Monday, 13 January 2014

Isn't This a Lovely Day? (I. Berlin) or 'Just How Useful is the iPad?'

This is potentially a long and boring post about me playing about with an iPad Mini in attempt to discover if it could replace a desk/lap top computer as my toy box of choice.

The long suffering AppleBook, I bought secondhand from Cash Converters more years ago than I can remember, is on it's last legs. It's screen has developed 'sun-spots' in awkward places, it's processing speed has slowed to a snails pace, and it lives in the back-room linked into several periferal devices associated with audio production, where it's to bloody cold to work.

Linda gave me the iPad Mini as a birthday gift last year. At first I was at a loss as to what to do with it, an iPod Touch being my favoured mobile device. Over the last year I've gradually found ways of using the iPad for what ever it is I do, errr, let's see...

Photography: My preferred camera app is the Hipstarmatic 'retro' camera. It worked well-ish on my iPod though the picture quality suffered due to the iPod's lowly lens. I have various other gimmicky camera apps, but I don't think of myself as a photographer I just point, press, and hope... For as many times as I have to till I nearly get the shot I want.

Film/Movie Making: Another 'retro' app, 8mm, is my camera app of choice for filming, though films made using the very good generic camera/movie app can be imported into 8mm to apply it's effects. 8mm also has a dedicated iPad version that offers more features than the iPod version that I'm still investigating. I only ever 'dabble' here as I really have no idea how films are captured and put together, I just know what I want to do and luckily for me the iMovie app does it. As time passes, and I gain more experience in editing, my needs will change, but for now iMovie still has plenty more to offer me. I'm still looking for a good animation programme though.

Music: GarageBand, GarageBand, GarageBand. In terms of audio recording software it's basic, and that's exactly what I like about it. Today's audio recording software packages, with all their sophisticated editing options, render the polishing of turds almost child's play. The problem here being that these processes, regardless of genre, dictate the outcome and everything ends up sounding a bit 'samey' in production terms. Well, to my ears they do.
Back in the day I loved my Tascam Portstudio-144 and stretched it's abilities as far as I could before the quality offered by the 4 Track cassette format became an issue. There simply wasn't enough tape surface available to get a decent signal down that would create a half decent master. The simplicity of GarageBand sort of reminded me of the PortaStudio. Nowadays of course GarageBand has many of the options offered by more expensive programmes, but in essence offers good quality recording in an easy to use package.

So, now watch this video and then I'll break the process down:

Most of my current musical noodling is centered around the Flying Aspidistras set. To understand the, in some cases, complex chord patterns and arrangements I need to play about with them or, as they used to say, 'jam' them out to arrive at a version that's playable 'live'....
(I have a real bee-in-my-bonnet about being able to perform any song I take on without the external aid of a song sheet. If I'm staring at a music stand I find it difficult to 'communicate' with any audience that may, or may not, turn up to be entertained and if I take my eyes off the sheet there's a very real danger of me losing my place. It's bad enough 'fluffing' a song your playing, but if you 'fluff' when it's written down in front of you it's unforgivable IMHO)
...I completely understand why some performers might want the security of a crib sheet, it's not what I do. It's something about having respect for the song and, to a lesser degree, the audience I think, though it could be me just 'showing off'.

Irving Belin's 'Isn't This A Lovely Day' was suggested for inclusion in the set by the other Asdidistra, Harriet B.
Now, (here's a startling confession) in 1978, on the crest of Punk's 'year zero', when I was 'destroying' everything on the road to nowhere just as hard as the rest, I heard Peter Skellen's album 'Astaire'.  
(I actually preferred it to much of the ersatz agit-prop being hammered out by the punk fraternity)
The album included a version of 'Lovely Day' so the piece was not unfamiliar to me.

It's a pig to play.
I started on it seriously around the end last September. My first mission, to get it into my head. It's there now and, though I still make the odd 'fluff' whilst playing it, I've got it to the stage where most people wouldn't notice. So now I feel able attempt a recording of it.

GarageBand open, metronome ticking at 120 BPM, and the SmartPiano instrument primed with most of the chords, I tapped out the basic backing track. I planned to give the piece a sing-a-long-round-the-piano-in-the-pub feel so the track is quite heavily on the beat and sounds somewhat hamfisted. I had to go into the resulting recording to shift some notes in various passing chords around till it sounded right. At this point I only considered it to be a guide-track for the other instruments I intended adding. I also added a SmartDrum track so I could loose the metronome. I don't like metronomes.

The first live part recorded was my Risa electric uke fed into the iPad via an iRig audio interface. The signal level was very weak. I thought the iRig might make things easier, but the output of the uke isn't enough to drive it properly.. The track offers various guitar amp models, I chose a 'clean' sound using a Vox AC30, or 'Brit Amp' setting.

Second live recording comes from my resonator uke via a dynamic mic fed through an iRig-pre. This was a much better recording level wise and worked well against the other tracks. The mic track is set up for vocals rather than instruments and offers little in the way of appropriate adjustment so the initial sound has to be as close as I can get to what I want rather than fixing it in the mix.

Third live track was the vocal captured with the iPad's internal mic and it shows. I've added a 'telephone' style setting to it, basically fiddling around with the High-Mids and a compressor. Future recordings will go in through a mic/DI Box/iRig-Pre setup same as the resonator uke.

All the (very) basic tracks down I did a bit level adjustment, added a bit of reverb and then left them alone. Getting the finished track exported out of the iPad presents some problems, but I settled for exporting into iMovie with the plan of adding a video. I've uploaded a mix to SoundClound and Google+, but I wanted a YouTube version as well.

The introduction of the movie is made up of Hipstarmatic pictures with a Ken Burns effect.
 The 'virtual' version of myself was created in an app called Morpho.

 To get my head to appear to be singing I had to export the vocal track to my old laptop, set a mic up in front of the studio speakers and then hit record whilst the vocal track is playing in iTunes.

I've still away to go to get a truly 'uncanny valley' version of me appearing to sing, but practice makes perfect.

I took the resulting short videos and pasted them over the full-mix vetsion of the song.
Lining everything up took some time I can tell you.
Once the video was complete I fed it through the 8mm app then sent it upthe tube.

I've got go to sleep now.... ZZZZZZ...

To be continued....


Banished To A Pompous Land said...

I recall being very fond of your Tascam Portastudio-144 too. Lots of fun was had though most of it, with the exception of the Nodrog pop sessions, was rather less tuneful than this.

All together now (and cue the "wounded rhino" bass)

'I'm only halfway to paradise
So near, yet so far away'

Banished To A Pompous Land said...

Never seen in the same room at the same time.

OSM and ...

I was looking up something in connection to Halfway to Paradise and found the above. Its uncanny!