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On Thursday, August 21, 2003, at 2:45pm, my wife of 34 years, Rebecca, died in my arms in an emergency room.

The last words we spoke were in perfect synchronization: "I love you with all my heart."

 

 

Homemade Music

 

Somewhere along the line, around 1995, I discovered you could record sound into your computer.  At first, I bought an inexpensive Roland synthesizer, and it came with some kind of software and a cable that let you plug it into your sound card and record.  I just wanted the synthesizer, you know?  I wasn't expecting anything else.  I didn't know.  The wire and that little diskette looked innocent enough ...... 

Well, they never should have sent me that disk with the synthesizer.  Never.  Never, ever

I discovered MIDI, and some of the mystical things you can do with it.  I also discovered that the more money you spend, the more you need to spend.  So I went a little crazy and started spending.  I believe this problem is universal: once you start, where do you stop?  The more you look, the more things you find to buy.  Then, 3 weeks later, you're shopping for another rack to fill up with all these new toys that just came out.  Never once did I slow down and consider the fact that I really didn't need 38 condenser microphones to record keyboard tracks by myself. 

Naturally, I discovered that a fast computer wasn't an option - it was a necessity.  Faster, faster.  New computers, ultra wide SCSI drives, fill up the memory slots.  Still not fast enough, they just came out with a new Pentium chip, but this motherboard doesn't support it. 

Who needs GIGA-hertz?  We need ATOMIC-hertz!  Faster, faster, faster!  Overclock?  YES - overclock!  But wait!  A true digital audio recording computer should only be used for recording .... now buy a dedicated recording computer - this one stands on a pedestal, no email, no internet, no nothin' - just fast.  Lots of cables, too.  Record music.  What about those other 4 computers?  We don't need them anymore - too slow.  Get rid of them, sell them.  Oh dear God - we lost HOW much on the old computers?  What's the balance on the other credit card, the secret, emergency one?  Make more room for more toys.       

I got Cakewalk - at that time, it seemed the best recording software system available.  I spent money upgrading every time they came out with a new version.  When sanity finally arrived, I stopped upgrading.  I probably spent enough on Cakewalk upgrades to buy a few used BMWs.  Since Cakewalk should have a bunch of other support equipment, I discovered I couldn't possibly live without:

 Mackie 8 Buss - 32 x 8 mixer with meter bridge and stand

 Mackie Sidecar - equipment rack to match the mixer

 Mackie HR824 powered monitors

 Yamaha DS10 Electronic Drumset - snare, hat, 4 toms, cymbals, kick and hat pedal with stage rack

 Alesis DM5 - rack mount electronic drum module

 Alesis SR16 - electronic drum machine

 Roland XP-10 - 61 key synthesizer

 Kurzweil pc88mx - 88 key synthesizer

 Roland JV1080 - rack mount synthesizer with option cards

 MusicQuest 8 Port/SE - rack mount 8 channel MIDI input/output module

 (2) Wave 8/24 - rack mount 24 bit recording interface - 8 analog audio inputs and outputs per

 Behringer AutoCom MDX 1200 - rack mount 2 channel dynamics processor

 DigiTech Studio Twin - rack mount 2 in 2 out multi effects processor

 Whirlwind 50' custom made snake - with MIDI, mic, audio, and headphone lines

If this list seems like it's complete, don't fool yourself.  The Mackie mixer has so many inputs and outputs, I knew I needed a few patchbays in the rack to control what was going where.  With the patchbays, I wouldn't have to move the mixer to plug and unplug anything.  Wiring it took a week, $1,500.00 worth of XLR and balanced phono plugs, and about 1000' of cabling.  Keep spending, don't stop now!

At first, I bought a set of Roland VDrums.  Then I changed over to the Yamaha set.  I also used two 32x8 Mackies for awhile, but that was really getting ridiculous.    

Cables all over the floor conclusively proved the need for a custom made snake.  On the "synthesizer wall" is a stage box, mounted on the wall, and a 4" hole through the wall which is a PVC flange fitting, attached to the inside wall.  PVC pipe runs outside, and around the building to the "mixer wall", where another 4" hole through the wall ends in a second PVC flange.  That's where the snake runs.     

I happen to be very Un-Shure, so I spent lots more money on AKG and Rode condenser microphones to augment my collection of Sennheisers and EVs.

click picture for fullsize view

It all started very innocently ....

then things got a little crazy

I cut the "homemade instrumental tracks" entirely with the computer.  Using the equipment above, (plus a small mountain of equipment unmentioned) I played drums, bass, horns, keyboards, and several kinds of percussion parts.  Using audio input (microphones) - I played Hammond B3, Hohner clavinet, tambourine, handclaps, and various other percussion parts.  Most of the tracks are primarily MIDI, but they all contain audio.  Many tracks were transferred from MIDI to audio so they could be "tweaked".   

No "looping" was done at all - I played parts straight through - and made mistakes by the thousands.  Very little quantizing was used - if I went off time, I'd just re-record that track and pay more attention.  I found it's really hard to play with an electronic drummer, and don't like it at all.  Can you tell I grew up on analog recording?  I did edit a lot - that was mainly erasing parts from certain sections of songs.  I was great at erasing!  I also used cut and paste to experiment - mostly with drums - by moving entire parts to different synthesizer voices: for example an existing snare drum part to a completely different sounding snare drum on a different synthesizer.  I didn't actually count them, but I think I had about 2,500 drum sets inside all those synthesizers. 

I also used headphones as infrequently as possible - instead, I'd put the mics and Leslie and amps out in the "isolation room" (that means the workshop or the bathroom), and chase around the rattles that I didn't know would happen.  Who cares about a little leakage?

Typically, I'd record the drum machine to start - as a kind of "click track", and record a basic keyboard part, usually piano or a simple bass line - these would be replaced later.  Then I'd do either bass or start the drum parts, and delete the drum machine track, either partially or entirely.  Not being a real drummer, I did the drum parts in separate pieces: kick, then snare, hat by itself, fills, cymbals, and bell later on.  From there on, once I had a foundation to work from, it was just a series of trying different parts, and if I liked them - they stayed.  As you can hear, very little echo, little or no compression, and no effects are used. 

I did notice that these tracks sounded quite a bit better - much more realistic - playing back from Cakewalk than they do after converting to mp3 format.  That compression will kill ya.

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