My name’s Bob, I make sort of quirky, experimental pop music as Zeal. I also make animated music videos for myself and others and I also VJ.
I’m running a non-pro macbook with 4 gig of ram. I chose it because of its size and sort of lucked out because my particular model is really good for getting video out to various connectors. I also have a desktop PC running XP which I was using as a studio computer but now really just use for the things I need windows for like making max/msp standalones and winamp (i *hate* itunes).
As far as hardware goes, I’ve got a korg nanocontrol, korg nanokey, a few guitar hero axes and recently acquired a novation launchpad which may or may not make my nanokey redundant. I don’t use many outboard effects other than a yamaha DDS-20M delay pedal which i love to death and a roland space echo i love equally. All of that gets piped through my trusty Sennheiser HD25SP headphones and my new KRK RP8G2 monitors which sound glorious. Then there’s a pile of instruments – an old banjo, toy keyboard, couple of basses. I recently moved so had to leave behind a beautiful old ex-pianola piano and a pedal organ. I really love old instruments.
At the moment I’m mainly working in Ableton with a good deal of max/msp and max4live stuff thrown in there. Ableton just covers all the bases for me, from recording to performance. I also love working in MTV Music Generator 2 on the PS2. It has a little quirk where you can sample with a singstar mic and has out really great MPCish lofi quality. Before ableton I was working in Nuendo rewired to Reason which worked well too. Nuendo has an awesome timestretch. For video I’m running Modul8 but once max4live is more stable I’ll probably do all my VJ work in Ableton.
Writing and recording sort of blend into one process for me. I’ll tend to find a progression or something I like and start layering things on top until a song emerges. It’s a slooooow process and often leads nowhere. Every now and then I’ll start with a fairly complete song which tends to work better… maybe I should do that more often. I like to record all the instruments myself rather than relying on presets or sample banks. Although I am quite fond of the tweakbench plugins. The tricky thing with making music, for me, is knowing when to stop tinkering. It’s easy to overshoot and trying to back track never works. I’m big on lyrics too. I’ve got a little note book filled with little fragments and sentences that either come to me or I overhear and recontextualize. My upcoming album “With the Moon Alongside Racing Us Home” has quotes from all over the place scattered through out. I steal from Benny Hinn, The Simpsons, friends, anywhere I hear an interesting sentence or phrase.
For the album I also had a few guest musicians onboard. Mainly my friend and drummer/producer extraordinaire Jarrad Payne who can drum 10,000 times better than me and has the ears of a dog. I also have a choir that I solicited via email and facebook, sending them a two bar loop for them to record themselves over and email me back their takes. That actually worked out really well, I had a lot of non-singers and the varying quality of the recordings made for a really big sound.
Video is a much more straight forward process, I think because it’s right there in front of you, you can see it and point to it and if something’s out of place it’s more obvious. For music videos I usually listen to the song and piece together a rough storyboard. I often break it down into bars, beats and 16th notes and then set the frame rate to suit. That makes it easy to make things sync up tightly. Most of my work has been 2D stop motion using papercutouts but more recently I’ve been experimenting with projection and pixelation (animating people). Using people is much faster than paper but you need patient talent. I find music videos are a great way to collaborate with bands I’m into.
My live show’s centered around my macbook running Ableton controlled by a guitar hero controller using an app I wrote in max/msp called AXIS.
I break the tracks down into scenes which I can then navigate and trigger and then I have a soft synth or sampler running on a seperate midi channel to play with the guitar. I map effects to the guitar too to add another level of control. I also run an SM57 through my DDS-20M delay and have a melodica a nylon guitar nearby. I dig the SM57 because it doesn’t have the pop shield like the 58 so you can make use of breathing into and popping the mic. Although, you’ve got to be careful and attack it side-on when singing anything with too many plosives. I’ve intentionally kept my live rig light for simplicities sake and for ease of set up. Everything runs on batteries so I don’t need any stage power. It’s easy to soundcheck and then push to one side knowing everything will work when I bring it back out.
I’m working on getting video up and running with my set too. My guitar hero axe pumps out midi CCs which I can use to dynamically control both video and audio simultaneously. Max4live is still a bit too unstable for live use though. It’s getting better but I might need to wait for another update or two before bring out the big A/V guns.
My dream live setup would probably involve a band… something I’m thinking of getting going in the near future. I need to find the right set of talented multi-instrumentalists first. It would also involve a whole lot of video cameras and a VJ on stage who’s not afraid of doing backing vocals.
As far as a dream studio goes, well something like Hans Zimmer’s studio would be amazing! But for the most part I don’t really see any need to bring it out of the bedroom. A couple of rooms in a nice sounding house is all you need these days. I’m also just as happy on a beanbag in front of the playstation!