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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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Live with Derrik and the Dynamos, Wilson, WY, August 2014

I had the opportunity to perform with Derrik Huffsmith and his band Derrik & the Dynamos at a gig near Wilson, Wyoming this August. The band included Phil Round on bass and vocals, Ed Domer on drums, and Don Christenson, who I’d never met before, on keys. We played a lot of covers at this gig; this performance, of Dylan’s “Ill Be Your Baby Tonight,” is one of my favorites from the gig.

Derrik is singing lead on this piece, Phil harmonies. The harmonica solos at about 2:41, after the piano, by which time the song has built significantly, and maintains a prominent presence from that point on. The emotion in the entire performance is very strong throughout.

I played the gig with my Audix Fireball mic, Digitech RP360XP, and Peavey KB2, as usual, and it took about 5 minutes to set up, as usual. Derrik didn’t have a spare XLR cable, and neither did I, so we ran a 1/4″ cable from the Peavey’s FX send to the PA, and I used the Peavey as on onstage monitor, also per usual. I don’t recall what patch I was using on the RP, though I know it’s one of the standard ones from my patch set for RP360XP. It’s a clean sound with just a touch of reverb or slapback on it; it could be a patch based on a Twin Reverb amp model, a direct amp model, or something else. I think it’s probably either my direct + room reverb (DIRROOM) or direct + hall reverb (DIRHALL) patch–I can hear that the reverb is under footpedal control. Anyway, it does the job here, which is allow the harp to cut through the band without grating on single notes, chords, and octaves, all of which are in use in this arrangement. Lots of clean gain in this patch. The harp is an orchestral element on this piece, and the clarity in the sound helps make the changes in tones and textures come through clearly.

The harmonica is a Seydel Session Steel in A, played in second position. I like Session Steels–they play hard and stay in tune, two qualities on the top of my list for harmonicas. I took to the A and Bb Session Steels right away; for some reason it took me longer to love my C and D, but I do now.

The piece was recorded via the internal mics on the Zoom H4, with the Zoom hanging at one side of the stage, near the edge of the outdoor tent that surrounded the dance floor, and its mics facing the band from about 20 feet away and a height of about 6 feet. The recorded sound is surprisingly good, largely because there was a clear line of sight from the Zoom to one of the band’s PA stacks, though of course the crowd makes noise.

Enjoy.

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” performed by Derrik & the Dynamos with Richard Hunter, harmonica, August 2014

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Live with Michael G. Batdorf at Pendl’s Cafe, August 24 2014

I spent August 8 through August 26 in Idaho this summer, and I sat in with Michael G. Batdorf, notable singer/songwriter, twice at Pendl’s cafe in Driggs during that period. (On a third occasion I showed up to play and found that Michael was held up behind 600 bicyclists conducting a road trip from Jackson Wyoming to Victor Idaho, so I ended up playing the gig solo.) I recorded the entire two hours on the morning of August 24, and this piece, which is titled “Beyond The Mask,” is one of my favorites from the set.

Michael G. Batdorf in studio
Michael G. Batdorf in studio

The piece is a beautiful ballad in Eb minor; I heard it for the first time during this performance. The only harp I had in my kit that could manage that key was a Hohner CX12 chromatic in the key of E, which meant that I played it in the equivalent of B minor on a C chromatic. That wouldn’t necessarily have been my first choice, but it turned out that the low chromatic harp (a minor 6th below a 12-hole chromatic in C) worked very well on the piece.

The performance here is entirely improvised. As always when I sit in, I tried to create an arrangement for the piece, not just play licks, and this arrangement has a beautiful, yearning feel to it, with variations on the basic line that include octaves and various chords. I recorded the performance live with a Zoom H4 positioned about 20 feet from the stage, and while there’s some crowd and ambient noise, the overall quality is thoroughly listenable. The gear I used in this performance includes a Digitech RP360XP running my DIRROOM patch (direct amp model with room reverb) from my latest patch set, an Audix Fireball mic, and a Peavey KB2 amp. It all sums to loud and clear, which works for this music.

The harmonica is relatively restrained until about half way through the piece, roughly at the two minute mark, when the intensity of both the harmonica and the guitar increases dramatically. The harmonica in effect becomes a voice, taking center stage while the guitar strums a ferocious accompaniment.

The music goes to some pretty unusual places, far beyond the stylistic boundaries of the typical guitar/harmonica duo. There’s only two ways to get music like this: you compose it note-for-note and get great people to play it, or you get together with somebody great and improvise it on the spot. The latter was the approach this time. It grabbed the audience by the throat, not to mention the musicians. I’m glad I had the recorder running.

Beyond My Eyes by Michael G. Batdorf, harmonica by Richard Hunter

I have more recordings from the gigs I did in Idaho on this trip, including some good takes from a show with Derrik and the Dynamos. Stay tuned.

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Funking it up with the RP360XP Looper

I’ve been in Idaho for a couple of weeks with only my RP360XP for a looping device. The 360XP has a usable but limited looper: 40 seconds maximum loop time, can’t have more than one loop in memory at a time, can’t remove the latest layer of a loop (as you can with the JamMan Stereo and Solo XT), can’t save a loop for later use. So it’s really a live-only looper, and its usefulness there is hampered by the fact that you have to step on it twice in rapid succession to turn a loop off, which makes timing an ending pretty difficult. But for simple loops, it’s functional enough, and it records audio through whatever patch is running on the RP at the time. So it’s ideal for showing off what kinds of sounds you can make, and roles you can play, with the RP360XP.

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“Me and the Devil” is a Tip on the Euro Americana Chart!

I just learned that “Me and the Devil” by Chris Cacavas & Ed Abbiatti, the title piece of which features two (count them, two) harmonica parts by me, is a “Tip” on the Euro Americana Chart:
http://www.euroamericanachart.eu/

As per my previous comments on this site, I recorded my parts for the title song with a Digitech RP355, using a rotary speaker patch for a backing part and a pitch-shifted sound with an added 4th down (my Ed Abbiatti Devil Sound) for the solo. I used an Audix Fireball V mic for both parts. The parts I sent to Ed were straight off the RP355 into Cakewalk Sonar 8.5.3 via USB connection to the RP, then exported to WAV files, without any additional processing. Both parts are prominent in the mix, so effected harmonica is both a key component of the accompaniment and the lead instrument on this track. Both these patches, of course, are included in my latest patch set for Digitech RP355.

You can hear the music and buy if you like at iTunes or CDBaby.

Me and the Devil: red-hot Americana

Me and the Devil: red-hot Americana

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The 21st Century Harmonica Band: One Harp, One Looper, and My Patch Set

SPAH has announced that part of its program for SPAH 2014 will be the Harmonica Band reboot, in which attendees will have the opportunity to perform with a harmonica band featuring bass, chord, and diatonic or chromatic lead harps. I don’t have much desire to perform with a harmonica trio–its artistic appeal aside, it’s a format that excites little public interest in 2014, and I don’t see why that’s going to change–but the announcement made me think about some of the loops I’ve done lately in which the harmonica fills all the roles of a modern rock band except drums.
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