Making Sonic Approach

Written May 2003.

Since the CD has been released, here's my notes on making Sonic Approach.

Sonic Approach was recorded in three separate sessions over a year period. I sequenced the entire project on a Roland XP-50. I recorded the master CD directly from the XP-50's stereo outs into a Philips CD recorder. I used no external processing; only the Roland's internal effects. The finished disc was sent to Dave Fulton who did an amazing job mastering the project given what he had to work with. Dave added some sounds to a couple of tracks and did some editing to make a tighter CD.

Since my first two discs incorporated a lot of synthesized percussion, I wanted this project to have little. Except for the first track, the only synth I used was the XP-50, with no expansions. I've used the XP-50 as my main synth and sequencer since 1996. Despite its limitations, it is my favorite piece of gear. My brain can't comprehend too many synths at once so I've always tried to keep it simple and travel light. The positive aspect is that I know the Roland inside and out.

I had decided early on to have a number of the tracks segue. This was no easy feat since the XP-50 has no internal memory for sequences and can only record 20,000 notes. You then have to save your song to disk via the onboard floppy drive. I was able to work around this by playing the segues while loading up the next track. Luckily the XP has enough processing power to do this without any sound glitches. Still, since I wasn't multitracking, I had to play everything right or start recording all over again.

I started putting Sonic Approach together in April 2001. I had a few ideas and themes that I planned to use as a springboard. I spent April creating about 25 new patches on the XP, and picked 10 others I'd made for earlier projects. By the end of June I had most of the pieces composed and sequenced. I try to sequence as much as possible and then leave some parts that need to be played while recorded. I also resurrected an older piece that fit into the flow of the CD. The first pass of the CD was recorded in early June 2001.

Around this time, Hypnos/Binary started to take shape and I submitted the material. After some comments from the field, I went back and reworked a few of the pieces, dropped a couple, and added two new tracks. By August 2001, I had a new master recorded, with a running time of about 63 minutes. I also finished the title poem. I sent the disk of to Dave Fulton to master and told him to cut and edit at will. A month later the mastered version was approved. Dave did a great job and was able to edit down some bits. Mike accepted Sonic Approach and it was put into the Binary queue.

In January 2002, we decided another track might make the CD stronger. I also thought it was a little too short as is (50 minutes). I had been working on a new piece that I thought would fit the theme of the CD, even though it had electronic percussion. For the new first track, "Variations On A Theme of Absence," I used a Waldorf Micro Q that I had on approval and a Korg Electribe R, in addition to the XP-50. Dave also added some nice sounds to this piece. And with that, Dave mastered the track and added it to the others. Then Mike came up with some great artwork and we were good to go.

Special thanks to Dave Fulton for his great ear, Paul Ellis for his suggestions early in the project and, of course, Mike Griffin. Here's some comments about each track.

Variations On A Theme Of Absence. As mentioned above, this was the last track to be recorded. Although my intent was to limit the amount of electronic percussion on Sonic Approach and only use the XP-50, I'd already moved back to lots of percussion by the time I recorded this. There's some Micro Q sounds here and there. Drums are from the Electribe. If I had waited another month to do this track, I could have used the MachineDrum I bought. Oh well. Dave adds some nice atmospheres. Points if you can guess where the title came from.

The Quartz Marsh. A soundscape of synthetic dragonflies darting in and out of the metallic rushes. This track, and the next two, were part of the first writing/recording sessions (April-June 2001).

Sonic Approach. The title track comes in on the heels of The Quartz Marsh. This piece is a series of sequenced loops triggered in real-time from the XP-50. Patterns can be assigned to any notes on the XP's keyboard and triggered in real-time. A great tool for playing live. A lush padscape at the end to segue to the next piece while I load it into the XP's memory.

Doused. The bass/melody line and the title come from a piece I composed in 1995. Dave adds some nice atmospheres and mirrors my lead line in spots. From a composition standpoint, Doused is similar to Engine Room off my second CD, The Opposite of Staring Into Space. But whereas Engine Room stays in one key, Doused moves around a bit. Luckily I don't have to segue to the next track so I can stop recording and use the bathroom!

Bed of Sphinxes. This track and the following one were part of the second writing/recording session (July-August 2001). Another soundscape with pads galore. Some LFO organ here and there with a slight Won't Get Fooled Again feel. More points if you guess where the title for this track came from.

The Square Triangle. Segues out of Sphinxes. Similar in execution to the title track, patterns are fired off in real-time from the XP-50. After the buildup, a nice release into a bunch of sequences. It took a lot of tries to get the solos without screwing up. Yet more points if you guess where the title came from.

Inevitable. The main undulating line for this track was written in 1990 at a Guitar Craft course. I added to it in 1996 and then again in 2001. A step-flanger effect from the XP-50 give this piece some its movement. One of the limitations of the XP's sequencer is that it stops recording at around 200 measures, regardless of the amount of notes. To work around this, I often record pieces at slow tempos such as 40 bpm. This piece ended up being shorter that originally recorded. More of the ambient side of what I try to do.

Sonic Recoil. A recap of some of the themes from earlier in the CD to close the disc out. Originally, the themes were recorded sequential, but Dave superimposed the themes onto each other to great effect.

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