Back in 2006, I participated in an Internet challenge called National Solo Album Month. Like National Novel Writing Month, it’s a motivational contest to write and record a 28 minute album in the span of a month. I was listening to Eluvium’s An Accidental Memory in Case of Death and learning Michael Nyman’s The Piano at the time, so I decided to write some pieces for piano.
I finished the challenge, then put the resulting work off to the side while I worked on other projects.
One piece from that album — imaginatively titled NaSoPiAlMo 2006 — struck me as something that could be arranged for string quartet, which I did. I’ve had a lot of time to listen to it, and I think I prefer the quartet arrangement more than its source piano piece. In fact, I’m probably going to extract portions of that piano album to become a set of string quartet pieces. (But not an actual string quartet itself. Not in the traditional sense, at least.)
While that’s going on, here’s the piece that’s taking me down this particular path. Yes, the title is in Japanese. Maybe I’ll explain this fascination of using Japanese titles later, but translated, it means "String Quartet Pieces, Vol. 1, No. 5", and it’s pronounced, "Gengaku Shijuusou Kyoku Sono Ichi No. 5"
A few weeks ago, I bought an acoustic-electric guitar. I’d been recording acoustic guitar parts with a microphone, but it’s cumbersome to set up, and if I don’t position myself just so, the sound isn’t quite what I’d like. So I took the microphone aspect out of the equation and bought an acoustic guitar I could plug directly into the mixer.
One of the goals of the "Ex Machina Series" was to replace all the faked guitar parts with actual guitar parts where possible (read: if I can adequately play it), and nowhere is that more important than with acoustic guitar parts. Fake electric guitar parts can be obfuscated with mountains of effects, but faking acoustic guitar parts is harder. Reason has some excellent acoustic guitar samples, but coercing the digital audio workstation to sound human is where the true sorcery lies.
Or I could just play the damn part.
I covered The System’s "Don’t Disturb This Groove" back in 2008 after listening to Sam Amidon’s All Is Well album and thinking that song would sound good using that kind of chamber orchestra arrangement. The acoustic guitar part I fashioned also served as a bass, with a single note on the downbeats marking the time.
Over the weekend, I re-recorded the acoustic guitar, this time just strumming in rhythm. I lost the bass note and had to add an upright bass part to compensate. The feel of the cover has changed dramatically because of those alterations. Still trying to decide if I like them, but I may stick with them just because I’m not inclined to go back to the fake guitar.
Reason 6 incorporates Record, so now there won’t be two separate products. When the new version was first announced a few weeks back, I decided to skip it and wait for Reason 7. Since I already had Record, I didn’t feel this upgrade was essential, and honestly, I don’t actually use Record — I tacked it onto my Reason 5 upgrade for an extra $20 out of curiosity.
But now the Pay What You Want option makes me inclined to upgrade. I don’t know how much I’d pay, but it’s not going to be for the usual upgrade price of approximately $130. Nor will I be a cheapskate and pay the minimum $1. Most of the value in the upgrade is for Reason owners who don’t have Record, but for those users who do, Reason 6 seems more like a point release.
Really, the only thing I’d like to see — which most likely won’t happen — is the addition of a solo viola instrument in the Orkester library. Short of dropping $500 on the Solo Strings library from Vienna Instruments, the solo strings in the Orkester library do the most convincing job of emulating solo strings I’ve encountered.
As part of an effort to study some of my favorite string quartet scores, I’ve programmed a few works into SONAR using the Orkester library as an instrument. Samuel Barber’s lone string quartet is the source work for his famous Adagio for Strings. I can’t say I was impressed by the movements that frame the Adagio, but after entering each note of those movements, it’s eased up my criticism of them. At least now I can spot the sonata form.
This past weekend, I went back to enigmatics and started remixing the first, second and fifth tracks. (I’ve already done the third and fourth.) Any sort of remix project is revising history, and it’s fascinating to compare what was done years ago with what you intend to do with it now.
"enigmatics V" was one of those tracks that was complete enough but never really finished the way I would have liked. When I first wrote it, I didn’t even have a fraction of the tools available to me now — just the sequencer and an RCA cord to my computer. So the clavier part was really intended to be a guitar part, and that drum beat could have very well sampled Soul II Soul, if I actually had a sampler. I had also wanted that solo synth in the middle section to sound like something off of a Wayne Horvitz/The President album.
So 13 years later, I did what I set out to do. I replaced the drums with an emulated Roland 909 (thank you Battery!), replaced the clavier with guitar samples in Reason fed through Guitar Rig and passed the solo synth through a Guitar Rig distortion plug-in.
Now the track sounds closer to what I had imagined, which is different from the one that was actually released.
George Lucas has been getting a lot of flack for revising the Star Wars movies every time they get remastered for a new format. I can almost get his urge to tinker. He revised the original trilogy because the technology wasn’t around to let him do what he wanted. I’m revising my tracks because I now have the right technology to do what I intended to do — or at least closer to what I intended.
Of course, the big difference between Lucas and me is that way, way more people notice his tinkering. I can pull back the original enigmatics — which I may do at some point — and replace it with the revised version, and few people would notice.
Today I received an e-mail announcing the release of a new version of Guitar Rig. It’s not unexpected since Native Instruments started pushing KOMPLETE 8 last month. I’ve developed a bit of an addiction to Native Instruments after upgrading my computer last year.
It started with Battery. I tried out a demo and liked how much better it sounded than the kits in my old KORG N364 or Reason, for that matter. When Guitar Center had a sale on Battery, I bought a full version. Cakewalk SONAR also bundled a limited version of Guitar Rig, so I experimented with that as well. By Christmas, I upgraded Guitar Rig to a full version and impulsively tacked on KONTAKT with my purchase.
Guitar Rig and Battery are at the heart of what I call the "Ex Machina Series". I’m going back and redoing all the drums on my tracks to use Battery (if it seems appropriate — the N364 stil has some useful drum samples), and I’ve even tried my hand at recording guitar parts, even though I’m not much of a guitar player. Despite that lack of skill, Guitar Rig has quickly become an essential tool in my arsenal. So much so that it’s eclipsed Reason, which I use now to fabricate guitar parts I know I can’t play (usually arpeggios, definitely solos.)
One track that’s definitely benefited from a remix is "Untold Demons", an adaptation of the first song I ever wrote. It always had the spirit of a guitar song, even though it was written on the piano. I posted an early version on Metafilter Music, but I much prefer the remix.