Smoke Thief – Maggot Brain (Funkadelic Cover) on the ROLI Seaboard RISE 49

I’ve always loved the song ‘Maggot Brain’, from Funkadelic’s album of the same name. Unfortunately I got arthritis when I was 30 or so, and it made playing the guitar kind of tough. I never thought I’d be able to jam with this song as freely as I’d dreamed, but the Seaboard RISE 49 really broadened my horizons and let me give it my best.

I feel ROLI have delivered an instrument that gives articulatory control back to the player, in a way that feels more organic to me than some separate pitch/vibrato joystick. Also, with so many midi controllable articulatory settings, one has a lot of setup options dynamically that can make it easier to play for people who find traditional keyboards a little challenging from time to time. Being able to slide across notes and articulate in different ways helps me balance my style and rest certain fingers when I have to.

The Funkadelic original is truly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard, legend has it Eddie Hazel was told to play as if his mother had just died. it’s an inimitable piece of music, but as other musicians like Flea have been paying tribute of late, I hope it’s okay that I’ve also set foot on this hallowed ground. I would like to dedicate this performance to my late papa, Will, the man who believed in me and my music enough to turn the Earth in such a way it made my dreams come true.

Lastly, I would like to thank ROLI for their huge support and for endorsing me as one of their official artists. It’s an honour to be showcasing this instrument and a just few of its billions of possibilities. Thanks so much for listening. If you would like to support more music like this, please visit

http://www.patreon.com/smokethief
www.ko-fi.com/smokethief
www.paypal.me/smokethief

 

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Working with higher sample rates in Ableton 10 & Logic X

Firstly, it’s pretty simple to work at higher sample rates if you wish to check it out.

The best way is to set your DAW project and your audio interface to record at a higher sample rate at the very start.

In Ableton 10

In Ableton this is done in the Prefs menu. The highest possible setting is 96kHz, but you can actually export at rates as high as 192,000.

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 14.50.59.png

Ableton seems quite happy with exporting files at different rates than they were originally recorded.

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Due to the unique way Ableton handles audio, you can even change the sampling rate (in Prefs) midway through a session and you’re previously recorded clips will stay in time. Ableton can also handle importing any clip at any sample rate, and play it back properly, no matter what setting has been selected in Prefs.

In Logic X

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 14.52.55.pngLogic can handle audio all the way up to 192khz

Logic’s sample rate settings are found in  ‘Project Settings’ . Again, setting your project to record at a certain rate at the very start is the best practice here.

Changing the sampling rate in ‘Project Settings’ halfway through a session in Logic will skewer the tempo of all existing audio. Things will sound like Alvin & The Chipmunks if you try to switch to a higher rate. If you want to change the rate, you will have to export each stem at the higher rate and then drop it back into the session so that the samples match the project’s sample rate.

Were these musical legends created by a mismatch between a sample and project settings? lol

Logic automatically converts files you freshly import if they don’t fit the sample rate of a session. Beware of that, if your aim is to make a master at 192kHz, importing a 192kHz file into a 44kHz project will downgrade the sample rate of the imported file. If you started at a lower sample rate, but want to ultimately have a larger, 192kHz project, bounce each stem out at the higher rate, change the sample rate in Project Settings, then replace the audio.

Some key points to note

1. Most plugins seem fine with higher quality audio, but some older plugins are seemingly unable to run in higher sample rate environments. 96kHz seems pretty much within the range of all plugins.

If you do have an issue with a plugin not being able to adjust to a higher sampling rate, one workaround is to bounce the stem (with the offending plugin active) running such a plugin at a higher sample rate and then reimport it into the session, thus not needing to run the plugin live at the higher sample rate.

2. If your aim is to write to CD, they tend to be 44.1kHz.

3. Exporting a 48kHz sample (for example) to a higher sample rate like 192kHz won’t magically change anything in the audio, but it will affect any processing on that audio, so plugins may yield more data and higher frequencies in that environment.

4. Higher sample rates mean larger files and cause the CPU to work much harder, so it’s definitely worth considering how that will impact your music making.

Final thoughts 

Ignore the haters lol

Ultimately, you want to find a sound you like and one that complements the style your making. Even just with plugins running in higher sample rate environments sound more open, to my ears anyway. Delays and reverbs extend further harmonically, and that can bring a certain lusciousness and openness to your mixes in my humble opinion. A hell of a lot of hela-loved music has been made at 44.1kHz, but who knows, higher sample rates may help you uncover an aesthetic you like in your music.

Happy music making!

http://www.patreon.com/smokethief

Thoughts on the MPC2000XL, its workflow and other drum machines

Thoughts on the MPC2000XL, its workflow and other drum machines

Introduction:

The MPC 2000xl was one of the most popular tools for hip-hop production in the mid-late nineties and continues to allure beat makers due to its fairly affordable price, big sound and the no-frills workflow it encourages.

image

Pete Rock and the MPC2000XL

As far as workflow goes, by modern standards it is quite limiting. Due to this I recommend tracking out to a DAW like Logic or Ableton.

I tend to record a basic beat and sample into the MPC, then track out each pad individually into Logic via a midi/audio interface (like a Focusrite Sapphire or Motu Ultralite).

If you use the midi sync option with a low buffer setting in your DAW, the timing will be near perfect. If you hit shift/midi sync. Select midi in to read midi clock. Then you just need to change your project settings in your DAW and make sure you set them so that they are sending midi Time info to the MPC. That way when you press play on your computer, the MPC sequence will launch at the same time. You can track out from the MPC via the individual outputs or simply via the stereo main out. I use the latter. If you track each hit out separately, you will have more control over eq and dynamics when it comes to fine-tuning the beat in your DAW.

Some general notes on operation:

1. OS 1.2 is a must because it lets you import Wavs (both 16-bit and 24-bit)

2. That said it is a glitchy OS. Save before any big macro-edit as if it hits the RAM ceiling, the unit will freeze. Things like timing correct, clip stretching all risk overloading the RAM so save often

3. Dynamics (varying volume) can play an important role in giving a beat more character. There is no subtle midi compression available, which is the unit’s biggest drawback really – there’s no way to softly limit the dynamic range of the pads. I recommend recording with full dynamics. You can macro edit the recording later if you want completely flat dynamics via the main screen/edit window – at the top select ‘Velocity.’ Then on the right select ‘set to.’ Alternatively you can use the ‘16 levels button, but that will only let you perform one sound at a time. It will allow you to control dynamics very precisely though. If you don’t need dynamics for sure, record with the Full Level button on.

4. A CF card upgrade is recommended for ease of use and data transfer/backup. Floppy disks suck and become increasingly incompatible the older the MPC you’re using. At this point MPC60 floppy disks are unreadable on most modern computers.

5. Step editing is a nightmare as it only shows the event at the exact time stamp you’re looking at, the later MPC 1000 presents the whole roll, but the MPC2000xl is less adept at editing beats. Best play it right the first time or record for longer sessions and select the best moments to form your beat.

6. ‘Timing Correct (MIDI quantization) is ok but permanent. As far as I know, you cannot unquantize something. So save your unquantized take before editing.

image

MF Doom rocking an MPC3000

It’s been a long time since this hardware came out. It’s easily overloaded and will likely crash if you’re running a lot of samples and running large-scale processes. That said it still has an impactful sound and presence that I have rarely heard in sample packs or through VST audio effects.

The pads while less responsive and balanced than newer models like the digital MPC studio, can take a beating and illustrate why the instrument is still popular on the live Hip-Hop and finger drumming circuits.

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Onra playing two MPC1000s live

Personal thoughts:

Ultimately beatmaking comes down to two things for me,

1. Connecting to the rhythm

2. Making the drums sound integral to the song

In a world where most producers are working on laptops with a billion instruments, dongles, adaptors and cables connected, an in-the-box solution to beatmaking is attractive and you get the sense that the rhythm playing back has been precisely recorded as there are no cables involved.

The MPC 2000xl’s quantize doesn’t seem to quite shine like that of the mpc60, but that was Roger Linn’s seminal 1980s creation and this is by all means an instrument AKAI perhaps deliberately made to be an affordable solution.

The lack of midi compression is annoying, as it exists on other mpc’s, including the smaller MPC1000 (running JJOS).

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DJ Shadow’s old room complete with epic vinyl library & MPC60II

I find myself using the 2000XL more as a tone modeler these days. I play in a beat, and if I like the timing I’ll track it as is. But with such variant dynamics, I’ll often just quickly single hit each sample and resample those recordings into a VST sampler like Battery or Logic’s in-built one.

Pete Rock is a producer that made a lot of hits on the MPC 2000xl, with a good sense of rhythm and a dope sample, it’s a minimalist solution to basic beatmaking. I personally would rather EQ on a computer as the fx on the MPC are basic at best, but a die-hard bestmaker I’m sure could get some pleasing results in the box.

Nowadays these only sell used. One of the. Cheaper MPCs going, but defo needs that CF upgrade to be user friendly. Floppy disks get lost, get broken, have just like 1meg of memory and are very unpredictable in terms of compatibility.

Honestly, I would rather spend a little more for the slinkier MPC1000, but if the MPC2000XL is what’s in your budget, it’s a fine starter kit for beatmaking.

For more advanced producers, it’s a handy tone modeler and certainly can give drums more personality than simply loading up the same ultra clean/digitally crunched samples that everyone else uses. Running your audio through real circuitry is a great way to put a personal stamp on something soundwise. The pitchshifting and tempo options are good quality and quite artistic, just make sure you save all sounds, programs and sequences prior to using them as this system is so heroic, it will often overdo it trying to meet your requests.

If buying used, a basic model should not cost more than 300 dollars, and I certainly wouldn’t pay more than 500 dollars for a CF equipped model.

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Roger Linn and his brainchild, the Akai MPC60 (markII in this picture)

Alternatives:

The MPC3000 is better and more sought after, but is almost always 1000+ dollars. I personally find the MPC1000 with JJOS and an upgraded hard drive has the best workflow but the sound is a little crunchy and perhaps a little hard.

On this note, JJOS is a wonderful operating system that was created by a Japanese software developer. The customer service and functionality are both excellent.

The Mpc 60 and Emu SP1200 are both great machines and sound rich and classic but expensive, have memory limitations and are 12-bit, so they sound kinda retro too.

The original Roland SP404 is another option and has some great retro fx that have been much lauded.

More popular nowadays are the NI Maschine and the MPC Studio, but these do not involve external audio, instead holding their samples within the computer.

If you’re chasing credible hip-hop drum sounds, the MPC2000xl will do it. If you sample drums from vinyl records you’ll get the dirt and artifacts that often can be heard in older Hip-Hop records.

At the end of the day, I feel it’s about spending time with your beats and making a personal drum sound. Sample from records no one else does or process stock beats through amps, fx, rack units and stuff to make them more unique tonally.

The MPC2000xl will add a subtle amount of presence and crunch that will make even stock kits sound a little more integral to the track. That won’t matter to producers who don’t go deep on drums, but if you want to, an MPC can be a great way to enhance your drum sounds in an analog fashion.

Views from the pros

In the nineties a lot of record producers were using the MPCs to sculpt the sample and the beat and really just using that. It was a cheap, effective way to produce beats and was kind of charming in that you could do everything in a no-frills manner on one machine. Producers like DJ Premier, Dr Dre et al saw the benefits of using the MPC in the studio, often syncing it with Logic or other DAW.

DJ Premier used the MPC60 for decades and still rocks hits on the MPC60II. Pete Rock began using the MPC2000 and 2000XL because they had more memory than the MPC2000XL. Here’s an interesting interview about these legendary producers in these changing times.

The limitations of MPCs are obvious, but to producers, so are the strengths.  

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DJ Premier in his epic studio. Note the various samplers and outboard gear and what looks like a modified MPC.

To end with, I thought I’d link a few artists and albums that make use of MPCs.

Users:

MF Doom has used various of machines cluding the 3000, 1000 and SP404 on various recordings and has waxed lyrical about JJOS.

The late Nujabes also apparently used the MPC2000XL alongside various other samplers. It’s possible he just used the 2000XL for his drum sounds as it’s easier to finely chop on other samplers.

Onra created the whole of his ‘Chinoiseries’ using the MPC1000.

DJ Shadow made ‘Endtroducing’ using the MpC 60II.

J Dilla is infamous for his use of the 3000 and the 1000. He DID NOT use quantize. For more information, see this video, with legendary drummer Questlove saying that Dilla’s use of no quantize was incredibly liberating to him.

Anyway, I hope this has been fun or at least informative. I would like to make more content like this if anyone wants to support me.

www.patreon.com/smokethief

Heart Beat Circuit now on YouTube!

I’m happy to share that Heart Beat Circuit is now listenable (in full) on YouTube. I’m hoping that by sharing it more people will discover Brave Wave and the amazing work they do, and I’m also hoping I might garner a few new fans as it seems to be getting harder and harder to get heard online these days.

Thanks to everyone who’s bought the album so far. Streaming will also help support Brave Wave, who have been heroically supportive of me so far. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

Hear

Asami’s new album ‘A’

My co-writer for our music project Rinon has released her own album ‘A’ and it’s absolutely incredible. Asami’s new album ‘A’ features her singing in Japanese, English, Spanish and Swahili, as well as playing drums and percussion.

A legendary session musician in Japan, Asami began playing drums at the age of 3 and across an illustrious career, has played with the likes of legendary Japanese singer Yuzo Kayama, idol groups Morning Musume, AAA and Momoiro Clover Z, as well as a host of American artists, such as T.M.Stevens, Lee Sklar and Chaka Khan‘s band Rufus.

Asami’s world-reknowned drumming skills have led to her endorsing drums by Soultone Cymbals, LP Percussion and even designing her own custom drum sticks for various companies.

 

Having toured with some of the biggest names in Japanese pop music and so it’s no surprise to hear some of the most influential talents in session music appearing on her latest solo CD. Lee Sklar is a veteran bassist who featured on a lot of classic recordings by the immeasurably popular singer Yumi Matsumoto and at age 71, he recently toured Japan with the prog rock legends Toto. His humble, musical wisdom flows through every groove he puts down, and it adds a wonderful flavor to several of the tracks on ‘A’. Also starring on the album, the inimitable Luis Valle on trumpet, Tony Maiden on guitar and Pedro Eustache on saxophone.

asami a

The album is available on iTunes, Spotify and the CD can be ordered from Amazon.

The album’s opener Sonodores is a vibrant, latin-influenced song complete with blazing horns and Spanish lyrics. Asami is featured on both drums and vocals. This leads us into Kimi No Kawari Nante Nai Kara is an upbeat, driving j-pop number with a really catchy chorus and some subtly wondrous drumwork. The third track Sun And Moon features Asami’s sublime vocal nestled in a warm, traditional koto arrangement. This song feels like the best anime ED you’ve never heard and illustrates Asami’s chameleon-like ability to play in various styles with a deep sense of authenticity and artistic intent.
The fourth track Hana Shigure (Flowers and Rain) has an evocative ambience and immediately captivates. The song was recorded in a Japanese shrine, so the atmosphere of the trio’s heartfelt performance is almost tangible.
This piece is deftly followed by Tsurugi, which sweeps us up with a rolling river of congas, shakuhachi and shamisen. Next is Asami’s very personal interpretation of John Denver’s Country Roads, a colourful arrangement with a mix of both English and Japanese lyrics and backing vocals that express her fondness of and experience of the world’s different musics and cultures.
Negai (Please Give Him Wings On His Back) is a powerful, anthemic, pop-rock number that has such a strong atmosphere, it would also be a great inclusion in an anime or emotional movie.  Tamashi no hono (Soul’s Flame) is classic jazz-fusion/funk and displays Asami’s effortless virtuosity as a drummer, with some truly inimitable drum fills, it’s a song that should appeal to any fan of Tower Of Power or Marcus Miller.
The album closes with the serene アンティノウスからの手紙 (Letters From Antonis), with truly stunning Japanese lyrics and an earnest, beautiful vocal delivery, this is a warm finale to an album that really exceeds in all areas of musical enjoyment.
The album is very well mixed and in my opinion, the CD is a very worthwhile investment, as the album lyrics and photos are beautifully laid out and the high sound quality really shines through. I cannot recommend this album highly enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 studio investment fundraiser

Hiya!

I have made this in the hope of raising £600 to buy a Roland AE-10 electronic sax .

Basically since I got arthritis in 2015, practising the real sax has become a bit tough. My aim is to get one of these new electronic saxes for my studio recordings and for future live shows , as they’re easier for me to play and more sonically flexible. I love my sax but often if I play it, whatever song I’m making sounds more jazz. With the Bluetooth MIDI outs on the AE-10, I can transform the sound into anything I like – from an ambient pad, to a kind of Blade Runner-style synth lead.

l am optimistic that it would bring me closer to capturing the melodic approach I’ve developed on the sax and I have a lot of productions that really just lack an organic sounding melody, so using my breath to define phrases and vibrato to make them more vocalesque, I can do it in a way that is more intuitive to me than twiddling a joystick on a keyboard.

Please don’t feel obligated to support, I don’t want anyone to go to undue trouble, this is just for fans that feel particularly comfortable with supporting my quest to finish more music and stay creative!

If you’re able to donate or just share, it would mean a lot!

Link: https://www.gofundme.com/birthday-2018s-music-investment

Or if it’s easier, it’s also possible to support via Ko-fi .

pokemon yea

I am so strong, indefatigable Pokemon-level strong!

This year I am responsibly becoming a Hot Papa and so every yen I make I wish to use to help bring my family more happiness and security. I have a lot of amazing fans and a good reputation among my peers and senpai as a very capable,  very good soundtrack composer.  Next year I wanna maximize my home studio time to have productive sessions that help me complete more music and also hopefully level-up my YouTube so I can reach new fans.

At at the moment I have a lot of near-finished productions that really just lack a final melody. I have traditionally relied upon synth keyboards, but actually increasingly I find myself disappointed by the lack of intuitive, vocalesque articulation options that the traditional keyboard allows. With my arthritis as it is, I can’t always play guitar or sax as much as I’d like, so i’d like to vary the instruments I play as much as possible to minimize over-working certain joints.

Thank you for reading and for all my friends and fans for standing by me. I will keep believing in my music and keep trying to improve it and myself. I still get lovely messages about the Highway Blossoms soundtrack and the Heart Beat Circuit album, and that rocks my world! I just wanna make more stuff that means something to people, so I’ll keep on truckin’!

g xxx