Finally, now I have a proper setup for sound recording, I made a recording of the kontrabas nyckelharpa. This is “Polska från Hälleforsnäs”, solo at the start and end, but with two other tracks overlaid, thickest in the middle. I think that there it sounds almost like a Breton pipe band – but then it is a drone instrument.

The video has photos of the construction – with one taken at Halsway in September 2017 (thanks Linda Hall) of two kontrabasharpa players – me and Vicki Swan.

The setup for recording, using Audacity on the Raspberry Pi, is great. However Audacity is a bit limited in what it can do when mixing the tracks down (though it can do a lot). I don’t think that Ardour, a more complex DAW (digital audio workstation – hah!) will run on the Raspberry Pi, although there are other possibilities that might.

I recorded 11 tracks using the nyckelharpa, fiddle, and lever harp, all on Audacity. I then exported them as .wav files and imported them into an Ardour session so that I could use the programmable faders in Ardour. Here’s a screenshot:

Ardour screenshot

Lots of fun to play with, and I’m learning all the time. The main thing I need to get right is getting used to hearing myself and the recording in headphones – getting the balance right is critical to playing in time with myself! I’ve not quite got that perfect yet.

Here is the result – a tune called “Björnlaten”, the Bear Tune, with some snowy pictures to go with it.

The video is put together with Openshot Video Editor – it’s easy and quick.

The nyckelharpa had a great time again at the Edinburgh Scandi Session – together with the fun of meeting a microphone from the BBC! The producer of BBC Radio Scotland’s “Travelling Folk” had sent someone along to listen to us and talk to us. Yay! (They are doing a special on Scandi music next month.)

Time to get an improved system to get the sound into the computer – a better usb interface. I bought a Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd edition) which is adequate for my needs – I just have the one decent microphone with no plans for others at present.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo

The build quality is excellent – a nice solid case, smooth controls, good large rubber feet to stop it slipping. It was easy to set up the latency in Audacity, and easy to adjust microphone input level and monitor headphones output level.

The rest of the setup was similar to the previous test, using Audacity on the Raspberry Pi, but with the addition of a new HDMI monitor (which saves using an HDMI to VGA adapter!).

I made a test recording of “Äpplebo Ganglåt”, recording 4 tracks of nyckelharpa, and 2 tracks of harmony on the fiddle. I used the first nyckelharpa recording, with a count in, into the headphones when recording the other tracks, with others muted. The final mix down to stereo is nothing special; just the tracks panned out a bit to spread the stereo image, and levels adjusted to avoid clipping overall.

Here’s the result on Soundcloud:

For a first go I’m quite pleased – I didn’t even bother to redo any of the takes, so it has the iffy bits of my playing still included.

I am gradually working up to having a better sound recording setup. One concern is the computer used to do the recording; computers usually have fans that sometimes fire up at unexpected moments, and for sound recording you need quiet.

The Raspberry Pi has given me a lot of fun already for amateur radio, and I wondered if the most powerful version I have – the Raspberry Pi 3 model B – would be sufficient to make overdub recordings. Online research suggested that at least some people had made the Raspberry Pi work for sound recording, and there are versions of Digital Audio Workstation software that can run on it, for example

I installed Audacity (as a simple recording system that I am familiar with) on the Raspberry Pi (simple, using the package installer) and it seems to work. I set up a quick and easy system (which I can test with until I get a proper usb sound interface), using a cheap mixer to provide phantom power to the microphone, and a cheap usb sound dongle to provide the audio interface to the Pi. It looks like this:

Hardware photo

For those not familiar with it, the Raspberry Pi computer is the small bare circuit board left centre. (I have ordered a box for it!) The sound dongle is plugged into the powered usb hub (as is the mouse) just below the monitor.

I recorded a click track, and overdubbed it onto itself to determine the latency correction needed; this is easy in Audacity (and well documented). I then recorded a track with the nyckelharpa, and overdubbed a second part with the fiddle. It was OK, in that I could monitor the first track on headphones whilst playing, but a proper usb interface will enable me to monitor both properly in the headphones. Watch this space!

The “Julottan Trio” test made me want to do some more recording, but I need a better recording setup. The first requirement is probably a decent microphone – so I set to some web research to find something. After quite a lot of reading I decided that the sE X1 series ought to be fine – so I ordered an X1 A from Gear for Music. It arrived at our local corner shop (very handy for collection) a day or two later.

SE X1A microphone

Very handily I had Malcolm around as guitarist and sound consultant, and we did a recording of John McCusker’s “The Shetland Molecule” as a first test. We had played a version of this a few years ago for the annual Yule session, and also to the folks in Canada on a Facebook video Christmas chat, but Malcolm did a new and rather more jazzy version this time which I really like.

Here it is on Soundcloud:

This was just recorded on Audacity using the laptop, with a cheap mixer to provide the phantom power for the microphone and set the levels for the laptop audio input. A bit crude but it worked. The microphone was positioned to pick up both the fiddle and guitar on a single track, so background noise is audible in places.

So – now ready for the next step – getting the gear to do overdubbing.