Beauty And The Beat
System feature; sound collage with the CSQ600.
Phil Bloxridge takes us through his system that includes an OB1, Sixtraks, KPR-77 drum machine, MS 10 synth and JHS Pro Rhythm drum synth.
The manufacturers would have you believe that MIDI is the be-all and end-all of it when it comes to musicians' interfacing problems. But, unlike a lot of people these days, I have never been particularly able to see the point of belting out a Neil Peart drum solo with your left hand, whilst performing Rhapsody in Blue with your right. (Coming to that, I don't have a bank account that reads like somebody else's phone number either!)
In common with most of my musician friends, I have spent a long time and a lot of money assembling my little mosaic of equipment, and I'm not in a hurry to ditch it now for something more fashionable (well, not unless it's cheap...) This does leave me with the perennial problem of persuading disparate pieces of equipment to co-operate in something approaching a musically meaningful fashion, and often a bit of improvisation is called for.
An early example of this was getting the S-Triggering Korg MS-10 to work with the standard Roland CSQ 600 sequencer. Eventually, an engineer friend of mine was able to adapt a published "S-Trigger to Standard" circuit to two-way operation, at a total cost of £20... When you consider that the 'official' Korg interface, the MS02, costs about £90, and is now very difficult to find, you'll appreciate the advantages of DIY. Still, enough of the tub-thumping. On with the show!
My equipment comprises (in order of acquisition):
- An acoustic Drum Kit (Only Snare and Hi-hat remain now.)
- A JHS Pro-Rhythm Drum Synth
- A Korg MS10 synth
- An Oberheim OB-1 monosynth
- A Roland CSQ600 Sequencer
- A Bass drum practice pad, connected to a Ted Digisound Bass module
- Assorted cassette machines, borrowed bits, and so on.
The piece you'll hear on the tape doesn't use the real drums or the Digisound (somebody had borrowed them), and was supplemented by a friends' Sequential Circuits SixTrak polysynth.
In many ways, the Sixtrak is the ideal polysynth for musicians with limited recording facilities as it can effectively thought of as a multitrack tape machine for its own multi-timbral voices.
Unfortunately, I was unable to blag a MIDI to Analogue interface in time for the tape, so the Sixtrak is used simply as a realtime polysynth, it's 'Stack' facility enabling a 'Brass section' of six instruments to be brought under a single key. Through detuning, a truly enormous sound can be built up...
Being primarily a drummer with pretensions towards Art of Noise/Cabaret Voltaire constructions, the emphasis tends to be on the arrangement and rhythmic rather than 'melodic' aspects of the piece, and interest is sustained (hopefully!) through the intermixing of various textures, as seen on the tape in 'Glamour'.
Glamour is a representative piece of my music, demonstrating a collage approach to composition, using simple instruments and found sounds.
I begin most pieces with a rough idea of a drum pattern or bass riff and a collection of found sounds; in this case, voices, recorded onto metal tape on a recording Walkie (Aiwa). Bearing in mind the limitations of my recording set-up (Revox A77, REW 6:4:2 mixer, Sanyo MR-805 for tape echo), it is imperative to accomplish as much as possible on each take, so the first step is to set up the drum machine/sequencer pattern that is to provide the main thrust of the piece.
Taking the most basic drum rhythm, the bass drum intro, as a reference, I started to enter the octaving sequence into the CSQ600. My keyboard skills leaving a lot to be desired, I took the easy way out, entering the pitches first in CV mode, then correcting the timing via the CSQ's Gate Rewrite facility (ie tapping a key on the OB1 I was going to use, in time with the drum machine.) Once the sequence was up and running, I experimented with the OB1's sound, finally settling on a classic, "Moroderish" Bass synth feel.
With the CSQ driving the KPR in sync, I began trying out various rhythms against the pattern, from the sixteen already programmed into the KPR's 'A' Group memory. Often, the temp of the rhythms, though in time with the sequencer, were running at half the speed, dragging the track down. This was simply overcome by halving the resolution of the beats, effectively doubling the tempo of the drum machine, without altering its Clock rate. (Imaginative use of the resolution facility if your machine has it, can allow tempo changes, rolls, fast fills and so on, as well as permitting the usual tricky off-beats.) Of the original 16 patterns, two fitted nicely without alteration, one had to be speeded up, and one rhythm of four bars was cut to two, using the 'Bar Length' facility of the KPR, to make it fit the progression of the sequence. The rest I ditched, leaving me with the bass-drum intro, two variants on the main rhythm, and one fill.
Bearing in mind the repetitive nature of the sequence, I felt it would be important to introduce some variation through the KPR's versatile programming possibilities; so I cleared three adjacent memories, set them to 4/4 at a resolution of eight, combined them (ie a cycle of three bars), and started playing along with the sequence. Whenever I got something I liked, it was put permanently into the memory, using a combination of real and step time.
Then it was pencil and paper time. I drew up a plan of the various elements I had to play with (Fig 1), showing the relative relationships between them over the length of the track, and assigning each a separate 'route' through the piece. The drum machine/sequencer route was obvious, but I wanted a dramatic start, so set up a white-noise "tape reverse" on the MS10, and a Klaxon on the Drum synth. 'Later on'... I hadn't sorted out... when yet I wanted the metal 'bonks' from the JHS and the 'clocks' effect from the SixTrak.
Brass from the SixTrak and the voices just had to be "spaced throughout the length of the piece".
Back to the drum machine and sequencer, and I began rehearsing the drum changes against the OB1, changing the programs manually. When I was happy with it, the arrangement was put into the KPR as a 'Song', complete with all repeats, changes and fills.
Setting this new combination running, I rehearsed altering the OB1's texture, via the VCF, VCA and Sustain controls.
After a couple of run-throughs, it was time for the first take, enlisting the help of a friend (Hi, Mark!) to hit buttons at the right times. We EQ'd the drum machine, and took advantage of its separate clap/snare output to treat the sound with a little tape-echo from the Sanyo, livening up the otherwise somewhat dry sound.
The opening tape-reverse and 'explosion' were recorded with a three-second gap between the two achieved via the mute button on the mixer (I love its abruptness), leaving a 'hole' for the first voice-over, taken direct from the Walkie and through the mixer.
The entire opening section up to the beginning of the drum machine rhythm was recorded on its own, as a kind of test for the rest of the piece. Then we were ready...
Immediately the last word of the first voiceover finished, the drum machine and OB1 sequence was started, with the sequencer channel muted for the first eight beats. (It is possible to have the CSQ cut in at the right point of its own accord, but it was easier to use the wonderful mute button again.) With everything running, I began to play with the sequence texture, in line with what had been practised before, and taking occasional whacks at the drum-synth with my free hand. (A lot of fun, I can tell you!)
This was all recorded on track 1 of the A77 in mono unfortunately — I didn't have enough arms to make use of stereo panning and similar goodies; and anyway, it was less complicated!
In the brief time I had the loan of the SixTrak, I didn't really get to grips with its more interesting facilities, but I did chance upon a very DXish 'Clock' sound, which I felt would be an ideal motif to play out with (achieved via oscillator feedback). It was duly bunged into one of the SixTraks' hundred memories, with the brass sound on stack 'A', and the prepared Walkie tape ready to roll... and away we went, bouncing down the previously recorded stuff, together with the Brass motif, the clocks sound, and the remaining voices... It all sounds so easy, doesn't it?
We got it right(ish) the sixth or seventh time... And the result? Have a listen, and see what you think.
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Feature by Phil Bloxridge
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