Saturday, April 09, 2011

"Big King Thief"

I'm going through a furious stage of musical experimentation: techniques, tricks, plugins, the world of digital audio is a huge one and I've only just scratched the surface.

Hopefully all future experiments turn out as well as "Big King Thief!"

This song was, from beginning to end, a test of iZotope's "pHATmatik PRO" plugin. I created five separate instances of it, and mutilated five bars of a George Clinton song, and the inevitable result was something that just CRIED funky.

But before we get to that, here's a quick evaluation of pHATmatik PRO: like many of iZotope's acquisitions from other software companies, it's buggy and dated and wonderful. The GUI obviously hasn't been touched since 2002 and the simple movement of MIDI items can result in all your samples being transposed in pitch. It's also easy to find yourself with sample-clicks that cannot be easily removed; the volume envelopes and the filters are coarse and clumsy, which highlights a basic shortcoming of the plugin: it's for extreme sample mangling, not for subtle effects.

Also, WARNING: pHATmatik is NOT fully compatible with Logic 8. You can't drag MIDI information out of the plugin and into Logic (though you can drag the MIDI to your desktop and import it from there), and -- more damning -- you cannot instantiate a multi-output pHATmatik under any circumstances, which is TERRIBLE and is not mentioned ANYWHERE on the iZotope site. You need to create a multi-instance in a version of Logic 7, then save it as a channel strip which you can use in Logic 8.

If you don't have a copy of Logic 7 around, here's a multi pHATmatik channel strip I made allows the plugin to actually live up to its "Pro" name!

All that said, you can hear the results in this song. Other than a simple Ultrabeat kick/snare and some recurring iDrum hats (and cowbell!), the spectacular beats are all courtesy of pHATmatik. It's an amazing just needs to be updated (or price-reduced to compensate for the migraines it might cause).

Here's the "Big King Thief" project (click for a larger version):

So what else is going on in the song? Some string machine from the awesome Loomer String, a Moog-style bassline from IKMultimedia's SampleMoog (a patch I find myself using over and over in these songs), a lead and a pulse from Logic's own ES1 and ES2, a funky bassline that is really a funk piano run through CamelPhat and a bass amp, a bit of Nusofting's daHornet for the deliberately sparse bridge...

...and a lot of samples (including an oboe) that I'll leave for trivia buffs to figure out. I can't get over my love of tremolo!

This was also the first time I've worked really strategically with compression. I put sidechain compression across the pads to allow the samples to cut through, and also used a tip from a recent copy of Computer Music: a copy of Audio Damage's free RoughRider compressor on an effects send, with all the drums sent to dramatically increased the "sludgy" sound of the beat (though maybe too much?)

Then I was ready to mix it and master it...and everything went to hell. All sort of melodic conflicts started showing up in the second verse, and in desperation I began shuffling bits and pieces around until I was hopelessly confused. I eventually tracked the problem down to my IKMultimedia SampleTank plugin, which had deauthorized itself FOR THE SECOND TIME and was behaving in mono mode, playing only the highest note in every chord. I've spent a week with their tech support and they still haven't resolved the issue, but I worked around the problem by recreating the patch in SampleMoog.

Next I started noticing the sample clicks...funny how you don't hear these things until they're so integrated in the song that you can't really fix them. Many of them were due to truncated samples in pHATmatik PRO, but the others -- which you can hear in the garbled speech during the bridge -- are actually from a soft ambient noise in the sample itself which turns into a harsh click when sent through a tremolo effect. By rearranging the tremolo a bit I managed to minimize it, but it's still there...I decided it was minor enough to not worry about.

Some light mastering, some agonizing, a photograph of a lusty dwarf by Patrick, and the song was done! "Big King Thief," not suitable for 17th Century workplaces.

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