Wednesday, April 30, 2008


"Pad-n-pluck" could almost pass for a genre name, kind of like "glitchcore" or "illbient".

A friend of mine and I used to threaten to buy Korg ROMplers and come up with a new genre of music called "dark age"... like new age, without the fluff.

One or the other of us would then make the obligatory joke about "bambient".

Struggles, the Teddy Bear

(So, yeah, this blog could be as much about my own personal neuroses as about the music that I write.)

I was watching some videos recently (via Synthtopia, I think) about electronic bagpipes.  And I'm thinking to myself, damn, these people have really focused on something that means a lot to them.  And I was jealous.  Yes, I was jealous of people playing bagpipes via midi.  Sheesh.

The thing about being an "electronic musician" is that we're not really obsessed about one thing that means a lot to us.  We're terribly open-minded.  If some new tool comes along that makes a sweet sound, we want one.  If it's got cool-looking blinky lights, so much the better.

Yes, yes, I'm fully aware that we lust about 30-year old synths as much as new-fangled beasts... but it's really a "rediscovery" of these things.  That had to go out of style before we could obsess about them again, since it was "new and cool" to own one.

This frustrates me.  I'd rather have some finely-crafted instrument that I truly cared about and could focus on.  Sure, sure, some ancillary stuff is all well and good: any true instrumentalist will have some means of fleshing out his music, be it a band or gear.

So I started wondering what it was that I really cared about.  Of course, the first thing I considered was trackers: it's what I sharpened my teeth on, and--yeah--to some extent, I still love the idea of just using a simple, free program to write music.  It's awesome.  But that's not what got me into music, and that's not what I really love.

My second thought was the Access Virus line of synths.  Their sound is, well, music to my ears.  I didn't grow up knowing about them... it's not what got me into music... so there's not a lot of history there, but it's all about the sound, which is what's most important to me.  So I'm considering it.

My third thought was less about a specific tool and more about a specific sound. For better or worse, I really like electronic plucky sounds (the stuff you typically hear arped) and thick, evolving pads.  They remind me of Tangerine Dream's early stuff, which is exactly why I got into electronic music.

(Coincidentally, Tangerine Dream just came up on my playlist.  Ricochet Part 2, in fact... a good example!)

And, yeah, that's really it.  That's what I love.  Sure, that doesn't translate well into a single tool to focus on, which is a shame... and the crux of my problem.  If it makes really nice bleepy sounds or long lush pads, I want it.  So does this actually help me in any way?  ...I dunno.

Anyway: food for thought.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Blogger has been pissing me off lately, being frequently inaccessible.  I mean, it's fine that I can post via email without trouble... but that means I can't include images, which makes this blog look pretty boring.  So I apologize for the drab string of text-only posts.

This weekend, decided to identify some very specific influences for the music I'm about to write.  I listened to my entire collection, evaluating each track for whether it was something that wanted my own music to emulate.  (This was faster than it sounds.)  It yielded 140 tracks.

I wanted to hone the list a bit more.  So I made a second list, and pulled from the first one only those tracks that deeply moved me, and from which I must pull as much influence as possible.  The result was 44 tracks:
  • 1 Afro Celt Sound System
  • 1 Astral Projection
  • 1 Bad Loop and Recue (uhhh... it's a 1-hour track, though)
  • 7 of my own tracks, from various "eras"
  • 1 track from a Waldorf demo site.  Yes, really.
  • 2 Depeche Mode
  • 1 esem... this was a little surprising.  I thought there would be a lot more.
  • 1 Giles Reaves
  • 1 Ian Boddy and Robert Rich
  • 8 Nine Inch Nails.  (Look out.)
  • 1 from t.wilton (of NOISE)
  • 1 Pink Floyd
  • 1 Puff Dragon
  • 1 Seal
  • 2 Shpongle
  • 1 Talamasca
  • 1 Tangerine Dream (also a bit of a surprise)
  • 2 Toad the Wet Sprocket
  • 5 Hol Baumann (Wow!)
  • 1 Aes Dana
  • 1 Scann Tec
  • 3 Vibrasphere

Saturday, April 26, 2008

New Controller

Okay, you have to see through the dippy "I play at hockey games" style of the musican and the AWFUL "I'm running a Casio keyboard" sound, here... but it's kind of like house-hunting: you have to recognize the potential of the structure and ignore the details of the current owner.

I want one:

Update: it's $1,700. Maybe not. : )

Friday, April 25, 2008

To Build a Patch

Early on, I discovered that there are two ways to develop a patch that fits into your track.

The first is to take something simple and process it until it fills the void.  The alternative is to take something huge and cut it down until it settles into the gap.

I sit squarely in the second camp.  I like taking huge synths--Virus and Moog type sounds--and plopping them into my song.  Then I'll tweak the detunes and the filter cutoffs and the overdrives and the envelopes until they no longer overwhelm the song.

I suspect, however, that truly great sound designers go the other way: they take tiny sounds--Prophets and CS-80s--and compress and process and detune and layer them until the sound is as bold as they need.

The advantage of this latter approach is that it's easier to mix.  You end up with, as a friend of mine once called it, a storm of secondary things.  Nothing needs to dominate.  ...I also suspect this is how most of the music I love most is produced.  For example, I'm listening to Nine Inch Nails right now (Ruiner from Further Down the Spiral).  I'll bet he starts with tiny sounds and builds them into monsters (to be fair, it's probably "they start", assuming he works with talented crews of engineers).

I wonder if I should attempt to switch my modus operandi.

The more I think of it, the more I think I should.

Unfortunately, my entire studio is currently based on the big-to-small workflow.  And I am decidedly poor at the mastering skills required by the small-to-big concept.  It would be a difficult transition.

Satisfied with Atmosphere

I have continued to dive into Atmosphere.  And I must say, there's a surprisingly powerful synth under there.  The filter is actually quite usable (I once thought it was crap), and while there are limits to the available modulation, there's enough to inject a little expression into your patch.  It's the underlying samples, of course, that make it shine.  There are some absolute gems in there.  I actually went through and auditioned every single one, and discovered over 200 singles that moved me.  That's 200 quality patches in a synth, without counting the layers.  I didn't even have close to that on my EX5. Atmosphere is a spectacular synth.

As I suggested earlier, even though many (almost exactly half) patches aren't clearly labeled, there seem to be a few trends in the names of synths that come up most in the patches I like.

First, it's not a JP-8000 I meant in the last post, it was a JP-8.  Oops! That's a pseudonym of the powerful (and hard-to-find) Jupiter-8.  I shan't be buying one of those any time soon!  I did download Arturia's Jupiter 8 V, and I'm sorry to say I was unimpressed.  It's probably not fair to compare Arturia's soft-synth to Spectrasonic's samples.  The samples are probably piped through some of the best compressors/reverbs/EQs on the planet, so they come out all punchy and full.  And "fat" isn't always good is it?  Is it?  I dunno.  At the moment, I'm jonesin' for the punch, so I passed the JP8V by.  I don't need it.

The Moog came up a lot, once I got out of the pads and into the synth patches.  But I knew I liked Moogs.  I also know I can't afford them.  Atmosphere covers the few bases I would want from a Moog, anyway.

The Virus came up more than any other identifiable synth.  This doesn't surprise me on two levels: one, Eric Persing clearly makes very (!) heavy use of them, so there were more Virus patches to pick from.  And second, I know that the Virus is my favourite line of synths.  Period.

Most surprising was the number of CS-80 patches I had on my short list.  Almost as much as the Moog!  I remember trying Arturia's CS80 V way back when it first came out, and I was at once over- and under-whelmed.  The sound seemed thin and old-school to me, and the interface was HUGE and intimidating.  I considered grabbing the demo, but I was reminded by the JP8V that there's no need: I have what I need in Atmosphere.

So, in short, I fell back in love with Atmosphere.  It's expensive, sure, but I think it's the biggest bang for the buck in my arsenal.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dream Studio

Watching the movie about Omnisphere triggered my long-dormant gear lust. Seeing Persing move from Moog Modular to Juno to Prophet to Jupiter to Virus (or whatever the order was) left a sizable drool stain on my shirt.

As a result, I decided to spend some quality time with Atmosphere this weekend. This was interesting for two reasons.

First, as I suspected, it suggested that there are several synths that have a sound I am drawn to. Of course the Virus comes up a lot. But, to my surprise, a lot of the pad and synth patches I liked are Roland synths. ...Like, a whole lot. As a result, I am vaguely considering a Roland JP-8080 and a SuperJX Rack. (In addition to that new Virus TI, cough cough.) On the other hand: I really like the Atmosphere patches that use them, so why would I need the actual synth?

Second, it surprised me how much more I liked the single patches, rather than the stacks. Less clutter, more clarity, purer sounds. ...I suspect I will be turning off Dual Mode with Atmosphere most of the time, in the future.

...Tangential to all of this Atmosphere-inspired gear-thought, I have also been reviewing 808/909 emulators. Sure, sure, go ahead and laugh. ...But I have noticed that, in using Stylus RMX, I am missing some of the "straight up" analog drum sounds that I have come to rely on in the past. ...I don't shove them in the listener's face (yet, bwa-hahaha), but they are an integral parts of my music! I miss them. So I'm in the market for a VA drum machine plugin. I'm looking at Waldorf Attack, d16 Group stuff, and one other package that had a name stupid enough that I've forgotten it.

All of this gear-lust has me worried about cluttering my studio. I like the idea of being elegant an minimal in my setup. Thus, I've reconsidered both Albino and Surge. Great synths, sure, but I have Predator, I love it, and it can cover most of that ground: I will make better use of it.

I'm also just not using impOSCar anymore, and have decided to sell it, when I have a chance to get around to it. Moving on, as it were.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Next Instrument


After doing some searching on the 'net, I stumbled across the next version of Spectrasonic's Atmosphere (which I own), called Omnisphere.

I will be buying this.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Virus Quips

I love my Virus. So much, in fact, that I am contemplating buying a Snow. (Perhaps even the real deal, heavens portend!) I do have a few gripes with the PowerCore implementation, but they probably have as much to do with my host (Ableton Live) as with the synth itself.

One such gripe is the lack of being able to use it to route effects. ...This is a huge bummer, since the effects on the Virus are awesome. It's supposed to route effects, but for whatever reason, when I do what the manual says, I end up getting nasty crackling, as if latency is all screwed up and bouncing around.

Another gripe is the lack of patch-switching. I'm probably being stupid about this, but there doesn't seem to be any external control of patch selection, and thus, when I'm working on a track, I get four uses of the Virus (one per DSP), and that's it for the whole song. I would love to be able to switch patches mid-song, so that the limit becomes four uses at a time, rather than per song.

Lastly, the PowerCore itself seems to screw up my Mac (Dual G5), forcing me to disable sleep mode. If my Mac ever sleeps, it will ALWAYS crash (100% of the time, no exceptions) on recovery. ...and this only started happening once I put the PowerCore in.

If you know anything about these issues, please reply. I'd appreciate it. : )

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Persistence of Memory

My son needed a pencil for his homework. This was a little ridiculous, since only a few months ago, we bought one of those 5-gazillion pencil packs. ...I know they all end up hiding under his bed or behind his bureau. Maybe he's collecting them to build a makeshift catapult. Or even a trebuchet... (He's a bright one.)

Anyway, I was looking around for said pack of pencils, and found an old box full of odds and ends. Clearly one of those boxes into which one crams nick-knacks when cleaning the house for an impending visit from in-laws. Tucked in the bottom of this notably dust-bunny-laden box was a pale tan CD. For whatever reason, I was compelled to glance at the minimalist cover.

Freefloater. By Higher Intelligence Agency.

Whoa! This wasn't a CD I had seen in nearly a decade! I had it buried along with Kitaro, Banco de Gaia and other embarrassing mistakes of my early electronic music-listening career.

But as I pointed out in an earlier post: my tastes have changed.

I vaguely recall some kernel of brilliance in HIA music. Curious, I pop it into the drive and rip it into iTunes, giggling at the notion that WinAmp was the height of computer-music-collecting back in those days. The evening passes. I listen to a few tracks here, a few in the car picking up pizza. I continue to listen now as I sit down to answer email.

[Now Playing: Skank]

While I find a couple of these tracks are silly and obnoxious... this track is brilliant, as are a few others. Minimal but engaging. Unapologetically electronic: just the way I like music, these days. Lots of squelchy 303. Personality. Lacking, perhaps, in a more overt "message", it is nevertheless quite enjoyable.

I wonder, briefly, what other abandoned music I may be missing out on now. You see, I go through regular binges and purges of music. (More purges than binges.) ...My collection is dizzyingly small, for an musician: I tote one of the earliest-generation iPods, of which I use perhaps 30 Gig... and over half of that is foreign language training (trivia: I was a linguist in college: a good one). My music library is a greyhound: thin, sleek, and built for a single purpose. It runs fast and then sleeps for the rest of the day. It farts a lot if you don't feed it yogurt.

Okay, so the greyhound analogy isn't perfect.

Counter-intuitively, experiences like this--where I "rediscover" good music that I long ago deleted--evoke a sense not of regret but of appreciation. If these tracks had stayed in my library, I would take them for granted. Only because I have some much distance from them now, I can appreciate them anew. It's like a little gift I'd hidden for myself. You don't know what you're missing until it's gone. That kind of thing.

I highly recommend deleting the music that's gotten a little tired for you. In a decade, give or take, you may stumble over it and fall back in love. Fleeting or not, it's still a worthwhile experience.

"In Transition Once Again"

(Title is a Peter Gabriel lyric from Growing Up maybe? Digging in the Dirt? I can't recall...)

I have begun to obsess about my upcoming album.

So, there I was listening to it, thinking, "yeah, this isn't really where I want my music to be. This is a transitional album."

Barely had the thought drifted off the lips of my inner monologeur (in this case, I think he was wearing a trench-coat and a derby and speaking with a Londoner accent) when I thought "Crap. All of my albums have been transitional."

Then: isn't all art transitional? ...Does an artist ever really "settle" into what she's doing? I'm not sure.

I was in Hawai'i recently, and had the chance to visit quite a number of reasonably good art galleries. One of them had some fucking incredible Wolton oils hanging, so I ended up talking to the curators. ...Turns out they (two, middle-aged women, well-dressed and very nice but air-headed) really knew nothing about the process of art. Neither of them had any aspirations to learn, either. Neither knew what impasto meant, as I was trying to tell them that most of their gallery used the technique. But the disappointing sentinels aren't relevant to the point, which will come up on the gui'tar any moment, now...

[strum, strum]

The point was that Wolton claims--and the simple-minded ladies agreed--to have found his paces. At this late stage of his life, he just paints to express himself, and learns nothing in the process. In fact, he says himself:

If our art can be repeated using only skilled craftsmanship [that] ultimately
reaches its level of maturity, all that "knowing how to paint" becomes a
subconscious mechanism. The creative energy, unhampered by concern
or lack of confidence, then spills itself onto the canvas."

This implies that there is an end point. That we can "find ourselves" in art. Sure seems an appealing idea. I would like to be able to claim mastery of my craft.

...The thing is, I'm not sure I buy it. It certainly ain't true for me. ...At least, it shows no sign of slowing.

And I'm not sure I really mind. Part of the appeal of art (and music) for me is the aspect of personal growth.

So here's to always being in transition!

[NP: Evening Star by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno. Hey, sometimes I like to chill to old-school ambient.]

Monday, April 14, 2008

Taste Over Time

It's fascinating how people's tastes change over time.

Particularly in music.

Five years ago, I was 80% ambient music.  I listened to it, I wrote it.  While some techno was "cool", I thought it was more often redundant and obnoxious.

Today, I'm 80% techno.  Some ambient is fascinating, but it's more often redundant and obnoxious.

Lately, I have been listening to Astral Projection.  ...I feel a little guilty admitting that.

What are you listening to now that your younger self would have slapped you for?

[NP: Time Wolers by Astral Projection.  And it's kicking ass.]

Obligatory Gear Post

I use Ableton Live. It's the most immediate studio. It gets me writing music right away. I find that the best songs I've written are tracks I wrote in one sitting, so speed is important. That said, I'm running v6... they update yearly, and I don't have the money to keep up with them.

My favorite synth at the moment is actually Rob Papen's Predator. It's not the best-sounding, and it's not the most capable, but--again--it's something that I can quickly get excellent results from. You'll hear a lot of his instrument in my new music (perhaps 1/3 of it). Very tweakable.

My best synth (notice there's a difference) is the Virus Powercore.

It's a Virus. Do I really have to say anything else?

I also make ubiquitous use of Spectrasonics' Stylus RMX and Atmosphere. Both are excellent samplers... but that's really all they are: there's not much I can tweak. ...but they both sound incredible, so I use them a lot.

Lastly, I have GForce impOscar. ...A little synth with a lot of personality. I don't use it as much as I would like: he doesn't seem to play nice with the other boys. There's a lot of him in Black Mesa Winds, but not much in the upcoming album.

On the shopping list? PoiZone, Albino, and Surge. I like having as minimal a studio as possible, so I really don't want to over-do it... so I will probably sell impOscar and pick up PoiZone. The latter also has a lot of personality, though it's something of a one-trick pony (well, two-waveform, anyway), but I love the sound. Albino is something I used before my stuff was stolen, and--dammit--I want it back. Great, versatile synth with a smooth sound. Surge is more versitile, and I'm missing a nice digital edge in my music. I love the wave-shaping abilities of it. (Rather, I miss the wave-shaping abilities of Z3ta+, and Surge comes closest to it.)

I write my music on a simple, old Dual-G5 PPC Mac, running OS X Tiger. Yes, I kind of miss the PC for writing music (more plugins available)... but it wasn't worth dealing with Vista. I also wish my machine had a little more beef. But I'm a po' boy, and can't afford big steel.

For effects, I only use freebies, and I use them sparringly. Favourites include Ambience, Analog Delay, Blockfish, CamelCrusher, MDSP Compressor, MonstaChorus, SupaPhasor, and Multi Delay. If I can get away with using built-in effects (delay and what-not), I will.


My name is Jeremy Rice. Once upon a time, I made music under the name "Introspective".

My gear was stolen in 2007. While that sucked, insurance allowed me to redesign my studio. The resulting music was different enough that I felt like it was wrong to continue releasing under the same name.

I'm currently working on a new album. It goes alternately by "Whom" or "Abandonment"... I'm not sure what the final title will be.

I've also decided to start releasing the music under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States scheme (though all the stuff on Kahvi is covered under that license, if I'm not mistaken)... and I will be putting the tracks, as I finish them, on The Internet Archive.

In fact, my debut track is there now.

I will continue to release full albums with Kahvi... which will put them on with the cover art and all the extras.

I will also be looking for net labels on which to do "guest releases" of short EPs, so if you're interested, email me with a username of jrice_blue at the typical Yahoo! domain. (Be warned: I'm slow about reading email there, so be patient.)

I will also be considering CD releases. ...Not sure yet. And I might just do those with Kahvi Commercial. Maybe.

[Now Playing: Cocaine Ways. Nice album!]