Monthly Archives: May 2016

Shimon The 4-Armed Robot Shows It Can Improvise

Shimon the 4-armed robotI don’t know why I have such a fascination with robots playing music. I’ve covered many instances on this blog over the years (like the guitarist with 78 fingers and the robot band that plays Motorhead), and each time they get better at what they do. I’d like to think that they’re never going to replace real musicians, but when it gets to the point where they can improvise, you have to wonder. Shimon the 4-armed robot takes one step closer to that goal, as it improvises pretty well with Gil Weinberg, lead researcher on the project from Georgia Institute of Technology .

Shimon the 4-armed robot uses artificial intelligence machine-learning programs trained on music theory and a wide range of musical styles, from chamber music to dubstep to be able to add a superhuman element to musical performances, playing chord structures that would be physically impossible for humans to hit.

The performance video below comes from the recent Moogfest music and technology festival that took place in Durham, North Carolina. Watch this guy play a mean marimba. I especially like the way is head bobs and weaves to the music, just like a very hip human player.

The Georgia Tech team isn’t the only group of researchers working on using artificial intelligence to create music and aid musicians, as a group from IBM’s Watson team showed off a new capability of its AI system at Moogfest as well.

May 30, 2016

Digital Drum Machine Creator Roger Linn On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Roger LinnDrum machines and software are so common anymore that it’s not a big deal, but there was a time when the only thing that was even close was the beat box commonly found on organs. Roger Linn changed all that with his LM1, the first modern drum machine that used real drum samples, and he’s my guest on this week’s episode.

Roger’s creation actually changed the face of music, as many of the 80s pop hits used his LM1, LinnDrum or Linn 9000 models. Later his MPC (in collaboration with Akai) became the rhythm sound of countless hip hop hits as well.

Besides being an inventor (his new Linnstrument and AdrenaLinn guitar pedal are quite unique), Roger’s also a recording engineer, guitar player, and even an accomplished songwriter, writing hits for both Eric Clapton and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

You’ll hear all about where his ideas came from, as well as more about his history on this week’s show.

In the intro I’ll take a look at the pirate radio revival, and go over a basic track checklist that will make your tracking session run a lot smoother.

Remember that you can find the podcast at, either on iTunesStitcher and now on Mixcloud and Google Play.

New Music Gear Monday: Pickatto Bluetooth Guitar Pick

Pickatto Bluetooth guitar pickJust about everything has a Bluetooth connection on it these days, but a guitar pick? If you’re curious what you might want with a connected pick, then it’s time to meet Pickatto, the brainchild of guitarist Michael Murawski.

Murawski found that while most guitar players have a pretty well-developed fret hand, their picking hand lagged behind. Pickatto and it’s accompanying software is a way to count the up and down strokes of the pick so you can improve your picking motion in a quantifiable way. The data is streamed to a custom smartphone app that allows you to set daily and weekly goals, and even measures the pressure of the your fingers on the pick. According to Pickatto, the secret to building speed and endurance in the picking hand comes from a relaxed hand. By measuring the pressure of the player on the pick, it’s possible to see when your hand is tensing up and squeezing too hard, which could ultimately lead to tendonitis or even the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome.

As far as its size, Pickatto is about the size of a heavy guitar pick at 34mm long and 25mm wide. It’s thicker than most at 2.8mm at the bottom picking end, while way thicker at the “wing” on top at 4.1mm. While this might not feel comfortable for performance, Pickatto is a device made for practice, so going from it’s larger size will probably make your normal pick feel a lot better, plus give you some added dexterity to boot.

Pickatto has launched an Indigogo crowd funding campaign to get the ball rolling, and the price for each unit there is only $50USD plus shipping, although there are plenty of other funding tiers available. Check out the company website and the video below that explains how Pickatto works. It’s time to get practicing again.


Aerosmith “Walk This Way” Isolated Guitar Track

Joe_Perry_of_AerosmithAerosmith is one of those bands that seems to get better with age. If you go back and listen to some of their earlier tracks, they were always fairly unique and came from an interesting place that never seems dated. “Walk This Way” from their Toys In The Attic album has been a hit several times, so it’s very cool indeed to be able to listen inside the mix to Joe Perry’s isolated guitar track. Here’s what to listen for:

1. As far as the guitar sound, it’s not what you think. According to Perry on, “For “Walk This Way,” I used a late-’50s Stratocaster Tobacco Sunburst with a stand-alone Ampeg V4 amp on top with a Marshall 4-by-12 speaker cabinet on the bottom. I also used a Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone to give the notes a little distortion.”

2. The verse guitar is doubled fairly closely, but is still loose enough rhythmically to give it some feel. The one on the right is a little straighter and less active. What’s cool is that it sounds like two separate guitars most of the time, but the few times when the guitars play identically it sounds like its one guitar up the middle.

3. During the chorus you can hear a third guitar in the center playing the high answer chord.

4. The first solo has the long reverb that’s probably on most of the other tracks. The outro solo has a very short room effect that turns out to be from the hallway behind the Record Plant’s Studio C.

5. There’s a flub on the left guitar during the 3rd verse at around 1:38. Ever hear it in the final mix? Me neither. The right guitar also changes it up a little at 1:44, also missed in the mix. Also, the turnaround to the 4rth chorus at 2:20 seems a little uncertain, like it caught him by surprise.

It’s really a treat to hear isolated guitar tracks from some of the songs that you’ve heard for years. Listening inside the mix just never gets old.

(Photo: Harmony Gerber via Wikipedia)

May 26, 2016

Paul McCartney: Chaos And Creation At Abbey Road

Paul McCartney Abbey RoadA few years ago I was speaking with an accomplished songwriter friend and I told him that I had just seen Paul McCartney in concert and how it was an 11 on a scale of 10. ” Of course, that’s like seeing Beethoven,” he replied. Yeah, Sir Paul may eventually be viewed that way, but no matter how you look at his career, he’s given us some of the most memorable and enjoyable music ever.

Here’s a great video of a television show that Paul did at Abbey Road Studios where he talks about how he came up with the idea for many of his songs (like “Blackbird,” “Lady Madonna,” and especially, the Mellotron part in “Strawberry Fields”).

It’s very cool to see some of the old Abbey Road gear, as Paul plays bits from his famous and latest tunes (this was more or less a promo for his latest album at the time). He also builds a song up from scratch where he plays all the instruments.

EQing By Frequency Juggling

Frequency JugglingOne of the best ways to make all the elements fit in a mix is by frequency juggling. That’s where you make sure that no two instruments are boosted at the same frequency so they never fight for attention in the mix. Here are 3 steps from the 3rd edition of my Mixing Engineer’s Handbook to make frequency juggling work for you, as well as a couple of excellent quotes from Jon Gass and Ed Seay, some of the very best mixers ever.

Most veteran engineers know that soloing an instrument and equalizing it without hearing the other instruments will probably start making you chase your tail as you make each instrument bigger and brighter sounding. When that happens is that you’ll find in no time the instrument you’re EQing will begin to conflict with other instruments or vocals frequency-wise. That’s why it’s important to listen to other instruments while you’re EQing. By juggling frequencies, they’ll fit together better so that each instrument has its own predominate frequency range. Here’s how it’s done.

1. Start with the rhythm section (bass and drums). The bass should be clear and distinct when played against the drums, especially the kick and snare.

You should be able to hear each instrument distinctly. If not, do the following:

  • Make sure that no two equalizers are boosting at the same frequency. If they are, move one to a slightly higher or lower frequency.
  • If an instrument is cut at a certain frequency, boost the frequency of the other instrument at that same frequency. For example, if the kick is cut at 500Hz, boost the bass at 500Hz (see the figure on the left).

2. Add the next most predominant element, usually the vocal, and proceed as above.

3. Add the rest of the elements into the mix one by one. As you add each instrument, check it against the previous elements as above.

The idea is to hear each instrument clearly, and the best way for that to happen is for each instrument to live in its own frequency band.

TIP: You most likely will have to EQ in a circle where you start with one instrument, tweak another that’s clashing with it, return to the original one to tweak it, and then go back again over and over until you achieve the desired separation.

Jon Gass: I really start searching out the frequencies that are clashing or rubbing against each other, but I really try to keep the whole picture in there most of the time as opposed to really isolating things too much. If there are two or three instruments that are clashing, that’s probably where I get more into the solo if I need to kind of hear the whole natural sound of the instrument.    

Ed Seay: Frequency juggling is important. You don’t EQ everything in the same place. You don’t EQ 3k on the vocal and the guitar and the bass and the synth and the piano, because then you have such a buildup there that you have a frequency war going on. Sometimes you can say, “Well, the piano doesn’t need 3k, so let’s go lower, or let’s go higher,” or “This vocal will pop through if we shine the light not in his nose, but maybe towards his forehead.” In so doing, you can make things audible and everybody can get some camera time.”

You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Strat

5 Things About Your StratHere’s a brilliant video about some of the little things that every Fender Strat owner should know be probably doesn’t (I know I didn’t). In fact, I’ll bet there’s at least one of these things that you’ll probably want to incorporate right now after you watch the video. Here Phillip McKnight does a great job explaining these mostly overlooked but valuable hints about everyone’s favorite axe that will make your playing time just a little bit easier.

New Music Gear Monday: Hofa 4U+ BlindTest Plugin

Hofa 4U+ BlindTest pluginLet’s face it, when it comes to a new piece of gear or plugin we’re often enamored because it’s brand new, or because of the name on it, or what we’ve read about it. How often do we do real blind testing? The answer is probably “Not much” since blind testing is pretty hard to do. Until now, that is, since the Hofa 4U+ BlindTest plugin has made blind testing a piece of cake.

To use it is pretty simple – insert 4U+ BlindTest as last plugin on every track you’d like to compare. At that point, only the tracks that are soloed play and all the other tracks are muted.

The real key is the Shuffle function though, since that will put the tracks in random order without names. You can then switch between the different signals to judge them objectively, then assign a ranking and add your comments. You can later uncover the track names.

It’s pretty easy to shuffle and evaluate several times so you can get average ratings. The Hofa 4U+ BlindTest will allow comments to be summarized so that you can check if your aural impression was always the same. If there’s a track that you’ve eliminated from the competition, just drag it to the “Inactive” section to eliminate from the next round of listening.

The Hofa 4U+ also has a couple of other very important features. There’s a peak display and a gain control per track so you can avoid influences caused by loudness differences, because as we all know, louder = better. The user interface is also scalable so that you can use it to hide anything on your screen that may influence your decisions, like your DAW’s mixer panel.

Like all Hofa plugins, 4U+ BlindTest works with VST, AU, AAX and RTAS formats. Best of all, the Hofa 4U+ BlindTest plugin is free if you can live with just 3 comparison choices. Want unlimited choices? Then just upgrade at any time to the paid version, which is about $45US.

Hofa makes some great other plugins as well that are definitely worth checking out.

Motown’s Funk Brothers Instrumental Track – “Going To A Go Go”

Going To A Go Go Instrumental TrackThere’s so much to learn from the old Motown records in terms of arrangements and groove. You can hear more when you strip off the lead vocal and just listen to the instrumental track laid down by The Funk Brothers (the Motown house band), which is what we’ll do today with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles 1965 hit “Going To A Go Go.” Here’s what to listen for.

1. This was the early days of stereo when all you had available for panning on consoles was hard left and half-left, hard right and half-right, and center. As a result, most instruments are panned in one of those left or right positions except for the bass. Most instruments are panned in the half positions (about 10:30 and 1:30), drums are left, tambourine right, guitars  and horns right. Ad lib vocals and claps are hard left and piano and the sax solo is hard right.

2. The guitar sound is very interesting because its three guitar players all playing the same line, so it sounds like a huge 12 string.

3. The long and smooth Motown reverb blends everything together.

4. There’s some background vocals that you don’t hear that well on the final mix that can be clearly heard here, like the “Go go’s” during the second verse, the “ooh’s” answering the sax solo. and the “Come on’s” during the third verse.

5. What’s interesting is the drums are fairly buried in the mix and its the claps and tambourine that carry the groove of the song.

6. James Jamerson’s bass plays a very disciplined line that doesn’t vary much, which is very different from other Motown records that he played on.

All in all, this is another great example of why Motown’s Detroit-made hits were so appealing. When you had a studio full of great musicians playing at the same time, coupled with some great songs and arrangements, it’s hard to go wrong and listening to this instrumental track shows why.

May 19, 2016

There’s A Scientific Reason For The Instruments In The Rhythm Section

Rhythm SectionYou’ve probably never wondered why the drums and especially the bass hold down the rhythm section, but it turns out there’s a very specific scientific reason.

A recently published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that perceptions of time are much more acute at lower registers, and those that play lower frequency instruments have superior time. That said, just about everyone responds to the beat of a low-frequency instrument, which is probably why we love the kick drum so much.

To reach their conclusions, the researchers “played people high and low pitched notes at the same time.” Participants were hooked up to an electroencephalogram that measured brain activity in response to the sounds. The psychologists “found that the brain was better at detecting when the lower tone occurred 50 MS too soon compared to when the higher tone occurred 50 MS too soon.”

The researchers also found in their computer models of the inner ear that it’s the cochlea that’s more sensitive to changes in rhythms that are made up of lower tones. It also found that for some people with poor rhythm, the problems may occur in cochlea of the ear. At the same time, timing and rhythm are subsequently processed in many different cortical and sub-cortical areas of the brain, so their problems could be in any of these regions as well.

The researchers note that, as all musicians know, higher-pitched sounds can also contribute to rhythms. “Indeed, high-pitched instruments can carry important rhythmic aspects — for example, in jazz, higher-pitched instruments often add rhythmic interest by playing off the beat, so the rhythm is an interaction between different instruments,” said study co-author Laurel Trainor, director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind and a neuroscientist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.

So there you have it. Science has proven what musicians have known all along. The lower frequency instruments carry the rhythm section, great drummers and bass players have great time, and higher pitched instruments also create rhythms. We needed a study for that?

 (Photo: Tom Marcello via Wikipedia)
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