50/50 blends of sample and dry electric guitar. I always loved the sound of octave-doubled bass and guitar on old vintage R&B tracks, and it’s gratifying to mimic the effect while playing solo. The bass and sitar sounds are from the NI Kontakt library, as are the drum samples. The weird, swelling sounds that enter around 1’30” are from a cool sample library by 10Soundware‘s Daisuke Fuchigami. Among other things, composer Fuchogami performs using mixer feedback as his solo tone generator, and I dig the weird yet organic qualities of his libraries. In the section starting at 2’10”, where my hands are out of sync with the sounds, I’m using MainStage’s Tru-Tape Delay plug-in, set to reverse everything I play one bar after I play it. The guitar sounds with those weird, high overtones are analog signals processed using various gizmos in Reaktor.
“Cathode Ray Blues” was an experiment to see whether I could use the MIDI/digital stuff to create trashy/funky/swampy sounds — you know, exactly the colors that don’t come to mind when you hear the words “MIDI guitar.” As a middle-aged white guy, I have a particular abhorrence of middle-aged-white-guy bar-band blues, so I simply had to
fuck things up expand the palette. I turned to retro-tech colors: The vaguely harmonica-like sound at 0’39” blends analog guitar with Stylophone samples from Precision Sound. I like the way the sample doesn’t track the pitch of the bent note — they rub together in a deliciously harsh fashion. The distant, synth-like sound playing the Howlin’ Wolf lick is a blend of guitar and the Cathotron sampler/synth from Hollow Sun, one of my fave soundware companies. The glitches in the broken-sounding solo are from MainStage’s Monster Fuzz plug-in, which can simulate mis-biased transistors. The blown-out drums were made using FXpansion’s BFD2.
DISCLOSURE: Apple, Fishman, and FXpansion are clients of mine, but no one paid me to make or post these videos.