This is a fairly long post, with a lot of personal history about my relationship with music and technology. I hope you’ll find it as fascinating as I do, but if you’d rather just skip down to the bottom, there are some great examples of what this whole Vocaloid thing is all about under the “Vocaloid: Examples” header. Either way, enjoy!
New Musical Frontiers
Much of my favorite music is the result of composers and artists experimenting with new technology. Apparently Beethoven pushed the limits of the pianos of the time when he composed his 14th sonata, the “Moonlight”, using the full keyboard and taking advantage of the variety of sounds that were inherent in its construction. Wendy Carlos and Isao Tomita pushed the limits of the Moog Synthesizer and the recording technology of the time to create otherworldly versions of classical pieces, with Carlos in particular working directly with Bob Moog to develop new modules and controllers to allow for more stable and interesting sounds and better musical expression. Brian Wilson was reputedly so far ahead of his time attempting to construct complex, layered, multipart music that his 1967 SMiLE record couldn’t be properly finished until digital technology allowed Mark Linett to piece it together for a 2011 release. Although some of the details of these examples may be debatable, and this is hardly a scholarly exploration, these are just a few pieces off the top of my head that I have obsessed over at various times in my life. All represent artists pushing the envelope and exploring new technological frontiers.
And that is exactly the kind of artist I’ve always wanted to be. I want to push myself and the tools I use to create music. When I first started writing songs, I wanted to explore genres and try writing in different styles. This lead me to move from writing on guitar to using notation software to compose MIDI arrangements. Once I had pushed the limits of the built in samples, I started experimenting with creating my own samples, and then started using synthesizers. Later, as I discovered alternate tunings, I began experimenting with them in Logic, composing music that relied on tunings based in non-western music in order to sound right. For the Pulse Depravity project, I went out of my way to write in every western ‘mode’ and in less common time signatures with odd numbers of beats per measure.
Vocaloid: My Next Frontier
I now feel that the next step for me is Vocaloid. The Vocaloid software is a plugin platform that allows a composer to use one or more voice banks to create virtual singers for their music. Each voice bank is associated with a specific character, with the most famous being Hatsune Miku, primarily due to her popularity in Japan. It probably seems like I’ve gone full ‘weeaboo‘ at this point, and I don’t really know enough about it to argue one way or the other. The fact is, I was watching an interview with Isao Tomita, and he mentioned Miku as being a musical frontier that was impressive to him. That got my attention. I had been looking into vocal synthesis for a while, especially some German software reportedly used by Kraftwerk, but it was nearly impossible to get in the United States, and it honestly didn’t sound that great (enunciation is very tricky for pure synthesizer). Within a few minutes of hearing of Miku, a quick YouTube search revealed tons of amazing vocal synth parts (and a lot of terrible ones, but that’s another story). I actually became interested more in anime, J-pop, and Japanese culture in general because of Miku, for whatever that’s worth. But, alas, my interest in Miku has waned slightly, in favor of another character…
I will be using Megurine Luka, because her voice is a bit less ‘cute anime style’ and a bit more ‘adult woman’ sounding. When ‘tuned’ properly, such that her voice is used well, and the enunciation is fairly accurate, Luka’s vocals can be as beautiful as those sung by the greatest pop stars I’ve ever heard. At times, she even sounds ‘human’ (though I have discovered that, as with pop vocals tweaked and ‘effected’ in the studio, ‘human’ isn’t always the most desirable sound). I am very excited to start working with the software and have Luka sing some of my music.
There are many examples of great Luka vocals, but a lot of the best ones are in Japanese (most of the best composers of Vocaloid music are Japanese, and her primary voice banks, like those of Miku and the other Vocaloids, are in the Japanese language). Here is an English version of one of her most popular songs, as performed at a Miku Expo in New York City in 2014:
This is a fairly well tuned R&B style version of “Fly Me to the Moon” (a classic hit for Frank Sinatra, among others), and it really showcases how flexible her voice can be when compared to the other examples here:
But I think finding this track really sold me on Luka. The content is seriously ‘messed up’ in the same way some of my music and lyrics get (like… WTF?) It has a little bit of a classic Depeche Mode feel in the synth work, and the vocals make great use of effects to sell it as a cohesive piece, while still allowing the samples to sound properly enunciated:
My Big Plan… sorta…
In order to purchase the software, I decided to take advantage of my impending birthday to crowd fund both that and a solid-state drive upgrade for my computer. At this point it’s about 2/3rds funded, and I’m still holding out hope that it will eventually get in front of enough eyeballs to finish funding. But I couldn’t wait. Amazon was down to the last copy, and, as a Japanese import, it’s hard to say for sure if they will get new copies, when it will happen, and what the price will be. So fingers crossed for the SSD to finish funding. If you can help contribute or share, I will greatly appreciate it. Either way, new music featuring Luka will be coming as soon as I overcome the reputedly steep learning curve. As Yoshi-P* would say, ‘please look forward to it’.
*Producer and Director of Final Fantasy XIV, my obsession with which might actually be a reason why I can’t argue with anyone who calls me a weeaboo, heh….
Today I released the official music video for “Self“. It’s a bit risqué, as it is not only intended to be about loving and caring for oneself emotionally, but also quite literally about taking care of ones physical needs, and the video isn’t particularly subtle about it (nor is the song itself). So enjoy it (in the privacy of wherever you enjoy private things, of course).
I am currently on vacation, sort of recovering from the recent loss of my father and getting my emotional and creative batteries recharged. I did a remote session with The Human to mix “Through“, which will be the last single for Pulse Depravity, and it sounds great, so I will release that next week, with a final video to follow. When I get back to the Portland area we will sit down and do a final mix on the entire album, including the non-single tracks that bookend the whole project. I will then do some video to accompany those tracks, and the whole thing will release sometime in July, with all of the final edits of the videos cut together to make an album-length short film.
I still need a lot of footage for the “Depravity” video. I may end up using a lot of ‘found footage’ like the rest of the videos, or shooting a lot myself. If you are planning on taking advantage of the “Show Off Your Sins” collaborative video effort, get to it! If you have questions, ideas, comments, etc., please comment below or contact me directly using the form on the about page.
Tomorrow (today by the time this releases) we will have a memorial service for my dad. My mom asked my brother and me to put together a compilation of music that my dad liked for after the service. Going through my collection, I realized how much of my musical taste and influences are a direct result of the music I grew up with. Even in cases where I discovered something later in life and shared it with my dad, our tastes were so similar in some areas that it was easy to predict what he would like. Here are most of the songs I chose (some aren’t available to share) and some brief context for each one:
My dad was a fan of big band swing music, especially Benny Goodman. Not sure if Benny Goodman was my dad’s inspiration for learning to play the clarinet, or if he liked Benny Goodman because he happened to also play the clarinet, but there was definitely some sort of connection there.
Dave Brubeck popularized odd time signatures in jazz and is a huge inspiration to me in terms of my rhythm choices in Pulse Depravity and other projects. A lot of my respect for and enjoyment of such ‘theory based’ musical choices comes from my dad’s near constant analysis of Brubeck and other more experimental artists.
My dad was a fan of Oscar Peterson, but had apparently never heard of The Singers Unlimited. When I discovered this album and played some for him he was really impressed (and who wouldn’t be!) This piece in particular was a stand out favorite for both of us.
I am a huge Beach Boys fanatic, and I would play their hits and the ‘weird stuff’ in more or less equal proportions as I discovered them in high school. My dad liked a lot of it, being a vocalist and vocal enthusiast himself, but he always said this was his favorite by far, I think because of the chord structure.
My dad had this on vinyl and I listened to it dozens of times growing up. To this day, for me, this and Wendy Carlos’ “Switched-On Brandenburgs” (also one of my dad’s records) are the quintessential Brandenburg recordings for me.
Simon and Garfunkel were among my dad’s favorite musical duos, and even though I don’t remember hearing this song much, something about the choir-like nature of it makes me think of my dad more than a lot of what we actually did listen to. Sort of a weird thing, but it makes sense in my head.
My dad loved the technical side of music, and did a lot of live recording as a side business throughout his life. He would often talk about the technical achievements of Les Paul and how much he loved these recordings.
Shortly before my dad passed away we watched a live performance of Fleet Foxes and he was really impressed, but he never got much out of the studio recordings they made. He talked about singing a variation of the Pentatonix version of this song in choir, however, and seemed like he was really impressed with them as an a cappella group. So to me this sorta represents my dad and I enjoying some newer acts together in different ways.
When I was little I would play this album constantly. I called it “The Rain Record” because of the rain sounds on the second side. My dad loved the way the sounds were used in the stereo field, and would always say that if you want to test your stereo setup you should put on Soolaimon.
Finding great clarinet music can be a challenge. A lot of composers seemed to avoid it as a lead instrument. I recall my dad saying he really loved this particular one by Mozart.
This reminds me of some of the smaller a cappella groups I heard my dad sing with. He did a lot of choir music, but it’s the smaller groups that I always preferred.
My dad loved the things Paul Simon did with lyrics, and he always got a little grin on his face during the opening line of this song. Maybe not the cleverest lyric Simon ever wrote, but the impact was palpable, and apparently resulted in the song being edited or not played in some regions, so the fact that my dad seemed to get a kick out of it amuses my dark sense of humor.
Another Benny Goodman tune because I know it was among his favorites.
Since I don’t listen to a lot of choir music, preferring small groups with tight harmonies, this is about as close as I get to appreciating the types of harmonies my dad usually sang. I don’t know if this is something a full choir could easily sing, as TSU are known for featuring incredibly difficult arrangements, but this sounds similar to the kinds of harmonies I would hear in the choirs my dad sang in as I was growing up and it reminds me of that.
How could this not be one of my dad’s favorite pieces of orchestral music. Not only is it Gershwin, who my dad loved, it featured the most famous clarinet solo of all time. As an added bonus, my dad was a huge Bernstein fan, so this recording is like a trifecta of dadliness. (Dibs on the band name “Trifecta of Dadliness”.)
My family listened to a lot of 70’s pop while I was growing up, as is to be expected, and I heard the big hits like “Windy” and “Cherish”, but this was a song I remember discovering as a teenager, and when I talked to my dad about it he said it was one of his favorites as well. The vocal arrangement changes a lot throughout the song and features some really big, emotional swells and other not-very-poppy stuff.
As a sort of combination of a cappella and sudo-bebop this recording is another that feels like it strikes multiple chords for me with regard to my dad. He and I listened to this album a few times after it was introduced to me by a professor when I took a jazz appreciation class in college. We both really enjoyed the way the voices seem to emulate instruments in a way that is rarely used outside of scat singing.
Peter, Paul and Mary were among several folk groups my dad listened to, and they were a big influence on my early songwriting and performances. This song pokes fun at rock and roll in a very loving way and reminds me of my dad’s playful sense of humor.
Not sure how much my dad liked the Four Freshmen, to be honest. I started listening to them because of their influence on Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, and I played them a bit with my dad around, but I didn’t really get strongly into them until I’d moved away, so we never really discussed it. I’m pretty sure he liked or would have liked them, however, because they really fit everything he loved about music; big band arrangements, tight vocal harmonies, and classic well-written songs. For some reason, the almost palpable sarcasm in this song seems like it would be right up his alley.
Starting this week, in part because I’m still dealing with the fallout from, and emotional impact of, a recent personal tragedy, and in part because I realized it’s a better way to do things, I am releasing just the music and visualization video for the new version of “Others”, with the official video slated to come out next week. Since I release a track every two weeks, this will mean that something new is coming out every week. That’s better, right? I think it will be. Also, it means that you will get a chance to enjoy the music, and then the video will add context a week later, allowing you to delve deeper into it at that time. It should reduce confusion (mostly for me) about which video to share when and how often, since they will each effectively be their own release. That said, if you can think of a good reason for me to continue with the simultaneous releases like I did for “Because” and “Exists” please let me know!
I think this track is pretty self-explanatory, so I’m just going to link to some places you can listen and watch and leave you to it. Also, over the next week or so this track will join the others on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, and other popular download and streaming services. Enjoy ^_^
Free MP3 Download: https://theartistunion.com/tracks/224243
Buy full quality (FLAC/ALAC) download: https://davidsprinkle.bandcamp.com
Listen/watch the visualization:
My dad passed away on Tuesday, March 28th, about two days ago as I write this. He was a very private person, and normally I am too when it comes to things like this, so it took me a couple of days to decide to go ahead and open up publicly about what his life meant to me, and how his death changes things.
Aside from the obvious things every parent passes on to their children, the greatest gift my dad gave to me was an appreciation of high quality sound and music. Both he and my mother have always done what they can to support my musical pursuits, and that continues even now. But I’ll get back to that later.
Growing up, my parents always sang in church choirs, and I grew accustomed to hearing vocal harmonies as a regular and important feature of music. My tastes in music, while sometimes wildly different from my dad’s, have always tended toward lush harmonies. We shared a love of those harmonies, and I will miss listening to those kinds of recordings with him.
My dad didn’t have a lot of synthesizer-based music, certainly nothing like modern EDM or Kraftwerk or YMO, but he introduced me to what is arguably still my favorite synth album of all time, Wendy Carlos’ “Switched-On Brandenburgs”. The sound of Bach’s epic orchestral pieces performed brilliantly by Ms. Carlos on a modular Moog is still emotionally moving to me even after quite literally (according to my play count on iTunes) hundreds of plays.
As I got more into creating my own synth based music, I eventually bought my own small Moog synthesizer, and lamented the fact that it had no white noise source. My dad set to work building a small custom analog noise generator. He loved to work with electronics, and his years as a professional technician meant he was really efficient at it. We eventually named the module “Noizilla” and even discussed marketing it. We had discussed creating some other custom generators and effects.
My dad and I used to talk about social media, and where to draw the line in terms of sharing openly with the world. For us, it’s not a matter of personal embarrassment, or fear of identify theft, or other concerns for ourselves. The biggest issue is that other people are always involved. It’s very difficult to mention a major life event without also ‘outing’ other people who have participated in that event. So particularly when the event is negative, it’s easy to paint oneself as the ‘hero’ and dump all over other people involved, and that doesn’t seem like a fair portrayal in most situations.
Also, it often seems like a plea for attention, and neither of us are looking for that. Except, wait, I totally am. Sorta.
Here’s the thing. My life has had a lot of bumps and sharp turns and pitfalls and things just not going as planned. If you were to start writing a story about a total loser according to American stereotypes, I might be your protagonist. Without getting too much into the specifics I am very much living off of the generosity of others right now, trying to rebuild my life as a musician. And the person who most helped me figure out that I needed to do that was my dad. I don’t want to minimize the contributions of other family and friends, because there were and are several people contributing financially and emotionally to my continued pursuit of music in the face of overwhelming odds. But my dad has to top the list. He was the first person to put his resources on the line and allow me to stop being practical and just focus on music full time. The rest of my family was, and is, graciously attempting to continue that support, and it is really tough, because without him resources are even tighter.
I miss my dad. I want to honor his memory, and the best way I can think of to do that is to continue on the path he helped put me on. It feels selfish sometimes, since I know how much sacrifice it is for my family and friends. It’s especially difficult with an artist like me who does things far from the mainstream. I don’t know how long it will take to build an audience. I don’t know how lucrative it will be once I have an audience. I only know that I have to make the art that comes to me, and hope it finds its way to the people who will appreciate it.
My current project, focused around the Pulse Depravity album re-work, is representative of my most experimental and perhaps ‘darkest’ work. Going forward, I will also be doing music based on classical works, video games, my own ‘synth pop’ style songs, and ‘cover versions’ of popular songs from a wide variety of genres. A lot will depend on who I meet and work with, and what kinds of resources are available. I want to make music that people will love, while still being true to the sounds and ideas that come naturally to me. I hope that eventually all the people who have believed in and supported me, and continue to do so, will see that work pay off somehow. No one does anything alone. We all require so much support in so many ways. I lost one of my strongest supporters, but I have to stay strong and not let that support be in vain, and that’s what I intend to do.
I realize that when something like this happens, people want to help. I really appreciate that, and I’ll be honest, I don’t know what will help the most right now. Obviously money is always helpful, but I don’t want people to buy music they wouldn’t otherwise buy out of sympathy, much as I appreciate the gesture. Sure, if you want to buy my music because you like it and want to listen, that would be fantastic, but there are other things that might allow us to establish a more honest relationship. First of all, if you like or don’t like something about my music, my artwork, my videos, please say something! Feedback is the most useful thing, especially at this stage of my re-boot. I have no idea what people really want or don’t want, if I’m communicating my messages well, if people can even find the content I’m trying to distribute, unless I get feedback. If you want to contribute financially, but don’t necessarily care about downloads (for example, if you just like Spotify or YouTube), you can always donate via my Artist Union page. By far, the best way anyone can help right now, however, is simply by sharing like crazy. Like and follow and share everything, a lot. Make your friends wonder why you keep sharing my stuff, so they get curious and start listening, because even if maybe you’re some crazy person who doesn’t happen to love the music I make, your friends might be!
This morning, in the wee hours, I released “Exists 2017” as a single, along with a pair of videos (official & visualization). This upbeat dance track features a familiar speech, and an overall hopeful message and sound. The Pulse Depravity album as a whole does question the darker aspects of our human nature, but it also features moments of happiness and hope, a reflection of the complexity of life. That said, I’ll just let the music and accompanying visuals explain themselves, and move on to some news.
I recently discovered a new music distribution service called “DistroKid”, which has a different pricing structure that has made it cost effective for me to release singles as well as albums. Right now, all three tracks that are currently on Bandcamp are also being processed to go to more popular services such as iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Pandora, etc. I will begin posting direct links once the tracks are live on these services.
I want to give some shout outs to a bunch of people who are helping in various ways to make this possible: My family for being patrons and participants in the process. An extra shout out to my dad for taming the sample noise! Nathan for moral support and help with breakdowns. The Human, for going above and beyond to make these tracks sound amazing. Steve, for finding new homes for my music. And especially Ann, for all of the things, too many to count or list. I’m sure over time this list will grow, but it’s never too soon to start thanking the people who make it possible to get up in the morning and pursue your passion. Thanks guys!
First off, this is a reminder (or perhaps this is the first you’re hearing?) that you have a little under a week to submit videos for inclusion in the upcoming “Depravity 2017” music video. There’s a video with examples on the “Show Off Your Sins” page, as well as details, a release form, etc. I’m going to provide a little background and behind the scenes right here to fill you in on what this is all about.
Before I get to all of that, let me update you on how this whole switch back to music has been going:
In short, fantastic! I am so much happier than I have been in years. I love photography and art, but those were always things I studied in support of music. Art and photography feel much more natural to me when I use them in that context. As for the music itself, those who remember the older versions of Pulse Depravity have given a lot of positive feedback on the new arrangements and mixes, so it feels like the project is off to a great start! Also, a buddy of mine is working “Because” into a backing track for one of his YouTube videos, so I’ll link that when it’s available. I love it when my work can support the work of others so it’s great that this happened so quickly!
So about this music video crowdsourcing effort: The concept of the “Depravity” video is a subversion, or maybe even a tongue-in-cheek parody, of the rest of the Pulse Depravity videos. Basically, as some of you may have noticed, there are some rather adult themes running through Pulse Depravity. In addition to exploring social, economic, and political issues throughout the album, I don’t shy away from sexual or violent imagery both as an aesthetic and as a way of driving home a point. There is a real danger that this could lead to a dark, depressing album for a lot of people, whereas I’m actually intending for it to be a celebration! (albeit, perhaps, a black one… DM references FTW!!!)
With the “Show Off Your Sins” crowdsourcing effort, my goal is to gather video clips of the kinds of silly and fun things that drive people crazy, but aren’t ‘really’ that awful. Things like using comic sans on a resume, or wearing socks with sandals, or saying ‘nucular‘ instead of ‘nuclear’, are irritating as hell to a lot of people, to the point that discussions about them begin to sound similar to the conversations ‘witch hunters’ might have had during various inquisitions. So much of what we think of as ‘depravity’ or ‘sin’ is really just an arbitrary social agreement to hate something that doesn’t really affect us in any way. It’s just part of the human condition and there’s not much we can do about it (fight against one, another replaces it). No one these days seems to care that I play Dungeons & Dragons, for example, but somehow the fact that I like to drink soda sweetened with aspartame seems actively bothersome and/or terrifying to many. The reverse was much more true back in the 90’s. Funny stuff in a way 😉
So, whatever sorts of things you guys find ‘sinful’ these days, the sillier the better, film it and send it my way. Let me know if you need more info, ideas, etc., and I will do my best to help! Happy filming 😀
A few years ago I released an album called ‘Pulse Depravity’. It is a collection of 10 instrumental electronic works, and it was a lot of fun to make. As it turns out, I wasn’t quite finished with it. As much as I enjoyed the work I did, my production skills, gear, and a certain amount of creative roadblock led to me putting out an album that was suited, really, to pretty much just me and a few close friends and family. For people who are into words, or visuals (like a music video), or other experiences besides interesting compositions, I didn’t really deliver. The seeds were there, and in my mind all of those things existed, but I failed to really drive home the project on those levels, and that’s a real shame, because these compositions deserve a full multimedia experience. So now I’ve had several years to think about the best elements and sounds in those recordings, and the areas where things could be improved, and I am re-delivering them to you with all of the elements in place.
So I now present the first updated track, “Because (2017 Version)”. Instead of trying to do everything myself, I have left the mixing and mastering to The Human @ Human Studios in Portland, OR. He has done a fantastic job of bringing my ideas to the finest level of polish, and I’m glad to be working with him on this project.
I have also released a music video for this track (well, two, sorta). The first one is not necessarily appropriate for all audiences and venues, so some viewer discretion is advised. The second one is a visualization video which looks pretty, but doesn’t tell the whole story the way the official video does. You can find both videos embedded on my music portfolio page. Enjoy!