Saturday, August 31, 2013

Talking Back

As more and more members of Diatomaceous Earth get better and better headphones, we're stuck with an ironic problem in rehearsals. Although we can hear one another's instruments better while playing, we can't hear one another talk.
Now I realize that for most bands, not hearing what the idiot horn player has to say is a plus. But for us it really would be nice to know when someone calls out chord changes and the like. Or even discuss the way we're supposed to come up to the coda. Or what-have-you. Sometimes jokes.
The JamHub we've got works great for us. And there are inputs for microphones. Now, if we all had headset microphones and cough switches we could have usable full-duplex talkback between all the musicians.

So thing: I own two pair of Sennheiser HD280's. And Ethan just got himself a pair. They are great, cheap, isolating headphones. But personally I don't find them that comfortable. And the low end sounds a tad "boxy" to me. And when you add a boom microphone (like the link above) you're spending around about $265 on them (with the appropriate connectors).
Okay, so that's over $1250 just to cover each member of the band. Ah. But we're not done. Because we would each need an on/off "cough" switch.  Think another $50.
Plus, you know, cabling. We're essentially doubling the amount of cabling we carry when adding a talkback system like that. 
Now one might think "Hey, start slow, just get yourself one headset mic and go from there." Yeah. About that.
The person with the headset mic gains a lot of control over the band. Right now the band has no clear leader. I like it that way.
Now that I say that out loud I realize I'm making a hierarchical unilateral decision which systematically maintains a democracy. Uh. Yeah. So there's that.
What if we put a switch in the middle of the floor and a single omnidirectional microphone somewhere near it? That's good for everyone but the drummer, right? Well, it's not quite as practical as I'd like as it's difficult for us to all get to the center of the floor. And yes, it's impossible for the drummer to get to.
That brings me back to just thinking I should get myself a headset microphone and a single switch. Because, you know, ME. That would violate some of my earlier terms herein but I could also use the headset for recording commentary tracks.
I don't know. This is an issue only in that it's a bit of a pain to flip off headphones in order to hear what someone is saying or to hear someone say "You take the solo here" or whatever. Personally it means that I make more dramatic motions coming up on a change and I yell "hea!" a lot.
The other thing which just occurred to me is that when someone opens the contact on a microphone for talkback the drums will likely get loud. Er. Maybe not. Maybe not if the gain is such that you're practically kissing the mic. Uh. Maybe. In my head I imagine the snare becoming much louder in the headphone mix.
So like I said. I dunno.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Now just note this is not an album. No. It's instead an aural mess.
But that's okay. This rehearsal (Greg, Drew, Lou, and Ethan) was in part a proof-of-concept and was also an experiment in how we can work a song.
The process is pretty straightforward. We take a song which was improvised at one point (the melody and the Dm to Em chords). Then we play it some more and somebody suggests the B section. Then somebody suggests the C section. Then somebody suggests new chord changes and we discuss where those chords should go (the last time we come back to the A section, as it turns out.)
Then we learn how we want to interact with one another. Then someone comes up with a descant -- an opposing line to the B section which works really well. And off we go to the races. Plus, somehow, I get to play blues guitar.

In practice this means, er, lots of practice. In this case, two hours playing two chords. I'm going to guess that we'll have done about 20 hours on this one song; working together in the studio. And the song will be about 20 minutes on an album.
That's not too bad actually. Especially if one is happy with the results.

Porcupine Part Dream

Tonight we played two chords for two hours. That's an hour of Dm and another hour of Em.

Still, Lou wanted something he could listen to at home in order to make up a part.
Here is that thing:

We had no Lily tonight as she was a bit tired and under the weather. So this is just Ethan on Stick, Greg and Me on Guitars. The piece "for Lou" has no drums on it. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ed's Message

Are you sure? Are you really sure? You know this can't be undone, right? Do you really want to go through with this? Do you want to think about it first?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Ides of August

Now then therefore this is the most recent rehearsal of Diatomaceous Earth. Two basses -- both fretless actually. We had a big problem with the level from Ethan's bass. Now that I think about it, if that bass has normal pickups, it SHOULD have been relatively low-level. You know what? Every other signal we're feeding into the JamHub rehearsal headphone distribution system is line-level. So why shouldn't a bass plugged into it not have to be turned up?
Chocotaurus Mouse

The snare at the rehearsal studio got changed out for a metal Ludwig snare. Lou was not impressed. He's more of a wooden snare guy although his favorite is the stupendously expensive Drum Workshop "Edge" snare which has metal rims and wood center.
The sort of grand experiment that is two bass players has much of interest. Still, Ethan has threatened to bring his stick next time and I suspect that will work awesomely.
Overall my focus tends to be on the wheat we create and not the chaff. Sure, there's a lot of chaff but even a few minutes of wheat is a very good ratio. Thing is though, somebody has to sit down and go through the whole thing and say "Okay that moment between 10:42 and 11:35 is good, but cut out every thing until 22:50" etc. 
I tried to not use a "center" microphone for the drums in this recording. I can't say that blows my mind. I think I will go back to having a center mic. Oh, and I put the overheads at the upper-most setting on the boom (the boom is level horizontally). Which is something which you find extremely important.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Belt, Biz, Boff

The musician's belt. It's actually both a musician's and a mechanic's belt. The point is that it has no buckle to scratch your guitar (or finish on your car).
I don't know that it's honestly possible to play the blues without scratching the back of your guitar. In fact I think that may be the deal you make with the devil in order to play the blues -- your guitar gets scratched. But, you know, it's interesting.

There is much the noise in the world of musicians about various things about the business of music. Indeed, there's is much the Luddite in (ironically) much of the internet chat regarding the nascent horribleness which is ostensibly Spotify. In any case, here's a critique of the argument that vinyl will "save" the music industry.
Lastwise: aargh. My main computer is being very cranky of late. It may be that it does not like to read off of large ExFat drives. I'm hoping it's that.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Uninformed Aardvark

Here's a rehearsal album. I'm always surprised at how well these things come out. Nobody, I mean nobody, had any idea what we were going to do until we were doing it.
We have two bassists and two guitar players. We suffer from having too many good ideas and too much fun. Which is a good thing to suffer from. We could sit down and take (say) one rehearsal and work and edit them all down into single coherent songs (you know, with changes and such which are, er, planned).
But so much of what we do is an experiment. I mean who would have thought two bassists would have worked? But it does. This sort of experimentation is fantastically and critically necessary.
For me, I mean I've been in bands where I pretty much wrote everything and had to have all the arrangements down. And being in a band where we can just experiment with the writing process for... hours... is a hugely euphoric and euphonic experience.
That last song there, A Mere Resplendence,  is only divided up into two parts because when we played it it was over an hour long. So I had to split it in half to get it onto bandcamp.
If you have the willpower, see for yourself how many times one of us tried to play Darkstar by the Grateful Dead. It's gotta be 4.
I'm gonna bet that we're going to think of some specific sections to go to at some point in the many hours of rehearsal we're going to do on Wednesday.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Holy cats the sound of that live version of Won't Get Fooled Again off of the movie The Kids Are All Right is even more spectacular than I remembered it watching as an impressionable teenager on late night TV. I remember my dad saying that he didn't think they were so violent. Meaning he didn't like how violent they seemed. I only thought Ha! THIS isn't the Who at their violent!
But looking back, this sound was exuberance. The Who were kings of the power trio. And adding keyboards is something to not be taken lightly. And boy they don't. The sequence (which apparently is just played live on an organ of some sort) freakin ROCKS.
It's funny though. Remember the volume wars? Those volume wars substantially post-date The Who. The Who. I mean those guys had a stage volume that would make dead men wake from their graves.
But on a recording, where you can play back at any volume you desire, they're simply not as loud as a modern bubble-gum pop song. And I'm wondering if the fault lays only partially in multi-band brick wall limiters.

I think the other problem may be how freaking loud we've been mixing drums since sometime in the 1980's.
With The Who you can tell -- yes the drums are loud and being hit hard but they're slightly swamped by the double HiWatt heads driving 4x4 12" cabinets on a guitar with P90's being smashed by a sledgehammer. You can hear the drums, sure, but they're right there next to several hundred watts of guitar amplification that do not mind in the least going into distortion.
Nowadays those drums would be at least 6dB louder in the mix. The snare would smack you in the face every time it came down. And suddenly at that volume it's competing with the vocal (because snare drums have all kinds of sounds which smear right across the vocalist's range -- we can call a snare drum a little band-limited white-noise  generator can't we?)
And once you're fighting with the vocal you're fighting with everything and the answer to making everything loud is to use more compression everywhere. And look! Now we have the ability to use digital multi-band auto-makeup limiters which eliminate pumping and make every part of signal as freaky-deaky loud as we could ever imagine it being.
If we mixed drums quieter this wouldn't be as much an issue. Not that I'm advocating that. I'm just saying. Louder drums = louder everything.
This is just a theory mind you.

Richard Waters, the fellow who invented the Waterphone, passed away on July 4.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Diatomaceous Earth's First Album

Diatomaceous Earth: In the Vast Iteration
The new album by Diatomaceous Earth, "In The Vast Iteration" is now available. We recorded this album inadvertently. Ha! I do really like it. It's quite avant weird yet melodic.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ermines of Love

Diatomaceous Earth had a rehearsal last night. Ethan Rosenblatt was there so we had two, count 'em TWO, bass players.
One thing this caused was us playing one jam for over an hour. Seriously folks, we have zero preconceived notions about where these things are going when we start out. You're asking yourself: "What's the difference between The Effortless Ermine and The Enumerated Ermine?"
The difference is that I put a bit heavier compression on Lily's bass in The Enumerated Ermine just to try to bring it out a bit more because I was afraid the two basses were running into one another. They may still be. I can't always tell the difference between the two basses.
I did actually pan Ethan a bit to the right and Lily to the left. Note that my guitar is on the right and Greg's is on the left. Actually, all the panning is as though you're right where I'm standing in rehearsal. It's like I'm emulating me or something. Odd.
So we had an input from Ethan's bass to a Countryman DI and right into the Tascam US 2000 preamp number 4.
Inputs 5 and 6 were kick and snare. Yeah. Using the cheapo Tascam preamps. The mics are Equation Audio.  Now the kick may or may not have been replaced. But the snare actually sounds pretty good.
Greg's guitar (from a Shure SM58) and Lily's bass are also both straight into the Tascam -- Lily actually goes through Ethan's FatMan limiter and into one of the high impedance inputs on the Tascam.
The two toms are now going into the Lindell preamps with a couple Equation tom mics. I think the toms sound pretty dynamite although honestly that's mostly because Lou can make drums sound really good.
The overheads are Ear Trumpet labs Edwina microphones going into Neve 1272's. So yeah, that's signal path is pretty much book.
There's a "center" mic which is a Rode NT1 going into a Neve 1272. This mic just gives a bit more beef to the drum kit overall. It's in front of the kit aimed center and is about as far away as the overheads.
My guitar is the last track -- Shure SM 58 hitting a Neve 1272.

Last Voyage of the No Ship

The Pleasure for the Empire record The Last Voyage of the No Ship is now on CD. And, of course, on Bandcamp.   The Last Voyage of the No ...