September 28, 2020 § Leave a comment

This entire series was born because someone in the comments section of my Instagram asked me what pitched delay effect I was using on the vocals of “Winter Dawn”, so here goes.

On my album A flame my love, a frequency, I stopped doubletracking my vocals. On “Winter dawn”, I bussed the vocal track (via my DAW and physically via my Scarlett Focusrite18i20) to the Moogerfooger MF-104M and then sent its two outputs (mix out – which gives you the original signal mixed with whatever amount of delay you dial in with the mix pot on the pedal – and delay out – which gives you the delay only signal) back into the DAW on individual tracks. I kept the original vocal track centered, and panned the mix out and delay out tracks 50% on each side, with a tiny bit of Overloud’s Springage spring reverb emulation added to these.

Et voilà, three vocal tracks from just one single original take, with the added advantage that you can do this in two steps: first you record your vocals and tweak as needed, then you record the delayed parts, which means you are then free to play with the pots in real time to get some cool dynamic effects… such as toggling the short/long switch – my favorite thing to do on the MF-104M! I could literally do this all day!!! You can distinctly hear it here when the words become pitched either high or low, as well as on “Separating”, which uses the same recording setup.

A more subtle variation of this approach can be heard on “The stars vs creatures”, where I use the MIDIMuRF instead of the MF-104M to just filter the vocals slightly and again take advantage of the separate outputs that divide the filter’s frequencies in left and right channels, this time panning them at 25% on each side, and again keeping the original track in the centre.

I really hope that this vocals series has been somehow helpful or illuminating to some of you who like to hear about these things!

Amazing “Winter dawn” video by Connor Burke.



September 26, 2020 § Leave a comment

On Captain of none, which was heavily influenced by Jamaican music from the 70s, I wanted tape delay and spring reverb for the viola and my vocals, and since I didn’t have access to the real thing, I went on a search for the plugins that would get closest to what I wanted. I  highly recommend Overloud’s Springage reverb, which is fully customizable in more ways than you can imagine, and can really transform sounds in powerful ways (also recommend their Mark Studio II for bass lines, which is what I used for the treble viola’s bass sounds produced through my OctaBass octaver pedal).

For delays, the Interruptor’s delay plugins blew my mind (donation ware, Windows only), particularly the Bionic Delay which is all over Captain of none.

I applied both plugins on each doubletracked vocal track, with one track being less effected than the other, and as I often do,  panned the vocal tracks (typically do 25%/25%, sometimes more).

I also systematically gently push the high frequencies and reduce low frequencies with the Sony Track EQ that comes built within my DAW, Acid, so that the vocals sit on top of the mix more easily, without having to increase their volume.

Back tomorrow with the answer to the question that started this series: what is the delay on my vocals in “Winter dawn”? 😊

Video by Naoko Tanaka. Album released on Thrill Jockey Records, 2015.



September 21, 2020 § Leave a comment

After my 2007 album Les ondes silencieuses, my mastering engineer Emiliano Flores sold me the mike and preamp we had used for a lot of the takes, a Beyerdynamic MC834 and a Symetrix preamp, and ever since then it’s been my go-to mike for vocals and a ton of other instruments too (on Captain of none, the melodica, percussion and floor tom were also recorded with it). I also systematically use a popshield (SP Studio Projects) as I sing real close to the mike.

At the time of recording The weighing of the heart in 2012 I was still using a really old soundcard, so had to go through the Symetrix preamp, but since upgrading to my Scarlett Focusrite 18i20 soundcard, the MC834 goes straight into the soundcard and I’m very happy with the results.

On The Weighing of the Heart and Captain of None albums, I almost systematically doubletracked my vocals – a trick the nervous beginning vocalist I was found very handy to both have a richer sound and mask slight imperfections in pìtch. I of course had to overdub too when singing harmony.

I abandoned this on 2017’s A flame my love, a frequency, and instead found another way to add width and texture to my vocals in a way that made sense for that album.

More on my specific production choices in the next and last two posts of this series 😊

Pic is from my former studio in San Sebastián, Spain, circa Captain of None, 2015.


September 14, 2020 § Leave a comment

I said I started singing in late 2009, but that’s not completely accurate: around 1992-1994, I would sing in the bathroom of my home in France, during the only couple of hours I had alone once a week. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, the Beatles, the Pixies, PJ Harvey… That phase didn’t last very long, as I felt my calling was composing on the guitar. One of the last songs I tried to sing was @lowtheband Low’s “Lullaby”, after being blown away by their first album, which defined a pivotal year for me, in which I turned 18, left home for university and lost my brother.
I am mentioning Low not just because of that one song and album, but also because I have weirdly come full circle by singing their songs again for the past year and a half. If I were pushed to choose a “favourite female vocalist”, I would choose Mimi Parker, as her singing combines qualities that are rarely associated: pure yet deep, expressive yet devoid of affectation, skilled in the most unshowy way (how can she hold notes *that* long?). The combination of her voice with that of Alan Sparhawk makes for one of the most inspirational sounds I’ve ever heard, even from an instrumental point of view (I sometimes check on a keyboard what notes each one of them is singing, because the harmonies are so interesting). Singing their songs again has felt rewarding and soothing, an experience akin to meditating.
Back in 2010, my models mostly came from folk/traditional music, especially Shirley Collins. Was it because of the purity of her delivery, and the way that these songs can be sung without accompaniment? I also sang songs from the catalogues of Vashti Bunyan, Pentangle, Anne Briggs, Jean Ritchie. I later spent time learning Moondog songs when it seemed I might do a cover version project of his repertoire. Recently I’ve also paid attention to the wonderful twists and turns of Sibylle Baier’s singing on her only wonderful release.
While don’t think that I “import” any of these singing styles straight into my music, I do believe ultimately these threads of inspiration resurface.

c by @veramarmelo, Captain of none show at @galeriazedosbois , Lisbon, Portugal, 2015.


September 8, 2020 § Leave a comment

For better and for worse, I’m a mostly self-taught music-maker. For worse, because I’m aware that a great teacher can pass on invaluable knowledge, help you avoid injury or strain, and in general help you be more efficient and faster in your learning process. For better, because I do feel that self-teaching is perhaps what best corresponds to a certain type of non-conformist, strongly independent personality holding non-mainstream aesthetic values. I was not born into a musical family, and don’t hold fantasies about what it would have been like if that had been the case and I had, for instance, learnt an instrument in the traditional way: would I have ended up doing more or less the same thing I do now, but with extra technical and theoretical knowledge that would have made it even “better”? Perhaps, and then perhaps not.
One thing’s for sure, I’ve always *loved* learning, and even as a child I preferred doing this on my own. This didn’t make me especially well-adjusted socially perhaps, but I also hold no regrets about that: I’m convinced what we do is always the end result and sum total of the entire path that’s led us to where we are at a given point of creation.

Onto how I practice my vocals: in 2010, after searching all over the internet for help on how to train my voice, given it was painfully clear to my ears and throat that what I was doing instinctively was not right, I ended up settling on some exercises proposed on the Youtube channel of vocal coach Eric Arceneaux , and I still use these today whenever I want to sing. When I had a dedicated music studio outside of my home I would do these with my piano, but since I no longer have that studio, nor the piano, the way I like to do this now is sitting on a zabuton and zafu, with a glockenspiel to guide me. And since my cat Klee does not like being in the studio, I now usually do this in my living room so he can sit next to me – it’s especially lovely when I sing and he purrs at the same time! :-)
I still have  a lot to learn singing-wise, and would also love to fuse my yoga practice with my singing practice.


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