1 May 1997

Jeffry Hamilton Steele

This was originally prepared for Recording Magazine. While it did not appear there, Roland ran a summary of it in "Track Notes" the VS-880 Roland Users Group publication.

Letting the VS-880 Do It All

No sooner did I get my VS-880 home, one year ago, I begin working it into my solo guitar concerts. It occurred to me that insights I've gained on how to control its parameters in solo performance may be applied to the recording/mixdown process as well. My goal has been to have the VS-880 fulfill as many tasks as it is capable without the addition of other pieces of gear narrowing down set-up time, whether you are a performer, a sound support person or an engineer making an on-site demo. Even when you've had ample time for a sound check in a particular venue, you know how much the presence of an audience can change the acoustic response of a space. You need to be able to vary certain things "on the fly".Those accustomed to standard mixers may assume that one cannot have adequate physical access to essential parameters on the VS-880. There is, however, always at least one elegant solution to every problem.
When I use the Roland to provide my pre-recorded accompaniments and effects in my guitar concerts, all that is needed to complete the rig is an acoustic guitar amp, a mic, a footswitch and a volume pedal. Here I offer some scenarios that offer a good degree of real-time control.
First we set the Master Channel parameters:

Master Mode = MIX
MasterLevel = 100
Master Bal = 0
Aux Level = 100
AUX Bal = 0
EFF1 RTN Lev = 100
EFF1 RTN Bal = 0
EFF2 RTN Lev = 100
EFF2 RTN Bal = 0

The Master Out is patched to the amp's Effects Return, while the Effects Send from my amp goes into channel 1 on the VS-880.

Playing over pre-recorded accompaniment
In one scenario, when we want to play live guitar over a second guitar part recorded on Channel 5 the latter going through a chorus effect and both receiving reverb we activate four channels as indicated here:

Ch 1 (Source) Ch 5 (Play) Ch 6 (Source) Ch 7 (Source)
Input=INPUT-1 Input=INPUT-1 Input=AUX-A Input=AUX-B
MIX Sw=Off MIX Sw=PstFade MIX Sw=PstFade MIX Sw=Off
MIX Level=(fader 5) MIX Level=(fader 6)
MIX Pan=0 MIX Pan=0
V. Track=1 V. Track=1 V. Track=1 V. Track=1
EQ Switch=(to taste) EQ Switch=(to taste) EQ Switch=Off EQ Switch=Off
AUX Sw=Off AUX Sw=Off AUX Sw=Off AUX Sw=Off
Channel Link=Off Channel Link=Off Channel Link=Off Channel Link=Off
EFFECT1 Send=100 EFFECT1 Send=100
EFFECT2 Send=100

(for live guitar) (for recorded track) (for recorded track) (for recorded track)

The bottom row indicates the function for each fader. On the VSF-8 internal effects board, we use Effect1 for reverb and Effect 2 for chorus. A scenario such as this can be adapted to the stereo mixdown of recorded tracks, either to the VS-880 putting two channels into record mode with their inputs set to MIX-L and MIX-R or to a separate mastering deck.
I start and stop the accompaniment with a momentary footswitch plugged into the VS-880 back panel. I have found I can acheive substantial rhythmic freedom by cutting out any time between phrases in the accompaniment (using Track Cut), placing a Mark Point at each juncture and setting SYS Marker Stop (System Menu) to On. Each succesive phrase is automatically cued to begin with each press of the footswitch almost like having a live duet partner following your every nod.

More for the foot
In a second scenario we would like to use Effect 2 instead to provide delay for the live guitar signal (no accompaniment this time) while controlling the amount of delay with a pedal . This involves the following addition to Ch1:

EFFECT2 = PreFade
EFFECT2 Send = 100
EFFECT2 Pan = 0

Fader 1 controls the wet/dry mix of reverb for the live guitar sending reverb only back into the amp. By running a cable from AUX A OUT to a standard volume pedal, and bringing it back into Ch 2 of the VS-880, I can vary the level of Effect 2 with my foot. Ch 2 settings are (Source mode):

Input = Input2
MIX Sw = PreFade
MIX Level = (fader 2)
MIX Pan = 0
V. Track = 1
EQ Switch= (to taste)
Aux Sw = Off
Channel Link = Off
EFFECT1 = PstFade
EFFECT1 Send = 100
EFFECT1 Pan = 0

Since the pedal controls the Effect2 return level (delay, in this case having routed the delayed signal to the AUX OUT), we can now use the fader of this channel to adjust the Reverb (Effect1) send for the delayed signal. This is a more flexible method for sending the delayed signal through the reverb than the alternative of designating the delay as an insert effect.

By another route
The mixer's flexible routing scheme, in fact, allows us to vary almost whatever we like with this pedal, as in this third scenario where I want it to control the level of an accompaniment recorded on Track 7. I am still using a delay effect on the live guitar. This "scene" (we are saving each of these configurations as Scenes) has roles for five channels. Ch1 remains as above its fader still controlling reverb level for the straight live guitar signal while the remaining four are as follows:

Ch 2 (Source) Ch 3 (Source) Ch 7 (Play) Ch 8 (Source)
Input=AUX-B Input=AUX-B Input=INPUT-1 Input=INPUT-3
MIX Sw=PstFade MIX Sw=Off MIX Sw=Off MIX Sw=PreFade
MIX Level=(fader 2) MIX Level=0*
MIX Pan=0 MIX Pan=0
V. Track=1 V. Track=1 V. Track=1 V. Track=1
EQ Switch=Off EQ Switch=Off EQ Switch=Off EQ Switch=Off
AUX Sw=PreFade AUX Sw=Off AUX Sw=PreFade AUX Sw=Off
AUX Level=100 AUX Level=100
AUX Pan=L63 AUX Pan=L63
Channel Link=Off Channel Link=Off Channel Link=Off Channel Link=Off
EFFECT1 Send=100 EFFECT1 Send=100

(for live guitar) (for delayed signal) (for recorded track) *(via pedal; fader inactive)

Assuming you can remember the function of each fader you now have many significant adjustments at your fingertips. I've worked it out, in the above cases, so that this one set of fader labels remains true for every piece in the concert:


Live Guitar Recorded Tracks

One can use the Scene memory to save effect settings for a number of pieces, calling them up at the touch of a Scene (LOC) button. In fact, you could even change to other pieces with accompaniments (putting them on unused tracks or virtual tracks, muting or enabling those required) and have each be accessible as a scene . This takes much less time than it does to load a new song (via the Song Select menu). It's best to set the Scene Mode (accessed via the SYSTEM menu) to 'KeepF' (faders), by the way, if you want levels to be where they faders say they are.

Alternative for the VX-panded
Effect settings can also be varied from the same footswitch one is doing the stop/starting with by setting up a New Song with Auto Mix on and the footswitch set (in the System menu) to "Next". While in this menu also set Auto Mix Snapshot mode to "MaskF" (once again so the that faders still reflect reality). Unfortunately, you can't save new System menu setting as a Scene; it has to be a new Song. By saving different Channel (or Master) Effect Send settings as "snapshots" allied to consecutive Marker points (they need to be at least four frames apart), you can then step through them with the footswitch. It would be preferable not to use the transport for recording or playback in this configuration.

Creating a live loop
Since the VS-880 is, after all, a digital recorder. It would be a shame not to have its recording capabilities utilized in performance as well. We've come a long way since the days when Robert Fripp had to position two reel-to-reel decks in line and run an actual loop of tape between them. To set up an eight measure loop for improvised soloing on the VS-880 which is re-recordable whenever you choose first create a new song (in the SONG menu) and then set the channel parameters to either the second or third scenario above (the second if you don't require foot pedal control over any of the levels). The difference is that you change the mode of the PLAY channel to RECORD (that is, from green to blinking red) and change its input to INPUT-1. In the SYSTEM menu, change the footswitch function to REC. (The changes saved with this particular song will not affect counterpart settings for the other songs, by the way). Also in this menu, set MetroOut to INT and MetroMd to Rec Only (also, check that RecordMon is set to the default of AUTO). Lower MetroLevel to about 24.
Let us say our improv will have a tempo of 60 bpm in common time. Set TMap 1 (found in the Sync/Tempo menu) to 60 therefore. For an eight measure loop, I have found a Loop Start (LpSt) setting of 3s28f (2 frames before the downbeat of measure 2) and a Loop End (LpEd) setting of 35s24f (6 frames before the end of measure 9) compensate adequately for the time it takes the loop to begin itself again. Now, when you start the machine recording (in the usual manner with the transport buttons) you'll have a one measure count-in, followed by eight measures that loop. The metronome will sound only when you're recording, after which time you can immediately begin soloing over the loop you've just laid down. Don't play on the last eighth note in recording the loop, by the way, to avoid getting a note choked off. Whenever you'd like to change the progression or texture you're improvising over, hit the footswitch at the beginning of a loop and play the new accompaniment once through; the metronome will automatically return for those 8 bars. The guitar will increase in volume while a new recording is being made as it is going through two channels but this does not pose a major distraction.
I hope these ideas might inspire readers to get the most out of the VS-880 or whatever gear they may have, and to further ply their creative spirits.