Mesmera: The blank canvas

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Geekery, General, Mesmera, Music, Obscurer, Patch design, Pieces, Reason, The Broken Divide, Tom Pritchard

Starting a new personal project is frequently a rather daunting prospect, and in my case is something I tend to fall into rather than something I tend to sit down and consciously decide upon. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I may have written Mesmera’s formative tracks in late 2017, but I certainly didn’t set out with the initial end-goal of creating an album. Sometimes it works to carefully consider everything beforehand, and that’s how I generally approach my production music – but when it comes to solo material, I like to see where it takes me.

…oh boy

So where on earth do you start with that approach? Well – as long time listeners/followers may have noticed, I have a bit of a habit of rotating which instruments and sounds I use on any given project, and how I approach the process of composing and arranging the tracks themselves.

In some instances, these decisions are carefully considered beforehand and are directly informed by the type of music I’m attempting to create. In other instances, these decisions happen quite naturally and, by contrast, directly inform the music I have yet to create. The former approach is generally the one I adopt when I’m working on a particular project to a specific set of guidelines – for example, if someone’s asking for a collection of epic cinematic production tunes then I’m probably not about to bust out my collection of time-stretched wind-chime samples (which totally isn’t a thing but I feel it should be). The latter approach is frequently the one I adopt when I’m staring at a blank canvas and need a place to start – frequently, but not always (see also: Obscurer, where the choice of instrumentation was very deliberate and directly affected the sound and style of the album). Mesmera definitely falls into the latter category.

Following the metaphor of approaching a blank canvas, this selection of instruments and sounds is something I frequently refer to as my “palette” and, while there may be shared elements between projects, they tend to shift about from project-to-project. In the case of Mesmera, I can break down the palette into a selection of very specific elements – some of which I’ll go into here.

Europa in Reason 10

Europa. Lots and lots of Europa: more specifically, Europa patches from Europa Relay. I created this sound-bank shortly after the release of Reason 10, and my heavy use of it had a very direct impact on how my ideas sounded right from the start.

Polysix. This has become a staple of my music since around 2014 or so, and I use it way more than is healthy for things like synth arps and bass drones. It’s straight-forward and always sits nicely with whatever I’m working on. I’ve been considering rotating this out of my palette for bloody years and it still hasn’t happened.

– Acoustic guitars. In this instance, I ended up re-visiting the idea of using lots of simple plucked arps in a similar manner to how I ended up sprinkling acoustic guitar parts all over And All Is As It Should Be. There are a couple of parts where I strum out a few chords, but I really liked adding an extra sense of rhythm with guitar arps, sometimes layered up with other acoustic instruments to vary things up a bit.

– Acoustic percussion. This was something I naturally gravitated towards while working on Mesmera, and is something I used in tandem with the drum sounds from DrumSpillage (below). I realised that I had a habit of relying primarily on electronic kits and traditional acoustic drums in a lot of my music, so I decided to broaden my horizons a bit for Mesmera and ended up bringing in a lot of ensemble percussive elements. This is particularly evident on tracks 1 and 3 (Standing On The Precipice and Everything Felt New, respectively), and runs throughout the album.

DrumSpillage

DrumSpillage. I’ve been using DrumSpillage to roll my own electronic drum hits since I first picked it up a few years ago. I had always struggled to find a really shit-hot drum soft-synth for solid drum hits, and while I have a few favourites that I still use for percussion (namely MicroTonic, love that drum synth!), DrumSpillage was the first where I really thought “woah, this is EXACTLY what I’m after!”. I tend to rotate this into and out of my palette purely because sometimes I just want to drop a sample into a track that I know is going to work without going through the process of rolling my own sounds – but that’s entirely on me and has nothing to do with the instrument.

This is by no means a comprehensive selection of everything I used on Mesmera, but a lot of these particular instruments and sounds find their way across a multitude of tracks. The fun thing about this is that I tend to naturally gravitate toward different instruments and rotate different elements out of my palette almost immediately upon completing a project. Right now I seem to be gravitating towards a different set of sounds, and I have no doubt that this will somehow inform the next personal project I inevitably end up working on.

One thing I like to strive toward when creating an album is a sense of cohesiveness throughout, and gravitating towards a palette in this manner is one way of accomplishing this, even if it tends to happen almost by accident in some cases. Another good example of this is how I ended up creating a lot of the tunes on Pieces – because I was so utterly reliant on the sound-banks of Tom Pritchard Sound Design at the time, the tracks sounded somewhat connected despite some of them being written years apart.

But it’s not necessarily just the sounds that reflect how an album shapes up, but how I get those initial ideas down and arrange them into something resembling a complete song. Going back to Pieces, I ended up using Reason’s Blocks functionality an awful lot to get a semi-complete 8-16 bar loop going, and then work backwards from that. This is a nice approach to take because it means you already have a destination to work toward – from there you can decide how to build towards the destination and, upon reaching it, decide where you want to progress from there. This is also an approach I tend to adopt for a lot of my production music, and it’s an approach I adopted when working on my live-stream music making sessions.

In the case of Mesmera (and The Broken Divide before it), I took a much more linear approach to arrangement – starting from the beginning and going from there. This approach tends to lend itself to a more “progressive” arrangement (in the sense of “things progressing”, not “15-minute prog epic”) in that the journey informs the direction you’re going to take. I tend to follow this approach when working on a lot of my own personal projects because it means I’m less informed by pre-conceived ideas, and it gives me a little more flexibility to go off on a tangent if I decide to explore a different direction.

Mesmera is available NOW through Bandcamp. You can listen to it in its entirety and download it from my Bandcamp page. Bandcamp subscribers also get access to an exclusive audiophile master, along with a beatless arrangement of the album. It’s also available to stream & download from a wide variety of digital distribution outlets.

Upcoming releases, Nucleus SoundLab, and (gasp!) another video tutorial!

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in General, Music, Nucleus Soundlab, Patch design, Reason, Tutorials

I was thinking it was about time I posted an update here, and it’s just occurred to me that quite a lot has been going on over the past few months.

So! Starting with the obvious – I am incredibly pleased to announce that I have recently started working with Nucleus SoundLab as a Product Specialist. “What does this mean, exactly?” you may be asking. Well, as you may (or may not) know, I’ve been working on-and-off with NSL for the past six years or so on various Reason ReFills, along with some VST patch design work. Now that I’m working as a product specialist, I’ll be continuing to contribute to said projects, but I’ll also be working a lot more behind-the-scenes with the rest of the talented NSL crew. I’m also producing demo material for said projects, including demo songs, videos, and the like. I’m thrilled to be taking a bigger role with NSL,  and I’m looking forward to what the future may bring! Of course, I’m still working on my own music and other assorted projects around my work with NSL. So that segues quite nicely into…

…my next release! I’m keeping certain details under wraps for now, but I’m happy to disclose a couple of bits of information regarding my next musical release.

  • It’s going to be a full-length release. Not an EP, not a single, but a full-length release.
  • It’s not Album 4. Sorry. That’s still quite a way off… but I am currently working on it.
  • It’s going to be a digital-only release. This is a topic I will probably talk about properly at some point, but this will not be getting a physical release.
  • I’ll be releasing it later this year.

I’ll be releasing more information closer to the release. Having said that, I’ll be giving away two FREE songs from said release once my Facebook page hits 1,000 “likes”, and I’ll properly lift the curtain on the release itself when that happens. At the time of writing, it’s sitting around 900 “likes” so… spread the word! In the meantime, you can check out a small clip from the opening track here.

You may have noticed that I mentioned Album 4 before – as I said, I’m currently working on it. So, you may be pleased to know that not only have I (FINALLY!) put together another video tutorial for one of Reason‘s devices, but it’s also a very, very sneak peek at something I’ve been currently working on. Whether or not it’s an Album 4 track remains to be seen, but if you’d like to see how I’ve been using Reason’s Synchronous device in my work, then this is the video for you.

I hope some of you find this video useful, and – as always – I’d love to know what you make of it!

Post Civil Protection tour shenanigans, album plans, and all that fun stuff

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Civil Protection, General, Music, Patch design, Stolen Fire

It dawned on me recently that I probably should have updated this page when the Civil Protection album was actually released, or after we finished touring it… but I guess I’m just not that smart. In any case, both of those things happened, and you can listen to the Civil Protection album in its entirety using this handy little music player doofer. Hooray! I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive the gaps between tracks, but you can get around those by buying the album.

So. Anyway. The tour. Well, that was an interesting experience – full of fun! Full of laughter! Full of Sylvester Stallone impersonations that totally didn’t get old at all, I don’t care what you say. And full of glorious, glorious noise!

We ended up performing the bulk of our gigs up North, with a couple of gigs a little further south (namely in Nottingham & Islington). Unfortunately, a lot of the planning was a bit of a last-minute affair, so there were a couple of gigs where maybe things didn’t go as smoothly as I would have hoped. Having said that, those moments were overshadowed by the moments where things went more-or-less exactly as planned, and it’s always fantastic to play to a crowd who really gets what we’re trying to do. We’ve all learned a lot from the experience, and I’d just like to say a huge thanks to everyone who came along to our noise-making sessions!

As an aside: if I ever see a lead vocalist yawn on-stage again during a set (seriously, this actually happened) then I will genuinely lose my shit.

So, right now I’m currently knee-deep in another patch design project which I imagine will keep me occupied for a good chunk of this month. However, that hasn’t stopped me from working on some new material in the past couple of months. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but I have a few ideas in place regarding my next album, and what I want to do with it. One thing I am quite keen to do is to release it independently – it’s early days at the moment, but I’ve had a few interesting ideas regarding distribution since my last independent release – which would be 2010’s Lightfields album, which has since been re-released – and I’m not entirely sure whether I’d be able to do what I want to do any other way.

Anyway… I do believe I am getting ahead of myself here, and it’s going to be a very long time before I’m ready to release another album. In the meantime, you can have a sneaky listen to what I’ve been up to lately via this second handy little music player doofer.

(18/03/14: sorry, I’m being all sneaky and hiding my stuff and that)

BFD Core for Reason

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Nucleus Soundlab, Patch design, Reason

I’ve been working with Nucleus SoundLab once again on a new Refill for Reason – this time based on FXpansion’s hugely popular BFD soundbanks.

BFD Core is a hugely detailed acoustic drum library for Reason. The Refill itself consists of over 3.6gb of sample content which make up 57 individual kit-pieces featuring multiple mic positions and detailed velocity layers. The Refill itself also includes 75 Combinator drum kits (including 18 of mine), with lite patches also included for low RAM systems. The Refill also includes 2200 MIDI files if you’re in need of some quick percussive inspiration.

I always think that the true test of a sample library such as this is in it’s real world application, and – having used it myself on a recent project – I can safely say that it sounds excellent. The out-of-the-box patches sound great, and the customisability offered by simply diving into the Combinator patches is excellent.

Right now the Refill is priced at a very reasonable introductory price of $69 until 5th December 2012. Check it out!

Tom Pritchard presents “Vast”

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Patch design, Reason

I was going to spend ages writing my own little pseudo-press-release for this thing, but….  basically, if you own Reason, you owe it to yourself to check this out.

Now, I know my way around Reason, but Tom Pritchard takes Thor to a whole other level. I’m honestly struggling to describe this Refill – I’ve worked on three Thor-based Refills and, honestly, this puts me to shame (damn you!). This is a guy who knows how to make fantastic, usable sounds and who knows Thor inside-out. It’s like working with an extra instrument in Reason. Just… listen to it.

If you use Reason and you don’t find anything in there that suits you then you’re doing it wrong.

Pantheon III for Reason out now

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Nucleus Soundlab, Patch design, Reason

Nucleus Soundlab‘s Pantheon III Refill for Reason 5.0 has been released, featuring more than a few patches designed by myself (and a plethora of other incredibly talented sound designers), and an original demo track produced by me is also included with the Refill.

This marks the third Pantheon Refill I’ve worked on with Nucleus Soundlab, and – having seen the final result – I am incredibly pleased with how it’s all turned out. It really is an invaluable tool if you compose music with Reason, and for anyone wanting to inject a bit of warmth or flavour into their work then you can’t really go wrong with it. Detailed documentation is provided along with the Refill itself, so for anyone wanting to take the sounds apart and add their own twist to things then you’ll have an absolute field day with this.

Below is the demo track I produced for Pantheon III, utilising synth sounds exclusively from the Refill itself and drums from the Reason Factory Sound Bank. The track is included with the Refill.

Reconstructed Textures – free Refill for Reason 5 users

Posted on 10 CommentsPosted in Distant Activity, Geekery, Patch design, Reason

Reconstructed Textures is a free Refill available to owners of Reason created using Reason 5. Some of the patches also make use of the ElectroMechanical Refill, which is free to registered users of Reason (if you’re not a registered user, I’m afraid I can’t help you there). You can download Reconstructed Textures here and use it in any of your productions, totally free of charge.

So, what is it? Reconstructed Textures consists of 26 Combinator-based ambient drones, each built using heavily processed samples found in the Factory Sound Bank & ElectroMechanical Refills. But why make a Refill using samples found in the Factory Sound Bank? Well… a little while back I was trying to remember how I created some of the droning sounds featured in one of the tracks on Distant Activity (the track in question being Travelling Light). There are some neat piano drones and reverse effects found in the intro, and – being as I wrote the original version of the track about half a decade ago – I’d forgotten where those sounds came from. After a quick examination, it turned out I’d taken some piano samples from the Factory Sound Bank and processed them. I thought it was a neat idea, so I figured “why not go beyond using just piano samples and see what else I could find in there?”.

All the Combinator patches start with FSB/EM samples – re-mapped, re-pitched, re-looped and layered up in an NN-XT. Then they’re processed with filters, distortion, EQ, compression, reverb, delay or whatever else I fancied doing at the time before being sent to the Combinator’s output where they’re mixed with more layered up, processed NN-XTs. It was an interesting exercise in creating unrecognisable sounds from stock banks as opposed to creating ambient textures from scratch using synths and external devices.

Fancy giving it a go? Download it from here. I’d love to know what you think.




Current goings on and off

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Album 3, General, Music, Patch design

So, first up – the good news! My previously mentioned production album is progressing smoothly, with the bulk of the tracks completed and ready for some further tinkering. I’ve also recently started working on another patch design project and have been working on potential ideas and songs for album #3. You can listen to one of said ideas using the handy player below (or, indeed, here if the embedded player is giving you grief).

(edit: sorry, the preview is no longer representative of how the track sounds so I’ve taken it down -ad)

Unfortunately, I was ill for a few weeks which set me back a bit (glandular fever – which, for future reference, I wouldn’t recommend contracting) but I’m very much back on my feet now. Hooray!

Guitarscapes for Reason 5.0 released today

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Geekery, General, Nucleus Soundlab, Patch design, Reason

Today sees the release of Nucleus Soundlab‘s latest Reason refill Guitarscapes, featuring 64 patches lovingly crafted & documented by yours truly, as well as a fully explorable original track serving as a demo for the refill itself (provided in RNS format).

I’m incredibly happy with how both the refill and demo song turned out, thanks largely in part to both the strict quality control standards of Nucleus Soundlab and the plethora of incredibly talented sound designers involved in the creation of the refill. If you own Reason, it’s certainly worth checking out.