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I’m back November 7, 2010

Posted by bernie87fl in Mission, Music.
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Apparently, I needed a year off.
My boss is nice. He gave it to me. Nice boss!

The Good

I have been in the studio almost every day since the summer, doing Guitar Aerobics and studying the Fretboard Workbook. It is paying off, filling in the gaps in my self-taught education. I was pretty darn good at certain things, but let me tell you: there were gaps, baby!!

My non-musical ideas have also begun to take shape, in Zebrascape’s brand-new online store at Zazzle.com!

The Bad

My trusty laptop computer, my would-be awesome portable design studio, continues to suffer from growing pains. Long story, but since May I have been through quite a process of shopping for upgrades (from extra RAM to pro audio software), hesitating about what to upgrade, waiting for money to upgrade, installing and testing the upgrades, running into glitches that disappear when I take the computer to the shop, and still today getting glitches. Drat!

The latest opinion, after a trip to the nearest Apple Store, is that all the trouble boils down to a flaky hard drive. Probably. I will go back to the shop that installed it and try to get it swapped out.

The Ugly

Meanwhile, while practicing, I find myself playing certain bits and pieces of things that might develop into “real” music but then forgetting all about them after three days.

So instead of forgetting about them, I’ve decided to record and share them as rough drafts. Very rough drafts. I call them “Wing-its.” Chock full of potential, ideas, raw spirit … and errors. BIG errors! But who cares? If I grow attached to one, I will rerecord it or edit it to digital perfection. Think of it this way, if music is a gift, isn’t it really the thought that counts?


Blues Jam: a wing-it

A blues piece that happened while I was working on a fingering pattern with descending fourths. There is also a bass track that probably won’t be audible on standard computer speakers.


E swing thing: another wing-it

Another blues fragment. I clicked the “Texas Blues” setting in GarageBand, heard how it sounded on my guitar, and immediately found my fingers playing this. Not that I’m such a huge fan of blues per se, but it’s an easy format for messing around. The rhythm here is terribly, horribly off, but that’s just ’cause, umm, I want to practice time-line editing in Logic Studio. Er, I mean, ’cause I don’t want those dang web-surfing kids ripping off my mp3’s to use as GarageBand loops. Actually, I couldn’t hear the click track very well while recording. No bass here, just a few guitars.


Remember, it’s the thought that counts!


Newest mp3’s October 30, 2009

Posted by bernie87fl in Mission, Music.

Latest audio from active projects:
Dec. 1: Rev 2 of “E swing thing” wing-it!
From last year, before The Big Break:
Oct. 30: Final mix of “Symbolic Dog Blues”!
Sep. 16: Full instrumental recording of “Green Mountain”

There’s more: my whole collection of mp3’s goes back to 1984.

All material copyright (c) 2008–2010; portions by B. G. Jackson; Zebrascape, LLC; and others.

Final Mix of Symbolic Dog Blues!! October 30, 2009

Posted by bernie87fl in Music, Song.
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At long last, here is the final mix of my first song! It’s called “Symbolic Dog Blues,” and it has been my learning project all year, a sort of self-guided senior thesis in audio engineering. It’s goofy and silly, and not typical of my other ideas, but that’s what it takes to keep me interested for twelve and a half months

The featured solo instrument is an electrified kazoo that I call the “Kazooka,” and you will hear character voices chatting about it overtop of the song.

New in this final version: drum fills throughout the last half of the song.

Symbolic Dog Blues, final mix

The purpose of this song was to learn how to record and mix a diversity of sonic elements:

  • acoustic guitar
  • electric guitar
  • electric bass
  • keyboard (rock organ sound)
  • Kazooka (ordinary plastic, played like a sax, processed like an electric guitar)
  • bottle clinks (tequila and Mexican Coke)
  • handmade drum (bought at a tai chi festival, played with bare hands)
  • spoken character voices
  • singing voices
  • programmed drums

I wrote and performed all parts of this song on the above instruments in my mostly-soundproof studio in my basement. All the sounds are from live, actual instruments (as opposed to loops or computer sounds), except for the programmed drums, since I don’t play the drums.

Recording equipment used

  • Shure 57 microphone
  • RØDE NT-1A microphone
  • Apogee Duet FireWire interface
  • MacBook Pro laptop computer, running Mac OS 10.4
  • Apple’s GarageBand ‘08 recording software

Educational sources for recording and mixing techniques

  • The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, by Bobby Owsinski
  • Acoustic Design for the Home Studio, by Mitch Gallagher
  • EQ Magazine
  • Sound on Sound Magazine
  • prior experience playing in bands and getting frustrated with poor recordings
  • prior experience with signal processing concepts as an electrical engineer

Other blog posts on this song

More drum fills, more cowbell … “Symbolic Dog Blues” September 16, 2009

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Spent a few hours tweaking the drums. I beefed up the drums in the second verse—where the hard-rock guitar chords come in—with a cowbell (get it? Beefed!!) and heavier use of the hi-hat. The cowbell replaces the bottle clinks. Then I added drum fills to the second verse, and I “naturalized” the hi-hat hits throughout the song, which is to say I made some of the hits a little softer than others, to give it a less robotic feel (the drums are the only programmed instrument).

Symbolic Dog Blues, rev 4

All of this will be barely perceptible to the casual listener, or even to the careful listener who isn’t me. But *I* will know!

Next step is to continue adding drum fills from the second instrumental to the end.

Green Mountain: all instruments September 16, 2009

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Here are all the instruments for this song (my second), with a pretty decent mix. This was my main project for August and the first half of September.

Green Mountain, an Audioslave remake, all instruments

Yes, it’s repetitive: you are listening to a rock song sans lyrics. This makes the mix a little thin, actually, because I simply muted my vocals out of the full mix. The music is straight out of a song by Audioslave, except I changed a few chords and repeated the bridge to accommodate a spoken segment. And, of course, I have totally changed the instrumentation.

And so, yes, that solo instrument after the first bridge is another kazoo!

I actually spent more time on vocals than anything else, experimenting with recording and mixing techniques, and arrangements, to see what works with my voice. I found some good stuff. I am excited!

Now that I know what the vocals will sound like, it is time to write the final lyrics. But first, I will go back and finish tweaking the drums in “Symbolic Dog Blues.”

Audioslave remake: acoustic guitars finished August 15, 2009

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Oct. 19, 2009:
This song is now called “Green Mountain.”

I rerecorded all the guitars in the bridge, so this finishes all acoustic guitar work.

Audioslave remake, acoustic guitars in place

Why? The old arrangement did not leave room for the vocals, so I moved the low guitar lower and added a high guitar up higher. The middle guitar can be turned down later so it won’t compete with the vocals. I have always liked this kind of acoustic layering with complementary arpeggios in different octaves. The new bridge also has a few effects, just to indicate the texture I am going for (listen for the lowest guitar pulsing). But the feel will change again when I add the electrics.

I also rerecorded the brief guitar melody that comes after the first chorus, before the second verse. The G string was out of tune last time. This time, I also added some basic EQ and effects to lift that guitar out of the “crowd.” And it is now double tracked.

Next step is either to demo the vocals or mess around with the bass.

New Song: an Audioslave remake! August 7, 2009

Posted by bernie87fl in Music, Song.
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Oct. 19, 2009:
This song is now called “Green Mountain.”

I started a new song!

Hey, I’m as surprised as you are. It just happened.

Audioslave remake, acoustic guitars only

This is a remake of a song by Audioslave. Bonus points if you can guess which song. Just mail in your name on a 3 by 5 card, write “Audioslave” on the back, and attach a black & white photo of your cat.

I will go back and finish the blues song, which was 99% done. Really, I will. I just needed a break. This is productive procrastination!

Now, I know this sounds like an all-acoustic number. It is not. It’s just that I have only done the acoustic guitars so far, and let me tell you: I spent a *lot* of time tuning them and retuning them, which is why they have such an open, clear sound. I live for that sound. Why record at all if you’re not going to get that sound? But portions of it will be obliterated by heavy electrics before we are finished.

Oh, yeah, and I’m totally changing the lyrics. And for those of you really paying attention: yes, I changed some of the chords too. I’m really excited! It’s just a rough start, but I’ve only spent about 12 hours total so far, including all the blasted tuning. Enjoy!

“Symbolic Dog Blues,” rev 3: drum fills and mix upgrade August 3, 2009

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More progress, creeping through the final maze of stalagmites, like a haunted subterranean slalom, toward the light at the end of the tunnel …

I redid Jimbob’s middle dialog, yet again. His voice in verse 2 now very nearly matches the other verses, and I think this is the best it is going to get. For what it’s worth, when the distorted guitar enters for verse 2, it actually makes poor Jimbob’s voice sound different by contrast, something like how a given color appears different against a white background versus a black background. I tested this by pasting Jimbob clips from verse 1 and 2 back to back with no background, and they sound convincingly identical. So part of this problem is actually an “audio illusion”! Don’t ask me why Brit is immune to it. I guess our friends across the pond have a higher tolerance.

After retouching Jimbob, I remixed parts of verse three that hadn’t gotten much attention yet, particularly the Jimbob/Brit duet, and then I added drum fills throughout the first verse. Tomorrow, drum fills for verse two.

Symbolic Dog Blues, rev 3


Full Mix of “Symbolic Dog Blues,” rev. 2 July 28, 2009

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We are really getting there now!!

I have rewritten and rerecorded the more confusing bits of dialog, rerecorded all of Jimbob’s middle dialog (where his voice had suddenly changed), and fully mixed the whole song.

Jimbob still has some voice-matching trouble, but it is not as bad as before.

Symbolic Dog Blues, rev 2

What’s left?

Keep on improving the Jimbob voice match, and add some drum fills.

More on “Symbolic Dog Blues”:

First Complete Draft of “Symbolic Dog Blues” !! July 17, 2009

Posted by bernie87fl in Music, Song.
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It’s done! Well, not DONE. Just, you know, done. First draft, all the way through, all instruments, all voices, all everything.

What’s left to do?

  • Fix the jokes that don’t work, and rerecord their dialog.
  • Rerecord Jimbob’s dialog in the 2nd verse, matching his voice to the other verses.
  • Add some light drum fills if I feel like it.
  • Adjust all volume levels and mix the song as a whole.

Notably absent from this list is any more instrumental recording: the bass, guitars, keyboard, and Kazooka tracks are completely finished!

The audio:

As always, use headphones or real speakers (not your laptop’s) for best results. Or use your laptop. Whatever.

If you’ve already heard Verses One and Two and are too impatient to hear them again, this first link is for you. You will miss the entire buildup and not really get it, and Jimbob will call you a dirty rat, but I don’t mind if you don’t mind. Click here to get only Verse Three:

If you are awesome and want to hear the full six minutes, click here:

What is all this Silliness??

Okay, I am not attempting to produce America’s next pop hit. This offbeat, silly song is my learning exercise, and by the time it is fully mixed down, it will have provided me with about a year of self schooling in audio recording and production. This sort of character work is a favorite style of mine, and it has allowed me to practice every element I am likely to work with in the future: programmed drums, guitars (acoustic, electric, bass) and keyboards, singing vocals, spoken vocals, singing character vocals, and odd percussion sounds like glass bottles and a hand drum I once bought at a T’ai Chi festival. Oh yeah, and a hard rock kazoo.

Future work will take more conventional considerations into account, such as selecting styles that other people tend to like. Don’t misunderstand—I am very happy with this project!! Just sayin’ …