Something New…

Here’s a new piece for y’all. It’s called “Dance of the Boring Gypsies.”

This was done in Reason, and it uses quite a number of third-party Rack Extensions, including PSQ-1684, Oberon 2, Vecto, GSX, Beat Crush, Renoun, Revival, and Predator. In a couple of cases, such as the guitar riff near the beginning, I started with a preset that had its own built-in step sequencer pattern and turned off the step sequencer so I could write a part that had variations.

Three of the presets are from Francis Preve’s library for Reason 9. Enjoy, if possible.

That Mellow Thing

This is embarrassing, but there’s no help for it. This afternoon I whipped up a 2-1/2 minute piece that is about as gauzy a mellow new age meditation soundtrack as I could manage. (Don’t ask why — that’s kind of embarrassing too.) Here it is:

Sadly, this mix is the first time I’ve been able to clearly see age-related hearing loss. The tambourine backbeat that starts about 30 seconds in — when I recorded it, it sounded nice and balanced with the other instruments, just the way I wanted it, but when I looked at the stereo mix wave file, the tambourine was about 6db hotter than the whole rest of the mix put together. So I EQed it and compressed it a little, and now it sounds flabby to me, but if your ears are good you’ll probably think it’s well balanced. I hope.

Now I’m worried about the breathy sound. Is that too loud? Somebody tell me. I’m deaf as a post above 7kHz. Sad.

Aleatoric Ambient

Can you do aleatoric ambient music in Reason? Why, yes — you can! This modest effort was put together using a couple of Parsec synthesizers, a couple of Fritz granular effects, a couple of Euclid gate generators, and a couple of Step note sequencers set to random playback order. And a couple of LFOs, of course.

Parsec can sound a bit like a steel drum, depending on what patch you use. Here we’re hearing “Ballophone” and “Neptune.” The Fritz effects toss the sounds around rather freely using the “Altostratus Translucidus Duplicatus” preset. I entered 32 random notes into each of the Step devices, and then panned the two sound sources slightly left and slightly right.

No actual notes were played or recorded during this track — it’s all being generated in real time by the Euclids and the Steps.

Ethereal

Keeping Score

When I was growing up, music meant notated sheet music, pretty much. Sure, jazz players improvised, but nobody was teaching improvisation (or jazz anything) where I went to high school. Someone handed you a page of dots, and you played the dots.

How times change. These days, I still use pages of dots if I’m playing cello or piano, but my composing is done in a computer sequencer. There’s no notated score, and no need for one. It’s all MIDI tracks or loops. The old-line MIDI sequencers (Cubase, for instance) have notation editing and printing facilities, but that’s all legacy code. Very few people would ever touch it. Newer sequencers such as Reason and FL Studio, which are mostly what I use these days, don’t do notation. Nor does Ableton Live.

A couple of days ago, for reasons that I don’t want to go into quite yet, I decided that it would be a good idea to have notated versions of the melodies of some of the music I’ve done in Reason. This turns out to be possible, but it’s a bit of a scramble.

First I tried pencil and paper. That works, but it’s a punishing regime for the hand holding the pencil. So how about extracting MIDI files from Reason and importing them into a notation program? The pages would be easier to read, and also easier to edit — for instance, if I decide I need to add eight bars in the middle of a piece.

For the benefit of anyone else who may be contemplating such a quixotic venture, here’s what I’ve learned.

First, for basic notation you don’t need an expensive notation program. MuseScore is free, and it works very well. It will load a MIDI file and interpret the data so as to produce notated pages. But that’s not the end of the story; it’s just the beginning.

If you just want to export a melody from Reason, the first thing to do is save a special copy of your song called something like “MySong Melody.reason.” This is so you won’t accidentally destroy the song data! then select all of the other tracks except the melody, right-click on one of the tracks, and choose “Delete Tracks and Devices.” When you’ve done this, you’ll be exporting only a single MIDI track — the melody. If you export the whole song, you’ll have a multitrack MIDI file. MuseScore will import this, but editing it would take days.

If you’ve recorded a melody on a monophonic synth, you’ll probably never notice if a few notes overlap here or there. (If you’re using a preset that has legato enabled, you’ll probably want some overlaps, in fact.) But MuseScore handles overlapping notes by assigning them to a different voice on the staff. Voice 2 may have only one note in a measure, so MuseScore will strew rests across the rest of the measure and use conventional stem directions for what it thinks are the two separate voices.

Reason has a nice editing command for introducing a small, fixed-size gap between notes in a legato line. Use this before exporting the MIDI file, and most of the Voice 2 notes will drop back to Voice 1. But this command has to be used with care. If two notes overlap significantly (again, this will be inaudible if your preset is monophonic), the editing command will make the first note longer rather than shortening it, so there will still be an overlap. Also, you can’t do a select all on the track before using the command, because then all of the notes at the ends of phrases will be lengthened, perhaps radically, so that they reach almost to the first note in the next phrase. The way to use this command is by selecting one phrase at a time, clicking the button to use the command (the button is in the F8 tool kit), and then inspecting the whole track visually before exporting the MIDI file.

Even then, you may miss a couple of overlaps. You’ll see them when MuseScore imports the file, at which point you can go back to Reason, edit the offending notes, re-export the file, and re-import it into MuseScore.

And then we’re ready to print out the pages? No, not yet.

MuseScore analyzes MIDI files to figure out what key signature to use. This is a nice time-saver if your music is simple, but if you’ve changed key in the middle, or are using an exotic scale (as I will sometimes do), MuseScore may make a bad guess. The first piece I tried to import ended up in G-flat major when notated. This resulted in a whole big bunch of B-double-flats, among other enharmonic anomalies. Getting rid of the key signature didn’t change the way notes were displayed, other than adding a slew of new accidentals. From a quick trip to the MuseScore user forum, I learned about the Respell Pitches command. That took care of most (though not all) of the spelling problems. With the ones that remain, it’s click on a note, hit the J key. Click on another note, hit the J key.

The lengths of notes at the ends of phrases are not always easy to read. I had to delete a few sixteenth-notes that were tied to the previous note. Other notes had unnecessary staccato dots.

For some reason, MuseScore didn’t see my printer. I had to “print” to SnagIt (a screen-capture program) and save from SnagIt to PDF in order to print.

The next melody I tried extracting was deliberately recorded without quantization, and the tune has a gentle shuffle groove. Figuring MuseScore wouldn’t like that, I went through the track and quantized everything. The results were still a mess:

musescore_thrashing

With this one (which fortunately isn’t too long) I’m going to have to transcribe using a pencil and then enter the data into MuseScore by hand. That’s almost bound to be easier than trying to thrash through that tangle.

I think I’m starting to get the hang of it, though. And the good news is, as you can see in the above clip, Reason exports time signature changes as part of the MIDI file. MuseScore happily inserted time signature changes in all the right spots.

I’m sure I’ll run into a few more snags along the way. The output is easier to read than pencil and paper, though, and I don’t have to worry quite so much about writer’s cramp.

Frandango

Reconnecting with Francis Preve, a demon sound designer and regular Keyboard contributor whom I worked with some years ago. We were talking about Reason 9, and he said, “Search for FP in the new presets. You’ll find about 150 of mine.”

So naturally I got inspired and used three of them to make a new piece. Right now I’m calling it “Frandango,” but if he objects to that I’ll rename it “The Banjo Player Only Knows Three Chords.” (There are actually seven chords in it, but who’s counting?)

The catchy grinding rhythm that starts in bar 5 and is heard throughout is one of Francis’s presets. It’s a neat trick: A square wave LFO from Pulsar is patched into the Combinator’s CV input, and the CV is used to switch from one Alligator rhythm to another. The square wave is on a two-measure cycle, so it switches back and forth at the bar lines. I did have to fiddle with the phase offset of the LFO to get the rhythm to line up the way I wanted it.

The Theremin “voice” that sings the melody and the bass line with a kind of vowel transient in it are also Francis’s work.

frandango

The percussion patterns are managed by Lectric Panda ProPulsion (visible above in the right-side rack). I highly recommend this Rack Extension. Even if you’re just using Redrum, the ability to program an entire pattern graphically is sweet, and ProPulsion has lots of other great features. Other than that, it’s just stock Reason synths and a few RE’s — mainly Expanse, Vecto, and SubBoomBass. Enjoy.

Gently

Not much need be said about this, really. Well, maybe one or two things, just because WordPress likes to toss ads in at the bottom of posts that have mp3’s in them, and I’d rather push the ad down a little lower on the page.

The quasi-algorithmic patterns at the beginning and end were done on a pair of Lectric Panda PSQ1684 devices, playing Subtractor synths through Jiggery-Pokery Steerpike delay lines. The electric piano sounds like a classic DX7 because it is, more or less — it’s Propellerhead’s own PX7.

And then there’s the Schenkerian analysis. Those who are attuned to music theory may notice that the entire piece is a greatly extended V-I progression. The bass avoids the tonic until the very end — the tonic chords before that are all 2nd inversion (with occasional excursions to 1st inversion). And yet, the tonic note (G) is present in all of the chord voicings. It’s never absent. The dominant note (D) drops a half-step in only two of the chords — an A7 and, a few bars later, a Db major triad with an added sharp 4th (which is of course the G). There’s also a B7#5 where the D (a sharp 9) is a bit hidden.

This may sound fussy and academic, and possibly it is, but there are times when music theory can work for you, not against you. I don’t think someone who didn’t know theory could have written this piece.

What Goes Around

Finally got around to finishing this piece. It started out as a 16-bar chord progression and kind of got stuck there, hence the title, “What Goes Around, Comes Around.” If you call it a rondo, I won’t object. It has a B section and a C section, but the basic phrase keeps coming back. Also, it never changes key, which is probably a compositional flaw. Giving it enough variety within that framework was a bit of a challenge. Heck, there’s even a bass solo!

For those who are curious about Reason, I should mention that this piece utilizes, in addition to a few stock Reason devices, an embarrassing number of plug-ins, to wit:

  • a Red Rock Sound Exciter (on the CP-80)
  • cowbells from Jiggery-Pokery Republik, processed by a Tritone Multiband Waveshaper and u-he Uhbik-F flanger
  • Expanse bass, processed in the final chorus by Devastor2 multiband distortion
  • Expanse lead
  • Expanse “Dream Sequence-EX” ostinato, with and without swing (two sequence lines)
  • Expanse arpeggio courtesy of the Mercury arpeggiator
  • a couple of Kongs, various drums processed by u-he Uhbik-P phaser, Jiggery-Pokery Steerpike delay, and Rob Papen RP-Verb
  • a couple of Parsec 2’s playing an arpeggio
  • a Zero Hybrid synth
  • an Antidote
  • an FM4
  • a Fritz granular effect

Why use so darn many Rack Extensions? Because I can.

The one production trick that might be worth mentioning: The opening sequence (on an Expanse synth) has a bit of built-in swing, but when the hi-hats come in (running through a delay line for one chorus), the swing was fighting with the hats. The swing parameter turns out not to be automatable on the Expanse, so I duplicated the track and device and edited the swing manually in the duplicate. Some repetitions of that groove have audible swing, and some have very little.