waterburn 8/52 for rreplay

Liquidy soundscape sourrounds you.  Enjoy week 8 of 52.

back before going: week 7/52

A two-for-one deal. part intergalactic driving music, part blues from a radio late at night. Week 7 from 52/52 challenge.

How to get a dub bass sound in a mixed track

You might want to give “More Lost,” from last week (see previous post), another listen.  I remixed it to get the bass to sound right and it sounds a lot better.  I know you didn’t ask, but here is what I did, in case anyone else runs into the problem of changing the sound of the bass when there is no separate instrument track. Of course, the best option is to record the sound the way you want it to its own track, but that is not an option here because of rreplay’s live workflow.  So I had to try to get the sound in the mix instead of in the recording.  We were aiming for a dubby bass sound, nice and full on the low end without being boomy.  Here is the recipe, and an A/B comparison at the end.

FIrst split the track into two: a mono (sub-) bass track with a cutoff around 200 Hz and a stereo track for everything above that. I left the top the way it was originally mixed and worked only on the bass.  Remember though that all the “finger” sounds and most of the transients of the bass are up there. I read the manuals for the two main plugins I used, a transient shaper and Ohmicide multi-band distortion.  I also did side-by-side listening with “more lost” and  Sly and Robbie’s Fatigue Chic as the dubby timbre we are aiming for on the mono sub-bass track.

For the initial mix, I muted the top (stereo) channel and worked just with the bass. Unmuting for A/B comparison was not a good idea, because as my ears got accustomed to the bass, turning the top back on for brief periods sounded way more trebly than things actually were. I needed to give the piece a listen all the way through when I wanted to hear both channels, so I got the main part of the bass working with it soloed, and then tweaked the finishing touches with the full mix. Going back and forth with “Fatigue Chic” was very helpful to see if I was getting closer on the bass sound.

I could get the bass really fat in my good monitors, but then it sounded like $#!+ on anything else. When I was turning up the bass channel, it was also amplifying a bunch of low end cruft. The solution was to use a transient shaper (I used the transient shaper included in Sonar, but you can probably score a [free] [one] or a demo to try), with a fast attack and a slightly sped up release, so that the bottom is only happening when it is either Eric’s bass playing or the bass drum. The attack does not need to be instant, since the treble parts of the attack are still in the upper bands, but fast enough so that the bass is coming in at the same time as the same transients in the upper track. Set the release really short for the moment to accentuate what you are keeping.  Fiddle with the threshold until all the bass notes and the bass drum play, but nothing else.  It is ok at this point if it sounds choppy.  Raising the threshold should make notes drop, and lowering it will introduce extra stuff.  There should be empty space between the notes.  Once the threshold is set, lengthen the release time (move from “dry” to “wet” on the plugin I was using) to bring back the tails of the bass notes, but don’t set it so long that the gate stops working and the cruft seeps back in. There should sound like there is a little (not too much) space between the notes where the gate is working. the upper track will fill those in once we introduce it back in.

This tightened things up considerably. I messed with EQ a bit on the mono bass channel to push the frequency where the bass drum sat a little.  Your mileage may vary on this, depending on the bass drum sound.  It can make it ring in an unpleasant way. the boost for this was a somewhat narrow and small one at about 130 Hz, but YMMV, so use your ears.  I also gave a lesser, rounder (i.e. lower Q) boost around 80, so there was a slight sharper peak centered on 130 over a rounder peak centerred on 80, with a sharp cutoff below 50 and above 200.  I then put a little compression after the transient shaper instead of at the beginning of the chain, which further tightened things up.  It goes after so that the cruft stays quiet and the notes and bass drum loud.

At this point, I started listening to the whole track (upper and lower bands both on).  Looked at overall EQ of bass and treble channels together in Voxengo’s free SPAN meter  and solved some dips and peaks caused by splitting the channel apart, added the ohmicide distortion, set to a mild vaccum tube emulation, to the mono bass channel but turned down to 10% in the mix — all it does now is adds a little tail of midrange harmonics that “glues” the bass channel to the high channel so it does not sound like the Eric’s bass finger work is from one bass and the sub-bass from another. Could prbably do this with many other tube saturator type thingies.  The trick is to really go light on it.  I wrecked several versions until I backed it way off until I thought I could no longer hear it, then checked by bypassing it to hear if it was an audible difference at all and if it improved the sound (yes to both).

I tested the new remix on the good KRK monitors, on Cambridge Soundworks computer speakers, and on my Bose computer speakers and the bass sounds way better …no woof, gargle, or fizz while being more prominent with a better fat dubby tone, and because of the cruft removal and glue, much tighter sounding in the mix.

Here is the old version:

Compare with the current Souncloud version:

Elephant Walk (#6/52)

Week 6 of our 52 in 52 challenge. This one is more experimental, kind of elephant sounding with spaghetti western at the tail end.

#4 and #5 from rreplay

more lost
Thinking about how much suburban homes look like motherboards, I missed my turn.  We missed last week’s installment, so here are two new rreplay tracks this week.  “more lost” ostensibly “about” driving in Somervill, MA, where this was recorded, and “we suppose,” because we wanted to call it that we suppose.  Hope you did not miss us too much!

rreplay – lucid dream

Third installment of the weekly track series. Quiet sweet guitar and bass. One of Rich’s favs.

rreplay – bosunsweet

installment 2 of weekly track from rreplay


Gonna try and put up a rreplay track each week. This one floats away on guitar and bass then transforms into the bomdiddybom bewaka before exploding, after which the pieces all float down. Named after the things in your eye that float around looking like they are there but aren’t.

Live from the Uncanny Valley on SoundCloud

rreplay’s new album, Live from the Uncanny Valley is available for streaming on SoundCloud:

What’s this uncanny valley anyway?

uncanny valley exampleOk, so some people have been asking if rreplay’s new album, “live from the uncanny valley” is really live.  Somewhat ironically, the human automaton that monitors CDbaby titles added “(live recording)” to all our tracks when it caught the title, and I had to get a real human to go in and remove them all after explaining.

The title comes from the idea of the uncanny valley in gaming and animation circles.  The idea was first proposed by robotics professor Masahiro Mori in 1970, and much of the research on this aspect of robotics comes out of Japan.  I only say this because my partner — demonstrating the disturbing nature of the uncanny valley — responded to seeing a picture of a realistic-but-not-quite-there Asian woman with “What’s this orientalist shit?” Sending me off searching for another image.  I settled on the one at the top after the one of Christopher Reeves as superman was deemed “not creepy enough” on the forum where it was posted as an example of the uncanny valley.  I don’t know, I think it qualifies.

uncanny supermanThe idea is that people form emotional attachments to images, particularly moving ones, and that as long as an animation is suitably unrealistic, people can make their attachments unpreturbed.  But as soon as animations start getting closer to realistic without making it all the way there, people start getting bothered by the familiarity combined with the cognitive dissonance of some parts of the rendering still being off.  This gets at the heart of what early twentieth century theorists called the “uncanny.”  Supposedly, if animation gets good enough, it can make it across the uncanny valley and into photorealism without setting off our alarms.  Figures that the gamers on reddit would think that Superman, a White Guy if ever there was one, would get there first.  And let’s just avoid altogether various Hollywood plastic surgery disasters…

Rreplay Uncanny Valley002OK, but what about the album?  rreplay’s new album is not live in any traditional sense, although all the parts are recorded at once in a live fashion with no overdubs.  It is thus part of the way there.  But there is more to its uncanniness, which in the aural realm is not always a bad thing (at least that is where we are placing our bets).

In synthesized music, when the sound is suitably distant and artificial, it is comedically cheesy. To escape that trap, it needs complexity and a dynamic between predictability and unpredictability.  It is probably no coincidence that one of the adjectives that crops up most often in describing the uncanny valley’s visual realm is borrowed from the sonic: “dissonant.”  The past decade or so has seen the fetishization of the analog warmth of early synths, with their unpredictable, non-linear quirks that come from the imperfect renderings of math in vacuum tubes, rare earth, and silicon.  Analog synths are generally far enough away from any acoustic instrument to not enter the downward slope of the uncanny valley, although some of the renderings could be supremely creepy, as in synth/singer 70s nowave duo suicide’s uncanny ghost rider with its interplay of anxious and urgent vocals over an unquantized sequenced backing.  Not always a bad thing.

With the digital, the uncanny valley comes back in force.  Much of the supposedly cold clinical feel of digital music probably arises from the audio uncanny.  In digital, there are no non-linear, erratic human elements unless they are put there, whether programmed, or via the filters of digital controllers, or via underlying touch.  I’ll refrain from demonstrating the bad with some 80s DX7 synth hit because it will undoubtably be someone’s favorite song.

rreplay studio
In the rreplay studio after hours

The feel, touch, and timbre of a piano, an acoustic guitar — or for that matter, an electric played through a tube amp — are all difficult to emulate.  Digital synthesists have long had problems emulating “real” instruments because the variables are simply too many and too ineffable to get all of them reduced to algorithms even with mega-gigabite round-robin samples — though great music continues to be made.  The best answer I have found (partly because I can’t afford the latest greatest bestest synths and samplers, partly because without overdubbing, I would need a computer farm to play them live anyway)  is not to break on through to the other side a la Superman via more and better algorithms, but to mix the controllers (and like a good controllerist, I like to get as many of those digital balls in the air as I can) and digital (vst) synths with the touch and feel of electric and acoustic guitar, themselves emulated digitally at the amplifier end — and in the case of the acoustic sound, via convolution — but played on an actual guitar and bass at the other.

The mixing together of the two in “Live from the Uncanny Valley” makes for what we hope is an uncanny adventure, strangely familiar with a dose of dissonance, perhaps even sometimes disturbing, but always recognizable for that which it is a simulacrum of by the human touch on the guitar and bass underlaying all the maths and controllers.  Hope you will give us a listen — preview will play the full album.

Also, if you are in Honolulu, please stop down at Manifest in Chinatown Weds, 5/13 from 6-8 for our record release party, featuring an uncannily live performance from rreplay crossed with the dj sounds of count weevil.