Category: Music

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City Bokeh
“City Blur”

So, this blog post has been long overdue. There is both so many experiences and thoughts I want to share, and yet so few which I personally feel would be of any use to you. Regardless, without any order, here are some of the activities that I’ve enjoyed and also learned from this summer. For the technical, programming centric, let me follow that up with a smaller post since I didn’t commit anything major this summer outside of my work at ManuLife (which has its own lessons including Docker, Kubernetes, Concourse, Chef, … let’s write an article on that soon, okay?).

PS. TLDR can be found at the bottom.

Photography

It’s no surprise to many who’ve followed my social media channels outside of Twitter that I’ve started adopting many vlogger / cinematography based habits including in-the-moment streaming, hourly updates, and capturing images in any way I can while trying to express a dramatic composition. Through social media, I also complained about small annoyances (such as not being able to change the focal length or aperture on my Pixel 2 XL. First world problems?) which probably should have been simple annoyances, but instead led me to purchasing a second-hand Sony Alpha A6000. Out of all the impulse purchases made, I think this is arguably one of the most spontaneous, and also best purchases I’ve made without hesitation. The camera enables both a new level of expressive outlets, and also a new money-swallowing hobby for me to jump headfirst into.

Svitlana likes to use the camera as well
Svitlana likes to use the camera as well

Yet, I didn’t once hesitate or draw regret over the purchase or the hobby. Instead, I began planning more and more events, trips, areas to visit with frequent friends such as Svitlana, Jessica, and Nick. I began spending countless hours learning about framing, editing RAW images, and also how to manage a basic following -all through the magic of YouTube, Udemy or Pluralsight (Thanks ML for hooking me up with PS for free!). The visits to the hometown became much more meaningful, and allowed me to stretch the concepts I was learning where possible. I spent two hours waiting for a chipmunk (named Fred fyi) to come and go, getting closer and closer to the camera until finally I captured shots such as this.

Fred the Chipmunk
Fred the Chipmunk

My interests in Photography also helped both my father’s media and branding, and my friends who’s social media accounts were itching for new profile pictures, content, and edits. I suppose the creative side broke through quite a bit over the summer thanks to photography. Here are some shots which are either my favorite, my friend’s favorites, or ones being withheld from Instagram for now as I figure out the direction and tone I’d like to push towards -assuming there is energy, passion and time in the day to account such. Leaving it as a hobby is equally a likely scenario, which I’m content with as well, because it enables a new way to capture memories such as upcoming trips and events.

Me!
“Staged”, Taken by Nick
Nick
Nick Guyadeen

SvitlanaSvitlana Galianova

Videography

I’ve always been a huge fan of the Tech YouTuber / Content Creator niche, and have felt a genuine connection to them similar to how one may with Twitch Streamers or Bookhauls (two other content-based digital niches). Likewise, I always had a small voice in my head who enjoyed cinematography of different genres, different moods; good or bad. I sometimes found myself coming up with frames, transition ideas which at the time, I thought were a sign that I was thinking of UX improvements on whichever project I happened to be working on.

Toronto Island Sunset
Toronto Island Sunset
Todd Folks - Thunder in the Hills
Todd Folks – Thunder in the Hills

As YouTuber’s became more prevalent in my life, I began to shift some of my ‘idol space’ over from musicians to these new faces. Marques Brownlee, Jonathan Morrison, Michael Fisher, Karl Conrad, Kai Wong, Peter McKinnon; the list could go on. Regardless, with my foray into photography I figured this is the perfect stepping stone into videography as well. Who’s parent doesn’t want their child to be a vlogger? (sarcasm). In all seriousness though, I remember during my first software development COOP in Haliburtion the opportunity to edit some videos for a client who required audio work, reframing etc to be done. I volunenteered since I was the must comfortable with linear timeline editing and audio production, and to this day I still have the Google Keep note that I made which simply said ‘I really love video editing’. It was a thought which at the time seemed so perverse, I had to jot it down and see what I thought down the road. Guess all things come back in time if they are meant to?

Fireworks #1
Fireworks #1
Fireworks #2
Fireworks #2

Building a PC

Major shoutout to my roommate Jack, who helped choosing the parts which enabled the following comforts as I threw my wallet directly into a morgue with a DNR taped to the front:

  • 4 year minimum future proof
  • 4K Video Editing capable
  • 10+ VSTi3’ / VST3’s per channel in a +32 channel project (320 VSTs) <- Looking at you Ableton Live Set
  • Upgradable DDR4 Memory to 64GB
  • Power two 1440p screens or so down the line

Specifications:

PCPartPicker part list

CPU: Intel – Core i7-8700K 3.7GHz 6-Core Processor

CPU Cooler: Cooler Master – Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler

Motherboard: MSI – Z370 GAMING PLUS ATX LGA1151 Motherboard

Memory: G.Skill – Ripjaws V Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 Memory

Storage: Samsung – 850 EVO 500GB M.2-2280 Solid State Drive

Storage: Western Digital – Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive

Video Card: Gigabyte – GeForce GTX 1070 8GB G1 Gaming Video Card

Case: Phanteks – Enthoo Pro M Tempered Glass (Black) ATX Mid Tower Case

Power Supply: EVGA – SuperNOVA G2 750W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply

Sound Card: Asus – Xonar DGX 24-bit 96 KHz Sound Card

Wireless Network Adapter: Gigabyte – GC-WB867D-I PCI-Express x1 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi Adapter

Songwriting / Recording

This one should come to no surprise to any of my peers, since I’ve had this off and on again relationship with music production, songwriting, and the idea of expressing one’s self through noise.  With the building of a production-grade computer (workstation I’ll continue to use term wise, since I do hope to employ many technologies / containers for orchestration), I’ve also rediscovered a drive to make music. This drive I felt died years ago, where even my SoundCloud (subtle plug of older material!) displayed a stagnated cut off between such passion, and eventually what my idea of being an ‘adult’ was. In other words, priorities changed, music was thrown out to make space for studies and relationships. I did manage to record a small cover that I talked about earlier in the year with some friends while living in Mississauga, but even that experience felt like a forced effort at times. That can be found in a separate account which will become my primary I imagine:.

2007 Fender Stratocaster
2007 Fender Stratocaster

Music is limitless genre wise, and there are many items that I’ve dabbled in the past and also on my Guitar / Piano recently. I’ve grown in interests and also listening preferences, often jumping even further into the spectrum of previous interests:

  • The usage of ambience for both foreground and background textures.
  • The removal of instruments to provide more power to the few playing.
  • Layering different parts instead of layers of repeated motifs.
  • Not striving for the ‘Analog’ sound where it doesn’t need to be.
  • Allowing songs to be simple tangible four chords structures, instead of 17 chord theory-based monstrosities which I dubbed Progressive House appropriate.
  • Allowing a song to be described as ‘lush’, ‘dark’, ‘moody’. This helps to drive the tonality instead of strip away from fear of being too ‘emotional’ lyric / sound wise.

I could probably go on, and I’m sure I’m also forfeiting many better, outstanding notes I’ve made in the past. You get the idea! I’m excited once I find a good balance post-summer, to create and share through here and more conventional mediums and networks. I already have a few instrumentals and lyric-driven songs waiting to be worked on that encapsulate some of this interesting year.

Manulife Tower
Manulife Tower

Summing the Above: Content Creator

While discussing offline with some friends, they’ve managed to piece together quite a bit of what my final focus of the above will look like; which is the interests above can and will be joined at times into a single project: a music video, short film, or for vlogging / content-creation related mediums!

Fire Up North
Fire Up North
Nick's Mixtape
Nick’s mixtape cover

Bonus!

I decided during this long weekend to give the above idea a try, creating a rough song template / mood, followed by (all B-Roll) footage which could paint a small mood. Utilizing the time that I wouldn’t be annoying my roommate Jack with loud music or constant swearing when shots ended up out of focus, here is what I came up with as an one-day-release experiment! All was captured, created and released in a single day (including the music!).

Waiting – Demo Concept

TLDR: Disregarded common hobbies / passions in exchange for social experiments, creative outlets, allowed hobby programming to take backseat.

PSS: I feel rusty having no written a blog post in a while, so as things hopefully improve and soar to better heights, I hope you don’t contract a sickness while reading this one. It’s another off-the-rails style, with very little preplanning / scripting and instead following one’s train of thought.

The Open Source Audio Project (Idea!)

October 9, 2017 | Linux, Music, Open Source | No Comments

Hello there! If you’re not new to blog, or I haven’t changed any of the main headings for the website at the time of this article, you’d be aware just how big of an advocate I am of FOSS technologies on our everyday mediums. Android devices running AOSP-centric ROMs, Linux workstations running Fedora 26, and my non-FOSS hardware running as many OSS technologies as possible such as Inkshot, Visual Studio Code, Kdenlive, Firefox, etc. Ironically, the one theme which I hadn’t played with for a few years now was audio production in an open source environment.

Why is this ironic? Because audio production is what first introduced me to Linux & FOSS technologies. In my cheap attempt to find a well developed & refined DAW which could be legally accessible by a high schooler, I discovered Audacity, Ardour, LMMS, and Muse; all of which pointed the way towards Ubuntu, Open SUSE, Fedora, and Linux itself. My world changed quickly from these encounters, but I always turned back to Cubase, FL Studio, Studio One when I wanted to record or mix a track for a friend.

Recently, a fellow musician and close friend had successfully encouraged me to get back into playing, recording, and mixing. It had been at least two years since I took such a hobby so seriously, but with his encouragement my YouTube playlists quickly became packed with refresher material, mixing tips, and sounds from the past. In consequence, We recorded in the span of a single day a cover of Foster the People’s ‘Pumped Up Kicks’; vocals done by the impressive Shirley Xia. The track can be found here for those curious: Pumped Up Kicks – FtP Cover by Ray Gervais

It was recorded & mixed in a Reaper session which turned out much better than expected with only the use of stock ReaPlugins. This begged the question, which would hit like a kick drum over and over all week, could this level of production quality be possible using only FOSS? Would Ardour be able to keep up with my OCD for multi-tracking even the simplest of parts?

The 1st Idea

First idea is to export the Reaper stems as .WAV files into Ardour, and get a general mixing template / concept together based on previous trials / settings. This will also help me to confirm the quality of the native plugins, and if I should be worried about VST support in the case the native plugins don’t meet the sound which Reaper did. I’m both incredibly nervous and excited to see the end result, but fear that most of the time will be spent configuring & fixing JACK, ALSA, or performance issues on the Fedora machines.

If all goes well, I’ll probably upload the track as a rerelease mix with the settings used & various thoughts.

The 2nd Idea

Recording a track natively (via MBox 2 OSS drivers) into Ardour, and compose, mix, master all using Ardour & open source software exclusively. I feel obligated to point out that if I were to use VST for any reason, they must be freeware at a bare minimum. No paid, freemium, or proprietary formats (looking at you Kontakt).

I wonder if genres which don’t demand pristine sounds such as lo-fi, ambient, post-rock, or even IDM would be easier to manage compared to that of an indie sound, or a angry metal sound. My first test would be probably dwell in the electronic genre while I setup the recording interface to work best with the configuration (reducing latency where possible, dealing with buffer overflows).

DAW Applications & Considerations

In this small conclusion, I simply want to list the other possible applications / technologies to consider in the case that the primary ones mentioned above do not work as intended.

DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) Alternatives

  • Audacity: One of the most popular audio editors in the world, known for it’s simplistic interface, ease of use plugins, and it’s usefulness as a audio recording application for mediums such as podcasts, voice overs, etc. I’ve only used Audacity twice, both times just to experiment or to record a quick idea on the fly. See, Audacity isn’t mean to be the direct answer to common DAW paradigms such as track comping. It’s not meant to be used to fix a bad rhythm either.  Source code: https://github.com/audacity
  • LMMS: A open source alternative to FL Studio. Useful for sequencing, and has built in VST3 support as of recent versions. I had used LMMS in the past for quick ideas and testing chords out through various loops, and dismissed using it further due to stability issues at the time (Circa 2013). I’m curious what state the project is in now.  Source code: https://github.com/LMMS/lmms
  • Qtractor: A multitrack audio and MIDI sequencing tool, developed on the QT framework with C++. This DAW I am the least experienced with, but some seem to endorse it for electronic music production on Linux.  Source code: https://github.com/rncbc/qtractor

I’m excited for this experiment, and hope to follow up in a much more frequent article release period. My only concern is the end product, and if I’ll have a listenable song using only OSS that is not subpar in quality. Documenting the process will also help myself to understand the strengths and drawbacks to this challenge. Even if just doing a modern remix of the original track would be a unique experience, since I have all the recorded stems in multitrack format already. Can’t wait to start!

This little article has the minimal amount of relevance relating back to software development, but instead a recounting of how I’ve had the an opportunity to become friends with two individuals who are utterly changing my world from a musical perspective. This article describes simply my own amazement to hidden talents, and learning an interesting technique while producing & recording a cover with these talented individuals.

Failed Vocals, Sour Notes & Polyrhythmic Woes

I am no vocalist; this is a key fact which friends and family will attest to in greater numbers than I appreciate, but it’s true.

In past projects I had attempted to befriend AutoTune -which was a horrible idea if I may add, so that I could capture various melodies, lyrics and emotions that would fly around my head during the time I should have been studying. Later, when I realized that I should never attempt a vocal rendition of Ah’s Take On Me, I jumped into the electronic music technique of vocal sampling and chopping. This produced wondrously random, yet tangible, results. Though I hadn’t uploaded any of that crop of music to online sources due to other perfectionism issues, I was content with the vocal sampling technique for the sound I was developing for that time.

One issue with the technique above was the lack of control I’d have over the samples or melodies. This is perhaps, due to my inexperience in audio production at the time which resulted in a  ‘well I guess it sounds good enough’ attitude after I’d find a decent glitch-vocal melody. Think The Glitch Mob, Skrillex, Dada Life, or Daft Punk. Think any of those artists, but much less polished.

This issue, snowballing with various other issues a teenager would encounter when they can’t relate to sport programs or science fairs led me to give up entirely on music which had vocals (in any form). I started to gravitate (in the rare instances I would play or produce) to genres such as Ambient, Post-Rock, and Djent. Interesting mix of genres, but they all catered one way or another to the progressive genre which I have quite the affection for when the standard radio tune becomes boring.

Oh You Sing? Prove It.

This is my typical reaction when someone mentions how they love to sing, or they have been taking lessons for years on end. I love to hear their definition of ‘singing’, and also their vocal skill. I am judgemental, as no one should be surprised to hear, but I found this was an appropriate request since I was often surprised and moved by said individuals. More so, I was happy that they could carry a tune much better than I because it could open up the door to potential collaborations and get-togethers in the future.

This method of playing with friends led me to discover one individual’s amazing -and perhaps hidden to the public eye, vocal ability. They are the definition of all I could ever wish that I sounded like. It quickly caught my attention, in consequence the ideas began to pour out onto various notes, chord sheets, and recordings. All of which, revolved around their talents. I do wonder if some days they regret that initial jam with me some days, for I always had new ideas or experiments to try ever since.

Recording a Simple Cover

The above process occurred twice in the past summer, and by fortune both individuals had such a complementary skillset that playing together was inspirational for all. Perhaps I’m over exaggerating a simple exchange of cover songs and various melodic jams, but you have to understand that I’ve been playing various instruments for close to a decade with the minimal amount of genuine interaction with real musicians & talented individuals. Anyone can play Wonderwall.

This inspiration led to us trying a fun no-holds cover recording of Foster the People’s Pumped Up Kicks in the span of a single day. With the instrumentation that we had used, recording the essentials took only a few hours, leaving the rest of the day for perfectionist rerecords, and experiments.

The former is a burden of love which must be dealt with when instrument or vocal melodies aren’t as  desired by the group, and the later is simply me attempting to live up to the title of a producer for fun. That is where I realized that I was recording ‘Winners’, those that see every opportunity to improve themselves; to attempt experiments which are purely based on ideas and sounds that I hear in my head.

With the minimal amount of hesitation or concern, I recorded two talented musicians attempting dangerous harmonies, real-time counterpoint, and even live vocal chopping. All of this can be heard on the final product, and I couldn’t be prouder of the result that the three of us had come to together: https://soundcloud.com/ray-gervais-711531601/pumped-up-kicks-ftp-cover

Changing the Perspective

This experience is one which really did grant me a new perspective in contrast to previous projects. In this cover, is the energy & excitement of three individuals who did not know that morning what the final product would sound like; let alone the song that we’d choose to cover! One change to my thought process is the literal idea to let things ‘flow’, meaning to let ideas come and go, instead of trying to confine them to a pre-set rhythm, harmony, or style that I *MUST* have. Instead, these experiments and reinterpretation of the song resulted in a track that encompasses the sound that we wanted, but also allowed for natural growth of the track itself.

Coming from a programming background, I’m a very rigid individual who enjoys schedules, slotted appointments, and routine. This change in perspective was one that I would never accepted had it not been presented in the way that song had done so. Those two individuals, both of which admitted that they had never recorded before, truly did shine through rigid structure and hesitant ideas to create a truly interesting experience. It translates too into the actual song, which I’ve had a close friend describe as ‘a slower, grooved version full of modern nuances’ and another comparing the track to ‘schizophrenic thoughts’. Quite the impressions!

Saving the Off-Takes

While recording with friends in the past, I had heard from a podcast on recording ‘the performance’ the concept of recording 24 bars before the actual punch in. This was, to allow the musician to get into the song instead of being thrust right into the cue point, and in turn perhaps play some interesting tidbits knowing that the ‘fiddly’ sections could be removed in post. I did this for almost all my songs, because it allowed for me to capture the moment before the actual recording which was not anticipated in the context of the song. Some of the projects have muted channels full of little tidbits; out-of-key solos, funk bass rhythms, counter-melodies. They’re great, because sometimes it’s exactly what the song needs.

This idea was used quite a bit on the cover, which results in the way some of the vocal harmonies fight for breath and syllables between your ears and drum fills are manipulated to create a rhythmic pulse in the second verse. Even the piano, which becomes a dominate rhythmic point of the song -with the constant whole bar chords, was simply David just playing the chords while waiting to get to his vocal harmony. Does this mean I potentially have Gigabytes worth of ‘noise’ on most recordings which isn’t present on the final product? Absolutely, but in the end, it’s a trick that I’m glad to have employed in my work flow.