December 11, 2017

Music: All the Ditto X4 looper pedal tricks.

To keep things practical, these tricks cover all the things you can do with your TC Electronic Ditto X4 looper without having to connect it to a computer or a MIDI output.

A few things to note:

  • This article also assumes you know the basics of how to use your Ditto X4 looper.
  • Terminology: A loop is made from layers. Tap and flick are a quick press and release of the switch. Hold generally means to hold until the action happens.
  • With FX, you can play back both loops in reverse, at double pitch or half pitch. This article covers the more advanced technique of recording an individual loop layer in reverse or at a different pitch. It’s a little more complicated to do, but it gives you much more flexibility for mixing pitches and directions in loops.
  • Unless noted, all effects are done with the four DIP switches on the back of your Ditto X4 in the default down position.
  • Make sure you’re updated to the latest Ditto X4 firmware.
  • The Ditto X4 is designed for guitar, but these techniques work with most instruments and vocals.

How to create seamless loops.

When you begin a recording cold there are no dying notes or reverb and ambience tails at the start. This can make an abrupt seam when the loop recycles. The method below smoothes out dead spots at the start and ends:

  • On your instrument, play the passage three times and record just the middle passage.

The loops on the Ditto X4 have a two-millisecond overlap where the end of the loop fades out and the start of the loop fades in. This is designed to seamlessly play back a loop when recorded correctly.

How to record different length loops.

One of the best features of the Ditto X4 is that Loop 1 and Loop 2 can be perfectly synced, but different lengths. In the Sync mode, The first layer of Loop 1 will set the timing to say, four seconds. The first layer of Loop 2 will then be four seconds (or a multiple of that) so eight, 12, 16, 20 seconds, etc. This gives you the ability to set up a short rhythm pattern on Loop 1 and use Loop 2 for longer loops or full songs.

How to hide the last layer with undo and redo.

You can undo and redo the last layer of both loops by briefly holding the footswitch during playback. This is great for catching your flubs, but also lets you use undo to store the last recorded layer in digital limbo and call it back up later in the song by briefly holding the footswitch during playback.

How to stack effects.

You can use multiple effects at once on the Ditto X4.

  • Play a loop and tap the FX footswitch to engage the first effect.
  • Turn the FX knob to another effect.
  • Tap the FX foot-switch again to engage the second effect.

You can disengage each effect by tapping the FX footswitch when the FX knob is in that position. The quickest way to remove all effects is to tap the Stop footswitch to stop playback and hold the FX footswitch for two seconds.

How to fade-in loops.

The Fade effect can fade in the loops just like it fades them out:

  • Set FX knob to Fade.
  • Play the loop and tap the FX footswitch. The loop will fade out and the LED above the FX footswitch will flicker rapidly.
  • Tap the FX footswitch and a loop that’s playing will fade in.

The fade-in of a pad or rhythm loop can be useful for building intensity. Note that the fade affects both loops and the Backing Track so you can’t fade these individually.

How to stutter on beat.

The Hold effect stutters a small section of the loops that are playing. When in the Hold mode, the FX foot-switch also acts as a tap-tempo control to set the length of the stutter. Tap the FX footswitch to the rhythm of the loop a few times. Now during playback when you hold the FX foot-switch to stutter, it will repeat in rhythm with the loops. Note that the Hold effect suspends the loop during the stutter and takes up where it left off when you release the footswitch.

How to create bass.

It’s the opposite of what it seems, but when you record while playing back existing loops with the Double effect, your last loop will be an octave lower on normal playback. Note that you’ll need to play twice as fast and your timing will only be half as accurate when recording at double speed. Also, recording at different speeds can only be done on the second loop layer or later.

How to create high harmonies.

It’s the opposite of what it seems, but when you record while playing back existing loops with the Half effect, your last loop will be an octave higher on normal playback. You have twice the space to play in when recording at half speed, but don’t play excessively. Verbose, sped-up passages can get annoying quickly. Sped-up parts also sound best when recorded at a slightly lower volume. Note that recording at different speeds can only be done on the second loop layer or later.

How to transpose.

The two reverse effects below sound best when you transpose the melody, timing and words to learn to play or sing them backwards.

  • Record the passage you want to transpose as a loop.
  • Set the FX knob to Reverse and tap the FX footswitch.
  • Tab out the notes, timing or vocals as you hear them.

This way when reversed, the effects will come out more harmonious.

How to record in reverse.

To get the melody to come out right for the backwards effect, you need to literally play the melody backward while recording with the Reverse effect engaged. Then on normal playback, your last layer will sound reversed with the melody normal.

  • Follow the steps above for transposing.
  • Turn the FX knob to Reverse and tap the FX footswitch.
  • When you record, play the transposed melody over the reversed existing loops.

On normal playback, only the last layer will be reversed. Note that recording in reverse can only be done on the second loop layer or later.

How to create “backwards” vocals.

This eerie effect was used by Radiohead on Like Spinning Plates and John Lennon’s chant of “Paul is a dead man, miss him, miss him, miss him” at the end of I’m So Tired. The cool thing is that this effect can be done live with the Ditto X4. Essentially you record the vocal loop in what sounds like gibberish, but on playback it will come out as bizarrely-affected English:

  • Follow the steps above for transposing.
  • Turn the FX knob to Reverse and tap the FX footswitch.
  • Record the transposed lyrics with some simple accompaniment.

When you tap the Loop 1 foot-switch to stop recording, the loop will immediately play backwards. This can be a dazzling effect with you sing gibberish and it’s immediately repeated as this creepy (but intelligible) passage with the accompaniment playing in reverse. The minimal accompaniment of a shaker or simple chords helps to give the effect a sharper contrast and more haunting quality. This has it’s strongest stage impact if the passage is short, like a song prelude. But it can also be used to record the chorus of a song.

As a variation, this effect can be even more impressive if you record three harmony layers backwards before playing them back in reverse.

Tape fast forwarding.

While recording a loop, if you engage the Tape Stop effect with the FX footswitch, the slowdown gets recorded. When the loop plays, the Tape Stop effect will sound like a tape recorder being fast forwarded. Note that this effect only works on the second layer of a loop or later.

Hear it

How to create a marching beat.

This simulates 100 people marching. It uses simple chunking (mute the strings with the fret hand while strumming.)

  • Set the Decay knob to 3pm.
  • Tap Loop 1 to lay down your first layer and slowly chunk up and down.
  • Set FX knob to Double and tap the FX foot-switch. The speed with be twice as fast.
  • Record multiple layers chunking in rhythm to the original loop.
  • Tap the FX footswitch to return to normal speed.
  • Return Decay knob to 5p.

The higher-pitched first layer will fade out and the lower-pitched subsequent layers will be at varying volume levels, giving depth. For more variance in the tone of the stomps, place your muting hand at various spots on the strings as you chunk.

How to create “handclaps.”

This simulates a hand-clapping choir. It uses simple chunking (mute the strings with the fret hand while strumming.)

  • Set the Decay knob to 3pm
  • Tap Loop 1 to lay down your first layer and chunk out the rhythm.
  • Set FX knob to Half and tap the FX footswitch. The speed with be half as fast.
  • Record multiple layers chunking in rhythm to the original loop.
  • Tap the FX foot-switch to return to normal speed.
  • Return Decay knob to 5p.

The lower-pitched first layer will fade out and the higher-pitched subsequent layers will be at varying volume levels, giving depth. For more variance in the tone of the claps, place your muting hand at various spots on the strings. This effect sounds best with a long and present reverb.

How to do Frippertronics.

Duplicate Robert Fripp’s technique that’s the cornerstone of ambient music. This essentially creates a high-feedback, four-second delay akin to early, two-tape-machine Frippertronics:

  • Set the Decay knob to about 2p. This will gradually fade earlier loops.
  • Without playing anything, tap the Loop 1 footswitch to record four seconds of silence and tap the Loop 1 footswitch again to stop. This sets the loop timing.
  • Tap the Loop 1 footswitch to record.

Sounds will continue to layer with early layers slowly fading out until you stop the loop.

How to create tape echo.

With this trick, the loop length determines the delay time and Decay knob determines the amount of feedback. Adjust recipe to your liking:

  • Set the Decay knob to about 4p.
  • Without playing anything, triple tap the Loop 1 foot-switch to record a snippet of silence.
  • Tap the Loop 1 footswitch to record with echo.

How to create an ambient double delay.

This trick uses both loops to create two echo chambers with different lengths. You feed the echo chambers separately by tapping the Loop 1 or Loop 2 footswitch.

  • Set mode to Sync.
  • Set the Decay knob to about 4p.
  • Without playing anything, triple tap the Loop 1 footswitch to record a snippet of silence.
  • Play Loop 1.
  • Without playing anything, triple tap the Loop 2 footswitch to record a slightly longer snippet of silence.
  • With both loops playing, tap either the Loop 1 or Loop 2 footswitch to start recording. Tap the other to shift recording to that loop.

A variation is to set Dip Switch 3 on the back of the Ditto X4 to the up position before you start. This puts the echoes out of sync.

How to create an instant-reverse delay.

This works best flor reversing 1 or 2 bar-long solos. The delay gets reversed every time you tap the FX footswitch.

  • Set the Decay knob to about noon.
  • Set the FX knob to Reverse.
  • Without playing anything, tap the Loop 1 footswitch to record 1-2 bars of of silence.
  • Tap the Loop 1 footswitch again to record with echo.

Start playing and you get a nice long delay. Every time you tap the FX footswitch on or off it plays in reverse until you tap again.

How to create a wow echo.

This combines the Tape Echo trick with the Tape Stop effect. Each time you stop and start the effect, you get echoes of pitch dying and reviving:

  • Set the Decay knob at 3p.
  • Without playing anything, triple tap the Loop 1 foot switch to record a snippet of silence and start recording over top of it.
  • Set the FX knob to Tape Stop
  • While playing, tap the FX foot switch once to stop and a second later, tap again to start.

The effect is greatest when you keep playing and quickly start the effect again before it’s completely stopped. Once you’ve recorded the initial snippet and start recording again overtop, you can add the Double effect to halve the length of the delay for a more pronounced effect. There will be a few beats at double pitch before the loop returns to normal speed.

How to keep a constant rhythm while new layers decay.

The ability to control the decay of your loops on the Ditto X4 is useful for evolving your performances, but sometimes you want a constant (like a rhythm loop or harmony pad) that’s not affected by the decay. This is simple to do by creating a Backing Track, which is stored in a separate memory from the loop and isn’t affected by the Decay function like the loops are:

  • Record your rhythm loop or harmony pad on Loop 1.
  • Flick the Store switch for Loop 1 up to convert the loop to a Backing Track. The LED will flicker while storing.
  • Set the Decay knob to between 12n and 3p.

The looper will now automatically set the length of your new Loop 1 to the Backing Track and Loop 2 to a multiple of that. The loops will fade over time, while the Backing Track maintains a constant volume. To delete the Backing Track, hold the Store switch for Loop 1 up.

How to create a stereo performance from mono.

If looping the mono output of your pedalboard, you can record into each channel of the Ditto X4 individually in a different layer by switching your input plug from the Mono Input to the Stereo Input channel. On stereo playback (must have both Output jacks connected) you’ll have discreet sounds in each channel. This can be use for recording a left-and-right harmonies, doubling guitars or dividing stereo-recorded tracks into mono in your DAW. To do this easily live, use an A/B switcher like the JHS Mini A/B just before the Ditto X4 in the pedalchain to quickly change the channel the sound is assigned to.

How to use Ditto X4 as a 4-track recorder.

You can use the Ditto X4 as a primitive 4-track recorder with no looping involved. I’ll note up front that this isn’t the ideal use if the X4, but it does work for creating songs up to six minutes in length. To mixdown directly from the Ditto X4, you’ll need to connect the output(s) to a mono or stereo recorder. Make sure your Ditto X4 is in Sync mode before you begin recording.

  1. Record Track 1 and Track 2 on Loop 1 and Loop 2. You’re not looping, so you can do count-offs and let notes die at the end of the song. It’s best to make the loops the same length.
  2. Make Loop 1 and Loop 2 Backing Tracks. Flick up on the Store switch associated with each loop. This erases them from the loopers. Any new loops created will be the same length as the Backing Tracks. (To adjust the volume of a Backing Track, turn the associated loop volume knob while holding down the Store switch.) Note that the Loop 1 or Loop 2 volume knobs now becomes the master volume for both the loop and the Backing Track assigned to that looper.
  3. Record Track 3 and Track 4 on Loop 1 and Loop 2.
  • Tap both looper footswitches at the same time to start playback.
  • Tap Loop 1 to record Track 3. Use the Stop footswitch to end.
  • Tap both looper footswitches at the same time to start playback.
  • Tap Loop 2 to record Track 4. Use the Stop foot-switch to end.

Mixdown. Again not ideal, but you can mix down the four tracks to a mono or stereo recorder plugged into the output jacks:

  • Remove anything plugged into the input jacks for cleanest mixdown.
  • Set your loop and Backing Track levels to where you like them.
  • Start your recorder.
  • Playback both loops simultaneously.

Exporting tracks to DAW. You’ll get much more control over mixdown by mixing the four individual tracks in a DAW. But getting the individual tracks out of your Ditto X4 is cumbersome:

  • Connect your Ditto X4 to your desktop by USB. It will show as a drive.
  • Copy the .AIFF or the .WAV files in the TRACK1 and TRACK2 folder.
  • Change the file names to something more appropriate.
  • Disconnect the drive.
  • On the Ditto X4, erase the Backing Tracks by holding up the Store switch up for a few seconds.
  • Make Track 3 and Track 4 Backing Tracks by flicking up on the Store switches.
  • Connect your Ditto X4 to your desktop by USB again.
  • Copy the .AIFF or the .WAV files in the TRACK1 and TRACK2 folder.
  • Change the file names to something more appropriate.

(I did say it was cumbersome.)

You now have four discreet mono or stereo tracks to work with in your DAW. I find it somewhat easier to export by recording the individual tracks with the TC Electronic WireTap Riff Recorder mentioned below.

How to record your performance.

You can export both loops from your Ditto X4 via USB to your desktop, but this limits you to the raw loops and won’t capture performance, effects and layers hidden with the undo trick. The easiest way to record your live-looping performance (complete with effects and mixes) is to stick a TC Electronic WireTap Riff Recorder pedal between your Ditto X4 and your amp. This tiny pedal is can capture an hours-long performance with the tap of a foot-switch in 24-bit mono. You can also use the WireTap to record the individual loops (both with and without the undone layers) and Backing Tracks created on the looper. This gives you up to six tracks to work with in your DAW instead of two.

You can also use this technique to record individual instrument parts of a song by playing the basic rhythm on Loop 1 and recording up to six minutes or parts on Loop 2.

A few more quick tips:

  • Default position for the Decay knob is 5p. Otherwise your existing layers will fade with each new layer recorded.
  • With each layer, you add more hiss and hum from your effect chain. For cleaner loops, put a noise gate (such as the MXR SmartGate) just before the Ditto X4.
  • To get rhythm right, use a metronome (not in the mix) when recording the first layer and tap your foot throughout.
  • Essentially you’re your own recording engineer, so mix as you go. Playing a little more gently or backing off your axe volume when needed will help the most important layers stand out as opposed to getting lost in the mix.
  • When recording vocals, use headphones and kill all speakers and amps.
  • At double and half speed your effects change speeds too. So to double speed your phaser will move twice as fast. At half speed the “room” of a spring reverb will sound twice a big and you’ll be able to hear the individual reflections.

If you have Ditto X4 tips, share them on my Twitter.

About the TC Electronic’s Ditto X4. Five years ago, TC Electronic’s original Ditto looper popularized looping with its intuitive, one-footswitch interface on a high-quality, 24-bit looper with five minutes of loop time. (It’s still a top-ten-selling pedal today.) The Ditto X4 maintains that dead-simple, one-footswitch operation for recording, looping and playback, while adding stereo, a second loop and ability to play backing tracks and eight effects. It essentially makes this looper it’s own instrument for both live performance and recording. You can get the TC Electronic Ditto X4 looper on Amazon. Buying through this link helps support this site. Thanks.

music pedalurgy
November 4, 2017

How to create tinted black and white photos in the iPhone Photos app.

Since the early days of photography, tinting was a way to add the emotion that color brings to visceral black and white images. Images tinted in a warm sepia or cool blue can be more striking than full color images. It’s easy to turn your color images into tinted back and white in the iOS 11 Photos app. Here’s how:

  • Open the image in Photos.
  • Tap Edit.
  • Tap Filters (three circles icon).
  • For sepia, tap the Vivid Warm filter.
  • For blue, tap the Vivid Cool filter.
  • Tap Adjust (dial icon).
  • Tap B&W.
  • Use the slider to tweak the look.
  • Tap Done.

Need more on mastering your iPhone camera? The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography

October 21, 2017

How to edit RAW images shot on iPhone with Mac Photos.

iOS 10 added the ability for your iPhone to shoot RAW images. Great, but the problem is editing them. Most iOS apps don't edit RAW and those that do strangely require you to sign up, sign in and re-enter credentials frequently. If you're on Mac and syncing your photos though iCloud, you already have a RAW editor you're fairly familiar with: Photos.

How iCloud helps with RAW.

You can't shoot RAW with your Camera app or edit in Photos on iPhone, but the Photos app on your iPhone and iCloud know how to manage RAW images just fine. Using an app like MuseCam you can shoot RAW images. When these appear in your camera roll they're actually two paired files: a DNG and JPG file. The iOS Photos app only reveals the JPG, but when they sync through iCloud, both photos will be tucked under a thumbnail in your Photos library on Mac.

How to get to the RAW file for editing.

Photos for Mac is basically a JPG editor and hides RAW files. You can tell which ones they are by the stack icon with J in the upper right corner of the photo. That's telling you there's a RAW file associated with the thumbnail, but you're viewing the JPG copy it. To call up the RAW file for editing:

  1. Press Enter. This calls up the editing tools.
  2. Control click on the image and choose Use RAW as Original.

This will now show an R on the thumbnail.

How to edit RAW in Photos for Mac.

Photos is not a robust app like Adobe's Lightroom, but offers some basic editing tools when you click on the Adjust icon that will give you decent results. The same Light, Color and Black & White sliders sets that you have in the iOS Photos app are there. If you click on the Add button up top you can also add controls for sharpen, definition, noise reduction, vignette, white balance and levels. Click Done and the changes are saved to a JPG made from the RAW file and to iCloud. (The original RAW file hasn’t been doctored.)

How to Export RAW files from the Photos app.

If you want to edit a RAW file in an app like Lightroom or Luminar you'll need to export it:

File > Export > Export Unmodified Original for 1 Photo > Export > choose location > Export Originals.

This exports both the DNG file as well as the JPG.

October 14, 2017

Resyncing audio with iMovie in iOS.

There’s a horrible bug in the iOS that causes audio from Lightning or USB-connected microphones, such as the Blue Raspberry, Apogee MiC, Line 6 Sonic Port VX and Apogee One that makes it lag almost a second behind the video. Makes all your movies look like bad foreign language dubs. Fortunately it’s fixable on your iPhone or iPad in iMovie:

  1. Tap iMovie’s Video tab
  2. Tap the video to be resynced.
  3. Tap the Share icon below the video preview.
  4. From the bottom row choose Create Movie.
  5. Tap Create New Movie.
  6. Tap the Back icon to the left of the Play button.
  7. Pinch out until you get to maximum zoom.
  8. Tap the movie track twice.
  9. Tap Detach Audio. The audio track appears in green below the video.
  10. Drag the yellow box at the end of the audio track to first frame of video. Now for some noodling:
  11. Drag the audio track left and play. Repeat until they sync up.
  12. Tap Done.
  13. Tap the Share icon.
  14. Choose Save Video from bottom row.

Aligning the tracks will seem difficult the first time you do it, but it gets easier with experience.

iMovie zoom tip.

  • Put an index finger on either side of the Play head and drag out.
October 10, 2017

iPhone 8, 8+ and X cameras: Not a big leap, just a big difference in your photos.

Nope. Still 12 megapixels in the new iPhones. There are noticible improvements to the sensors, lenses and flash hardware which have some saying this is the best phone cam ever made. But the real difference is the Image Signal Processor powered by the new A11 Bionic chip.

The big improvement: ISP.

The ISP is the unsung hero of phone photography: taking raw sensor data and making the decisions on how to process that into a pleasing image. While the Sony-made camera modules in the new iPhones send more accurate image sensor data to the A11, what happens after that is where the magic begins.

There’s somethin’ happening here.

I really don’t like to delve into speculation, but I think I’ll have to in order to guess at some of the ISP magic. While the sensors on the back cameras of the iPhone are about 48 times smaller than one in a DSLR, the iPhone has many more sensors available than a DSLR does. The Plus and X models even more so, since they have two rear lenses that can supply separate focus distance data based of the subject and background to create a depth map and collect three-dimensional data. So your iPhone can compare all this data to better understand what you’re shooting and even know how you want the final image to look.

More sensors=better photos.

For instance, data from the image sensors, accelerometer and clock could tell your iPhone that you’re shooting a subject in front of the low sun at dusk and likely want a silhouette of the darkened subject against a colorful sunset. It’s also like that the enhanced optical image stabilization is aided in low light by the accelerometer and image sensor data on sharpness to work with the continuous Image buffer that’s capturing images at 12 frames per second. If you shook the camera and blurred the image as you pressed the shutter or the subject blinked, the iPhone could decide on a sharper or eyes-open frame in the sequence just before or after you pressed the shutter would be a better choice. While there’s some speculation to the magic, results of these scenarios are already visible in new iPhone images.

And no speculation on this: the depth map created from data of the dual cameras which spawned the Portrait mode (sharp subject against a blurred background) is now joined by Portrait Lighting filters. These don’t just monkey with overall colors or contrast like Instagram filters, they can lighten, darken and color individual pixels based on professional lighting algorithms to completely redefine subject and scene lighting.

Okay, one big leap: HEIF.

All this data works better with a image format that goes beyond the confines of the 25-year-old JPG. Apple added the option to shoot in HEIF (an ISO standard established in 2015) which appears to be the future of photography. It currently takes images that are a little nicer than JPG, but half the size. HEIF is essentially a package that can store different types of data (like image formats, Live Photo sequences, other shooting data) and will support new image formats as they emerge. If called for, your iPhone will automatically convert these HEIF photos to JPGs on export, so there’s no reason not to use this new format and save the space.

So the spec sheets of the new iPhones may not look that impressive at first, but the photos from the iPhone 8, 8+ and X certainly will.

Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography Updated.

I’ve updated my eBook for the new 8, 8+ and X iPhones, the great new filters and the latest Photos app. The Exhaustive FAQ also got an update with concise answers to the hottest questions. As always, upgrades to current subscribers are free. (Check for the update in your iBooks app.)

Get it from iTunes