On January 5th (that’s more than two months in the past!), I embarked onto the first leg of my journey through the More Than Moore project. As it turned out, it was a winter journey, as I recorded a synth rendition of Schubert’s Der Leiermann, the closing song of his song cycle Die Winterreise.
First things first: here’s a video documenting cutting the tape (which later got transferred to digital for the video only, i.e. everything before the youtube video is in fact an analogue signal chain).
Arrangement and Tracking
I decided to start by recording guide tracks: playing The Grand from the Kurz, I laid down guide vocals via my trusted Beyer M88 (it’s interesting that while for headphones I prefer AKG, for mikes it’s all Beyer and AT). Next, I disassembled the piano part into three MIDI parts (the bordun left hand, the accompanying chords, and the melody), and extracted MIDI from the vocals using Cubase’s VariAudio feat. As this is originally written for tenor voice and I sing more of what Wagner would call a high bass, I discovered that precise pitch is an issue for that low E for me.
I then did what I mostly do, namely created a digital mockup using simple VSTis (here: Retrologue), all the while thinking about choice of analogue synths for the parts.
My choices were as follows: A100 (with only a sine voice through a VCA with envelope) for the keyboard melody, Matrix for the chordal part, Sixtrack for the bordun, and Pulse for the lead voice. And I envisioned to add some very gentle timpani-like parts using the Volca Kick.
Next: sound choices. I started by wiring the synths of choice to my small-format rack mixer which sits together with the DAW, and browsed some presets (or, in case of the Sixtrack, started editing from scratch, as it had suffered from memory corruption). Turned out memory wasn’t the only thing that got corrupted: notes hung, controller messages were garbled, and there’s also some ugly, intermittend background noise. All in all, I might be in the market for an analogue poly synth. Maybe a Minilogue? Or a DeepMind? But I digress.
For this track, the issue was resolved easily: if you want something that has some kind of Sixtrack DNA and you only need three voices, look no further than the DSI Tetra sitting on the other side of the room. With that, the instrumentation was picked.
I then continued to connect the synths to the board. Next was sound choice and sound design: I found that while some presets provided a good starting point, none of them was ready to go out of the box. After that was taken care of, I listened to the sound. I immediately discovered that the Tetra makes the most noise, followed by the Matrix. In both cases, DIs were in order. For the Matrix, I also made a mental note to add a gate later on – for the Tetra, this didn’t make much sense as it’s playing all through the track.
Next were effects. Which meant stompboxes. I started to set up a chain of three VD400 delays because you never can have too many delays, then added some new grabs: an Arion Phaser, an old Ibanez stereo chorus, an Ibanez Flanger, and a choice of TC Dark Matter and Boss Super Overdrive distortions.
Wiring the stompboxes was a breeze, wiring to the rack gear not so much: there may or may not be issues in the wiring, or in some of the devices I had acquired second-hand: the BSS 944 doesn’t seem to work, just like the 3630’s compressor, and one of the DR404’s channels also failed. No problem, for this track I still had enough to spare.
The next topic was the lead voice: what I had extracted from my singing voice didn’t work well to play a synth expressively. I then sat down in front of the Prophecy’s keyboard (would have preferred to play it on the Q, but there is a “space issue”) and recorded it practically as a first take.
So I had four auxes: a three-tap-delay, a chorus, a phaser and a flanger. The two distorion pedals were fed by direct outs from the keyboard melody and lead voice respectively. At this point, I also decided to beef up the lead voice a little by adding a 16′ triangle played by the Minibrute. And I added the timpani with the Volca Kick. Gates were applied to Volca Kick, Matrix, A100 and both distortion pedals, and compression to the Kick and a gentle one to the lead voice. Chorus, Phaser and Flanger were applied to Tetra, Matrix and Pulse in that order. And the A100 got the delay treatment. I used the four pair of subgroups for everything Tetra, everything Matrix, everything A100 and everything lead voice, respectively. With some gentle EQ settings (the only voice requiring some more intense treatment was the Tetra), I was all set.
Next came the recording medium. I brought over the CT-95 in an uncleaned state (not having the necessary fluids at my disposal) and consciously opted for a ferric tape for the dark sound of that composition – maxell UR which you can buy for seven for five in your local store.
The mixdown parameters for this track were rather simple – after I had set EQs and outboard where applicable, there was only a small number of fades, and those only to keep noise contained during the quiet passages.
Effects-wise, I had only a little bit of delay as a slapback on the lead voice, chorus on the pad, and distortion on the sine wave, which in turn went through the flanger. And lacking a proper reverb, I used a plate algorithm from the Zoom 1201 – great bang for the buck this one!
I did a test run first, and then went straight to tape as they say.
So it works. It will be trickier for those tracks where I need to adjust mixer parameters and synths at the same time, but that can be scored and done by a two-man-team easily. More than Moore is looking towards a bright future!