Making of: Through the Wormhole

Making of: Through the Wormhole

Hi and welcome to this series on the making of the Lost Time EP. I will cover each song on the EP in a separate post, going through everything from the creative and the technical process, to collaborating with people on the songs. I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

Through the Wormhole is the first track of the EP, and features Megan Jones on vocals.

 

The origins of the song

This song came about in a pretty weird way. This was shortly before I released Ordinary Day Montage, and as the entire album kind of lets on, I was heavily into trying to make electronic stuff at that time. Therefore, I was experimenting with a few electronic ideas I had in parallel to mixing and mastering Ordinary Day Montage. I ended up with one idea that kind of stuck, and that I felt could eventually become a real song. I’ve embedded the initial song below.

 

 

Megan Jones, the girl doing the vocals on Through the Wormhole, is a good friend of my girlfriend, and she was in our town visiting at that point as well. Megan is a great singer and has a really nice voice, so I seized the opportunity and asked whether she’d be interested in recording something with me.

I had experimented quite a lot with cutting up voices and re-arranging them in the past, and it’s something I really enjoy. In my experience, one of the easier ways of getting material for that type of technique is to ask the vocalist to just “humm” melodies on top of the track. The way I usually do it is have the vocalist listen through the track a couple of times, and just record whatever comes out of the vocalists mouth. This way, you get a nice bulk of tracks with various types of humming and various melodies. This material is great for cutting up and reassembling to interesting, new melodies.

So, Megan simply listened to the electronic track a few times and then just stood in front of the microphone for a few full plays of the song, and I recorded everything she sang.

Easy enough! I had source material for the vocals.

The creative process

As you may notice when comparing the initial electronic track above and the actual song, they don’t have a whole lot in common. In fact, they have almost nothing in common… Weird, huh? Did I just waste your time describing the crap above? Nope! This is where things start to get weird.

 

making-of-lost-time-ep-through-the-wormhole-old-session
A screenshot of the old electronic session. You can see a couple of synths etc on there. It’s also an unholy mess of a session….

 

When I sat down with the vocals and the initial electronic track, something just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t quite find anything that was interesting enough for me to keep. Oh well, what can you do. I guess I’ll just scrap the song if I don’t find anything worth keeping.

But, as we’d put time into recording Megan, as well as I actually had access to my own original vocal material for once, I figured I better give it a few more tries before I scrap the whole thing. So, I got an idea of making the song a 2 part thing, where the first part of the song is electronic and the second part is more acoustic. A very pretentious idea in retrospect.

Anyway, with this new approach to things, I started looking for interesting melodies without the music, just with the voice. This time, I actually found something usable!

Scrap the electronic crap

I started building on the melody I found by cutting and reassembling the voice, and after adding both drums, piano and strings, I decided to just scrap the electronic part of the song all together. I did keep a copy of it obviously, and I did take measures to try and revive my electronic idea at later stages, but nothing of that really materialized into something even remotely acceptable.

So, in the end, the only thing that’s still in this song that Megan heard while recording the vocals is the melodic synth. It’s also in the same tempo, all though I did cut the tempo in half for the drums. In that sense, it’s basically a remix where I’ve just sampled the vocals from that initial song… Funny how things turn out, right?

 

making-of-lost-time-ep-through-the-wormhole-real-session
The real, finished session. Screenshot showing drums, bass and so on.

 

Technical aspects

This part will be a bit more technical. I’ll try and go into more of the production techniques involved in making the song. The backbone of my setup is Ardour 3 which is my main DAW of choice. I won’t go into details about exactly what plugins I use and whatnot (some of it can be found here), but I will try and go through and briefly explain each element in the song.

Drums

The drums in this song is basically the Salamander Drumkit, but heavily processed. I’ve gated and compressed like a mad man, to really try and make them pop.

Bass

The bass is a fairly standard subbass (think sine wave style) layered with the bass strings from the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra. I’ve sidechained the bass to the kickdrum to not have them interfere too much in the low frequencies.

Piano

Nothing much to say about the piano really. It’s the fairly standard Salamander Piano, more or less following the melody of the vocals entirely. Nothing special.

Strings

In contrast to the piano, there’s a bit more to say about the strings. All the strings are from the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra, and primarily consists of various instances of the solo cello. That’s one of the few instruments in that set that sounds acceptable without having to mess with the sound too much.

So, as you can hear, there’s quite a few different cello’s and other string instruments making sounds in the song. Mostly, the strings simply follow the melody of the vocals and piano, or harmonize with the vocals and the piano.

I also added a layer of strings that I processed fairly heavily (the more melodic strings you can hear on the second halves of the two “verses”). These strings have both distortion and some heavy EQing. I created the “stutter” effect on them by bouncing the MIDI track to audio and cutting that up to my liking.

 

making-of-lost-time-ep-through-the-wormhole-vocal-samples-and-strings
The finished session again. This screenshot primarily shows strings and vocal samples.

 

Synths

Believe it or not, there’s not a whole lot of synths in the song. In fact, there’s only one, and that’s the one that comes in the second half of the song (and like mentioned above also is the only original element left from the initial electronic track this song was built on).

The sound is nothing special, it’s just a Loomer Aspect (one of the few commercial assets I use regularly) doing a fairly standard sine-wavy sound. Does the job!

Vocal samples

There’s quite a few things going on with the vocal samples. I’ve tried to move them around in some imaginary 3D space (sorry Jörn, no real 3D yet!) by manipulating the reverb, delay and overall processing of the samples. I’ve also distorted a few of the samples a lot. Distortion on voice is an effect that people usually either love or hate – I’m a proud lover!

A short anecdote: I absolutely hate automating. There are few things I hate more than having to press the A button in my Ardour track and draw stupid lines. I’m simply too lazy, I just can’t bear the thought of having to spend time on doing all of that. It’s not that bad to do really, but I just despise it for some reason…

So, I go out of my way trying to avoid that at every cost. If I’m moving something on one track out to the left once in the song, I’ll create a new track panned to that position and move that single thing out to that track in order to avoid having to automate on my main track. This is also pretty much what I’ve done with the vocal samples in this song – I’ve created a bunch of tracks panned like I want them. I’ve then simply cut up my vocal samples and moved them around as I please. This way, I avoid *drumroll* automation! Yay!

Wrapping up, and a “bonus”

So, that was a bit about the creative process, how I worked with Megan, and the technical process behind the actual sound. If there’s anything additionally you’d like to know, please do ask questions below. I’d love to answer them.

Oh, and one last thing. At one point, more or less after the song was finished, I tried to revive the pretentious old idea of combining electronic and acoustic music. You’ll find the result below (the song below is supposed to be played just before Through the Wormhole, and is a fairly modified version of the original electronic track). I didn’t think it was good enough to keep and put on the EP in the end, but it’s nice to look back and listen to where the main song actually came from.

 

 

Thanks for reading! Next song up for this series is Time Will Tell. Keep an eye out for that in the near future!

 

zthmusic-icon-midsize

 

 

6 Responses to “Making of: Through the Wormhole”

  1. dednikko

    2014-05-18T19:37:30+00:00

    I feel your pain about automating, for sure. I think I might do something similar to you from now on, where I will just create a lot of extra tracks and copy from the main, diasables source track.

    Thank you so much for writing this. I think it will help new Ardour and Linux Audio users quite a bit!

    The quality of sounds you manage to get are so great, that I have used your previous EP and now this one to sell friends of mine on using KXStudio.

    Keep up the great work zth!

    Reply
    • zth

      2014-05-19T22:01:26+00:00

      Dednikko, thank you very much for your comment! :D Yeah, automation is a real killer for me. But hey, I guess you got to do what you got to do…

      Thanks again!

      Reply
  2. ssj71

    2014-05-20T19:35:25+00:00

    I never use automation either. When I was first getting into recording I read in mike senior’s “mixing secrets for the small studio” that same technique of just moving differently parts of a region to different tracks and have always done it that way (he called it “multing” a track). He reccommends using automation only for very transient parts that you want to boost or extend the reverb tail, kind of a finishing touch thing. I’ve never had anything polished enough to get to that.

    Great post! Do you think you could put a screenshot of your mixer view up? I’d love to see what plugins you are using, which ones are pre and post fader etc.

    Reply
    • zth

      2014-05-21T10:39:16+00:00

      That’s a great recommendation IMHO. I wish automation was simpler and more accessible, but as it is now, I dare saying we’re both on the right track not using it extensively :D

      Sure! I will update the post with that later today. Thanks a lot for your comment and interest Spencer!

      Reply
  3. jeok

    2014-06-06T13:29:45+00:00

    Hey!

    I really love your blog and it has got me considering moving fully to linux-based workflow. I’ve been using Linux and Windows side by side for quite a long time and the only things keeping the Windows-installation on my hdd are games and Ableton Live.

    Reading your articles has really lowered the barrier and I’ve been experimenting with Ardour a bit! And a word about automation: I’ve yet to see a DAW that shows the automations in a way that one could keep track of all of them. I’ve used it mainly for moduling reverb and fading tracks but other than that, it’s messy.

    Greetings from Finland!

    Reply
  4. DoosC

    2014-06-21T17:02:53+00:00

    Very instructive ! It’s fascinating to see how you developed a complete track with vocals, the latter being sung on another song.
    About mixing, I always heard that less is more, it seems that you have found just the right balance between being a skillful mixer and not over thinking it!

    Reply

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