new album by (d) – progression

Progression is an eight-track “album” (eight tracks is considered an “album” now, isn’t it?) by (d), released on October 29, 2014.  It’s available on Bandcamp, as usual, and costs whatever you think its true value is.

Here’s the link:

It’s dark, dirty, organic, but “not too hard to digest,” as an Elektronauts user stated.  That’s important because one of the reasons I make music is to (hopefully) connect with others.

My influences for this album are not obscure.  Anyone who was into electronic music in the ’90s will surely enjoy the melodies, atmospheres, and sound-design of Progression.
Continue reading if you’re interested in the process and other details. 

As I mentioned, Progression has some recognizable elements from electronic music of the early-90′s, which is where “modern” electronic music really started, of course.  There’s some WARP influence in there, as always, and a bit of nostalgic “fuzziness” (“warmth”) that any Boards of Canada fan would appreciate.  If you like these sorts of sounds, I’m sure you could get into some of the tracks on Progression.

Another non-electronic influence has always been The Cure.  Their mood, passion, and production techniques are so ingrained in me.  I loved how, in the early days (Pornography, Faith, and later, Disintegration), everything had effects on it.  Everything.  The snares, vocals, synths, and of course, the guitars.  Much of my music is awash in reverb or delay, but I’ve recently been very fond of putting a tight delay (flange, really) on most of the drums.  You can hear that technique in the first track.  Let’s get to the details…

01 progression

My favorite and most recently recorded track (maybe that’s why I like it so much; it hasn’t worn on me).  I alluded to the techniques in the introduction.  The flanged noise and noisy snare are essential to the track.  The main backbeat was made on my Eurorack modular system (see below for details).  The pad-synth line was played live, right on the Analog4.  The sound was meant for another track, but it worked so well on this one.

The beat: Tiptop 808 BD, white noise into Wiard Borg filter.  BD triggered from 4ms RCD’s “/4″ output, Borg filter shaped by PEG envelope (triggered by the other side of PEG; messed around with multiplier a bit.)  The rumbling is from the Pittsburgh Synth Block filter self-oscillating and the cutoff being controlled by the Wiard Oscillator (I think!)  The second half of the track is similar, but I had an LFO control the rotation of the RCD and had it retrigger on the 7s, I think.  Anyway, the whole, main backbeat (first and second parts) were only a couple minutes edited from like a 24 minute piece.  The second part is actually just a few seconds long, looped, with no regard to BPM.

The whole modular setup was effected by the Monomachine’s Dynamix Compressor, if you can believe it!  People like to slag this instrument off, saying that it’s too cold or harsh or whatever.  I can tell you that one can get some very natural and analog-sounding color and response from the compressor.  Another input channel went to the Mono’s reverb; I think that was the Pittsburgh Synth.

As for other efx, they were all the built-in Reaper ones, along with a little of the classic, classic Buffer Override.  Overall, I love the sound of this track, especially the noisiness and aggressiveness of it all.  I intend to release more material like this.

02 star-field A4

Unsurprisingly, the featured piece of equipment on this one is the Elektron Analog4.  All of it.  Drums, FX, everything.  (What a machine.  The tools “don’t make the man,” but this one surely assists me in whatever creative task I can dream up. )

This one was recorded as one stereo track and I only added another track at the very end (that “droning” sound.)

The drums are fairly basic, synthesis-wise, staring with a pitched triangle-wave osc, some white noise, and a modulated filter envelope.  The dual-filters and unique overdrive give the bass drum a strange character.

Bass is again, pretty basic (nothing but a saw-wave osc and noise), but the overdrive really accentuates the right tones.

The lead is something unexpected.  One osc is tuned way up, while the other is synced to it and the sub-osc is enabled.  The result is a “chirpiness” that I remember from my old Juno-60, where the resonance is cranked to the max and the cutoff is tuned right to the edge of human hearing.  It’s a sort of aliasing sound.  Anyway, I didn’t know the A4 could make sounds like this.

The FX are the A4′s own reverb and a little chorus, for space.  That eerie, ethereal quality was produced by adding slight modulation to the reverb’s pre-delay.  With the A4, anything can be modulated or p-locked which is what I did here.

03 as if it were the first time

A simple melody.  All Monomachine, SID machine in poly-mode, which I have recently rediscovered.  Some of the onboard reverb was used, but much more was applied in the computer, to give it a darker, “far-away” effect.

04 4x magnitude

The beat:  MDUW through Access TI Snow’s vast suite of FX.

The MD was the clock source for the whole thing, too; a GND-IMP machine sent trigs to the 4ms RCD and SCM modules which subsequently sent triggers/gates to various other Eurorack modules.

Main droning synth stuff: Eurorack modular.  A couple oscs going into the Makenoise ModDemix…I think I had the Waird NoiseRing at the time, so it’s contributing something to the tone, too.   One of the outputs was used for that noisy percussive sound.

There might have been some Dark Energy in there.  Yeah, in fact, I think it was one of the sound sources going into the ModDemix (it has 4 inputs, not counting the Aux).

Sub synth stuff:  TI Snow.  I had a heck of a time trying to rein it in.  The sound was so animated and sub frequencies really messed with the main drum loop.  In the end, I flipped the phase of the bass track to make it fit with the rest.  That works sometimes, but the mix is still not perfect.

I still dig the track, but it sounds best on headphones.  I may even do a ninja-edit and re-upload this track to Bandcamp (shhh…I just did!)

05 it transforms you

Somewhat atonal and a little eerie, but I like how it sounds.  I can’t remember how I made this track or at least what the main instrument was.  Perhaps, it was the TI Snow because there’s polyphony in there.

The main loop was slowed down by half and effected by a multitude of plugins, mostly Reaper’s built-in ones.  (There’s something about the reverb that I really like.  It’s very dark and plate-y; the high and low-pass filters really allow a lot of control.)

06 scarred

The whole thing is Elektron Monomachine SFX-6, with some efx added to certain tracks, later.  Essentially, this one is all poly-mode SWAV-ENS machines including one main drum track.  I worked really hard to get the “digitalness” of the Monomachine out, using some of its own distortion and sample-rate-reduction channel-effects…oh, and a bunch of delay.

One technique I used to introduce some melodic movement  was to set a square-wave LFO to modulate one of the pitches of the ENS periodically.  Instead of p-locking a value every X steps, this technique allowed me to have more variety over the 64-step pattern.  This was done on two layers of poly-mode SWAV-ENS.

The other track was the drums, the Monomachine’s own.  Some say the drum sound-set on the Mono is limited–and they’re right–there’s only like 8 (?) sounds, but they can be mangled into something that barely resembles the original sounds.  There was some distortion, but the main effect was putting a pitch envelope on the track, taking making the sounds even dirtier than stock settings will allow.

Some say this is their favorite track, but it almost wasn’t on the album, due to mixing problems.  I didn’t take the time to record a couple of the tracks separately, so their sonic fate was tied together.  In the end, it still fits well with the rest of the tracks, but next time I’ll try to take a deep breath and record the parts separately!

07 it’s time to go

Main tool: Elektron MDUW.  One pattern, created in real-time, recorded in mono.  That’s it.  And a bunch of EFX, obviously.  Edited wayyy down.

This is what happens when you just record as you play around.  Sometimes, good material comes of it and you save the result to work on it later; other times, it goes off into the ether.

The main “bell” sound is the GND-SIN (sine wave) machine, amplitude-modulated, with some reverb and delay.  A couple pitches were placed on the pattern, but here’s the trick:  I p-locked the amplitude modulation frequency (AMF) with a tri-shaped wave, set to HLD–but only on certain trigs.  The effect is that the pattern will loop several times with different pitches on certain steps, but others will remain static.  Better yet, the same set of pitches created by the “held” LFO will be repeated because the LFO speed is always a division of the master clock.  Another way to extend an idea beyond those 32 steps (MDUW MKI–the MKII has 64 steps).

As for efx, there are tons of them on another track, acting as an effects-send.  Many parameters were automated at various points…there’s too much going on to list.  I will say that Tom Erbe’s Soundhack VST plugins are a mainstay: .

08 harmless (the original design)

You might recognize this track from a similar one on my soundcloud site (“harmless3″ —  This is a different, cleaner, less-effected version.  I just thought it was a fitting end to the album.

Originally, this was a 15 second loop produced with FL Studio’s Harmless plugin, hence the name.

The Mastering Process

A wise person once said, “He who masters his own material is no master at all.”  (I just made that up.)  What I’m saying is that it’s impossible to be completely objective with regards to one’s own music.  I know this from being a mastering engineer, first-hand.  At the very least, it should be a weight off of one’s back; one less process to do before putting the music out there.  With this in mind, I still mastered the thing, myself.

But–to mitigate the effects of self-bias, I intentionally did very little on the mastering end.  Considering that I spent so much time mixing the tracks, I just needed a little tonal balancing, stereo-image-normalization, and leveling.

The only track that gave me real problems was 06 — “scarred”.  If I enhanced the high-end, in certain places it would be too much; if I pumped up the volume, it lost all of its liveliness.  In the end, I held to one of the principles of modern mastering: don’t do too much.  So, all I ended up doing was matching the average amplitude of the other tracks.  The waveform might look slightly smaller than the others, but it’s just as “loud,” perceptibly.

With so many different sound-sources (analog modular, digital drums, VSTis, etc.), it was difficult to get the tracks to sound like they belonged together, but I think I succeeded.

Please, enjoy Progression.

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