UBU: 32 Days of Balance

The Clips

I am starting this blog with sound clips, so you can listen while you read (or if you don’t care that much about the artist/process stuff). The first clip is the first several minutes from one of the pieces. The second is an edit from four different pieces.

Day 13 (sample)
Sampler of 4 different pieces from UBU: 32 Days of Balance

When working on a new recording, an artist has to decide why exactly they want to record this particular collection of songs. Sometimes these are the songs that come to them. Sometimes they have a theme, like Christmas songs. Sometimes they write songs they believe people expect from them, or that they know they can sell easily.

Well, I don’t take the easy road here. I decided to release 32 pieces of music in one collection because I believed that what was being sold as meditative music didn’t quite do that job for me. I regularly use music to sleep, and there were either repetitive sounds, overly dense arrangements, or environmental sounds added to the composition that didn’t add to the experience for me. I needed music that evolved over time, that had a similar sound, but nothing too obtrusive. I continue to use Brian Eno’s Ambient albums, and Chuck Wild’s Liquid Mind series, as these are closest to what I had in mind. A guitarist isn’t the first choice to put out a massive collection that doesn’t use distortion, power chords, rockin’ solos, and all of the other trappings of a guitar-based solo album, and that is precisely why I avoided those things.

So, tired of complaining about the fact I couldn’t find the music I needed to wind down from the day, I decided to write it and record it myself.

This set consists of 31 15-minute pieces (with an extra bonus one) designed to listen to while getting ready for the day or winding down from it. They could be used for sleep, meditation, yoga, etc- a different one for every day of the month. The bonus day was used for an unrelated commercial while wrapping up this project. It is very different than the other 31 days, but I decided to include it anyway.

The Gear

To understand how I recorded this, you might have to understand how I’ve recorded ambient albums in the past. I used a combination of guitar synthesizer (a device that uses samples of electronic and orchestral instruments), signal processing of a normal electric guitar signal, and a special pickup on my Brian Moore Custom Guitar (called a piezo) that can sound like an acoustic guitar. I would send these signals to a mixer and then to the best looping device ever made, an Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro.

A single Echoplex

The Echoplex was built in the mid 90s, and was mono. So stereo signals collapsed into mono, and were sent out of my mixer’s aux out to return back into a channel of the mixer and mixed with (stereo) live playing. The biggest development, gear-wise, of the UBU project is that I was able to find a second working Echoplex, which can be sample-synced to the first one to provide stereo. So my loops could finally capture the left-right swirly-ness of the sounds I was using. It is very important to me that the audience can’t hear the difference between live playing and the loops, and with this second Echoplex, it was possible. While the Echoplex is pretty old, it does some things that no current looper can do (and looper manufacturers don’t even think about).

I also started recording using my trusty guitar synth and a great early 90s Roland synth, the M-GS64. After 17 of the 15-minute recordings, I took a break for about a month and listened back to what I had. While I liked the synth I had recorded, it wasn’t terribly different from what I had recorded in the past. I used familiar compositional techniques, and built my loops in a similar way that I had before. So, I scrapped these recordings (don’t worry, I will use them for something!), and decided to radically change the gear and method in which I recorded.

I decided, for the first time in 20 years, and the first time on recordings, to not use the guitar synth. The sounds would be purely manipulated electric guitar sounds, but I then had to figure out what that means to this project, as well as to my ears.

My Fractal AX8

The device I used was called the Fractal AX8, and it essentially provides computer models of vintage and modern effects and amps. So instead of plugging the guitar into an effects pedal and then an amp, I use this magic box and create sounds using a computer editor. I built most of my sounds from scratch, while downloading and modifying a few more. The sounds are hardly identifiable as a guitar (this was the point), and further modified with long reverbs and pitch transposers. These sounds are output in stereo to my newly stereo loopers, and the output of those loopers went straight into my computer for recording (no mixer). The DAW I used to record was Steinberg’s Wavelab Essentials. So to come up with new music, I had to come up with a different way of making it.

The Method

I started looping in the early 80s using reel-to-reel tape decks, and later, long delays. Looping is a lot more popular now, and you generally hear someone build up a loop and play over it. But to make new music, I wanted to approach things a little differently. I wanted the loop to constantly decay over time. One of the problems I had with contemporary loop performance is the repetition. And repetition is one thing I wanted to avoid in my performance.

Tracktion Waveform was used to record the last track, which is very different than the rest.

The loops I built were maybe between 10-20 seconds, and would repeat about five times before they were inaudible. So I had to continue playing, constantly adding to the loop. Now if I closed the loop, and played over the top, it would gradually disappear over a minute or so. If I kept the loop recording while it decayed, it would constantly change. To me, it is like being a kid and sitting in the backseat of the car on a long trip (before devices made that bearable). You see cars, people, cities, trees…the same things, but it is never quite the same. This is the feeling I wanted to create and capture with these recordings.

Sometimes I used 2 or 3 loops at once, that were not rhythmic, and didn’t sync up in any way. The sound of them blending together, never quite the same, was interesting to me, and quite a challenge to make them work together musically.

Oh yeah, they were also recorded in one take, live. A few didn’t make it- there were technical problems, or I played something I didn’t intend and I couldn’t recover them. But all of these (save for Day 32) were recorded live. Many of them were also live-streamed on Facebook as I recorded them.

The Release

The music business has changed a lot. It isn’t viable for many artists to get CDs manufactured, and I don’t know many people that actually listen to CDs anymore. To the artist, CD manufacturing is expensive, and boxes of these things take up a lot of room! Also, releasing 8+ hours of music at once would require a box set of 9 CDs (!) and until record companies start paying artists again, that ain’t happening. So the decision was made to release this whole set digitally, as a single release. Releasing a normal album this way isn’t too hard: record, copyright, pay a company to get it to your favorite download and streaming sites. But it isn’t that easy, and there are a few steps to take, especially with something this size.

The guitar I used for recording is a custom Brian Moore C-55PM

To start with, most services that will make your music available through streaming services, downloadable files, and via YouTube don’t know what to do with a release of this size. Several of these services just flat-out declined. CD Baby worked with me to get it released, and now I know how to deal with other long-form releases I may have coming up.

The fun part of being an artist is creating the music. Unfortunately, a modern artist has to learn about a whole bunch of stuff that has to do with the business of music, and not the music itself. From promoting, to designing websites, booking shows, publishing, distributing, album art, etc…it all falls on the artist these days. Very, very few of us have a team of people to do these specialized tasks. However, the more an artist knows about the business side (and it is always changing), the more control the artist has. When we can finally pay people to help (or be lucky enough that someone else pays), we can understand the task. This is ultimately a great position to be in, but not so fun when you are trying to figure out why a menu doesn’t work on your own website, or trying to get ISRC codes to the Copyright Office.


Pig Hog Cables

I’d like to officially announce that I am now a Pig Hog artist. Check out my Artist Page here: https://pighogcables.com/pages/dave-eichenberger

You don’t often find products that can deliver the goods while looking great. Pig Hog Cables have replaced every cable in my studio. Even better, they are good enough to provide the vital link between devices on stage, as well. They are thicker, and wrap better than any cable I’ve ever tried, and I have never had one go bad on me, ever. I use them for every link in my convoluted signal chain, and they work perfectly every time.


Appearance on ABC-TV!

Screenshot of performance on ABC

I appeared on the ABC TV show Morning Blend playing my new Godin Montreal Premiere. This was to promote a few new singles from songwriter Julie Black. There were lots of good shots of the guitar, and it looked great. Two songs were filmed, with one banked for use later.
Here is the direct link to the performance.

I have another appearance scheduled in a few weeks, but that is solo instrumental acoustic stuff.

It was a little strange to do a duo song on electric guitar, but it sounded great. No pedals were used- just plugged into a Tech 21 Trademark 10, direct to the board. Great sound!


News and Updates

Some quick updates from what has been a busy spring/early summer.

  • Work continues on a looping/ambient CD, this time of normal CD length. I am exploring the idea of multiple unsynced loops at once. I am also continuing to research alternative ways of setting up my guitar synth/looping rig. Boomerang III? Triple Play? The Boomerang is stereo, which is amazing, and allows 4 loops at once, with their own decay rates. But it doesn’t have the Echoplex’s unrounded multiply function which I use a lot. I need 2 Echoplexes for stereo though, and prices are pretty high. I can’t do multiple loops at once on an Echoplex, either. As far as the Triple Play, I don’t want to bring a laptop out to gig with, and it is incompatible with the 13-pin out on my Brian Moore Guitar. Tracking is fast, and when recording, you have lots of sound options. But my goal is to have a simple, easy,setup for live playing, which is almost always in mono. This might leave me with all older gear, which isn’t always a bad thing. I hate mountains of wires, and a long setup time. This might eliminate my Fractal AX8 from my looping rig, though. Decisions.
  • Writing and demoing is happening on Julie Black’s 4th CD, and we hope to hit the studio this fall. No idea what form the CD will take…it might be something like digital downloads to start. Carrying around boxes of CDs seems ridiculous in this day and age, and isn’t the way most people listen to music. Plus, they are expensive to make. We are also working on studio issues, like fixing some wiring, organizing, and coming up with new ways to record.
  • If you are friends with Julie Black on Facebook (or me), we Facebook Live 1 song from rehearsal every Wednesday at 9pm Eastern. It is an interesting look into the rehearsal process, which is hidden a lot by bands. Now I am noticing lots of bands in the area doing something similar. Did we start a trend?
  • I am playing many shows with Julie this summer, check out the dates on her page. Solo ambient dates have been scarce as I rebuild my rig into something portable that gives me the options I need. Modern gear is great, but routing becomes a problem. I do have many solo acoustic shows this summer though, doing my improvised loopy stuff.
  • I will try to be using some downtime to work on my Facebook artist page, and this website, which take time to update and promote. Thing is, as an individual artist, you only have so many hours of the day. I wish I could ask an assistant to do this sort of thing, but in the end, that person is me.

Keep checking back. When recording starts for Julie’s CD, I plan on having a studio log, with pics and notes from recording. It will be her most ambitious recording yet, with music not easily thrown into a stylistic box (my favorite kind).


ABC-TV Appearance and New Ambient Track

First, the new ambient track was recorded in stereo with a Fractal AX8 and a Boomerang III, which is capable of recording 4 unsync’d loops that overlap and don’t line up rhythmically. This song is part of a group of demos for a new CD. I will be writing more like this for an upcoming CD. This one is called Here Child, Finish Your Nothing.

The next item is from a Julie Black appearance on ABC-TV’s Morning Blend show. We played one acoustic song (Majesty of Hope) that appears on her 3rd CD, Follow the Muse.

Check out our appearance here.

The green room at the ABC studios.

Our view across the studio

Projection on the floor of ABC-TV studio

Watch a clip of me recording the solo in the recording studio.

 

 


Playing What You Don’t Know

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Advancing as a guitar player is never seen as a slow and steady climb. It is more like a series of steps with pretty long spaces in between. While it might seem like you don’t get better for weeks or months at a time, one breakthrough can lead to months of inspiration. Those are the times I look forward to, and probably the reason I do this whole guitar thing. Modern ‘guitar culture’ sends us an endless stream of messages about what guitar to use, what to wear, how to look, what to listen to, and debate endlessly about gear. In the end, it is the player that has to push through all of that and not just reinforce what we already know, but be brave enough to venture into something we don’t. This article will help us along that journey, but only if we take the leap.

HOW DO YA LEARN?

OK, Far Beyond the Sun, from the top!

Far Beyond the Sun, from the top!

Traditionally, music was learned through direct connection: a master musician taught a student. Lessons got a little harder each week, and the student practiced hard and get better at a slow, steady pace. Traditional classical instruments are still taught in this manner, as well as some jazz programs at higher levels. However, modern electric (and much acoustic) guitar playing isn’t taught like this. Every guitar teacher has his/own method, and electric guitar is still so young compared to those older classical instruments, that it really hasn’t had time to establish a method that works for everyone. Besides, lessons aren’t for everyone. Not everyone wants or needs lessons, and with the internet, you can learn a lot on your own. Even reading guitar magazines helps so much these days, as you can learn many different styles, complete with sound clips all without leaving your home. All it takes is being self-motivated enough to sit down in learn them.

THE GUITAR PLAYER’S GUIDE TO INERTIA

McCartney doesn't seem to have this problem, so why do I?

McCartney doesn’t seem to have this problem, so why do I?

Newton’s First Law says that a body at rest wants to stay at rest. When applied to guitar playing, and learning new things, our natural inclination is to do nothing. That is easy! You already have a pool of knowledge, so it is time to draw from it! Problem with this is that if you write songs, at some point your 22nd song will sound a lot like your 3rd. Yes, bands and musicians have made careers out of recycling ideas over and over (put on your schoolboy uniform and think hard), but these days, the more you know, the better equipped you are to Tell Your Own Story.

CARRY ON AND MOTIVATE

3d-printed guitars are certainly outside the box.

3d-printed guitars are certainly outside the box.

The problem arises when we pickup up our guitars and immediately start playing what we know. Of course I do! It rocks! My hands know exactly where to go! Everybody thinks I am so cool because of my rockin’ licks! 

But this is the problem. If we always stay in our comfort zone, we never want to leave. Soon 20 years go by, and we are still the same player as we were 20 years ago. Same solos, same intros we play, same cool showpiece we practiced like crazy…20 years ago. If we want to be better players, we might want to start doing something now that stimulates creativity. The idea is that if we take ourselves outside of what is comfortable, we realize what we know is inadequate. And, if we don’t see a teacher who should regularly do this, we have to do it ourselves.

SHAKE IT UP, BABY!

New musical situations are challenging, but fun. Yeah, we feel like we are in 2nd grade when playing over an unfamiliar chord progression, or might not quite have our tone perfect for playing classic metal, but you will get there, and acquire more tools in the process. Here are a few ideas:

  • Play in unfamiliar keys. Blues in F, or metal in Eb (without retuning)
  • Retune your guitar to something different, or play in standard tuning if you always downtune.
  • Use the neck pickup and your tone control
  • Use the clean channel.
  • Set up your effects in a random order
  • Get a looping pedal and practice improvising over unfamiliar chords.
  • Try a different pickup than you would normally choose.
  • Listen to different music and find something you like in it
  • Write using a capo. Record parts on that song without using a capo.
  • Learn very basic keyboards- it will change how you view the guitar
  • Avoid riffs or power chords in the next song you write
  • Use conventional gear in an unconventional way
  • If you’ve heard it before, don’t do it
  • Take your influences and discard them
  • If you play something horrible, do it over and over
  • Learn the basics of scales and chords they are used over
  • If you are terrible at tapping, write a song using only tapping
  • Use a different guitar than you are ‘supposed to’ for the style you play
  • try to write a pop song, or a song for a commercial
  • No repeating patterns!
  • One thing, repeated. Precisely and quickly!
  • Pick up a slide. Play metal.
  • Play solos with nothing but chords
  • If your hands automatically do something when you pick up the guitar, don’t do that one thing. Ever. Again.

While not everything on the list is possible at once, it does give you an idea of what I’m thinking. If we are unhappy with what we play, we have to decide not to play that way anymore. Find things you like in other players, and then meld them with your own approach- you might find that someone will listen to you one day with the same sense of wonder. But only if we break out of the patterns that we have always relied on. Music should constantly evolve, and so should our playing. If we don’t constantly poke a stick into our own backs, no one else will.


Looping Devices I Use

Many loopers available allow you to switch between loops, so you can make an entire song over pre-recorded verse/chorus patterns.

This isn’t the way I use loops though. While this idea might be fine for a 1 man band situation, or rehearsing ideas, it is the live manipulation of the loop which starts the creative process for me.

Record some sound, add more to it, slice it up into pieces while playing live over the loop, fade and repeat.

I need loopers at least capable of fading the loops with a foot pedal. Sadly, many manufacturers of looping devices just see looping as an afterthought for many devices. That, or, they focus on the ‘backing track’ idea, where you are jamming over static loops.

I need a little more control than that. Ideally, you can have a ‘feedback’ control on any looper. This allows the original loop to fade slowly while new material is played over it. The whole loop morphs into something new as we listen- which is a lot more interesting than listening to static loops.

The Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro is a really, really advanced looper.

I use an Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro for this, which was the king of commercially available loopers, even before the current crop of looping pedals came out. The Echoplex allows you to record, reverse, slow down, sync, fade, multiply and split loops like nothing else currently out there. It is really an instrument in itself. I use this for all performances that are exclusively looping, since the manipulation of the recorded sound can be as subtle or as jarring as I want. The huge fault of the Echoplex is that it isn’t stereo…so for stereo use, you need 2.

For other looping shows, I sometimes use a Line6 DL4. This green delay pedal is a fantasic basic looper, which allows expression pedal control over the loop volume, so I can fade the loops manually while playing live material overtop. I have owned the Line6 M13 as well, which duplicates the functionality of the DL4 and adds a bunch of effects as well. Since another project I am in uses in ear monitors though, I had to sell my M13 for a Line6 POD HD500 which includes all the effects of the M13 with added amp modeling.

Sadly, they didn’t add any kind of expression pedal control to the HD500’s looper volume (even though it was in the DL4 and M13) so  I can’t recommend it as a live looping device for the looping musician. This continues to be a source of frustration, but I have been told it will be addressed in a firmware update. We’ll see. (EDIT: It never was, despite promises. I don’t buy any of Line6’s higher-end effects any more). 

I have owned a Boss RC-2, which is great for working out ideas, but doesn’t work for me as a live looping device because there is no way to fade the loop using your feet. It lacks a lot of control I need out of a looper. 

The Boomerang III allows control over the loop, and is stereo.

I am also using a Boomerang III as well. It has its own quirks, and I am still getting the hang of it. Copying a loop live (unrounded multiply in EDP-speak) is possible, but you don’t hear the results immediately. It is stereo, and allows 3 unsynced loops to play at once, so for now, it is a cool alternative to owning a second Echoplex. Some of the functions are convoluted (it should use the loop buttons to go right into overdub and erase), and requires some odd compromises. The Boomerang is unlikely to have any further software updates, and currently the company is up for sale.

I’d love the idea of a stereo Echoplex, but right now, it isn’t going to happen. Evoloop is currently vaporware, and the Looperlative LP1 is undergoing a redesign. The Looperlative might also be priced out of the range of most musicians at this point, as it is a 1 person operation.  

Below is a simple acoustic guitar loop from several years ago, with the Line6 DL4.


Generative Music Apps

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I love Brian Eno’s concept of Generative Music. Music that repeats, but never the same way. In other words, we set it in motion and it randomly generates. It usually focuses on a few keys, but it is something I can listen to hours. It is kind of like looping, but the patterns never repeat exactly. Several loopers playing a piece together might be closer to the concept, but doesn’t describe it exactly. Eno encourages musicians to use these music generators in their own compositions either on record or on stage, and I certainly intend to.

I love all 3 of the apps he offers, and I recommend them all. They are perfect for falling asleep (they include a sleep timer- yay!), or just on in the background when you read or work.

Scape

Using Scape, you drag shapes onto the screen. Their shape and position changes the generated sound. Over time, more shapes reveal themselves, so you can use them in your Scapes. I love this idea, and Scape allows you to save Scapes, or share them. Each Scape plays for a finite amount of time (about 20 minutes), so it is perfect for falling asleep.

Bloom

This is so hard for me to describe, so I will repeat some of the description from their website:

“Part instrument, part composition and part artwork, Bloom’s innovative controls allow anyone to create elaborate patterns and unique melodies by simply tapping the screen. A generative music player takes over when Bloom is left idle, creating an infinite selection of compositions and their accompanying visualizations.”

Trope

This is my favorite, because it is like artwork as well as a music generator. You draw on the screen, it makes music from your shapes, and it never repeats. From the website:

“Darker in tone, Trope immerses users in endlessly evolving soundscapes created by tracing abstract shapes onto the screen, varying the tone with each movement.”

Air

This is essentially some sort of ambient piano and voice music generator, although I tend to mix out the voice sometimes- it is limited to just a few notes. This is an interactive app as well that allows you to conduct the music, in a way. This would probably sound really awesome with multiple players playing at once, but it works well on its own, too:

“Air features four ‘Conduct’ modes, which let the user control the composition by tapping different areas on the display, and three ‘Listen’ modes, which provide a choice of arrangement. For those fortunate enough to have access to multiple iPhones and speakers, an option has been provided to spread the composition over several players.”

Read more about Brian Eno’s generative music apps here.