Sound Design

Now it's "Ditty-A-Week."

I took to the task of designing and Building a Looper in 3 Major DAWs using nothing but Delay Effects, with no third party plugins whatsoever. In the end I got 99% favorable results… sort of.

Jumping ship from Logic Pro over to Ableton Live was a wise decision, in a project like this.

Okay, maybe “jumping ship” is a harsh term since I still use Logic Pro from time to time. In fact, Logic Pro has some redeeming qualities about it that make it shine. Take it’s Delay Designer plugin, for example. That little beauty just has “Looper” written all over it. But Logic Pro makes it difficult to use it the way I want to. Mainstage makes up for this inadequacy in the family. Chances are, if you own Logic Pro 9.x, you already have Mainstage lurking on your hard drive. If not, then Mainstage will only cost you $30 (Mac only).

Ableton Live… wherefore art thou’s long delays, like Logic’s Delay Designer? And thy dB level-appropriate sends and returns, like Logic’s? It’s totally doable in Ableton Live as well, but took 4 times as much audio routing to get ‘er done. That and I’ve noticed an occasional timing drift; but I have read this is relatively common when you start getting complex pathways in Ableton.

In the end, I found it’s awesome having both DAWs on my machine. This was a great project. You get to know the shortcomings and strengths of both tools. Thus use the right tool for the right job.

The audio file below is an example looping example I did using the Ableton Live file as provided in the download, played only using my laptop itself (playing all notes via QWERTY keys), a Korg nanoKONTROL2, all the instruments and effects provided within Ableton. No Ableton clips were used.

If you went out and bought Ableton Live 8.3.x and a Korg nanoKONTROL2 right now, the downloadable project file should work with both items out of the box, as long as you change the Korg nanoK2 to MIDI channel 16. The same criteria applies for the Mainstage file.
CAVEAT: If you start adding other MIDI controllers, well… YMMV. You may have to track down the random MIDI issue.

This entire project is from as a Seminar/ presentation I hosted at the EM2012 festival.

Ableton Live, Apple Mainstage, and Logic Pro files, plus a nifty PDF explaining how to do it yourself… all here and yours for the taking.
CLICK HERE to download the whole package (.ZIP file).

The following non-nonsensical verbiage is here just to make this post totally findable by internet search: eloquent kumquat pickle.

iPad/iPhone/iPad Touch users:
CLICK HERE to hear this track.


I’m a bird person. Don’t get me wrong, I like dogs and cats, but I’m either allergic the animals themselves or the level of attention they demand on my schedule. I had a cockatiel for some 25 years that passed away a year ago. After a year of a relatively quiet house I decided to get a pair of parakeets a few months ago to liven it up sonically around here for when I’m solo.

It can be difficult to record animals up close when they are wary of an object nearby with red lights on it. Anyways, I did manage to get a decent recording of Azul & Verde during their first week here using the SONY PCM-D50 with it’s built-in mics, set to the highest sample setting. Amadeus Pro was used as the editor to pitch the trimmed recording down in 1-octave intervals, but maintaining the elapsed time; which is why the recording loses a bit of clarity during each pass. Or rather, I may have done the conversion incorrectly despite having sampled it at a really high rate/kHz, I still lost the highs/mids. It’s a tricky science, it is.

By the way: for the scientifically minded, I discovered during this little experiment that parakeets, like humans, really don’t like hearing their own voice(s) played back to them very much.

I separated each octave by short tones.

1st pass: Original Recording
Sounds like: Freakin’ normal real-world chattering, agitated parakeets.

2nd pass – Pitched 1 octave down
Sounds like: Baby seals, clucking chickens, bicycle hard-braking tire rubber squeaks

3rd Pass – 2 octaves down.
Sounds like: Small monkeys fighting over a banana, turkey gobbles, puppy barking

4th Pass – 3 octaves down.
Sounds like: Crows, Large monkeys fighting over a banana, hound dogs on a fox hunt, squeaking sound you get when you clean glass

5th Pass – 4 octaves down.
Sounds like: Large pigs or hogs, horses (sort of), walruses

6th Pass – 5 octaves down.
Sounds like: Deep sea creatures, whales with gas, things that go bump in the night.

Sound Designers: if you ever get a chance to record an excited parrot hopping around in its cage, do so. If you play that down on a low key using a sampler, it sounds like a dinosaur bellowing straight out of “Jurassic Park.”

iPad/iPhone/iPad Touch users:
CLICK HERE to hear this track.

See what happens when you blend sheet music?

Just a simple sound design ditty, nothing fancy. Process notes:
I recorded my juicer in high gear using a Sony PCM-D50. Edited it down to a sample with loop points in Logic’s EXS24 Sampler. The raw recording is used for the switch-on fade-in and the switching-off tail. I threw in a little MIDI clip of Für Elise in the middle playing the sample. That’s it.

I used to do this kind of sampling in the old days with a recording Walkman (yes, a cassette tape) and an Akai S-01 hardware sampler that used 3.5″ floppies. When I recorded the juicer, I had hoped it would give more tonality, and sound like strings/orchestra; but it didn’t have enough pitch, so this outcome left me rather disappointed. Oh well… not everything in this project is gonna be stellar.

However I can tell you from personal experience that a full lithographic/offset printing press recorded about 15-20 feet away will give you a decent string-like sound once looped and EQ’d correctly. So, if you have access to a 75-foot behemoth litho printer, go try this process out.

iPad/iPhone/iPad Touch users:
CLICK HERE to hear this track.


Love or hate ’em, you probably have the ability to do some type of vocoder action in your electronic rig. Many of us have these features built-in in our modern (and vintage) hardware synths and DAWs, but seldom use them. I’m not sure why others don’t use them as much (step learning curve? difficult to setup and use?), but for me it was a creative block or the “my idea is not good enough” syndrome, as applied to vocoder use. But I found a way to embrace vocoding: simply pre-record your source material beforehand. That’s it.

Simple Process: Prepare good, clean hi-res audio files ahead of time, and run them through a vocoder after-the-fact. So go dust off your seldom-used vocoder software/hardware and try it out.

I used a vocoder in a live electronic music festival (EM2011) last September: the Korg MS2000R hardware synth, which has a stereo line-in that can be used for running any sound source through its vocoder. My pre-recorded material was played back from Tascam DR-03 digital hand recorder into the vocoder inputs. I produced the synth notes & vocoder balance manually from the face of the Korg (no need for a midi controller in this case). This setup was used to open my set with spoken words of my son & I quietly chanting “Mind, Body, Heart, Soul.”

What you hear in this Ditty file:
The dry “Mind-Body-Heart-Soul” pre-recorded chant with some reverb on it, which slowly fades into being a vocoded sound while the notes are triggered in real time. For those not in the know, the Korg MS2000R is the predecessor of the popular microKorg; and in fact uses the same patch data structure.

iPad/iPhone/iPad Touch users:
CLICK HERE to hear this track.

I figured a good way to start off on this journey would be to do something with a real instrument (as opposed to a virtual synth) and try a different method of recording at the same time. In the end I created a drone piece, unintentionally.

Zen Tambour* (D-Akebono scale) recorded using Sony PCM-D50 on mic boom 1 foot overhead at 44.1/24. (mounting the D50 on a mc boom arm was new for me; I’ve never recorded the Zen directly via the D50 before; I am happy with the direct Sony outcome) *Initially I purchased the Zen Tambour out of part curiosity, part solution as a “poor-man’s Hang Drum.” But since I heard it sing that first note, I fell in love. Check out Steve “Spike” Finch’s Zen Tambour website… he creates true “playable art.”

– Transferred file to Amadeus Pro where I normalized the level, removed a spike. All editing was done in Amadeus Pro.

– Added Vahalla Shimmer effect first, then BBE D82 enhancement, then bumped upper EQ for brightness, & saved the file.

– Opened file in Paulstretch 2.2.2, set to stretch 4.0x, adjusted sample frequency, and rendered (which alters file to 44.1/16 by default).

Here is a clip of the stages of the process (iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch users CLICK HERE to hear the process):

And here is the finished 18+ minute piece. Sounds fantastic on headphones. Not advised for consumption during long road trips; best used as a sleeping aid. The noise at the end of the piece is fingers rubbing a circle on the top of the Zen.

iPad/iPhone/iPad Touch users:
CLICK HERE to hear this track.