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Figuring out the Loop Layers for “Mellow Down Easy”

I’m back in my home studio, working on my looping, getting the songs and the related sounds together. I love big low-frequency layers, because it’s a new sound for the harp with a lot of power, so I’m making lots of stuff that sounds like Morphine would have if Morphine had played harps through Digitech RP355s.

Here’s a cool sound: just a drum loop (that somehow put me in a Little Walter “Mellow Down Easy” frame of mind) with my CH-VIB patch from the v16 Huntersounds patch set. This patch is heavily distorted, with a vibrato to add even more movement, and it fills a lot of space all by itself:

Mellow Down Easy Jam RP355 CH_VIB

Here’s another version of the loop, this time with a low bass riff that’s played with a double-octave down patch on the RP355, reinforced with a Zoom G3 patch that includes a low octave double, a vibrato, and an autowah, in that order. The lead is the TW_8DW patch from my v16 Huntersounds patches; this patch has a Twin Reverb amp model with a low octave double and a wah wah.

Mellow Down Easy Jam–RP355 TW_8DW TAKE 2

These samples were recorded with my Zoom H4 a few inches from the grill on my Peavey KB2, and presented without edits. Stay tuned for more as a I continue to develop the solo electroharp repertoire.

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A blast from my past, courtesy of Randy Singer

Randy Singer is one of the best-known harmonica players in Miami and thereabouts, and we’ve known each other since roughly 1980. Randy just unearthed the clip below and sent it to me, and I was glad to get it. It’s a solo I played on a live recording of a performance of Phil Gentile’s song “Hey Brother (Come On In)”, an uptempo tune in a gospel-ish style. The harmonica performance is flat-out all the way; nobody likes athleticism better than a young musician, and I was in my mid-twenties when I recorded this.
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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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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.

2ndLine+AutoWah
A short sample of a funky NOLA rhythm with a juicy RP355 FX25 autowah. Autowah seems to work for harp, period.

WizofOzSloDwn
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.

Dig.

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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.

    Enjoy.

    “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.

    snapshot-28

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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.

    snapshot-5
    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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