Last week, I posted a work-in-progress roughmix of an instrumental track from the upcoming Free Court of Seattle book series soundtrack album.

I also posted the bass instrument, in excerpt form, as a solo track. It sounds like a a double bass (a.k.a. standup base) but, as I told everyone, it wasn’t that; I made something else into a double-bass, with studio tricks. And I challenged people to figure out what it was originally.

I’m afraid nobody got there. A couple of people got into the right category (“tonal percussion instruments”), then wandered back out again, because they kept being sure it had to be bowed, even after I said it wasn’t.

Because nobody guessed correctly, I’m assigning numbers and doing a random winner drawing from everyone who tried, across all reposts I know about! A d20 will work, which is convenient, so dice roll please…

THE WINNER IS DAVID, FROM THE ORIGINAL POST! Email me, David! Also I’ll send email if you left a valid one associated with your username.

As to the actual answer…


A Hammer Dulcimer

YES, REALLY. I thought I was tipping my hand, talking about the mysterious “bass instrument” at the same time that I was talking about Ellen’s hammer dulcimer, but I guess not!

The discovery was entirely accidental – particularly the bow sounds. That’s not hard work; that’s a processing artefact, I guess. I honestly don’t know.

Basically, I needed something to fill in down there, frequency-wise, to give the track some body. Usefully but separately, I had put four microphones on Ellen’s dulcimer, recording four tracks off it, with one in particular set up to pick up as much low end as her instrument could give me. But it didn’t pick up any more low-end than the bass bar microphone, and it also picked up a really “thunk”-heavy sound – every hammerblow got exaggerated. It didn’t add anything positive, so I was going to leave it out.

So I had a recording I wasn’t going to use anyway, and a need for something bassy. Using the built-in Ardour octave shifter, I dropped it two octaves to see how that sounded. The answer was “still terrible, and if possible, even worse.” I poked around with it, trying various things, and the answer kept being “terrible.” Less so, but still.

Then, on a whim, I dropped it another octave, and a miracle occurred.

I don’t know how, but suddenly I could hear bow noises – probably what happened to the thunk sounds – in a recording of an instrument that just plain sounded like a double-bass. Filter out the subsonics, and it became clearer. Filter out the high-end harmonics and again, clearer. After that, it was just treating it like a standup bass.

And I have no idea why. But damn, I am using this trick forever. 😀