It’s been rather quiet on my side. Mainly because I hardly had time to make music apart from two collaborations, with Dustmotes and Subfilter. Both are still in progress.
I’m currently working on my project Sonic Bloom full time. For anyone interested in making music with Ableton Live, you should check it out. There’s daily posts with Live tutorials, freebies and music tech news like interesting Max for Live device, music apps and hardware. In English and German. In a while I’ll also be offering courses for Ableton Live.
Come March I’ll finally have time for music again and I’ll enliven the fortnightly YouTube videos with new vBlogs and more. Until then, here’s a video from Imogen Heap‘s talk about the Gloves I filmed at the CTM Hacklab in Berlin last week. She explains and shows how she performs ‘Me the Machine’ with them.
I’m sitting on my couch, listening to the state of the songs I have so far. This is the second attempt at writing a catch up post, but the last was swallowed by WordPress for iOs. Again. Anyway…
As the year nears its end, I feel like it’s time to take stock, look and listen back of where I got this year. I didn’t quite get as far as I wanted, but I love the new songs. Moving into a new place has been part of that, but it’s taken up some time as well. Right now I have 8 songs in various stages: ‘Audacity’, ‘Live & Learn’, ‘Too Soon’, ‘In Time’ and ‘Patchwork’ more or less roughly mixed, ‘Together’ and ‘Afterglow’ as rough demos and last, but not least ‘Aurelia’ somewhere in between. So about halfway there. Not too shabby!
Compared to ‘Minutia’ there are more live instruments on the new songs that give it a sort of live feel. I got more instruments since finishing the last album and my boyfriend, whose studio is next to mine, has even more. Working in tech support at Ableton has me staring at Live without making music. This made me crave the tactile feel of tines, strings, keys and so on. As an act of deviance against all the MIDI, editing and goggling the screen, I guess.
In the last few days I’ve made a list of all the things that need to be done before a release besides the music. I had set a deadline for mid February ages ago, but it’s dawned on me that it has become pretty much impossible or I’d have to rush things too much. So I’ve decided to instead release an EP in mid May and the album in late August or so. This way the wait is not too long. Sound good?
If you want to have a listen to the progress on the songs of my sophomore album… I’m doing a fortnightly webcast and the previous videos are available to watch. Wanna hear the songs emerge? Or watch live from now on? The next one is on New Year’s Day at 9 pm CET, then Sunday every other week.
2 weeks since I came back from the Sicily tour. How quickly time flies by. I had to work a lot of hours doing tech support to make up for the time away. I’m also working on new songs and a plan on how to get to tour more. Lots of new things in the pipeline already. Anyway, here’s my overdue post about the first tour.
I took a taxi to the airport as I couldn’t take all my luggage by public transport. At the check-in desk I was told I had 8 kg more luggage than allowed. That made 80€ (yikes) extra one way for bringing my array mbira. Altogether I had 40 kg and my clothes made up the smallest part. Nicoleugenia picked me up from the airport in Catania and so we drove to Palermo. She’s the one who booked the gigs for me and who also made a great tour manager and driver – or handler, as she liked to call it.
The first gig was the next day. A good thing since I was overtired from getting everything ready. The venue was less than 5 minutes away from the B&B we stayed at, both in Ballarò. The rest of the day we spent wandering around Palermo. An impression through cotton wool for me in my sleep-deprived state. Italians are noisy people with their shouting, vespas and honking. I had brought earplugs and so managed to get a good long sleep.
We had a look at the venue PalaB on Friday afternoon before it was time for soundcheck in the evening. I was rather excited about playing there. Then there was only the owner to do the sound and he didn’t know the mixer or what to do. When I tried my headset mic I got feedback. He tried different things, even wanted to give me another one made only for talks. Finally I went behind the mixer and found the gain to be the culprit. Soundcheck done after ages. By then I was extremely nervous again. When I started playing I noticed that the mixer settings didn’t work on my laptop. I had set them up to be recalled for each song with one button press. So I scrambled to get the mixing done on top of all the looping, playing and singing. The audience enjoyed it anyway, but I found it difficult. Grin and bear it and through with it. People came up to me afterwards saying “Complimenti” or “Brava”. Not many Italians speak English actually. The chef even bought my album and was blasting it to the whole neighbourhood the next day. Sweet!
The next concert in Caltagirone was a week later so there was time for taking in Palermo. We also went to Marsala for a day to enjoy the view of the salt pools and windmills. Then it was time to head to Caltagirone where I had to work some hours in the tech support inbox each day and took it slow otherwise. I stayed at the same B&B as in December and it almost felt like home. One with an incredible view.
The concert in Caltagirone was open air and it was unusually chilly for the season. We set up behind Villa Patti with plenty of time for soundcheck. This time I was going to have an opening act – Daiquiri Fantomas. I even got to play their Theremin.
The later it got, the chillier and windier it became. Because of the technical issue at my last gig my stage fright was back at its worst. I was ready to sell all my live gear and never do it again. The two guys – Dario and Marco – did a great job with their debut gig while I anxiously awaited my turn. Then it was time for me to start. At first I was still nervous, especially with the wind being picked by my mic in every loop. Luckily it was only loud in my in ear monitoring. The crowd enjoyed it and apart from a few people with kids they stuck it out till the end despite the cold. Daiquiri Fantomas and I even did a little improv together. It made me realise how much I miss jamming with others.
The third and final concert was in Catania at La Lomax, a 45 minutes drive from Caltagirone. This is the place where I was supposed to already play last December. Back then the police shut off the power to find squatters leeching electricity from the streetlights. No power, no gig. I knew that the venue is very nice with helpful and knowledgable sound engineers. When we arrived there was a puppet theatre – pupi in Sicilian – still on.
When they were finished they left the whole setup where it was as the stage is big. I loved the soundcheck. I only had to sort out my own setup, everything else they took care of. Subsequently I was hardly nervous about the gig. I even had a backstage area that I could hang out in and prepare. The concert went really well and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, it was so much fun I just wanted to keep touring. Play every night.
Not yet, but hopefully soon. I’ve got a plan and am working out the details at the moment. More on that in a few weeks.
I knew for a while there was the chance I might get to support Imogen Heap at her Berlin gig, but the date drew nearer and nearer and nothing happened. Then suddenly on Monday I got an email saying she’d love me to open for her – the next day. Just as I was giving up hope and thinking about getting a ticket. So last minute and so exciting!
When I turned up at the venue (Lido) the soundcheck had just started. I waved hello to Imogen and the others, they waved back. I was surprised how normal it all felt. It was calming to watch and listen even though time was ticking away. I had woken up with a migraine and thrown up first thing in the morning. The whole day I was so worried I might not be able to perform after all. Yet I thought, if Imogen had to get steroids to do her London gig then I could do it. No matter what. And if I keeled over on stage at least I’d have given it a shot. Luckily watching her, Ryan, Vince and Emma soundcheck blew away most of my headache. So I got changed into my stage outfit, sorted the merch and then was told to already set up my gear in front of the stage to speed things up. In the end I had about 10 minutes to set up with very little space to move around and 5 minutes for soundcheck while they held the doors. Madness!
Then as it was to time to hit the stage Immi kindly introduced me to the audience, explained how spontaneous and rushed everything was and beckoned them to come closer. People were still pouring in when I played. I started with ‘A Little’ and as I recorded my ‘fake beatboxing’ loop there was feedback from the mic. So I stopped and started over. Admittedly it made me nervous, but I got through the song without any more issues. Next up was ‘Zero Tolerance’ with drums played with wiimote and nunchuk. That went well and the audience seemed to really enjoy it (I sure did) . When I tried to record the wiimote drums for ‘The Tide’ next they were all over the place. It had worked perfectly at home. Whether it was shaky hands or too little distance to the computer (it works better when further away) I just couldn’t get the beats right. Time was running so I decided to move on to ‘In Unison’ and finished with ‘Breathing Underwater’ after asking the sound guy how much time I had left. Everyone wanted to hear another song except for one guy who shouted at me to stop. I asked who said that (he didn’t respond) and that I would come and find him afterwards. This seemed to rather amuse the rest of the crowd. A lot of people came to me afterwards to tell me they enjoyed my set including Tim Exile who came straight to the stage while me and the crew were frantically getting my stuff off stage. I had expected to get stage fright as I used to, but it’s so much nicer to have a bigger audience. A little more routine with all the multitasking and I’d feel right at home on stage. Ah, to go on tour… well, working on it.
Next up was Ryan a.k.a. BackTed’n’Ted who was great. I’m so looking forward to hearing his album which unfortunately was held up at customs. Then finally it was time for Immi. She started with ‘First Train Home’ as usual and had to start over as well, because one wine glass was awefully out of tune. Her whole set was as amazing as expected. Emma and Vince on violin and viola were a great addition. Imogen and the two string players also took turns drumming on the cocktail kit Immi had bought just before the tour started. You could see they weren’t quite as comfortable yet, but it all worked out just fine. I loved ‘Just for Now’ with the crowd singing the otherwise looped parts and very well at that. Don’t ask me for details or a complete set list as a lot of the evening is slightly blurry. I was still on an adrenaline high. I was outside in between and didn’t even feel the cold.
After the show I hung around, talked to anyone who wanted to, signed a couple of autographs (getting used to it by now, but I’m still finding it weird), Ryan even bought a copy of my album. Then I went backstage where there was tasty Indian curry, silly dancing, conversation and laughter. Everyone of them is so lovely. Immi, Ryan, Emma, Vince and the stage crew. They made me feel very comfortable and right at home. Imogen thanked me lots of times for playing at such short notice.When it was time for me to share a cab home with Tim we all hugged and said goodbye. While we loaded our gear into the boot of the car the others got ready to go on the long bus ride to Oslo. I so wanted to just hop on and go with them. Apparently the bus even has luxurious wood panelling and leather seats, but I totally forgot to have a gander.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten to include lots of details you might be interested in, but a remix plus vocals are waiting to be addressed and there’s never enough time for all the things I want to do.
Alright… where to begin. The longer I don’t write the longer it takes me when I finally do. So I’m sitting here listening to Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ again and sipping a beer.
The days’ve been flying by lately while I was busy tying up loose ends in my songs and preparing for the gig. Last time I’d caught you up on things I’d been working on ‘The Tide’. Apart from some small tweakings it’s done. I managed to write the remaining lyrics and came up with a nice melody. I also recorded some real spanish-sounding handclaps and finished the arrangement. The song’s very dramatic and cinematic, I love it. Here’s a tasty bit of it without vocals:
After that I moved on to ‘Euphoria’, a song that I’ve been working on on and off. Maybe that’s why it’s been causing me a bit of trouble. It never seemed euphoric enough for my liking. And when it already promises that in the title you have to deliver, don’t you? I’m still not completely satisfied with the beats, but something’s giving Ableton Live the hiccups in this song, especially the beats have dropouts. I’ll have to figure that out tomorrow. Other than that I’ve finally solved the puzzle last night. I tried to play the song faster and with 8 BPM more everything just fell into place. It’s funny sometimes. Of course, I had to redo certain parts, but then I got into a working frenzy and added some lovely piano part in the chorus that sounds like sunshiny rain – if you know what I mean, kind of like the equivalent to the sun coming out after a downpour – and some very expressive strings. The last part of the song had been only a rough idea until I’d started rehearsing the song. All of a sudden I had some backing vocals and the melody when I tried out stuff with my looper. Sometimes you just have to give a song some time to work itself out. I guess the rest will be a piece of cake now. I might have to find a new vocal melody for the refrain, but it’ll come. Another morsel (the refrain):
One week before my gig at Mastul I started rehearsing. I’d been asking around for a cellist and even found two. One ended up not having time on that day, but we’re definitely going to try to work together. I think he might be the better fit of the two, because when he plays on his own he uses a looper and a Macbook. So he knows where I’m at with my live setup. The other one that accompanied me for the gig turned out to be a bit of a rocker. What are the odds? I had to thwart him somewhat and our only rehearsal was mainly to talk things over. Even though he’d mostly improvised to my songs it went down well with the audience.
Since the gig was my first feature-length one I had a lot of things to prepare. On the previous Sunday I downloaded some free MIDI translator programmes so I could build macros to both trigger sounds and operate everything in Ableton Live with my MIDI keyboard. After trying out a couple I settled for midiStroke that converts MIDI messages into keystrokes. To termine note and channel numbers from my keyboard I also installed IttyBittyMIDI, a dashboard widget for Mac OS X that monitors MIDI signals on the computer and is programmed by the same guy. After I got that working smoothly I moved on to hooking up my looper to receive MIDIclock from my Mac and that way play in sync. I must say I was surprised how swiftly I got everything to work, because I’d been dreading the usual technical problems.
The rest of the week leading up to the gig I spent relearning my new songs, figuring out how to best play them live. I only have one MIDI keyboard so far that I use for playing stuff live, looping things within Live, triggering sounds and navigating through Live so I don’t have to touch the computer within a song. This has proven pretty tricky, because quite often I need most of the keys already just to play and I have to assign different keys for all kinds of actions in each song. A lot of stuff to remember, requires much thinking ahead while I’m playing and singing and so on. Lately each time I had to rehearse for a gig the weather was freaking hot which doesn’t help concentrating (I kept thinking I want to go swimming). I felt like my head was fuming and my brain melting. Or was it the other way around? Now there’s more equipment on my list to buy: a foot pedal to control my looper and a MIDI controller of some sort.
Anyway, the gig went well. Not that many people there, because it was almost the last hot day and people in Berlin tend to sit outside cafés and enjoy a nice drink instead of being inside. The ones that came loved it though with calls for encores and everything. I even sold some CDs. This time I wasn’t that nervous either. The atmosphere was very homely and cosy, a bit like a living room concert. I played all of my new songs apart from ‘Euphoria’, ‘Unspoken’ and ‘Chaos & Order’, a couple of old ones and a cover version of Brain Eno‘s ‘By This River’ with my looper. As the last song I played ‘Scaredy Cat’s Lullaby’ to which the cellist played exactly what I had composed for the song and after a while when I was singing on top of some looped vocals the sound engineer joined in doing some percussion and another guy started making up another vocal melody. Magic! Each time I do a gig I learn some more. The audience as the indicator of what works well and what needs adjusting. This time I felt like I’d achieved a new landmark in my performance. Sure, there are still some kinks to be worked out, but boy oh boy it’s really going somewhere now. I’m aching for more, totally hooked!
The next day, a Sunday, I spent blissfully hanging out doing absolutely nothing. I reckon I’d earned that and I was exhausted, too. Naturally, the way it always seems to be, there was a lot of cleaning to be done in my flat. I did most of that on Monday and decided to assiduously ignore certain bits for now. So my flat’s clean, but slightly messy. That’s the way it goes when you’re busy and I sure am. It’s going to be a tight schedule till the end of July. Still, I’m loving every single minute of it!
Really been slacking off with the blog writing business. So this might be a long one.
The gig at Schokoladen went okay. I was pretty nervous, still got a lot of stage fright which will hopefully subside once I’ve played all my new songs more often. The sound engineer was a bit of a twat. After a very quick soundcheck he only twiddled his thumbs while I played, didn’t readjust the volumes one bit even though that would have been a terrific idea. He even forgot to turn up the sound of my looper and then tried to blame it on me, when I asked the audience if they heard anything at all. Seems to me you can tell a bad sound engineer not only from him doing nothing after the soundcheck, but also giving stupid advice to female musicians. Yeah right, women and technology! Since I’m usually the only one turning up without a guitar I always have to play first. I had intended to play 5 songs, but was cut short after No. 4. After the gig a friend of mine came up to me, hugged me and told me how brave I was going on stage on my own. Cute! And lots of strangers told me they liked me best. Yay!
The next two days I took off. I couldn’t remember the last time I had two days off in a row and I felt like I deserved it after all the sleep deprivation and brain fuming. Accordingly spent most of the time sleeping.
I’ve got another gig coming up on July 5 and this time I can play as long as I want. I’d like to play all of my songs. A lot of the new ones have never been tried out live and it’s about time now. I’m even thinking of getting a cellist for this gig if I can find one in time. The last gig preparations proved to be much more time-consuming than I expected so this time I figured I’d start way early. Especially since I’m still in how-to-rearrange-songs-for-gigs mode. This is what I’ve been busy with lately. A lot of the plugins I’m using I only have for Windows so I rebuilt the ‘instruments’ and sounds for almost all new songs and bounced down audio for things that will be just played back or triggered live. Now I’m in the process of relearning the chords and melodies for the songs and trying out what seems to work simultaneously and what doesn’t. Gotta find a good MIDI controller programme for OS X, so I don’t have to assign two buttons or more any longer to get the result I want in Ableton Live. There’s still a lot to learn for me and I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of all the possibilities my setup provides. I’m thinking of buying a foot MIDI controller so that my hands are free for playing the keyboard or the array mbira once I’ve got it and I can still trigger sounds live with my feet. I guess it’s gonna be a work in progress and the more gigs I play the more I’ll know what works best.
Really tired now, even though I’ve got more to report. I’ll write again tomorrow I promise.
Been busy trying to rearrange some of my new songs so I can play them live. I wasn’t expecting it to take soooo long, but it does. Ran into some problems today when I realised that on my Macbook VST instruments don’t appear in the plug-ins folder in Ableton Live even though everything’s set up correctly. I wish I could just throw a fit, but that doesn’t help since I’m running out of time. Found a workaround for now which isn’t perfect. Who cares! For now. I’m getting a bit anxious that I might not be so well prepared after all. So much fine-tuning left and rehearsing all the little bits… gotta be done, so it will be done. I guess it’ll all gonna come together tomorrow.
The heat in Berlin is shocking. I don’t wanna moan. I like summer, especially when I actually have some time that I can spend outside. Preferably by a lake. For now I’m stuck inside my flat at close to 30 degrees Celsius. I’m so looking forward to Thursday. Finally going to a lake and spend an afternoon writing lyrics, swimming and having a picknick. That’s going to be my treat to myself. It’s always good to have something nice to look forward to when you’re slaving away while everyone else seems to be out and about having fun. Oh, and going to the Camille concert tomorrow.
Something great though also happened. My friend in San Diego contacted me to confirm he’s definitely coming in early August and he’s gonna bring my spanking new Array Mbira with him. Yay! Funny, I’d had just dreamt of playing one even though I never have. Gotta make up my mind soon how exactly I want it to be, because they’re custom-made and it takes about 4-6 weeks.
And now a little advertising: all who read this and live in Berlin, please come to the gig on Wednesday at Schokoladen. I’m gonna start playing no later than 10 pm so please come early.
Dinner now (I’m starving), then a huge pile of dishes and then back to rehearsing until my eyes fall shut.
I must admit I’ve been slacking off with the blog writing recently. Then again writing a blog every night takes up quite some time and I’m trying to make up for the lost time from when I was sick – not that it would be possible…
Still working on ‘Euphoria’. It’s shaping up nicely. For a while I felt something was missing, turns out it was a ping pong delay on the glass harp chords. It beautifully enhances the clicking noises I left in on purpose, so it sorta creates a little beat on its own. This way I could create great melodies that sound very bouncy and cheery. The song structure is more or less done and all the main elements apart from the beats are there. I’ve added another bass line with pitch bend modulation and had fun with some sound design. The main beat is done, too, hopefully only the actual sounds have to be replaced.
Tomorrow I’m gonna take my MD recorder and a mic and walk around outside to record sounds of Berlin. ‘Euphoria’ is a lot about the way Berlin makes me feel, especially when I’ve been away. How I feel excited to live in this great city. So I thought it only appropriate to use field recordings from Berlin as beats. And I’m also hoping to make some headway with all the little filigree details that I put into my songs.
Over the last couple of days I’ve also been reading up on some sound engineering stuff. Tips and tricks, things that you forget when you haven’t used them for a while. I also tried to find a good solution for submix routing in Ableton Live, but I’m not too happy with any of the ways you can do it. Apparently this has been an issue for a lot of Live users for some time and Ableton hasn’t provided a satisfying answer as of yet. So I’m thinking of reinstalling Pro Tools again for certain uses. Unfortunately I already max out on my RAM quite often when running Live and VST plugins because of the way I layer my songs. Therefore running Pro Tools and Live in Slave mode might make my computer throw serious fits. Pretty unsure about this… argh, the joys of technology. Guess I’m gonna have to try it out.
Gotta get some food into my system now and then off to bed.
More preparations for the gig with Bobby Starrr. Built some more ‘instruments’ so I can play stuff live on my Mac/keyboard and won’t only trigger everything. That’d be a bit boring. Made nice broken beats as an interlude and found some great VST plugins with which I can manipulate the sound live. Real live tweaking and geeking, yay! I also listened closely to the tracks since I have to know what is supposed to happen when. They’re quite free form, but you still have climaxes and breaks that need be considered.
Did some reading up on how to best do certain things with Ableton Live in a gig situation. This programme has so many features hidden away that if you don’t use them for a while you just don’t remember properly. There’s still quite a bit to figure out tomorrow. I guess I’ll have to do bits and bobs over the next couple of days. Bobby is coming over tomorrow afternoon with most of his gear and we’re gonna rehearse the whole set. I hope going through everything with him will clarify a few things that I’m still a bit clueless about.