Monday, November 23, 2009

Fun with recording software

This will be a quickie.

I recently got a Soundblaster X-Fi Elite Pro, that $300 sound card and audio interface box that is tailor made for music creation. I saved up and debated if I should get it for months, then I just went and got it. I now had the power to run pretty much any sequencing and sound mixing software I wanted.

One of the problems I faced when I switched over to Windows XP was that the software I learned everything on was never meant to run under XP. The old version of cakewalk was written for Windows 3.11, and under XP, there was a lag when using a MIDI keyboard. I'd record, but everything was delayed by a 1/2 second, making it difficult to record.

Of course, now that I purchased all of these accoustic instruments like bagpipes and other wind instruments, I faced a new problem. I don't need MIDI equipment to record them, but I never had anything but a small audio-in jack on my PC to input sound. It worked okay for most stuff -- most of the samples of my old blogs were done with a PC headset mic hooked into my computer's built-in audio.

So I now have this box that lets me plug in real recording equipment like we used in the studio, but I needed some modern software to use it.

I tried Cakewalk's Sonar program, and I could not figure out how to do anything, even after reading the help filesa and quick start guide. For some reason, the creators decided to make their product only for people who were already audio engineering professionals, as opposed to the earlier incarnations of the program which were intuitive enough to figure out without reading the instructions. I tried demos of other programs, and they were all made for people who were already experts. In other words, I needed to take a course to figure it out (the music stores offer them too, because they can make more money that way. Piss on them! I threw away the demo discs I got, and went to the internet to download some old outdated software that a friend recommended.

The piece of old mixing software was Cool Edit Pro 2.1 -- no longer made, and a shame, too, because Adobe Audition, which is what it's replacement was, is not intuitive, and not so simple and quick to use that I can make my own CD-quality recordings with in minutes. I literally had Cool Edit Pro 2.1 on my PC for only about an hour before I put the sample below together. That's me on the drums, me on the tambourine, me on the bagpipes, and me on the recorder, in a "church" (one of the ambient settings you can add), playing Cantiga 100:

Cantiga 100 Sample

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Band's First Album!

I should have mentioned this a few months back, but we just came out with our new CD, Vibrabimus! Click on the CD-Baby image above to hear samples from it!

We worked on this for about a year, and had all sorts of issues with recording various instruments, discovering how to use recording equipment, what the best microphones for each instrument were, and so on.

In the end, we came out with a CD that not only we all were happy with, but which most people who have listened to it seem to like as well.

What follows are my notes on each of the songs on the album.

(1) Quen Amoroso -- This song is Cantiga 353 "Quen Omagen" (See the online tribute to The Cantigas De Santa Maria) with Amoroso, an Italian love song. There is a break with a more modern song that is sort of a joke that developed when we were working on this. Basically After playing Quen Omagen dozens of times, I noticed that it sounded like the theme song from an old popular TV show, so I played it for a laugh, and the rest of the band liked it, so we kept it in. See if you can tell what it is!

(2) Ravensballade -- This medieval song made it all over Europe. There is a version of this song in nearly every country. The "Olde English" version of the song is in a dialect of English that has too many words that nobody knows anymore, and part of the reason for my revamped lyrics was to make the song totally understandable to the people we were playing it to (at renaissance festivals). In every language, the story is about 3 Ravens who see a dead knight on the ground, and want to eat him, but are thwarted by the Knight's dog, his hunting falcon, and finally, his wife who comes to bury him. In my version, this is still the same story, but I throw in a twist at the end. In the original song, the wife dies after burying the Knight, and the Ravens all exclaim "Such Devotion.. Such love..." In my version, the knight wakes up and says "I'm not quite dead..." as an homage to Monty Python.

(3) Douce Dame Jolie -- A French Love song, played very romantically, very tenderly, on several large drums and a Bagpipe! This song is pretty traditional, and we play it like many other bands do. We decided to make it interesting by changing the instrumentation on the B-part of the melody. We have My German Dudelsack start off the song, then it's joined by recorders and a shawm.

(4) Vibrabimus -- Vibrabimus started out as a joke. I originally heard In Extremo play "We Will Rock You" on bagpipes. Jocelyn had translated the entire Queen Lyrics into Latin for her Latin class to have fun with. Originally, we were going to sing it in Latin, but we realized that not everyone could handle the foreign language, and it wouldn't sound good as a solo. We really wanted to have the song sung in a medieval tritone to give it that authentic medieval sound, but ended up just repeating the "Vibra, VibraBimus" in tritone. We added a famous Breton Andro to it, and out came our song.

(5) Herr Mannelig -- I always wanted to do this song differently than everyone else does it. Absolutely every other band I've heard sing this ancient Swedish Ballade does it the same way -- a slow heartbeat rhythm, and the song us sung slowly and sadly. We toyed with a "wind up monkey-band" version of it where we'd play it fast and furiously, but it never worked out, so we do it just like everyone else. We added in one of the cantigas to fill in.

(6) Song #23 is a song we heard a band called Patrask play. They call it Tretaktslaten, which is Swedish for "Song in 3/4 time". It's a pastiche of Turlough O'Carolin's songs from the 1600s, and their execution of it was interesting. We don't have 3 or 4 shawm players in the band, so we had to use different instrumentation. We used to play it with one Rauschpfeife, but the instrument I had at the time was difficult to blow, and tempermental. So I insisted on playing the Sopranino recorder for practices, so I wouldn't strain myself, and the other band members liked it much better. This is a very pretty song, but we don't play it at most faires, because audiences seem to prefer the louder music.

(7) Platerspiel -- Platerspiel is a traditional Bagpipe tune that was borrowed from the A-part of Cantiga 77. Bagpipers usually play it as a duet, with the A and B melody played at the same time, on 2 or more bagpipes. We only had one bagpipe, so we decided to do this song as a rauschpfeife and hurdy-gurdy duet. We're pretty sure that our version is significantly different from most others. After all, in the dozens of albums, and hundreds of MP3 files of medieval music I've listened to, I don't believe that there are any Hurdy-Gurdy duets with Rauschpfeifes. Many medieval instrument players and music buffs say that Gurdies and Rauschpfeifes go great together, and we kind of agree -- but I think we're one of the very few bands that do it.

(8) Tourdion -- The quintessential Medieval Drinking song. Tourdion is a 15th century drinking song, written by Pierre Attaingnant. It's a rather short and simple song. It's about all the French I ever learned. The song is so short that I decided to translate it into English for American audiences, because I've never heard an English version before. I decided that I'd do a literal translation, because the lyrics don't rhyme in French or in the German versions I heard. I also wanted it to be as close to the original meaning as possible. I think I managed to not only get the meaning of the song accurately, but I think I also got my lyrics into the correct meter, as well.

(9) Agni Parthene -- Agni Parthene is actually a 19th century Greek Orthodox chant, which is written in medieval style. We thought of many different forms of instrumentation, from Hurdy Gurdy and Rauschpfeife to several Rauschpfeifes, to a whole ensemble of recorders, crummhorns, violin, and even shruti-box. In the end, it became a bagpipe solo, with no tritone harmonies at all. At the end of the song, we added a clip of us poking fun at the song, by showing that it's actually a perfect dual-use song. When sped up, it sounds like a celtic dance tune!

(10) The ballade Of Brother Gryppeweade -- I heard a medieval song called Falkenlied which told the story of a man who trained a falcon only to have lost it, because he didn't train it properly. Then he loses his girlfriend, and his wife, presumably because he wasn't nice to them. It certainly wasn't a happy song, but the melody was. I hijacked the meody, and kept the bit about the Falcon, but tried to craft a funny story that matched the tone of the original. The result was an attempt at a backstory for one of our band's characters.

(11) Chiftitelli in "B" -- This is a song written by Black Bart in the key of C. The "B" is for Brian, which is Black Bart's real name. This song evolved as an improvisational jam around the basic melody. Chiftitelli is a specific rhythm played on a doumbek in middle eastern music.

(12) Fuertanz/Totentanz -- Fuertanz is German for Fire Dance, and Totentanz is German for Death Dance. The actual name of Fuertanz is a medieval German melody called Mailied, or "May song". There are many variations on this tune. Since it's a short tune, we paired it with another tune that has the same 3/4 time. Totentanz is a very old and very popular tune in the Medieval music circles of Europe. It's usually played as a funeral, but like many of the "dual use" songs or the time, if you speed it up, it makes a great dance tune, as well.

(13) Anatolya -- This middle eastern song exists in many different countries throughout the Mediterranean, and has many different names. We call ours Anatolya because after researching it, we found that both the Armenians and Greeks agree that it originated in Anatolya, which is now part of Turkey, and it matches many similar Ottoman military marches. The Armenians even say that it was called Anatolya, before they added their own lyrics to it and gave it a different name.

(14) Nonesuch -- Nonesuch is our signature tune. It is a 17th century English Country Dance. Before the band started, I was playing this, and a friend of mine even recorded it as a Rock-n-roll bagpipe number. We really liked it, and turned it into a medley after the band formed and we had more instruments. We originally wanted to include as many different instruments in the song as possible, to give audiences a taste of as many different sounds as possible. I used to just play random songs in the medley, but we eventually settled on the 3 that now make it up. Nonesuch starts the number, then we do the Saltarello, a medieval Italian dance. The last tune in the medley is Dödet, which is part of a collection of tunes that accompany the Macedonian Skudrinka dance. There is a group of Skudrinka songs that became part of a collection that made it's way around Europe, and can be found in the traditional music of many countries.

Please have a listen to the samples of our music, and buy the CD if you like it. People who have bought it at faires and in the SCA have loved it, and well, keepig the instruments going can be expensive. Thanks for all of your patience waiting for posts, and if you saw us live at King Richard's Faire, or at an SCA event, let us know!