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Review of Silence of the Second Voice album and Genuflection EP by Isotherme — September 29, 2016

Review of Silence of the Second Voice album and Genuflection EP by Isotherme

 

 
This is a superb album and accompanying EP, they are extremely well crafted with great attention to detail. There’s a brilliant musical feel, huge depth of sounds with excellent layering, layered rhythms and often contrasting ambience against more urgent or rhythmic sounds. It has that brilliant engaging quality which captivates your interest and transports you to a different place.

Reflection : First Born
There’s a great tension to this song, an excellent edgy feel with really well layered sounds that have a great depth. Each of the sounds is really well crafted and arranged. There’s a great evolution of the song from an edgy riff to a fuller more open sound.

Slender, Radiant
I really like the vocal processing at the start of the song, there’s excellent layering again with intricate rhythms and background sounds that weave in and out. There are excellent changes of feel and a great flow to the song.

Petites Ames
There’s a great musical feel to this song, the contrasting elements really hold your attention. It opens with a sound that’s a bit glitchy / techno with an urgent rhythm then the layered ambience gives a more mellow contrast with the breathe adding a great element. There’s a touch of the cinematic at times too.

Clipping The Coral
A drone sound to open with atmospheric vocals, there’s some excellent layered background sounds and an edgy percussive rhythm which creates a great tension. The piano riff gives a mellow contrast.

Reflection : Winter Dust
There’s a great vibe to this song, it’s like the anticipation of Christmas with the subtly layered twinkle sound and sleigh bells. The percussive rhythm gives a great momentum and there’s a subtle edge of tension to the melody at times too.

L’Enfant du Milieu
A brilliant evolving opening to the song with a lovely melody. There are elements of jazz and a eastern feel at times too. The song has a brilliant cinematic quality, the story captivates and holds your interest.

If I Held The Clouds
Another excellent evolving opening with layered synth sounds, rumbling bass and melodies. The feedback and noise elements add a great edge.

Genuflection
Emerging synth sound and vinyl for crackle to open, a percussive rhythm creates an urgent feel, a kind of anticipation. There’s a great contrast between the laid back drone elements and more urgent sounds. Really good layering again.

Reflection : Fireglass
Another excellent emerging opening with a slightly glitchy rhythm and layered swirling, breathing type sounds. A great soundscape.

Angle of Isolation
I love the opening melody which creates a great sense of space and there’s a really nice contrast with the synth parts. The percussive rhythm is subtle to start with evolving into more of a defined loop at times. The harp at the end of the song adds an excellent element.

In Flora Absolute
The opening to this song reminds me of being outside in a garden from the layering of the field recording of birds, wind chime type sounds and percussive sounds you tend to get in a gentle breeze. The melody gives the song a great momentum and just an edge of tension at times too.

Reflection : Tantum Cordis
There’s a great edge to the opening of this song from the contrast between the ambient swirling emerging synth sound and the more ‘buzz’ feel of the background sounds. The field recording adds an excellent element.

Silence of the Second Voice
A different feel to the opening of this song which has a more defined percussive rhythm against a bass drone. Great melodies again and the vocals are excellent. The song has a great contrast between the floaty feel of synths and vocals against the more urgent percussive rhythm.

 
Genuflection (extended)
This EP is presented as a single song just shy of 30mins long. It is a captivating sound with a sci-fi cinematic feel with brilliantly crafted and layered vocal parts, synth leads and arps and percussive elements. There’s a change of feel to a more ambient sound with some excellent spoken parts which leads into a more uptempo feel leading into an edgy sound like a bitcrushed breaking waves sound with vocals. More synth sounds emerge with further spoken parts and a great edgy feel. This leads into a great percussive rhythm and bassline which gives a great momentum. Like a modern take on an acid sound with a gradual release to end the song.

 
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Review of Convex multi-effects processor VST by Glitchmachines — September 26, 2016

Review of Convex multi-effects processor VST by Glitchmachines

Convex is a multi-effects processor that can be used to process any audio signal, including real time audio or hardware synths or guitars. It has dual multimode filters, dual delay and dual pitch shifters and generates dynamic variations by morphing between these two instances of each effects. However, the real creative power of convex is with the extensive modulations options which is typically seen in Glitchmachines VSTs. There are 4 LFOs and 2 envelope followers which can modify various parameters and this modulation is extended beyond LFOs / envelopes because they can have their output inverted or combined using mixers and multipliers.

What this means is that the effect is capable of anything from simple dub-type delays to extensive glitch sequences. What I really love about Convex is the power / flexibilty and the ability to surprise. When you think you know what sort of a sound you are going to get, you often find unexpected results.

The UI has the clean, modern look we typically see from Glitchmachines. It’s split into three sections with the effects located in the upper section;
convex-ui-top

modulation, mixers and inverters in the middle section;

convex-ui-middle

midi, menus and preset options in the lower section;

convex-ui-lower

There are also 3 colour coding options used to indicate different processes which are green for audio processing, yellow for modulation and fuchsia for modulation depth.

The two multimode filters have crossfade-style morphing with the option to modulate cut-off and the morph parameters. The two pitchshifters also have crossfading with the option to modulate the pitch and crossfade. The two delays also have crossfade-style morphing with the option to modulate the delay time and crossfade. The delay can be set to tempo-sync, otherwise it can be set in ms upto a maximum of 1000ms. There is also an option to place the delay before the filter input otherwise it will be processed after the pitch module output.

Each of the 4 LFOs has a wave menu to choose the waveform and a rate which can be set in hertz or beat divisions using the sync option. The rate value can also be modulated. The 2 envelope followers have sensitivity (gain), attack and release controls.

The multipliers allow you to combine 2 modulators and use the resulting signal to modulate another parameter. This is useful for generating evolving modulation depth curves.

The modulation mixers can be used in one of two ways, either to get the mean of two signals or to morph between two modulators using a mix control which itself can be modulated.

The inverters do exactly what you’d expect and invert a parameter which can then be assigned as a modulator.

The output module controls the amplitude and mix of the output using a dry/wet control which itself can be modulated.

There are also midi learn options, a randomise option and the usual preset options of load and save.

To start with, the presets are excellent and have a great range of effects which vary according to what type of sound you apply them to. To give you an idea of some of the possibilities of Convex, I’ve created a demo track using a simple drum loop in Izotope Breaktweaker as an example. The track starts as a clean drum loop then cycles through 9 different presets. The results range from a simple flanging/phasing effect to more extreme glitches.

I’ve then created a track using Convex on a keys/strings sound with 3 presets and also 3 that I’ve created.

Once I’d used a few of the presets, I started to make some of my own by creating a simple delay effect with 2 different delay / feedback times and different filter settings. The morph settings on the filters and delays create a nice variation in sound but so far it’s not very exciting. Once we introduce some modulation, things start to get really interesting. I used two different LFOs to modulate the cutoff parameters of the filters. I then used an inverted envelope to modulate one delay time and the multiplier with 2 instances of a second envelope to modulate the other. I then used each mixer to mix 2 LFOs together, feed the outputs to the multiplier then use the multiplier output to modulate the pitch setting. I’ve then used the other multiplier to modulate the pitch of the second pitchshifter. I’ve then used LFOs to modulate the morph and mix of the pitchshifter and envelopes and a multiplier to modulate the morph and mix of the delays.

Once created I’ve taken this preset and adjusted a few parameters and modulation options to create a percussion decimater preset aimed for use on percussive one-shot type sounds but it can give some interesting effects when used on other types of sounds.

I also created presets which have a pitch decimater and fluttery squelch type of sound and one which used the randomise option which created a shimmery subtle pitch shifter effect.

shimmerpitch_preset

The demo track embedded at the start of the post was created in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock II using 3 instances of Convex. The first one processed sound from the U-Drone add-on, the second from the groove steps tool and the third with a random midi sampler fed to Izotope DDLY dynamic delay.  It has the feel of a monday morning when all you want is another 5 minutes but your alarm clock sounds like a thousand going off at once.

Convex is available from Glitchmachines priced $29.

You can also download my presets here.  There are 7 evolutions of the first one described in detail above which start as AL_dubdelay and get progressively longer names with each evolution.  There are also 3 versions of the flutter squelch preset.  You will need to load them into the Glitchmachines\Presets\Convex folder where you installed the software.

Review of Manon Meurt s/t ‘Manon Meurt’ EP on Label Obscura — September 15, 2016

Review of Manon Meurt s/t ‘Manon Meurt’ EP on Label Obscura

Manon Meurt is Vojtech Pejša (guitar, vocals), Káta Elznicová (vocals, guitar), Jirí Bendl (drums) and Jana Karlíková (bass guitar, giggler). They hail from the small Czech town of Rakovnik, located just outside of the capital, Prague. Inspired by the British shoegaze movement of the early 90s, bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Ride and Slowdive have clearly helped shape the band’s sound.

Originally self-released on vinyl in their native country in autumn 2014, this self-titled 6-track 12-inch record sold out shortly after its initial release and now fetches upwards of $50 USD via Discogs.

Canadian imprint Label Obscura, as a website and record label, was created with the goal of shining a light on some of their favorite labels, bands, and albums from the past and present, with a focus on indie rock that never got a vinyl release or is currently out of print. They have reissued a limited 200 copies on white vinyl in North America, available through the label’s website and via select independent record retailers. All copies come packaged with a high quality plastic inner sleeve and a digital download card.

 
This is an excellent EP, Manon Meurt have a captivating shoegaze sound with superb dreamy vocals. It’s a very full sound too with really well layered distorted guitars and jangly riffs. There’s often a great contrast between the uptempo / distorted sections and more laid back vibes.

To Forget
Excellent jangly riff to open accompanied by distorted guitar, I really like how this fades out leaving the jangly riff for the vocals which have a really dreamy quality. There’s a great build of tension from a mellow sounding riff to a release at the end of the song.

Glowing Cityscape
This song opens with a drone which has a slightly unsettling quality, the bass and drums enter to give a great momentum. The vocals again have a dreamy quality which contrast really well against the more uptempo rhythm provided by the drumming.

’94
A slow evolving opening, the vocals are excellent again. It’s a really dreamy song, the sparse production works really well creating an excellently layered and textured sound. The slow build evolves a great sound with a nice release too.

Until You Can
Another great opening riff which has a hint of a middle eastern feel. The vocals are superb, an excellent ethereal and slightly haunting presence. There’s a really nice change in feel to the more distorted sound which has some excellent feedback.

In These Eyes
A more uptempo feel to the opening of this song with distorted chords and jangly riff leading into a more laid back section with another jangly riff and vocals. Nice change of feel into the distorted sections.

Blue Bird
Slightly distorted riff to open, drumming is subtle but gives a solid momentum. The vocals are excellent again. Quite a chilled vibe to this song with excellent change in feel to a more uptempo vibe.

Keep up with Label Obscura
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Keep up with Manon Meurt
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Review of Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock II (Part Two) : the making of sympathetic vibrations album — September 4, 2016

Review of Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock II (Part Two) : the making of sympathetic vibrations album

I’ve previously reviewed Usine Hollyhock II which you can read here. It’s currently my primary DAW and I’ve used it to record a number of albums including Assimilation, Invisible Boundaries, The Fair Unknown, Sunday Constitutional, The Girl With the Long Flowing Hair (released on Fwonk), sympathetic vibrations; a number of mixes; songs for Naviar Haiku, Cities and Memory, a remix for Owlbinos of Northfield released on Romeda, a remix on Luke Lund’s Choice of no Choice album on Terranean Recordings plus a number of others.

So I thought a follow up blog post might be useful focusing on how I use Hollyhock II in practice, for example to record my latest album, sympathetic vibrations.

Hollyhock II does have a unique workflow which suits my way of thinking about creating music really well. This workflow combined with the live recording might not suit everybody and isn’t the most efficient for every style, for instance if you’re creating a loop based mix or have lots of midi parts it might be easier to use a more traditional DAW, I would tend to use MuLab for this purpose. That said, the creative possibilities with live recording are immense and offer the opportunity to create unique recordings.

One aspect of the workflow which works well for me is to create racks with different sounds, whether samples loaded into the normal or grain samplers, synths with chord progressions, percusssive rhythms etc. and play around with these racks in different combinations before creating a grid arrangement. You can compare sounds, switch racks in and out as you wish so that you can apply EQ, adjust levels, adjust effects etc. as necessary for the different parts of the song before laying them out on the grid. Once you’ve arranged your grid only those instruments / effects loaded in that section will play and you can’t turn them on and off which is why I find it useful to scope songs before creating a grid and it has lead to the creation of many songs from exploring a few sounds and also a number of mixes when certain parts didn’t work well together and I was able to identify numerous possibilities in different combinations which fitted together as a longer form mix. Once you’ve arranged the grid you can alter section lengths, check your fade in / fade out and timings etc. Here’s an example of the grid arrangement for the Low Earth Orbit version.

LowEarthOrbit grid

Another good tip I picked up from demo songs is to create the first section as a ‘blank’ with say 2 sections duration, this gives a short lead in time to prepare yourself for recording and can be edited out with an audio editor like Audacity. Often the only post processing I do is with Audacity to check levels and amplify if needed, add meta-tags, create mp3s etc.

This is how sympathetic vibrations started. I created a simple progression with Wollo Drone VST and then introduced elements to work with this sound including a granulated field recording, percussive rhythm, a drone type sound created from the field recording and a number of samples processed with delay and reverb to add a background element. I tend to find with this style that fewer, carefully layered sounds tend to work better  because it’s very easy to end up with an over cluttered sound that’s just too busy.  So I ended up with a number of racks:

  • Field recordings processed with the grain microloop patch fed to Izotope DDLY dynamic delay;
  • Groove matrix patch with field recordings fed to Subvert;
  • Wollo Drone VST fed to a spectral expand / compress patch;
  • PadKontrol patch with 16 samples (Glitchmachines, Twisted Brainwrong and 99Sounds) fed to Ambience / Vandelay;
  • U-drone sampler add-on.

grain microloop

The grain microloop patch is a granular engine where you can adjust 3 settings of a grain sampler – the starting position / width of the sample; the speed / gain; the grain / pitch. You can do this with automation curves, live edits during the recording or physics to control 2 of the parameters. This is very interesting functionality, effectively two balls in a box are assigned to the speed/gain and grain/pitch parameters and you adjust the speed, elasticity and friction to determine how the balls bounce around inside the box and hence how parameters change. This gives a unique sound as each recording is likely to be different due to the different starting positions and amount of movement used. Sometimes using a slow setting and turning physics on and off during the recording gives smoother transitions than manually editing with a mouse. I used both manual editing and physics on this album.

Izotope DDLY

I was lucky enough to get Izotope DDLY dynamic delay for free a while ago, it’s an excellent effect which has 2 delays, either analogue or granular each of which has a filter but also you can set which part of the sound frequency each delay applies to. This means you can apply a granular delay to the bass frequencies or top end for instance. I used this with the granular sampler experimenting with the settings to create a sound that I was happy with.

groove matrix

Groove matrix is a patch that allows you to create rhythms from samples. You can load 4 samples, set the length, pan, pitch, gain and arrange them in the equivalent of a drum sequencer. Global size, division and swing parameters help shape your sound and if you’re feeling adventurous the randomise pattern option can be a great starting point. I really like the flexibility this offers, you can use anything you like from drum samples to percussive samples to field recordings which shape the feel of the resulting rhythm. I also used the randomise button to start with and then used it extensively during the recording of the album.

subvert

Subvert VST by Glitchmachines is a 3 channel distortion processor based around 5 effects – multimode distortion, FM ring modulator, digitizer, metalizer and multimode filter. It has three channels of each effects chain plus modulation options with 2 envelopes and 4 LFOs and EQ too. It comes with a lot of presets and I’ve had excellent results with these so far and I used one of the presets in this instance. I still need to have a good play with this and create my own presets too.

wollo drone

Wollo Drone is a free VST created by Erik Wollo which is a virtual analog synthesizer that combines analog style sounds with on board effect processors and creates some excellent drone sounds as its name suggests. This is fed to the spectral expand / compress patch to give movement in the sound but also a subdued or distant feel too.

PadKontrol

padKontrol is the Hollyhock II equivalent of a trigger pad, you can load up to 16 samples and change the gain / pitch. It can be controlled by midi, touch OSC or the old fashioned way of clicking on the sample. I’ve used Glitchmachines samples, Twisted Brainwrong samples and 99Sounds samples fed to Ambience and Vandelay VSTs. I find using this patch allows for a good variation of samples that you can trigger manually and it’s easy to trigger them in quick succession, separately or more layered.

ambience

Ambience is a great free reverb VST effect which can produce everything from small room sounds to large churches.

vandelay

Vandelay is a delay effect by Klevgrand, it has 3 bands with independent delay, feedback and modulation settings. I really like the interface, you can quickly create some very unusual delays from the old fashioned tape style delays to dub type delays. I wanted more of a simple delay for this song and a large reverb.

udrone

The U-drone add-on is one of my favourites. You load a sample and then ‘play’ it at any pitch from C0 to B6 by selecting the appropriate circle which switches notes on for as long or as short as you wish and then off when you click again. This offers loads of possibilities from chord type sounds, bass drones to multi-layered drones. Depending on the length of the loaded sample you can sometimes get interesting artifacts or high pitch tweet / clicks layered over bass sounds. Feeding the output to Ambience / Vandelay really expands the sound.

At this point I thought about how to arrange the song. I went with the grain microloop to open followed by the synth and percussion fading in leading to a part with the random samples triggered and drone for a contrast then returning to the synth and grain microloop to fade out.

Once I’d created the initial song, the thought that everything resonates, everything vibrates and the varying rate and mode of vibrations accounts for everything that is manifest kept occurring to me. This formed the title of the song so I took this concept and thought that by changing different parameters I could create different versions or different perspectives of the same song. So that’s what I did, by changing timings and various parameters I came up with a few different versions. I then started to change a few other sounds, for instance substituting Wollo Drone, using the Fugue machine add-on and using a rather excessive effects chain comprising of Valhalla Freq Echo, Klevgrand Svep, Sanford Reverb and Fusion Delay.

That’s what is so brilliant about Hollyhock II, whereas with a traditional DAW you seem ‘locked in’ to the song you’ve created, Hollyhock acts more like an instrument – an excellent description by Kees De Groot (Groovehare) – which really encourages you to experiment, change sounds or settings and create something different. Anywhere from slightly different to entirely different. The live recording aspect also offers opportunities to create many different versions. Sometimes this is frustrating when you’re not happy with a transition but can’t reproduce the manually triggered sounds that you’re happy with no matter how many times you try. The big plus side is this doesn’t happen often and is more likely to result in an album worth of material from exploring and developing themes. Well it does for me anyway.

Xpand2

I recently got the Air Music Technology Xpand!2 workstation for £1 from Plugin Boutique which is an absolute steal and if you’re mega quick you can get it too until 5th September. Now I know some people don’t like using presets but this has loads of great quality sounds – and some not so great but these are in the minority – in loads of different categories so it’s a really quick way of getting great sounding strings, basses, pads etc. It offers lots of opportunity to shape the sounds through modifying envelopes and using in-built effects and you can layer up to 4 samples to create your own sounds. It is incredibly light on CPU usage and of course you can also shape the sounds using any other effects you see fit.

fugue machine

The Fugue machine add-on is something I’ve been playing around with lately, I created a fairly simple arpeggio as a midi pattern and then the fugue machine is a sequencer which applies delays, timing patterns, octave changes and forward / reverse patterns to create a classical type of sound. I’ve had great results so far but have yet to explore it’s full potential.

Another excellent feature of Hollyhock is its modular nature. This means features such as send/return might not be built in but they are very easy to establish by creating an audio bus on each audio out channel and then selecting this audio bus instead of an audio in on an effects rack for instance. Just make sure that you name them in a way you’ll recognise otherwise it gets very confusing. I probably should add volume mixers too which would give additional control over the standard input / output levels.

I experimented using this fugue add-on with a rather excessive effects chain as a send/return effect in addition to the series effect of Ambience / Vandelay.

ValhallaFreqEcho

Valhalla Freq Echo is a very interesting free delay effect from Valhalla which is a frequency shifter and analogue echo which can be very subtle or complete psychedelic bonkers-ness. They also make a number of reverb and delay effects which are very reasonably priced and definitely on my wishlist.

Svep

Svep is a flanger/phaser/chorus effect by Klevgrand which has a brilliant UI like Vandelay which encourages you to play with it and see what happens rather than read the manual. Which is what I did.

Sanford Reverb

Sanford Reverb is another excellent free reverb effect which has a great sound, is easy to use and has a cool freeze feature. If that’s not enough it’s also light on CPU usage.

Fusion Delay

Fusion Delay was created for the KVR ’12 developers challenge and is an awesome free delay effect by Sonic XTC that has a plasma function which separates the sound into component frequencies and blends it back in with the delayed signal. If you get the timings right this dither effect can sound really good.

breaktweaker

I also used Breaktweaker by Izotope on the Low Earth Orbit version. This was heavily discounted recently at Plugin Boutique and I couldn’t resist. It’s like a drum machine but that’s massively underselling its potential, it has so much more to offer such as slicing to create rhythmic effects and evolving beats. It’s controlled by midi so has potential to be controlled by some of the many patches / add-ons in Hollyhock for even more flexibility. So far I’ve mainly experimented with presets to get the hang of it and I know I’ve not even scratched the surface with it’s potential.

transient

I’ve processed this with Transient by Sleepy Time Records, Breaktweaker sounds great by itself but the transient shaper gives it a little bit extra.  I’d also like to say kudos to Plugin Boutique, when the deal I purchased expired their subsequent deal cost more but had 4 bundled expansion packs and they made these available to previous customers. Such excellent customer service is very rare these days.

By this time I’d made these changes and re-recordings ending up with 11 versions which made the cut for the album. One big disadvantage with live recording, especially when you use automation with physics on filters or randomly triggered samples for instance is that it can play havoc with the levels and is sometimes very hard to predict. Whilst I could use something like a limiter or auto-leveller I tend to use a less technical approach of experience and trial and error to reduce levels and then check initial recordings in Audacity. Most of the time they are there or thereabouts but occasionally they are way off like this early version of Low Earth Orbit where the start was too quite and something odd is going on when Breaktweaker enters causing a peak in the level and then is also a bit quiet.

lec

The other comment I’d make is that I don’t tend to separately master songs instead I use a ‘mastering’ rack and do it all as part of the recording. This is partly because I don’t want to over-produce the live recording and partly because I’m in no way an audio engineer and still learning lots about EQ etc. That said, I’ve found that Ferric TDS, Density MKIII and TDR Kotelnikov Compressor give me a sound that I’m really happy with. It’s not really mastering, more of a polish I’d say.

ferric tds

Ferric TDS is a tape dynamics simulator by Variety of Sound and it is excellent for adding the sort of dynamic effects that you get from top end tape gear. It adds crunch and presence and can be quite subtle but is an excellent effect.

density mkIII

Density MKIII, also by Variety of Sound, is one of my absolute favourite VST effects and unbelievably it’s free. It’s a compressor which adds amazing clarity and depth to your sound. In fact I’d recommend checking out all of the Variety of Sound plugins because they have produced an excellent range although I think they are only available as 32 bit versions.

Kotelnikov

TDR Kotelnikov by Tokyo Dawn Labs is a mastering compressor which has a very clean and transparent sound. It could be that I don’t really need both Density MKIII and this one but they seem to work together really well. It is available as a free and a paid for GE version. I’d also recommend their other plugins, Nova and Slick EQ which are both excellent EQ effects.  The GE versions are also on my wishlist.

On the subject of EQ, my use varies a lot. With this type of sound where there aren’t many elements and I want as natural sound as possible with long delay tails I often don’t use too much if any when I think it’s not really needed. Other times when I use multiple layers or sample loops there tends to be a clash of frequencies and I’ll use EQ a lot more. It’s an area I’m learning about all the time, I really need to look at some of the visual mastering tools too which look easy and straightforward to use.