Category Archives: Music

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.

Reference Tracks

I’ve long heard about the virtues of using reference tracks to compare your mixes against, but never actually got around to trying it myself. That might all be about to change though.

One of the creators I subscribe to on Patreon is Reverbmachine. If you haven’t heard of Dan aka Reverbmachine before, he’s definitely worth checking out as he does some excellent tutorials on how to recreate the synth sounds from a variety of songs, including 80’s classic such as Shout by Tears for Fears. Patreon subscribers also get to download his remakes as Ableton Live sets too, which are definitely worth the small monthly fee.

In his latest Patreon post he goes into detail of how he gets so close to the original sounds and yes, you’ve guessed it, reference tracks are a large part of it. He goes on to describe the Ableton Live template he uses, based on the instructions in this article.

https://patches.zone/reference-tracks-in-ableton-live

I’ve just followed them myself and now have a shiny new template to use and abuse. Of course, the real trick will be in finding the right reference tracks to compare against, and to that end, iZotope have some suggestions that are worth considering. Certainly agree with their first choice of Peter Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes’ as it’s such a rich, well mixed track with lots of space for the different parts.

https://www.izotope.com/en/learn/4-popular-mixing-reference-tracks-and-why-they-work.html

Looking forward to seeing where this little excursion takes me!

Dubscapes

Dubscapes was a collaboration with Cosmo Valseca of Clear Air Turbulence and features a video from PixelPusher.

It started life as some 8-bit arcade machine drum patterns I sound designed, which I left for Cos to play with after our writing weekend some 10 years ago. (My how time flies!) Cosmo expertly fused them with a electro dub track he was working on and the result is Dubscapes.

Anyway, based on the low number of YouTube views, I guess not many of you will have heard this so I thought I’d share.

Korg DDD-1 LCD

So the good news is the Blue LCD I bought on ebay is fully compatible with the Korg DDD-1! The model I went with is the HD44780, although it has slightly different dimensions to the original, so I had to get a bit creative with attaching it to the case. I also had to extend some of the wires from the circuit board so they could reach the solder points.

Unfortunately, my excitement was short lived as I managed to kill the backlight within a few minutes as the voltage was probably too high.

So, after ordering another replacement (Yellow backlight this time), I decided to put an inline resistor on pin 15 to reduce the voltage. A quick google suggested something around 47 ohm should do the trick, but the smallest resistor I had to hand was 100 ohm.

I’m happy to report it all works fine though, and with no annoying whining sound!

I’ve also replaced the main navigation / cursor buttons which are a lot more responsive now. The back-up battery replacement was a bit fiddly, but I’ve done that too 🙂

Hello again!

Hello again, it’s been a while! The last 18 months have seen me buy a new house, move in, move out again, then pretty much rebuild it.

We are finally getting back to normality though, and I now have the luxury of a dedicated studio space in the house (no more shed at the end of the garden!).

Whilst unpacking my equipment, I decided it was time to give some TLC to some of my more aged items.

Korg DDD-1 Drum Machine

Korg launched the DDD-1 drum machine in 1986. Built like a tank, it’s sounds have arguably aged better than competitor drum machines of the day such as the Roland TR-505 and Yamaha RX series. You aren’t limited to the 18 onboard sounds either, as it has 4 rom card expansion slots and Korg released a large number of expansions which pop up from time to time on ebay.

It also has an optional sampling board but these are very difficult to find, not to mention cost prohibitive on those rare occasions when one comes up for sale. More usefully though, an enterprising individual has reverse-engineered the rom cards and built an adapter that lets you add your own sounds, stored on EPROM chips.

I have a couple of these adapters myself, and have started burning my own EPROM’s with sounds created on my modular system. Of course, as the DDD-1 is only 8-bit, the samples don’t sound exactly the same as the originals, but this only serves to make them more unique.

Time for surgery

I purchased my DDD-1 a couple of years ago, and it generally works fine, but does have a high-pitched whining noise which I suspect comes from the LCD backlight. This isn’t present on the audio outputs though so is something I’ve largely learned to live with.

More recently though, I’ve noticed that the selection slider is a bit temperamental and the plus and minus selection buttons need quite a hard push before they work, which makes it difficult to program. Being over 30 years old, there’s a high probability the back-up battery will soon fail too, so I’ve decided some surgery is in order.

The back-up battery is your usual CR2032 button affair, although in their wisdom, Korg elected to solder this on the board. So I’ll also be fitting a battery holder to make future maintenance easier.

Acidplanet remixes

Have posted a couple more older remixes to my Soundcloud page, both of which were originally for competitions on the Acidplanet website.

Bleed Electric – Birds as High as Planes (ScarKord Remix)

Starting with Bleed Electric’s Birds as High as Planes (ScarKord Remix), which is a pretty frenetic Drum and Bass version with some lovely bass sweeps and a crazy amount of edits on the vocals.

Lords of Acid – Drowning in Ecstasy (ScarKord Remix)

This is followed by a remix of Drowning in Ecstasy by Lords of Acid. My main recollection of this remix is that I really didn’t think much of the vocals, particularly in the verses, so I went full on Cylon with the help of a Vocoder to dirty them up and disguise the cheesy lyrics. Add some Aphex style percussion and an overdriven acid bassline and there you have it!