Improvizone

33rd gig: Wednesday 23 June 2010 at CB2, Cambridge

Andrew Booker 2010-06-21 19:49:42

For our sixth Improvizone this year, we'll be heading back up to Cambridge on Wednesday 23 June 2010 for a summer evening of knock-ourselves-out exploratory chillout musickery at CB2, a venue we tried out a couple of months ago. I say tried out, Os and Mike had gigged there many times in the past and knew all the shortcuts and the clever parking spot outside the fire escape. Steve and I, who got there first, knew no better than to hoik all our stuff through the front entrance.

The players will be the same as last time, namely...

I, yes I, the last named above, that is I, who have committed practically zero effort in advance of most of our outings this year, have been preparing for this gig. So has Os. Os has been slimming down his gear, and one item for the chop was his headphone amp, which was consuming an entire U of rack space just so I could listen to his click. He offered to buy me a small headphone amp if I could accommodate one. In fact I bought a Behringer Xenyx 802 mini-mixer instead. I already have a mixer in my live setup, either the Yamaha MG10/2 I'm using at the moment, or the larger Spirit Folio F1 14-2 if I have my laptop, for merging the two drum modules and other midi note sources and effects returns. Behringer call their Xenyx 802 an 8-input desk, but excluding stereo and aux returns it's really only a 4-input unit in practice. However that's easily enough to take a line-level click signal from Os and be a useful monitor of other stuff too.

For over a year now I have been taking my Boss RC-2 looping pedal out of its box at some gigs and processing midi notes, AM radio or my own vocals. I rarely do any singing these days, thus my vocal muscles have regressed almost to nostalgia, to something I used to have. In other words, I don't have much control over my voice, so if I want to do any live singing, I have to be able to concentrate on it, and I have to be able to hear it. My vocal looping is all textural - if I wanted rhythmic looping I would either have to sync up with Os or get him to loop me - so my approach is to fade a sung note in and out within the loop. That means I don't want the note to be heard until I've faded it in, but so far my only monitor has been my drum amp. You can see the problem... how do I make sure I'm singing a good note before I fade it up? So far, even in the relatively quiet ambience of Improvizone, it's been nearly impossible, which is why I've hardly ever tried vocal looping. When I did, with one or two exceptions, it was generally an embarrassing mess.

With a second mixer, I can now wire things up like this...

Notice my output is mono, going from my main Yamaha mixer to Os from the left channnel only. That frees up the right channel, and here I'm sending it to the looper, so I can select what to include or exclude just by panning. For my mic I use a Sure SM10 headset mic, going into the Behringer desk for me to monitor it through earphones. The Behringer aux send goes a right-only channel on the Yamaha desk, meaning it won't be heard until it has been through the looper. Additionally, my little Boss DB-12 metronome can also provide a reference note, which I can monitor while I'm singing. I've been trying this at home and it all seems fairly comfortable. I could even loop the reference note too, but it's kind of a boring squarewave.

I was thinking I could monitor the drums before playing them, to make sure I had chosen appropriate sounds. A lot of the time, after I've changed to a new patch at the beginning of a piece, you can hear me tapping discretely around the kit checking what's there. It would be much more convincing if I knew already, or at least made any adjustments to the sound before I started playing. That would only have been possible before by unplugging stuff. Now, I can send the spare aux output back to the Behringer monitor mixer. Slight problem with that is that Aux 2 on the Yamaha desk is post-fade, so I would need to pan hard right if I wanted to silence the drums but still have a loop going at the same time.

For my effects unit I'm currently using a Zoom 505 II unit that Nick gave me after he repaired it himself. Apparently it had been retrieved from a rubbish dump. I can see why it found its way there in the first place. No way would I use a crummy unit like this for any hi-fi application, nor any purpose for which I required any control whatsoever over the effects parameters. This is factory preset purgatory. However, even though this gig may be its last, it has contributed some filthy corruptions to my drum sounds over the last four gigs, especially the distortions.

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