Yearly Archives: 2020

The identity crisis

Well, it’s gone full circle. After writing a second song as ‘me’, I’ve now remixed myself.

First, the original. ‘Strange Resonances‘ was once again created only using sounds from Sound Aesthetics Sampling, namely their Mountains and Talua libraries, for their Show Us Your Music promotion. It’s darker than my other Sound Aesthetics track ‘Life In Pieces‘, reminding me of Massive Attack’s soundtrack work at times.

It was still a slower, cinematic track though, so I experimented with ramping up the tempo and it worked surprisingly well some 50bpm faster. The drums needed work though, so I went with a UK Garage / 2-step style broken beat which topped things off nicely. I also added some extra strings too for the extended breakdown section.

So, where to next?

Life In Pieces

Here’s a new piece of music I wrote this evening, using only sounds from the Fragments Kontakt Library, created by Sound Aesthetics Sampling.

You may also have noticed it isn’t released under my usual ScarKord moniker, but rather my own name. I’m just having a play at being a ‘serious’ composer for a bit, so anything vaguely filmic will be posted to that Soundcloud account, leaving ScarKord for remixes and more typical electronica.

Jumparoo

Wow, music lessons seem a lot more fun than back in my day 🙂

This is a piece of music I wrote with my son, James, for one of his remote learning lessons. He had to come up with a theme for a Mario / Sonic style platform game as well as a motif to play when the level clears.

This gave me the chance to introduce him to the world of 8-bit chiptunes, and also try out some new sounds. Namely the AudioThing Minibit and Impact Soundworks Super Audio Boy.

But of course, it can’t all be nostalgia, so I gave him a couple of unused ScarKord dubstep beats to play with too.

Filter update

After some more thorough testing, I determined that the volume of the 3320 VCF was a little on the quiet side, noticeably lower than my other modules. Putting this down to the use of 100k resistors rather than the 91k specified on the circuit board, I decided to replace them and am happy to report this did the trick!

One other interesting thing I noticed is that even with the resonance turned all the way down, and cut-off all the way up, the 3320 VCF does add a little bit of colour to the incoming signal, softening the edges and (dare I use a cliché) making it sound warmer.

Resonance seems to self-oscillate nicely from about 50% onwards and seems pretty easy to tune. There are also optional solder points on the PCB for a 1v/Oct input, so I’ve no doubt it could be quite a capable oscillator too.

All in all, a great addition to my modular synth and looking forward to trying out some other Guru Gara Synth modules in the future!

Pain in the resistors

Well that was a pain in the… resistors.

Finally got the new 3320 VCF module working after tearing my hair out a little. With the lockdown, I’ve had to source the components in dribs and drabs and can’t always get the exact components stated on the circuit board.

About a week ago, I finally took delivery of the last capacitors I needed then excitedly plugged it in and heard… nothing.

A bit of headscratching later, I chanced upon the idea of sending a voltage through the CV input which initially did nothing, until I swept the filter knob, which revealed a comb filter type noise, but only when the knob was pointing straight up. Resonance did nothing to the sound, and I had silence at either end of the filter range.

Where do I start?

My first thought was that perhaps the 100k B potentiometers were faulty, or that I had bought the wrong ones and got my Linear vs Exponentials in a twist. So, I checked stock at http://www.thonk.com and fortunately they had some.

Then, this morning, I had the joy of desoldering the old pots and installing the (arguably superior) new ones. Unfortunately, it didn’t fix the issue.

I checked my soldering again – all looked sound to me – so as a last resort double checked that I’d used the correct resistors. And low and behold, the 91k resistors I had been sent (and which were in a bag labelled 91k) were actually 910k! In fairness, the difference between the two is just a red stripe rather than an orange one, and even my wife wasn’t sure what colour they were when I asked her to check. So I desoldered all four of them, and replaced with 100k resistors (the closest I could find) and I’m pleased to say the module sprung into life.

I still didn’t have any resonance though, but tracked this down to some damage I’d inadvertently caused on the board around one of the resonance knob pins. I could just about work out where the pin was meant to be going though, so added a jumper wire to link to the appropriate resistor, and I have resonance too!

Whether the 100k vs 91k resistors makes a difference to the sound, I’m not really sure, but it sounds good to me and I’m currently enjoying feeding some sample and hold through the CV input.

This was the first time I’d built a module just from a PCB and Panel, rather than a full kit, and it definitely makes me appreciate the convenience a full kit gives you, even if I did save a bit of money along the way.

Thanks for listening!

Four posts in four days! Just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has listened to my #loopathome tracks on soundcloud and metapop. It’s a marked difference to the trickle of listens I usually get on soundcloud, although it’s also true I haven’t been particularly productive over the last few years.

I’ve obviously been a lot more blocked than I had realised, and whilst a large part of that is due to the disruption of moving the family home and taking on a massive rebuilding project over the last couple of years, I do still get time in the studio but generally procrastinate or create little 8-bar loops that I decide to throw away due to self-doubt.

But, this weekend of experimentation gives me much to feel positive about and look forward to, as well as putting me in touch with a new group of talented musicians from around the world. Let’s keep it going!

Out From The Cold

Day three of Ableton‘s #loopathome and it was a strange one. The challenge this time was to follow a list of instructions and see what the end result would be.

Following instructions

The first line of instructions read… “Go to the kitchen and listen to the sound of the refrigerator…”. I really wasn’t sure what to expect after that start, but I thought I’d go with it.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

Unfortunately, our fridge is really quiet so I had to resort to the freezer instead. After struggling to try and synthesise it’s noise, I decided to do an impersonation of the humming sound which turned out to be a stroke of luck as it also provided the source material for the melody lines too.

Where is this going?

By the time I got to step three of the instructions, I was contemplating giving up as I just couldn’t see how a piece of music would emerge from this. But I decided to stick with it and duly followed instructions by sampling the sound of a can of beer, a glass and some of my recently delivered graze snacks. (Or at least, that’s how I interpreted it)

Suitably refreshed, I set about editing the raw sounds and came up with some great ring-pull percussion, fizzy hi hats and a lovely bell like sound from the beer glass handle. Slamming the (empty) glass on the desk gave me the kick drum.

Once I had a basic beat laid down, it was time to add some melody lines. Taking the humming sound as my starting point, I managed to coax some beautiful glassy noises from my voice.

For the interweaving melodies, the technique I used here was to play the same note progression three times, but each time an octave higher and at an increasing tempo.

Even if I do say so myself, I was really happy with the finished track and it gave me goosebumps the first time I played it through.

So, here is ‘Out from the cold’.

What a great weekend of experimentation! And I might even have beaten the writers block I’ve been (silently) suffering with for the last couple of years. Thanks Ableton!

Radio Poland Calling

Day Two of Ableton‘s #loopathome and for today’s challenge I’ve been limited to only using sounds from the Polish Radio Experimental Studio Archive, or PRES for short.

PRES were similar in many way’s to the UK’s Radiophonics Workshop, and the sound pack Ableton supplied was a treasure trove of weird and wonderful noises.

As a new piece of music started to emerge from my experimentation, it became clear that things were moving in a dark, down-tempo direction. Perhaps most surprisingly, even with the constraints around the source material, the end result is still very much a ScarKord sounding track.

I wonder what tomorrow’s challenge will bring?

Gizmophone

Today was day one of Ableton‘s #LoopAtHome and they set a challenge to build and record your own ‘Gizmophone’ instrument. Unfortunately, I had urgent gardening to attend to (?) so only managed to hack something together at the last minute, using whatever scrap items I could find. This included an offcut of windowsill, a metal Ikea leg and some old wire I found at the end of the garden. And this is the result…

I did manage to include a Piezo condenser mic too, but it had terrible background hum, so only really worked for short percussive noises which I combined into an Ableton drum kit. I also dialled in a smattering of the Corpus effect to make the sounds ring a little more, but only at 5.5% wet.

Some sounds were actually Ok!

The revelation though was the metal Ikea leg. When tapped with a spanner, it made a high pitched bell tone that was (almost) in tune. I created a patch using Ableton’s sampler instrument, sorted out the tuning then duplicated it with slightly different filter settings before panning each version slightly left and right.

Another technique that worked really well was swirling and scraping the spanner inside the wire springs, which created a lovely rhythmic texture which I layered behind the main percussion sounds. Lots of editing of warp markers in that one, as well as some Beat Repeat to add variation, but really pleased with the end result.

I created a quick demo of my ‘instrument’ so you can hear what it sounds like. Some additional kick, snare and synth bass was added to fill the sound out.

And if you fancy having a look ‘under the bonnet’, I’ve even zipped up the Ableton project folder too!

Gizmophone Project

It only uses stock Ableton plugins, so should work fine (have tested on my Microsoft surface and iMac) – Ozone Elements is on the master channel, but you can just ignore that if you don’t have it installed yourself.

Isolation Loop Waltz

Finally found time to write some new music. For inspiration, I turned to the Isolation Loop packs kindly donated by Hainbach and Jamie Lidell and it’s been a really fun way to spend an evening.

I started by creating a sampler patch, based around one of Hainbach’s atmospheric piano tape loops and stumbled across a lovely chord sequence which sounded both melancholic and uplifting at the same time. Whilst I could easily have employed time-stretching to make the timing more uniform, much of the wonky charm came from the samples being sped up and down so I left it as it was.

Turning to Jamie Lidell’s pack, he provided some lovely vocal Ahh’s, which I manipulated to create a gentle lead sound which provides the melody line. It’s doubled up with a glassy, FM synth patch as well which just helps it cut through a little better.

I deliberately avoided using a metronome or any quantizing, just to see where it took me, and the result was a Lo-Fi, electronic waltz. (Or at least, my interpretation of one).

The drums are a combination of noises from the Hainbach Test Equipment loops, hi-hats extracted from one of Jamie’s drum loops, some electronic drum sounds courtesy of Daniel Miller’s ARP2600 and a few sounds created on my own Eurorack system.

The buzzy bass note is also from one of the Hainbach Test Equipment loops.

The last layer was a sustained violin chord from Spitfire Audio’s Albion Tundra, just to boost the higher frequency content. This was a trick that the Art of Noise always used to employ, layering clean, crisp synth parts on top of their crunchy, low-bit Fairlight samples.

Once I had the basic parts down, I did a quick ‘live’ launchpad arrangement in Ableton, before adding a bit of Valhalla’s Shimmer Reverb on the FX send to glue the parts together. And there you have it!

In these strange and somewhat scary times, it’s great to see Artists so generously sharing raw material like this.