Category Archives: Music

Amazing reverential Gig

reverential Gig in PhillyAs I posted recently, reverential had our first gig with the new line-up last Friday. I was a little nervous about the technology behaving itself, and this was to be the first time we’ve played this set in front of people.I’m happy to say that we couldn’t have had a better night: there were a few small things here and there, but for the most part everything was perfect: the tech, the playing, the sound, and the crowd. Especially the crowd. They got right into several of the songs, and their response talking with a lot of them afterward was really warm and positive. We definitely made some fans: a few said they’d been on the website and noticed where the next gig was, and they said they’d be there. The organizer of the coffeehouse loved it, wants us to come back, and said he’d tell all of the other area organizers about us.

And so it begins! I’m really excited about where this is all going, and I’ll go on record here as saying this is the beginning of something big.

Live Music and Technology or, “You came in *that* thing? You’re braver than I thought!”

Ah, the joys of being a tech geek and a musician. There’s nothing better: so much wonderful technology out there for making music. Infinite possibilities in infinite combinations. One can spend more time playing with the technology than actually playing music (a danger I must constantly avoid). But it’s so much fun, and so very satisfying to coax amazing, warm sounds from the “soulless machines”.

And then you decide to play live. Whether there’s an inherent anti-social tendency in these machines, or just shy and nervousness, things can and do go wrong. And the effect is amplified when they’re in groups. I know this for two reasons. First, the band I’m in only has two members, and we have a lot of gear to compensate.

The second reason is that the band I’m in is about to start gigging for the new year, and as this is the first official gig with this incarnation (last year the band had 5 members), we had what could be considered a “dress rehearsal”: we tore everything down from our practice room, packed it all in vehicles, drove to our church, set everything up on stage there, and ran through our set. I had more problems that day than I think I’ve ever had: stuck notes on one keyboard (MIDI issues), computer problems (OS crashes that nuked the configuration of my music software), and controllers that flat-out refused to do anything. The most interesting problem was in the aftermath of the crash. My music software has a configuration option for “CPU protection”. The idea is that if the CPU load goes above a certain threshold, settable as a percentage, the music software will stop processing things. Undesirable in a live setting, but better than the machine crashing completely. Unbeknownst to me, this got reset from it’s normal value of 90% to 0%. I’m trying to figure out why nothing is working (everything in my live rig goes through the computer at once point or other), but looks normal. That took a few minutes.

There are those who will point out that if the “dress rehearsal” went badly, the “production” should then go really well, and I’m still optimistic, but when you’re placing yourself in the hands of your technology, in front of people (oh, and did I mention that a lot of people we know are going to be there?), you have to prepare for the possibilities, and, well, I have to confess to being a little bit nervous.

I am glad we did this, if only for the fact that now I have a better idea of how things could go wrong. What’s interesting about this goes back to what I mentioned at the beginning: notice I didn’t once talk about the music itself; my nervousness stems from the technological uncertainties, not that I’m playing music in front of a crowd. If I was sitting at a piano all night, it would be completely different. It’s all part of the fun, I suppose. I’ll be sure to do a follow-up after the gig to let you know how it went.

The Live Rig Expands

The Novation X-Station 25With reverential’s reduction in size, I’m going to be doing more on stage, and that means I need to be more versatile. There are an amazing number of great-quality, free VST plugins available out there, as well as hosts, and I’ve been looking to add a computer to my setup to run these for a while now. Those of you who know me know that computing power is not a problem; the problem is the connection between my keyboards and a computer: MIDI, and that all-important factor, the audio interface. Well, that problem got rather neatly solved in the form of the Novation X-Station 25 (click here for a bigger image). This is not only an amazing piece of gear, but provided the solutions to several problems or gaps I had in my rig. In addition to a nifty little synth on-board, the X-Station provides, via USB, a MIDI interface and a bi-directional audio interface, as well as a fully-programmable MIDI control surface and 2 channels of audio processing for external gear, complete with effects. This is a beautifully-designed, well-constructed instrument, and it works flawlessly in every regard.

The downside of now owning something that unlocks the VST plugin world for me is that it’s going to take years to play with everything out there long enough to know if it’s going to be useful to me live, then get the sounds programmed/tweaked, and then program the X-Station’s control surface to control it live. Not to mention learning the onboard synth. It’s a daunting task, but wow, is it ever *fun*. I haven’t been this excited about programming patches and MIDI and audio routing in years.

Once I get the new live rig assembled, I’ll be posting some pictures and descriptions (I hope to diagram out the MIDI routing and post that too, along with all the details of reverential’s stage setup). Stay tuned!

Piano Lessons, Take 2

I’m taking piano lessons again! I haven’t taken lessons for 20 years, but this is something I’ve been thinking about for some time now. I have definitely reached the point where I *know* I can be doing more with my playing, especially my weekly playing for our church’s contemporary morning service. Through a collegue at work, I’ve found a great teacher, from whom I’ll be learning technique and style in both classical and jazz, some theory, and eventually composition (he writes jazz). I’ve had two lessons so far, and it’s been great. I think a large part of what I needed was the accountability to practice every day. Taking (and paying for) lessons is really great for that!

So now all I need is a piano. I’ve been using my CME controller and my Alesis NanoPiano module, which is OK (the CME has 76 notes and semi-weighted keys), but not great. I would really love to buy an accoustic (a baby grand if we’re really dreaming, but even a good upright would be nice), and I’ve started to look around, but I think realistically, I’ll probably be buying a digital for now. Not that it’s all bad, either. There’s a new Yamaha I’ve been playing in a music store I frequent, and it’s really nice. Hammer action, ok speakers, good sounds (samples) MIDI, USB – all the bells and whistles – for a decent price. I’ll let you know what I end up with.

And Then There Were Two: The Latest reverential Reincarnation

Last week was one that could very well be looked back on as a turning point for the band I’m in: after learning that our lead guitarist and bassist wanted out, we got word that our drummer was leaving, too. Fortunately, all the “important” people (sorry, guys!) are left: my friend, Dan, and I. Yup, reverential is now a duo. Which is fine: a lot of the artists I listen to are either solo acts or duos, so this can work. And, thanks to a little technology, we’re going to make it work.

Dan is the creative force behind this endevour. He’s on vocals and guitar, but he’s also the songwriter, and is a wizard with Live, Reason, and putting songs together. As the keyboardist in the group, it was sometimes hard to find that sonic space in the song to put my stuff, but that just got easier, even if it’s more demanding. To that end, I’ve been working on changing my live setup. It’s not finalized yet, but in addition to the Karma and the UF7, I’ll be adding a 25-key controller/synth of some sort (very likely either a Novation X-Station or XioSynth), and a laptop with softsynths. By the time I’m done, it will look a little different from the past.

Stay tuned for updates, pictures and gear/software descriptions!