Last year, I got an amazing gig: the chance to compose and record the theme music for Intel's internal podcast on Open Source developments. With a flexible deadline and open-minded collaborators, I was free to explore endless musical ideas. Predictably, I wandered into several hilarious dead ends before recalling some advice from one of America's most beloved theme composers and finding my voice at last. In this episode, you'll hear how digital technology alternately supercharged and sabotaged the song. (DMI 03-28-2008: 13 minutes 51 seconds)

Production Notes

Most of the musical examples in this episode came from my original Ableton Live and Propellerhead Reason sessions. I cropped and faded them with the new BIAS Peak 6. I collected the other examples online, using Ambrosia Software WireTap Pro to record the output of various Web players.

I end every episode of Digital Media Insider with a little musical joke. For this one, I wanted to use four notes I extracted from a piano recording, but the recording was distractingly noisy. With most high-end noise-reduction software, you take a "fingerprint" of the background noise in the gaps between musical notes and then subtract that from the entire recording. In this case, though, the notes all ran together, so there was no gap to fingerprint. So I fired up an old plugin called Arboretum Ray Gun, which filters out noise without needing to analyze it first. (See Figure 1.) Arboretum seems to have wilted, but I believe its Ray Gun technology lives on inside Roxio's CD Spin Doctor.

Arboretum Ray Gun
Fig.1: Unlike most professional noise-reduction software, Arboretum Ray Gun doesn't need to take a noise fingerprint first. That approach worked well with my piano sample, because it had no exposed areas of noise to analyze.

Now that I'd cleaned up the piano recording, I had a new challenge: the last note ended too abruptly. Highlighting it in Peak, I applied some reverb to smooth it out. (See Figure 2.)

BIAS Peak Reverb
Fig.2: Cropping the mystery theme to four notes sounded abrupt, so I extended it by selecting the last note in BIAS Peak (left) and adding reverberation with the Freeverb plugin (right, after processing).

Voiceover, Assembly, and Mixdown

Once again, I used an SE Electronics USB2200a mic to record my voiceover into QuickTime Pro. As a condenser mic, it's sensitive to P-pops and other breath noises, so I tried a trick SE suggested: angling the mic 45° from my mouth. That made a huge difference.

I used BIAS Peak to snip out some lip and tongue smacks and my false starts. Next, I imported vocals, the music examples, and the background music into Ableton Live and enhanced the vocals with Izotope Ozone. After adjusting levels with envelopes, I rendered the mix into a stereo AIFF file. Finally, I converted the mix to an MP3 in iTunes, where I added the cover art.

The Digital Media Insider theme music came together in Live as well. The opening sound effect is a compressed mouth noise spliced onto a tone cluster I generated in Native Instruments Reaktor. The main groove is from Steinberg Xphraze. (Jim Aikin turned me on to both virtual instruments in his article "My Five Favorite Soft Synths.") The piano is from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, which I discovered when we interviewed Gary Garritan.

The theme also features a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, it took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.

This video, The "Intel Inside" Theme Demystified, is an over-the-top funny analysis of these world-famous notes.

People and Products Mentioned in the Show