So, I got summoned to record Starcake. As an engineer/producer this cant be taken lightly for a lot of work goes into making a record. It was subtle at first but we decided to set a date and we did it. The studio was booked to start setup on a Friday evening. Mainly set up the drums and the microphones around it, and yes make sure it’s all gets to tape.
I had spoken about this recording with super Mundet! (Edmundo Gomez) , he pledged his support to the project until the end! So he is engineering and I am producing, my work has suddenly being reduced in half, I became the unwanted assistant.
We started pre-production in my home studio a week before the recording where we locked a basic form of the songs to a click track. This was done in reason that can later attach to the ProTools session via rewire. This click track will later conduct the band through the different takes with the exact same tempo and tempo changes. This allows for time correction of the recording in case it is needed, useful to fix drum tracks or adjusting timing in different instruments.
The main focus when recording in the studio was to get everything we could live, the piano, the drums and bass in order to take advantage of the space and the great equipment Zapboombang has to offer. Everything else will be overdubbed at a different time.
We got great results, the drums sounded great, Barry played a DW, maple five piece and the microphones where sublime in the hands of Mundet!, over all we had a great time. We even went for Vietnamese sandwiches, what else can you ask for?
After the weekend, the tracks came back in incredible condition. The sound was pristine and fat, so we proceeded to clean the tracks. Find the right takes and splice them in, correct any time fluctuation and clean punches and unwanted noises. This process usually optimizes my session quite a bit because this is where I remove all silence and unwanted useless audio. So two birds with one stone. It is crucial to fix all timing issues at this stage for anything else overdubbed with this timing will be harder to fix as you keep adding instruments to the session.
Now with clean tracks we can proceed to overdub the bass and guitars.
We did the bass in a couple of weeks, one song every night or more if we had energy. We obviously skipped some days during those weeks. We used my Focusrite ISA pre amp to control Gonzalo’s five string Warwick. For some reason Mundo’s Neve module was scratchi.
Once the bass is recorded, we can proceed to recording guitars. For this Mundo is the right man, he’s got a great collection of guitar gear from amps to cabinets, attenuators, fx and more. Not to mention his surgical ear and guitar production experience. So he sits with us providing the colors and textures we want to hear and suggesting cool effects. After drum recording, this is one of my favorite things to do, build the guitar tracks.
This can be a very daunting experience for the guitar player who is used to perform his part as a continuous performance. For this process we record part by part choosing the final sounds and creating stereo images for most of the parts. So each song can easily take between 2 to 4 hours of guitar work. We end up with at least 12 to 16 tracks of guitars.
I love to work as a producer/engineer making music, it’s been a while since I don’t engage into such activities. Funny enough it is the work that brings me the most smiles and comfort. Whether it is a record a commercial or a film, it never feels like work, just fun. So now that I am free lancing, I decided to include fun and meaningful music work into my schedule. I made myself available to a great initiative called Purple Songs Can Fly, where I work on the tracks for the children to sing on and have the pleasure to meet many like minded music and charity oriented minds. On January 2014 we will be recording the Texas Medial Center Orchestra at the National Center for Human Performance with the help of our friends from Zapboombang Studios.
I also started a project that it has become tradition among a group of friends, the Starcake Album. Starcake is a musical group created some 6 years ago (don’t quote me on that) of witch the members are long time high school and college friends, so we get together every couple of years to produce a record written by the lead vocalist and guitarist Edmund Pantuliano.
This time around I adopted the roll of producer and Edmundo Gomez the roll of engineer, something that makes me really happy for Edmundo is a great engineer and has a passion for making music. The intention this time was to make a cleaner record with a bit more punch than the current inception. So lets see how things come out, we are currently in the process of overdubbing guitars.
So my eyes are open, I hear beautiful music, I want to record it.
I was very lucky as a child, my interests where always out there and they always prompted me to research and think out of the box. I was never very good at school but I am very good at learning what I’m interested in. As a result, I became a self taught engineer working in the audio and video industry.
My parents always supported my science and electronics interests by providing me with anything I needed to experiment and learn. My mother will bring all types of broken appliances found in other people’s trash for me to analyze. My dad was kind enough to supply me with a keyboard for my musical inclinations and a computer for my programming interests. Little did I know that the computer my dad got me was the first to include in its guts the must advanced analog sound chip at the time, the MOS Technology 6581/8580 SID (Sound Interface Device) chip.
So a couple of years ago I decided to get a bunch of these little computers and harvest the SIDs inside of them. That’s when the fever kicked in, back to the C-64 docs and the SID specs. I wrote various programs that took advantage of the SID chip, it is always great to go back to program this little machine in assembly, fun, fun, fun. That is all good for fun and programming but the more I listen to it, the more I thought that the quality of the sound achieved was far from being a clean professional synthesizer. The Commodore 64 is famous for dirty sound output, this is created by interference of the RF modulator component in the board as well as a wide open audio input on the chip. So I started looking for options.
One of the great options I found is the SAMMICH SID, this little device was designed by Wilba in Autralia, he has many cool designs. The SAMMICH SID is a dual SID chip synthesizer running on a MIDIBox system. But this little box is also a bit dirty. So I had to choice but to start tweaking my beloved C-64. Of course I went to ebay to get me another one I could work with, take it apart and destroy it if necessary. This old machines are not very happy with modifications so I didn’t want to kill my working C-64.
The cool things about these machines is that they are very simple to understand and all information, manuals, compilers and schematics are widely available with a simple search.
So these are my stories about hacking the Commodore 64!
First things first. After playing with the chip programatically, I created a simple program that access all settings of the SID chip and played a simple melody. This was not very useful other than allowing me to explore the different characteristics of the chip. Then I found a great solution for control. The MSSIAH SID MIDI software by 8 bit ventures. This cool little program turns the C-64 in to a full featured analog synthesizer and sequencer with a MIDI input. This is the perfect solution for control. I also noticed that ATARI made a sound cartridge with some of these features but without a MIDI input. Now all I had to do is deal with the audio portion of things.
The MSSIAH also supports the addition of a second SID via chip select for stereo purposes or the use of 6 oscillators, 3 per chip. This is done by piggybacking two chips in the same SID socket of the C-64 using the SID2SID circuit board also manufactured by 8 bit ventures.
— To be continued —