26 Nov 2010

Sea And Beyond, Part 1 (Partly)

The final piece for Trek is finally underway! This is reaching the seashore from land, and starting to dream of what lies at the other end of a journey a thousand times longer...

Sea And Beyond, Part 1 by pethu

This time around, I did something I've come to do more and more often when composing: Not thinking much about melody or rhythms, but instead thinking of moods and sounds. Here the basis is a drum group of mainly taikos, but also djembes and tabla, along with some wishy-washy "sea chords". Whether this will build up into more of a majestic orchestral rock piece towards the end or continue more or less in the current vein, I have no idea as of yet.

Anyway, it's the kind of a start I feel confident I can build on.

Leaving you for now with with a truly compelling argument for software synthesizers:

(By the way — I won't leave here without my entire collection of Simon Pegg sketches!)

13 Nov 2010

Still Here! (+ some 70s style TV music)

Well, it's been nearly a month without music now, but there are some reasons for that. Here's some old music to listen to while you read!

  Anyone Can Play by pethu

Firstly, I'm coming up on the final piece of the lot and for a long time I've only known two things for sure about it: It'd better be long, and it'd better be very very good. Not enough to start beavering away, really.

Secondly, I have two projects to finish before Christmas, and Trek is only one of them. The other is version 2.0 of my extensive computer solitaire collection SoliLuxe. (But don't click the "buy" button, 'cause this version won't exist for probably a couple of weeks yet! Everything online still points to the completely free 1.4 version.) If all goes to plan, there will be a CD version of the game in addition to a downloadable one that contains at least part of Trek as the sound track.

I've used my cinematic music style for games before, and you're currently (probably) listening to some examples from this recreation of a 1973 pinball game called OXO.

Club OXO by pethu

These are short soundtracks intended to be looped while playing the game, and pure 1973-style T.V./movie music: the ubiquitous rolling congas from every 70's cop show chase scene ever, and the wild and crazy jazz flute that was a must for every "packed nightclub" scene featuring a soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin or Henry Mancini!

Anyway, back to Trek: I might finally have come up with a kind of synthesizer "sound idea" to build upon, so perhaps the final piece will start to slowly creep its way towards completion. It'd better — Christmas i just six weeks away!

17 Oct 2010

Ridge (Final, for now)

Intro added, going back to the original idea of rolling, interacting arpeggiators as the base for the piece.

  Ridge by pethu

The warm, bubbly, squishy bass is provided by the newly resurrected Arturia ARP 2600 V2. (A bug fix just made it useable on my system again, after a year in hiatus.)

The (hardware) ARP 2600 was one of the true analogue classic behemoths, a rival to the Moog modular synthesizers back in the day...

Lots may still happen to this song before the presses roll, but for now I'm out of ideas and will concentrate on the final parts of the album.

15 Oct 2010

Studio Corner, Version 2.0

This week, I have thoroughly re-organised my computer/studio corner for the first  time in over ten years. (You know it's time to do something when the cables and devices you pick up off the floor plug into computer ports that don't even exist on modern computers anymore!)

Thanks to two new drawer units from the local IKEA, my main piano keyboard (right) is at the proper playing height for the first time ever. I had it on top of a large desk before, which was way too high. Also, it's all on casters now so it's easy to move away from the window for cleaning and access to wall sockets.

The Tapco S-5 nearfield monitors have moved from the window to above the computer screens, so no more swivelling back and forth when mixing, I hope.

All computer-related stuff is now powered by a master/slave power strip, which means that when I turn the computer on, everything else automatically powers up as well.

The two keyboards beneath the monitors are not there all the time -- they're on a custom-built stand which kan easily be dismantled and put away when foin other computer stuff.

I hope to re-inaugurate it all by completing "Ridge" this weekend!

10 Oct 2010

Ridge (First Draft)

Here's some background music you can listen to while viewing the CD back cover. (A beginning and an end is yet to be created.)

  Ridge by pethu

"Ridge"started out as nothing more than a set of keywords: "Flowing", "airy" and also "slightly hypnotic". That it happened to end up as "Andreas Vollenweider meets Bob Marley" was not a part of any cunning plan!

The current harp track is a one-take live synth recordning, with four improvised parts in between the main theme repetitions. As usual, I was not fully pleased with the results at first but may end up using most of it any way. In that case, I'll only fix some missing notes and delete some "stray" ones. Experience has taught me this often creates just the extra breathing space space the listener needs, because my improvised solos tend to be too dense to begin with anyway.

On The Cover

I should possibly be doing other serious, housework-oriented stuff, but instead I'm sitting here fiddling with the CD back cover. Here is one possibility I rather like:

Let's see if I like it tomorrow...

9 Oct 2010

Taking the Mix for a Walk

With only two or three more songs to go, I took the first 75% of the album for a walk today — and I mean that literally. Mixing is an arduous task; not only do you want the music to sound good in your studio monitors, it preferrably has to cope with being carried around and played in various circumstances on less than stellar equipment.

On top of that, playing the tracks in the intended album order will cause them to interact with each other and your brain in ways you never realise while mixing them one by one. Psychoacoustics and music psychology are fascinating subjects, but not so much sciences as a dark arts...

This afternoon, The Music left the studio to be seriously listened to elsewhere for the first time: Low budget MP3 player, Koss Porta-Pro headphones, and out into the city noise we went — The Music, Harry the Dog and I. I've just returned to make some minor corrections.

"Field" ended too abruptly, so some more noises were added to the end of that one.

"Iron Artery" felt too slow when squeezed in between "Field" and "The Old Church", and is now 100 BPM instead of 98. (BPM = Beats Per Minute, for those who'd like to know and doesn't.)

The timpani on "The Old Church" were panned too far to the right in the stereo image when listened to in headphones, and have now been placed in the middle of the stereo field.

The lead guitar on "The Passing of Clouds" lacked authority when you listened to the piece in a noisy environment, coupled with headphones with a weak upper midrange. Now it's 2 dB louder. (And I sped this one up a couple of BPMs, too.)

Just some examples of what may easily become an endless tweaking process; the true art is knowing when to stop!

3 Oct 2010

That'll Do, Says the Gnome

Two more weeks gone by, just like that. (I spend my working weeks managing/servicing/fighting computers for the elderly and health care services in a small municipality, and I'm usually rather weary of them — the computers, that is — come Friday. Besides which, if I'm lucky I have just about enough creative spark left to open a milk carton...)

Anyhow, me and my gnome have decided that this small classical piece is more or less finished now. A mid section, a harpsichord and some judicious tempo changes throughout has been added since last we spoke:

Manor Park by pethu

Perhaps I should explain about the gnome. Yes? Right. He is a small, musical, supervisory entity that lives inside my head and looks at the bigger picture when I try to piece something together.

For example, while working on this piece I thought to myself that it could be a good starting point from which to experiment with longer classical-style pieces. All I have done in this line is short one-offs, and it would be really interesting to se for how long I could "milk" a simple theme in the classical fashion. 5 minutes? 10? Concerto? Symphony?

Luckily, the gnome was here to tell me that the current album project is SO not the place to do it. I can't even drag it out to a "normal" 2- or 3-minute piece if I want to keep any semblance of continuity to the album. It's only purpose in this context is to provide some contrast and prevent things from getting too samey. (For shock value, you'd be tempted to say, although "shock" is really the least appropriate word imaginable. If anything, it's more like a bit of "anti-shock" thrown in for good measure!)

Manor Park... is probably a park around a manor. Or, the way this album is going, it could just as well be a railway station with a rather nice Victorian entrance. You decide!

18 Sep 2010

Recreational Bug Fixing

After a hectic week, I was looking forward to adding a few more seconds of new music today. However, plans were quickly derailed as a member of the public had spotted a weakness in my own "flagship" software synthesizer, the Hahaha CS33 V2:

A reasonable work-around for the problem meant actually adding a new feature to the synth, so that's Saturday over and done with. Oh well... "Business comes first", as the saying goes. (Only it's not a business, 'cause the synth is freeware!)

11 Sep 2010

A Little More...

Continuing from yesterday.

The four-bar intro has doubled in size and yielded its natural follow-up. It so lovely I wanted you to hear it straight away!

A Little More... by pethu

It's so lovely, in fact, I feel I have probably stolen most if not all of it. (Not all from the same place, I hope!)

Then again, we're right in the middle of orchestrated British folk music here, so if I stole it, it was probably from someone else who stole it from someone who stole it... and so on, back before the Romans.

The flute part has all the right ingredients to be repeated as the end of the song. The question is what will come in between. I need at least another 8 bars of melody before I can start "cheating" using mostly variations and repetitions of what's already there...

10 Sep 2010

A Good Beginning...

OK, here's a new approach: Instead of waiting for a track to be almost finished before blogging, here's the first few seconds of one that I've hardly started on!

  A Good Beginning by pethu

I'm going for something orchestral and strongly reminiscent of a theme for some TV series set in the English countryside here. Not any particular existing theme, just something light-hearted and classical. In those circumstances, you shouldn't be able to go far wrong with a string quintet and a couple of woodwinds as a base.

The first five seconds above seems like a good start. Where it will go from here, no-one knows!

4 Sep 2010

The Passing of Clouds, Part 2

...21 or 22 years on from Part 1— the same, but very different (and that goes for me as well, I guess):

  The Passing of Clouds, Part 2 by pethu

Cue apprehensive mode: Will the clouds stay on the horizon, or will you shortly get very wet?

This one falls somewhere between (and it's a big gap!) Yello and Kevin Peek's works for Sky, I think.

25 Aug 2010

The Passing of Clouds: Track Archaeology

  The Passing of Clouds by pethu

All will be fairly quiet on the music making front for some weeks to come, I'm afraid. Sore limbs, family matters and full-on back-from-the-holidays-regular-autumn-panic att the office all conspire against me/us!

I have played around  bit, though, trying to fit some new music to titles I've already settled for. However and as usual, my projects tend to have a mind of their own. Suddenly, I played a sequence of chords that coupled with the autumn storms outside the window made me think an old number from the past (above). Now, the next new piece is likely to be "The Passing of Clouds Part 2", possibly involving an attempt to recreate the bass sound in the old tune on my modern synths.

In the 80's and 90's, I recorded about 8 "cassette tape albums" of some 10 tracks each. Some of the best stuff I recorded onto CDs before both tapes and cassette players perished, but the exact chronology and details of many pieces are not that well documented. It takes a bit of deductive reasoning to locate the proper place in history for a track like "The Passing of Clouds":

First off, the bass sound here is one of only two (2) sounds from the Korg DS-8 synthesizer worth remembering. It was a nice synth to play, but in general the sounds were pretty awful by today's standards!

All other sounds sound like they come from my Roland U-110 sample playback unit.

I can hear nothing that sounds like the later Ensoniq SQ-1, which was my first proper music workstation with a built-in 16-track sequencer. Further indication that it isn't a sequenced song but played live all the way through is that there is some heavy "pumping" of the sound related to the bass line, a sure sign of a DBX noise reduction system at work. The only piece of equipment I had with DBX was my second 4-track cassette tape recorder, a Yamaha MT2X.

In conclusion, this must be an "early MT2X piece", which puts it around 1989. Mission completed!

15 Aug 2010

Normal Service Will Be Resumed...

To cut a short story as short as possible:

Computer virus.
System re-install.

Almost everything is back online now with no more harm done than additional strain on my already overworked right hand and arm.

Anyway, I have finally got the message and invested in disk imaging software to back my entire system partition up — the next time something like this happens, I should have most things running again in a matter of hours instead of days.

Now I'm going to rest that arm for a bit, then we'll see what happens next!

8 Aug 2010

Obscure Inspirations #4

Many of my favourite groups have some things in common: An eclectic approach to composition, an inclination to experiment wildly with arrangements and instrument lineups over time, a fondness for percussion and esoteric instruments, a touch of minimalism and even a blurring of the lines between music and visual art where music becomes inspired by art and vice versa. All those elements are present in the Dutch group "The Nits", although the example here is a rather traditional number (and also their greatest hit).

They only had one album released commercially in the US at the end of their heyday in the 1990s, and they never received much recognition outside central Europe although they always stuck to English lyrics. They still exist and tour today, as far as I know.

"The Dutch Mountains", however, never existed; they are buildings, as you hear clearly enough at the very end of this song. It's all a metaphor for the crowded lifestyle of much of the Netherlands, big cities seamlessly connected with their suburbs (or so I think). That's par for the course with the Nits — There's so many interconnected metaphors and references in the lyrics that it can take quite a while to untangle them!

Obscure Inspirations #3

Andreas Vollenweider: Lots of percussion, loads of fun ethnic instruments and a Swiss harp player that threw the rule book out the window — lots to be inspired by here!

Oh, and on guitar... Janne Schaffer. (If you read the posts in the wrong order, bear with me until your reach #1.)

Obscure Inspirations #2

ABBA, anyone? In this case you're most likely familiar with the group, but if all you've heard or remember is "Dancing Queen", you are not that familiar with the minds behind it. Even in their most middle-of-the-road hits, there are lots of clever and often eclectic stuff tucked away inside. Not to mention the odd, bold diversion from the mainstream as in the epic, semi-psychedelic  "Eagle" above.

Oh, by the way: On the improvisational / effects guitar — Janne Schaffer. (And Lasse Wellander on the lead. He's not too shabby, either.) Schaffer played on about 50 of the ABBA tracks.

When the group split up, the songwriters (Andersson/Ulvaeus) went on to paint on an even  broader canvas in a couple of musicals: "Chess" and "Kristina from Duvemåla". Even on their earliest albums, you can hear that that kind of development was kind of inevitable.

(No, "Mamma Mia" does not count - that's just a rehash of old hits!)

Finally, we mustn't forget that Benny Andersson was one of the very few owners of a Yamaha GX1, the largest and most expensive synth ever made. The list went something like: Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Stevie Wonder (2 of them!), Benny Andersson, Jürgen Fritz (Triumvirat), Rick van der Linden (Ekseption), and pretty much noone else. Only about 6 were ever sold, although some of the above changed hands a couple of times...

(Looking at it these days, you'd think some of them would have been recycled as props for a Star Trek movie!)

Obscure Inspirations #1

"Obscure" can mean two things here: 1, obscure as in "you might not have seen that one coming", or 2, obscure as in "chances are you haven't heard of this before, especially if you live across the pond".

Between the definitions, I probably have quite a lot of my sources of inspiration covered. Particularly so because much of what I listen to most actually doesn't show up very much at all in my own music, so there is some distinction between "inspiration" and "favourites" in my case!

Anyway, on with it. Here's a piece of music that's lodged in the spine of every Swede, at least in those over 40 or so  (The title "Brusa högre, lilla å" roughly translates to "Sing louder, little stream".)

Recorded at a church concert in December 2009. The composer Björn J:son Lindh is at the synthesizer, and one of the world's most awesome guitarists Janne Schaffer is playing the... well.

I can't say I have actively followed Lindhs career or bought everything he ever made, this is more of a common heritage thing as I said. And if you had to pick one modern instrumental piece that embodies the Nordic mood and spirit, this particular one would be it.

As for Janne Schaffer, he's one of the musicians that often stay in the background; only after some research do you find that he has, in fact, been part of the background of pretty much everything for the last 40 years. This will be proven when he returns in next two posts as well. Wait for it!

7 Aug 2010

City Exit North: Jumping The Queue

  City Exit North by pethu

 Here's a tune that wasn't part of the plan at all one moment, then demanded top priority the next. I realised that starting the whole album with "Moving Mist", however logical, would skew people's perception of what the album as a whole is about — musically speaking. Hence this more bombastic piece to start the entire show off.

So, now we start off in the city and "escape" north into the countryside. In an attempt to emphasize this, I used different main synths in the first and second parts:

In the "city" part, there'a lot of Native Instrument's FM8 — a software synth originally based on the the first popular, mass-market digital synthesizer, the Yamaha DX7. FM8 is a much more versatile beast than its inspiration these days, but still has that digital edge to the sounds.
Also, the fast sequenced triplets in the beginning are designed to keep you off balance for a while!

In a (largely failed) attempt at added contrast and a more organic feeling, most of the sound in part 2 comes from one of the last great all analog synths, the Yamaha CS-80. Here in Arturia's software version, the CS-80V 2:
Properly handled, the brass and string sounds from the CS-80 can instantly transport you into Vangelis territory! (Not saying it does in this particular case, mind.)

Discontinued in 1980, a used CS-80 can still fetch upwards of $25,000: That's for a 30 year old beast that weighs 220 pounds (100 kg), is almost impossible to keep in tune and is in constant need of spare parts. Software has many advantages, although it may not sound exactly the same...

1 Aug 2010

Zodiac - Full album download

Time to make use of some of my currently excessive web site bandwidth! Here's my previous (2007) instrumental album "Zodiac" in 24 high quality MP3 files, including CD cover images and liner notes booklet. 136 MBs, so be prepared for a little wait...

Zodiac - Full Album

(This does not mean I'm stuck for new material ;) — I plan to have a new "Trek" tune more or less finished by the end of the day...)

28 Jul 2010

Uphill: Live and Fake!

Here's the final already finished, "off-the-shelf" piece for the Trek album. From now on, I'll have to become creative again. Ouch!

  Uphill by pethu 

This one has more of a "live combo" feel to it compared to previously published pieces, basically because it is slightly more live - but not much. In fact, the only authentic thing in here is my pretty Epiphone Les Paul:
However, the amp it runs through is a just a Fender Twin emulation inside the computer:

Moving on, the piano part that the entire piece is built around is played in real time by me on an S. Erard 1922 Half Grand Piano:
However, I'm not using a physical piano here and not even a sampled one. No, the Erard has been recreated as a pure mathematical model in the amazing Modartt Pianoteq software, so what you are hearing are — maths. Sounding very, very much like a piano.

Finally, the drums are sampled but neither played nor fully programmed by me. Instead, they are played by an artificial brain inside the Rayzoon Jamstix drummer software. When given a basic pattern to play, this "robot drummer" then tries to recreate all the little embellishments and imperfections of a real drummer — in fact, one has a choice of several artificial drummer personalities to spice up the rhythm!

24 Jul 2010


  Field by pethu

Here's a mostly ambient piece where almost all melodic and some of the rhythmic content is generated by a single patch programmed on the Moog Modular V 2, a virtual synth beast emulating the gigantic modular synthesizers of the late 60's / early 70's. You even have to drag patch cords between the modules, just like the real thing! (Interesting Facts Department: Hence the term "patch", nowadays used for any type of sound preset on an electronic instrument.)

Anyway —  this is likely to mess with your head a bit the first couple of times you listen to it due to the lack of traditional melody, so apologies for that. Also, the first piece of mine incorporating the sound of a marxophone. Also, the first piece to incorporate the sound of a tractor.

In case you absolutely hate it, here's a piccie of Harry as a puppy to make up for it:

21 Jul 2010

In Deep Shade

...is a good place to be over here right now, especially if you're a dog like my flatmate Harry:

Please don't think I've begun producing new music at a breakneck pace all of a sudden; this is another one I prepared earlier, as the TV chefs say. If it happens to be equally hot where you are, I hope it can offer some cool- and wetness.

(Nice Touch of the Day: The small, tuned gongs coming into play at about 1:33!)

  02 In Deep Shade by pethu

17 Jul 2010

The Old Church

Back in the saddle again, after some days away from home and studio. I started off by finishing a piece that's given me considerable grief — although mostly in a good way. Musical transitions are fun. I might do an entire album called "Transitions" one day!

The Old Church by pethu

It started out quite sensibly, with the "choral organ" chord progression in the first part. I was sure that would be the base for a whole piece, but suddenly it had become merely the intro for an electronica-style part going off at right angles to the first bit. Well, the church in question was a disused one, modern times encroaching on its space. So, slightly mad but still logical.

Then I got stuck. The only thing I knew for certain was that I needed a third part. I could not go back to something based on part one, beacuse the energy built upp in part 2 would be lost.

Tonight, after several weeks, I came up with these punchy harpsichord chords which sounded a bit repetitive but worth exploring. It turned into not quite an all-nighter, but certainly two-thirds-of-a-nighter.

I wasted a few hours trying to come up with a new, proper melody to put on top, until the solution presented itself — just bring in the choir again and throw lots of symphonic instruments on top, Alan Parsons/Andrew Powell-style, until the the old church "reappears", as it were.

In the process, I think I reached the highest track count in any of my songs yet. There's about 21 of them:

Choir Voices
Gravel Steps
Choral Layer:
  • Positiv (Portable Pipe) Organ, holpijp register +
  • Bolivian Pan Pipes +
  • Novachord Marcato Strings
Metal Gate
Synth Harp
Wind Noise
Synth Bass
Distorted Harp
Synth Blips Sequence
Overdrive Electro-Acoustic Guitar
Tubular Bells
Bubbly Synth Sequence

11 Jul 2010


Well, that was fun (as in "not much"): I spent the evening re-organizing sound samples from 230 different ethnic percussion instruments to make them easier to play as instruments in my main sample player.

As a result, I have this to add to the "interesting facts" section. Here's your chance to claim superiority over most other people through your knowledge of what a kkwenggwari (or koeagkari) actually sounds like. Just don't ask me what it looks like. Or where it comes from. Or how you play it. The only thing certain is that it's metallic in origin:

Kkwenggwari (Koeagkari) by pethu

There you go! Ain't I just too educational for words? :)

10 Jul 2010

Tribute - How Not To Make It in the Rock Star Business

Meet Tribute from Norrköping, Sweden. Arguably one of the most talented bands ever to come out of Sweden, and sadly they did not really get much further. They had some exposure in Germany too, but now there's not even a Wikipedia page anywhere as far as I can tell.

Tribute were like a turbo-charged Mike Oldfield act. They were so good Mike's former percussionist Pierre Moerlen temporarily gave up his own band Gong, moved to Sweden and joined them as their drummer. But starting out towards the mid-80's, I guess everything about them was already commercially wrong:

* Their songs tended to be rather longer than 3 minutes — like, 28 in the complete version of the above.

* The front men did not really act as front men but rather as part of the team.

* They emphasized content and musical performance over style.

* They had no lyrics and the two girls in the band were percussionists, not dancers.

Very little in the form of videos have survived, and none with particularly good sound quality. (I saw them live once, and they had the best front-of-house sound mix I have ever heard, period.)

Here's a small sample. From this and some Joe Jackson gigs from the same era comes my firm belief that every live band should have a minimum of two percussionists!

9 Jul 2010

Join in the fun!

Over the weekend, I'll be working on this:

A small, free tutorial and software package that will have you playing a simple synthesizer on your bog standard Windows computer within 5 minutes of downloading it. Getting into computer music will never have been easier and less techno-babbleish, or so I hope.

The synth in question is one of the simplest and most beginner-friendly synths ever created. In real life it appeared in 1982, and this is a software recreation made by yours truly lots of years later. In the piece below, I tried to demonstrate that if you layer enough of them — say 25 or so — you don't really need anything else to make a song.

And so, back to 1982:
12th Night's Dream of '82 by pethu

8 Jul 2010

Moving Mist

Another of the finished tracks for "Trek". (Well, it has to be — I've made so many changes to my software setup since I worked on it last, I simply don't have the energy to re-create the editable version of it!)

Moving Mist by pethu

The influences behind this one is uncharacteristically easy to pinpoint: It's Jean-Michel Jarre meets Bo Hansson, pure and simple! (Well, OK, so there's a little bit of Oskar Lindberg in there as well, maybe.)

7 Jul 2010

pethu? pethu??

Well, it's just a signature, really — some initals from my first and last name, which once upon a time yielded fairly few hits on the Googleweb. Now, it's sort of my general-purpose nym on the 'net.

As luck (or misfortune) would have it, it also seems to be an Indonesian name — and I have no clue what it means. If anyone knows, please tell me! I'm from a radically different part of the globe, you see. (Sweden, to be precise.)

To wit, the singer/group/whatever "Pethu Pem Pethum" on Youtube is NOT me, although there are also one or two videos about my software synthesizers over there...

Iron Artery

More about everything later! Here's a first piece of hot-off-the-digital-audio-workstation music, presented to you courtesy of the excellent Soundcloud service. Note that you can download a higher-quality version by clicking the small arrow icon on the right hand side of the Soundcloud player below.

Iron Artery by pethu

This is a fairly complete piece from my work-in-progress album "Trek" (as in "hiking boots", not the celestial on-screen pointy ears type!). It might still be a bit too bass-heavy, I think. Also, the electric guitar part in the middle will possibly be replaced by a real live guitar in the final version. (It's about time I got some more use out of my sadly neglected Epiphone Les Paul.)

As I hope you'll be able to hear, the "iron artery" is a railway cutting through the landscape, living its life at a radically different pace than, and disconnected from, its surroundings.

P.S. This is my first post in my first blog ever, and I have no clue what the heck I'm doing. Please bear with me as the design inevitably changes over the coming weeks!