Arkells – Western Canada Fall 2011 #1

I’m currently sitting shotgun as we drive west through northern Ontario. We’re on highway 17 west of Kenora, and it’s dark, windy, cold, and raining. With three shows behind us, we leave Ontario for the time being and take on Regina next.

I could probably figure out how many times I’ve done this drive, but I don’t want to know. At least Rogers has finally gotten decent cell phone coverage across the Trans-Canada Highway up here – it used to be an abyss of all communication as you did this drive, so at least now I can distract myself with social media and other random online distractions.

The shows so far have been good. We’ve done North Bay, Sault Ste Marie, and Thunder Bay. All three were pretty decent. I had an SC48 in North Bay, and analog consoles in The Soo and Thunder Bay. Thankfully though on this tour I’ve put together a nice little touring package to make recreating the effects on the record a little easier.

If you’ve listened to Arkells’ new record Michigan Left, you’d know that there are a number of reverbs and delays on the vocals that really add to the record. I decided early on into the planning for this tour that I wanted to put together a good touring solution that would allow me to recreate a lot of them live. A lot of the inspiration came from when I saw Portishead play at The Sound Academy – it was one of the best sounding shows I’ve been to in a long time, and it got me thinking about how to do something on this tour.

Other bands that I’m a big fan of (Radiohead, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, etc) all have some pretty good solutions to their live mixing. Bands like that almost certainly use digital consoles these days and for good reason – they are able to recall ‘snapshots’ for any given song, or even multiple snapshots a song. This allows them to get very detailed with a lot of cues to recreate things live. I wanted to employ a similar solution, but obviously not with the budget that we are on.

I began to look at the equipment I already had and how it could be used. I’ve owned a Yamaha 01v digital console for about 9 years now, and started to wonder how I could use it. I knew I would need a TC Electronic D-Two to recreate all the vocal delays, and while the 01v has two DSPs for things like reverbs and chorus, I knew I would want a higher-quality solution. At first I considered a TC Electronic M-One XL, but I ended up buying a Lexicon MX300. It’s inexpensive, and it has some great sounding reverbs, and a good editor for both PC and Mac.

So now I had the 01v, the D-Two, and the MX300. How could I control it all in a simple and easy way? The answer was MIDI. The great thing about all this digital gear is that they all have MIDI ports on them which allow them to be controlled. Most people think that all MIDI does is make terrible sounding muzak. In reality, you can send parameter changes, program recall changes, and much more information over MIDI.

I then purchased a Yamaha i-MX1 MIDI adapter for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch. This simple dongle which connects to your dock connector gives you a MIDI input and output. There is also a Line 6 adapter, and a new iRig adapter. I would have bought the iRig adapter since it gives you a MIDI thru, as well as a charge port, but I couldn’t find it since it is such a new product. I may end up upgrading to it in the future.

So then the great app search began. There aren’t a lot of great apps out there, but the best one I could find was Midi Touch.

The app is quite decent although it does crash once in a while. It’s not a huge deal because it loads very quickly. The advantage of this app is that you can program multiple MIDI messages to a single button. This allows me to prompt all three devices (01v, D-Two, MX300) with one button push. I have each unit on its own MIDI channel, so for a song like Michigan Left that has multiple delay cues, I have a button for each one which changes the delay parameters (delay repeats for instance).

I take direct outputs from each vocal channel and send it to the 01v, and the 01v handles all of the routing, and I return a stereo input back to the house console. I also connected our iPod to the 01v so it handles all of the changeover music as well. Pretty neat.

The iPad and effects rack in action.

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