098 / V/A: California Walrus

Everyone knows that California is the best US state. That’s why the Sages of Fwonk, under the direction of Katarrhaktes, have banded together to produce 17 songs in a compilation which eulogises its greatness. Or it’s just a bunch of random demos we made for shits and giggles that have nothing to do with one another. But hey! You won’t find these tracks anywhere else. Probably.

download: bandcamp | archive.org

Welcome to the New Fwonk*

Hello and Welcome to the latest, newest Fwonk*!

As of Friday 13th April 2012, fwonk.com now redirects to fwonk.co.uk and there are several reasons for this. Firstly, we have moved our entire back catalogue and blog into one single WordPress installation. We could have done that easily at the original URL, but this was even easier, and it effectively merges the netlabel content with the blog content which were separate before.. Secondly, we have moved to the cloud! This site is now distributed to you via content delivery network, which will allow for faster access to the site and all it’s goodness. And lastly, the most important reason we’ve moved is that after we had a DOS-attack several regular users of the site (myself included) found it impossible to access. Obviously, this was not ideal and a new URL should easily solve those problems. We apologise for the inconvenience in resetting RSS feeds and bookmarks and so on, but we hope that the improved quality of service will make these changes worth while.

Merry Christmas!

Apologies, but there is no Netlabel Music this week… but Merry Christmas from all us synth-vikings at Fwonk*! We hope you have a really good time over Christmas and New Year – we’ll be back with some great new netlabel releases, some great new tutorial blog posts, podcasts and even more of everything*. In the meantime, help yourself to one of our many Creative Commons music downloads, enjoy a podcast or mix, vote for your favourite Fwonk* release of 2011, nestle down with a mince pie and a sweet sherry and have a Merry Christmas!

*And when we say everything, we mean everything**.

**Or at least the sort of stuff we already do.

Vote for your favourite Fwonk* releases of 2011

The time for Christmas is near, and thoughts turn to warming yourself against roaring log fires, the jingling of sleigh bells, downing mulled wines, plum duff and all that other bullshit.

However, it is time to look back on what has been a bumper year for Fwonk* – we’ve had 26 releases (not including the sampler), moved into the blogosphere, started a monthly podcast and had two of our biggest ever success in terms of downloads. Siruxect by Tiruset has been download over 4,600 times, and in the last few weeks Ettertid by Per has belatedly hit the big time, after being included in the YouTube hit Sense of Flying.

We have also added to the blog a poll (see the far right hand side bar) to gauge your opinion of our 2011 releases. Voters can choose up to five (5) releases that have stood out as particular highlights of the year for them. Go ahead, choose your five and let us know in the comments below what you think!

Uncertain Form

Uncertain Form is a new Netlabel / Creative Commons centric blog, which takes the unusual step of featuring no music whatsoever. Instead, it features essays discussing issues surrounding the Netlabel culture, including things to consider when establishing a netlabel, the copyright industry, the culture of sharing and more.

Each essay is thought provoking, incisive and helps to promote and position the world of netlabels, Creative Commons music and internet freedoms in the context of the wider music publishing industry.

David Nemeth, curator of the Uncertain Form blog is also responsible for the other excelllent music blogs Acts of Silence and The Easy Pace.

Going Straight Week 5: Live vs Reaper

At the very beginning of this endeavour the most important question was asked right at the very start: What DAW?

Having used Ableton’s Live for three or four years and Cubase for a year before that, Live was certainly the obvious choice. Sadly this genius software comes in at £300 so the knee jerk reaction no. A quick shout goes out to the Fwonk* collective and Heskin comes back with the suggestions of Reaper.

Cockos Reaper has been going from strength to strength in recent year from an (apparently) fairly simple and iffy start it has from a large and enthusiastic following as a fully fledged MIDI and audio handling DAW. Top of its selling points is its price, $60 (with a couple of stipulations that mean that if you are Madonna or Simon Cowell then it costs $225.) The other great thing is that the 30 day trail that you can download is actually the complete and unrestrained version of the DAW, not a limited and annoying half arsed version of it.

I used it to put together a couple of tunes for my Perniciem project and it works really, really well. I didn’t attempt anything fancy with it to be honest, purely programming midi via the piano roll, chucking in the VSTs and automating various elements. The problem I had was the ‘flow’ of things. This isn’t entirely Reapers fault. At the moment 80% of my music making is done on my laptop at work during lunch. After I’ve made and eaten my Marmite crackers and given my lady-wife a ring that gives me exactly 37 minutes to get on and make some noise.

What I don’t have time to do is figure out a brand new DAW. Especially as I have trained myself in the way of Live, i.e. point at some thing and right click it and make it happen. This isn’t the Reaper way, I suspect Reaper has more in common with ‘proper’ DAWs like Cubase and Logic and FL Studio which I’m sure is a good thing if that’s the way you like to work.

I however like the Live way of working, it just kinda ‘works’.

I am not in any way knocking Reaper, I reckon it must be the best ‘My First DAW’ around, it looks great and I am told is capable of everything the big boys are (minus the massive lump of bundled samples) and if you learn its workflow as the work flow defacto then all would be well in the world.

But for me, to unlearn all I learned in Live was not ideal.

This got me looking in to the availability of second hand Live Licences and in three weeks of looking I only found one. It was on Sound on Sound’s ‘readers ads’ bit. Well worth a look actually quite a few bits that you won’t get on eBay there. But the chap was selling it as a bundle with some other stuff I didn’t want or need. I think the general consensus is that once you have Live then you stick with it and just upgrade.

Next step was to look at Live Intro, the cut down version. At £89 it had me sold. Okay so you are limited to 6 VSTi per project and only 6 VST effects per project but there’s always work arounds, the freeze function is still enabled and so worst ways, bounce down the track and load into a new project, no massive hardship I reckon. And so it was that as I when to click on the add to basket button I spotted something good. Something very tempting..

Ableton 7. Old stock. £189.00… Hmmm..

I spent a week trying to make up my mind, 200 quid is a LOT of money to spend in one go for me. But then I got to thinking about this properly. The DAW is the hub, the epicentre of your potential musical magnificence! By the time one has finished buying mixing desk, VST and VSTi, stomp boxes for guitar, leads, keyboard, synth and all the other extra gubbins you can get then it’ll all have added up to more than £200. Surely it makes sense to spend the money on the thing that connects them all, even if it is to the detriment of the fancy extras you had your eye on.

There’s no reason why Live 7 couldn’t last me for years. If I don’t have to upgrade for four years then it’s still less than fifty quid a year, my old website and domain was 60 quid and I knocked that on the head this year! Decision made I dived back onto my new best friends DV247’s website and placed my order. And got the last copy available!

It arrived last week. It’s a big box, nice thick manual (maybe I can finally learn the right way to do things) and stickers. Stickers! Woohoo!

So in conclusion: I think I would say that while I could have been very happy with the really quite brilliant £30(ish) Reaper had I had the time or inclination to change, I got lazy n spunked an extra £150. Glad I did it though, have been smiling all week.

Also that patience is a virtue…

NEXT WEEK: The cheapest Analogue Synth out there (hopefully with audio clips).

Going Straight: Week 4 – Going Native

FM8, Massive, Absynth, Spektral Delay, Reaktor, Guitar Rig, Battery.

Native Instruments (NI) have probably the best line up of software of all the big players in my own humble opinion and all of them (via the joys of Pirate Bay) have graced my hard drive at some point.

It’s so easy when stuff is free though to overlook what you have in your possession. There is a reason why these thing cost what they cost. They work flawlessly (at least in my own experience), they look good, it usually fairly obvious what does what in the UIs and by God they sound great!

The trap that one can fall into however is that you just preset browse away and don’t really try and get to know your softsynth. Too much choice, too easily gained breeds laziness.

I’d love to have the time to make spending £150 on one synth a sensible proposition because I could spend a few hours a day for weeks getting to know it intimately but that’s not the life I find myself living. There must be an argument that really all you need is one synth if you know it well enough to know how to make that sound you are thinking of. Diversity is a nice thing and how diverse you want your ‘sonic palette’ to be is very much down to the individual, but it isn’t an absolute must to make good music I don’t think.

This said, we all want more toys, more new shiny things to fiddle with. And because of that there are the vast array of choices that we find available to us today.

With all this I mind I wanted to make things right between me and the peeps at NI, I’ve used their stuff for ages and it was about time they saw some return for it. Again the ‘try before you buy’ ethos (partially) working.

I say ‘partially’ because all of their leading synths come in at roughly £150 and I don’t really have that to spend on one synth so the first thing I nabbed from them was the Komplete Elements package.

At about 40 quid this really is a steal. You get the Reaktor, Kontakt and Guitar Rig player in it (which are also all freely downloadable from the site)

But you also get some goodies above and beyond the standard freebie stuff which has all kept me entertained for well over a week now. The Kontakt player especially is awesome, “Lookameeee! Ima 50 strong string section of an orchestra!!” much fun and beautiful sounding. Oh and Reaktor.. wow.

Just wow.

On top of all this, you also get a £20 voucher against you next NI purchase.

So tempted as I was by all this loveliness and my previous dabblings with their stuff, yet with this enthusiasm tempered by lack of a lottery win I went back to our old friend eBay. I have heard said that NI are particularly good with their licence transfers and all second hand stuff should be good to go, hot to trot etc. The results are a mixed bag… and still ongoing…

Before I picked up ‘Elements’ I had gotten Guitar Rig 3 XE for £16 which is I suspect largely redundant because of the content of the ‘Elements’ package.

I got a copy of Absynth 3 for £50 and subsequently an upgrade box from version three to version four for £2.50. Yep.. £2.50!! However after 10 days of waiting it turns out the Absyth 3 guy actually double listed the item. Twit. So I am back in the bidding for A3 (once he returns my money of course). The more (but still not totally) successful purchase is a real find: Kore Electronic Experience. £59 + postage so not the cheapest but:

“Native Instruments KORE Electronic Experience consists of KORE PLAYER and seven KORE SOUNDPACKS. The library contains a vast arsenal of synthesizer and drum sounds generated by the integrated REAKTOR, MASSIVE, ABSYNTH, FM8 and KONTAKT sound engines as well as an unconventional effects pack for drastic sonic transformation of any kind of audio signal.”

Original value £170 but now discontinued. Only thing is, he is having trouble unregistering it because blah blah blah… should only be a delay not a deal breaker though so fingers crossed.

The fourth of my NI items is a possibly grey area but I think I’ll allow it withing my going straight ‘rules’: Spektral Delay, I’ve loved this for years, a really unique delay that split up the signal to many many eq bands (I think) and then messes with the bands in different ways. I used to run it ‘cracked’ or whatever but I’m now running it in demo mode which introduced noise into the signal after half an hour. I rarely spend half and hour on one single element so hurrah. The NI Service Centre doesn’t seem to have a problem with it running as a demo so… (I did still have to get the demo from PirateBay mind you, because the product is discontinued now.

So all in all, second hand software? Be prepared for some frustration but also be prepared I think to find some bargains and as long as you don’t mind a dented product box then the products itself is always going to be ‘as new’.

[Tutorial Thursday] Learn to Live Vol 3 Ep2: My DJ setup

Welcome back! Clint, aka DJvsComputer, of Bachelor Machines here.

For those of you who are following along, we are in week 2 of the saga entitled “Clint Learns To Be a Laptop DJ OR ELSE” due to my impulsive and possibly insane entry into a local DJing competition despite my lack of any DJing experience.

As you may remember, last week I was frantically watching and rewatching DJ tutorials from Abletonlife.com. UPDATE: At this point I feel like I am ready to perform, the internet saved the day again! YAY CLOUD

I wanted to discuss my DJ setup a bit. I’m using a PC laptop and an Akai APC40 controller… I’ve taken on a lot of the points that Ryan from Abletonlife recommended, and I’ve also gone and created my own custom DJ FX rack for this performance. Check out the video below (18 min) to see how it all works:

One of the things I was particularly interested in was which of the two library tracks was the “good one” that I ended up using when things were rocking. The answer is: the one that groups tracks by type is the one I use exclusively. If I were recreating this set I wouldn’t even bother with sorting them by key. In my opinion, the best way to sort them would be by type and THEN by key.

On that topic, one of the things that was recommended in the Abletonlife tutorials was to assign these kind of goofy 1A, 2B signifiers for musical keys to the tracks instead of just saying what key they are in. Two points about that:

  • It is most DEFINITELY a useful thing to put clips’ keys into their clip names. It’s a huge help in making a great sounding mix.
  • I think that if I used a crutch like that 1a, 2b thing to relate keys together, my music theory professor would burst through the wall of my studio like Kool Aid Man, revoke my degree, and possibly end my life.

Music theory is fun, guys! It’s not that hard to understand what keys work well together.

Another thing that AbletonLife discusses which I took issue with was this notion of putting in a warp marker every 4 bars. That, friends, is crazy talk. I’ll go into more detail next week about how I warp tracks for DJing – I found a useful tip that will help you if you’re a DJ.

EDIT (10/27/2011): I reread this and I think I come off like I think you need to learn a ton of music theory to be a good DJ. I definitely don’t think that’s required. All I’m trying to say is, I think exploring a bit about the relationships between keys will help make more cohesive mixes and will be fun at the same time.

Buying The Dark Side of the Moon (again)

So, here it is again, Pink Floyd’s veritable cash cow. Released again in new packaging, newly remastered and sold to the public yet again. I must confess that this is the fourth time I’ve bought the album – the first was a cassette in the late 80s, followed by the unremastered CD, then my long-since destroyed vinyl and now again in it’s newly remastered form.

Why do I keep coming back to this album? Why do I, and clearly so many others buy it time and time again? The answer is obvious – cos many people think it’s brilliant! And, in it’s own way, on it’s own terms, it is.

More to the point, why am I buying it again? I was drawn for two reasons. Firstly, and less importantly, I wanted a remastered CD of it, and a quick A-B with my old unremastered CD (the only previous copy I still have) is a revelation. It’s crisper, cleaner and just better. It’s like having an old friend round. Lovely.

The main reason I wanted it was because it comes in a 2xCD edition with a live version of the album from 1974. Now, I will confess that I have many Pink Floyd bootlegs from throughout their career, and their 1971-1974 period sees them at the peak of their powers. I note that the packaging doesn’t say which of the Empire Pool shows from Wembley this is – it’s probably an amalgamation, certainly Roger’s clanging bum-note from Us And Them on the BBC live broadcast gig is missing in this latest version.

There are things I miss in the official non-bootleg, polished version of the live show(s) – guitars and bass are too loud in “rockers” Time and Money, at the cost of some exquisite keyboard work. I’m not particularly keen with the mixing and EQing of the bass sound on many tracks to give it a deeper/”sub-ier” sound – I love the classic Fender Precision wooden plank sound on the bootlegs and Live at Pompeii concert.

But these are the petty whinges of an absolute Floyd nerd. Let me say that the live concert is stunning – On The Run particularly benefits from official studio time and extended frequency range, synths throbbing in the basement, stereo squeals and more. It is probably the first official Pink Floyd release that lets you hear just what a good bass player Roger Waters can be.

And, as The Great Gig in the Sky finishes with jazz noodling, the cash-till clanking on Money begins to fade in, you realise something not accomplished on the actual record. You realise that The Dark Side of the Moon is not a collection of songs, it is one piece of music – much in the way the Atom Heart Mother and Echoes previously had various “scenes”, so each song is a “scene” in the entire piece. You understand why Pink Floyd sued EMI for selling individual tracks online – it’s that these aren’t individual tracks, they are sections of one 45 minute long song. And that is why I keep buying it: it reveals more and more on every listen.