Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Microkorg XL Patches

The Microkorg XL is a true workhorse synth. It might be small, but of all the hardware synths I own it's the one I always go back to. I often use it with batteries as a portable MIDI controller for Reason or Mainstage, but I don't forget the powerful synthesizer engine that it has. Each timbre has two oscillators, two filters, two LFOs, three envelope generators, six modulation routes, an Equaliser and a noise shaper. There are two timbres, an arpeggiator, two effects units and a 16 band vocoder. Not bad for something that size.

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Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Hello everyone

Just a quick message from me to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I'm winding down posts until the new year, but before I go I've got one little surprise project to unveil.

Jingle Bells, Synthpop style!

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Download Jinglepop

I've used LinnDrum samples and my new Simmons tom combinator patch for the drum beat, the "Blue Monday" bass recreation and the pluck and the pad based on those in Visage's "Fade to Grey".

Enjoy the music, enjoy your christmas, and enjoy 2012

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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A wee bit of techno

It's assignment season again, so aside from the the Investigative Study updates I've not got much to post. I do have other uni-related music to share though, including this piece I put together for my synthesis assignment.
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Friday, 16 December 2011

Simmons SDSV

This may be a keyboard blog, but right now I'm working on some synth drums. After all, the 1980s was full of them. I've been working on creating an emulation of the Simmons SDSV electronic drum kit in Reason, using the combinator as a virtual front panel for each individual drum module.

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Sunday, 4 December 2011

From little blogs big projects grow

I've been making plans for expansion on the site, and I've laid the groundwork for two pages that I hope to develop over time.

First of all, I've had a few emails asking for download links to music that I've written. I've not put a great deal up, but on the music downloads page there are some pieces I had to hand. I've put my early recordings up because while they're not particularly well played or recorded I'm somewhat fond of them. I've also got a section dedicated to pieces I've written for university, either as past of assignments or based on an idea explored in class. So far there's only one piece up, but I have a couple more in the works. All downloads are free, but if you like them, feel free to make a small donation using the PayPal button in the sidebar.

I've also created a page for sound design. This is separate from the Reason patches page, because I want to explore other means of generating interesting sounds, possibly incorporating Reason as an editing/sampling tool. I don't plan on doing much with the page yet, but I have one sound up at the moment that I'm rather pleased with.

I've got big plans for the site, possibly the biggest overhaul of the site yet. I've been running the site for nearly 2 and a half years, and I'm happy with how far it has progressed, and I have a clear idea of what I want the site to become.

For now, enjoy the music.
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What would you like to see?

Hello Readers

I've been doing a lot on Reason recently, namely patch programming for my independent project. I have a few more reason-related ideas that I'd like to explore, but I'd like to know what you the readers would like to see. Do you want more reason-related videos? Should I get one of my vintage synths out and do a video about it? Do you want some piano-related content? I could even dust off my music theory knowledge and give some basic theory tips. I shall leave it up to you to decide, leave a comment down below if there is anything you specifically want me to cover, or if you have any questions for me.

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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Synth sounds from Visage's Fade to Grey

This week I'm focusing on three sounds from the classic synthpop song Fade to Grey by Visage. I've recreated the riff/bass, the string-like pad and the pluck that plays the countermelody.

The main riff/bass part is made up of two detuned sawtooth waveforms with a little bit of the top end filtered out.

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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

One of the strangest keyboards I've ever seen

I've not done this in a while, but here's a video I found while wandering through the internet.

Leonard Soloman is a comedian, juggler and instrument builder who does one man variety shows. His website (link) has some pretty cool videos of him playing an instrument he calls the Bellowphone, but the instrument I find the most interesting is his Oomphalapompatronium, a somewhat steampunk-looking device. I must admit my immediate reaction was "I want one!". I've watched the video about 5 times now, just to get a sense of what each part is doing. Maybe one day I'll build something like this, when I retire...

Video by Gio Gaynor
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Monday, 14 November 2011

More Recreations!

I've had a pretty productive day today as far as patch programming is concerned, I've recreated sounds from four different synthpop songs using Subtractor. I've been slowly working my way through the list of sounds I want to recreate, and I decided to focus on two artists today.

Depeche Mode:

New Life Pluck (Add chorus and serve)
I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead Riff


Messages Sequence
Combo Organ (Enola Gay, Electricity etc.)

Patch diagram for "Messages Sequence"

The only one that gave me any real trouble was the sound from the riff of "I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead". I initially tried using too much filter envelope and it sounded all wrong. I backed that off, added vibrato and changed the mix between the two oscillators and it sounded much better. Tricky little patch, but I quite like it.

It's worth noting that in the final refill I probably won't be using these names for the patches, but I'll worry about that closer to the time of completion.
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Monday, 7 November 2011

New Order - Blue Monday

I've been working a lot in Reason this week on a few sound recreations, and I've had good results so far. I set myself the task of recreating the famous synth sound used on New Order's "Blue Monday", and to demonstrate it I've recreated the first section of the song in Reason using Oberheim DMX samples for the drums.

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Below are links to the sequencer and bass patches, as well as the reason RNS file. The arrangement is just a very quick approximation of the song, but I think the basic elements are all there, although feel free to tell me how you think it could be improved.

Blue Monday Sequence

Blue Monday RNS
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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Blast from the Past

I'd forgotten about this! I did this when I was at college, and I hadn't had the Juno or the MicroKorg very long. The synth and drum sounds aren't very accurate, and my playing was a bit ham handed, but I still quite like this. I'm going to focus on this song and replicate the sounds as part of my ReFill.

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Sunday, 23 October 2011

New content series coming soon!

Hello Readers

I’ve been quite lazy with the site lately, but that’s about to change. As part of my degree I’m going to be carrying out an investigative study into synthpop in the early 1980s, and how today’s technology can be used to replicate sounds generated by gear from the time.
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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Minimalist Piano Music

University has kicked off with a bang! I'm only in the second week of my second year and already my creative juices are flowing. Today we learned about Steve Reich's approach to Minimalism, specifically how he wrote pieces of music designed to be played at different tempos on different instruments. The effect is stunning, and we were all given the chance to come up with something similar.

After a bit of messing around in Pro Tools and Reason I came up with this, and I'm quite proud of it. No delays effects or time stretch tools were used in this recording; one piano was recorded 0.5 bpm slower than the other.

Drifting Pianos by Matt Harrison

Also related to university, I've got a big project that I'll be announcing soon on here, and I'll be updating the site much more regularly as part of it, so make sure you come back soon.
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Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs

I just read the sad news that Steve Jobs has passed away.

I've got a lot of respect for anyone who revolutionises technology, but to consistently come up with new, revolutionary devices, ideas and services the way he did is a rarity. He was one in a million.

Rest in Peace Steve
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Saturday, 27 August 2011

8Tracks Playlists

Hello Readers!

It's been a bit of a while, and unfortunately I'm still not in a position where I can make videos or tutorials, but all of that will come soon.

In the mean time, I've been using 8tracks.com a lot lately. For those of you who don't know, it's basically a social network based around musical playlists. Users upload tracks to the site and create playlists based on a theme or genre of their choice. They have an iPhone app, and an Android app is coming soon (something I'm looking forward to, being a bit of an Android fan). It's not a replacement for Spotify exactly, but I do enjoy the social aspect of it.

So far I've been pretty eclectic in the music I've uploaded, and feedback has been generally good, and I've also found a fair bit of new music using the service.

Here are a few mixes I've done, the first is probably my favourite, hence the spiffy embedded player.

Tracks I love to listen to first thing on a morning.

I listen to these a lot when I'm feeling a little down, or when I'm reflecting on things. There's quite a lot of piano in these songs, so maybe that's why (I love playing the piano when I feel like this).

For those days when you're avoiding reality.

Sometimes all you want to do is slip out of consciousness.

Forget cheesy pop tunes and dad rock, there was some fantastic music in the 1980s. Here's a selection of my favourite tracks by some great artists.

No doubt there will be more to come soon, both playlists and musical content.
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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Independent Labels Hit By London Riots

Last night the Sony DADC distribution centre in Enfield, North London, was devastated by a blaze started by rioters. The riots began with the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham by armed police, and have since spread throughout London and beyond.

PIAS, a company that distributes media for over 150 independent labels, including Warp, Rough Trade, Sub Pop and Mute, as well as many smaller labels, is among the worst affected. Many labels have lost their entire stock of physical media, save those that were already on sale. Such losses will hit the artists hard, because many of them still rely on the sale of physical media to earn royalties. Many of the artists signed to PIAS distributed labels have had releases delayed, and others will soon run out of physical stock.

Digital distribution has not been affected, so if you are a fan of one of the artists signed to one of these labels, do them a favour, get online and buy an album. The Guardian has a list of the affected labels here

I realise that in the grand scheme of things this is pretty small, especially when people all over London have been made homeless, and local businesses have been torched, but musicians have to make a living too, and many of these labels are too small to just write off losses like this.
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Monday, 1 August 2011

Lubuntu Laptop

Warning: The following post contains information about and links to open source software. It’s pretty geeky stuff, and isn’t really related to anything musical. Those of you of a musical disposition (especially drummers) should be aware that your brain might melt.

I mentioned in a previous post that my laptop had died a gruesome death, and I hadn’t received my new one yet. I’ve been using my PS3 to get online, and using other people’s machines when that wasn’t good enough. Now however, I have the solution; I’ve got a fully functional laptop with a modern, full featured browser, a few useful apps and a decent user interface. Not bad for a 7 year old laptop with a 1.5 GHz Celeron and 384MB of RAM.

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Friday, 29 July 2011

Big Stack of Vinyl

It’s time for me to make more excuses. I’m all moved into my new house, and I’m reasonably well set up. There’s a new problem though; my faithful laptop is dead as a dodo – massive hardware failure. I’m unable to do any recording, screencasts or video editing until I get a new laptop, so in the meantime I’m going to revert to bog standard everyday blogging.

I’m a vinyl nut; I’ve got a huge collection of albums and singles, and I love my turntable (a Thorens TD 280). I’ve not used it much over the last year because it was tucked away in the corner in my old bedroom, but in my new room it’s here beside me at my desk, within easy reach.
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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Slow Progress and Brass Bands

Never move house. Just don't do it.

I'm currently in limbo, I haven't been able to move into my new house yet so all of my stuff (including most of the stuff I need to make music) is packed away in storage. I'm hoping to be moved into my new house by the beginning of next week, so I'll be able to resume regular blogging then.
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Friday, 17 June 2011

Back to Basics

I’m in the middle of writing the music for an album, and I have the basic parts written for a good chunk of it. They still need to be arranged, but when that’s done I reckon there will be about 20 minutes of music. I was going through the session files earlier on (I’m converting them all from Cubase SX and Cubase 5 sessions into Pro Tools sessions, because I prefer to work in Pro Tools) and I realised that almost all of the synth parts use Reason as a sound source. There are a couple of little flourishes that use my D-50, and one Juno-106 bass line, but the rest is all done in Reason. What’s more, a good chunk of it was programmed in by mouse, rather than being played in. This has got me thinking; why do I have all of this wonderful vintage gear if I’m just going to use Reason for everything?

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Sunday, 12 June 2011

And then life caught up...

My dear readers,

I've had a good run of posting at least once a week (sometimes twice) over the last couple of months, and I still have a few bits to post, but I may have to slow down on posting for a little while. I've torn down a lot of my gear in preparation for moving house, and I'm going away on a trip for a couple of weeks, so between galavanting off down the country and packing my stuff up there might not be a lot of time for blogging.

In other news, my first year grades are slowly trickling in, and so far I've gotten a first in every subject except one, so I'm pretty pleased with myself over that. It's been a good year at uni, and I've learned a lot, but I'm glad to have some time to myself. So far my time off hasn't really been "time off"; I've been keeping busy with recording sessions and reorganising the blog, so I'm looking forward to a nice break.

Follow the blog or subscribe to my RSS feed to keep up with new posts, or follow me on Twitter. Things should be back to normal pretty soon.

Matt =]
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Friday, 10 June 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Reason 5

Reason is one of the most commonly used music creation programs, and there are thousands of cool things you can do with it, but many people find it daunting when they first start out, especially when they’re faced with an empty rack. Today’s video shows how to set up your audio and MIDI hardware with Reason, as well as how to set up the basic devices you need to get started and how to select between different sound sources.

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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Create your own soundscape online

I spend a lot of my spare time using Stumbleupon, and my latest find is the site naturesoundsfor.me. What it allows you to do is make your own soundscape using nature sounds. It has a 4 track mixer with pan controls, and even some basic automation. I've been sitting with my headphones on listening to this one I've put together, and I can't help but feel tranquil.

It's great if you don't want to sit in silence, but don't feel like listening to music. If anyone tries it send me a link, I'd love to hear what you can come up with.
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Friday, 3 June 2011

Resampling in Reason 5

I've finally worked out how I can do screencasts without them looking crap, and I can capture the audio without having to sync it up later, so without further ado, here's a tutorial on how to use the sampling features of Reason 5 to sample the internal instruments.

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Sunday, 29 May 2011


I have an announcement to make: Over the last few days I have been busy organising some webspace and a domain name for the blog. The new home of Totally Keyboard is totallykeyboard.net! Shortly after creating the blog I decided that Everything Keyboard wasn't really the name I wanted, so I changed the blog name, but in order to stop my search engine listings from falling and creating dead links I kept the original url. This no longer matters however, because blogger will redirect all of my old links to the new domain. How kind of them!

In addition to the domain change, I now have some webspace, so I can start hosting my own audio, pictures and other files. This mean I am no longer reliant upon Soundcloud and Picasa, and it also means I can upload templates for Pro Tools and Reason sessions, as well as a selection of my favourite custom Reason patches (link in the top bar). Also in the top bar are links to my various profiles and pages on different sites (see “My Online World") and a playlist of all my YouTube vlogs to date..

For the most part the site will look the same, albeit loading slightly faster, but this will make it a lot easier for me to post content, so I can begin posting more advanced tutorials without having to worry about all the technical nonsense.

I'm not paying a great deal for web storage, but it does mean that now more than ever I need the advertising revenue. For this reason, I politely ask that if you are using ad-blocking software in your browser that you please add an exception for the site. There will be no pop-ups or scam ads, so it is perfectly safe, and it helps me with the running costs of the site.

In addition to these changes, I have added a “Related Posts” widget to the bottom of each post. This should help you find other articles about the same subject quite easily, and might direct you to something you may find interesting.

I hope that the changes make the site more useful to you all. After all that’s why I maintain the site; to help people learn.

All the best!
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Friday, 27 May 2011

Hohner Pianet T Effects Workshop

I love my Hohner Pianet T, but it can sound a bit flat at times, especially when recording it directly. It lacks the clarity of the Rhodes, and it’s not as crisp and crunchy as the Wurlitzer. Having said that, the right effects chain can really make it sing.
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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Musical Purists

Lauren Laverne, you absolute legend. She puts into words just how I feel about elitism and purism in music. I saw this, and I had to share it.

I know far too many people like that...

Luckily there are people out there who recognise how ridiculous this has become. I saw this link on Facebook and it made me chuckle.

I Like Bands That Don't Even Exist Yet T-Shirt

I'm thinking of making this a thing, where I post links or videos I find throughout the week in addition to my Friday posts. We shall see!

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Friday, 20 May 2011

A guide to University for new students

I recently finished my first year at Teesside University, and for the most part I thoroughly enjoyed it, but there are a few things I wish I had known before I went.
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Saturday, 14 May 2011

One Down, Two To Go!

As hard as it is for me to believe, my first year of university is over. My last assignment is finished and handed in (a few days early I might add), and I'm just waiting for the marks.

I must admit, it feels good to get this far, and so far my results have been pretty good. I’m looking forward to having some time to just relax though; read a few books, watch some telly, do some exercise (it’s true what they say, Uni makes you fat).

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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

From This Tree - A Poem by Sinead Livingson

Well, the work is nearly finished, I've got one more assignment to finish off and hand in, and then it's roll on summer!

This is a recording I made for a uni project, it's a short piece for a Radio 4 style poetry program, with sound effects, incidental music and spoken word. It came together over the course of a month or so, and I'm reasonably happy with the final result.
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Saturday, 30 April 2011


Well hello there!

I've been posting semi-regularly here recently, and I've managed to attract a returning audience, so thank you very much if you keep coming back for more.

Unfortunately, it's deadline time at uni, and I have rather a lot of work to do, so I'm not going to be posting as regularly any more (boo!).

However, if you promise to keep coming back, I'll give you this weighted companion cube piano cover of a semi-well known piece of music from a certain blockbuster video game.

Still Alive (GLaDOS's Song) by Matt Harrison Covers

My last little bit of procrastination before the real work starts hehe
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Friday, 22 April 2011

The Music Business

Recently I wrote an open letter to Spotify, criticising them for their decision to heavily restrict their free service, and it generated a considerable amount of traffic. I had a number of people commenting expressing their agreement, but there were also those who criticised me for wanting something for nothing. What I intend to do here is clarify my position on music streaming, piracy and the music business in general.

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Saturday, 16 April 2011

An Open Letter to Spotify

Dear Spotify

I have been a frequent Spotify user since 2009; I was one of the lucky few who were able to sign up for a free account before the doors were closed. Spotify was one of the major factors in my decision to stop pirating music, because I could listen to the “good” tracks on albums legally without having to buy the full album. This is a huge bonus, because quite frankly the quality of a lot of today’s albums’ “filler” tracks is questionable. I use the service almost daily, and I have used it to discover some amazing music, some of which has gone on to become some of my favourite artists and bands. For this reason I was greatly saddened and annoyed at your recent announcement that you will be implementing several limitations on the free service.

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Thursday, 14 April 2011

I hate music technology! – Part 2 – Preset Culture

Okay, that’s not strictly true, but there are elements of it that drive me up the wall. Music tech has made music what it is today; vibrant, varied, high quality and accessible, and for that I am grateful. However, it has lead to several practices within music – especially mainstream pop that make me want to seal up my ears with concrete. Last time we looked at compression, and how music has lost its dynamic range. This time I want to talk about what I call preset culture – the way musicians use the stock sounds of synthesisers, drum machines and plugins to make music, resulting in loads of songs sounding the same.

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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Tying it all Together

Here are some links to various places on the web that relate to me for anyone who is interested.


http://www.myspace.com/mattharrison-music/ - My MySpace (Or My_____ as it's now known) music page
http://www.myspace.com/jiminksonmusic - My uncle's page - some of my earliest recording work


http://soundcloud.com/matt-harrison - My Soundcloud. Not much there now, but I have stuff ready to post
http://soundcloud.com/matt-harrison-covers - A soundcloud I use for covers

http://soundcloud.com/jonsie7 - Not mine, it's my friend Jonsie's soundcloud, but I did write and perform the piano part on the track "The Bother of Love". Check his stuff out, he's a fantastic drummer and a good engineer.


http://popmusicinpractice-matthewharrison.blogspot.com/ - A blog I had to put together for my music diploma discussing different genres of music. It's nothing fantastic, but I've included it for the sake of completeion

http://ulpsterchurnal.blogspot.com/ - Admittedly this won't make much sense to someone outside my family, and it's been dead for a while, but it's a blog we kept going with spoof news and articles. It was fun while it lasted.


http://www.youtube.com/matthehat - Go watch my old videos if you have a spare 10 minutes


http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/mattybigback/ - Just a cross section of what I look at on the web. Feel free to subscribe, or just have a look through my stumbles.
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Friday, 25 March 2011

I hate music technology! – Part 1 – Compression

Okay, that’s not strictly true, but there are elements of it that drive me up the wall. Music tech has made music what it is today; vibrant, varied, high quality and accessible, and for that I am grateful. However, it has lead to several practices within music – especially mainstream pop that make me want to seal up my ears with concrete.

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first; compression. For those who aren’t familiar with compression, it is a process that alters the dynamics, or loudness, of a recording by reducing the volume when the level goes above a certain point, turning a recording with lots of volume changes into one that is a lot smoother.

Sounds useful, right? Well it can be, and indeed in many cases it is essential. It is often required to even out the levels of vocal recordings, and when used correctly on a bass guitar you get that fantastic thunky bass sound. Even compression and limiting at mastering can be useful – but in moderation!

Looking at the amplitude envelope (a visual representation of the amplitude of a waveform over time) of a couple of songs that I happen to have a couple of versions of it is easy to spot the increase in volume. The first song (How Soon is Now by The Smiths) is noticeably louder in the second instance, and if you look at the right channel in the second instance (lower waveform) you can see that most of the dynamic range has been squeezed out of the track. It is also worth noting that the envelope of the remastered recording is like a big block, all of the peaks have been trimmed down to maximise the overall volume without causing distortion.

The Smiths - How Soon is Now (Amplitude Envelope Comparison)
The second song (Tom Sawyer by Rush) doesn’t suffer this loss of dynamics because it was fairly constant to begin with, but notice again that the peaks are being cut in order to squeeze the track under the 0dB threshold.*

Rush - Tom Sawyer (Amplitude Envelope Comparison)

So what’s the problem? Louder is better, right?

By compressing the music this much you no longer get the contrast between loud and quiet, a musical device that composers have used for centuries in order to give life to a piece. By removing those dynamics the loud sections lose their power, because they’re not much louder than the quiet sections. Granted, in electronica and hiphop overcompression is a big part of the sound, but this culture of remastering albums and sucking the dynamic range out of them just to boost the volume seems a tad unnecessary to me. Also, after listening to heavily compressed music for a while your ears begin to get tired. This will happen anyway, but it sets in a lot faster with heavily compressed music.

Compression is an important tool for producers, but it’s a tool that has been abused. I don’t hate compression, but the way that older recordings are being remastered and given the brick wall treatment makes me think twice about buying a remastered recording. Compression may solve many problems encountered in the studio, but the way that recordings are being squashed and squeezed has sucked the soul out of some of my favourite recordings, and that makes me hate it.

Today (25th March 2011) is the second annual Dynamic Range Day, set up to highlight the effects of the loudness war, and to try to educate musicians and engineers about the dangers of overcompression. Their message is simple - music with dynamic range sounds better. The website has plenty of information about the loudness war so it's well worth checking out.

Next time I’ll be looking at what I call preset culture, and how the sound of pop music has been affected by the advances in synthesizer technology.

*In digital recording the highest level you can record before encountering clipping is 0dB. The minimum depends on the bit depth of the recording, but for CDs the standard is approximately -96 dB, and on commercial recording systems using a sample size of 24 bit the range is roughly -144 dB. The higher the bit depth the greater the dynamic range.

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Monday, 21 March 2011

Tidiness...or lack of it

Some people are tidy. Some people are not.

Three guesses which category I fall into.

It’s not that I don’t try to be tidy – just last week I cleared my bedroom floor, threw away all of the rubbish on my desk and shelves and cleared my laundry backlog. I can do it, but I just get lost in everything else.

Anyone who knows me well enough to have seen the inside of my bedroom will probably agree that it’s a messy place. I keep it clean, but my floor is usually very cluttered. I remember one day being out with a friend and deciding to go back to mine for a cup of tea. The mess was just too much for her, and after 10 minutes or so she began tidying up.

Tomorrow I’m going away for a couple of days, and I’m not packed. My dirty washing is just that – dirty. I’m working in the morning, so I’m going to have to make a whistle-stop trip to the laundry between finishing work and setting off, pack, repack (I always forget something) and go to the train station. I suppose I should clear my desk too, and put away the music gear I’ve been using.

I find myself in these situations more and more these days, and I always think the same thing – “why couldn’t you have done this when you were [insert procrastination activity]??” Problem is, as soon as I begin thinking about all of that stuff my brain goes into safe mode, and I drift off into a daydream. Before I know what’s happened I’m sitting on the computer stumbling or buggering around in Reason and I’ve lost an hour.

I suppose I’ve grown up in the sense that I’m no longer leaving assignments until the last minute – something I did a lot at New College when I was doing my BTEC. My assignments are finished with enough time for proof reading and printing, so I suppose I’ve won that battle at least.

Now…where did I put my keys…

Mr Messy and the Mr Men are copyright © Mister Men Limited (a Chorion company)
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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

My Piano

I'm a synth player; I love the sound of a well-programmed synthesizer patch. I love getting down to low level editing and creating new and interesting sounds, adding effects, making sounds that you couldn't possibly produce organically. Having said all that, I'm in love with the piano; the sound, the feel, the sheer size of the thing. The piano is not an instrument for those who want convenience; it’s heavy and hard to tune, but it’s such a satisfying instrument to play.

Unfortunately, because I move a lot it’s not practical for me to have an acoustic piano – even an upright would be too much hassle, but I do have a digital piano, and even though it’s getting on (coming up to 9 years old) it’s still a very solid, reliable, and above all realistic sounding piece of kit.

I’ve always liked Roland digital pianos, to me they’ve got the best grand piano sound on the market and the best hammer action weighted keys (Yamaha and Casio being too soft and clicky, Kurzweil being too heavy and rigid). I’ve used a few of the RD line, and I own an F-100, and they have all sounded great.

A formidable pair - my Roland F-100 with my Juno-G. Taken a few years ago in my flat in Durham

It’s hard to be sentimental about a piece of technology – I could get a new laptop tomorrow and as long as I had my files I wouldn’t care if I never saw this one again. That’s not to say it’s a bad laptop, because it’s a damn good one, but I don’t feel anything for it emotionally. My digital piano on the other hand, that’s a different story. It’s prepared me for some major events in my life; my music GCSE performance, my audition for New College Durham, the NCD shows. I’ve learned to play some of my favourite pieces of music on it. I’ve composed music on it; some of which I am incredibly attached to. These days it spends most of its time hooked into Reason and Pro Tools via MIDI, so I don’t use the internal sounds as much anymore, certainly not for recording, but I still play it every day, and most of my new musical ideas begin with me sitting playing my piano.

Me playing Please Don't Ask by Genesis on the F-100 (using Reason's Piano refill as a sound source)

To someone else it’s a few bits of wood, metal and plastic. Indeed in its current form it’s not even especially attractive (I took the wooden sides and pedal bar off in order to make it more portable), but to me it’s been a source of great joy and inspiration.
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Friday, 28 January 2011

My life in Middlesbrough

I'm going to be doing something a little different from time to time on here, I'm going to be talking about my life at uni, what we're covering, what I think about it, and generally just including a bit more about myself in these posts. Apart from anything else, it gives me something to post when I'm unable to do tutorials and demos and stuff.

I may have mentioned I'm currently studying at Teesside University towards my B.Sc in Music Technology. The course is based at Middlesbrough College, so it's not exactly campus life, but we have a good little community there of musicians, DJs, sound engineers and general boffins who all bring something different to the course.

We use Pro Tools HD on mac pro systems in the studios, and we have two PC music labs and a mac music lab, each running Pro Tools LE 8. We usually have 3-6 hours of Pro Tools a week, with the option to use the labs when there aren't classes being taught. I used to be a Cubase user, but I bought myself a copy of PT9 just before Christmas and I've made the switch – simply because it's a stable, easy to use system that I can do pretty much anything I want to on (and plus I've had enough practice with it now to get good results).

Middlesbrough isn't such a bad place to live, but it feels a little isolated from the rest of the North East. It's about 90 minutes from Newcastle and an hour from Durham, so it takes a while to get anywhere. It's a very post-industrial sort of town, lots of wasteland and joblessness, but it has some nicer parts, like the park near where I live. The Uni brings money to the town, and there has been some investment to try to build the place up to be more than just another Northern town that had its heart ripped out by the loss of its industries. I don't see much of the town at the moment – mainly because I'm swamped with work – but when I first got here I did some exploring, and I found a few places to eat and hang out.

Down by the riverside, next to my college
It's only January, but I already feel like this winter has gone on long enough. We had deep snow as early as November, and since then it's been dropping down below freezing most nights. I've been going back to Durham as often as I can, because when you're stuck in a student hall on your own it can get pretty bleak. I live with very messy people, four of which are Chinese and don't speak much English, so I try to spend as much time as I can away from here, either with friends or back home with my grandparents in Durham. The one saving grace about this house is that I can fit in my piano, which I'll come to in another blog.

Parts of this blog might seem a little melancholy, but I'm happy at uni and I'm happy with the work I do outside uni, I want that made clear. Sure, it's been hard being away from my family, and breaking my foot in November certainly didn't help things, but on the whole I'm positive about living and studying here. Besides, spring will soon be here…god I hope it's not late.


Happy new year everyone, I hope you have a great 2011. Stay safe and keep listening to music.


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