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Thursday, 30 August 2012

Albion II - Loegria Videos from Spitfire Audio

In the spirit of excitement waiting for the release of Albion Loegria (that's tomorrow!), here are a few videos posted on Spitfire Audio's YouTube channel. There are many videos on other Spitfire Audio products there, so do check them out too.

Albion Loegria - Strings Walkthrough

Albion Loegria - Woodwinds, Brass & Strings Multis Walkthrough

Albion Loegria - Non-Orchestral Walkthrough

Albion Loegria - Byron Beats (Behind the Scenes)

Albion Loegria - Byron Beats (The Making of)

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Spitfire Audio Releases Albion Volume II - LOEGRIA

All information below is available on the Spitfire Loegria product page. Please check it out for the most updated and accurate information.

I have to say this before anything else, so you don't miss the offer: 
Loegria's RRP is £329, but for 2 weeks from the release date of 30 Aug 2012, there is an introductory price of £249, and a 25% discount voucher for any of Spitfire's other products. 
(That's tomorrow, btw!)

It is with great excitement and anticipation that I read the news regarding the release of Spitfire's newest product, Albion Volume II - Loegria.

Due to be released tomorrow, Loegria aims to create intimate, cinematic and beautiful sounding scores. As with Albion Volume I, Loegria includes the complete sections of woodwinds, strings, brass and percussions to complete the various sections of an orchestra, played by the finest players in the UK, and recorded on warm and organic sounding 2" tape through a signal chain involving the highest quality equipment including valve and ribbon microphones.

A four-way mic control is made available to every instrument patch for great versatility. Short patches are recorded with 4x round-robin for great organic sounding performances.

The strings section is chamber-sized resulting in a very intimate and expressive sound. Included in the strings sections is also a number of techniques that extend the versatility of Albion Volume I's offerings. Recorded for a more choral interpretation of the instruments,

The brass section consists of 2 ensembles, the Euphonia and Horns, and the Sackbut choir, all produced to bring out the beautiful choral quality particular to the instruments being recorded.

The wind section consists of wooden recorders. The finest players who played for the recording brought out the simplistic yet beautiful qualities of these traditional instruments.

On top of these regular sections of the orchestra, there are unconventional additions to the collection, like the Byron Beats, Darwin Percussion, Stephenson's Steam Band and the Fenton Reversals.

Byron Beats is a collection of rhythm loops and inspired by a hugely popular vintage keyboard in the 60s & 70s. Designed to sync with the host DAW's tempo, these loops will feature a full-bandwidth analogue recording version, and another that goes through a signal path that includes a line mixer owned by Jimi Hendrix himself.

Darwin Percussion is another group of huge sounding cinematic drums to add to Albion Vol I's already impressive collection. Spitfire have gone deeper this time with 5x round robin recording, 5 dynamic layers, and more hits to truly get an organic feel in the performance. Patches come in 'tight' and 'loose' versions, the former to give a very impactful and huge sound, and the latter to give the sound a feel for the manpower behind the performance.

Fenton Reverses are meant to help musicians get out of tight corners when visual edits or visual rhythm forces the composer to change cue in mid-bar, or even mid-beat. These are cool sounds that are derived from the Albion range that do the job to break up the music so the next cue can begin without a jerking the listener out of the movie.

Stephenson's Steam Band is a collection of aesthetically 'mutilated' and 'mutated' sounds taken from within the Loegria's recordings. Many of them sounding beyond recognition from the original elements, the result is an inspiring collection of drones, pads and atmospheric tools that will blend seamlessly with the rest of Loegria's patches which come from the same organic source. These evolving sounds and pads, even though they are 'pre-programmed' to evolve and change over time, have a huge expressive potential. They are programmed so that there is a 2-way mic control and a modulation control. Between the two controllers you will be able to get surprising expression out of these patches.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Bought My Westone 1 In-Ear Monitors

Got them from Stereo Electronics at Ion Orchard

Front of box

Peeping in at the left phone

Read face of box

Side of box

Box opened up

Left page of box interior

Contents of box

Semi-hard case

Ear buds supplied

Ear buds and cleaning brush

Altogether again
Westone 1s are great earphones! I was actually going for the UM1, but it went out of stock at the Headphone Gallery at Funan Digital Mall. They were selling for a good price (with a discount).

A few days after I went there, I was at the Stereo Electronics at Ion Orchard looking for the UM1 again. The sales guy gave me some good recommendations on similar products in the same performance/price range. Some of them were from Etymotic, Westones UM1 and Westone 1.

I found Etymotic to be a bit too soft and (I never thought I would say this) ... flat and smooth. This is the exact feature I was looking for .. flat frequency response. However, I found Etymotic phones to be just that, in an unpleasant way. Areas of high frequency that were supposed to be crisp were somewhat muted in intensity, and overall I had to turn up the volume higher than my normal levels (I am not a loudness fan), just to hear my test tracks properly.

I took a listen to UM1, which sounded more lively but I could hear a roll off on the highs and some muffled lows.

In the end I decided to go with the Westone1. Somehow the stereo image is better an does give nice response across the frequency, for me.

The way the phones are shaped to the ear is quite comfortable, with the connecting cables looping behind the user's ear. This minimises microphonics. I came across this term when doing my research on in-ear-monitors in general. I'll write more about this below.
Image taken from a review on the Westone1: http://www.headfoneshop.com/blog/2011/07/28/westone-1-review/

The cables are formed by smaller cables coiling around each other in a braid. This keeps the cable straight and minimises the chance of the tangling, especially useful for musicians planning to use them for gigs and on-stage performances.

The thing I find a bit of an inconvenience in the first few days of usage is the fact that there were no easily legible markings on the body of the earphones as to which is the left or right piece. This was partially caused by the fact that I took a while to familiarise with the unique way the cables have to coil around the ear lobes. However, true to what the sales staff told me, "you'll get used to it after the first week". Now I just instinctively know which piece goes left and which one to the right.

I think I have rather large ear canals, I find that I cannot easily get a proper seal with the default ones that were already attached to the phones when I opened the box. As seen in the photos above, Westone has supplied quite a few kinds of ear-tips, so I will be going through them to find the suitable size and shape for me. I'll write a bit more about seal below.

Overall I am quite happy with this pair of in-ear-monitors. It is my first set that has a balanced armature. Now I am hearing lots of detail in my mp3 recordings. I am spotting new things in recordings I thought I was quite familiar with. Most importantly, I am using the Westone1 to listen to my own compositions so I can evaluate my own mix that's done through my speakers, to find out how they sound on a very accurate pair of in-ear-monitors.

If you are new to in-ear monitors or in-ear headphones or in-ear canalphones Here is an excellent resource and quite a complete guide to the factors that will make it work for you, and those that won't: http://www.head-fi.org/a/basic-guide-to-in-ear-canalphones
The topics covered in here also include the ones I will write about below: microphonics and seal.

Microphonics is the interfering (undesirable) vibrations (turned into audible sounds in the earphones), caused by the moving/rustling of cable contacting with our skin, clothings, or other items in the path of the cables. This is especially likely for people listening to music while exercising (eg, jogging). Here is a pretty good article to read up on microphonics affecting the clarity of our earphones - http://ear-buds.org/microphonics-and-how-it-affects-your-earbuds/

The seal is another term I learnt when reading up about in-ear monitors. Seal is something provided by the earbuds. It is how completely the earbuds fit the shape of your ear and isolates surrounding noise when you use your earphones. This is very important to users of in-ear monitors. The sound-isolation factor and the perceived power and clarity of the phones is totally dependent on the seal. If there is no seal (earbuds not successfully forming an enclosed space inside the ear), then there is sound leakage. This will affect the overall sound in general, but mostly the noise isolation and the power of the bass will suffer. That is why there are many 3rd party providers of earbuds. Having different shapes and sizes to suit a huge variety of ears, some are made from memory foam, some are sponge, some are silicone and others, rubber.

Because our ears come in very different shapes and sizes, no two buds will give the same results on different individuals. Similarly, to get a good seal, there is no 'best position' for the bud to rest in the ear canal. We must use it for a while (people say a week of use) to let it find its unique rest position the ears for best seal.

Sensaphonics provide users with test tones at equal levels so the user can decide if both sides of earbuds are providing similar levels of seal. This is a pretty neat test! http://www.sensaphonics.com/?page_id=833

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Chasing The Dusk_20120526idea03 v007

Listen to this on SoundCloud.com

About this song:

Finished: 29 May 2012

An original track I composed for a game that was put on hold. Software used to create the piece, Cakewalk Sonar, Native Instruments Kontakt Factory Library, Sessions Strings Pro.

The reason why this track ends the abrupt way it does, is so that it can be infinitely and seamlessly looped for as long as needed.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Mythology Of The Full-Time Musician

This is an article is entitled "The Mythology of the Full-Time Musician".

In it, the author, Normandie Wilson wrote about how it is for a musician "doing music fulltime".

Below is my understanding and summary of what I gathered from the article. If I am really getting it wrong, please correct me. In any case, please read the actual article first so you do not get a preconceived notion of what the article is about.

Doing music full-time, for huge idols or other 'small time' musicians are the same. It involves doing different thing away from the actual direct process of creating music. They could be doing publicity events, playing at pubs and restaurants, etc. Individual musicians and groups also engage in reaching out either online (which they manage their communication with their fans) or physically in the real world (by getting involved in events,  organising interaction opportunities).

Yet, many musicians not (yet) in the business romanticise about what a full-time musician does, and stop there. Maybe they imagine going on tours all year round, always having fans running after them, adoring and admiring them. If they dig deeper (like connecting themselves to actual music artists who are full-time in the industry), they will find out exactly what full-time musician folks do. There will always be portions which are unglamorous and boring.

A fan base does not come into existence by magic. Once an artist or group actually have a fan-base, it only means that the artist(s) have to work even harder to expand and maintain that relationship. The harder we work in the industry, the more chance of exposure we earn for ourselves. The summary here is hard work, and not always choosing to do only the intersting/glamorous things we want to do.

If we really want be full-time musicians, relying on our music skills to survive, we will need to do more regular stuff that pays our bills. Yet for many musicians wishing to be full-time, they turn down opportunities for regular music related income with immature reasons. Normandie listed some of these reasons as people who only want to perform their original works (and not works by other bands/groups/artists), rejecting projects/jobs that seem to be below the artist's ability level, or integrity.

Each of these opportunities is a chance to get the money coming in, finance our monthly expenses. There is always room to engage our skills at the level we want to challenge ourselves, in the form of personal projects, collaboration with like-minded colleagues, side projects. Once we get into a few gigs or projects, we may actually get to know people, make connections which may then point our music career in a more related direction.

I think Normandie has done a good job painting a realistic picture of what it is like to be a full-time musician. It sets me thinking, about my own career.

Any thoughts?

Into The Valley_20120505idea02 v007

Listen on SoundCloud.com

Originally created for a game, but project was later put on hold.

Created in Sonar.

All pitched instruments from NI Kontakt Factory Library, with an orchestral kit from NI Battery. Big percussive hits were from EastWest StormDrums2.

Completed in 25 May 2012, uploaded to SoundCloud.com on 13 Aug 2012.

I was going for something massive sounding. At that point I was not aware of limiters and multi-band compression. Very early on I ran into the ceiling on the dynamic range, mainly on the low frequencies, due to the booming drums and percussive hits.

In my desperation I turned to my good friend since Poly days, Robin Wong, who helped me troubleshoot the problem. He explained to me about the 'loudness war' in the recording business, and advised me to use a multi-band compressor.

Also, he was very quick to tell me to kill any reverb applied to my low end sounds. This can very easily muddy-up the mix on the low end.

Robin has been doing audio mixing for much longer than me, and in a much more involved capacity. I hope I did a decent job on my own.

I promised to send him my unprocessed tracks so he could do another mix for this, just to keep in practice.

Thanks for all your advise, Robin. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Half Rhymes, Eye Rhymes and Assonance

From the previous post: Ten Tips for Writing a Song, I discovered the existence of  the 'half-rhyme'.

Doing a bit of research, here's what Wikipedia says. It is the use of words ending with the same consonants, such as 'moon' and 'on', 'soul' and 'all'.

I also discovered yet another kind of rhyming called the eye rhyme. These involve using words that have similar spellings (but are pronounced differently) as if they actually rhymed. Laughter and Slaughter were used as an example.

Another related technique I discovered is assonance. This works with the repeated and strategic use of vowels to create a kind of rhythm in the phrases that gives the lyrics an attractive structure.

Top Ten Tips on Writing a Song

Very short and precise video with sound advice on songwriting!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Ale, Sword and Friends - 20120426inventoryScreen idea003 v005

Listen on SoundCloud.com

An original piece created for a mobile game, to be used for the inventory screen. Later the game direction needed reviewing, so this piece was left behind.

I extended the arrangement before and after the original portion to make it sound more complete as a standalone track.

Created in Sonar, solely with Native Instruments Kontakt Factory Library & NI West Africa. 

start date: 2012-04-26
original complete date: 2012-04-29
new arrangement date: 2012-08-09 (completed in one day)

The piece only consisted of 5 tracks: Harp, Nylon Guitar, Upright Bass, Violin, and Percussion. I want to create the impression that it is possible to perform this piece with a 5-person band.

The original piece was designed to loop back seamlessly upon itself, to be played on forever (as many games music aim to do). In the new arrangement, I added 8 bars of intro in front, and an outro at the back with a fade out.

This is the first piece of music I've written in 3/4 time. It was quite interesting and refreshing to deal with a new feel.

Also, it is the first time I'm using Native Instruments West Africa, along with its patterned looping mechanism (hold down a single key, and the rhythm plays in sync with the project tempo).

I figured out how to use the step sequencer for NI-West Africa's Kontakt UI, and created a few variations from a base rhythm. Assigning those different variations to different keys, I could play back the looped rhythms by holding down a single key.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

A Better Place - 20120731albionTest01 v004

Listen on SoundCloud.com

Here's an original piece created entirely with Spitfire's Albion 1, with the exception of the harp and timpani (from Kontakt's Factory Library).
Programmed in FL Studio 10.
Start date: 31 July 2012
Complete date: 5 August 2012

If you have been following my music and keeping and eye out for my writing trends, I believe my current inclination is sticking to minor keys, which gives the impression of gloomy/sinister/mystery for the most part.

This piece starts and ends in the minor key too, unfortunately, but I felt the middle part was like a rush of fresh air, for myself.

I feel I am having trouble with sustaining the music. This is currently as long a duration as I can push the song while still maintaining some kind of coherence in the structure. 

Another 'first' in this song, is my very heavy usage of the 'automation clip' feature in FL Studio. Many patches in Albion use mod-wheel (MIDI CC-channel 1) as a controller for dynamics and expression. I may be wrong, but on many of the patches it felt like note-velocity had no effect on the dynamics and sound at all. So I had to look around a little, read up the manual, to find out how to get at the MIDI CC data.

Using automation clips and laying them out in the playlist in FL Studio actually gives a very useful visual representation of the dynamics in each track. I can then arrange for everybody to go louder at a certain point and bring them softer at another part of the music. Previously I have always achieved this by using note velocity, but this way of working presents another level of intuitive control. This is definitely a good workflow to get used to.

Albion instruments are incredibly organic sounding and they really can be used right off the shelf without any tweaking, EQ or compression. I had an overall maximising process to improve the dynamic range.

Of course it is no surprise that Albion sounds all work together amongst themselves. The only 'outsiders' this time were the harp and timpani, and the latter is really soft in the mix. I will have to find out on the next piece that I decide to have a larger extent of integrating Albion with other libraries.

Hope you like it. Enjoy!