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“Keepers of the Streak” Is Totally Cool, Whether or Not You’re All About Football

As readers of my blog know, just before the end of 2014, I did a couple of recording sessions for an ESPN documentary called “Keepers of the Streak.” To my surprise, the show, which I watched last night from start to finish, turned out to be a very cool piece about four very accomplished photographers who’ve collectively photographed every Superbowl from the start. The music included a lot of nice stuff that I didn’t know about when I recorded my own parts, and most of my favorite harmonica cues from the sessions ended up in the final cut, with the harp positioned nicely up front in the mix. I enjoyed every minute of it, which is saying a lot, because I’m not really a bigtime football fan. (Beyonce won the SuperBowl last year, right? I wish I’d seen that…)
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More RP355 Loop Jams–This Time, Rock

Here are a couple of new cuts from the same sessions that produced “On the Road Again” and the funky loop jam. “Dawn Like Thunder” is a slow, peaceful piece with some beautiful counterpoint. The patch I use to play it has an LFO modulating pitch–basically, flipping back and forth rapidly between a note and the octave below–with the level of the LFO, i.e. the volume of the effect, under expression pedal control. “Heavy Rock LFO” starts with a very hard-edged line played with the same patch as “Dawn Like Thunder,” and it’s soon joined by even hard-edged stuff.

Enjoy.

Dawn Like Thunder composed and performed by Richard Hunter. Copyright 2014 Richard Hunter. all rights reserved

Heavy Rock LFO composed and performed by Richard Hunter. Copyright 2014 Richard Hunter. all rights reserved

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“On The Road Again” with the RP355

The piece attached to this post is a segment from a performance I put together using the Digitech RP355 loaded with my patch set for Digitech RP, plus the RP355’s builtin looper. The sounds include beatboxed percussion (run through a patch with heavy vibrato and delay), a double octave down patch with a wah wah set to low-pass the frequencies, a tenor sax octave-down patch, and a kind of psycho organ patch with heavy vibrato (the same one I beatboxed through, if I recall). All the sounds were created by me, and in most cases are versions of the patches in my patch set for Digitech RP that I customized for a particular song.

The Canned Heat version of “On the Road Again” that features Al Wilson on harmonica is a great classic from every point of view. I think it’s pointless to recreate it, but this arrangement borrows the spare, sombre tone of the original. The harmonica is a Big River harp tuned to a Dorian Minor scale (3 and 7 draw reeds lowered 1/2 step) in second position (G minor, in this case; the original key of the harp is C). Wilson used a harp with the draw 7 reed lowered 1/2 step, and I think it was a great choice, which I why I use it too. (Note: since this piece was published, I’ve been advised that Wilson tuned the draw 6 reed up half a step, as opposed to lowering the draw 7 reed 1/2 step. Either approach yields the desired effect to a point. Tuning the draw 6 reed up offers less in terms of harmonization opportunities than tuning the draw 7 reed down.)

In performance, I build these lines from the bottom up: beatbox, bass, tenor. It’s a big sound. Like I said in my previous post about jamming some funk on the RP355, I intend to do more of this.

You can hear a dog howling along with the music near the end. Dogs seem to find harmonica very howl-worthy. I don’t know if they’re enjoying it or not. I’m enjoying it, and that’s sufficient justification. The dog can always leave the room if she likes.

On the Road Again Richard Hunter, harmonicas and vocals

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The RP355 Has A Looper, And I’ve Seen It In Action

I’m in Idaho as I write this, and my rig in Idaho consists of a Digitech RP355, an Audix Fireball, and a Peavey KB2 amp. I was jamming on that rig a day or so ago, and I remembered that the RP355 has a looper. It’s not much of a looper–it only has 20 seconds of loop time, the ergonomics aren’t tops, and it won’t drop the latest layer of the loop in and out on command like the JamMan Stereo–but it does what it does, and I used it to make the piece you hear below.

Digitech RP355–not Digitech’s latest, but it still sounds great
DigiTech RP355 Guitar Multi-Effects Pedal with USB

There are four layers in this loop. All the sounds used in the layers were created by me. The first layer is a beatboxed percussion part; the second is a double-octave-down bass part; the third is a tenor sax-ish lick that fills out the low midrange; and finally, a patch that’s designed to emulate a slide guitar, with a lot of distortion, and a whammy effect that drops the pitch by a whole step under footpedal control.

This basic configuration of sounds–beatboxed percussion, low bass, tenor sax, and some kind of lead and/or midrange ryhthm or pad–works very well for a wide range of loops, and I’m gradually developing a repertoire for it, as well as sets of sounds that fulfill these functions in different ways that represent different styles. For example, the set of patches that I use for “Key to the Highway” includes a bass, an organ sound with rotating speaker, and an amped Chicago-style harp, all very traditional and appropriate for blues. Some of my rock sound sets include much less traditional versions of these elements, for example, a patch in which an LFO rapidly shifts the pitch of the note back and forth between unaltered and an octave down, in the same role as the organ sound in the other set.

The performance was recorded via a Zoom H4, using the H4’s internal mics, from a distance of about 4 feet away. There’s more of the room sound in the recording than I’d like, but it’s plenty good enough for now.

Check out this loop, and stay tuned for more.

“Funky RP355 Loop”by Richard Hunter, copyright 2014, all rights reserved

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“Widow’s Walk” Live October 29 2014

This performance was delivered live to an audience of Chief Information Officers, most of them Brazilian, at Gartner’s Brazil Symposium on October 29, 2014. I played into a Shure 58 mic, which was amplified via a small PA system (I don’t think the woofers were bigger than 8 inches, if that) with zero FX. It was recorded via the builtin microphones on my Zoom H4, and no post-processing was applied to the recording.

“Widow’s Walk” is one of my most complex and moving (in every sense of the word) compositions for diatonic harmonica, and this live performance of the piece shows the various lines and textures off well. It begins in first position on a G Natural Minor harmonica, i.e. in the key of C minor. Before it’s over, it’s toured G minor and Eb major as well. The textures include counter-melodies played out of both sides of the mouth at once, octaves, 10ths, and 12ths, 5ths and 4ths, single notes, and block chords. The Natural Minor tuning makes almost any combination of notes sound good, so you can get a wide range of voicings and big sounds all over the instrument. The independent lines span intervals up to a minor 13th, with movement at both ends.
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“Comin Home Baby” Live with Wim Dijkgraaf, 29 October 2014

I’ve known Dutch-born harmonica virtuoso and composer Wim Dijkgraaf since the late 1990s. Wim now lives in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and I joined up with him there at Gartner’s Symposium ITXPO conference to perform this duet on Ben Tucker’s “Comin Home Baby” in front of an audience of Chief Information Officers, mostly from Brazil.
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