Book Review: Mixing Secrets For the Small Studio

This book, written by producer Mike Senior, is fantastic:

If only Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio had existed 10 years ago, my music would have been impeccable! (Well, I like to think so.) This book is a magical tome for anyone who records or produces music on a budget. It’s packed with big reveals, and explains the science behind each mixing technique. Forget the accumulated hit-or-miss wisdom of the internet; after reading this book, I found that I could produce substantially better mixes immediately. That’s amazing. (My mixes still aren’t great, but I’m working on it!)

Here are my favorite takeaways from the 20 chapters. I’m writing this to lock these concepts in my head. I’m skimming lots of material, because there’s so much valuable information packed into this book, I can’t possibly recap all of it.

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My Midines Review: It Never Arrived

Chris Kann, the owner of wayfar.org, sells a device called the Midines. It’s a Nintendo cartridge that plays the Nintendo Entertainment System like a musical instrument, I kid you not. You insert the Midines cartridge into your NES, plug MIDI cables into the Midines, and off you go, into a world of bloops and blips.

The Midines probably looks like this

I paid $99 for a Midines in the year 2008, and… I have still not received it. I have sent Chris Kann at least a dozen emails, and never received a single reply. In 2008, I did track him down on IRC — he mentioned that he was going through some hard times, but now it is 3 years later, and he has been completely silent.

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Filtered Noise Sequencer

Here’s something fun — I made a 16-step sequencer in Flash, that plays filtered noise (or sine waves, when the filter is narrow):


Filtered Noise Sequencer

Drag and resize the blue blocks to change the filter frequency and width.

This sequencer is not using expensive bandpass filters. The oscillators are sine waves, which are frequency modulated with white noise. It may not sound inherently musical, but you can produce great hihats, bass thuds, and airy pitched noises.

Here’s the source code. (Requires Flash CS5 to compile.) Have fun!

Twang… in Flash?!

Yep, this is a “Twang Player” prototype, built in Flash. There’s only one embedded song, a groggy rendition of the ditty from the first video:

(click to launch)

The next version of Twang will record & save songs (this is done), and share them in some capacity (a bit more complicated). So that’s where the Twang Player comes in. The Flash version looks like it wants to be touched & strummed. I need to revisit the design and convey that Twang Player is just a music box, you can’t compose anything in the browser! …Yet.

There are performance issues on some of my machines, too. This version uses Vector.<Number> objects to handle data, but it looks like ByteArray or even BitmapData structures are the way to go.

Brakebills, Twang, Stuff!

Oh em gee. So much to report.

First, do you know Lev Grossman? He’s an incredibly talented author who recently toured Portland. If you haven’t read his book The Magicians, then stop whatever you’re doing and procure a copy immediately. Without trying to spoil anything, the major college in the book is named the Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Lev saw the Brakebills T-shirt that I designed for my sweetheart’s birthday present:

Long story short, my Brakebills shirts are now officially endorsed by the author! Please buy twenty of them, or thirty if the spirit moves you. Zazzle’s print quality is great. The colors are vivid, and the ink has survived many washings. Rabid fans are buying and even customizing them! I love the internet.

Lev blogged some of my other work, too (“the guy who does this has the enviably fake-sounding name of Zach Archer”). It’s true, I have an awesome pro wrestler name.

Second, my new iPhone app has landed in the App Store:

Twang is a handheld guitar. It’s easier to play than a real guitar, and is very expressive. Instead of using audio samples, Twang uses physical modelling techniques to create a more natural, dynamic sound. No two plucks are identical. Watch my grainy first video if you disbelieve.

In the next version of Twang, left-handed people will be able to switch Twang’s orientation, and serious musicians can dampen or mute strings with their fingers. And probably more! This version is already in development, and may be submitted in a week or two? Follow Control Z, Inc on Twitter if you have a ravenous thirst for updates!

Aquatic Sound Generator in Flash

Here’s something from the vaults. Aquasound was built with these requirements in mind:

  • Generate sounds that aquatic animals might make
  • Sounds can be “combined” somehow
  • Sounds can emote

This was never used in production. I wonder if I could turn this into something? Like a paid iPhone app? ;)

Double-click the envelopes to add/remove control points. Drag lines up & down to change their curviture. The best feature is the “Combine With” dropdown, which splices the current sound with your selection. Also the “Emote” menu will play sounds with different expression.

The audio algorithm is reverse-engineered from my beloved FS1R. I generated formants in two ways (toggle the “Tonal” checkbox to hear both), the “atonal” version is closer to ring modulation than actual formants. It’s more fun if you don’t understand what the controls are doing, but if you insist: Pitch controls the overall pitch of the sound. Freq controls the center frequency of the formant (like a bandpass filter). LFOFreq and LFOWeight control a low-frequency sine wave, which can be applied to other controls via their “___LFOAmt” curves. Amp is amplitude, Width is formant width (think: width of the bandpass filter), Skirt adds distortion. Each voice has two formant generators, check “Formant Active” to enable them.

May all your bloops and crackles be happy ones!

Synth review: The Head-Exploding FS1R

In 1998, the Yamaha Corporation unleashed a product that was convoluted and bizarre like no other: The FS1R Synthesizer.

Like the era-defining DX7, the FS1R is an FM Synthesizer, but it boasts a massive 8 operators per voice, compared to 6 in the DX. And the FS1R sports a new toy, Formant Synthesis, capable of mimicking voices, human and otherwise! Waves and formants can modulate each other in 88 different configurations. Top that off with LFOs, filters, on-board effects… It’s so flexible, and so complicated. So much power.

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Braindead Monkeys album #6

You dag-blasted crazy apes!!!

Braindead Monkeys: Space Donut

The Braindead Monkeys: Space Donut

After a 4-year hiatus, Space Donut arrives! It’s their strongest album to date. Lots of head-nodding jams, and lots of smiles.

Recommended tracks:

  • #3: Parody of a popular 80’s cartoon
  • #4: TERRORISM! “The United States is currently at war with everything…”
  • #7: Nintendo (NES) + marching band
  • #5, #13, #18: Delicious electro jamstep

Grab a banana and an electric drill, and enjoy!

Download my soundtrack!

My first film score project has come and gone. In 3 weeks, I managed to compose 90+ minutes of music in 3 weeks. It was intense.

To celebrate, I’ve distilled the music into a 70-minute soundtrack album (entitled Afterpulse). You can download it for free:

The name of this movie cannot be stated, since this is an “unofficial” soundtrack. But I will drop some hints, so clever readers can figure it out:

  • The initials of the film are F.W.A.
  • If you view my IMDB profile, you’ll see a link to the film.
  • The director’s first film was called Shiner.

Enjoy!


FAQ.

Q. Is this legal?

A. Probably. This is not an “official” soundtrack. The film company owns the versions used in the movie. So I remixed /rearranged each track (also to make the tracks more listenable, and “flow” better.)

Q. Why are you releasing this for free?

A. Because I like sharing my work. And I want exposure, because I’m a badass.

Q. What kind of music is it?

A. Techno vs. industrial vs. horror vs. ambient. Since I was on a 3-week timeline, the results are quite different from what I produce “normally.”

Q. What equipment did you use?

A.

  • Kurzweil 2500S
  • Dual 1.8ghz G5
  • Home-brewed software (C++, Perl) for generating melodies / textures / harmonies / creepy sounds / FFT weirdness
  • Pro Tools 6.7 & an MBox
  • 100+ gigabytes of samples, amassed over 15 years of my life
  • Circuit bending, with a drum machine, NES “Miracle” keyboard, and many other unfortunate devices
  • A lot of tea

Q. Can I download the tracks one at a time?

A. Sure, go here: http://freedeath.org/audio/Afterpulse/.


Update 2007 April 1 : Now there is CD artwork!! These files are in TIFF format.

To come: some bonus tracks! Woo hoo. I’m really tired.