42-Production notes for…

…“The Elucidatory Apparatus Lav-Merz-Nokh”

Not everybody is so fascinated, but some people (e.g., myself) find it interesting to actually read about the tools and processes people use to make things. It seems that throughout my life, 90% of interviews or writings by artists and musicians are ruminations on the meaning of art, the sources of their inspiration, life, the universe and everything. In other words, what is usually categorized as “vaporing” or “yattering.” That’s all very nice and wonderful, but personally I’ve always been much more interested in the brands of paints and brushes an artist uses, the kinds of microphones and amplifiers a guitarist uses, and so on.

As a side comment, I think there is sort of an unspoken agreement that art is “magical”. I will probably agree that inspiration is magical, but at some point a musician, artists or writer has to put down the pipe and pick up an instrument, paint brush, or pencil.

As usual this went through a huge number of alarums & excusions to get where it ended up.

It started a few years ago with a discussion on the Ableton Live forums. Users were trying to come up with Live sets that generated music (or “music”) without using any samples or inputs. The basic idea was that you’d use the noise feature of the Vinyl Distortion plug in to generate some white noise, then use gates, resonators, LFOs, filters, etc. to make something out of it.

I had been already playing with a similar technique. I had discovered that, with suitable filtering of a noise sample, you could actually create decent kick and snare drum, toms, and cymbal sounds, then by using the Resonators and filters create tones.

That was fun for a while, but then it seemed a better idea to use that as a background for a very dirty, grungy sort of waterfront cabaret piece. It was based on a simple loop with a stack consisting of a tuned version of the self-generating noise, a simple drum loop from the Live Library, with some basic hi hat parts as necessary.

Next a melody of sorts was added using the trusty Cakewalk Dimension Pro software synth. The patch that was used was based on one of the built-in ones called “Space Piano” which was a combination of an FM piano, a real sampled piano, and a layer of vinyl noise. This was heavily tweaked to get the right timbre and release for the whole piece.

The reverb was important too to get the proper feeling. A great reverb and one that I keep finding I turn to is “Ambience“. (You can still [as of 2012/01/02] get this at  http://magnus.smartelectronix.com/ In fact when I checked the page most recently, the plug in was converted to freeware.) Finally, I ran the whole track fhrough the Voxengo Tube Amp (another free plug in) set for a “warming” sound so the piece wasn’t too harsh sounding.

Musically, the sort of interesting thing about the melody line was an intentional avoidance of resolving most cadences. Even though it sounds sort of vaguely melodic, it really just meanders around the tonal center. I tried to make it relatively sparse, but that’s hard for me if you know my other material, which usually gets every bar filled up with 8th and 16th notes…

The goal for this piece is to design it so that repeated listenings don’t become boring too quickly. One of the interesting dynamics for a composer is to balance musical predictability against unpredictability. No single piece will satisfy every listener’s personal preference for that balance. If music is too random and chaotic, then people lose interest since there is no tonal, rhythmic or timbral center to go back to; but if a piece is too predictable, then some people will find it too simplistic, repetitive and just plain boring.

Since I have no way of guessing what the “best” balance is for a piece, the only thing I can do is try to make it interesting to myself. But my taste is changing over the years as well, so it’s a moving target.

Page#42 / last modified 20120102