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By Dennis Kambury
Computers have changed the way we work in the studio, and they've made a huge difference on stage as well. From adding depth to the solo performer's act to enabling touring international acts to re-create the sound of their latest hit album, computers and sequencers have forever altered the live musical landscape. In the second interview with local performer Steve Read, we talk about how his duo integrates MIDI and hard-disk recording software into their act.
MF: What combination of hardware and software do you use?
SR: I use a custom-built PC with an AMD Athlon 1.4 gig processor, 1 gig of RAM, and four hard drives. I chose the Aardvark Direct Pro Q10 for my audio interface because it has front-panel input, rear-panel output, and its awesome sound! For software, I use Cakewalk's Sonar XL 2.0. I've been using Cakewalk for many, many years, starting with version 1.0! I stuck with the DOS version for a long time, because it was a lot faster than anything else. But once they perfected multitrack audio, I made the switch to the Windows version. Now, there's no looking back!
MF: When did you start mixing computers and music?
SR: About fifteen years ago. We were trying find a new drummer, and had a hard time finding somebody who was good AND stable - with no luck. In desperation, we tried a drum machine, but decided we'd rather go back to slingin' pizza than to be slaves to a beat box! Then the idea hit me - why not use a computer and record a real performance in MIDI. We hired a guy with an electronic kit who was on break from his main band, and over the course of about three weeks, recorded him playing over 90 tunes. It was all recorded live, during gigs, so there was no clock. Instead of quantizing the performance to death, we just fixed the glitches, added count-ins, and ran with it.
MF: How do you integrate sequences into your act?
SR: Since we're only a duo, there are a lot of things that we just wouldn't be able to do without sequences. It's almost impossible to get a convincing MIDI guitar part, for example. Doubled lead lines, like the solos in "Layla," require two real guitars. And though we can get great vocal harmonies with our TC Helicons, for call-and-response stuff or independent vocal lines you just need more singers. So we record the "real" extra vocal and guitar parts in Cakewalk, and it sounds fantastic.
Since I use MIDI-controllable effects on guitar and vocals, I dedicate a MIDI track to send patch changes. Then, instead of running back to my pedals and doing a little tap dance, I can focus on my guitar playing.
MF: Any final tips?
SR: A lot of what makes this work is the mixing I do as I build the songs. I'll use a reference sequence that I know works, and adjust balances based on that. When I'm on stage, I don't make any adjustments - it's too hard to do on the fly, and it's distracting for the audience. I'll make a mental note if something isn't working quite right, and fix it after the gig.
Steve and his wife Ellie make up the duo "Pyramid," performing rock and blues standards accompanied by carefully prepared multitrack sequences.
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