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December 30, 2005

Filed under: gaming»society»art

Composing with Electroplankton, Part Five: Rec-Rec

You may remember that when I first started this project I decided on three Electroplankton types that would be useful on stage: Hanenbow, Luminaria, and Beatnes. After spending some time with Beatnes, it became obvious that it had several notable drawbacks live. In contrast, Rec-Rec (which is quite similar in some ways) has been shown to be much more powerful.


Basically, this plankton is a four-track recorder with drum machine and variable speed. To me, as a looping artist, that's very exciting. I paid $300 for the Line 6 looper, which includes a speed shift and up to 30 seconds of recording, but generally I use it for a recording/overdub of only 2-4 measures. Rec-Rec provides the minimum of functionality for about a fifth of the price, and includes some features that the Line 6 doesn't have (such as the ability to erase and rewrite distinct tracks). I can already see ways to create pop and rock music this way, and I'll put up some .mp3 samples at the table of contents post when I get a chance.

If it has a physical equivalent, Rec-Rec is a lot like a tape loop--the recording time is technically inflexible (two measures), but you can speed up/slow down the playback with an accompanying pitch shift, using left and right on the d-pad. Each of the four fish represents one track, or a tape loop distinct from the others. The drum pattern in the background is the fifth track, since it speeds up or slows down along with the others, but you can't record over it. Instead, using up or down on the d-pad will change between different beats, which NTSC-uk's excellent translation defines as follows, in ascending order:

  1. Regular
  2. Analogue
  3. House
  4. Pop
  5. African
  6. Industrial
  7. Metronome
  8. No beat
Over the top of this beat, by tapping on a fish as it swims from right to left, it will turn red and begin recording when it hits the start of the loop at the right of the screen. The auto-cue ability is very useful, since you can tap a fish any time in the previous iteration and quickly move your hand back in time to play a lick or progression. This does mean that you can't create loops that operate in syncopation of different time signatures. It's also difficult to record sounds that must overlap the end and beginning of the loop, since Rec-Rec will not overdub at all. However, by tapping one fish, and then tapping another when the first enters the recording pass, you can continue recording, but at the cost of multiple tracks.

The time-shift feature is useful and a lot of fun, but it does have a few imperfections. First, the shift isn't very musical--although it's close to a half-step in pitch, the inaccuracies add up, and quickly become atonal. I'm pretty sure that the 200% and 50% shifts will remain in key, but it may be best to use this sparingly. Second, when recording, the speed will always revert back to its normal pace of 120bpm. You can't record something while shifted up or down, thus applying different pitch shifts to different tracks. This is too bad, because one of my favorite looping tricks on the Line 6 DL-4 is to shift the speed down, record a rhythm chord part at half-tempo, then shift it back into normal speed, leaving my chords sounding like a ukelele.

It goes without saying that all of this looping and recording is easier if you've got a clean patch into the DS through the mic jack. The sound is much cleaner. However, if you do run directly into the audio bus, you will need to split the signal--Rec-Rec only outputs the "wet" part of the loop. It doesn't pass what the mic hears, even when recording, probably to avoid feedback. It also drops the output signal while recording a track. You should probably be using an A/B box with Electroplankton anyway. I recommend using the Boss LS-2, an excellent pedal-based line mixer. Set it to "A+B Mix/Bypass" mode, feeding the DS from A Send and routing its output to A Return. You'll always get a clean instrument signal from the B Send or from the Output in bypassed mode, and you'll get the DS and instrument mixed while the pedal is on. You can also route another instrument into the B Return if two people want to play along, but the second person won't be able to record onto Rec-Rec. A second instrumentalist who triggers Rec-Rec while playing another DS (with Marine Snow, Beatnes, or Lumiloop) into B Return would really make for an interesting experience. With three DS systems (one on the LS-2 Input to Rec-Rec instead of an instrument), you could have a complete electronic band going.

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