My new album: Sound Out Singapore 2010

The 4th self-produced Creative Commons music album from my band, Starfish Stories. The back story, here.

If you like the music, feel free to leave a comment.

For Track 01 “Open the Door (Smile Again)”, please credit as:

Album cover - Sound Out Singapore 2010

Creative Commons License2010 Sound Out Singapore by Starfish Stories : The Band is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Singapore License. As long as you ATTRIBUTE the music by stating this: “Starfish Stories :: The Band –”* in your audio, video, website, printed materials etc., you are FREE to USE, COPY, SHARE, MODIFY, or SELL (yes sell!) any of the songs from this album.

Adjusting the guitar truss rod/ neck

My Electrics

“There comes a point in the evolution of every guitar player when knowing how to play the guitar is not enough. Sooner or later every serious player wonders, “How can I make this instrument work better?” ~ Gene Imbody (5/1/2001)

Indeed! That’s what I tried to do with my stock Epiphone Les Paul Standard guitar. The aim is to have a straight neck, with just a little relief (i.e. gap) and no buzzing of the strings.

What I learned (and tried), in summary:

  1. Tune the guitar first.
  2. Use the 6th string to check the gap between the string and the neck; capo the 6th string at the 1st fret and press down on the 14th fret.
  3. To reduce the gap, you need to tighten the truss rod (turn clockwise).
  4. To widen the gap (if there’s a ‘back-bow’ or buzzing), loosen the truss rod (turn anti-clockwise).
  5. Adjust in small increments.
  6. Although the pros all say the truss rod adjustment (i.e. neck relief) is not to adjust the string action, I found that once the neck relief is changed, the action has to be re-adjusted. E.g. turning the truss rod tigher (clockwise) does lower the string action.

More on how it works (extracted from How to adjust your guitar’s truss rod, by Gene Imbody):

  • Tightening the truss rod straightens the neck and consequently lowers the strings, which can create string buzz. However, string height is controlled at the nut and saddle, not in the neck.
  • The greater the gap, the more you will tighten the nut (clockwise). If you had no gap you will be loosening the nut (anti-clockwise). Keep in mind that most good necks require no more than half of a turn in either direction.

Useful web references:

Using GarageBand to transpose music tracks

My fellow liblogarian, Von Totanes, aka Filipino Librarian emailed me to ask if I knew how to use GarageBand to transpose an imported MP3 from F key to E key. He’s new to GarageBand and said he tried searching for help but couldn’t “make heads or tails of what’s being said”.

I’m curious what were the instructions that he has referred to 🙂

Von, I know of two ways to do it in GarageBand: using the “AUPitch” effect or the “Vocal Transformer” effect.

My GB version is iLife ’08. If you’re using a later version, the user interface may be slightly different but the effects should be the same.

BTW, I presume you’ve already imported the MP3 to GarageBand. Once that’s done, select that track and apply either one (but not both) of these effects:

#1 – Using the “AUPitch” effect
GarageBand Effects menu

AU Pitch

[I don’t think the numbers represent the pitch, because how much you adjust depends on your original pitch. So you’ll have to experiment. Like, play a note on the piano or a song with a known pitch.]

#2- Using the “Vocal Transformer” effect
Vocal Transformer effect

Vocal Transformer

Let me know if this helps, Von.

[28 Aug 09] Update: To access the above panels, open up your Track Info panel, i.e. TRACK > SHOW TRACK INFO. Then click on the Details.
Track Info panel

Collaborative Creative Commons music album: “2009 Twilight Under Velveteen Skies”

I’m pleased to share this music album with the world. A collaborative effort, featuring three other very talented and very cool people I befriended at ccMixter. It includes an original 4-way collaborative track, pieced together without having met one another.

2009 Twilight Under Velveteen Skies
Album cover adapted from “Leo Rising Over Trees, November 2002“, originally uploaded by alexpgp/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Album: “2009 Twilight Under The Velveteen Skies”.
By Ivan Chew and ccMixter friends:

Creative Commons License2009 Twilight Under Velveteen Skies by Ivan Chew & ccMixter Friends is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Singapore License.

Download the album at

Here’s the title track, Under The Velveteen Skies

If you liked it, check out the rest of the tracks below.


  1. Under The Velveteen Skies (6.06MB). Credits: Mikael Hansson, teru, Ivan Chew, narva9. Mixed by teru. Also posted at ccMixter (with more links to the samples created for the track).
  2. Lady of Shalott (4.81MB). Credits: Ivan Chew, narva9. Mixed by Ivan Chew. Originally posted at ccMixter.
  3. Twilight PeaceMix (4.39MB).Credits: teru, Mikael Hansson, Ivan Chew. Mixed by Ivan Chew. Originally posted at ccMixter.
  4. Twilight Falling (6.26MB). Credits: Ivan, Mikael. Mixed by Ivan Chew. Originally posted at ccMixter.
  5. Twilight Rock (4.12MB – this is where the Twilight Sample came from). Credits: Ivan Chew. Mixed by Ivan Chew. Originaly posted at StarfishStories.
  6. Twilight Myxtery (3.43MB). Credits: teru, narva9, Mikael Hansson, Ivan Chew. Mixed by teru. Originally posted at ccMixter.

The coolest part for me was the entire process. Here’s the sequence of events that led to the album:

  • Nov 11, 2008: I published Twilight (2008), a rock instrumental, at my band blog.
  • Dec 22, 2008: Received a notification from ccMixter that Teru remixed my Twilight basic melody, along with samples from narva9 and colab, to produce Twilight Myxtery. That was also how I discovered all three ccMixter users.
  • Between Feb 16 to 23, 2009: Somehow it dawned upon me that there were enough remixes based on the Twilight melody, that I could publish an online album with it. Since the tracks are all released under various Creative Common licenses, I could publish the album by just giving the proper credits the the creators. I didn’t have to ask permission from them to publish the compilation. But I thought the four of us could work on an original song. No harm asking.
  • Feb 22, 2009: I completed a remix, Lady Of Shallot,with help from narva9.
  • Feb 23, 2009: Emailed narva9, teru and colab (aka Mikael). In essence, I said I intended to publish an online album based on the Twilight remixes. A list of songs had been shortlisted, and these were already published in ccMixter. But I wondered if the four of us could produce a totally original track for this album.
  • Mar 2, 2009: By now, I had received positive replies from the three of them. colab suggested I could be the executive producer of sorts, and assign roles. At that point, we didn’t have any idea of what or how the collaboration would develop. But everyone was pretty cordial and obliging.
  • Mar 4 to 5, 2009: The challenge was that the four of us were only communicating via email. The starting point, I realised, had to be something for everyone to hear and comment. Like a throw-away code or prototype that can be discarded. So I sent a very rough mix to the group. colab replied on Mar 5 and suggested that we needed an owner to drive the direction and the decisions throughout the process. teru and narva9 agreed. So I said I’ll take the driver’s seat but essentially said no one was obligated to follow.
  • Apr 3, 2009: We picked up the discussion from the last correspondence on Mar 5. I checked if the collaboration was still on, and if it was I suggested we could use this sample from colab as the starting point. colab replied that he was “actively thinking about something” but not quite working on it yet 🙂 I suggested teru could add synth work, with narva9’s vocals as another “instrument” track. teru replied that he’ll play with colab’s sample and see what he can come up with. narva9 replied that she’ll wait for what we can come up with and then write words to it.
  • Apr 7, 2009: teru mailed a MP3 file to the group. He and colab had been bouncing ideas between Apr 6 and 7, and they were able to come up with a re-engineered version that sounded totally original (colab’s piece was in 3/4 time signature, and teru turned that into a 4/4). teru asked if the ‘sound sketch’ was in the right direction.
  • Apr 8, 2009: “NICE!” was my reply. I added that if that was merely a sketch, I couldnt’ wait for the finished work. The sample from teru and colab boosted my spirits, not only because the tune had a calm and uplifting quality but also the fact that the collaboration was heading somewhere. I imported the MP3 to GarageBand, added a brief guitar lead, an Erhu part, and some drums. Then emailed back to the rest using the remix to discuss ideas for further refinements to the track. colab replied with comments and suggestions to my remix. He suggested, and we agreed, that we all send individual parts as WAV or AIF to teru, who’ll piece everything together (“because he is very, very good at that”). We exchanged a few more emails on Apr 8 itself.
  • May 3, 2009: I didn’t hear anything from the rest since Apr 8/ 9. At that time, the H1N1 flu broke out. I emailed them to ask if everyone was OK. Also to ask if there were any updates on the collaboration. colab replied he had sent something to teru and now taking a break musically. narva9 replied that she now had teru’s Sketch #2 and would come up with some words in a week’s time.
  • May 18, 2009: narva9 informed the three of us that she has the words almost ready to go and was learning how to sing the song properly. The demo would be ready for us in a week’s time.
  • May 23, 2009: teru sent a Version2 with the “vocals + (lotsa) reverb, a beat and some light padding“. Added that the spacey feel might be due to his watching Star Trek the previous night. colab and I were wowed by the mix. We each gave suggestions for tweaking the arrangement (e.g. inserting a break, guitar part). teru then sends a Version1.5 without the drums and reverb. I listened to Versions 1.5 and 2. Decided to add an electric guitar part also a very brief Erhu at the intro and outro. Sent it off as Version3. colab gave his thumbs up for Version3.
  • Jun 1, 2009: teru emailed everyone Version4 without drums and with my guitars. And he invited everyone to comment. colab summed it up best with his reply: “I like it very much. This is better than so much other work out there – really top notch production. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have been part of it.” My reply was essentially the same. colab and I also offered more suggestions for the mix. I think at that point, we were pretty comfortable with each other and could freely (and still cordially) give comments.
  • Jun 6, 2009: teru reworked the track and came up with Version5. He incorporated the Erhu at the opening, guitar stereo-separated to mix in better, and first vocal chorus omitted. He added that this new mix really brought out everyone’s contributions, in his opinion. I was glad he felt that way. Version4 was nice. But Version5 was, as teru puts it, equally nice AND with a stronger statement from everyone’s contribution. colab wrote: “This is absolutely outstanding. And that’s all I have to say about that :)”
  • Jun 7, 2009: With the collaborative track done, we exchanged a few emails that were more administrative in nature. We decided to adopt a CC-BY-NC license, discussed the album title, how to list the credits etc. In between the emails, teru’s computer crashed while he was trying to save his files. He didn’t have the final version saved, so the MP3 for Version5 is the only one of its kind. I suggested we name the track “Under The Velveteen Skies”, as per narva9’s refrain.
  • Jul 10, 2009: Taking everyone’s comments into account, we managed to settle on the album name and credits.
  • Jul 11 to Aug 1, 2009: I decided to re-adjust the sound levels for some of the tracks that I had mixed earlier (e.g. Lady of Shallot, Twilight rock instrumental).
  • Aug 2, 2009: Created the album cover from this image. Keyed in the metadata for each track. Finalised the track order; renamed the files. Uploaded to Emailed teru, narva9 and Mikael that the album is finally up.

Again, my thanks to teru, narva9 and Mikael. Truly, the album wouldn’t be here without you folks.

Art Practice: Mike Mignola’s Hellboy (Part 2)

From Part 1:

Layering Practice1
Layering Practice1

Layering Practice2
Layering Practice2

Layering Practice3
Layering Practice3

Photoshop Colouring Practice 1 – Fill w 20% Transparency
Photoshop Colouring Practice 1 - Fill w 20% Transparency

Photoshop Colouring Practice 2 – Overlay 2nd colour 85%Transparency
Photoshop Colouring Practice 2 - Overlay 2nd colour 85%Transparency

Photoshop Colouring Practice 3 – Add whiteBackgd Layer for actual colour tone
Photoshop Colouring Practice 3 - Add whiteBackgd Layer for actual colour tone

Photoshop Colouring Practice 4 – Recalling colours
Photoshop Colouring Practice 4 - Recalling colours

Photoshop Colouring Practice 5 – Create own Colour Palette
Photoshop Colouring Practice 5 - Create own Colour Palette

Photoshop Colouring Practice 6 – Colour Palette w Whitebackground
Photoshop Colouring Practice 6 - Colour Palette w Whitebackgd

Next: Part 3.

Art Practice: Mike Mignola’s Hellboy (Part 1)

Back in 2007 (or was it 2006?), I picked up a copy of the Hellboy “Seed of Destruction” comic at Central Lending Public Library. And I was hooked. The illustrations and storylines simply blew me away. I was an instant fan.

There’s heavy use of shadows and contrast in Hellboy (lots of black).

At one page, I saw this particular panel and decided to use it as art practice. I took a digital photo for reference (From “Hell Boy: Seeds of Destruction” by Mike Mignola & John Byrne):
001 Original

Sketched it on watercolour paper (not traced). It was a practice in observational skills:
002 Pencil Sketch

When I was happy with the sketch, I proceeded to ink the outlines (alternating between Indian Ink applied with calligraphy pen, and a marker — in the end, I was happier with the Indian Ink as was more vibrant):
003 Outline

Here’s a shot of how I referred to the digital image (on a laptop) and inking on paper:
004 Outline - referencing scanned image

This is a scanned image of the completed outline in ink:
005 Outline completed

Then I filled in the spaces with more black:
006 Inking

Inking completed:
007 Inking completed

At this point, I wanted to apply watercolours, but I suddenly felt like doing the painting digitally. So I scanned in the image and retouched it in Photoshop by filling in with black and white (this definitely improved the picture in terms of smoothing out the uneven tones in the hand-coloured picture, and the black and white areas more defined):
008 Inked image enhanced with Photoshop

Next: Part 2.

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Song: Slipping Underneath The Water (a CCmixter remix)

Inspired and impressed by Scomber’s (aka Gary) remix of my work, I decided to try out mixing stuff from CCmixter.

“Slipping Underneath The Water (a CCmixter remix)”Listen/ download the higher quality versions at ARCHIVE.ORG. The song can also be accessed from

It didn’t take me that much time to find suitable stuff in CCmixter. It was serendipitous really. First I stumbled upon oldDog’s beautiful piano piece titled “Too Quiet“. The moment I heard the first few bars, I said to myself “this was it”. Maybe I’ll just add a guitar track to it.

But then I found Kaer Trouz’s vocal sample. Wow, would I be able to mix both samples together? I’ve never tried it before.

So I fired up GarageBand, imported both tracks. Chose to set the song at 80 BPS. I don’t think that affected the tempo of the imported tracks… Hmm, I don’t know. Maybe the tweaking is already done by GarageBand.

Anyway when I played the piano track and the vocals together, things clicked immediately. And the rest was time spent editing and splicing.

Slipping Underneath The Water (a CCmixter remix by Ivan Chew)

The piano track was edited somewhat, as I wanted to insert pauses between transitions. Some parts of the vocals had to be spliced to fit into the tempo. The problem was some resulting clicks between splices (you can probably hear it). In the end, I decided it was the best that I could achieve from my abilities and equipment.

Took me about 24 hours to do this in total.

I was on leave from work. Nursing a cold.

Remixing this song cheered me up immensely!

Hat-tip to Scomber for showing me possibilities 🙂