Ooo Eee Oo Ah Ah

A recording technique that has long been used for interesting and amusing effect is to change the speed of the playback.  Faster would raise the pitch, slower would lower it.  In some cases, artists slowed the tape speed down during tracking to make instrument parts easier to play or to hit higher notes, and then sped up for the final mix. Other times they would adjust the tape speed during mastering to get a sound they liked more.  The timbre of the notes changes.  Guitars played back at even slightly faster speeds sound chimier.  Vocals at slightly slower speeds have a deeper resonance.

One of my favorite Beatle songs, which coincidentally used this technique, is Rain, where the master was slowed down.  The guitars sound sublime, especially that little guitar break at 2:33.

In thinking about the Beatles use of the varispeed technique, it occurred to me that the backing vocals on Magical Mystery Tour sounded like they were pitched upwards.  And indeed they are.  Here are some parts with the final version followed by the slower playback which would have been used during tracking:

 

On a tape machine, this was easy to do, as you just needed to flip a switch for preset speeds (typically 30ips, 15ips, 7.5ips and 3.75ips), or change the voltage to the capstan motor (varispeed) for continuous increments.  In the digital world, this is, surprisingly, not  straight forward.  Pitch tuning (Autotune, Melodyne, …) allows you exceptional ability to change notes.  But this does not sound the same to me, and more extreme changes result in artifacts that sound bad.  Changing the playback speed for recording or mastering takes a couple of extra steps.

All that to say, as a little exercise, I took a run at Alvin and the Chipmunks, to see what the real voice behind the little critters actually sounds like.  Here is the amusing result at half-speed, from the original 1958 recording of Witch Doctor that started it all for Alvin:

 

Finally, the most famous chord of all time …

… the opening chord of A Hard Days Night has been successfully dissected.

In this radio interview with Randy Bachman on CBC’s Guitarology program, RB talks about meeting Giles Martin, son of George Martin, at GM’s private studio at Abbey Road. In the studio, GM has access to digitized copies of all the Beatle’s multitrack source tapes.

After pondering what he would like to hear, RB is provided with solo’d track by track playback of “the chord”.  When it is all put together, HE NAILS IT!  Give it a listen …

 

Here is the breakdown he describes:

  • Track 1: George on Rickenbacker 12-string  GCFACG
  • Track 2: Paul on Bass playing D
  • Track 3: John on 6-string xxDADG

The notes being picked up are:  A-C-D-F-G

  • From a G perspective: 1-2-4-5-b7
  • From an F perspective: 1-2-3-5-6
  • From a D perspective: 1-b3-4-5-b7
  • From a C perspective: 1-2-4-5-6
  • From an A perspective: 1-b3-4-b6-b7

Closest thing to call it would be a Dm11 or an F6add9.  Whatever you call it, you can’t make the chord sound properly with only one hand (chording) and one guitar.

What a sound. This is TOO COOL!!

Sound engineer humor

One of my favorite sites is gearslutz.com, where people, mostly sound engineer types, talk about … gear.  Most of the time, the conversations are about experiences with specific pieces of recording equipment or techniques.  Some can be offbeat and really amusing, like this one — He Is…the Most Interesting Gear Slut!

Basically, assembling all the collected wisdom, knowledge and opinion about gear, talent and luck, and packaging it as hyperbole.  Here are some samples:

  • He mixed the entire Hotel California record in one day on headphones in a room AT Hotel California and then left without checking out
  • Word clocks sync to him
  • He records a whole band perfectly with one mic, in one take, on one track, on tape — and mixes it to surround sound … telepathically
  • He pronounces Moog correctly
  • He’s so forward thinking that the last time he played guitar was tomorrow
  • He can tune a piano and tuna fish
  • He’s won Grammy’s for songs he almost worked on
  • He once wrote a concerto for dog whistle
  • He thought he’d made a mistake once, but he was mistaken
  • He can hear, pan, eq and add effects to the sound of one hand clapping
  • At a lecture, he once uttered, “just do it” and walked off the stage.  Nike tried to sue him for using the catch phrase, but ended up being sued themselves by him as he had already developed that exact shoe style for a song intro that required someone running into a house.  The album was “Nike Runner” and the title song was “Just Do It”.  He did however let Nike keep making the shoe pump that he had invented for the compression effect on that intro. It eliminated sock issues by compressing foot sweat.

… well, *I* think they are really funny. 😎

Gender exhibitionism strikes again

How does one rise above an ocean of talent?  Well, sex sells, we all know that.  On the international stage, gender exhibitionism and gender confusion clearly help bring attention to yourself.  Of course, gender bending is not new among entertainers — Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Boy George, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Annie Lennox, are all or have been gender opportunists, that exploit gender and gender ambiguity as suits them at the time, invariably to shock.

All that to say, the latest in the parade of gender opportunists is the 2014 winner of the Eurovision music content, Conchita Wurst, an intriguing transgender entertainer from Austria.  Here is his/her performance of Rise Like a Phoenix:

The video is well conceived, and the song is an exceptional platform for Conchita. It could easily be the theme song for a James Bond film.

Conchita’s real name is Tom Neuwirth.  I have to say, for me the beard is disconcerting in this context. As it is meant to be, no doubt. However, that is a minor distraction, as the performance, the presentation and the song are exceptional.

Here is a photo of ungendrified Tom:

Along the same gender ambiguity meme, here is a great video by French artist Stromae, and his/her performance of Tous Les Mêmes (All The Same):

Stand By Me

With more than 54 million views, this video has probably been seen by just about everybody but me.  In a nutshell, it starts with a lone street performer in Santa Monica, CA and travels around the world adding voices and texture.  Great idea.  Great song.  Great performances.

[youtube Us-TVg40ExM#t=41 480 297]

Free

I have just completed a new song, titled “Free”.  Free is a dreamy, hypnotic song about escaping the chaos of daily life – “… let the world melt away”.  The music, sound and lyrics swirl around to create a mental space away from wherever you are.

As with most of my music, I am now creating two versions, one a bare-bones acoustic version, and one a studio version.  Here is a video of the acoustic version:

[youtube S33qWe7UVqs 480 297]

And here is a link to the studio version.

Enjoy!

Unplugged and Naked

I just completed a fairly large recording project. While I have recorded full studio productions of my original material, I had been meaning to record a sparse arrangement and performance which would allow the songs to stand on their own — unplugged and naked, you might say.  To that end, I recorded number of songs live with only guitar for accompaniment.

It was more difficult than I anticipated.  Recording is not always easy to get the result you are looking for.  In this case, any execution flaw or phrasing that isn’t quite right really sticks out.  You would think anyone could do something perfectly for three minutes.  Not so easy.  But I did manage to get through it, and have posted the videos on my website, www.xybor.ca.

To get started, here is an embedded link to “My Favorite Addiction” from my YouTube channel.  The song about being human, and our inclination towards dependency, be it drugs, food, social media, gaming, oil, bling, etc. Good or bad, that just seems to be the way we are drawn:

[youtube iHokJZYG6LE 480 297]

Check it out.  Its time well wasted.

RIP Davy Jones

I grew up on the Monkees.  Sad to see Davy go, but his memory will live on in the great music they did.  Here is one of my favorite Monkees’ tunes, the somewhat obscure 1967 “Daily Nightly”.  Wonderfully psychedelic, it is an early example of the use of synth on a pop recording.  And it uses the word “phantasmagoric”.  Gotta love it.

 

Darkened rolling figures move through prisms of no color
Hand in hand, they walk the night, but never know each other
Passion cast in neon lights light up the jeweled trav’ler
Who, lost in scenes of smoke-filled dreams
Find questions, but no answers

Startled eyes that sometimes see phantasmagoric splendor
Pirouette down palsied paths with pennies for the vendor
Salvation’s yours for just the time it takes to pay the dancer
Once again, such anxious men find questions but no answers

The night has gone and taken its infraction
While reddened eyes hope there will be a next one

Terror signs look down upon a world that glitters glibly
And mountainsides put arms around the unsuspecting city
Second hands that minds have slowed are moving even faster
Toward bring down someone who’s found
The questions, but no answers

The Content Paradox One Year Later

Last year at this time, I wrote a blog post called The Content Paradox. The basic idea is that, while the internet exists only because of content, original content creators generally are not rewarded for their content.

Further to that original post are a couple of related articles I just found (dated 2010) that calculate how much music an artist needs to sell to earn $1,200 per month, which is not a livable wage.  This article, from InformationIsBeautiful.net, has a nice bubble chart that tells the sad story.  This article, from the Cynical Musician, does the original math.  The most egregious number is 4 million Spotify streams.  Given the increasing popularity of these streaming services, it is pretty clear that the artists will struggle under this model and most will find it impossible to earn a living.  For the vast majority, it clearly has become a labor of love.