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Archive for November, 2008

Soniccouture Guzheng

In their tradition of sampling hard-to-find ethnic instruments, Soniccouture just released a multisampled library of the Chinese Guzheng for Kontakt, EXS24, and Live 7 Instrument Rack. The 21 string instrument dates from 200 BC and is traditionally tuned to the D pentatonic scale over a four octave range. Its sound is reminiscent of a Japanese Koto.Guzheng

The sampler instruments include chromatic and transposable-pentatonic versions along with a variety of control options to facilitate playing the instrument authentically. For example, clever Kontakt scripting uses MIDI Aftertouch to pitchbend only the last-played note.

YouTube videos of the same performance on a real Guzheng and the sampled version are posted on the Soniccouture Web site (

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Related Topics: Emusician, Len Sasso |

iPhone Synth

iPHone Synth
I recently downloaded the Noise.IO Pro synth for the Apple iPhone. It’s a single voice synth with a surprisingly deep feature set. It offers a modulation matrix with which you can do all sorts of sound tweaking. However, though it’s easy to get some nice sounds out of it when you first turn it on (a lot of cool sequenced sounds are programmed in), the user interface is way cryptic. It will definitely take you some time to get the hang of it. It offers two main ways to trigger sounds, either from a little two-octave keyboard or matrix of buttons that trigger notes. Within the latter there are three different modes, offering a range of possibilities. It even takes advantage of the iPhone’s motion sensor, allowing you to literally shake your phone to modulate a sound. You also get a soft ribbon controller for further control. In addition, there are built in effects such as delay, chorus/flanger, distortion, and a bitcrusher.
Considering that it costs only $10 ($9.99 to be precise), it’s pretty cool, and a lot of fun to play around with. It has an online manual, but I didn’t find it to be as informative about basic operations as I would have liked. Be prepared to be frustrated by the Pro until you spend a lot of time learning itse ins and outs. It’s not exactly what I would call user friendly.

Although some of the presets are a little on the cheesy side, it sounds pretty darn good overall, especially if you’re listening on headphones or plugged into your computer. I plugged it into my audio interface using the iPhone’s headphone out, and recorded this example, which features four parts (two sequenced sounds, a bass, and percussion) into Ableton Live. I did a little bit of editing to tighten some of the parts up (the keyboard has a very slight delay when you hit a note, so it’s not so easy to nail rhythms spot on.) I did not add any effects in Live; these sounds are all from the Pro.

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Blue Cat Freeware Bundle for the Mac

French software developer Blue Cat Audio just released its freeware bundle of 11 effects plug-ins in VST format for the Mac. Get more info and download the bundle as well as beta versions in AU format here. The plug-ins run on PPC or Intel Macs but do require Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard). The earlier PC version of the bundle is covered in EM’s Download of the Month column.

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Steely Dan in Concert

I had the pleasure of seeing Steely Dan play Tuesday night (11/18) at The Wellmont Theater, a new music venue in my hometown of Montclair, NJ. I have been a longtime fan of “the Dan,” but this was my first chance ever to see the band live. This was one of four East Coast tour dates in November that had been added to the band’s “Think Fast ’08″ tour, the bulk of which took place over the summer.

A few minutes after 9 PM, eight pieces of the 13-piece band walked onstage and warmed up with a couple of Steely Dan songs instrumentally before bringing on Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, and three backup singers. Fagen, ever cool, sported a black leather coat and sunglasses. He sat down at his Fender Rhodes and the band launched into “The Royal Scam.”

In addition to Fagen on keyboards and vocals, Becker on guitar, and the three superb backup singers (Cindy Mizelle, Tawatha Agee, and Catherine Russell, all wearing large Afro wigs) the band consisted of a stellar four-piece horn section (Jim Pugh on trombone, Michael Leonhart on trumpet, Roger Rosenberg on baritone sax, and Walt Weiskopf on sax), Freddie Washington on bass, Keith Carlock on drums, Jim Beard on piano, and musical director Jon Herrington on guitar.

Fagen, as is his style, cocked his head while singing, which, combined with his sunglasses gave him kind of a Ray Charles look. His vocals were solid throughout the evening. The backup singers were awesome—they nailed every part with nary a bad note, while dancing, and sometimes playing percussion. When the band did “Parker’s Band” later in the show, Mizelle, Agee, and Russell sang lead, while Fagen, who sang it on the record, just played his Rhodes.

The band covered songs from a variety of Steely Dan eras, including material from as far back as Countdown to Ecstasy (1973) up to the relatively recent Two Against Nature (2000). The group was remarkably tight, and seemed relaxed and in control. Herrington was superb on guitar, handling the solos on a lot of the older songs, including “My Old School,” “Bodhisattva,” and “Black Friday, which he absolutely tore up. Becker played his fair share of solos, as well, but his clean noodly style of lead guitar was not nearly as compelling Herrington’s melodic soloing.

Drummer Carlock was a massive musical presence, combining a big solid backbeat with intricate and flashy fills. He received a standing ovation for the drum solo section of “Aja,” which he made his own while keeping the vibe of the original Steve Gadd part.

The band played for about two hours, doing 17 songs plus a 2-song encore. Here was the set list:

The Royal Scam
I’ve Got the News
Show Biz Kids
Two Against Nature
Hey Nineteen
Babylon Sisters
New Frontier
Gaucho (sung by Becker)
Black Friday
Parker’s Band (sung by backup singers)
Love is Like an Itching in My Heart (Supremes cover, sung by backup singers)
Green Earrings

My Old School
Kid Charlemagne

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Sound Design Workshop Clarification

The Sound Design Workshop column in the November issue of EM (entitled “A Step in Time“) describes how to build a step sequencer in a MIDI Effect Rack in Ableton Live 7. The MIDI Effect Racks are included in a downloadable Web Clip from the article. We’ve had some inquiries from readers concerning how to use those racks, so here’s a quick rundown.

1. Insert the step sequencer in an empty MIDI track. Any of the step sequencers in the Web Clip will do, they all work the same way.

2. Insert a virtual-instrument plug-in after the step sequencer by dragging it from the Live’s browser to the area labeled “Drop MIDI Effects, Audio Effects, Instruments or Samples Here.”

3. Record enable the track or set its Monitor mode to In.

MIDI notes between C2 and G2 (sequenced or played) will trigger steps in the 8-step sequencers. (Notes between Ab2 and Eb3 will trigger the second 8 steps in the 16-step sequencers.)

An alternative strategy is to insert the virtual-instrument plug-in on a different MIDI track and route the MIDI from the step sequencer track to the instrument track. If you choose that method, make sure that you’re not also sending incoming MIDI directly to the instrument.

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New Audio Recorders for iPhone/iPod Touch

Four Track
Of late there have been a couple of cool developments in the area of audio recorders for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch. First, Sonoma Wire Works and Retronyms collaborated to release Four Track. At $9.99, it’s actually a tad expensive for an iPhone app, but it’s the first multitrack recorder for this platform. It uses the built-in mic, but you can substitute a compatible third-party mic (such as the Shure Music Phone Adapter) for better quality. The recorder allows you to stack up to four mono tracks (16-bit, 44.1 kHz) and pan them, and the track length is limited only by your internal memory. Other features include clip lights and individual faders for each track, and file sending via Wi-Fi sync.

Bias iPro recorder
BIAS, makers of Peak and other software, recently released the iPro Recorder, a mono digital-audio recorder app that costs just 99 cents. It can record up to 13 hours of uncompressed WAV files for every GB on your device. It records at 16-bit resolution at either 44.1 kHz, 22 kHz, or 11 kHz sampling rates. One feature that I really like is that the visual interface flips around when you turn the iPhone (or iPod Touch) 180 degrees, which allows you to face the built-in mic away from you towards a source, and still see the controls right-side up. Also cool is a jog/shuttle control for manipulating playback. When you finish your recordings, you can export the file using the email button, which sends the recipient a message with a link to download the recording from BIAS’s own server. You can also send your file via Wi-Fi sync.

Both recorders are compatible with the iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPod Touch 2nd Gen.

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The Bus, EM's editorial blog, features posts from all the EM editors on topics related to gear, recording techniques and much more. It's also home to posts from a selected group of guest bloggers.


November 2008
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