Saturday, 28 April 2012


I had a bit of time alone at home, so took the opportunity to turn up the guitar amplifier for a change. Generally I play acoustically to keep the family happy.I bought this blues course a while back and keep returning to it to learn a bit more. It's been a bit of a challenge, but has pushed my playing in some new directions. I did a quick recording using my Zoom H4. The audio is not great as the amp wasn't even pointing the right way and the backing track was playing through the PC speakers. I messed up a few licks and then just did my own thing for a bit.

Bluesing around by steevc

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Going Loopy

A few years back I discovered the music of Steve Lawson and Matt Stevens. These (mostly) solo artists make extensive use of loops in their performances to build layers of sound into complex arrangements. Steve uses the Looperlative and Matt has a Line 6 pedal. I have a looper in my Roland Cube amplifier, but have only done some simple stuff with it, such as this jam

I get some musical ideas based around loops that I would like to play with. These are generally for guitar or vocals. I want to be able to record a series of looping segments and then play something over the top, recording the results into Ardour. I suspect there may be some Linux tools that would allow this. I'm aware of Freewheeling and SooperLooper, but have not tried them as yet. I think they are aimed at live performance, but I would hope they could work in a studio too. Dave Phillips has written a pretty good summary of the options. I would hope that I could use my nanoKontrol to turn loops on/off and adjust levels.

I shall try to have a play soon, but would be interested to hear from anyone with experience of these tools.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Cantina band

Although I've been playing guitar for over thirty years I have very little experience of playing live. It just hasn't happened. As I don't live in a city there may not be the opportunities you might get in a city to meet up with local musicians. Thankfully the internet makes finding them a bit easier than it was in the past.

I want to collaborate with other musicians as I'm not really inspired enough to be a solo artist. So I signed up to some 'muso wanted' sites including:

I've had some success with these. A couple of years back I got an audition with a classic rock covers band that I passed. I rehearsed with them for a while, but after we eventually did a private gig for a few friends it ground to a halt as a couple of people wanted to take a break. I've also met up with a local bassist and done a couple of jams. Just today I got contacted again by someone who wants to do some jam sessions soon. I hope something will happen with that, but it may be a couple of weeks while he finds enough people and a venue. I have had a couple of others, but they were either too far away or required too much commitment in rehearsals and gigs. They may also be beyond my abilities. I'm reasonable at rhythm, but not much good at lead.

After the band broke up I was looking into other possibilities and discovered an acoustic pub session via Lemonrock (a gig listings and general musicians services site). It's at a pub in the middle of nowhere, but I eventually went, totally unsure of what it would involve. It's a fairly informal session where people take it in turns to play songs, mostly to each other although there are generally a few regulars there. I really enjoyed it and it encouraged me to do some singing and to actually learn some new songs to play. It got me playing some new styles such as Irish hornpipes. I even took some singing lessons to see if I could improve things and learned a few things about what was possible for me. Some are biased towards folk music, but it seems you can get away with other styles. I did all sorts of pop and rock songs. I haven't been regularly to that session in a while, but there are several I could get to. Details of some of the local sessions can be found on The Mudcat Cafe notice board.

As I had got to know a few musicians in our small town via Facebook and other means I decided to start a session here. I approached a couple of pubs and have got something going at the one just across the road from me. Numbers are still small, but word is spreading and I hope it will grow. It's a great first step beyond playing at home if you can't face a big audience and just want to meet some supportive musicians. I can recommend it.

My session is at The White Horse in Arlesey, Bedfordshire. Details can be found on Google+ and Facebook.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

I've made a lot of special modifications myself

In a previous post I mentioned my  Ikea Jerker desk. This was purchase back in 2006 to replace this mess. Note the tatty chair that I retrieved from a skip.

Not long after that Ikea saw fit to discontinue the Jerker. This was a real pain as you couldn't get the extra shelves any more either. Luckily I was able to find one on ebay that I could scavenge from and sell on. So I ended up with 3 full width shelves, 3 swiveling shelves and some CD and magazine holders. It's a bit bigger than some computer desks, but can hold much more than most. There was an earlier version that could accommodate a drawer unit.

The replacement was the Fredrik, a pale imitation of the classic with less capacity and flexibility.

Mine is on fixed feet, but I'm sure you could fix wheels to make it easier to move. You can fit the main desk at any level and so could have it as a standing desk. I could use another swivel shelf. Ultimately I plan to put some monitor speakers on the side shelves, but just have my little Yamaha speakers for now.

The Jerker has inspired numerous blog posts and even a dedicated 'shrine' (note many links broken). How many pieces of utility furniture have inspired such devotion?

I have no plans to part with my Jerker unless I suddenly come into enough money to have a totally custom desk built for the studio. Even then I would find somewhere to use it.

I've still to find my ideal desk chair. I have one from Ikea, but it's not the most comfortable. I'd like a much better one, but those seem to be serious money. Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror writes some good stuff on the topic. I should show it to the boss at work to persuade them to get us better chairs. As I spend most of my life sitting it should be worth investing in something good.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

You seek Yoda

The world of Linux audio can be intimidating for the  beginner. You won't find it mentioned much in the big audio magazines. You can go to the sites for the various applications, but, as with many fields, you need some more general guides to show you what is possible. These are some of the sites that have helped me along the way.

Linux Musicians is a friendly forum where I've found lots of help and tried to provide it when I can too. They have a pretty good wiki where I have been contributing to a hardware matrix of compatible gear. There are other sites that try to list what works on Linux, but I found them limited when trying to work out how well supported an item is and how useful it is for non-trivial recording. They also provide a planet that gives an aggregated feed from various relevant blogs. I'm honoured that this blog has just been added. I recommend subscribing to get a good overview of what is going on.

I don't remember where I heard about it, but when the Open Source Musician podcast kicked off I was listening from the start. There has been some great stuff on there, although it's been appearing less frequently recently. They run some 'tunestorm' projects where listeners contribute tracks on a given theme. I really should try to take part in one of those.

One of the longest running writers on the topic of Linux audio is Dave Phillips who has written loads of great articles for Linux Journal. Unfortunately the latest ones will only be available to subscribers, but there is a great archive there that I recommend checking out.

Some Linux purists will prefer to use a mailing list such as Linux Audio Users. I do look in the archives now and again to see what is happening, but I don't have the time to keep up with a busy mailing list these days.

The FLOSS Manuals book on Ardour is worth a read. I ought to read it again and make some notes on things that could make my life easier. They have other manuals on other audio topics that I need to look at.

There are some IRC channels that may be good places to seek help, but I've not used them so much. Another good place is Youtube where you can find demonstrations of various applications. Feel free to add links in the comments.

Special mention must go to my friend Malcolm who provided a lot of inspiration to try recording on Linux. It was a session he ran at his studio for members of the local LUG that made me realise what was possible.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Learning the ways of the Force

How long can I sustain the Star Wars title theme?

I still consider myself to be a beginner in the art of recording. I've recorded a few songs over the last couple of years, but most have been very simple. Many have just been a single 'live take' with very little in the way of post-processing. Things start getting interesting when you introduce multiple tracks, virtual instruments and effects.

Easy was a first attempt at a full song for one of the Six String Bliss albums. Most of the tracks (drums, bass, keyboard) were provided by a MIDI file that was found on-line. I muted some of the parts to add ukulele, vocals and an acoustic guitar solo. The recording was done in Ardour, with the MIDI played by Rosegarden via Fluidsynth. I wasn't totally happy with the results. I think that some careful use of reverb might have improved it. Maybe I should revisit it.

Some time after that I decided to try and do a full track from scratch. I used a couple of hornpipes I'd been playing at the pub session and 'rocked them up'. I created a basic drum track in Hydrogen and added a couple of guitar tracks. It doesn't sound too bad, but there's a slight sync issue. The JACK settings may have given a bit too much latency. I was just using the on-board sound for that.

My latest effort is for another Six String Bliss album. It's due in a week or so, but I've been putting it off for months. I had concerns about getting the drum feel right. I eventually tried doing it via my MIDI keyboard. That didn't quite work, but it allowed me to see where the beats needed to be. Like most audio apps Hydrogen allows for endless tweaking, but I'm mostly using default settings. I'm using the Big Mono drum kit I found here. I attempted bass on an aborted track a while back, but have had another go on this. Played it through a modelled amplifier on the H4 and used a bit of software compression to even the levels a bit. The track is coming together nicely, but has a different feel to the original. I'm putting several layers of vocals on and intend to add more guitars for a fuller sound. All will be revealed once the album is officially released.

I'm learning more tricks with Ardour for editing etc. I need to check out more tutorials. You just don't realise what it is capable of until I see someone else do it. I've been caught out by a couple of silly mistakes on the recording session, like leaving the speakers on when recording vocals with headphones on. I pretty much got away with that.

I've had a request for my JACK settings. Obviously these are appropriate to my M-Audio Delta 66 card and will not work so well for a USB or other interface.