The Cosmopolitan Life of a Sample

I have a silly way of doing drums. Really. There are only some very thin justifications for why someone would trigger their drum samples out of a hacked hardware synth.

But it seems I can’t get enough of cramming by SL-ed Blofeld full of sample goodness, painfully saving presets for each variation, and slowly piecing drum multi’s together. Surely half the sensible world has gone and bought Battery, and is dancing in the land of flexibility, cut groups, pre-mapped kits, no noise floor, slicers, and generally integrated drum-relevant features that help a guy make a beat. But not this guy. He sure is stubborn.

The one thing on my side is those JLM preamps and Lynx converters, adding their sweet sauce on the way in. But then I got to thinking about the life of some of my favourite samples, where they’ve been already.

Take for example a tasty 909 kick I unashamedly enjoy. Under the careful watch of Goldbaby’s wizardry, this started it’s life in New Zealand from some Japanese electronics, jiggling it’s warmth through a Metric Halo interface and onto a hard drive. It was then sent across the world to be cut into vinyl on a UK Plate Lathe. This vinyl was sent back to New Zealand to be captured again via a vintage 70’s record player through a restored phono preamp from the 60’s – back through the Metric Halo and onto the hard drive one more time. Then, I purchased it across the Tasman Sea (presumably) via satellites, promptly selecting it from it’s peers to be (slowly) rammed into the hacked Japanese sample ram of my German digital Waldorf synth. I then send it on it’s final journey through those mathematical algorithms and analog summing mixer, through the JLM’s and Lynx converters, and finally into mine own hard drive, where it faithfully holds together my beat.

This little audio file (audiophile?) has done more travelling than most of us, and has seen all kinds of processing in it’s short life. It is a little arrogant of me to think that my reckless decisions at the end of the line will suddenly make or break it? Perhaps it is.

So, then why do I do it?

Because I do. For no real reason, I like to do it, and despite the hassle it ‘feels’ better.

Now let’s read that sentence again, and marvel at how wonderful music is. Give that reason at any other day job and you are on probation. You would have to be. But that’s how I make most of my decisions with Birds in Branches.

What a blessing is art to otherwise rational lives.

PS- if you read this far down intrigued about why there is a wooden spoon on my blofeld in the picture, the short story is it’s because I don’t own a drumstick. Obviously….

Spreading Sheets

They say that you need to be organised to get something done. Well I haven’t been doing a lot of the latter of late, so maybe it was time for a little of the former.

Enter my new faithful personal assistant, google docs. In particular, mr google spreadsheet.

This little guy is now holding all my song sketches, lyrics, chords, comments and recording notes. I could say that I miss the smell and feel of 4000 pieces of scrap paper, but the honest truth is it’s a great relief. Not just having it organised, but I always had a slight degree of terror that my pile of paper would somehow destroy or vacate itself – rendering me back in square one. Right where I started, but angrier.

So now, having multiple backups in ‘the cloud’ as the iKids call it, gives me a whole bunch of ‘whew’ whenever I see it. It also looks more formidable, convincing me in my despairing moments that I am….getting….somewhere…..slowly.

Finally, and this is the real kicker, the colour yellow.

I have chosen yellow to mean “this space needs filling with something wonderful”. I have also expanded it’s definition to include “something better” and simply “something” on occasion so far, but at least it’s working.

I have to be able to see something to do that is important, as otherwise it is far too easy to jam away on my synths/guitars or blog my way around the very latest in “music gear I don’t need but still want to watch”. I don’t know if I’m the only musician who loses time to music equipment websites, but my igoogle page is a crack-house of alluring press releases with new filters and 64 bit support.

So the yellow squares are on my side, calling me towards art instead. They are playing a very important role, and I expect I should need to thank them when it comes to digital booklet time. They will have earned it, no doubt.

Solder Surgery

I’m not naturally that much of a DIY guy, and certainly not natural with electronics.

But good music gear is sometimes just sooo much money (or for keyboard players sooo non existent) that here I am. Ordering components, buying desoldering braid and generally getting my surgical on with a circuit board.

I bought a JLM baby animal preamp kit about 14 months back. These things sound like a Belgian beer tastes- all thick and deep and detailed. But you do have to build the critters. Using, like, hands and hot pointy melting implements.

Somehow (and I emphasise the wide-eyed perplexed nature of the word ‘somehow’) I got mine done. And then I went and broke it.  I blew a DI board testing out the new MFB synth II (more about that little piece of wonder later, lest I am tempted to convolute in my third post).

So after 5 giddy weeks waiting for 42 cents worth of FET (whatever exactly that is) to arrive from Thailand, the surgery is on.

If this doesn’t go well, the album will be recorded in mono….
*holds breath*

It appears to be fixed!

This is a weight off the mind, and a big scary item ticked off the list. Allowing things lower on the list that have a little more to do with music.

Very VERY glad about that.


First things first, songs.

We all know that 99999 hours spent on a track won’t make it the song you pick when you are controlling the iPod on a road trip.  That comes from somewhere in the heart of the song itself.  So I want to make sure my songs are as connected and vivid as possible before any parts are started.

So, demos. Really naked basic versions of the songs to hear back. I’m lucky to be tight with two great songwriters who have agreed to give feedback, help trim the fat.  There are 2 demos done and sent so far. And the next ones are lined up.

We. Are. In. Motion.

The Staaaaaart.

Why hello!

The preparations for the Birds in Branches EP begin, and I figured a shiny new website was thus in order.

As so many of my creative friends with day-jobs know, actually doing your favourite thing needs to be fought for.  Birds in Branches is like that for me.  Great once you’re doing it, but it is a gauntlet to actually get to there.

So all this fanciness is a testament to my confidence that soon there will be an EP.  I believe it, you can believe it – there needs to be this whole huge wave of belief.  This will be the first set of many finished songs.  See what I’m doing there?

You are very welcome to follow along the highs and lows of the process here on the blogular, I’m hoping it will be a diary of beginnings.

And maybe of wit.  Let’s believe more falsely in that too….