Some merriment

Last Christmas by bassling

On the remote chance that you haven't heard my cover version of George Micheal's Last Christmas, here it is.

Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2012.

Ramponi Park

I've cheated a little in this park remix. The train line runs alongside Ramponi Park and I was fortunate to record a train when I visited to collect sounds for this track. The camera was recording from within the Park, of course.

Other than the train, the different sounds heard from the slippery slide are a highlight. It's great the way you can tap across the structure and getting the foundations for chord changes. And everything shares the key of the slide.

Playing a slippery slide

This video shows me tapping harmonics on the slide at Ramponi Park, the site of my next remix. I thought it was a good demonstration of what I wrote about earlier on the variety of sounds produced by a structure.

You can also see I've been trying a new variety of cheap piezo pick-up. It didn't sound too bad but seemed to be broken after visiting the park. Should've guessed it would be crap because it has the word 'professional' in the title on the packet.

Return to Waipukurau Park

It's kinda funny to return to the park down the end of my street where I first tried recording the play equipment and remixing it. The first Waipukurau Park track didn't really meet the process I've established since then though, as it used a couple of VST instruments to complete the sounds.

As you can see, this time I've overcome the limited sonic palette by incorporating bowing a line that resonates on the slippery slide. This was another technique I learned from Alan Lamb when we worked together as part of the Unsound Festival in 2006.

The reverberating fences of the preschool and childcare centres also appear. Last week I mentioned to the director of the Leeton Childcare Centre that I'd been recording the fence and she's invited me to demonstrate it to the kids next Tuesday.

New Abre Ojos

The Solar Angel from abre ojos on Vimeo.

It's worth clicking on the link above to visit the Vimeo page for this clip for an explanation of the imagery.

I've been a fan of Scott's work for about a decade now and he also first taught me to edit video. Then there's the small matter of his decision to invite Alan Lamb to Wagga Wagga in 2004 and build a large-scale aeolian harp at the property I was living at at the time.

Take offence

This Leeton Child Care Centre fence shares a border with Waipukurau Park, the site of my next remix. I've been enamored with its resonance since I first trialled recording the Park for a remix.

This video demonstrates the fence resonance but also the Daphon brand piezo pick-ups that are part of my recording kit.

You can hear the pick-ups seem to be sensitive to surrounding noise, like bird song and my footsteps. I don't mind getting some of that ambiance because it adds much more potential for the remix to stir a listener's subconscious, either conjuring the location or a connotation.

Playing a slippery slide

Here's a sample of what's in the next park remix.

I returned to Waipukurau Park to try stringing a line to bow, a technique first shown to me by Alan Lamb when we worked together as part of the 2006 Unsound Festival.

Actually, bowing the slide sounds very much like bowing 'the wires' -- except for the length of the decaying note. (That video reminds me Jo is much better at bowing than me.)

Aside from adapting Alan's technique for a slippery slide, I've been experimenting with changing the pitch while playing by adjusting the tension on the line. You'll be able to hear this in the new track for Waipukurau Park.

Waipukurau was the site of my first park remix but I wasn't entirely happy with the result since I ended up using additional instrumentation. This is now my third time recording that park because there's a fence there with lovely resonance that I'm looking to use too.

How to make contact microphones

Here's a short overview of how to make your own contact microphone using piezo crystals.

This technique was taught to me by Alan Lamb when we worked together as part of the 2006 Unsound Festival. He'd developed this approach for recording 'the wires,' a large-scale aeolian harp modeled on telegraph poles he recorded in Western Australia.

I'm using a couple of piezo sensors (RS part number 285-784), an RCA lead, a soldering iron, scissors or wire strippers, some tape and half a dozen cable ties.

Start by cutting the RCA lead in half and stripping the wires.

Then get ready to solder the two connections on either side of the piezo onto the wires of one of the RCA leads.

The tricky part is soldering and it's worth double-checking you've got the connection firmly soldered before proceeding.

Once the piezo are attached, you need to insulate the wires again.

I use electrical tape and carefully wrap it around one wire and then around both.

Once insulated, I attach the wires and piezos to matchsticks with cable ties.

You can use glue for this but I couldn't find anything suitable today. Alan used a sealant to weather-proof the piezo after gluing them to 'the wires' and this can extend their life considerably.

These piezo contact microphones are great for a wide variety of applications.

Today I tried using them to record a biscuit tin being used as a hand drum. I've used blu-tack to apply them but you can also sticky tape them onto a surface for temporary application, or longer depending on the tape used.

One common problem is a humming sound, which can be eased or removed by earthing the object being recorded. The biscuit tin was earthed when I held it but the Zoom H4 recorder also needed earthing by sitting it on my lap.

You can hear a short demonstration of the biscuit tin hand drum recorded in stereo with two piezo contact microphones below.

Biscuit tin drumming by bassling

Enticknap Park

This week I visited Enticknap Park for my remix project. It has a smallish playground with swings, see-saw and the same type of slide as Wandoo Playground, Waipukurau Park and also Ramponi Park.

It was a bit of a challenge to make this track. I think I'm beginning to get a bit bored with the similarity in the sounds I've collected and it'd be nice to find something inspiring to manipulate but I've held off on visiting some of the bigger parks until I get a new microphone that's on order.

Finding the sweet spot

While working with Alan Lamb in 2006 as part of the Unsound Festival, I mentioned that I'd been thinking about recording the water distribution tank that shared the hilltop with 'the wires' he and Scott Baker had built outside Wagga Wagga in 2004.

Alan encouraged me to put a bead on the end of a wooden skewer to tap around the structure and locate harmonics. It was the first time I'd considered that physical objects other than guitar strings and 'the wires' had harmonics.

This thought returned to me while recording Wandoo Playground and I've been spending more time finding the harmonic sweet spots to place the piezo pick-ups and to tap for creating sounds.

These harmonics form and integral part of creating tracks from the playground equipment and contribute to the melody and chordal progression.

Playground recording kit

This is the gear I've been using to record sounds at playgrounds recently.

These are Daphon brand piezo pick-ups. I bought them from Swamp Audio.

A first generation Zoom H4 and a Fishman transducer, which works like a microphone pre-amplifier and equaliser to increase gain and shape the sound.

Usually I beef up the bass since I'm recording with another pick-up also but I've long thought that piezo sound a bit weak -- which is what led me to experiment with guitar pick-ups on the large-scale aeolian harp built by Alan Lamb and Scott Baker.

A pair of closed headphones are essential, of course.

The small pouch from my friend Janine Middlemost holds spare batteries and SD cards, while the bag holds everything together while I'm riding around town.

Just noticed that both the pouch and the bag feature mushrooms, which is an interesting coincidence and makes me wish I had a magic mushroom story to give it relevance.

For the videos I'm using a Nikon D5100, usually with an old Nikkor 35-70mm f2.8 lens and a tripod.

P.S. Just read this interesting post on contact mic recording and it's worth having a look if, like me, you wonder why piezo sometimes sound a bit weird.

Mountford Park

Here's the result of my visit to the park that's at the heart of Leeton and the setting for many town events, like the upcoming Light Up Leeton concert for Christmas. I've stuck to the playground here though.

Wandoo Playground

On Saturday I braved the hot sun to visit Wandoo Playground to record another park to remix. I think this spot also goes by the name Griffin Park because it was created by Walter Burley Griffin when he was consulted on the design of Leeton.

You can see from the video that I only used sounds from the slide and a wooden bench. The sign for the Playground has a good pitch but my pick-ups wouldn't fit onto the frame.

The day was hot so I left with only a few recordings but I must be getting better at hearing what's likely to be used because I'm pretty happy with the result.

Wiradjuri Park

After Waipukurau Park I opted for a playground with more equipment to find new sounds and inspiration for this, the second track I've created as part of my Leeton park remix project.

While the sounds were all recorded on location, they have been re-pitched, looped and stretched to create the track. Sadly my camera battery ran out before I could show how thumping the plastic slippery slide provided the sound used for a kick drum.

Waipukurau Park

With Leeton planning celebrations for it's centenary in 2012, I've been developing an idea to record a series of songs based on sounds recorded at parks in the town.

On Sunday I tried the playground at the end of my street in Waipukurau Park. Armed with my Zoom H4 recorder, a Fishman pre-amplifier and a peizo pick-up, I sought recordings to be manipulated into percussive or musical tones.

One of the fittings holding up the swings is loose enough to squeak.

The seat gives a nice thunk.

The stairs really tinkle.

And this fence resonates wonderfully. You can hear my first draft of the song by clicking below.

Waipukurau Park by bassling

Playing a part

This week I worked on another interesting project that originated on the Ninja Tune Forum.

It's a remix of a remix and the idea is that each participant remixes the previous participants work and passes it along. At the end, the original track and the successive remixes are collected together for release.

It picks up on some of the methodologies of other Ninja Tune Forum projects.

When I first started visiting the site about a decade ago there were regular remix competitions, where the winner would provide the track and parts for the next round.

Another inspiration would be the relay mixes, where each participant is given the previous section of a mix to follow on from and only hears the complete mix once it is stitched together at the end by the person overseeing the project.

These Forum projects are organised by people on the Forum and not the Ninja Tune label but some of the label's artists have taken an interest in the results and there have also been opportunities to work Ninja Tune tracks.

There's a large output of mixes and original music on the Forum and I think it's testament to the creativity and collegiality of the people on there. It's a great community.

My recent remix was an interesting challenge because the parts lacked a melodic component to link it back to the original tune.

Another challenge was my position as third. It's not usually the point in the sequence of an album where you find a big track, more likely something that lets the pace ease up a bit so you can ramp it up again before the end of the first side or slow it down further for a ballad.

I know it doesn't have to be a dud spot but I can see a lot of logic in that sort of progression and it's a view shared in the film High Fidelity:

You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.

This reminds me of an interview I did with Canberra DJ Ben Henderson a while ago. He was organising music nights at Montezuma's Restaurant at the time and explained his philosophy in picking tunes by saying that one needs to be conscious of their part in the line-up.

"To me the ideal night involves getting a group of people together who share common tastes and building them up for a climax," says Ben. "You point every track you play towards that pinnacle. There's no logic in getting five DJs together and having each of them trying to get to the finish line. It used to be that DJs would spend six hours gradually building up to that one moment when everyone would go off. It's like a competition these days in which everybody gets up and does a 100-metre sprint as each DJ pulls out their five best tracks to impress the crowd."

So I set about remixing the track to be a build-up while giving a treatment that fits with my ideas of a bassling sound, particularly in emphasising the lower register.

I'm looking forward to hearing the final release to see if I've managed to play my part.

BAD DAD on the six-string electric bass

This six-string bass guitar has intimidated me every since I bought it on Ebay. The neck is so wide that I find I get lost while playing on it.

It's been good for creating a drone though and the other day I thought it would be interesting to tune it to BADDAD but mostly just because I think it's funny to say 'bad dad'.

As it turns out it's better tuned to BEADAD, which also sounds funny. 'Be a dad' -- it's like an encouragement to fertility, a variation on 'go forth and multiply'.

In practice the six-string bass guitar tuned BEADAD is a lot of fun. It reminds me of noodling on a mandolin, the right notes seem to appear under your fingers although it runs the risk of all sounding a bit same-ish.

Disco bassling

Here's a funky house bassling tune with a disco bassline that I recorded earlier in the year while on holiday at the beach.

Humankind is noodle kind. by bassling

Backyard bubbles

A short video featuring a recent trackthat I made while trying out my new Nikon D5100.

Cut, now PLAY!

This is the result of the innovative Cut & Run project I wrote about earlier. Fascinating to hear how different producers have mutated the previous bars.

Cut & Run

I've been visiting the Ninja Tune Forum for about a decade now. Aside from being populated with some great people, it's populated with greatly talented people who share a love of music.

There have been many excellent outcomes from hanging out there, from remixing other people's tunes to being introduced to new artists through to these increasingly creative collaborative projects. I've been part of relay mixes and different types of challenges but I think the Cut & Run project I did this week is one of the most innovative.

Update: hear the result here!

DIY pedal

Good looking pedal, dunno much more than the band were Petuey. This was an early gig photograph, one of the 'fests in Canberra of the early '90s.

Nano Muff

A Nano Muff pedal arrived in the post today and I'm surprised they resisted the urge to print puns all over the packaging.

How does it sound? Nice warm distortion. It's not as creamy and thick with sustain as my Giant Cooter but hopefully it'll get along with the other pedals on my daisy chain better.

bassling mobile sound system

Here's the start of a sound system for a bicycle. It's a crappy little plug-in stereo that runs on AAA batteries that I've adapted with a pair of bigger speakers.

Next step will be attaching these to a bike.