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Like Zuleikha, I’m on summer holiday leave right now, which is cool – we all have some time for ourselves, and to do things we love to do.
So let me tell you a story.
When I was younger – in fact, much younger than today – I used to be a bass player. Like most other bass players, I came to that instrument via playing guitar first. Like Pink Floyd sang:
“You bought a guitar to punish your ma…”
And when I met some other bands whose guitar players were far better than me, but who needed a bass player, I took the jobs.
With 19, I was in the studios for the first time – at EMI Electrola in Cologne for instance. There I learned to really play a nice and tight line, and how noisy my Ibanez Jazz Bass was (all single coil pickups until today are) – so I also got a Music Man Sabre Bass, and an Ampeg SVT rig (300 all-valve Watts, two 8×10″ cabinets the size of big fridges (but way heavier)), all that. I was pretty much set, and ready to be a musician.
Except I didn’t earn any money. Plus I didn’t even have a driver’s license and/or a car to transport my gear. So I was dependent on other band members.
Then my Music Man Bass got stolen.
Then – realizing that we just didn’t have gigs like Deep Purple did – I sold my Ampeg and the cabinets, which left me with the Ibanez and a 15″ 130W (or so) Peavey combo.
Later I also left these behind, so I was pretty much a former musician. All I had until yesterday was a cheap “Eterna” (made for Yamaha in Indonesia) classical concert guitar, and an egg shaker. You see that guitar two posts below, and hear it one post below.
But since a year or two, I totally rediscovered my love for music. It’s through Zuleikha who plays piano, horn, and recorder, one of her classmates who is just brilliant on the recorder, her school who has a really nice big band and also the one in which Zuleikha plays (they call themselves “Brass & Co”), and also through some other people I know from my time with the Debian guys (and girls, I mean Debian developers).
One pointed me to a Korean singer named Youn Sun Nah, and I also stumbled upon Snarky Puppy lately – which is lead by a bass player.
So I also listened to lots of good bass players again, starting with the idols of my youth like Stanley Clarke or Jaco Pastorius, and also some which I heard much later, like Marcus Miller or Victor Wooten, to just name a few.
But what I also discovered was that tho the slap technique of a Marcus Miller is still great, it’s not what the bass was originally invented for. Long before that funky slap style, a bass was just a great and important part of the rhythm section, more or less carrying the whole music, and making people dance and swing and tap their feet – you probably know what I mean. So my “idol” picture shifted a bit again, to people like Pino Palladino – and to one of the first and greatest players of electric basses, James Jamerson (wow, got the curve to the headline after some 550 words or so).
You probably never heard that name, but James Jamerson (EN, DE) together with his band which was called “The Funk Brothers” (EN, DE) were the basis of almost everything Motown. Let me cite from that English Wikipedia article about them:
“The role of the Funk Brothers is described in Paul Justman’s 2002 documentary film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, based on Allan Slutsky’s book of the same name. The opening titles claim that the Funk Brothers have “played on more number-one hits than the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys combined.””
Together with James, a new kind of bass was rising. It was invented short before 1960 by Leo Fender, and he called it the “Precision Bass” (EN, DE). The name was chosen because other than an upright double bass, it had frets, so “you could play it with precision”, which probably also helped in selling it.
During my journey through the videos on Youtube I soon found out about the differences of a P-Bass, like it is also called, and others like my former J-Bass copy. Professional studio musicians like Scott Devine will tell you that you need both P- and J-Basses, while others like Michael League from Snarky Puppy (and Forq and other bands of his) simply play it – and it sounds way better, deeper, with much more “growl” than, say, the slapped Fender or Sire basses from Marcus Miller.
So yesterday (it’s way past midnight while writing this) I’ve got one, after comparing it to some J-Bass myself.
Zuleikha helped with some add-ons and found a really nice (and not too expensive) strap, and even reminded me to get a stand for it (and that was a good idea, that stand also fits the guitar, and even her horn).
Other than Leo Fender marketed it, I’ve chosen a fretless one. Always, always wanted a fretless bass, and you should have seen Zuleikha’s astonished smile when she tested it herself (over a Sadowsky 200W all-valve amp in the store)! My god, these things can sing; it’s unbelievable. But to that aspect: later, in another post. For now, let’s just keep in mind that I’ll have to take care of that “precision” myself; cannot rely on frets because there aren’t any 😉
First thing I thought about when we were back home was what to teach Zuleikha in case she’d ask. And again some song on which James Jamerson played the bass came to my mind – probably the song with the simplest and one of the best known bass lines ever: Papa was a rolling stone, by the Temptations.
I had that as a MIDI file laying around on my hard drive, and started playing to it on my computer. But soon enough, I disliked that MIDI file, so I went for the original. Which I don’t have in our bookshelf, so I downloaded it from Youtube (search for “papa was a rolling stone temptations” (without the quotes), it’s the first one which was shown in my search result).
So what did I do? Well the bass line consists of exactly 3 notes (and the whole song on just one chord, can you believe it?) – so I put the song in a stereo track in Ardour, and played the same into a mono track using my own new bass guitar. Then I analysed the notes (Bb, Ab, Db) and their frequencies and took them out of the original a bit, replacing them with my own ones which I played. If you look at those two equalizers used for the tracks, it looked like this:
(Some short technical explanation: I was a bit afraid to also totally take out the kick (bass) drum while doing this, because I didn’t want to make the filters’ “Q Factor” to steep – which would add distortion. But switching between “bypass” and “filter on” that kick drum still sat pretty good in the mix – which means that it’s a great recording, even if it’s from 1972. Oh, and that source was from vinyl, you can hear the cracks on the LP, which gives it another vintage vibe. So except from Youtube digitising the original, and my interface digitising the bass, what you hear here is pretty much analog. Still cool – or maybe even because it is…)
Then I exported the result as a .wav file with the usual restriction to -23LUFS, which looks like this:
It’s all Ardour and some Calf plugins, and the bass was plugged directly into my Focusrite audio interface, so no amp was used at all. And like James did, I played it with just one finger of my right hand (but didn’t use my index finger but the thumb to make it sound deeper).
The result, again converted into an MP3 file? Here:
Oh, and in case you want to see the bass I’ve got – haven’t made pictures of it yet, so here’s one from the maker:
Click on that photo if you want to read more about it.
For now, thanks for reading, watching, and listening. More later.
Last Sunday, Zuleikha played piano together with some of her classmates of the piano teacher’s class at the local sports hall. Mitchie took it on video, and I recorded the piano (a nice sounding Yamaha Grand) with my Røde microphone, the Focusrite interface, and the company notebook (a Lenovo Thinkpad P50 running the IBM Open Client for the Debian Community, which is currently based upon Ubuntu 16.04 LTS).
Then I used every minute I could to learn new (to me) programs like Cinelerra.
In the end we’ve got a nice sounding movie with all the kids playing, and I also learned how to use fader automation in Ardour (tools like these weren’t even available while I was in the studios during my youth). Cool stuff, and the highlight for me personally was Zuleikha performing one of her own compositions – even some of the other kids were quite impressed by that. Cannot show the whole video here, but I’ll ask Zuleikha if she’ll put something online on her blog – maybe only some of her own playing (we’d have to ask too many parents to show everything here). If yes, then I can put up a link to it here.
On Saturday, June 17th, the latest and greatest version of Debian was released to the public, as promised. And I’ve got and installed it last night, just after finishing the video. It’s nice, and everything worked pretty much out of the proverbial box for me. I did an upgrade followed by a dist-upgrade like recommended, and the whole process didn’t last much longer than just half an hour. Nice.
And now, just a few minutes before writing this, I discovered a nice video on Youtube:
Recently, Zuleikha had just another gig as a musician (playing piano), and we recorded it – Mitchie on video with her Olympus E-PL5 and the 45mm/1.8 lens (on her tripod of course), and me with my Røde NT-1A microphone, the Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 (2nd gen) interface, and the Lenovo Thinkpad P50 laptop/notebook which I’ve got from my employer.
Zuleikha’s piano teacher asked us to make a DVD from all the attendees’ performances, so we recorded everyone instead of just our own daughter. And since then (that was Sunday evening), I’m trying to learn just another video-editing program.
Why? Well because Ardour is more like Avid’s Pro Tools – a music studio inside of your computer, and OpenShot is a video editor which we’ve used previously, but which also gave me some headaches already – for bigger projects like a full-blown DVD, it’s not the most stable and full-featured one.
It’s still quite a lot to learn – these are not your basic editors, but full-blown and -featured professional programs like the commercial ones on other operating systems (and also a bit like Ardour vs. Pro Tools or Logic).
And with all that music- and video-related stuff, I’m still not forgetting about photography, even if I do that only for private and family “jobs” right now. So I’m still regularly reading the most interesting bloggers (and pros) like Kirk Tuck, or Michael Johnston’s “The Online Photographer” (and listening to Brooks Jensen’s “Lenswork Daily” podcasts).
I just answered one of Mike’s posts for instance, which was about his thought of a dual camera system (one his iphone, the other one maybe a Sony A7-2). My answer to that one, in case you don’t find it on his page, was:
“Love the idea, Mike.
I’ve got an Olympus OM-D E-M10 (first gen) which in cameras is in my opinion the equivalent to what our Corolla is in cars. It will do the job, and get you the picture. Not the best, but a quite acceptable one.
But the A7 Mk2 is the one that really interest me, even more so since I realized that both of our Olympus film bodies (OM-1 and OM-2) are having problems with their shutters, and ruin many potentially good (and expensive) film shots. So yes, a “digital back” for my OM Zuiko 50mm/1.4 would be great to have.
Or maybe an FM-2; could even be better. But that wouldn’t accept my Zuiko lens AFAIK.”
So beside my full-time professional job (still having to earn a living for us all), and beside my honorary work in the school’s parents’ association, I’m quite busy at the moment. Holding on to the next task, like: make a DVD for the parents of the other young and aspiring musicians – and for their teacher of course.
But being busy, and being together with the young ones keeps you young as well – or so they say 😉
So if you have your repositories pointed to “stable”, you’ll get the upgrade automagically – if it’s “Jessie”, you’ll have to change that if you want the newer stable version. And Jessie will be oldstable from then on, as usual.
I’ve loaded the virtual instrument into Carla Patchbay, and after some manual configuration to hear the output, I could use the combination as an instrument within Ardour (which is still my favourite DAW (digital audio workstation) on Linux).
In the screenshot you see Ardour with the loaded “Take Five” song again, and I mixed that via Jamin into Audacity. The acoustic bass and the drum tracks both come via the CalfFluidsynth and its included GM (general midi) soundfont. In the master track I also used a Calf Limiter; EQ and a bit of compression came from Jamin. The .wav file was then leveled to -23dB LUFS in Ardour, and with Audacity I converted it to an MP3 file again which you can listen to here:
This time I wanted a somewhat more warm and intimate sound, and the “Jazzish” preset of xln’s Studio Grand gave me exactly that.
Why did I do this? Simple: as much as I like Ardour, the free Pro Tools like DAW (digital audio workstation) software, it has the one disadvantage which bugged me a bit: it’s a bit too much “audio”-centric, with MIDI seemingly being an afterthought. So from Ardour you can’t export MIDI tracks like with other software like MusE, or Rosegarden, or Qtractor. And exporting MIDI is nice if you want to have other programs like MuseScore converting them more or less automagically into sheet music, like this:
So what does Qtractor look like? Look here:
On the upper left you see its editing (and “composition”) window, on the lower right its mixer window – and in between my file system. You see that I’ve made two tracks actually, the first using the “Echo Rhodes” preset from ZynAddSubFX, the second with just a single kick drum sound from the “Black Pearl” drumkit sample.
How does it sound? Awesome. I exported it as an audio file as well, and converted that .wav file to an .mp3 one with Audacity:
So in case you want to hear my breathtaking composition, here it is:
(Don’t send flowers, or ask where to get the CD yet – I’m still working on it) 😉
I’m having some troubles getting MusE to run or even start properly on my Debian Jessie machine, which also has the KXStudio repositories to get some of falkTX’s goodies like Cadence, Carla, and so on. Seems to be something between MusE and jackd – but all other programs run just fine, so I guess it’s more of the former than the latter. If I boot UbuntuStudio 16.04 from a USB stick and install it, it doesn’t show any problems together with QJackCTL (which is the frontend for jackd).
So I’m back to reading, and also to look for alternatives. And while doing so, I stumbled over some really nice examples of what can be accomplished right now, using only free and libre open source software – or FLOSS as the community calls it.
Here are two nice demo videos of Rosegarden and Qtractor, both made by Südwestlicht, and sung in German:
You can hear a bit more from Holger and Petra on MyOwnMusic if you wish. Awesome stuff.