Hoping to keep the kids somewhat interested when they come to see me perform Saturday.
This one gem is called “Life”. It’s very short. Enjoy!
It’s basically one chord. The thing is, putting music out there is just too hard, mainly because of our inner critic. Nothing is perfect, nothing is even close to good enough. Our creations are too precious. We don’t want them out in the cold wide world, judged by others. My solution to this crippling inability to release music was – hey, I’ll just create a podcast, call it “jams”, very low key and unassuming. Can’t judge that. After all, it’s not “the real thing (TM)”. But guess what, even that wasn’t easy enough. One night I said – I’ll just release one chord. Can’t be any simpler. Well… it’s been almost a year. The caveat was that I want to use this one chord as an excuse to learn at least some of the tools I’ve been stockpiling – hardware and software. And record a bunch of instruments. And yup, there are a lot of instruments in here. For example a crappy old out of tune piano I recorded last summer while on a trip in Scotland. And a gong, located in the Facebook office in Seattle (Thanks for hitting it, Gan!)
A video that pronounces all the words, second time slower
And a list of all the words, most commonly occurring first
|viel||a lot of|
|rühret||shall ye touch|
People are fascinating creatures. We can perceive differences in air pressure as pitch (sound, tone). Provided that said changes in pressure are fast enough and cyclical enough. OK, some clarification…
Wave your finger. No sound. Now faster, faster. If you manage 20 times in a second, you’ll start hearing something. 20 times-per-second is also measured as 20Hz. 20 000 times-per-second is 20 000 Hz. Or 20kHz. This (20Hz-20kHz) is the range of human hearing, at best. As we get older, the top falls down to 18kHz, 17kHz… Dogs do 50kHz. Bats – 100kHz.
So we perceive this quick change of low-to-high-pressure-and-back as pitch. For example 55Hz is the note A.
How can you tell when this 55Hz note A is played by a guitar or a piano? It’s the same frequency, no? Well, the thing is that nothing in nature is perfect and there’s no 55Hz-only waves produced by instruments. In addition to 55Hz a piano string also vibrates at 110Hz (double the frequency), at 165Hz, at 220Hz… etc. All multiples of 55.
We say that 55Hz is the fundamental and additional frequencies are overtones. They are quieter and different in intensity for different instruments. That’s how we can tell a violin A – based on its overtones (aka timbre).
Now, this is all cool. But the point of this post is to show that we don’t even need the fundamental. And we’re able to tell the “base”, fundamental pitch, even when it’ missing! What wizardry is this!? Demo time!
Let’s see an illustration using the Reaper software.
Create a sine wave at 110Hz which is A2 – the second A under middle C (C4).
It’s just a simple wave, not pleasant to listen to at all. It sounds like nothing in the real world, no overtones are present, just a fundamental. This is what is sounds like:
Now look at the result using the free SPAN frequency analyzer. As expected, there’s the bump at 110Hz and mostly nothing else.
Now let’s insert a precise EQ between the sine wave and the analyzer and cut off everything under around 300Hz.
As you’d expect after we’ve cut off most all of the fundamental frequency, there’s nothing left. No sound. (To be fair if you turn all kinds of gain, you’ll hear something above 300Hz because the sine wave still has some energy, see the EQ screenshot, but it’s so faint it’s not even there)
Let’s hear the audio. A sine wave at 110Hz:
And after the EQ at 330-ish Hz:
(Yup, it’s almost complete silence)
Now let’s try the same but with the sound of a sampled piano with the same note A2.
Here’s what it sounds like:
And here is what it looks like in a frequency analyser:
As you can see, in addition to the fundamental at 110Hz, there are overtones, all multiples of 110. First one is at 220Hz, this in A3, meaning an A an octave higher than the fundamental. There’s another A at 440Hz, another at 880Hz and so on… but there’s more than As going up in octaves. At 330Hz that’s an E. At 550Hz that’s a C#. A, C# and E spell a nice A major chord. 660 is another E, cool. 770 is G. OK, this is A major seventh. I can live with this. 990 though is a B. Damn, now we’re getting jazzier and jazzier with these chords. The thing is these overtones are quieter and quieter and we do not perceive a chord, but just a single pitch A2. Although there’s a lot more going on. What exactly is going on is dependent on the instrument (thimbre).
The interesting thing is what happens after we insert the same EQ and cut off all below 300Hz. Meaning we’re killing the 110Hz fundamental. And even the first (strongest) 220Hz overtone.
What do you think is going to happen? Listen:
What?! Sounds a bit different, more telephony maybe. But we still perceive the same note. The same tone. The same A2. We’re missing the most important information (110Hz) and second-most important (220Hz) but we still hear A2. On a piano. Solely based on the overtone signature of this sound.
Dunno about you, but I am amazed by this.
A3 piano sample. Before EQ:
After the same 300-ish Hz EQ:
We still perceive the same A3 (220Hz) even when there’s nothing there!
Well, it’s a fascinating phenomenon if you ask me.
Also one of the things when producing music is you often want things (voices, instruments) to be audible and distinct. When there’s too much information in the same frequency area, sounds get muddy and hard to separate by the listener. That’s why there’s often a lot of cutting out of frequencies to make room for other instruments. This example here shows that if you need to, you can cut even below the fundamental frequency of the note being played and we humans can still tell the note. Weird. But true.
Key signatures are critical. Says David Cope “Key signatures are the equivalent of addition and multiplication tables in mathematics – absolutely essential for succeeding”
So “this one weird trick” I learned today is about remembering the number of sharps in major keys. It looks into how many strokes with your pencil you need so you can write the key letter.
E.g. G you can write in one go. Which tells you that G major has 1 sharp.
Next is D. Written with one line down and a second semi-circle. Two strokes in total. Ergo – 2 sharps.
For A you need 3.
4 for E. (Usually you start writing E with one stroke that looks like L and then add two more, but hey, let’s go along with this, ok? 4 is what it takes and that’s that.)
5 for B. (I know, I know)
The trick falls apart at F, though I’m sure if you try really hard, you can write an F with 6 strokes. But think of F as the exception. It has 6 sharps. And then we’re done with C#. Which we all know has aaaaall of the sharps.
Home studio recordists have to deal with noise, it’s a fact of life. But noise shouldn’t prevent anyone from recording and perfecting their craft. Removing the noise is trivial in Reaper with no additional plugins (though some people swear by Izotope RX for that same purpose)
So there goes:
Mode: Subtractand check
Automatically build noise profile
Automatically build noise profileand you’re done. Enjoy the silence.
Below are a few screenshots…
Select some noise:
The two options:
Done! The red line is the noise profile. This is a bit of an extreme example, yours should be better.
What a night! And a front-row seat pour moi, no less.
The Theater at the Ace Hotel is one of those oldish beat up venues with a certain vibe. 1920’s style kitsch that has this endearing Hollywood former glamour. There a quite a few of those theaters (e.g. Wiltern, Saban) in Los Angeles and I like them all.
Front row seat! I could read the musicians’ scores and read I did. Luckily I’ve seen the movie so I could easily ignore the screen.
Here’s what happened:
Couple of words from the director and composer.
On we go. Movie in the background, orchestra and director in front.
Ovations and things.
Overall – awesome. The venue is probably not the best for an orchestra (see where the conductor is) and it had to compete with the audio from the movie. So they had to mike some of the instruments which (at least from where I was standing) didn’t feel as immediate. But what felt just right was the bass and cello sitting right in front of me. Oh, the low end!
Also pretty cool that this was a repeat, because the original show sold out, I guess. So it started at midnight. Ended 2:30-ish am. Which is a lovely way to avoid that Friday traffic on highway 10.
I needed about a minute of ambient music and this is what happened. Three chords repeated with slight variations. Mostly stolen from Bach’s Prelude in C. Type these into MuseScore. Render in to WAV in MuseScore with samples for “strings”, then with “ooh”, then with “bassoon”. Copy these to Reaper. Cut some parts from “ooh” and “bassoon” so these come in later. Add generous reverb and some delay. Done.
Funny thing is that, depending on the listening environment, additional ghost instruments appear. For example on iphone earbuds I hear trumpets at the end. I think because of all the overtones (harmonics) and how they randomly interact with each other when the same notes are rendered with different samples and different delays and reverbs. Spooky.
Coloring tracks in the DAW is a good idea so you can visually tell what’s what. And (in Reaper at least) it can be done automatically, as soon as you name the track.
First you need the SWS extensions for Reaper. Download and install and a new top-level menu called
Extensions will show up.
Tweak to your heart’s content.
Finally, make sure the options
Enable Auto Track Coloring and
Enable Auto Track Icon are ON.
Here’s a quick video of how auto-coloring works in action.
Well, hello and welcome to my podcast! This is episode #1 of what I hope would be a place to put up musical noises on some semblance of a regular schedule. Enjoy and happy new 2018!
This first one is a jam in F. This thing is based around the idea of skipping the third in an F chord, so the major vs minor is a little ambiguous. And replacing the A (or is it Ab?) with G. Spoiler alert: it is an A 🙂