Set the controls for the heart of the sun

This is my cover of Pink Floyd's "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" (the live version), my first music project since I started becoming a musician once more.   I'll use it to learn and relearn music stuff, and to teach others.   So this will be a tutorial about how I did it.

For this cover I want to mix drum'n'bass style with reggae dub, including spacey echoes.   The original is mostly bass and drums anyway.   I have mangled the lyrics into a climate protest song.

Hardware

I built my super desktop a few years ago, but this stuff can probably be done on any ordinary computer.   My MIDI keyboard is an Alesis V25 two octave, eight drumpads, four programmable knobs and buttons, pitch and modulation wheels.

Software

I use open source software and sounds.   The operating system I use is Devuan Linux, to which I have added Debian Multimedia and KXStudio software repositories.   The DAW software I use is MusE. which I compile from source.   It has a built in FluidSynth plugin that I use for some instruments, the other instruments are from the Yoshimi-Multi and Surge plugins, both LV2 type plugins.   For the echoes I use TapeDelay2 wrapped in Carla-Rack used as a synth, both VST type plugins.   I use JACK2 as my MIDI and sound backend, and QjackCtl to make it easier to deal with.   I also have a complex audio setup on my super desktop but that's a story for a different place.

Timing

The various web sources said it was anywhere between 110 and 126 BPM.   I tested the various performances by Pink Floyd, and they also had different BPMs in that range.   I've spent the last four decades typing text on computers, where speed and accuracy are important, but if you get things wrong, you just go back to correct it.   When playing MIDI keyboard accuracy and timing are important, and you only get to correct things if you are recording.   So I tended to just play as fast as possible.   My compromise is to set the BPM to 128 beats per minute, coz I'm a programmer and that's a power of 2 (binary is based on that).   B-)

Sounds

The original has bird type sounds in it, so I searched freesound.org for Australian bird sounds, and also beach type sounds.   I found Fryers Dawn #001 by kangaroovindaloo.   It's used as the main background, though I did chop it up a bit to make it fit.   For the beach sounds I used tas beachside by crk365 and Seawaves by Julien Mier.   The live versions include gong playing, after much testing of gong instruments and searching I decided to use Heavy gong by jorickhoofd

Bass

The bass line is what drives this song, the lyrics are sung to the same tune.   I have only just started learning to play the MIDI keyboard, but after much listening and trying things out I figured it out by ear.   Then I looked it up online and found I had figured it out properly according to several sources.   None of them agreed on the BPM, but they at least agreed it's 4/4 time.   Sorta, one of them had 4 quarter notes in a bar, AND an eighth note.   lol

Next was figuring out which instrument to use for the bass line.   I played around with a bunch of them.   Since I had decided to do drum'n'bass, a sub bass was important.   I created my own using Surge, but I also used one from Yoshimi.   In the end I layered a bunch of bass instruments, which inspired me for the instrumental break in the middle.   Most of the time it's Will Godfrey Collection/Fretless Bass from Yoshimi, Star Theme from FluidSynth, and my sub bass created in Surge.   The others I add are Inigo Kennedy/Cat Bass and Undulation from Surge, and Will Godfrey Collection/Sub Delay from Yoshimi.   I group them into a bass group to make the echo stuff easier.

Drums

The song has a basic drum pattern, but during the instrumental break Nick Mason just goes ape shit on his drums.   My main problem (apart from me not being a drummer) was that he uses timpani mallets on several tuned floor toms.   I had to layer several drums to get something that sounded similar, coz it's an interesting sound I wanted to replicate.   The next problem was figuring out what he was playing on them.   I haven't found anything on the web about that, so I had to figure it out by ear, and watching videos of him playing it.   Also the drums tend to be quieter than everything else happening.   What he is playing sounds like a variation of the beginning of the bass theme, so I went with that.

The drum instruments used are - from Yoshimi: chip/Chip Bass Hit, the tuned toms section of olivers-100/Drum Kit, and olivers-100/Iz Da Beatz.   From Surge: Psiome Send Sound/Percussion/Dark and Emu/Drums/T9 Tom.   From FluidSynth: Timpani and standard drums.   I did try the Red Zeppelin Drum Kit, but it has a bug where some of the instruments would totally ignore volume control, which was aproblem coz they where too loud.

Other instruments

Other instruments?   While there is both Syd Barret and David Gilmour playing guitars, you can barely hear them, and in the videos you can see some sort of odd device being used for that.   Roger Waters does go apeshit on the gong during live versions, but one simple gong bang works for me here.   Richard Wright also does a lot of keyboard playing during the instrumental break in the middle, but I had other ideas, though inspired by some of what he played, besides I'm still crap on keyboards.   I do want to get magpies singing the bass theme some day, that's an instrument I'll have to create.

Vocals

This is the hardest part, since I haven't done any singing since the '70s, my voice is rather rusty, plus my vocal chords are kinda delicate.   If I use them too much, they get sore, but just after they recover from being sore they develop a nice rich deeper tone.   On the plus side, I sing at the same register as used in the song.   In the end I decided to use robot voices.   Though the problem there is that the good ones are not open source, you have to pay for, and run under Windows.

The Festival voice synthesizer used to have a singing utility, but it hasn't been maintained for a long time, and no longer works.   I ended up with OddVoices, which offers three voices, that at least works.   I got the MusE developer to add a function to expert individual parts to individual files, then I wrote a script to loop through those and the three voices, creating .wav files of each, which I then import back into Muse as audio tracks, one per voice.

Effects

OK, this turned out to be harder than vocals.   I've long enjoyed the lengthy wierd spacey echoes I first heard on reggea music back in the '80s.   I asked around and found out that was mostly the Roland Space Echo machine.   From what I can tell it's basically a loop of tape, with one record head and three playback heads.   It records your input audio onto the tape, and the playback heads play it back again so you get multiple echoes.   You can speed up or slow down the tape, so the echoes get closer & higher pitched, or further apart & lower pitched.   You can switch which playback heads are active.   It has other tricks to.   I had a hard time finding an open source plugin that did something like that.   The good people at LinuxMusicians helped me to find the TapeDelay2 which does the trick.   Alas it didn't work so well using it multiple times directly as a plugin for MusE, so I had to wrap it in a Carla-Rack.   There are quite a few quirks to deal with when using it, but it does the job.

Putting it all together


 

I prefer to be known as a figment of the 'nets imagination, living in the future, waiting for the rest of you to catch up.