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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Full Version: Awakening

Click on the image (left) to listen to "Awakening" on YouTube.

This piece started out as a synthesizer experiment. On the first track, I opened Majken's "Chimera" in the key editor and found a patch I thought would make an interesting drone or chord structure on which I could base a composition. I decided that I should do something a little faster than I've been doing recently, so I set the tempo for 120 BPM.

Next I set up a track with EZdrummer and created a quick groove with kick, snare and high hat, looped it a few times and created a couple of fills. It needed a real driving instrument, so I created another track and chose the free shareware "Piano One" which has some pretty decent sound (at zero cost!) and just laid down some notes, whatever came to mind.

My keyboard wiz friend, Larry Benigno can probably play most of this blindfolded, but I'm a guitarist/bassist and my piano skills are quite limited. Plus, right now, I don't even have a keyboard controller. My process is more painstaking, but it works for me. For synthesizers and drums--or any other samplers--I create everything in the "piano roll" key editor in Reaper, one note at a time, setting duration and velocity as I go. Then I go back and tweak things. To put it another way, "no ivory was tickled in the process of creating this piece."

I used the original synth notes as the basis for the chord progression, but the piano was self-sufficient and way more exciting, so I ended up deleting the "Chimera" track entirely.

As usually happens for me, the composition takes twists and turns as I work on four measures at a time. When I go back and listen to a section, I may decide to change a transition, or vary the rhythm a bit. In a couple of cases, I completely redid the transitions which just didn't really work. As per feedback from my wife, I thickened up a few of the sections that have some higher notes by adding octaves below them.

Once the whole piece was laid out and the composition was essentially complete, I went back and worked on the dynamics, raising or lowering certain sections and adjusting each note as needed. As with all samplers, there is a threshold at each velocity range where the sample changes. In several cases, I had to find that sweet spot where the velocity was just within the right range to have the proper "sting" to it without being too loud. Without this effort, the piece bangs along without much touch or articulation--a sound which I find tiring after awhile.

During this process, I also reworked the drums--both the articulation and the arrangement. Putting the right cymbal in the right place at the proper velocity can really do a lot for the piece. I also changed the 13" Slingerland for a 14" Rogers snare in EZdrummer to give it a bit more depth. I also very subtly raised the volume on the snare's bottom mic. So great to have this kind of flexibility in such an affordable drum sampler! (I really like EZdrummer!)

All in all, it was about 5 days from "hey, I should do some music" to the finished piece. I really don't know how long it actually took to do the whole thing. On one of those days I know I was up and working on it by 5:00 AM and didn't really quit until around 10:30/11:00 PM with a few breaks in between.

I think "Awakening" might actually have to be a piano duet since some of those wide ranging chord clusters might challenge even someone with big hands. The drums are programmed to be actually playable with two hands and two feet--something I seem to do naturally, just because I love drums, I guess.

Larry suggested that it would be great with the Chapman Stick. I think he's right. He also said this would be cool played live with some extended sections and solos. Man, would I love to hear that someday! In the meantime, I'm just happy to have gotten it out in this form. Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, October 26, 2012

"Love Theme For Aliens" - Larry Benigno/Mark Ivan Cole

Larry Benigno and I have composed and recorded several musical compositions together, though we've never actually met. In fact, I don't think we've ever been within less than 3,000 miles of each other! Sometimes things just click.

Thumbnail"Love Theme For Aliens" started out as a piece Larry was composing and recording on his own. He emailed me an early version of it and said he had this idea of these two aliens whose home worlds wouldn't let them be together. "See if you can come up with lyrics for it." I did, during my lunch hour.

With his usual skill, Larry wove the lyrics into the piece, even recruiting his wife, Teri, to do a spoken word section during the transitional break. I got up early one morning with that section of the piece on my mind. Since it was before dawn, I didn't want to make any noise, so I whispered the spoken word parts into the microphone. Then I opened the resulting .wav file and pitch shifted it up a couple of steps. All of a sudden, the whispers sounded like a teenage girl! Perfect. I emailed the file off to Larry and he sliced and diced it to fit.

That's how we work together. He records his stuff and sends me rough mixes as mp3s. I import them into a Reaper project. Then I record my parts as separate tracks and post them for him on my server. He downloads those, does a new mix and sends me another mp3. We'll discuss the mix via email and see how we like it. If need be, I can re-record my parts to make them work better or send him new ones as we come up with different ideas.

Larry covers everything in the first part of the song, including the guitars, drums and bass. I very much enjoyed adding guitars later in the piece. I got to do the power chords--lucky me! He also had me add a bass line. I worked on a bass part for the first half, but Larry's original bass line was so perfect for the feel, I told him just to keep that and didn't bother to send him mine! My bass part comes in just as the lyrics start, about half way through the piece.

I love the last verse where the whole thing comes to a crux. I added the power chords and solo guitar lines there. I cranked up my Boss VR-1 preamp with one of my favorite custom patches and played the short lead lines at the end of each phrase. That section still makes me grin! :)

Larry has a knack for getting a big, open sound, even with a lot of tracks and multiple layers of stuff going on. I'm still learning to do that. His keyboard, vocal and guitar skills combine with his composition and sound engineering ability to make him a musical "army of one," and he certainly is a force to be reckoned with. Did I mention he records the drums live...using the keyboard?? He does.

When Ping and I were shopping for a compact sound system to replace our home theater for our move to Taiwan, we used "Love Theme For Aliens" as part of our test mix. Boy, it sounded good when we cranked it in the stereo store!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Elton John's "Your Thong"

Ping and I have been cracking up about this idea for years. Finally, I woke up at 3:30 AM one morning and realized it was quiet enough to record this song in the room we use as an art and music studio.

So I did!

Read on for more tech details. :)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Full Video: "Break It Down"

Digital recording magazines often include a CD with all kinds of goodies on it. This one had drum loops which I put together and then got inspired with to create a bass line. One thing led to another as I stacked on guitar parts and added vocals. Something made me call it "Break It Down." Who knows? In any case, it also inspired the wacky video you can now see in YouTube.

Ping says to make sure everyone knows that she is in no way associated with the guy in the video. Consider yourself informed.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Full Animated Video! The Police cover "Feelings"

Watch the YouTube video!
"Like" and Share it if you enjoy it! Thanks! :)

Back when I was at Nike, we challenged each other to record a song in the style of a band that would NEVER play that song. I chose "Feelings" and decided to do my version of what I thought The Police would sound like if they had written it.

Ever since I did this recording, I've had this idea for an animation to go with it. Now that I have NCH Software's VideoPad, I can finally put together a real animation. I learned that YouTube's frame rate doesn't exactly match with the song's tempo, so some bits are a little off after the upload, but I sure had fun doing it!

Please share this if you enjoy it. :)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Full Video: "Back In The USSR"

We've had the snippet of this piece loaded up on Picosongs for awhile. Now here's the full length version of my cover of The Beatles' "Back In The USSR" on our YouTube channel.

View the video on YouTube!
See "Illustrating The Beatles" on the Art blog.

For more recording details, read on!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Not A Perfect Girl

"Not A Perfect Girl" on
Full video on YouTube
Back in 2009, I wrote this piece for Ping. The images are from some of the wonderful places we've been together. The little clip of Ping at the end is from a place called Hites Cove, near Yosemite. We hiked there when the wildflowers were at their peak. I am so blessed to know this imperfect girl.
Click on the link to watch the video! "Like" this song! Thanks! --Mark