Monday, August 13, 2012

How to do looping music in 2012

I get asked this question all the time: What stuff do I need to do the stuff you do?

Loop-based music is what I have done now for over 10 years. If you aren't familiar with that term, it's simply music that can be created on the fly where you 1) record yourself, and then 2) play it back while recording something else on top (or not). 3) rinse, repeat…remove layers, add new ones, etc.

So what equipment do you need besides your instrument? The thing is, it changes. Ten years ago it was a Titanium G4 Powerbook, a MIDI interface, an audio interface and a bunch of control gear. Now it's a Macbook Air, and a different audio interface, and a different bunch of control gear. (Why? Faster computers allow you to do more complex stuff. And I like doing more complex stuff.)

But for example, let's take a piece like Ten Children. It's fairly simple in terms of electronic needs (because I wrote it almost 10 years ago). I can effectively play it with:

• A Macbook Air

• An audio interface like the MOTU Ultralite (I actually use this one, but it's much more expensive, because I'm a snob that way.)

• A bass clarinet microphone like the AMT WS

• A vocal mic like the Shure SM58 (I use a Røde NT3)

• A USB or MIDI foot pedal system. There are many of these, but after many years using one that I made myself, I now use the SoftStep.)

Now for music software:

• Cycling74's Max is what I use to run my show, but it's got a STEEP learning curve.

And with a software-based system like the one I describe above, I need effects plugins. Think: Reverbs, which make you sound like you're in a concert hall, or a bathroom, or a car trunk; Delays, which repeat your sound in a rhythmic (or non-rhythmic) way, way, way, way… The list of plugins I have numbers well over 100. Some are free, most aren't. They come in a few flavors, depending on your software, and your platform (Mac or PC). Most of the ones I use on Mac are of the VST variety. Chris Randall, of Audio Damage, is a GREAT developer of plugins. I own just about everything he's ever made.

Okay, but this post is about the basics. That all that crap above is what I've come to after years and years of development. Do you need it all? Nope.

First, check out this guy, Jarle Bernhoft. He uses a few microphones, and a Boss RC50 LoopStation
, and a guitar effects pedals. You'd be hard pressed to play any of my tunes with it, but if Bernhoft can make the kind of absolutely genius music he makes, it's more than adequate.

If you were to just get something simple like that (with a microphone of course, and maybe a simple little amp/speaker), you'd have a lot of fun, and you'd get a really good idea of what your next steps should be.

But most of all, have fun! This should definitely not be stressful, and you don't need to jump into the deep end right away!


Sunday, July 08, 2012

Student Bass clarinet suggestions?

A question from YouTube:

Hello, this past year I have been playing bass clarinet seriously and I am thinking about buying one... I wonder if you have tried the Bass Clarinets made by Tom Ridenour. Right now I am renting a Buffet Prestige from the school but it would be just too expensive for me to buy one of those. Do you have any suggestion for me?

Here was my reply:

Not a fan of the student-model bass clarinets actually. (I'm sorry!) I've tried Jupiter, and a bunch of others, and I haven't found one that has decent keywork. On Bb clarinets that's not as big of a problem, because 1) the keys are smaller and 2) you cover half of the holes with your fingers anyway. But on bass clarinets the length of the keys, and the length of the rods makes it such that bad keywork (low-quality alloys) will just mean that your bass clarinet is ALWAYS out of adjustment.

That all said, I am going to ClarFest this year, and I plan to make a quick video of each student instrument and post it on YouTube with my comments. (well, if that's possible, and if it's possible to hear me over the noise of everyone playing!)

I hope to be surprised by one of these student instruments. It's just SO hard to make something that's affordable (even if it's plastic) that has decent metal in the keys.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

When to get a new Bass Clarinet

I got this message from a young bass clarinetist, and I thought I'd answer it here, since it's something I'm hearing a fair bit from my own students.

1. When is it time for you to purchase a professional model bass clarinet (low C range)?

2. What is the cost of one of these instruments (quality of course) and which brands are the best?

3. Is this worth purchasing if you don't plan on being a professional musician?

In terms of #1, I got my first horn when I graduated from High School, right before I went off to Eastman for college. I did all of my auditions on an old plastic Leblanc Vito, low Eb bass -- so I guess that's to say that it can be done. I'd say to get one if you can afford it. You can ALWAYS get rid of a used bass for damn near as much as you paid for it. The market for good, used, professional-quality horns is very tight. Most people who buy them keep them, so if you do need to get rid of one, you can usually find a buyer without too much trouble.

As for #2, you can get a Selmer or a Buffet. Those really are your two options. I'm not a fan of the Yamaha horns because they just don't have the sound of the other two. I'm a Selmer guy. I always have been. Their horns simply sound better, they have a more pleasing resistance (read: they're much less resistant), and they are much more "even-blowing" in terms of some notes being stuffy and others being less stuffy. Buffets are particularly prone to this problem.

Lately I've seen younger students getting low C horns (because you can buy student-model low C horns now - that's something they didn't have in the 1980s), but those student model horns by Jupiter, Allora, etc are total crap. Why? Mainly it's all in the keywork. The keys are really low-quality, they bend and go out of adjustment because the metal used is low-quality.

So, in short, save your money. Don't buy a low-C bass clarinet from one of these guys. You'll have repair bills that, over the course of owning the horn, will probably make up the (admittedly huge) difference in cost.

#3: That's a hard one to answer. I own a great set of pots & pans - probably some of the best - but I'm not a professional chef. Why? Because I like working with good tools. Then again, I cook all the time, so I get good use out of them.

Is this what you plan to do on your bass? Will you use and enjoy it a long time? Does having a good "tool" matter in this case? Probably. If you see yourself not playing for long, or -- and be honest with yourself -- if you are someone who loses interest when things get frustrating…well maybe not.

But then again, as I said in #1, you can always sell it.

Hope this helps some of you guys.