Posted by: Rich Sherkin | February 20, 2014

DIY Keytar project – Phase 1

As a drummer I love to be the guy in the back.  I prefer not to be noticed as much.  I hide behind my large kit and I’m comfortable to play in front of anyone.  Smaller kits…. ok, not so much camouflage but still comfortable enough.

But now with Fizzbin I’m a front man.   As we prepare the extravagonzo of our live show I’m starting to realize how much of my roll as keyboardist as well as vocalist keep me standing in one place.  Vocal freedom is no problem as it can be addressed with a wireless headset mic.  Keyboards have always been a bit of a sore spot though when it comes to giving an active performance (no Keith Emmerson and Rick Wakeman, I’m not talking to you).  Even worse, in this day and age a single keyboard can perform the functions that once required walls of electronics and piles and piles of synthesizers  (yes Keith Emmerson and Rick Wakeman, I’m  talking to you).   This puts the keyboardist on-stage with a mere sliver of an instrument in front of him that he is tied to.  Not very impressive.  Further, if you make that keyboardist the front-man the show could tend to get a little sterile.  My goal is to prevent anything of the sort from happening with our performances.

Enter the mobile keyboard.  Sure the Keytar was a bit of a joke in the ’80s but revisited they make a lot of sense.  Back then the idea was to look high-tech and futuristic.  The focus on the guts of the synths was never a huge issue and the Keytar sort of drifted away into minor obscurity.  Still the keyboardist got his ass out front and could rock-and-roll with the guitar players.  Sometimes having the keyboardist spring into action would even get the bass player moving.  It’s a long-shot but still.  But I digress…

One of the first pieces of equipment I purchased when I began my studio project was an M-Audio Oxygen 49 keyboard.  It has proven to be a great starter-keyboard which works seamlessly with my Mac and my iPad (through the Camera Connection Kit).  It is a MIDI controller which means it has relatively light guts.  The keyboard only contains a USB connection.  There are no actual MIDI connectors which limits its use (or does it ; ) .  It’s also quite light making it easy to schlep around while playing.

Looking at the keyboard the first idea I had to make it portable was simple;  stick a couple of Guitar Strap End Pins into the body of the Oxygen 49, put a guitar strap on it, connect the keyboard to the iPad via a 10 foot USB cable, plug the iPad into the mixing desk (or keyboard amp) and there you have a Keytar. To help keep the iPad’s battery from draining quickly I included a powered USB hub in the mix.

To support the iPad I concocted a device using some old cymbal stand components and and iRig.

So check out Phase 1 of my Keytar project

Careful not to stress the wires connecting the top to the bottom

Careful not to stress the wires connecting the top to the bottom

Inside view of the M-Audio Oxygen 49

Inside view of the M-Audio Oxygen 49

Use washers to reduce stress on the plastic case

Use washers to reduce stress on the plastic case

Drill holes for End Pins

Drill holes for End Pins

iRig iPad holder mounted on cymbal stand

iRig iPad holder mounted on cymbal stand

Keytar Electronics

Keytar Electronics

Baxter inspects the key tar

Baxter inspects the keytar

Strap installed, connected via USB and ready to jam

Strap installed, connected via USB and ready to jam

Playing the keyboard standing vertically takes a bit of getting used to but I’m starting to get the hang of it.  My biggest problem is tapping my right heel to the beat.  It makes the keyboard jump around.  It also makes my bass jump around so I’d better get over the habit soon.

I’ve recently picked up a Korg nanoPAD2 which I plan to incorporate as the neck of my instrument.  I’ll run a second USB cable back to the hub connected to the iPad.  I’ve already tested it and both controllers can be used simultaneously.  Way cool!

I also plan to paint the chassis of my new old toy.  Something a little jazzier than plain grey.  I’ll post more as things progress.

 

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | February 2, 2014

Guitar Tech – Trial # 1

As a drummer I’ve always been fascinated by guitars and basses.  Let’s face it; Being out there on the front of the stage waving around your cool axe is the coolest.  You don’t have to totally be the frontman but at times you just steal the show.  We drummers just sit back and watch (while hoping you can still stay in time while being so cool).  Thanks to my old bandmates I’ve been able to pick up some guitar and bass licks over the decades.  Subsequently I’ve also picked up some instruments.

Back in  ’95 when my son was interested in playing guitar I got him a Squire Stratocaster.  About a week later I picked up a Squire Jazz Bass.  The Strat is a “Squire by Fender – Bullet Series” from Korea and the Jazz is a “Fender Squire Series” made in Mexico.

Headstock with new Machine Heads

Headstock with new Machine Heads

The Strat had been exhibiting crackling issues with the 5 position pickup switch.  The problems were random, inconsistent and could hit any switch position.  It basically made the guitar completely unplayable save for noodling acoustically in front of the TV.  This was hit home during a Fizzbin rehearsal where all we wanted to do was have a second, de-tuned guitar handy.

I had this problem several months ago and took the guitar in for service.  At the same time I had a set of Fender Locking Machine Heads installed.  The stock Squire heads were the absolute worst.  The guitar would rarely stay in tune for more than a complete song.  The new heads made all the difference.  Highly worth the cost!  Aside from the Machine Head installation, I wasn’t thrilled about the rest of the job done on the guitar.

I decided to take matters into my own hands.  For better or worse I’ve been working on guitars since I was 13.  Some jobs went great and others…. not so much (sorry Jason).  But now I’m 37 years older and have a ton more experience in many fields.  Particularly electronics.  After all, I did build a replica F-16 cockpit.  I figured the problem was either dirty contacts or a bad connection somewhere.  The guitar has never been gigged and has lead a very cared-for life so I didn’t think something really bad had happened.

Before playing Guitar-Tech I wanted to be prepared.  There’s nothing worse than getting part way into a job then having to stop and run to the hardware store to by some tool or other.  I’m pretty well equipped but I did purchase a CruzTOOLS Guitar Tech  Kit.  This ensured I’d have any tools I may need without raiding my own toolboxes.  It also comes in a nice, easy-to-carry case which fits in your gig bag.  I also purchased a Fender Guitar Maintenance Station.  This is basically a rubber mat with a padded stand to rest the guitar’s neck on.  It’s very handy to keep your guitar from getting scratched up during maintenance.  You can make these stations yourself but if you want to part with some cash you can have the Registered Fender logo.

Another item you must be sure to have is a Soldering Station.  Notice how I didn’t say Soldering Iron.  The difference means succeeding in or destroying your work.  A good soldering station with adjustable temperature will allow you to easily work with your instruments while a Soldering Iron is more akin to a fine wood burning kit.  I learned this from my mentor back in ’84 when we made 50 pin SCSI cables and 25 ping Serial cables by hand (Thanks Dr. Lopes).  Do you self a favour and check out Weller’s line of stations.

I also added a close-up lamp with a magnifying glass to help these old eyes see what’s connected to what.  Finally a few extra tools; small side cutters, a de-soldering tool, scissors, wire strippers, a pencil eraser and an Exacto knife.

Basic Guitar Workstation

Basic Guitar Workstation

I watched a couple of YouTube videos on guitar work and decided that at the same time I was in the guts of the beast I would shield the cavities as well.  This guitar isn’t particularly noisy but every bit helps.  On one video I saw the fellow used a metallic based paint to shield the cavities.  On a second the fellow used sticky-backed copper paper.  Having neither of these readily on hand I opted for some metal furnace tape I had on-hand.  Any type of metal will shield noise and this stuff is easy to work with.

After de-stringing and opening the pick guard I immediately snapped a photo of the electronics.  DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.  You may have to shoot from different angles but make sure you get a good reference point of how things were when you started.  You will not remember how it was so take (or draw) a picture.

Freshly Opened & Photographed

Freshly Opened & Photographed

Examination of the wiring revealed no loose connections (yet… stay tuned) so I turned my magnifying glass on the contacts of the switch itself.  They appeared oxidized.  First I used the pencil eraser on the contacts to remove as much dirt as I could.  I then took some Isopropyl Alcohol on a Q-Tip and cleaned each contacts.  Remember to move the switch to clean the contact under it.

And like magic… All the pickups worked as they should without crackle, noise or cutting out.  Consistently.

Now to the body cavities.

The Original Unshielded Cavities

The Original Unshielded Cavities

I started by adding a bottom layer of tape and then cutting pieces to size for the sides of the cavities.  The trick is to not overlap as much as possible to keep things smooth and slim.  I used a pencil eraser to get into the corners of the tape.

Layer One of the Tape

Layer One of the Tape

All Shielding In Place

All Shielding In Place

I Shielded the back of the Pick Guard for good measure

I Shielded the back of the Pick Guard for good measure

Once I had completed shielding the entire cavity I tested my connections.  Ooops!  Somewhere along the line the white lead heading from one of the pots to the jack had come off.  Where did it go?!?!?  No problem – I have a picture.  I quickly re-soldered the connection and put the pick guard back in place to test.

This time everything worked but I was getting a nasty buzzy-hum on 3 of the pickup settings.  It then dawned on me to turn off my lamp and soldering station.  Both generate noise and are in close proximity of the pickups.  Since pickups are designed to pickup sounds, well, you get the picture.

Problem solved!  With Everything reassembled there was practically no noise present.

Restringing was a bit different with the locking Machine Heads.  Actually is was a snap and the guitar tuned up nicely.

Now the Strat is playable and doesn’t have to sit by itself while all the other guitars are jamming.

I don’t think I’m going to take this guitar much further though.  If you’ll note from the cavity pictures the body of this guitar is made up of layer upon layer of shit-board (click the image to enlarge it).  Look at the porosity in some of the layers.  Yuck!  This is another way the lower end models save money.  If you look inside any Fender body you’ll see a solid piece of wood.  That’s why they resonate so well!

I’ll continue to experiment with this Strat though.  It’s a great way to test out a skill without destroying something too high-end.

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | December 28, 2013

2013 – The Year In Review

So if you’ve read my previous Year In Review articles you’ll roll your eyes as I say; Well I can’t believe where the time has gone but another year has past.  Once again it’s been a great year for Lower West Side Studio and for me musically.  It was a year for learning, implementation and most importantly, for making music.  Here’s a summary;

Drums / Percussion

With two practically complete kits there wasn’t too much percussion I needed.  This year I completed the cymbal setups of both kits giving them each the same number and sizes of cymbals.  They are all A Zildjian but one set is a lighter weight than the other.  The sounds are great and they’re fun to mix and match.

I also picked up a Carl Palmer Signature Series Venus Snare Drum by Ludwig.  This drum is great and fun to experiment with.  Plus I love that it’s green : )

2013 also marked the year that I got back into double-bass setups.  I purchased a DW-3000 double bass pedal for the Gretsch kit, dug my second Pearl bass drum out of storage and used my two DW-5000s on them.  THUNDER!!  I have to admit though;  I hate the double bass pedal.  As good as it it, as good as any of them are, the unbalanced feeling drives me nuts.  Also the second batter mutes the head before it’s done resonating from the first hit.  Don’t argue; it’s physics.

Electronics

I added some neat toys to the studio this year to enhance some of the instruments.  First, I added the rack-mount version of  TC-Helicon‘s Voiceworks.  This is a great enhancement for vocals featuring EQ, compression and harmonization all in an affordable little box.

For guitars and basses I added each an MXR Custom Badas ’78 distortion pedal and an Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Bass Big Muff PI.  A bassist brought this latter by to jam and I fell in love with it’s power and flexibility.

It’s amazing what kind of expanded range a few effects can add to your sound!

Software

This year was more about learning how to use the software I have rather than acquiring new things.  That didn’t stop me from picking up a few VST add-ins.

These mostly included reproductions of vintage instruments like the Minimoog and other old analog monsters.

I also purchased a couple of great programs for transcribing and tabbing music.  These are Transcribe! by Seventh String Software and TablEdit by Matthieu Leschmelle.

Keyboards

Huge year for keyboards at Lower West Side Studio.  This year we replaced our Yamaha DGX-500 keyboard with a Yamaha Motif XF6 music workstation.  This machine is absolutely incredible and we’re still in the process of figuring it out.

I personally love Yamaha synthesizers.  My first hands-on experience was my bass player’s Yamaha C-5.  Now I have their flagship.  Wow am I feeling old.

Bands

So what’s happening musically with all this stuff?  Ok… here’s the scoop;

Highway 26 – Following our outdoor Canada Day performance I left the band.   I’m not a Blues guy and they’re a Blues band so it wasn’t a good fit in the long run.  They’ve got a new drummer and are doing well!  Rock On Guys (and Gal)!

Silvertone Rock Camp – Still without a name but with a huge playlist this band is a great weekly getaway for its members.  We should play more live gigs though.

The Drop Bys – My old friends are dropping by once again and bringing along some interesting guests!  We totally kick ass.  I think we should formally acquire the band name High School Jeans because we all still wear the same size jeans we did when we were in high school.  That’s right – we’re sexy : )

Fizzbin – The largest project I’m involved in is the synth band consisting of myself and my friend John.  We are two drummers who play a lot of other instruments besides drums (although some of our drumming is recorded).  We cover ’70s and early ’80s New Wave, Synth and Industrial Rock tunes.  We are in the process of preparing a live version of our set for early 2014.

So that’s the 2013 news from the Lower West Side Studio.  Please keep visiting the blog for more info and fun tales.  Thanks for dropping by!

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | December 26, 2013

A Synthesizer Fit For A Doberman

My wife and I love Doberman Pinschers.  They are a loyal and loving dog but sometimes their intelligence can be frightening.  We have our third Dobe now.  His name is Baxter.

Baxter Enjoying The Summer Flowers

For years Baxter has made it a habit to come into my studio while I played drums and start barking along.  At first he’d bark at random but soon he learned to bark along to the beat.  His favourite music?  Led Zeppelin.  Soon, though vocals weren’t enough.  Baxter wanted to play an instrument like myself and  other band members who would visit.  He began by plucking at the spring door-stops located behind the studio doors.  He would twang and sing for as long as we’d let him (or as long as we could stand it).

Baxter also has an affinity for those plastic trays you place under potted plants to keep the water from ruining your floors.  He likes to take them and bang on them with his paws.

With these things in mind I decided to make him an instrument that A: would stop him from damaging my baseboards and B: satisfy his desire to make music.  I started by removing the sensor from an old Yamaha electronic drum.  The drum was scrap but the sensor worked fine.  I drilled a hole in a plant tray and attached a female XLR connector.   I then attached the sensor onto the underside of the tray (I used tape for the prototype).

Drum Synthesizer for Dogs

Drum Synthesizer for Dogs

The prototype test went pretty well, however, the unit was not designed to withstand the enthusiasm of a musically excited Doberman.

It was apparent that the tray would have to be affixed to something to prevent it from moving around during the performance.  I found a piece of wood, attached four rubber feet to it and mounted the sensor tray on it.  Baxter loved it but unfortunately it couldn’t withstand his enthusiasm…

Unable to Withstand Baxter

Unable to Withstand Baxter

I decided to switch to a plastic dog bowl as the striking surface.  They are built much more tough.  I re-assembled the sensor setup in the new bowl and it worked great!

Baxter's New Drum Trigger

Baxter’s New Drum Trigger

This new trigger setup worked really well and Baxter enjoyed playing it.  Unfortunately he continued to play his springed instrument; the door-stoppers around the house.   What I then did was to attach an upright on the board (a cut off slice of 2×4).  I then attached a door-stopper spring to the upright.  The result was that Baxter can twang it and the vibrations trigger the sensor.  In fact, I have the sensitivity adjusted so that even his barks will trigger the sensor.

I should mention some of the other stars in this production.  I’m running the output of the trigger to my DAW of choice; Reaper by Cockos.  I’m using the JS: SStillwell/drumtrigger plug-in to turn the audio signal from the sensor into a MIDI signal.  From there the signal goes into one of my favourite free plug-ins; Synth1.  I’ve tried various synthesizers and got some pretty cool sounds.  The addition of the door-stopper gives the instrument some sustain.

Over the holidays our son came to visit and he and I had a chance to jam with Baxter.  I don’t know if it’s Top-10 material but it sure tired Bax out!

 

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | November 28, 2013

Covering Love Hurt Bleed by Gary Numan

Last week I discovered that Gary Numan had released a new album this past October.  It’s titled Splinter: Songs From A Broken Mind.  I haven’t been following Gary since his early work so I gave it a listen.  Wow!  I was really impressed.  At first listen you’re ready to say Gary Numan has a Nine Inch Nails influence.  Historically though, I feel it’s the other way around.

Now the fact that NIN guitarist Robert Fink plays on the album may further the NIN influence theory…. but I digress.

Anyway, I really love the track titled Love Hurt Bleed.  I sat down at my synthesizer and after a few minutes was playing the backing synth bass track.  After that I decided to try to put the track down on tape (disc, whatever).

Before trying to lay down a copy of the album track I thought I’d look for a live version.  Watching it done live shows you how the musicians actually play a song, how many instruments are required and how it can be arranged for a real-world performance.  With an album version you never quite know what’s going on.  I found the KEXP broadcast of his live performance of the song and worked on that arrangement.

My workflow process was sort of bass-ackward.  At first I employed my usual “cheat”;  I played along to the track while recording each instrument.  This has worked ok in the past, however, there is a certain lack of flow in the music when recorded this way.   This time I broke out the old metronome and recorded each track outside of the backing track.  I think the result was better timing and more continuity.

With the click-track as my drummer I laid down the synth tracks first.  The raw bass synth was done by tweaking the Prawg Rawk preset on Native Instruments Monark soft-synth.  The lead synth during the chorus is the outstanding free VST plugin Synth1.  I didn’t want to make this project too complex so I stuck with my two favourite software synthesizers.

After these tracks were down I moved to the bass guitar.  The first thing I noticed was that the E string on the bass was tuned to D.  No problem.  I recorded the track on my Fender Jazz running through my new favourite toy; an Electro Harmonix Deluxe Bass Big Muff PI (wow, what a mouthful).  This little distortion dream gave me two outputs.  Wet and Dry.  I recorded each and mixed them together for the final mix.

Next came the drums.  I liked the pattern used in the live arrangement so I based my track on that.  I stuck to the Kick and Snare drums but used tons of cymbals, particularly splash cymbals.  I recorded with a pair of AKG C1000S overheads, an AKG D112 on the kick and a Shure SM57 each on the snare and hi-hat.  I recorded on my Gretsch Renown Maple kit.

Next my nemesis; the guitar.  I’m still a very weak guitar player and wasn’t sure how to approach this.  My first thought was just to record the guitar parts through my keyboard and Guitar Rig by Native Instruments.  I didn’t like that idea though.  Too artificial.  I thought of calling a guitar playing buddy (John my Fizzbin bandmate came to mind first) but I live out of the way and wanted the project completed inside of 24 hours.

I first laid down the track in the third verse where everything but the synthesizer dies out during the vocal.  The guitar riff has an arabic flavour to it which I accented with some Guitar Rig delays and reverb.

Next I laid down the lead riff which runs just before the vocal.  Running from my Strat through an MXR ’78 Badass Distortion into the mixing desk I got an nice raunchy sound.  I further crunched it up with Guitar Rig and a nice cabinet.  Because I haven’t been playing much I have difficulty transitioning from chord to chord.  To solve this problem  I recorded each chord, D, C and G, separately then mixed them together.  The result seems to work ok.

Finally I laid down the vocal track.  Rather than use my TC-Helicon Voiceworks for the final track I ran the vocals through a few effects in Guitar Rig.  I use a couple of EQs, some Compression and Reverb.  That’s it.

The project was mixed down in Reaper by Cockos.  I really enjoy working with this DAW.  Although I’ve learned a tons about it, I still haven’t scratched the surface of it’s capabilities.

So there you have it.  My execution of Love Hurt Bleed.  I hope you enjoy it.

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | October 19, 2013

ESI-2000 Upgrade – Part 1: The Floppy

Of all the cool toys I’ve got to play with, my bandmate John’s EMU ESI-2000 is among the coolest.  It’s a vintage sampler capable of producing some incredible, rich sounds.  The trouble with the device is that you have to haul around a CD-ROM drive and a Zip drive in order to load the samples or save new samples and banks.

The unit also has a 3.5″ floppy disc drive.  Remember those?  A whopping 1.44 megabytes you could carry in your pocket.  Of course where could you find the media today?  What I decided to do was to replace the floppy drive with a Floppy to USB drive.  The unit is the same form factor as the floppy drive and contains data and power connectors that are plug-compatible with a standard floppy disc drive.

I tested the unit first by just plugging it in without removing the original drive.  I like to do this when testing in case the experiment is a total washout.  Less stuff to put back together.  I powered up the EMU and…. it didn’t see the drive.

IMG_2054

No problemo.  I haven’t told you about the jumper block on the drive.  The device came from China and as such contained almost no documentation.  It’s part number is SFRC 922.  The docs indicated there was a jumper block but didn’t describe it.   I removed the jumper from the default second position to the first and voila – the drive was recognized.

Using the EMUs menus I was able to format my USB stick without a problem.  Awesome!

IMG_2053

Now here’s the hitch (you hardware guys out there probably guessed this by now).  The BIOS in the EMU knows that the size of a floppy disc is 1.44 megabytes.  As such it breaks down any disc writes into chunks of that size.  The drive itself contains two buttons and an LED display.  The buttons allow you to increment the Disc Number currently selected.  It’s like having a stack of floppies all on your memory stick.  The bigger the stick – the more floppies.  Seriously though; how many samples do you really need once you chosen your sounds and written your banks.  These samples are tiny.

I loaded the standard Proteus Preset bank from CD-ROM then saved it to my USB stick.  The save required four “discs” which meant I just incremented the disc number on the drive and pushed enter on the EMU when it requested the next disc.  Same procedure when loading from the stick only the stick loads faster than the CD-ROM.

IMG_2058

Because it requires some babysitting during the saving and loading phase the solution is not perfect.  It will also require some floppy disc management as more data is saved to more discs.  This isn’t a major problem though and for live performances I prefer to carry a USB stick with me rather than a pile of drives and cables.  It’s also a handy way to keep a backup of your sounds.  For a very small investment it was well worth it!

 

IMG_2057

 

Next up on the upgrade path for this classic vintage synthesizer; RAM upgrade and an internal SCSI hard drive.  Stay tuned!

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | September 16, 2013

Yamaha Motif XF 6 Comes to Lower West Side Studio

I have always been a synthesizer nut.  Back as a kid in the ’70s I’d meet my band in downtown Toronto to jam.  I’d usually arrive early hang out in the keyboard department of Long & McQuade on Bloor.  The guys new me there and would let me play around on all the wonderful keyboards.  Now they’re all Vintage and can be found on eBay for thousands of dollars.

But I never actually owned a synthesizer until I purchased a Yamaha DX-7II last year.  That was an eye opener (or more appropriately ear opener) when it came to sound.  Sure you could use your computer to produce VST Instrument sounds but in the end it was still a computer pretending to be a synthesizer.  I was stunned by the difference in sound quality even when comparing the synthesizer to more costly VST Instruments.

With our band Fizzbin working on our live show I wanted to bring something more sonically to the table.  I started researching music workstation keyboards.  These included the Roland Fantom, the Korg Kronos and the Yamaha Motif series of workstations.

I chose the Motif series as I’ve always been a Yamaha fan plus I really like the feature set.  There is a deep FireWire integration similar to my Mackie Onyx mixers.  This is done through an add-on board which I plan to purchase shortly.  Through this feature you could route VST effects into a channel’s insert while the signal remains completely digital.  It also allows you to record each track played by the Motif digitally on your computer.

The Motif is a Sampler which comes with 128MB of user RAM for Samples.  You can add up to 2GB of Flash Memory to the Motif which will allow the unit to continuously store samples even when the unit is powered off.  This dramatically speeds up start-up time.

I’ve reworked most of our songs to route their MIDI tracks to the Motif.  The keyboard can play 16 simultaneous tracks, each in a different voice.  It really gives a new dimension to our songs.  The trouble is there are so many preset sounds to choose from I seem to keep changing up the instruments on each song’s tracks.  No worries though.  I’m sure I’ll find something to make me happy.

The Motif is a very complex music creation system.  I can store MIDI tracks internally and play them multi-timbrally without even needing a computer.  Sounds can be diced, sliced and turned into samples.  I plan to work on doing that down the road.  There is just so much to learn and I’ve only had the Motif for a week.  I haven’t even plugged a microphone into its vocoder yet

Incidentally, the Motif XF series come in 3 flavours; 6, 7 & 8.  The guts are the same on all 3 models.  Completely the same.  Where they differ is in their  keyboards (and consequently their width).  The Motif 6 and 7 have 61 and 76 keys respectively.  They both use the FSX keyboard.  The Motif XF 8 contains an 88 Balanced Hammer Effect keyboard.  The difference from top to bottom of the line is a spread of about $2K.

So, Wooo Hooo!  New toy!  Let the learning curve begin.  Stay tuned as things progress…

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | July 23, 2013

Fizzbin is Born!

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a Rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

- “Wild” Bill Shakespeare

Well after months of attempting to come up with a name, trying some on for size and thinking of something catchy yet descriptive  John and I have decided to name our band;

Fizzbin Logo

Fizzbin is a contrivance.  We are a contrivance.  Fizzbin is clever.  We are clever.   Fizzbin was thought up by spacemen.  We’re a couple of space cadets.  Fizzbin ends with an ass kicking.  We hope to kick some musical ass.  And the list goes on….

We’ve got a small set that’s building.  We play Synth Rock and New Wave from the late ’70s and early ’80.  We’re a two man group with a lot of technology who aim to put on an incredibly sounding and visually stunning show.  We’re going to set ourselves a target date for a gig, book it and then we’d better be ready!!!

We work best under pressure.  Just like Captain James T. Kirk.

So keep an eye on our SoundCloud page and watch this site for updates.

Oh, and Spock…. Find the Radio Station!

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | July 16, 2013

A New Tune – Life In Tokyo

So I’ve talked about a lot of studio stuff throughout these pages and I thought it’s time again to show off what I’ve been doing with it.  A few months ago my friend and drum teacher John and I decided to put together a synth project.  There is a ton of Blues going on in our area out here in the country.  Unfortunately that’s pretty much all there is.  For a Prog Rock guy like myself I found that depressing.

John suggested we try our hands at playing other instruments than our drums and put together some songs from the early 80′s that we can perform live.  Well, we’re not at the perform live stage yet but we have managed to put a few songs together that we’ve been jamming regularly.

One of those tunes is Life In Tokyo by Japan.  We’re both Japan fans and that tune, with its Georgio Moroder back track and kicking bass line was high on our list of cover tunes.  Unfortunately there was very little in the way of MIDI material for the song so we had to build it from scratch.

John got us started by carefully sculpting the flanged back-track using the Sunrizer app on an iPad.  This was no small feat and I think he did an excellent job at replicating it.

Next we recorded John playing the drums on my Pearl kit.  He muffled the hell out of the snare until he got the sound he was looking for.

Meanwhile I was trying to find a bass playing buddy to play the funky bass line for us.  This didn’t work out so I found an awesome YouTube video and learned to play it myself.  Piece of cake!

Next we used Native Instrument’s Monark synthesizer to get the sweeping Zzzzz sound that rides the back track.  I love Monark.  It has a fat, rich sound

A Tubular Bell setting on the Yamaha DX-7 provides some accents in the background.

Going into the sax solo we use Arturia’s iMini for the iPad.  I tweaked a good sound and then play with it using the X / Y pads in Perform mode for the funky effect.

The sax solo was performed on a MIDI keyboard running into an EMU ES-2000 sampler.  That ancient wonder has some really nice sounding samples.  John also updated the unit’s memory giving it the capabilities of the ES-4000.  Three saxophone samples were used to create the solo.

Finally, I laid down the vocal track.  My apologies for being a bit sharp or flat in places.  I’m a rookie and am still working on my vocals.  I’m using Native Instruments Solid Series EQ and Dynamics processor.  I’m also using Guitar Rig 5′s Reverb and Twin Delay.

The whole thing was mixed using Cockos Software’s Reaper DAW.  We’re also using Reaper for live performances (when the time comes).  Stay Tuned.

So, enough said…

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | July 11, 2013

Repurposing Revisited Again – X-Keys in the Studio

I love finding new uses for good stuff that’s been shelved.  So it goes with my X-Keys Pro SE Keyboard Interface.  The Pro SE has been discontinued but there are several new models to take it’s place.  So where did I get one and why is it lying around?

Back in 2003 I began building a replica F-16 cockpit in my basement.  You can read about it here.  The switches and knobs of the cockpit interface to the computer through a device called an X-Keys Matrix board by P.I. Engineering (great company by the way).  Anyway, once I got the thing up and running I joined an online Virtual Fighter Squadron.  At the time my teenage son also ‘flew’ with us although while I sat in the cockpit downstairs, he flew from his desk.  In order to help him out with simplifying some of the complex control-key sequences I got him the Pro SE.  These devices are popular among gamers who like to jam complex keystrokes into them to speed up game-play.  Unfortunately he lost interest in the squad and the Pro SE sat untouched in a box since then.

Flash forward to my new studio.  I found the Pro SE in a box in mint condition.  I also found that their new software, ControllerMate was a far cry more powerful than the earlier software I had experienced.  Bear in mind that the earlier software made it possible to have a functional make-belive cockpit so it didn’t suck.  I haven’t even scratched the surface of ControllerMate’s features which include logic processing and the ability to send MIDI commands.

So I plugged in the Pro SE and set up a series of keystroke shortcuts that will really help simplify things while I work with my DAW software Reaper.  You’d be surprised by how much quicker things can go with the tap of a button rather than with removing your hands from the keyboard, grabbing the mouse, sliding it through something wet, cursing, right clicking, right clicking again over the correct item, you see where this is going.

Best of all I put a perfectly good piece of technology back to work.  Hell, it’s paid for so why not!

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