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I live in Brooklyn, NY and I love it here.  I came here for my career in 2009 and haven't once looked back. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

A little Bryant Park wifi action...

Just met my friend Sidney in midtown for a great Macchiato and some even better conversation.  And here, I thought there were no good coffee shops in midtown.  Place is called Culture.  38th between 5th and 6th.  And now I'm sitting in Bryant Park on what is almost a nice enough day to sit outside.  My fingers are cold as I type this.  The only good thing about it is that the park is not as crowded as it usually is in the spring and summer.  Tired and cold as I am, I was able to work on some music here in the park.  I wanted to re work a string part for this piece I'm working on for Steve and I used Sibelius so I wouldn't have to tinker in Logic.  My Mac has been slowing down lately and I think it might be because of all the audio I've recorded with it.  Time to get an external hard drive methinks.  

Anyway, why am I even out here you ask, if it's so cold?  One, because it's not that cold and I sort of get eager to pretend winter is over.  Two, because there's  a meetup for the Celiac group at a gluten free pizza shop with two locations.  Kind of a come and go as you please thing with there being a 50% discount for all who show up with the RSVP ticket.  Psyched. I may not socialize much though.  I think I want to get home before work and take care of a few things.  Namely this piece, one of three that I'm working on simultaneously.  There's also some trailer music for "The Life" and a piece of music for a promo that Steve shot.  

When it rains it pours.  I just wish it would also pour voice over gigs too.  But I guess you can't have everything.  And damn my fingers are too cold.  So this is all the update I can handle giving you right now.  Peace out for now.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

God of Loop...

I got it working!  Yes, I was up until 2 am struggling with the damn thing and then spent most of my morning and half my afternoon on it.  But, finally, I got it somewhat cooperating with my software.  The trick?  And this is going to make no sense to anyone not in the know with MIDI; Control Change messages and not Program Change messages…at least, I think.  That's the way it goes.  The only thing that remains to be fixed now is that for some reason, with certain functions, like looping and stopping the record, I have to hit the pedal twice to make anything happen.  Or I should say, every other time I hit the pedal, nothing happens.

So that's a bit frustrating but I was looping by the time Lacy called to say she was here.  Hopefully, in a few weeks, now that everything is somewhat working, I'll get down the practice of actually doing it and will be a veritable God of Loop in no time.  Here's what I was working on when she showed up:



There are 6 layers of guitars in there.

All in a day's work.  Oh, and Tuesday night I bought a bass guitar off someone from craigslist.org.  $75 for a Fender Squier bass that looked like it had fallen off a bridge or something, and I didn't even think to plug it in and test it before buying it.  But luckily, it works.  I tried it immediately when I got home.  Whew.  It's black with a white pick guard and has a nice low action on it.  The strings will need to be changed.

Anyway, not much else to tell at the moment, except that I also had a good coaching session on Tuesday night.  I should get going. King of time management here, I still have to get dressed and pack up my lunch/dinners.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Looping...

Looping.  Loopy.  That's what it makes me.  I feel like I've been trying to go about this completely the wrong way.  Or at least a very difficult and convoluted roundabout sort of way.  I was talking about this briefly in my last entry from last night.  Lately, I've been trying to push forward with learning this software and am in a tiny bit of a rush because Lacy and I keep talking about wanting to play some of her stuff electric, plugged in and I really want to apply the looping to her songs.  Ultimately, I want to be performing my own stuff as well but have been putting off writing the songs because I want to write them with my limitations/capabilities in mind.  To some extent, the old stuff that I do want to perform will have to be modified (possibly improving it) in order to be played live.

Anyway, I bought all this equipment over the course of the past few years and have been slowly learning pieces of it.  Now, I could have just done what some guitarists do and build a set up of analog hardware and pedals, perfect my sound and then just buy one of these. But then I'd have to lug around a ton of stuff.  But then again, I'm already going to have do that with all the equipment I have amassed (see below).  Were I to have gone the route of a hardware looper, the one I have had my eye on for some time, and which I  will eventually looping my acoustic guitar, is the Line 6 DL4 Delay modeler, though I hear it has some limitations (check out this article if you're interested in a review of that and other pedals check out this).  Who am I kidding?  All these pedals have some limitations, which is the whole reason for going the "in-the-box" route.  I wrote a blog entry on my main web page a while back about Guitar Rig and it touched on amp modeling software a little, making that exact point; that having tons more options is the point of reducing everything, all those pedals and cables, into a laptop and an audio interface.  Tons more options than you would with a comparable amount of gear, that is.

The downside of going with putting everything in the box, I'm finding, is the limitations of modern day computer processors, to say nothing of the drivers and complex computer software that this stuff involves that's supposed to work together but rarely does.  I've read some great information out there about looping with these software packages and everything that goes with them and have come to one conclusion so far.  It's hard to find a perfect setup.  And you are, for all intents and purposes, learning a new instrument: the computer.   In fact, in some ways, it takes just as long to figure out and master your software and hardware setup as it does to get good at playing an instrument.

Anyway, below are some of the options I've considered.  But before I get into that I'd like to touch on exactly what it is I intend to be able to do. I want to be able to plug up my guitar and keyboard through my audio interface to my Macbook Pro and be able to loop the things I play on both instruments while simultaneously processing the guitar through Guitar Rig, sampling the things I play, mixing it all and tweaking the mix on the fly.  It sounds insane to ask all of this of one laptop but I have faith that this one can do if I just find the right combination of software and make the right concessions about what I can and cannot have. Here goes.

The hardware: Macbook Pro, Audio Kontrol audio/MIDI interface, FCB1010 MIDI foot controller, M Audio Axiom 49 key keyboard, Epiphone Gibson Guitar (sunburst)...oh and possibly a bass guitar I haven't even bought yet.  And obviously cables. 

The software(at least what I've considered using and some of what I've tried): Mainstage (with or without their built-in loopback plugin), Ableton Live (barely touched on it), Mobius, Sooper Looper, Guitar Rig (has a looper built in but I haven't figured out how to use it while using Guitar Rig as a plug-in in Mainstage), various software synthesizers including Absynth, FM8, Akoustik Piano and various other Native Instruments plug-ins.  (Bit of a Native Instruments fan).

What I've considered using a platform to contain all of this is mainly Mainstage, a performance based software that comes packaged with Logic, Apple's audio recording and editing suite.  I've had some weird error messages in Mainstage and was unable to figure out how to get their built in looper to work properly.  I spent a great deal of time on it and then read that it was notoriously glitchy and slow.  Plus some weird latency issue was causing my recorded audio to playback almost a full beat behind.  Not good for precision.   So, I then downloaded Mobius and Sooper Looper.  Sooper Looper I've not yet looked at but Mobius seems to be the one that's going to work for me.  Tomorrow, I have to sit down and try to make it work with Mainstage and my FCB1010 pedal.

Ah yes, the FCB1010 pedal.  Oh how I have salivated over this pedal for months, seeing as how it is the only MIDI foot controller out there, seemingly, that has as many options.  The one that is built by  Native Instruments for Guitar Rig, only has one expression pedal.  The FCB has two.  And it also has 10 footswitches and ten different preset banks, effectively giving you 100 programmable buttons.  My feet will never know what to do with themselves.  The trick with the FCB1010 though is that you have to program each of these buttons individually.  And you either have to do it with a complex series of button taps or with a software editor (free on PC, but not on the Mac, so I've been editing my presets using the PC and then switching over to the Mac).  I'm still in the process of programming the pedals and have yet to see it work with Mainstage.  Mainstage still isn't recognizing the footswitches when I tap them but I think I know what I have to do now.  It's all a matter of being at home where I can test these things with the actual pedal.  I can read and watch tutorials all I want here at work but without actually having the pedal in front of me I can't see if these methods actually work.

But I'm getting closer. I can feel it.  I just watched this batch of tutorials and I feel like it's all starting to make sense to me what I'm going to have to do.  The trick was setting myself simple tasks, like learn how to program the footswitches on the FCB1010 to send MIDI program changes, get the pedal to work with Guitar rig as a standalone plug in, set up Mobius in Mainstage, learn how to map controls in Mainstage to FCB1010.  This is all technical stuff but I promise I'll make an effort to make sense of all of this in a later entry.  For now, my brain is fried and I must go.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Big Music Day...

What's been going on?  A lot.  Today alone I was incredibly busy, and thankfully with the good kind of work.  I woke up at 9am or so, skipping church to sleep in because I knew I'd need the afternoon for rehearsal with Lacy and wouldn't be able to nap before the overnight.  (Hopefully ridiculously long sentences like that one explaining my stupid schedule will be a thing of the past soon).  Hardly leaving the house the whole day, I worked mostly on music for Steve's reel (a cool jam with a funk drum loop, strings, Wurlitzer and organ) and then knocked out some underscoring that George decided he wanted for the TV version of "The Life" (mostly ambient guitars).  The festival version will be, I think, sans musique.

After accomplishing a ton on all of that, I worked with my FCB1010 pedal and Mobius to no avail.  The FCB1010 is the most complex piece of hardware I have ever owned and trying to get it programmed and working properly has taken far longer than I had hoped.   After sifting through mountains of information online, some of it conflicting, I've found a ton of resources for learning the pedal and for using it with various different software that I own.  Mobius is a free looping program that seems to be pretty popular and sounds, as per the myriad youtube videos out there about it, pretty easy to use.  However, somehow I think I did some things out of order and confused my system so that, though it was recognizing my audio interface, there was no audio coming out of my speakers (new speakers which I just bought and love!) even from youtube tutorial videos that I was watching.  I think the software had some kind of glitch in it.  It's all very confusing but I'll figure it out at some point.

This was all to prepare for a rehearsal with Lacy during which we had hoped to be able to use the pedal and looping software to try some things with some of her newer songs.  I was ready to throw my computer, pedal, audio interface and guitar out the window by the time she showed up and it was already later than she had planned because of traffic, so we opted to go straight into acoustic stuff.  Freddy's gave us 3 songs but we planned for five and rehearsed them all.  The mic went quite well.  We ended up going last out of five musicians that showed up…which, for the size of Freddy's backroom, felt like a crowd.   The others were great as well.  The one gentleman who was there the first time we did Freddy's a month ago was there again and played his signature goofy comedic songs (one, which I remember from last time, was about meeting a lesbian at a bar and not realizing she was gay until he came back from the bathroom and she was with another woman).  Another guitarist/singer opened up with a John Prine song, went into "One" by U2 and then played an original of his and yet another skilled blues guitarist rocked out an original tune of his about teenagers from outer space, among others.  Lastly, right before us, a woman who just moved from Canada brought us some great tunes of hers.  Punxatawney Jesus, the organizer even closed out the show with a cover of "Secret Agent Man."  Gotta love these open mics for their ability to attract such diverse musicians.

So, it was a big music day.  And now I'm going to work more on Steve's music.  I'm in that interesting part of the composing process where I've got the basic elements in place, for the most part, and am just settling on structure and dynamics of the piece and how to build it.  This is when I feel most like an architect.   It's very technical and involved, and it's not like that inspired moment where you the first idea comes to you in a flash and you scramble to write it down before it fades, but it's still fun.  Especially since I can do it on the go with the laptop and I don't necessarily have to be at the apartment.

And I must say my setup is starting to really feel complete…despite the fact that I have no keyboard stand and must rest my keyboard on the bed and slide it underneath said bed when I'm done using it, oh and my desk is also my dresser.




I just feel so much more productive when things are in their right place and I have what I need.  I'll feel so much better though on the day when I can have a set place for everything and leave it all set up all the time so I don't have to waste so much time plugging things up and getting hardware to recognize software, etc.   That's the most frustrating part.  That and little tiny things like I accidentally ordered a too short MIDI cable when I ordered the speakers you see in those pics and it barely reaches from the foot pedal on the floor up to where I keep the audio interface on top of the CPU.  

But anyway, voice over coaching on Tuesday.  Oh yeah, that other thing I do.  I've felt a greater momentum with voice over since I pulled off those two jobs in one weekend last weekend.  I've been auditioning online at voice123.com a lot in this past week and I've found that I have a lot more incentive to do it now because I've seen that I can get work that way.   And I'm really looking forward to getting back in front of the mic with my coach.   More on that later.  For now, I'm signing off.  Good night all!  


Monday, February 13, 2012

Victory!

At 8:30 am Saturday morning, I stretched out to the end of my bed to swat the alarm clock, grabbed my phone and sat back in bed, thinking as I thumbed through my email that rolling over to go back to sleep for a few hours would be nice, seeing as how I didn't need to be up for my regular shift.  I had swapped with someone who wanted to work a morning shift so I didn't need to be in until 3 pm.  The night before I literally did nothing and slept early though so I didn't mind being up early.  As I do, when I can make it to classes that I normally can't, I go to yoga and that was my plan, to make the 10 am class and then come back home for a bit before work.

However, the first email I saw on my phone made me start to rethink my plan.  It was a direct invite from a voice over producer on Voice123.com.  This one actually had a personal email attached to it saying he liked my voice and would love to work with me on this project.  This being my first such email from a producer on the site, I was initially cautious but I figured I would go to yoga, then try to knock out an audition before I needed to be in at 3 pm.

Yoga was a great class with one of my favorite teachers whose class I never get to take.  Afterward, feeling refreshed and wide awake, I opted to go on ahead to work instead of trying to do the recording at home really quick before heading to work.  I had packed my lunch in case I decided to go this route and it proved a good idea because I wound up getting the job.  Had I recorded it at home, surely my audition would have sounded different from the recordings I would end up having to make at work.  Either way, the irony is that I've spent all this time perfecting my set up and my workflow at home only to have to pull off my first job in a tricky unpredictable environment, improvising, as it were, with the equipment I had available.

I had to use one of the USB mics from our edit bays and track my audition in said edit bay using my laptop and managed to knock it out before I had to be in to work.  I sent it off and within minutes had a response, submitting it online at voice123.com and then also emailing it to the producer directly.  The producer said he loved my read and was going to run it by his client and, if we were a go, he asked if I could finish it by the end of the day.  Excited, I said I could, thinking I would track the rest of it during my break around 5 pm and figuring I'd say I'd have it done by 6 or 7 pm.

When my break rolled around though, the newsroom was a bit busier and the glass door of the edit bay was not blocking out nearly enough sound, so I spent most of my break running around trying to find a quieter edit bay and a mic that wasn't noisy.  The Blue Snowball USB mic that everyone in the industry is raving about was giving me more trouble than it seemed to be worth.  I thought about it after the fact and realized I probably should have downloaded drivers for it.  But I managed to get it to work for me but I had to finagle the noise reduction plugin in Logic to cut out the room noise; an unfamiliar plugin to me as I do most of my voice recording in Sound Forge, and their plugin uses a noise print removal method where you can actual select a chunk of the recording with nothing but background noise, capture the frequencies and then remove them from the rest of the recording.  Logic's is much more trial and error, as you actually have to figure out on your own what frequencies are bothering your recordings.

So, much of my time was spent figuring out an alien setup but I did manage to pump out some awesome reads of this guy's script.  The job was for a short web commercial and they were looking for a casual guy next door read and apparently I nailed the audition and my first take that I sent only needed two revisions.  When he emailed me back a few minutes later, he even asked me to record a tag for a totally separate job.  The pay was good so I took it as well and ended up finishing the revisions and that tag at the end of the night after I clocked out at 11pm.  I didn't leave here until midnight but I got paid!

The tag I was able to finish up this afternoon/evening after a rockstar nap I took which should carry me through the rest of the night…should.  But we'll see.  Anyway, the payment for that as well is already in my paypal account, which goes to show you how quick it can happen.  Feeling pretty psyched about all this especially since this guy sounds like he potentially has more work for me.  Now, I shift gears to work on the music for Steve's reel, the turnaround for which is totally different from those voiceover jobs.  Should be kind of relaxing by comparison.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Disaster not averted...

I never like to relate a story until the dust has completley settled and this one is no different.  I was going to write a blog titled "god bless the sound check" the other night before this concert had actually happened but that would have been jumping the gun.  Even though I had a chance to sound check the night before the concert, all did not go to plan.  I hesitate to say it was a total disaster for me but it certainly didn't go very well.  Even despite said sound check.  

The night begins with me running late.  I was set to make it still before the concert started but Tania was also running late because of Murphy's law, so I waited at 125th and Lenox at the Starbucks so she wouldn't have to walk over to the theater from the subway by herself.  More and more worried as the clock got closer to 8pm, my anxiety was relieved slightly when I saw the sound guy, himself, whom I had met the night before, walking past me out of the subway.  When we finally arrived they were still sound checking the house band so I felt I had time still to get set up.  I had to chase the sound guy down a few times to make sure I had everything I needed.  At 8pm, I was still missing two 1/4" to XLR adapters to connect my audio interface to the snake and I didn't have a power source for my keyboard controller and laptop.  Assure I would have them, I sat down in the audience once my equipment was set up behind the piano.

When we got up on stage after the first number, Tania introduced us while I scrambled to get things plugged in but somehow it didn't occur to me to check and make sure that my audio interface had been plugged into the snake.  It hadn't.  Now, you don't have to be technically inclined to realize what this would mean.  Something not plugged in = no sound going through, ergo, I'm up on stage twiddling knobs to no avail.  Of course I noticed this not being unplugged thing in the middle of the song so I ducked down and plugged myself in but still no audio was coming out.  However, being under pressure since I was on stage and currently performing a piece, I panicked a little and when one is panicked, calm troubleshooting becomes much harder.  I tried to signal the sound guy and let him know what the problem was but ultimately ended up signaling to Tania to end the piece early.  I grabbed the wireless mic and explained that there were technical difficulties and we wouldn't be hearing the electronics and then announced the next piece by Alberto Ginastera.  I sat off stage for a bit until she was finished and then just began taking my equipment down with a mind to storm out of there as soon as I was done.

Luckily I calmed down and Tania talked to me after her set and after I was done collecting my gear.  You can't start throwing blame around and getting angry in a situation like that.  There was a lot of stuff stacked against us and with that amount of technical equipment and that amount of performers with such a diverse array of technical needs and one guy to juggle it all, who walked in only slightly less on time than Tania and I did, you're bound to have something go wrong.  At any rate, by the end of the concert I started to see it all in a different light.  They still heard an excerpt of my piece (even if I was standing on stage looking dumb and flailing my arms around trying to signal the audio guy during most of the piece), and I got to meet a bunch of great musicians and network with them.  Plus, the ones who were around at the sound check and got to hear the sounds I'd be making seemed genuinely interested in hearing what it the whole piece actually sounded like so I directed them to this.  I mean, it's gotta be one hell of a teaser getting something so elaborate as that set up and not being able to perform it at all.

I did sit through the rest of the performances and they were all pretty amazing. The guys before us were called "The Mighty Third Rail," and consisted of a vocalist with a loop pedal, a violinist and an upright bass.  Their music was pretty slick and catchy.  The vocalist beat boxed, looped and rapped, had some great lyrics and the string players were both really awesome.  They were my favorite.

The rest of the acts were RnB type stuff, all fantastic vocalists and the house band never missed a beat.  There was a ridiculously tight drummer, a bassist, percussionist, pianist, occasional back up singers.  I'm glad I stuck around.  This Fertile Ground concert is something that happens every 2nd Thursday of the month and we've been invited back.  So who knows, maybe this time I'll bring my own cables so I won't need adapters.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Fertile Ground and my electronic music mission statement...

This Thursday evening, Februrary 9th, Tania and I are performing an excerpt of my piece, "Moon, Tides, Cycles"at the National Black Theater in Harlem as part of a concert put on by a group called Fertile Ground.   The 2nd Thursday of every month they put on an artist's showcase.  Here's a link to this Thursday night's concert.  Kinda psyched to be a part of it.

Meanwhile, I have to show up for the dress rehearsal without Tania so that should be interesting.  Bringing the usual setup of Macbook, Audio Kontrol 1 interface, microphone, M Audio Axiom controller and all the cables I need to pull this off.  Should be in and out of there hopefully rather quick.  Since we won't be able to perform the piece in full without Tania there, the aim will just be to get sound out of the speakers and make sure there are no issues.

The amount of times I've performed this piece now, you'd think it'd go more smoothly each time.  But, it seems each time, I run across a new problem and have to troubleshoot on the fly.  Still, it's a far cry from a year ago when I first started imagining how I would pull off performing the piece when I hadn't even transcribed it.  It seemed a monumental task back then but now that I've streamlined the process, and done it a few times, it doesn't seem so gargantuan. I've even thought of things like making sure the night before that the audio preferences in Mainstage are set up so that the audio interface is the main output instead of the speakers on the Macbook.  This burned me last time and ate some of our time on stage, because I couldn't get audio out of the speakers and started to freak out a little until I realized what I had done. 

It's good also that I've gotten so much use out of this one piece.  When I think of the amount of work that went into realizing it,  I can't imagine if I had only performed it once.  Now the piece has had many different lives, starting out as accompaniment to a dance piece that was never performed again with the music as far as I know, it became my first attempt at live electronic music with a classical performer, and my first use of my laptop to perform music.  In many ways, it's going to be a stepping stone to some of the ideas I have for electronic music.

I was doing a little research these past few days and stumbled on something on Ableton's website, with a guy who had looped piano and I started to get a little pissed because that's literally my next move, looping, sampling and tweaking.  But then I watched the video and realized that there was nothing terribly special about this guy's music (no offense to him).  It was nothing like what I'm intending to do.  He was just playing choppy Latin sounding rhythms on the piano and looping and layering them while a DJ spun some beats behind him.

My plan?  Oh so much more.  I'm going to have the pianist play an odd rhythmic chordal ostinato, which I will then loop and run through some effects while she performs a second piano part over top of it.   Meanwhile, I will be taking samples of her performance of the first part of the piece and mangling them, slicing them and creating ethereal soundscapes with them.

In all honesty, my work with piano and electronics is in a far different genre.  In fact, any time I think of electronic music, I have no inclination to mimic the bass thumping, beat driven stuff that's out there.  My main motive is to take all the software is out there and do something unique that pushes the envelope of what can be done live.  The question is, "why do something that I can do without software if I just had more performers playing with me?"  The software is not just there to allow me to realize a song without a band, but also so that I can do things that no one can do without software.

How's that for a mission statement?  On that note, I'd better go because I have a long night ahead of me (reaching the last stretch though) and another music project to work on for a friend's narrative cinematography reel.  And this week is proving to be a busy one as per usual.  Luckily, I'm taking the day of the concert off from NY1.  Wish me luck.  And come see the show!