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Recording “Copper” Episode 19: An RP255 and a Fireball V Does It

As I noted in a previous post, I got a call Friday night from Brian Keane, a composer and producer that I’ve done a number of sessions for. Brian wanted me to record acoustic harmonica for a scene in a BBC series he’s scoring called “Copper”, which is directed by Barry Levinson. I went over to Brian’s studio that night to get the concept right, and we set a studio date for today (Monday April 22, if you’re keeping track). Over the weekend I recorded three takes in my kitchen using an Audix Fireball V mic, a Digitech RP255 (connected to the computer via USB) for the audio interface, and my laptop computer, which is running Cakewalk Sonar 8.5. I exported the takes from Sonar and emailed them to Brian, and when I went to the studio today to do a few more takes on parts of the cue, I found that he’d already put together a composite track with the best bits from the tracks I recorded in my kitchen.
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Blog, Recorded Performances (live and otherwise)

Getting all Emotional for “Copper”

I got a call last night from Brian Keane, a producer I’ve worked with on a number of projects. Brian is scoring this season of “Copper”, a BBC series about a detective in New York City in 1864, directed by Barry Levinson. The episode Brian is working on now (episode 19, in case you’re counting) has a scene with some VERY big emotions in it, and he’s decided to use harmonica as the lead instrument for the cue. Normally strings would do the job, but as Brian said to me once, in emotional terms, harmonica is the street version of a violin.
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Looping the Big Sounds: Like, wow

I’ve been putting loops together using the Zoom G3 and Digitech RP355 running in parallel, and the sounds are amazingly big and colorful. The samples below, recorded directly to my Digitech Jamman Stereo, then exported as 16 bit WAV files, speak (loudly) for themselves. The chain starts with a Fireball V mic, followed by an ABY box, where the signal is split and sent to a Zoom G3 and a Digitech RP355, running in parallel. The outputs from the G3 and the RP355 go to the channel 5-6 and 7-8 inputs of a Behringer UB802 mixer, along with the output from the TC-Helicon Voicelive Play (for vocals), which goes to one of the mic channels. The stereo main outs from the UB802 go to the stereo inputs on the JamMan Stereo, and the JamMan Stereo puts out a mono signal to a Peavey KB2 amp. (I want a stereo setup sometime soon.) The amp is recorded with a Zoom H4, positioned about six inches from the center of the speaker grill.

These samples are copyright 2013 Richard Hunter/Turtle Hill Productions/ASCAP, and all rights are reserved. Enjoy listening.

A short sample of a funky NOLA rhythm with a juicy RP355 FX25 autowah. Autowah seems to work for harp, period.

A short three-harp piece, all parts played on a Db country-tuned Suzuki Manji. One part, again with multiple pitch shifters and vibrato, is played with the G3, and it traces the notes of an Eb major 6th chord, then the same shape a major 2nd down. (It’s played in 3rd position, which is major on a country-tuned harp.) Another part plays midrange chords and melodies with a much more transparent RP355 sound; finally, a double-octave-down RP355 patch is used with a 12th voicing on the 1-6 draw and blow notes. The sound as a whole is deep, beautiful, and new; in fact, it’s a new sound for any ensemble.


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Looping with the RP: “The Road Out of Here”

I’ve been working lately on using my JamMan Stereo looper to put complete band arrangements together on the fly, using the Digitech RP355 to orchestrate. This piece, “The Road Out of Here” (copyright 2012 Richard Hunter/Turtle Hill Productions, all rights reserved) has been evolving, starting with the lyrics (which came out of ideas I developed in my book “World Without Secrets” in 2001), for a few years. I recently began to play it with a new groove, fast and urgent, which you hear on this recording.

Richard Hunter with Lowlands
The piece begins with a drum loop–I don’t remember where I got it, but it may be one of the drum grooves built into the RP355. On top of that I layer, in order:

  • A double-octave down bass patch with wah, playing a single repeated bass note. I don’t work the wah pedal–I set it to a place that emphasizes the bass tones I want, and leave it there.
  • An octave-down patch with wah-wah, playing a horn riff. This and the preceding patch are similar to the ones I use on “Early to Bed,” but louder. I use the pedal to work the wah, which adds a lot of mojo to the riffing. Most of the time this riff is played, not looped.
  • The same octave-down patch with wah, playing a chunka-chunka chord pattern. I leave the wah set to a certain point, or work the pedal barely if at all. I use the same patch for the chord swells on the IV chord of each verse, using the pedal to work the wah and make it bloom, but those aren’t looped.
  • A vibrato patch, which sounds like an electronic organ. I use the pedal to make the vibrato deeper.
  • Finally, the piece de resistance: an incredibly distorted patch with a Whammy effect that drops the pitch by a whole step. I use this patch for a kind of heavy slide guitar effect.

  • You add all those sounds up, and it makes a pretty big roar, as you can hear on the recording. The JamMan Stereo lets me remove the latest layer added to the loop, so I can make it all big and then drop it down instantly, all of which is very nice for arranging on the fly. The vocals are processed through the TC-Helicon Voicelive Play, using a patch called “Benny and the Jets.”

    In case there’s any doubt, this recording was made live, with no overdubbing (except live overdubbing on the JamMan Stereo looper, of course). I parked my Zoom H4 a few inches from the grill of my Peavey KB2 keyboard amp and hit record. I mastered the live recording (meaning I compressed it, EQ’d it, and made it a little louder) in Sonar X1, which is what I use for mixing and mastering.


    “The Road Out of Here” Copyright 2012 by Richard Hunter/Turtle Hill Productions, all rights reserved

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    Great performance, distorted recording: “So Sweet” with Brian Maw, Nov 16 2012

    The quality of the recording attached to this post is not very high, but the performance is killer. This is me playing a Special 20 C harp through my Audix Fireball mic into my Digitech RP355 running a Champ amp model patch, and from there straight to the PA. The harmonica part was improvised, and I had never played the piece in this way, with this sound and laidback feel. In my head I heard really simple lines with lots of emotion (meaning lots of attention to dynamics and vibrato), and I played it pretty much that way. (It’s easy to play what you hear when you slow things down–you can get very intentional when you’re not playing catch-up with a fast stream of ideas.) The sound is pure amped blues, and through the PA it’s big, with plenty of detail in every sound, no matter how intimate or broad. (I played the same song with a rotary speaker patch the very next night, and it didn’t sound anywhere near as emotionally intense.) The piece was recorded at a gig with The Maw Band at the Timberline, Victor, ID, on Nov. 16 2012, and of course the composition is by Brian Maw (and is copyrighted, all rights reserved).

    “So Sweet” by Brian Maw LIVE 20121116 160 kbps

    I posted this piece, warts and all, to make the point that the RP all by itself produces big, beautiful amped blues sounds. And this is indeed a beautiful sound, good enough for most players to consider using it all night long. (But why do that when you’ve got an RP full of great sounds?) If you want to make these sounds yourself, check out my patch set for Digitech RP.


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    Audio of the Day August 28 2012: Hunter/Maw/Preston, “7 Nation Army”

    Left to right: Richard, Eli, Brian

    This is a live recording of a performanceof Jack White’s song “7 Nation Army” at a private party on August 10, 2012 in Tetonia, Idaho. The performance features me on harmonica, Brian Maw on acoustic guitar and vocals, and Eli Preston on djembe. I recorded it using the 1/4″ inputs on my Zoom H4 fed by the monitor outputs on the PA.

    I love this performance. With only three pieces, and only one of those electrified, we make a hell of a racket with a lot of vib on this tune. There’s no harp on the original recording, but I think harp sounds great on this, and the interplay between Brian, Eli, and me is strong. Okay, enough bragging. The harmonica is a standard tuning (I forget which key, sounds like an A or G from the timbre) played through an Audix Fireball mic into an RP355. I forget what patch I was running on the RP355, but it could have been the Dark Blue Champ. It was some kind of straight-up amped blues patch for sure. The RP355 went straight to the PA.

    I’m leaving Idaho in a week, and I’ll be back throughout the fall and winter for gigs with this group. Stay tuned. In the meantime, dig.

    Hunter-Maw-Preston “7 Nation Army” LIVE 10 AUG 2012

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    Waka Waka Waka Waka: Sunset Sam

    “Cruisin’ (Sunset Sam)” was written by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees, who also wrote “Mary Mary,” which Paul Butterfield covered on his amazing record “East/West” in the late 1960s. The piece has a head-bobbing groove that I’ve loved since I first saw the video in the early 1980s.

    The lyrics to “Sunset Sam” (and the Nesmith video) have a surreal quality to them, which I’ve reflected in both the harp sounds and the vocal for this performance. The groove is serious, but the story is laughable. Hey, so what? Shake yer money maker, man, it’s only words. (Or as a poet friend of mine titled a collection of his works, “Only Worlds.”)

    The harmonica is processed through 3 Digitech RP devices. The first is an RP355 running one of my favorite auto-wah patches, which is what provides the guitarish funk between lyrics. The second is an RP350 running two different patches: a high octave double on the signature lick and the first solo section, and a slightly different auto-wah patch on the second solo section. Both devices are run through an RP255 running one of my vibrato patches, and the vocal is coming through an RP250 running one of my new vocal patches (which will be released to subscribers to my patch sets within the week). All of these sounds, of course, are contained in my patch sets for the the Digitech RP 250/255/350/355, which you can learn more about here.

    “Sunset Sam” is nutty, funky, and fun. You can hear my recording right here:
    Sunset Sam Performed live by Richard Hunter 28 October 2011

    For extra laughs, here’s the original Nesmith video that inspired all this loud, funky silliness. Dig.

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    Big Noise: Mississippi Queen

    “Mississippi Queen” was recorded by Leslie West and Mountain in the 1960s. I always loved the original, and when amp modelers came along to give me all the grunt I could want, I made sure to develop an arrangement for it.

    This version is played and sung live with looper accompaniment, recorded live in stereo. It’s a good example of the rock-oriented material I’m working on now, and of how the Digitech RPs make the big sounds that make it work. The looper is running drums, bass, and a harmonica part played on one of my patches for the Digitech RP350, a Matchless amp model with a Digitech FX25 envelope filter model. I love the FX25 model on harp–it’s easier to control than the original, and it gives the harp a totally different character, like a wah wah guitar. Since there’s only one live and one recorded harp part, this music could be played live with only two harp players, which is something I’d like to try sometime.

    The live harmonica parts include the same FX25 patch running on the RP355, side by side with an RP350 running the Dark Blue Champ patch. I really like the way an autowah exaggerates every expressive move on the harp, and the Dark Blue Champ beefs it up. At the end of the chain, a Whammy patch on the RP255 shifts everything a whole step down under footpedal control. That’s how I get the slide guitar effect on the chords. I’m singing through an RP250 running one of my new vocal patches with a slapback delay. So that’s four RPs on the floor, three dedicated to harp, one to vocals. All of these sounds, of course, are found in my patch sets for the Digitech RP 250/255/350/355.

    Everything is amped through Peavey KB2 and Peavey KB/A100 keyboard amps. The latter has a lot more bass than the former, and the stereo amps make the modulation FX in particular come alive. I recorded live through a Zoom H4 positioned to point a mic at each of the keyboard amps from less than a foot away. I compressed and EQed the live recording to make it louder and clearer. Otherwise, there’s no editing.

    Mississippi Queen performed by Richard Hunter

    Just for extra fun, here’s a live video recording of Leslie West, Felix Pappalardi, and Corky Laing (a/k/a Mountain) playing this tune at Randall’s Island in 1970. The music starts at about 1:30. Rock n’ roll!

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    SBS365: an original solo piece

    I improvised this piece in my kitchen, recording live into the Zoom H4 from a couple of feet away. The recording quality is surprisingly good, and the piece hangs together well enough, with a couple of themes and a little bit of development. It’s always nice to have a recorder around for those moments when you’re ready to play, and I love my Zoom H4. I bet you could make a solo recording worthy of commercial release with one of these things in a good-sounding room.

    Back to the piece. It’s played on an SBS-tuned Hohner model 365 in G–essentially a regular G harp with bottom-octave tuning in the second octave, and an extended high range. The basic motif is a simple, hale-and-hearty-American line that might have appeared in an early 1800s folk song–it’s definitely got a Stephen Foster vib to it. The cool thing about this harp is that you can move that line all over the place and surround it with some cool bluesy stuff wherever you are. Groove is important to any solo piece, and this harp lets you play the groove in different octaves, which lets you take it to new places.

    Hohner Model 365 SBS

    Hohner Model 365 SBS 14 hole diatonic

    Lotsa fun. Enjoy.

    SBS365 by Richard Hunter Copyright 2011 by Richard Hunter, all rights reserved. Commercial use without permission is prohibited by international law.

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