Interlude: Tech

I haven’t talked much about gear I used for recording Year of The Bird, mainly because it’s pretty boring. I was recording in hotel rooms, spare rooms, and bedrooms – almost never a controlled acoustic environment.

But if you want to reproduce the signature Pale Bird sound while you’re out on the road, all you need is:

  • Recording gear
  • An iPhone with GarageBand iOS – which has a kickass live sampler, as well as a decent amp sim for guitar, at least good enough for playing. I generally changed the amp settings when I got them onto my laptop. But having this setup lowered the barrier of entry to plugging in my guitar, or playing the synths, or using the smaller, and getting going.
  • An iRig for running guitar or sequencer into the laptop/iphone. The simple one that basically plugs into the headphone socket.
  • Logic Pro X on a 2017 MacBook Pro – I lean on its soft synths and the sampler A LOT, the sampler is great, and the amp sims are pretty good. Towards the end of the year, I got Bias’ amp sims, which sound even better. All the mixing and most of the playing happened on the laptop.
  • A CME XKey Air – a light and pleasant usb/bluetooth keyboard.
  • A Zoom H5 setup as a USB audio interface – I used the inbuilt mics, but more often borrowed an Audio-technica 897 Shotgun mic from my wife, and occasionally the mic from a set of iPhone headphones. These aren’t really ideal mics for vocals, but having something I can use handheld was really useful.
  • Audio-technica ATH-M30x headphones for monitoring, mixing, and mastering! Also for watching Killing Eve.
  • The IXI lang – a programming language for livecoding music. I used this for two songs (Dental Health and A Bad Crossword).

  • A snap dragon electro-acoustic travel guitar – made by a small uk company, this guitar has a bamboo body, a piezo under the bridge, and collapses down to hand luggage size so it doesn’t get trashed in the hold. I string it with light (10-46) acoustic strings, but with all the amp sims etc I’m playing it like an electric.
  • I frequently used a pitch shifter in Logic (well, their knockoff of the Digitech Whammy Pedal) to get bass guitar sounds. It doesn’t have the same feel, but I couldn’t take a bass on the road. I have two bass ukes that I’d love to take with me, but don’t have enough space, really*

  • A Novation circuit groovebox/sequencer for all that sleepy bloopy goodness. This is what I used The Year of The Dog, The Mountains Look Like Scotland and the upcoming Snowmelt, Suggestions for Halloween, and The Cascade Mountains.

  • Various instruments along the way: an acoustic guitar in Oakland (Rusty Horse Bones), a dobro and a double bass in Chicago (In Visible Cities), a Frontalini chord organ in Wolverhampton (Goodbye, 2018), a shower screen as a kick drum in Melbourne (Remarks Upon Seeing The Milky Way With The Naked Eye), various bathrooms around the world, and a bath as a reverb tank in Siem Reap (Snow Day).
  • Samples – I’ve talked about these elsewhere, but various mechanical and organic sounds including frogs, birds, a waffle maker, a freight train, my own voice…
  • Impulse response – a hotel atrium in Hobart for Filters.

This made for a pretty good minimal setup; if I could, I’d bring a bass uke, as I said; and I do miss non-travel guitars (although the Snapdragon is basically full-size).

If you’re enjoying the music, please download it through your favourite music service – it’s all available on the Pale Bird Bandcamp page.

*I’ve subsequently started using a EHX Pitchfork for live, which allows for fixed pitch shifts up, down, and both up and down, which gets some lovely sounds.