Production Log: Sea Flat

  1. Pre-production: The idea for this one started with a Facebook post about a modern take on the suling. The example given was similar to a NAF, having 6 holes and pentatonic tuning, but it had a different tuning being tuned to a modern scale of B C D F# G. I got to thinking about that scale and realized a couple of things. First, it is quite playable on a standard NAF in the key of A. Second, if you add the “missing” E and A notes you get B C D E F# G A, which is simply B Phrygian, the third mode of a G major scale. I wanted to compose a tune using primarily the suling scale and chords derived from it, though I did not get dogmatic about it, and in particular, used the missing Phrygian notes rather liberally. The chords chosen were Bm(7), Csus2, Gmaj7, and Dsus4.I also wanted to use my C4 NAF by Brad Young, 4 Wind Flutes. I did a brief introduction of this flute on YouTube where I noted the best tone for this flute is obtained by assuming a lower pitch reference than the standard A=440Hz. More like A=431Hz feels best to me, making this flute in the key of “C flat”. That presented a technical challenge of how to deal with the pitch difference with other instruments, but more on that shortly.What uke to pair with a C NAF? Well, with the transposition from A to C, the concert scale is actually D suling(Phrygian) with chords of Dm7, Eb2, Bbmaj7, Fsus. This is a pretty good fit for a low D uke. I only have one tuned this way currently, my baritone Konablaster electric. To deal with the pitch issue, it was a simple matter to tune down the uke to match the A=431hz reference, and a test recording confirmed this would work well to pair up the uke and flute.

    But what about other instruments? About this time, I was playing with the new Redshrike synth app by iceGear on my iPad and discovered it has a Master Tune setting allowing the synth to be tuned plus or minus 100 cents. And since it is implements the AUv3 standard, many copies of Redshrike can be included in a Cubasis project. So it was settled. I would play the NAF in it’s natural tuning and detune the uke and synth tracks to match.
    IMG_0806

  2. Composition – With all that settled, composition proceeded fairly normally. A chord progression and arrangement was figured out with the aid of Band in a Box. Both are simple. As I said above, there are only 4 chords in the whole song, though I slipped in a few variations on the uke. The arrangement is simply 4 choruses of AB sections with a shortened A tag at the end. MIDI was exported from BIAB and imported into Cubasis on the iPad.
  3. Realization and Recording – this was quite a bit more complicated than the preceding steps as I was using several new tools and techniques in Cubasis. I’ll discuss each part in order though I really went back and forth between them a lot to arrive at the final instrumentation.
    1. Bass – this is a synth bass track using Redshrike. The first challenge was just getting to know the synth a bit and coming up with a tone in the ballpark. Then experimenting with the test recordings, it seems that detune setting of -34 gave the best overall match with the flute and uke.
    2. Uke – I don’t remember at what point I recorded the uke track, but I think it could have been now, with just the bass and click track in place. It’s mostly a complete take but I had to replace the tag at the end. Recording was the dry signal straight into the iPad via the Apogee Jam interface. All effects were added later in Cubasis, but I’ll discuss that in the mixing section below.
    3. Drums – for the drums, I wanted to use the new Classic Machines instruments. This turned out to be a bit of a challenge as there was no single machine that had all the sounds I wanted. So I divided the individual drum hit tracks amongst 5 different instances of the machines. This was needed for mixing anyway as the machines are little more than simple sample players with no controls for panning or level of the individual samples.
    4. Pads and keys – there are 3 other synth tracks here, a slow, held chord pad and two other plunky, arpeggiated parts. These were also programmed in Redshrike and detuned -34 “cents”.
    5. NAF – this came fairly late in the process though not all the above parts were completely in place. It was recorded as a single take using a Blue Yeti USB microphone plugged into the iPad via a USB-to-Lightning cable. The first phrase is simply the suling scale (extended with the high “a” note) ascending and descending. The rest is pretty much improv.
    6. The water at the start and end was the last element added, a bit of the “sea” courtesy of Felix Blume and freesound.org.
  4. Mixing – other than standard EQ, level, and panning, there were a few mixing things worth noting.
      1. Send effects – actually there is only one send effect, Altiverb, chosen mainly for the preset named “Blue Ocean”. :-). I doubt the ocean really has much in the way of reverb but the name was too much to pass up, and it sounds good here. All tracks got sent to it in varying amounts except the kick drum which is completely dry.
      2. Insert effects – the drum tracks have no inserts. Neither do the pads and keys tracks although they have a little delay/reverb built in from Redshrike. The bass track got a healthy bass EQ boost and very slight overdrive from the amp sim built into Cubasis. The flute and uke tracks got the most treatment and I’ll deal with those separately.
      3. NAF effects – the NAF track got the full channel strip treatment with low cut, gate, compression, saturation, and EQ. Mainly this was just to clean up unwanted mess from the mic’ed recording- low end rumble, too much breath noise, etc. After that, it got a little more ambience from the built in RoomWorks reverb and Tape Delay effects but both at a fairly low level, just 13% wet on the reverb and 16% wet for the delay.
      4. Uke – the uke track took the most time to dial in. I tried out a lot of different things inside Yonac’s ToneStack app before settling on the final signal chain shown here:
        IMG_0805.PNG
        I won’t go into each unit in detail, but you can see there’s an overdrive unit with a very low drive setting, the Wanger whammy bar pedal, a slight vibrato, and then low gain amp and cabinet. The overall effect was to give a little bite and shimmer to the part (also accentuated with a bit of rotary speaker effect in Cubasis at the end of the chain) as well as overall warmth from the cabinet. The Wanger was interesting in that I set it up with the MIDI automation trick discussed here(link to prior blog post) with the intent of playing it like a real whammy bar. After several attempts I gave up on it as it just didn’t fit the song, but when I tried to take the pedal out of the chain, it didn’t sound right either. Even with the pedal all the way down and thus doing nothing with the pitch, it still has some kind of “filter” that the rest of the chain had grown around. I suppose I could have gotten back to a good sound without it, but it was easier just to put it back doing “nothing”.
      5. Mastering was done in AudioMastering. I’ve been using Final Touch more often lately, but AudioMastering seemed to give a better result with this one. It gave it an overall level boost and slightly wider stereo image but fairly gentle as far as mastering goes. I tried to not hit the limiter too hard while getting the level to the same loudness range as other recent tracks finished in Reason.

     

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