Follow Brian Li (@DecryptoBL) on Twitter.
Follow Brian Li (@bwhli) on Instagram.

Clinton The Musical — Keyboard Programming

April 9, 2015

Clinton The Musical, my first Off-Broadway show, opens at New World Stages tonight! I spent the past month or so programming this show with Tom Xi, and we have tons of cool things to tell you about.

The four piece band is 50% keyboards. K1 is purely a keyboard book, and K2 doubles on acoustic and electric guitar. We decided to go with a MainStage rig with Mac Minis (2.6 GHz i5, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD) and MOTU UltraLite-mk3 audio interfaces. Each keyboard rack contains a power conditioner, two Mac Minis, two audio interfaces, a Whirlwind AB8 audio switcher, and a KVM switch.

I’m a huge fan of IK Multimedia’s Amplitube 3 guitar amp modeling plugin, and I use it in the studio all the time. Not only does it sound awesome, it’s also super customizable. The number of guitar tones called for in the K2 book made conventional FX pedal and amp combinations impossible. We decided to use Amplitube 3 for all the guitar sounds in the K2 book. Keep that in mind if you happen to see the show! A lot of the guitar sounds you’ll hear is the result of software processing. In terms of hardware setup, the electric guitar goes into a splitter box, with two 1/4″ outputs going into the two MOTU UltraLite-mk3 audio interfaces.

Over the past few months, Tom and I have written a lot of scripts for MainStage 3, and a few of them are available to the public. We incorporated many of these scripts into Clintom, and we also wrote many more show-specific scripts along the way. A lot of them, while conceptually simple, made a huge difference in the playability of the programming.

For example, K1 occasionally triggers pre-recorded sound effects or loops. We wrote a script called Note Gate, which only lets the first instance of a note through the “gate”. Awkward trigger notes and repeated triggers are a thing of the past. Note-Off Trigger is another script we wrote. There’s a section in the show where a pre-recorded held note occurs during a vamp. In this instance, the player holds down the note during the vamp. Releasing the note tells Note-Trigger to continue holding down the note for a specified number of beats.

A few weeks ago, I called up Tom and asked if it was possible to write a script to play an arpeggiated figure in K1. There’s a sixteenth note arpeggio figure in K1 that had to be triggered, and the tempo was undecided at that point. The thought of re-bouncing and replacing samples at different tempos didn’t really appeal all that much to me, so I thought it would be good to test this new idea. A few minutes later, Tom sent a script that plays this arpeggiated figure. There’s also a built-in velocity randomizer and scaler, which means it doesn’t like robotic at all.

Perhaps the coolest script that made an appearance in Clinton is AutoCC. This script lets you automate any mappable parameter over any number of beats at a user-specified tempo. Other parameters include trigger note, automation direction, and even curve adjustment. In other words, you have a virtual intelligent controller at your disposal.

We used this script to automate a filter sweep, stereo width, EQ, reverb send, and volume faders over four beats. The creative possibilities this script offers are endless. We could’ve created the same effect in Logic Pro and bounced it to an audio file. We also could’ve mapped all those parameters to an expression pedal. We didn’t. Instead, we created a virtual controller to do the work automatically.

Lastly, the sound design process was super fun as well. We listened to a lot of 90s music for inspiration. I’m not going to go into detail because there’s just way too much to talk about. Come see the show, and you’ll be able to hear it all. We have an amazing and supportive music team on this show, and the past month has been a blast.

Shout out to James Dobinson for being an amazing music supervisor and director, Neil Douglas Reilly for his spectacular orchestrations, Chris Gurr for somehow managing to keep musical changes organized whilst retaining his sanity, Mike Pettry for rocking on keyboard AND guitar, Paul Heaney for never running out of jokes, and Tristan Marzeski for showing up early everyday to watch me load updated MainStage files.


Questions?

Find me on Twitter, or send me an email.