Awasu » No, it’s not just me who does that
Friday 21st May 2010 11:28 AM [General]

A couple of people have asked how I produced the songs I posted the other day, so here's a quick run-down.

It all started back in the mid-90's :-) when I picked up a wonderful piece of equipment put out by Roland, the VS-880. It was a self-contained portable recording studio that went for around a grand and a great way for someone to start learning how to record. And while you can still get this kind of all-in-one box, nowadays most people do everything on a computer.

Fast-forward to today, I recently got myself a new laptop to build a studio around and with 8 GB of memory, 8 CPU's and a 256 GB solid-state drive, it was definitely not cheap :-( but audio and <foreshadowing> video </foreshadowing> is notoriously hard on computers and this system has been built for the long-haul.

On it, the main things I run are Ableton Live and Reaper and as you can see in the screenshot below, things have changed just a bit in the last 15 years :roll: Spread out over two 1920x1080 displays, I have on-screen waveforms, drag-and-drop editing, real-time monitoring of what's happening on every channel, so compared to how I had to manage with the VS-880's tiny LED screen, things are obviously much easier. I don't quite get to grumble to the kids today about how I had to cart my 8-track around everywhere, in the snow, up-hill (in both directions) but it's not far off...

Ableton is popular with people doing dance and electronic music and I rather suspect I might be blazing a bit of a trail using it for blues :roll: but it's great for what I want to do: prepare songs for live work. All the songs I posted can be performed live, and it's not just a case of simply playing along to a backing track. Using a MIDI foot controller, I can move around the various parts of a song at will and since I play a WX5 wind synth, I have even more control via that as well. For example, in Dancing In The Rain, I can trigger a thunder-clap or the sound of rainfall at any time by playing a particular note :cool:

The WX5 is a MIDI controller i.e. while it can play notes, it doesn't have sounds built into it and needs to be plugged into a sound generator and the unit of choice is the VL70-m. The sounds it comes with are OK but this guy sells a chip that replaces them with a new set that are simply awesome. There are a bunch of samples on the linked-to page as well as, of course, the songs I posted :-) While many synths work by sampling (i.e. they play back pre-recorded samples of each note as you play them), the VL70-m works by physical modeling, that is, it has been programmed with a mathematical model of a pipe and it figures out what sound would come out if you blow into it. Each different sound in the VL70-m has the pipe configured differently (length, bore diameters, twists, kinks and holes) and it's quite bizarre to think that by simply contorting a pipe in different ways, it can be made to sound like an electric guitar, a violin or a bass :blink: Loads of fun :-)

Reaper is a DAW (digital audio workstation, a recording studio application) and is, in a word, amazing. You may have heard kevotheclone raving about how insanely awesome Awasu is, well, I'm about to do the same for Reaper. It's produced by a company called Cockos, founded by Justin Frankel, the same dude that brought us Winamp all those years ago, and once described by Rolling Stone as "the world's most dangerous geek." If you've ever had anything to do with audio production, you'll know that the main players like Cubase, Pro Tools and Logic are typical, corporate-scale behemoths, laden with features but with a commensurate number of bugs that are maybe fixed in releases that come out once every couple of years, and a price tag in the USD 500-1000 range. Reaper, on the other hand, is an extremely powerful piece of software (with far more in it than what I will ever need), releases are every couple of weeks, betas are pushed out every couple of days :bigshock: and I'm somewhat embarrassed to report that what they are asking for this fabulous piece of gear is less that what we ask for the Pro Edition of Awasu, a measly 60 bucks. The big players would be well justified in feeling somewhat uneasy about what's happening here since Reaper is fast catching up to them.

Not only that, they have a policy of trusting their users:

We believe that technological enforcement of copy protection is not in the best interest of our customers.
We offer a good product at a fair price.

We don't spend money and effort on marketing, complicated piracy protection, or other things that do not directly improve REAPER and the user experience.

We think the good will generated by playing fair and being responsive to users is more valuable to our business than short-term profits.

If the fact that their product is bloody fantastic isn't good enough reason to buy it, then surely this is :clap:

But it gets better! I wish I could find it again but when I was sniffing around to find out more about Reaper, I stumbled across a long forum post from someone who was raving about its support. He had posted a suggestion for a new feature and was gob-smacked when the developer replied almost immediately and they had a conversation nutting out how it could work. But his gob-smackedness was nothing compared to what he felt when an hour later, he received a build with a prototype of new feature in it :bigshock: :clap:

And I thought it was only me who did that kind of thing... :roll:

3 Responses to this post

"You may have heard kevotheclone raving about how insanely awesome Awasu is, well, I’m about to do the same for Reaper."

My "raves" are backed by facts, and after a quick look at Reaper I believe your "raves" are fact based too.

I'm originally a rock guitarist who picked up piano, and along the way I musically branched out into jazz.

My home studio goes back even further, probably around 1982 or so I bought a Tascam 244 Portastudio which gave me 4 recordable tracks on a cassette tape! I also bought a Moog Source monophonic synthesizer, it was Moog first synthesizer that could store your sounds in memory; with a whopping 16 memory locations. The Moog source was pre-midi; in those days people used separate cables to carry Control Voltage (CV) and Gate (a.k.a. Trigger) if you dared to dreame of connecting two synths together (midi hadn't been invented yet). I think I paid $1,000-$1,200 for the Tascam and $800 for the Moog.

I made some painful (solo) home recording with this equipment, but I also used it to record my bands and some other local bands as well. Try getting a decent mix of a garage band when you're in a laundry closet that's also in the garage! I'd press my head phones against my head until I bled trying to block the live sound of the band.

A few years later I bought some midi equipment: A Korg SQD-1 sequencer, and Korg Poly-800 keyboard, and a Roland TR-707 drum machine. I also picked up a Korg CX-3 organ, for those Hammond organ sounds without all the bulk and weight. Now my solo recordings greatly improved, however I came to regret purchasing the Korg SQD-1 ($500), I should have saved my money a little longer and bought the Roland MC-500 ($1,000) but money was tight back then.

The SQD-1 only had two midi "tracks" and you could easily "bounce" the "edit track" into the "main track" up to the 16 midi channels limit, but it didn't have an easy way to bounce a single midi channel out of the "main track" back to the "edit track", there was a convoluted way to do it plugging the midi output back into the midi input and filtering out all channels except for the one you wanted.

I also bought a pair of Yamaha TX-81z(s) and the original Emu Proteus, as well as a couple of alternate (toy-ish) midi controllers Yamaha DD-5 (drum pads) and a Casio DH-100 (looks like a cheesy sax) (I did learn to play the Recorder too); throw in some digital reverbs/effect devices, a mixer, midi patch bay, 8 guitars and a piano.

If using the Roland VS-880 was like trudging around in the snow, up-hill (in both directions), then using the Korg SQD-1 was like trying to pull a fully loaded freight train in the snow, up-hill (in both directions).

Amazingly I think I've still got almost all of this stuff stored away in a side bedroom. I haven't used it since we moved into our new house in 2002 and my usage was somewhat waning anyway. Most of it is absolutely worthless, but a couple of items are still worth something. One of these days I'll hook most of it back up and when I do I'll ask you about your choice of PC/midi interface and software. I know I don't have time to do this now, but maybe in 2011...

What a great story :-)

It cracks me up when people lust after the old "classic" sounds without maybe realizing how much more difficult recording was back then (I know I don't, not really). These days, you just drop in a plugin or two and it's done :|

I read a post on a recording forum the other day where a guy confessed that he had had an epiphany and realised why his recordings, made with expensive state-of-the-art gear, didn't sound anywhere near as good as the ones made in the 60's in crappy rooms with crappy gear - the musicians were so much better and it was all in the performance :-D It's easy to be a gear-whore when doing this - and sax players suffer from it as well, it's not just you guitarists :-) - but ultimately, it's still all about the musical statement. Which is why I still practice... :|

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