When I first started the concept that would become Moments with Him, I knew that I wanted to include interspersed instrumental interludes (which is somewhat ironic since almost the entire project is instrumental – these just aren’t hymns.)
Anyway, I knew that these interludes would all be called “Interlude:” and then the name, such as Majestic. The exception would be this opening track, which would be called Prelude: From the Rising, and be characterized by an upward-moving motif on the piano, and that’s what I started writing.
In the end I had a 20-bar pattern that I liked, and decided to build a slightly different type of arrangement out of it. I would use a straight repetition of that pattern building from it with different instruments and rhythms. First I added a drum kit (using brushes), then some auxiliary percussion, including a clave and set of congas. An upright bass finished out the rhythm section.
I also knew early on that I wanted to use background atmosphere sound effects (a la the thunder in Interlude: Majestic). Many an early morning I would lay in my bed and listen through my open window as the crickets were slowly replaced by songbirds as the sun rose. I wanted to duplicate that experience in this track.
After locating some appropriate samples (and saying goodbye to my brilliant idea of going camping with a Zoom recorder and recording my own), I mixed them into the track and turned to the most difficult remaining instrument – the saxophone. I recorded and discarded several versions of a melody. I couldn’t play them in with my WX-5 because I’m sitting Virginia where I’ve started a new job (notice that the name of the blog has changed) and my MIDI interface is in a box back in Peoria. My keyboard has a USB input, so I can still record keyboard lines.
Then, one night, I was inspired. I didn’t get up right then, but tried to remember the line the following evening. Well, the inspiration turned out to be about 10%, the other 90% requiring perspiration, but I think the results are worth it. I wrote a previous entry on recording/programming a soprano sax, but this time I went a few levels deeper.
Here is a sample from the programmed MIDI track. The instrument is Garritan’s JABB Soprano. Since I didn’t have access to my WX-5, I entered the volume information after-the-fact (that’s the top curvy line). The notes themselves are the horizontal bars played in from my keyboard. The two lower curvy lines are for vibrato – depth and rate. The vertical lines represent levels of “breathiness” that I added in for the lower notes, and the triangles at the bottom of the track indicate the sustain pedal up and down (which in the Garritan instruments controls legato playing of the notes). I think that two key points can be seen in this illustration: first, the peaks of volume, vibrato depth and vibrato rate don’t coincide. That is on purpose, based on my listening to many a soprano sax recording.
Second, sometimes the volume doesn’t change smoothly between notes. This is to mimic phrasing where the player will “punch” a series of moving notes after a long-held one to accent them. Again, this is based on listening, and I think the effect is quite satisfactory. In fact, I’m very pleased with the way this line turned out. Hopefully people who did not read this and already know it’s a synthesized line will assume it’s a real sax player.
Once all the lines were played/programmed in, it looked something like this. In the top two tracks you can see the atmospheric samples. The top is crickets fading into birdsong, and the second track is frogs I layered over top. The bottom track (the yellow one) called “Dimension L” is a low bass pad that I layer in under the piano to provide some extra sustain to the part. It’s barely audible in the mix, but noticeable if I turn it off.
The bottom lane called “Instr Master” is a submix track that receives the output from all the instruments (but not the background atmosphere). I did this so that I can fade out the band leaving the birdsong at the end unaffected. Then I can fade out the birds separately. The blue line that curves in an “s” at the end is this volume control.
Sonar gave me some problems at this point, as I began to mix the tracks. I left all the synths active, and began applying effects to the synth outputs. This worked fine until, all of the sudden, I opened the song and tried to play it. The playback was sloppy and choppy and my CPU indicator was telling me that I was maxing out several cores of my CPU. All I can say is I wish I had never hooked this computer up to the internet, added a webcam and installed Skype. The second two are coming off the moment my family joins me in Virginia (I’ll reserve judgement on the internet thing…).
The sharp of eye will notice automation envelopes on the piano and sax tracks. I automated the piano volume to bring it in lower and build into the band section. The sax automation I will talk about when I get to mixing that instrument.
The piano has two effects on it. The top is Acustica Audio’s Acquavox preamp. I’ve been playing with adding layers of saturation to my mixes to increase the richness of the recording. I haven’t decided if I really like it, yet, but I don’t don’t like it, so I’m going to continue for the time being. I may be able to tell the difference better once I upgrade my audio converters.
The lower plugin is Sonar’s stock Sonitus compressor. Ignore the preset, I changed all the settings. The Sonitus Compressor is cool in that you can set it to “Vintage” mode which has a reverse in the compression curve. At one point it lowers the volume and at a later point it ramps back up. You can place the location, steepness, and curve sharpness of this ramp anywhere you want by adjusting the various parameters.
What this does on a practical level is bring up the low volume of the piano part without totally tamping down the louder part – providing a more natural sound while still boosting the long sustains that this piece has.
Note that there is no separate reverb on the piano as I discovered a “resonance” setting in the Garritan Steinway that creates a terrific special “pianoverb” (not to be confused with the pianoverb plug-in mentioned previously)
I struggled more with mixing the drums than any other aspect of this mix. RubyTube is simply a saturation plug-in. ReverberateLE is my current go-to IR reverb, loaded up with a Plate reverb. I intend to purchase the full version of Reverberate before I do my final mixes of all these songs (prior to sending out for mastering). The multi-band compressor is there because I was struggling with this track. A multi-band anything breaks the incoming signal into different frequency bands before applying the processing, and I was trying to tame the lows in this track.
When I originally applied the reverb, the kick drum seemed to boom out at me. No matter how much I cut the lows with EQ it seemed to be still too much, so I hit it with the multi-band compressor, set to compress only the low and low-mid frequencies. Then I transferred a test mix to my iPod and there were no lows at all! Frustrated, I added some lows back in and sent the track to a few close friends to give me feedback. They confirmed that my mix was okay, so I didn’t mess with it any further.
The bass needed the least work (not including the sub-audible bass pad). The TSS is a saturation plug-in, the Antress Modern Painkiller is an LA2A clone that provides really smooth compression to fill out the sustain on the bass. I increased both the gain and peak reduction until I could hear it working, and then backed them off a bit.
The Lexicon reverb came with Sonar and I used it because I wanted a nice low-cpu reverb that I wouldn’t have to mess with. It sits nicely in the background. The bass itself is an upright bass sample that came with Sonar in their Dimension player – I’ve used it before because it includes samples of “divebombs” where the player strikes a note and slides up the neck (down in pitch). I liked the instrument enough that I use it even when I don’t need the “divebomb” effect.
Lastly, the saxophone has a few plugins. FerricTDS is a saturation plug, and below is Reverberate again. The IR is from the high-end Bricasti hardware reverb. Both Samplicity and Acousticas have released Bricasti IR’s, and I don’t remember which I downloaded, but the IR’s are great! (It looks like Acousticas is no longer around – at least, none of the links work).
(For a reminder of what an IR is, click here and scoll down to “convolution reverb.)
This is where that extra automation envelope in the sax track comes from: it is the “wet” volume from the reverb. I wanted to increase the volume of the effected sound as the rest of the band fades out – increasing the feeling of disappearing into the distance. I did something very similar on the Interlude: Majestic track, but this one is a bit more subtle. I like how it turned out, though.
To wrap it up, I put some more saturation plugs on the instrumental submix and one on the final output, and Boost11 is Sonar’s peak-limiter, to make sure none of the volume peaks try to overload.
Well, that’s about all. Here it is: Prelude: From the Rising