Recently Nathan posted a series of photo manipulations called Homeosis. Something about the contrast between ominousness and whimsey hit me in the creative nerve. It struck me that there was music implied in these compositions. They seemed to be a glimpse into, or evidence of, another history. This is a first rough sketch of this soundtrack. It’s a lot more plodding and heavy than I planned, but it starts to suggest the sound scape I’m going for. Click the link at the end of this post to open the slide show in another window. Click the slow button in the lower left and try viewing it while you listen to the music (the slide show will loop around a couple of times).
I improvised this piece on my keyboard, in two passes. What gives it its interesting texture is a little Pd patch I created, which sits between the keyboard and Logic. It takes chords and sends each pitch automatically to the individual instruments. Successive notes are sent in round robin fashion, alternating between the 4 instruments. So even when I played a single line melody on the keyboard, the result was a tapestry of different instruments alternating the notes of the tune. Continue reading “Podcast #9: The Poconos”
It’s 2 AM. Long past last call. The evening is winding down. Everyone’s a little tired, a little buzzed, a little pensive, but happy to be warm and not entirely alone. The band goes to one last song.
Continuing with the generic titles, I bring you “Beat Oriented.” When people ask me what kind of music I write, I usually end up drawing a line between “serious” music and “beat oriented.” This sketch falls right in the middle of the latter category.
I didn’t know it would end up this way when I started, but in a way it’s a retro track, bringing back ye olde sounde of 1997 – 98. There’s definitely a lot of Propellerheads in there along with Chemical Brothers. With the tempo
cracked up to 152 bpm, it’s a little bit drum & bass as well. Hopefully there’s a little bit of me lurking about.
The main percussion track is an acoustic drum kit which I just played a standard 4/4 beat at 120 bpm. A little boring, so I thought I’d see what happened if I sped it up. Sort of nice, but very busy since the snare rang pretty long. I played with the amplitude envelope of the sampler plug-in (Logic’s EXS24) until it had the right punch (effectively cutting the sound short before it had a chance to play the whole sample). That was fun, playing with that setting while the track played, so I recorded an automation track while doing that. That gave it a nice organic constantly changing texture, so I added some more automation of other parameters, including the attack time (which makes it sound almost reversed), and the filter cutoff and resonance. Since these parameters affected the kick and hi-hat as well, the whole drum track changes quite a bit as it progresses. I also added a bit crusher, and automate the bypass on it so that in select places the drums go very lo-fi. Cliché? Yes. But fun nonetheless. It’s just a sketch, so why not go with it?
I knew right away that I wanted that cheesy ’70s cop show bass line, so I recorded a clavinet simulation with an auto-wah and some distortion. Crunchy distorted organ was the next logical sound. This procedure continued as I layered sounds and took things away, etc.
The electric guitar at the end is a canned loop, which is there as a placeholder to remind me to record something later. Actually, this whole track is a placeholder to remind me to record something later.
A few months ago Ally asked me to collaborate with her to create some music for meditation. I’ve never done anything like that, at least not with that intention, so I approached this with a little trepidation. I’ve never been fond of most new age music I’ve heard, so I felt a need to push away from that direction. What’s funny is my first draft had this synth sound I’d developed which was the epitome of the new age sound. Ally nixed it immediately, thankfully. Interesting how sometimes we fall into the very thing we’re trying to avoid.
As things progressed I started finding the right instruments. I found a beautiful harp sound in the GPO, which is a harpist playing harmonics. I suspect what I have done may not be possible to play on a real harp, because of the technical limitations of playing harmonics on a harp. But the delicate sound is just right for what I’m after. I’ll have to ask a harpist sometime about it.
I still had another synth sound fading in and out in the background, which also got nixed. Ally said she preferred to keep it to natural sounds, and she’s right. It just feels right in that realm. She also really reacted well to the breaths I put between some of the phrases, so I reworked it some more and gave it even more space. I think it could probably use even more.
It’s very simple, harmonically — it’s all white keys. I think getting too complex won’t lend itself to the intended purpose of the music. Hopefully I’ll be able to accomplish what Ally asked me to do, which was to take the listener on a sonic journey while providing a backdrop for meditation and relaxation.
This week I started working on a long latent film score project. My friend Holly is working on a documentary film which looks at the house she grew up in, and follows the process of the design and construction of her own home. A few months ago she sent me an early preview clip with example music (Dave Brubeck). It feels great to finally get a start on composing for this project. She graciously agreed to allow me to post this excerpt with my first music sketch.
Continue reading “Podcast #5: Home Movie”
A fugue is a form of composition which strongly emphasizes counterpoint. J. S. Bach was a master of the fugue and is probably the composer most famously associated with the form. I had this kind of general idea of the fugue but I’ve always wanted to study it closer and understand it enough to incoroporate fugal writing in my own compositions. So, this week was more of a homework assignment than a start of a piece. I found a great introduction to composing a fugue by Dr. Justin Rubin online and also this excellent interactive analysis of a Bach fugue (Fugue No. 2 in c minor from the Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1) linked from the wikipedia entry on fugues.
After studying these references I started following along Dr. Rubin’s intro and did my best to follow the rules and write my own fugue. Incidentally, these interactive online resources are so great because you can hear each excerpt as you encounter it in the text, rather than either taking a text book to a piano and banging it out, or glossing over it in the hopes of coming back to it later.
Here’s the score to what I’ve got so far. I’ve gotten as far as the exposition and the first episode (the last bar). Yes, it’s only 7 bars long. It’s an extremely dense kind of music and it’s easy to take a wrong turn and paint yourself into a corner, where the voices collide, etc. Despite the rules (or because of them) it’s quite fun to work on, and really gives me a greater appreciation for the masters.
They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. So, it appears that I’ve made a habit of working on music everyday. Considering how much I’ve struggled with this in the past, this is quite a milestone.
This week I chose to work on sound design for most of the week and then throw
them together at the end into some kind of piece of music. All of the sounds in this track, including the drums, were created from scratch with various synth plug-ins in Logic Pro (no samples were used). The plug-ins I used were: Ultrabeat, ES2, FM1, and Sculpture along with very minimal effects.
The title is a silly pun on the band whose sound this track reminded me of, Boards of Canada.
This podcast features a sketch of an orchestra piece, which so far features staccato rhythms which give way to shimmering harp textures. There’s a pdf of the score on the blog post if you’re interested.
I’m trying something new starting with this week’s podcast. I’m going to see if this blog can coax me into writing more music on a regular basis. Each week I’ll be working on a sketch and posting whatever I’ve got on Sunday nights. The plan is to rotate sketches so on Monday I start working on a different one (either a new one, or once I have a few in the hopper, back to a previous one). I’ve jotted down some ideas for future sketches so I have a bit of a roadmap for the next few weeks. The idea is to create a deadline for myself, which I will keep to for fear of disappointing my (as of yet imaginary) audience. Keep in mind that although I’m posting this publicly, if it says
Sketch in the title of the post, it’s a very rough draft and a lot will probably change in the final version.
This week’s sketch is tentatively titled
Chamber Guitar for no good reason other than all the sounds will be produced by the various stringed instruments laying around the house (I thought there’d be a play on the word chamber too, but so far it just makes it sound fancier than it is). I’m playing with a method I’ve used with some success in the past, which is to simply sit down and imagine the piece before I start playing, and just write a verbal description of what’s in my head. Here’s my description for this piece:
Chamber Guitar Verbal Description
Lush, ethereal wash in background with slow but directed harmonic motion. Low, dull thud begins defining pulse (like a kick drum). Metallic scraping sounds, with some reversed flitter over the top, moving across the stereo field. A chorus of hammer-ons, in twos and threes, at first randomly distributed in space and time lock into a hocketing pattern, eventually defining a theme. These recede into harmonics, played by various guitars, which give way to a massive, sustained sound, with a slow attack and some distortion (mixed with reversed recording?), playing a melismatic, sometimes pitch-bending, melody based on the theme earlier expressed by the hammer-ons.
A bass line forms below. A texture of percussion fades in to join the thuds, with interesting eq (suggest snippets of these at the beginning). The massive sustained sound thins out and the hammer-ons return, this time building into hocketing chords. The percussive texture thins and the scraping metallic stuff comes back in. Focus again on the ethereal wash and the thud, which have been transformed by the previous interjections. Encore of the big sound and all the percussion to finale.
- Hammer-ons may be also combined with single staccato plucks.
- Start the piece rising. Middle is combined rising and falling. End is falling only… maybe.
- They may chain together to form melodic fragments (but no single track has the whole fragment).
- They may overlap to form momentary chords, which are related to the ethereal chordal texture.
- They slip in and out of being easily recognizable as guitars.
- Bass line is pitched down guitars.
- The ethereal wash is slowly, gradually evolving throughout the entire piece, but always recognizable.
This week I’ve sketched out some of the first paragraph. It’s a lot more jazz fusion / prog rock that I was going for, but there you have it. I imagined more of a glitchy electronica texture with the big electric guitar sound more like a guitar solo in a Radiohead song whose title escapes me at the moment. Well, on to next week…