19 Aug Nostalgia – My Latest Track
I just posted my latest track on Soundcloud to humbly share with the few people that care to listen. I was playing around one evening about a month ago. As I often do, I was just flicking through presets and various software instruments plinking around on the keyboard. In the evenings I generally sit at our dining table which sits across from our sofa where my wife is watching TV, so I have my earphones on and sit chuckling to myself as I find sounds and melodies that I like.
I generally sit with the ROLI Seaboard RISE 49 for its expressive feel, but sometimes bring my Arturia Keylab 61 Mark II down from my studio and plug that in instead, and that’s what I’d done on that evening a month ago. I switched to one of the electric pianos in Arturia’s V Collection, and as is often the case, the sound made me think of a melody that led to the Nostalgia track. The instrument from Arturia wasn’t really meaty enough for what it led me to, so I switched it out for a Keyscape Rhodes keyboard and started to build out more parts and chord progressions etc.
There are two synthesizer Pads in the background, the first of which is from Serum. I had created a patch a few weeks earlier using the ROLI Seaboard with some modulation and expression. The original patch had some futuristic, almost cinematic deep undertones which I pretty much cut completely out for this track as they didn’t match the mood. I also originally added an Omnisphere Pad with the nylon string guitar but I split that into the base pad patch and broke the Nylon String Guitar off to a separate track for better control and mixing.
I love the sound of the Trumpet and was delighted when Audio Modeling released the SWAM Trumpet so I’d been hankering to include in a track, and so I was pretty happy a few days into the project to find some melodies that I thought worked well with the “nostalgic” feel of the Rhodes electric pianos.
As you can see from the screenshot above, I am working in Bitwig Studio. I used to love working with Ableton Live, but the lack of MPE support was a killer for me, and currently I believe Bitwig has the fullest support for MPE. I tried the new version of Logic Pro X at the beginning of this project too, but the MPE support is simply better in Bitwig, so I quickly came back home.
For this track, the Double Bass and all of the Brass and Wind instruments were played on the ROLI Seaboard RISE 49 with MPE enabled for expression. All of the other tracks were played on the Arturia Keylab 61 Mark II without MPE, although there is some use of track-wide Aftertouch via the Arturia.
Hit a Wall
I had a pretty solid outline of the track after just a few days working on it for an hour or two here and there, but then I hit a wall and I struggled for a while with the bridge from the A Melody to the B melody that I’d already added to the project and my wife suggested the bass that comes in from around 1:10 which I thought was a great idea, so credit to her for that, After trying a lot of different instruments that didn’t really work, I ended up going with a second Rhodes keyboard from Keyscape with slightly different settings. This then led back to the Trumpet and brass/wind section that joins the Trumpet before transitioning back to the A melody.
I struggled at length with the balance of the wind/brass section which is all SWAM instruments. I thought I was done a few weeks ago, but couldn’t get the right mix for the wind and brass section for quite some time. I’m still not sure it’s right, but I’m relatively happy with the balance now.
To round it out I add an LA Custom Cinematic piano from Keyscape towards the end, so there are three Keyscape tracks in all. I was trying to create something that could actually be played live, and although this could, it would require at least three Keyboardists, probably four to avoid just playing synths from a computer, a Guitarist, Double Bassist, and Trumpet Player, as well as a Piccolo Trumpet, Soprana, Tenor, and Baritone Sax, and Alto and Tenor Trombone players.
For the mixing I added volume Automation and a FabFilter PRO-L2 limiter to most tracks and adjusted the Gain via an Automation track on most of the tracks. I also added things like Arturia COMP FET-76 to the Rhodes keyboards, as it has a nice 70’s feel to it. Some tracks have the FabFilter Pro-Q3 for some Subtle Stereo Enhancement. All of the wind/brass instruments have the Arturia TUBE-STA added with the FabFilter Pro-L2 limiter preceding it. The Double Bass has the FabFilter PRO-L2 and COMP TUBE-STA as well as Ozone 9 Dynamic EQ with the Subtle Bass preset. The Keyscape Custom LA Piano has the FabFilter PRO-C2 and Arturia’s COMP VCA-65 added, again for some slightly nostalgic sounding compression.
I also have two send tracks, one with the Arturia Rev PLATE-140 and a second with FabFilter Saturn on it, and send each instrument to these tracks in varying amounts to add some subtle reverb dynamics. Finally I have the FabFilter PRO-L2 on the Master track to stop anything going too wild, although each track is limited or not loud enough to need limiting, so the Master Limiter only kicks in at a few places, and I also have the Ozone 9 Vintage Limiter on the Master track, mostly to keep my eye on the True Peak of the track but also to ensure that I’m not pushing anything too far. I tend to master very loud, as you may have noticed, but I also like my tracks to fill my head as I listen to them, but without cracking at any point.
I still have a lot to learn on both the composing and product sides, but this is soul-feeding for me, and creating this track as we are mostly locked down here in Tokyo was a nice way to escape from reality for a few days here and there, and I think I’m going to use this as the background for my photography podcast for a while.
I hope you enjoy it.
P.S. I chose the album art from a recent photo shot with a camera made in the 60s, mostly because of the nostalgia relationship, but also because I feel that this track could be played by a band going around Tokyo playing in live-houses, and there are some parts of the track that to me seem to be bringing the listener out into the light, as this escalator in the city does.