Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Our double A-sides.

Dear readers,

Here are the two songs we will be releasing as double A-sides.

Tale of the Liars


Our soundcloud profile : darkproject


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mix it till you puke

Dear readers,

This is a live blog update on mixing a song that is codenamed "Indian".
Edit: This song got its release name - Tale of the Liars.

Step 0: Record and fix any problems.
In the tracks we had, I noticed that there was no sense of space in many places, especially the verses, bridge and solo. This fixture was easy. Overlaying tracks with feedback and swell based guitar layers helps. The stereo swell/flange/delay effects consume the space but the main guitar doesn't allow this guitar to be prominent unless someone is listening deliberately to peel off the layers of production.

The heavy riffs were played sloppily at places in the original recording. Matching patches is a difficult task. Although the equipment is the same, the sound card and A/D converter is not. The trick is to get an approximately identical sound and then use a gentle multiband compression to iron out any differences.

Step 1: Export all chunks as consolidated stems.
It is far easier to work with consolidated stems than a jigsaw puzzle of multiple tracks that look like patchwork. Most big-shot engineers have assistants and interns who do this for them. REAPER has an option to export to stems. Some sections can be easily exported in that fashion. For the rest, it is an act of mute/solo and export as a render. At this point the folder has 392 files and working with such humongous data is inhumane. The task is relatively simple but is time consuming.

Set the output to 0 db or to a level below that so that individual tracks don't clip. Export each instrument/layer/stem individually as mono (preferably, wherever possible) or stereo files (where inevitable) so that when time aligned, they will play in perfect sync. Also, the number of files and tracks will decrease. When in doubt whether to print the effects or not into the stems, repeat the process twice - once with the FX and once with FX bypassed.

After the process is over, I am left with 28 tracks in 28 files, 2 of which are "doubt prints" with FX. This is a far better number than 392. It's manageable, its comprehensive and above all - it's filtered knowledge, not noise laden information.

Step 2: Import all chunks and clean up.
Most tracks will have long stretches of silences. These must be cleaned to reduce hard disk usage. Also grouping the members makes track management easier. For this project I have grouped them as the people who played them. Also, I made three aux tracks related to ambiance - a long plate, a short plate and a BPM synced delay. The master track also has a visualization insert - Voxengo SPAN. This one is an indispensable tool.

This step is also the very starting point of mixing.

Step 3: Get the drum, bass and vocals balance.
This is a preliminary approach. The levels will no doubt change, the EQs will get tweaked but the first thing is to get the drum balanced and then feed in the bass. Then I like to bring in the vocals. The guitars often work around this space.

What eventually happens is that I get a relative tonality of elements in the mix that work together, but in the end the levels are all over the place. However, as a whole, the drum and bass still stand well (maybe a bit buried or a bit OTT) in the mix. Earlier, I used to mix the instrumental and bring in the vocals. In this approach, the vocals feel like an outside element. In the current approach of building the tonal instrumentation around vocals, the instruments can be tamed. Trust me when I say this, taming instrument is a far better idea than taming and killing the vibe of the vocals.

The BPM synced delay (earlier step) is engaged to create a sense of open space in the solos and an interesting slap-feedback effect in a particular section of the background vocals.

Step 4: Do nothing.
At this point the vibe of the song starts to build and you'll have a fair a idea what is working and what is not. Time to give the song few good listens and make mental notes. It is better not to touch anything. A fresh set of ears is needed to move forward. Also, time to grab a CD for referencing.

There are few specific things I have to address in the mix I am working. Certain volume of an instrument fits well in a section while it sounds so OTT in another. Time for splicing and creating approximately (minor difference) identical lanes. This is not the time for automation and riding the faders.

Step 5: Mix, re-mix, mix at lower volumes, mix loud, re-mix at lower volumes.
This is the main time to follow the vibe and guts. Pull out anything, absolutely anything out of your arsenal. But remember one rule. No automation, no riding the fader. If I start riding the faders now, I'll be in a mess of a situation with tons of automation lanes and there will be nothing left that can be called as "fine tuning". So far the general mix sounds how I approximately wanted it to be. There are a few places I want the vocals to be a bit louder than other places, but that is reserved for a later time.

Occasionally mixing quite is something I do post step 4. This is something that I picked up from Andy Wallace. It helps your ears judge relative volumes better. However, one must also have fresh ears before attempting to move from louder to quieter volumes.

Step 6: Shape up the track using references.
There are two references. One is human (band/client,etc.) the other is the reference CD you chose. In my case, since my bandmates are the ones who'll co-approve the track, I send a streak of mixes with minor modifications, ride the fader and adjust the mix to the comments they send me as feedback. Also, constant referencing with the recorded material (CD) keeps the overall tonality in check. It took me 3 versions to get to a point where nothing major can be done (unless you take a 180 degree turn and undo the whole mix - in that case go back to step 2).

At this point the overall tonality is established and a coherent song is obtained. The volume will be low (since it is unmastered and you don't want clipping).

A small trick that I picked up from George Martin's interview - when the system is overloaded, it is better to bounce stems and relieve the system off its complexity. That's how The Beatles got such textured multi-layered sound on 4 track recording machines. The same applies when the FX overloads.

Step 7: Prepare for mastering.
Leave some decent headroom and make sure that the mix is not tamed with some brickwall limiter. Charles Dye and Brad Blackwood have some wonderful tips to share.

Since we cannot afford a mastering engineer (ME), I have to "master" it (if it can be called mastering). I like to keep a replay gain of -5 to -6 dB with peak just falling short of 1.0000 (float). The modern records have an RG of around -10 to -14 dB. These are fatigue inducing and will kill the eardrums, not to mention the dynamics and transients. My advice is to take it to a genuine ME. A good ME can do wonders with a well mixed track.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Progress on Thesis / Update 6

Dear readers,

The first draft looks promising. However, on close scrutiny, we have found a key analysis missing. Although it's a small portion but an important one nonetheless. I'll probably lock myself up in the coming two days.

Update: (14:18) - Finished two tables. Need to extract graphs. Also need to do a comparison of the coalescence modes.

Update: (21:26) - Finished generating data. Need to plot these things on graph(s).


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Flowchart of the program I use in my PhD work

This is 2011 C.E., Saturday, 11th June of the Gregorian calender, 2352 hours IST (GMT+0550).
I have finished writing the first draft of my PhD thesis.

Figure B.1: Flowchart describing an overview of the solution procedure.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Minor update on PhD work

Dear readers,

As a whole documentation is the most tiring and frustrating experience. Since sections of my thesis were written at different times and with different targets in mind, there is a lot of discrepancy and non-uniformity. Polishing everything to a coherent whole is the final job. The direct contributory chapter - Results and Discussions - was the first piece that I sat down to revise yesterday. I am doing three things simultaneously.
  1. revision, copy-edits and spelling checks to eradicate errors.
  2. extracting important deductions and numbering them for the Conclusions chapter
  3. typesetting the document to avoid a bad visual experience.

So far I have finished 2 of 4 sections in this chapter.

There is also a conflicting symbol which denotes two important parameters. The symbol for one of them must be replaced with a unique one.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Editing is tedious

Dear readers,

Editing is a tedious job. The tediousness of this process is compounded manyfold if the document is written by someone else. And, I have only gone through one section so far through a document I have written myself!!! The idea is to scan through the Results and Discussion chapter and extract conclusions. In the process, I will also check the coherency and accuracy of the interpretation.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Our new band bio.

"A project aimed at the formation of the band" - Dark Project was always subscripted with this tagline in it's inception years (2002-2005); the years when Sauvik and Sudipto graduated from school and ventured out to discover their interest in making music. In 2005, the tagline lost the value because the project reached it's completion. A band was formed with 5 people in it. Meanwhile, the song, 'Walking Again' had gained quite a bit of a listener base.

Dark Project is an English band that composes music that can be classified as an approximate blend of Alternative and Progressive Rock. However, the band doesn't believe in this distinction while creating any of their stuff. The band found it's ground in the year 2007, when they came out with their first offering in the form of a 9 song album titled Chaos Sessions. It was aptly dedicated to the chaotic noises the band produced while jamming and making this record in the hostel corridors of Patel Hall of Residence, IIT Kharagpur. The band had already garnered interest and had started playing live.

Dark Project became one of the highest played Indian bands on CBS's in the year 2007-08. 'Cover Up', '50 ML', 'Mother' and 'Caterpillar/Butterfly' were notable numbers from Chaos Session that found an appreciator in the audience because of their thematic approach to each of the songs. The limited print of Chaos Sessions was sold off in months time. Also at this time, the band was struggling with the geographical boundaries as the band got split between Kolkata and Bangalore.

Amidst all the adversity, they did not want to stop the production mill and Dark Project came out with their second full length album titled as Liberty & Entropy in the year 2009. The plans were certainly bigger this time. The album was released on iTunes, Amazon and CD baby for the international audience and was available via VPP to the Indian audiences. The packaging of the album was an eye opener for many - something which was not done by any other band in India in the past. The single 'Streak Of Coldness' got played on multiple radio stations in India. The album was eventually reviewed by the Rolling Stone Magazine, Rock Street Journal, IndiarockMp3, Indiescion, etc. who published their polarising views about it.

The band played quite a few shows in the whole process and was also a part of the Pub Rock Fest in the year 2009 conducted by RSJ. Later in the year, Sudipto had to fly out of the country for his work commitments and the band decided to go on a hiatus. For the past 3 months, the band has been working to prepare themselves for another album cycle. Their geographical boundaries are sorted out after a long wait of 5 years as 4 of it's members are based out of a Bangalore now and Sauvik is planning to join in soon.

The story narrated above has more to it than just the words - Dark Project is not just a band, it's a relationship that has survived, struggled and bruised through the odds. While some of us who know the band might get a little swayed by the individual careers that the band members have under them, music is still the one thing that each and everyone of the band members consider as their thing to happiness in life. Even with a limited English music listener base in the country, Dark Project wants to inspire people through their work as they prepare themselves up for a comeback that only reads - Follow your dreams, no matter how bad the situations get, feel the 'Magic' that happens because of it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Progress on Thesis / Update 5

Dear readers,

Nothing troubles me much more than a badly typeset document. My thesis is in that state at this point. $\LaTeX$ makes it bearable but still equations are all over the place. Today I was forced to replace this eyesore

with this

Blogger compression is not that good. I can see the compression artifacts here. The original is a vector image so I am not worried about scaling.

What's left?
The entire Conclusions chapter with
a) Summary of results
b) Scope of future work
An appendix (Appendix B) outlining the various parts of the code and a flowchart (optional).
List of notations and symbols in the frontmatter.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

On other's opinions of your artistic work

Dear readers,

Please stop taking in others opinions. I know you did not ask for it. Everybody loves some control and would love to see their influence reflected in someone else's work. When you ask people for opinions, they have an illusion that you are inviting them to be a part of the creation process and would love to impose their point of views on this. You gave them a song to listen. If they hated it, they can go back and listen to a downloaded crappy mp3 of their favourite artist. I would be more than happy to see that.

A fictional anecdote: A man walks into an exhibition and looks at a picture. He complains. "Dammit! There is too much blue and no red in this picture. Too much blue hurts my eyes. Doctor asked me not to look at blue. What crap is this? The artist couldn't even paint one smooth brushstroke. What a non-realistic depiction of a scene. What are these swirling vortices? I have never seen one like that in real life. This is shit, absolute shit." I am sorry. Van Gogh did not ask Mr. Complaint Box before he sat down to paint The Starry Night.

Steven Wilson puts up a question, "So I’m asking myself: Are these really reviews or just an endless noise of opinions—and is there a difference?"

So I thought about it. And then I realized! Oh! How much I would love a homogenised world. One rule and one dictum to bind every existential being and every creative output that has ever been regurgitated out of that mortal being's guts - dreaming this world up as fragments of an anthropocentric illusion, as if his creation would be perfect and immortal. But then it would be such a boring place. I do understand somewhere that tendency to homogenise is hard-wired in our genes and every Mr. Complaint Box's protein molecules synthesised by that gene could do with some less amount of blue in Van Gogh's Starry Nights.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Wrapping up the analysis

...and the first draft of my Results and Discussion chapter.

Dear readers,

I will take a break. There are specific areas in the thesis that require some major textual additions.

a) Yesterday's lecture gave me some important insight into other works in my field. Need to expand the Literature Review section with the newer details.
b) Write an objective. This would be my primary goal at this point of time. A rough sketch was written in the registration seminar report. The version in the thesis must be solid.
c) Future scope of work has to be written by me. My guide says he will sit down with me while jotting down Conclusion chapter.
d) Another appendix describing the salient features of the in-house code that was developed.

On another note, the promotion ready copy of DP's Magic was sent to the other guys.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Writing an analysis for the section

Dear readers,

I have been caught up in the last few weeks with the results. Now that I have my data, as well as the plots, it is time to write an analysis which can explain the plots that I have. Today's work would be just that.

Update : Just attended a seminar by Prof. C.S. Upadhyay. I'll need to do a lot of reading. Especially certain papers in my field and justify the existence of my work. At least I can say that the justification will not be that difficult. It is like finding a chair to sit on amidst this whole universe of work.

Update @ 14:00 : Post lunch, I have done only stupid things. I should get back to work. So far I have written only two paragraphs.

Update @ 15:15 : Processed and scrambled all the seven figures onto a $\LaTeX$ document and wrote all the captions. Writing interpretations and deduction is the toughest job of all.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

It is already June and...

Dear readers,

It is already June and I am knee deep in work. They say that the last few hundred meters of a summit are the hardest. For me it feels like a new mountain altogether. The damping formulation has driven me to my wits end. I hope nobody takes this up without proper background and time.

While plotting I found quite a lot of discrepancies in the plots. Hence I am back to square 2. Thankfully, it is not square 1 since I had split the program into individual subprograms. Fixing the plots also doesn't help much. Somehow my task is to get the six results onto graphs. And I must do this today

Update 15:53 - So far I have been able to get only 2 plots ready and a sectional plot of one of them. Analysis will be tough. The average shape looks promising but I have to work with very small amount of damping. As a consequence, getting awesome separation is near impossible. It is as if one corner of a parallelogram bed-sheet is pinned and you have to align two adjacent edges to a rectangular bed when you know very well that it can't be done.

Update 17:00 - 3 plots out of 6 possible essential plots + 1 subplot. Need a break. Should resume this in an hour.

Update 20:00 - All 7 plots are done. Tomorrow I must write the interpretation of these plots and other results pertaining to the plot.