Wednesday, 22 September 2010

My Left Ear

This post comes after not managing to do any music, but spending an hour trying to fix a problem.  Sound was only coming out of the left hand side of the headphones.

Not the headphones.

Not my nice Alesis break-out sound card

Couldn't find any settings in software.

My little boy, Sammy is rather fond of bashing the computer keyboard.  Maybe he bashed some settings somewhere.

I couldn't find where.

Finally after several restarts, I tried unplugging hte firewire cable, replugging it in an restarting yet again.  Finally it worked.

The title of this post is a tribute to the film "My Left Foot" starring Daniel Day Lewis


Something I was going to say on my last post, and forgot.  The sub-section starts with a nice gongy bong, which is in fact made by me hitting an aluminium wok lid.

Monday, 13 September 2010


Before I get started... Hi Joe.  If you're reading this, thanks for the encouragement :).  If anyone else I know is reading this blog please let me know, it will encourage me.

So where were we?  Ah yes, 2.1.2.  This sub-section is about senses and perception, and the present.  All sounds to be audio recorded using microphones, all instruments to be played using my hands, a hands-on sensory experience. I had a previous attempt yesterday, when things didn't go quite right while trying to play a conga.  Part of the problem was I couldn't find the stand. Yesterday evening my wife found it (thanks wife) and used it to suspend a jelly bag to strain some stewed up crab apples (phase 1 of crab apple jelly).  Today I got it back so I used it.  I also changed the metronome click from 4/4 to 8/8 and found it easier to follow.

So to start off with there was conga playing, two tracks of it, and then some classical guitar picking and chords - again two tracks.  These were all played pretty much in one take each.  There is a "verse" with a chord sequence of C C Am Am F C G G and a chorus with chords C C G G Am F C G.  and the structure is verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus and then an ending over a held Fmaj7

Over this I did some soloing, again classical guitar, several takes and done in bits, but no other "cheating" involved.

Again marinading needed, but it's nice and mellow, and has good dynamic range which I like

Monday, 6 September 2010

Solo fatigue

I left 2.1.1 Cognition at the point where a solo synth line was needed.  That's fine and while looking through sounds on the softsynth I decided to try I came across a nice spacey waves-on-a-beach kind of sound too which I incorporated.

Soloing is one of those things that I have crises of confidence over, and especially now deep into a third instrumental album, and therefore with many solos down and still some to go, am I really keeping it fresh?  How do I find some new ideas?  Do I need to?  The solo this time seemed pretty typically "me" I guess. maybe I have a style and maybe that's acceptable.  Maybe not every solo needs to be ground-breaking.  At least this one was short.

Actually one thing I am exploring in solos is the "Modwheel" on the controller.  I'm still intending to get a better controller with many assignable knobs and sliders.  Maybe then I c an have a solo of one note and just twiddle the knobs.

As with everything, I guess I need to let it marinade and see how I feel about it later.

Friday, 3 September 2010


In don't believe this! This is the third time I have tried to write this post, and twice it has got lost in the interweb!  Third time's a charm?  We'll see.  Maybe there are some things that are not meant to be said even if nobody is listening!

So.... The story so far.  First I did track 1 of my album in progress - "Body" about the physical world.  Then I skipped forwards to the third and last track "Spirit" about the spiritual world, because I had ideas and was chomping at the bit to use them.  I have done 6 out of 9 sub-sections of track 3 and instead of going straight on I am leaving the rest until later.  I Have a good reason but I'm not going to tell you what it is, in order to generate some excitement and anticipation, within internationally approved limits.

So I am tackling track 2, "Mind" about the mental world.  This album is obsessed with tripartate ideas, and so I have somewhat arbitrarily split this track into 3 sections, "the workings of the mind", Science and Art (or if you like, thinking, intelligence and creativity).  The workings of the mind is further broken down into Memory/The Past, Perception/The Present and Cognition/The Future.  This was the order I planned, but the idea I have for memory/the past is not a good track opener and I have an idea for Cognition which is.  It is a musical idea I had a while back and when I listened to a prototype I made of it last night I not only thought that the sequence of 5 bars of 7/8 had a feel of complexity which suited the idea of thinking, but the synth sound I happened to use seemed not only good, but invoked a futuristic feel.  Score.

After the work I did on this last night, and after my first attempt at this post I had another thought about the future/present/past thing which also works in with the ideas that I have.  This is in terms of when the sound for something is created.  If you use sampled sounds you are effectively invoking sounds and playing of instruments from the past, so the memory/past sub-section should just use samples.  For the future I could use softsynths, which means I don't actually store recorded audio but MIDI instructions.  Although this gets turned into audio for me to monitor, what ends up on the final recording does not become audio until it is mastered - in the future from the perspective of the recording process. Also using synths I can make it sound futuristic.  Finally for the present I can use proper, real instruments, recording using microphones, sound made in the "present" of recording.  I had also previously thought that because it's about perception and senses, I should only use instruments with which you directly make the sound, with your hands or breath.  Guitars, hand drums, breath instruments, that sort of thing, giving it a tangible immediacy.

The post tried to fritz on me again, but I have manged to fins where this helpful site keeps draft copies of what you type, so not only did I recover it, but have found the previous attempts at posting, so the rest of this is largely pasted in from a previous attempt.

So what did I actually record yesterday?  I started with the bassline pattern I mentioned before. In some ways I am approaching this almost like dance music, I start by introducing synths one at a time, The bass, added deeper bass, a chacha spatial sound (really hard to describe), a pad and then synthetic sounding drums. I have then gone through a breakdown which includes taking the rhythm out completely for 4 bars before it comes back in on the bass. I haven't finished yet - I need to decide what the latter part will be like, but I think bringing in a soloing lead would be a good idea.because of the way I am doing this music in sub-sections of 3 minutes' length.

I often have issues around speed and repeats of sections. In reality I normally have to make sure that my speeds are such that 1 minute is an exact number of bars. This is not too bad as I can often make things work in a small range of speeds so I just choose the right tempo. This time the tempo is 98 bpm which is divisible by 7 exactly. Unfortunately this gives me a total of 84 bars in 3 minutes, which is not divisible by 5, which is the length of the pattern. I could have chosen to try going faster or slower, but it would have to be significantly so - 70 bpm or 105 bpm both work. Instead I need to arrange for a 4-bar bit. Oh look, I've done that.

Now let's see if I can actually post this flipping post and be done with it.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Outrageous solos

As previously promised, the sub-section I am working on "The Pride Of Life" features outrageous solos on various instruments.

First, classical guitar, then drums, then bass, then piano and finally electric guitar. then there is a build-up coda (in 7/8) featuring all but drums.

The drums and piano are performed through samplers and so can be programmed as MIDI instruments, which is how the solos were realised, working through slowly and adding the notes by hand.

Guitars and bass are a different matter.  There were two major techniques used - firstly breaking things down into short phrases or sub-phrases, usually a bar or two in length. Secondly, when I want fast playing to a) pitch-shift down an octave and b) resample to twice the speed.  This effectively doubles the speed without changing the pitch.  Not all the phrases have this done, sometimes I did it when I didn't actually need to (I could actually play the phrase) and for parts of the electric guitar I did it twice making it really, really fast.

Basically it's taken quite a lot of time to do this, each sub-30 second solo taking at least an hour to create, this has been one of the most work-intensive sections, but I believe it is worth it.

The other thing I have added is clapping to the flamenco guitar backing, for the first two times through the pattern before the drums solo (after both the drums and bass solos the respective instruments join the backing). I cheated and used clapping samples (I could have done this for real but fake claps often sound better than real).

Friday, 20 August 2010

that Flamenco Feeling

Still on the theme of temptations, the third temptation is "The Pride Of Life".  To me it seems obvious that this should be littered with the most outrageous soloing. Also to me it seems obvious that this sub-section should be Flamenco.

There are two reasons for this. The first is from the classic book Asterix in Spain, where the Spanish are depicted as noble, stubborn and above all, proud, and their Flamenco music is an outpouring of this pride. (please note this opinion is not necessarily the opinion of the author)

The second is that I happen to have a Flamenco idea I wanted to use, which follows naturally on from the somewhat Flamenco ending of the previous section.  The classical guitar sound continues now into it's third sub-section.

And the real reason that I have so many ideas on classical guitar this time round is that I have unearthed a cheap classical guitar that someone lent or gave me to look after to hang around for my son (1 yr old) to play with and have played at him.  Consequently I've been playing it quite a bit.

 Anyway, the first outrageous aspect of the section is the chord/rhythm pattern itself, one of my most complex yet. It's (let me think) 17 bars long with the following chords and times:

  • 1 bar Am 4/4
  • 1 bar G, F 6/8
  • 2 bars E 4/4
  • 1 bar Am 4/4
  • 1 bar G, F 6/8
  • 1 bar E 4/4
  • 2 bars C 4/4
  • 2 bars G 4/4
  • 2 bars F with suspended B and E 4/4
  • 3 bars E 7/8
  • 1 bar gap 4/4

This is a total of 129 1/8th beats.  In the three minutes I have the time to play this 6 times through and then have a coda of 12 bars E in 7/8

I have recorded the backing flamenco guitar for this, as I often do, twice to give it stereo depth.  This is probably the only playing in this sub-section which will be genuine, unedited and played back at the same speed it was recorded. I played it to a (rather complicated) click-track and I feel as if I might actually have some skill at this guitar thing.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Tweaky tweaky

Just a short post after a short session, re-recording some kazoo, hopefully better in tune this time.  It certainly sounds better to me.  Also processing the classical guitar slightly differently - it's amazing what processing can do, I think it's making a really cheap classical guitar sound like quite an expensive guitar.

My reservation about the guitar stuff is that it was really quick to record. Maybe this is because I'm quite comfortable with a classical guitar (my first guitar was a classical) and hopefully I'm quite good at playing it.  This is something that I really need to leave to marinade and see how much I like it or not.

In the list of stolen things I did not acknowledge the bit of Pink Floyd that is in there too.  Sorry Roger (actually it's probably Dave).  It's a guitar instrumental from The Wall, the name of which I forget just now.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Temptations part 2

So sub-section 3.2.2 is "The lust of the eyes" - greed and theft, musically this could be called plagiarism.  Tributes, or ripping off.

This fits nicely with what I wanted to do.  In the previous two albums I have had a section which is just a solo instrument.  First was piano ("lost in a moonlit desert") then came electric piano ("lost in a monochrome desert") and this time - classical guitar. The section unashamedly copies or steals from Scheherezade by Rimsky Korsakov, "Private Investigations" by Dire Straits, a descending arpeggio riff from previous stuff of mine (including ""Lost in a Monochrome Desert" and a song I wrote called "Behind The Storm"), God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and a classical piece, I forget what it is but I think it might be Albéniz.


Temptations pt 1

The first 1/3rd of track three is about the trinity, i.e God.  The second 1/3rd is about the devil, or sin, or temptation.  Somewhere in the new testament three types of temptation are listed as The Lust Of The Flesh, The Lust of the Eyes, and the Pride of Life.

So section 1.3.2 is the lust of the flesh. It took quite a bit of thought to think this needed to be lust=raunchy music = Jazz.  What I really wanted was a saxophone. Sampled saxes always sound really rubbish, and I can't play a sax. It may seem strange but I have substituted kazoo (another purchase, £4 for a kazoo, accumulative album cost £35). It has the same kind of raspy sound to it, and anyway is an interesting substitution.

So there is a chorus and a verse, the chorus features the classic brass section of trumpet, trombone and kazoo.  There are three solos - trumpet, kazoo and piano.  Backing is walking bass, jazz guitar, piano and drums played with brushes.  Near the end this is joined by classical guitar and at the end the other instruments fade out leaving just the cheap classical guitar I am using.

My wife reckons some of the kazoo is out of tune.  I guess she's right, I need to have another go at it.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Many echoes

So this carries on where I left off.  I already had a nice wah-wahhed electric guitar solo for the latter bit, so all I needed to do was the bass, playing the same notes.  As I had made up the guitar solo as I went along it took a bit of work and practice recording the bass a phrase at a time.  Halfway through I decided that the second half should be different - so I changed tactic to slap bass (not following the solo any more) and put an echo on the guitar to fill out the sound

This is one of my favourite tactics to liven things up and fill out the sound, to take a solo line and give it a couple of slow echoes (placed nicely in stereo).  It's also quite a spacey feel which I felt was appropriate for this section.  

Anyway, when I listened back, it felt like there needed to be a bit more depth so I added a gentle bass being played normally.

The next bit, working backwards was the quiet "breakdown" section - I knew what I was going to do hear. I recorded myself speaking in tongues, and added reverb and echoes.

And then, going further backwards was the earlier section to which I added flute.  I felt the flute was OK, but didn't quite feel enough.  After some tweaking in the grid edit, I finally decided to try... adding the echo.  Because it was being played from the sampler instrument, this would automatically add the echo to the harp too.  I tried it, I liked it, I tweaked it, I liked it more.  I then worked on improving the transitions in and out of harp, changing the synth a little, adding guitar and bass drum notes at the end as a lead-in, but it was predominantly the echo which improved the transitions.  Huzzah.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Many strings

I have started work on 3.1.3: The Holy Spirit.  After the challenging and often discordant things running up to this I have decided that harmonic and melodic is the order of the day, also light and maybe a little airy.  So I have a nice bouncy little chord sequence (Am7, C, G, Fmaj7) which gets repeated several times.

Before this comes in I have chimes (those metal things handing from a long stick which a drummer occasionally runs his stick along) which I used to joke with my friend Bob (a drummer at church) signified the working of the holy spirit. In the same vein a harp is introduced.  

Back at the chord sequence, in a fairly traditional sense instruments are introduced one at a time, first bass drum and synth (the same absynth sound I have used in the previous two sub-sections) then acoustic guitars (6-string on one side, 12-string on the other), then shakers and ukuleles (well the same ukulele played twice, of course, once for each ear), then bass.

At this point I'd like to say I have just recently bought the uke, it called to me in a music shop and I succumbed, after all it was only £15 - making total expenditure on this album, ermmm £15 more than it was last time.  The most striking thing about it is that it is pink. I can live with that.  I play it with a non-standard tuning - I had a peek in a book in the music shop and it should be tuned G-C-A-E, but I have always thought it was G-D-A-E, which makes it the same as a mandolin or violin.  having already learned to play several chords with this tuning I thought I would stick with it.

So after the build-up there are 4 more times through the chords which is destined to have a solo over it, probably flute.  Then there is a "breakdown", a quieter version of the chords twice.  Following this is 8 times more, losing the shaker and introducing a fuller drum-kit (with programmed drums but played cymbals). This has an electric guitar solo over it (which I think I am happy with) and the bass will follow the solo playing the same notes, but lower. In this section, even if I don't count the uke twice there are a total of 30 strings on all the instruments being played.  I have done a lot of tuning tonight.

This then gives way back to the harp (but I'm not happy with the transition yet, I need to work on it).

One odd thing that happened is that I used the bass drum pulse to keep me in time while playing acoustic guitars and uke, and then replaced it with the programmed drums.  It turns out I was not playing well enough in time and had to tweak the placement of the programmed drums to slightly earlier to make it match up better.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

That Dali feeling

This is more of a philosophical note.  I saw part of a program on Salvador Dali the other night and it got me thinking about the music.  Now I am quite prepared to stipulate that Dali was a genius and had a radical new approach to art, reinventing himself and surrealism in the process, and I am prepared to realise that maybe in my creative ambitions I am not quite in his league, but I can aspire, can't I?

When I start to think about the creative new approaches, techniques and styles that great artists introduced I wonder how one goes about stepping outside the box and trying something radically new and different. And then I wonder if I can do that with music.  Every time I think of something daring and different I realise it has been tried before.  Maybe I listen to too much surreal and interesting music, or maybe I just can't see where the limits of "the box" are to step out of it. This frustrates me a bit, but maybe not too much, because in reality I would like my music to be listenable. If I stray too far from convention it becomes too hard on the ears.  As it is so far in track 3 I think it is becoming quite "out there" - it may appeal to proggers but more conservative listeners may struggle with it.

Maybe I need to be clearer about my demographic target. 

The other thing that I have realised somewhat in this musing, is that the last two sub-sections have had more emphasis on how the textures, atmosphere and feelings that the music portray and less on "being clever" with puns and structure, and doing things like trying to show "space" and "time" with technical aspects of the music.  Now this music is intended to be "prog" and as such should appeal to the intellect, but I think more attention to the emotional impact is being a good thing, and I should work more on this side.


And so on to the third sub-sub section of the potted musical passion, the resurrection.  

Firstly I wanted it to burst in with a big loud angelic chord.  There is a cymbal and timp to define a sharp edge to the "bursting forth" and I think nothing says angels like choral sounds and brass instruments.  The chord I used was created by sticking my hands on a keyboard and thinking "now that sounds good".  Actually I'll go further than that and say I'm pretty proud of the chord, but it's hard to describe.  Technically one of the possible names would be "Dm7+4/A" (chords with more than 4 notes usually have at least 2 or three possible names), but that doesn't really describe how it works.  Another way to describe it is that you start on a low A and play four more notes at intervals of a fourth above each time - A-D-G-C-F.  The sounds I used where a trumpet (for the brassy effect) and a mellotron choir (for the choral effect).  Both sounds fade into heavy reverb which makes them dissipate nice and spaciously.

Then I bring in electric guitar chords - the chord used is A9/E (which got used in a sequence back when I was doing "time") and is a new friend.  Again two guitars, one for each ear, and the chord is gently stroked on alternate sides.  However each side is taken through some fairly ethereal effects which make the whole thing very spacey.  Under this a synth (absynth) using the same sound as was used for a "still small voice" back in the "God the father" sub-section, arpeggiates the same chord, and finally a floaty flute sound (Turkish ney to be precise) plays a floaty line with fading in and out reverb.  The end effect is of a loud, bright ethereal angelic shininess.

Foley art

After some thought and reflection, I decided that yes, I needed to remake the sound effects I had used - well make rather than find.

First of all the scream.  I've had to wait for several days for the opportunity, while my wife and son were out to record a gut-wrenching scream. I hope the neighbours were not too worried. While I don't think it is perfect, it is much more biting than the previous one, and so I like it.

Second, the tearing sound of the temple curtain being "rend in twain". he tearing sound I had was decidedly not fit for purpose.  I tried tearing paper and slowing the sound down.  Not very good.  I tried the ripping sound of velcro, and slowed that down, still not right.  So an old shirt in the rags bag was sacrificed, and there's nothing that sounds quite as good for tearing cloth as tearing cloth.  Much better.

Thirdly, rolling dice.  The one I had was OK but I thought I could do better.  This is for where the soldiers cast lots over Jesus' cloak.  Three dice, shaken and rolled on the table here, and then again for the other ear (there's nothing to beat a good stereo image I always find).

I had forgotten how much fun making sound effects can be

Friday, 30 July 2010


I thought quite a bit about what I should do for the next sub-section 3.1.2: God the Son.  I thought about rock (because He is the Rock) but that seemed like a cheesy thing.

Then one night some ideas came to me, some radical, daring and unusual ideas.  The sort of ideas I like.  This sub-section will be divided into 3 sub-sub sections: The crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

The death bit involves a clanking noise, meant to signify the hammering of nails. This starts at metal on metal, but is slowly enhanced with a thudding noise (actually the sound of a door closing in the Berlin offices of Native Instruments, the suppliers of my drum samples). Overlaid on this is an almost, but not quite 5/4 motif, played on several guitars, piano and bass.  Rhythmically this is slightly out of kilter with straight timing (on purpose), and harmonically deliberately discordant.  As this builds there are a couple of other sounds, the gently stroking and tapping of the open string of a guitar and a rhythmic high note, like an alarm.  This builds to a climax (with a dice rolling sound effect briefly) and leads into the second bit.

...which starts with screams, ("with a loud cry he gave up the ghost") and the sound of tearing - the temple curtain being torn in two. The remainder of this is meant to sound like burial, and so is deliberately bass-heavy and giving the impression of muffled-ness.  There are long bass notes to which a strange process has been applied - first the track is reversed and then played with heavy reverb, recorded down like this and then reversed back.  This basically makes the reverb happen before the notes rather than after, building up to the note.  The overall effect is one of pulsing sound.  On top of this there is very fast bass playing (done by recording slower bass playing and quadrupling the speed) and very fast low quiet piano playing (programmed) both of which have a delayed copy played in the background.  The overall effect is deep and probably a bit menacing.  Over this there are some spaced out phrases - spoken words (with heavy reverb) - "this is my body, broken for you", "this is my blood, shed for you" and "it is finished".  Strictly speaking these phrases were not things said during the burial, but it seemed like a good place for them.

The only things I am not happy about are the sound effects I have sought out and downloaded from the Internet (being careful of course to get copyright-free ones).  The ripping doesn't sound right, the dice are OK but maybe could be better, and the screams could be harsher.  I might be able to improve them by editing, or tone changes, or I might have to attempt recording my own effects.  I'll see how I feel later.  I will certainly have to choose my time if I'm going to record loud screaming!

It has struck me that most people, when confronted with the idea of recording music to indicate spirit and spirituality, would produce something gentle and beautiful. I seem to be producing stuff that is dramatic and at times brutal, certainly challenging and maybe not easy listening. In either sense of the phrase.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

After the fire - a still small voice

As I went to bed last night after creating the loud cataclysm, I couldn't get it out of my head.  After a while, though I realised I had it in my head wrong - the rhythm was different.  Better somehow.  With an extra beat.

So of course today I had to see if it really was better.  I went through the whole thing adding an extra beat to the drums, and stabby bits of brass, in fact through most of it.  Actually I left one section unaltered for subtle contrast.

I had been wondering what to do for a still small voice, I was wondering about a mellotron backing with similarities to the air section in 1.1.2.  I also had a little tune in slow 7/4 I wanted to try.  Actually I wanted to get it recorded before I forgot it, and so used one of the sounds I had used for beefing out the orchestral stuff in the cataclysm. It turned out when used quietly and higher it was gentle and mysterious, so I used it.  Like many things I am not totally sure of it yet so I will let it marinade.

As I have been writing this though I have listened to it a couple of times and I'm pretty convinced right now that I have achieved the desired effect overall.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Fire

A quick diversion before I get going:

I write like
William Gibson

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

...however I'm not sure who William Gibson is!

Anyway, back to the music.  I have skipped ahead a little, well a lot.  Now that track 1 is finished I'm going to tackle track 3.  The reason being I am bursting with ideas for it.  Track 1 was "body", track 2 will be "mind" - track 3 is "spirit".  The three major sections are 3.1: God, 3.2: the Devil and 3.3: Man.  We will come to 3.2 and 3.3 in due course, but for now the obvious splitting of 3.1 is into 3.1.1 God the Father, 3.1.2 God the Son (Jesus) and 3.1.3 God the Holy Spirit.

Which is all very well, but how do you represent them in music.

Well for God the Father I have been reminded (by my brother as it happens) of Elijah's experience of God.  There was a huge wind, but God was not in the wind,  There was an earthquake but He was not in the earthquake.  There was a fire, but he was not in the fire.  After the fire, a still small voice.  So in three minutes I am going to build to a cataclysm and then have a still small voice.  Tonight I have done the cataclysm.

It starts orchestrally with timpani beating out a quiet, urgent rhythm in 7/4, quiet brass comes in and builds up.  A drop down to build up to louder, and a final drop down to build up to a huge stabby brass timpani cymbally thing to which then thick, wide, loud synth sounds are added to make it truly a wall of noise - then it stops quite abruptly.

In terms of the process: I had a broad idea of what I was going to do, and it effectively came to me on the fly.  Lines, harmonies, which part does what where all seemed to just roll along having had the basic rhythmic idea.  Even picking the key (D) was done by seeing where the timps sounded best.  Every few bars I was thinking "well I can do this little bit and then maybe I need to stop to let this mull for a day or two" but every time it became obvious what should come next.  I love it when that happens.

My only reservation is whether it sounds too much like Holst's "Mars" - it does a bit.

A change of heart

Well really a slight change of mind.  I have made two changes to the last sub-section (1.3.3. Gravity).  The first was I wasn't happy with my humming harmonies and so with a stroke of typical genius (and modesty) I have instead substituted some mellotron playing.  Much better.  

The second was a couple of concerns about the ending, having listened to it.  There is a low humming which comes in and lasts up until the backwards cymbals.  At the front of the whole track it is fine, but here, backwards as the outro it felt like there was a little bit too much of a gap between the fade of the hum and the cymbals.  Also the hum is an E note, while this section is in D. Really the hum needed a couple of changes.

Option 1: pitch-shift the audio to take it down a tone, easily done, but doesn't fix the gap.

Option 2: same as above, but add a bit of the same sound in to cover the gap

Option 3: rerecord the first section without the hum, and superimpose the hum at the right pitch

And the winner: option 4: make temporary changes to the first sub-section, lowering the hum and bringing it in slightly earlier especially for this ending.

Something that appeals to my slightly twisted sense of humour is that this ending still sounds like it is the intro backwards, but you would have to be pretty observant to realise that it is different from the actual intro. 

Monday, 12 July 2010

Gravity, and finally some singing

Sub-section 1.3.3 is the last subsection of this track, and the theme is gravity.  I have mulled over at length what would musically signify gravity, thinking about descending lines, falling sounds, apples and so on, but finally although the connection is a thin one, I have decided instead to use the music from a song I wrote nearly 20 years ago - "It's Not Easy Falling Out Of Love".  "Falling" you see.

For this I attempted to make it sort of "antifolk" in the sense that it attempts a beguiling simplicity, simply recorded, simple sounds (guitar, piano and voice) - deliberately unsophisticated.  I used two acoustic guitars following a picking style (which is how it was originally written) with the tune over the top.  The first time through the tune is played again on acoustic guitar, the second on simple piano and the third hummed. OK so it's hummed in three parts, but it's done far from perfectly. Right at the end the three vocal parts gently sing "It's not easy falling out of love, it's not easy falling out of love, it's not easy falling out of love, you know."  A third of the way through the third purple album and I have finally broken my original decision for this to be instrumental.

Finally at the end I have filled in the nearly a minute left with the very first part of the track (cymbals, deep rumbling, whalesong and a tinkly synth) played backwards.  Nicely book-ended.

Tidying up

I have come to realize that in my determination to blog the whole process of creating this album, warts and all, that this means I should blog the more mundane parts as well as the exciting creative ones, as all sessions tweaking the music are part of the creative process.

Also, this particular post, I have already tried to post once, a couple of days ago and something went awry and it got lost in the aether.

So I had come to realize that there was something wrong with the brass band parts in the current section - I went through and checked the harmonies.  Yes, that was what was wrong - so I did a bit of tweaking and changing - I am now more convinced that it is right.

The other potential problem with the brass band parts is one that my wife commented on - it is "loose" (as in the opposite of "tight") - the parts don't play exactly together.  This was kind of deliberate to give it a live feel, but my wife seems to think it is too loose.  I will have to let it marinade and see how I feel after a few plays.

The other thing I tidied up was a problem wit the brass in the African part - for some reason it didn't sound right.  I worked out what it was.  There are two parts, so most of the time there should be two notes at once.  It was not working out like that, it was only playing one note at once, despite the instructions.  Whichever note was started second out of a pair caused the first to stop playing.  So I spent a long time separating the two parts (they were together in one MIDI track), and then got the sampler to load in a second copy of the trumpet samples. Huzzah, this worked.  The downside - the computer has to load the samples in twice (I think), but the upside is I can now separate them in the stereo image.

Finally I added a bass to the African bit, live recorded bass, even though it's quite fast.  I like it, it's lively and interesting, and it adds good feel.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Vuvuzela effect

I've just remembered what I was gonna say in that last post. The whole thing is in Bflat.  Why? Because the vuvzelas in the crowd on the footie commentary are playing a Bflat and I thought it would sound nice together.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Poles apart

Next subsection then, 1.3.2: magnetism.

How to represent magnetism in music?  


Well magnetism is to do with poles, North and south.

Northern England - Brass band music

South Africa - South African pop style music.  This is harder to describe I guess, but I have a strong idea of South African music, Hugh Masakela, The Lion Sleeps Tonight and bits of Graceland - oh and of course Ladysmith Black Mombazo.  There are a couple of chord sequences, the most common being I, IV, I, V repeated ad infinitum.

Bring in two sporting occasions being held in different hemispheres - Wimbledon and the World cup.  Take an iconic moment from each - the end of the Isner Mahout match at Wimbledon (70 to 68 in the final set) and a certain English goal that wasn't in the England/Germany match.  One is a cause for celebration, the other a disappointment, and two sports which in themselves are poles apart....

So the first job was to extract sound from the TV.  With some foresight I had recorded relevant bits on my Sky+ box.  Sound out of the Sky+ box - phono sockets.  Sound into the break-out sound card on this computer - 1/4 inch Jacks or XLR.  Well I have Jacks to phono leads, no problem.  Except... this computer is upstairs at the front, and the box is downstairs at the back.  Poles apart you might say (I'll get over it some day).  Alternative solution: use my laptop for recording.  OK.  Sound into my laptop: 3.5mm stereo jack.  No cable.

So for a while I thought I might have to get soldering for the sake of this section, but I managed to find a custom lead.  Cost £7.  Total cost of the album so far: £16

Next problem: my laptop runs Vista, and the sound recorder will only output .wma files.  Tragic. lack of usefulness.  Anyway with some fiddling and fussing I found a converter and eventually had my audio clips in mp3 ready for inclusion.

I tackled the SA sound first, bringing in the African drumming patterns I used in subsection 1.1.1, but going faster (I wonder if anyone will notice they are the same patterns?)  Lay on some simple guitar chords on the electric, and create some trumpet tuney bits.  I still need bass (but my bass is at church) and I need to tidy this up somewhat.

And then brass band.  In preparation for this I had been imagining what I might do with a brass band. Just in case you don't know, a Northern England brass band is not like an oompah band, or like a New Orleans brass band, it's mellow, long drawn out notes and several parts.  It comjours up images of parks in the summer with a band playing in the bandstand.  Anyway, as I tried to write tunes I found that what I really wanted was the hymn "Abide with me". I checked, and apparently it's out of copyright.  Hurrah.

So I used the sampler and the keyboard, creating two trumpet lines, a tuba line, a French horn line and a trombone line. The actual tune seems to have disappeared a bit due to having created a nice descant, so I might want to pick it out more, but the overall effect is pretty nice, and feels almost entirely plausible (one of the samples is repeatedly breathy which means I could tell it was a sample).

I've basically put the bones down and it needs a good tidy-up

Monday, 28 June 2010

Filling the gap

Last time dear reader, we left off with just a couple of things to do to the Electricity sub-section (or is that sub-station?) - a synth solo and matching the end of the previous section with the beginning of this one. Both were done tonight.

The solo took a while, first of all I had to find the right sound.  I tried lots of sounds in the softsynth "Massive" at the weekend, but nothing seemed to fit.  Today I decided to try Pro-53 instead, and the first sound up was ideal.  Synthy and electric (to my ears).

Some days solo lines come easily, some days they are impossible, today was about half-way.  it took a while but i think I'm there, as usual the test of time will be applied.  Some of it was played, some of it was programmed.  I guess for me it is a bit more "normal" than the electric piano solo later in the same sub-section.  There was one particular line which I came up with which on playback seemed somewhat familiar, I realized I'd used it before.  When I played the whole thing back I found out where - in exactly the same position in the electric piano solo.  Not a problem.

Then came an interesting bit - matching the start with the previous end. Both were the same type of electric guitar, but it's in a part where nothing else is going on, and I basically had a precise gap of a few seconds in which to modulate from E to A with exact timing, but not to a rhythm.  it took a few goes to get the pacing right but it seems to have worked.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The impossible E-piano solo

After spending quite a while searching for the exactly right electric piano sound, I realised that the one I had used on Under A Binary Tree was the right one to use again.  Time to create some soloing over the A - F - C# - A (rept) part of section 1.3.1 (electricity).  

What I have created, I'm not sure about, there are parts which are played, there are parts which are programmed, and significantly there are parts with one hand of each.  I'm a bit disappointed that the touch-sensitivity of the keyboard didn't seem to be working but hopefully I have got around that.  What I have finally ended up with has some parts which are reasonably normal and hopefully nice and light and bouncy, and some parts which are complex and certainly unplayable by me, possibly unplayable by anyone apart from a mad genius.  The bottom line though, does it work?  Is it listenable and interesting?  Time is the great judge of that - I need to let this one marinade for a while.

On a similar note, I seem to remember saying much the same thing about the opening to the whole thing, a series of splash cymbal hits.  After some time has passed, the answer is an unequivocable (surely that's cannot be spelled right) "yes".  I'd go so far as to say it is iconic - one of those unique startings that leave you in no doubt what you are starting to listen to.

back tot he current sub-section, what is left is a synth solo and some jiggery pokery to make the start work with the previous sub-section.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Phil Lynott Superstar

I have made a good solid start at sub-section 1.3.1 - this one is about electricity. This final 1/3 of the first track is about physical forces: Electricity, Magnetism & Gravity (and yes if any physicists are reading I know that I am missing strong and weak atomic forces)

So lots of electrical instruments to be used.

Unlike sometimes I had a pretty full comprehensive plan in my head for this one. I'd got several motifs (to use a posh word), and an order.  I'd even worked out the timings, based on a speed of 128 bpm, which gave an exact fit in the three minutes.  

Unfortunately when i actually started work, 128 bpm turned out to be too slow.  It needed to be more like 144.  Oh dear.  Never mind, that gives me exactly 4 more bars over 3 minutes, and I remembered an extra idea I had.

So it goes like this - it's a sort of pulsing 8/8 rythmn on 3 electric guitars, which reminds me rather heavily of "do anything you wanna do" by Thin Lizzy. It starts inside the previous sub-section carrying on from the guitar finishing up there, with a pulse on an A with a stabby chord thing every two bars.  Once into the section proper the drums start (again similar to the Thin Lizzy song - a bit of "tribute" going on there - I really wanted the nice rolling rock feel), it goes A for 4 bars, F for 4 bars C# for 4 bars and back to A for 4 bars.  This is repeated.  Over this there will be (not done yet) an electrical sounding synth solo (buzzy sound).  

If you read this blog (and I'm not sure anyone does) you will maybe remember some posts ago I was celebrating being able to do a triangle quintet.  I have now gone beyond this in terms of strangeness - the next bit is an "unplugged wire solo".  Unplugged guitar wires make buzzing noises when you touch them, so I have a very short section of doing that.

Plugged back in, the three guitars play a trio, slight similarities to the Thin Lizzy but using a chord sequence from Jesus Christ Superstar, crossed with the theme tune for Magic Roundabout: A, D, G/A, D.  I think it's pretty good.

The next motif is back to the stabby chords over an A chug, but with a double-time bass solo.

Next just the stabs without the chug, and electrical sound effects: phone dialling and alarm ringing, electric drill, zappy sounds, one of my son's electrical-tune-playing toys (my wife said "I won't ask..." when she saw me recording it) and finally thunder.  Most sound effects free from the internet, with the one exception which I recorded.

back to the A, F, C# A sequence, this one will have an electric piano soloing over it when complete.

Now for the extra 4 bars.  There's this nice rasping sound you can get by running a plectrum edgewise along a guitar string, so I have 4 bars of that (3 guitars) and finally back into the guitar trio from earlier.

It's all very rock and it rolls along nicely (in my opinion). There are several hints at electricity along the way and also I think it feels kind of charged with a sort of musical thrill.

Although  have not been as economical as I could with recording this so far, there are several bits that have been repeated or re-used.  I have made a lot of use of a little trick - doubling the speed of small sections.  There are quite a lot of little triplet runs, and actually I could probably do most of them for real at speed, but they become better defined when recorded at half-speed and doubled up. I've got a lot of overlaying, effectively editing going on on the guitar tracks.

So there are a couple of things left to do on this section - the synth and electric piano solos which I want to take good time over to make them effective, and there is some mucking about to do with the start of this sectiona nd the end of the last to get them to feel seamless.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

"Och it'll do ... Och no it WON'T do!"

When I was at school we had a physics teacher called Jock.  Once upon a time I knew his real name but he went by "Jock" to all the pupils, and all his colleagues.  He was, of course, Scottish.  Among the many things he was famous for, along with being especially susceptible to red herrings in class, along with calling all pupils "Jimmy", and along with an absolute manic insistence on ties being tied properly, was his rather unique approach to assemblies.  The one that stuck in the head was his exhortation, whenever we were tempted to say "Och it'll do" to reply to ourselves "Och no it WON'T do!".  This rather unique approach to "If a job's worth doing it's worth doing well" was rather successful in its mission.  The two phrases became catch-phrases for several years, along with the very bad fake Scottish accents they had to be said in.  I still remember it now and I would guarantee that a good proportion of my classmates would also.

Yesterday I finished the bifurcation of guitar parts with what I described as "noodling" on the electric guitar.  Now noodling is all very well in it's place, but to be honest I was making do with sub-standard noodling.  This troubled me.  I resolved that "Och no it WON'T do".

Unfortunately my guitar playing ability is not as great as my ambition.  Later in the project I will be attempting to create blistering guitar solos, but for now I was content to create a new, different tune to the same chords.  That is something I can do, and the result is far more satisfying in my mind.  I cannot do it flashily and fast, but at least I can do what I can do, and I can make sure I do it well.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Bifurcation Revealed

The time has come, dear imaginary reader, for me to reveal to you what is going on in sub-section 1.2.3.  This first track is all about the physical universe, and this second section is about the scope of the universe.  1.2.1 was space, 1.2.2 was time, and now 1.2.3 is about parallel dimensions, alternative universes, the 5th dimension, whatever you want to call it.

Now although I personally don't subscribe to the theory that at any quantum collapse event the universe splits and goes in two different directions, the concept that the universe splits at particular points is a fairly neat way of explaining this concept of extra dimensions, and so this sub-section displays what Terry Pratchett calls the "bifurcating trousers of time".

And this is how I have done it.  The rythmn, (clock and guitar chord sequence) from 1.2.2 carrries on, bass and shaker is added to give a slightly different feel, and the acoustic guitar plays a tune which fits the chords.  This keeps repeating (and this time I have deliberately looped the same recording so it stays exactly the same.) The idea of the split is that two alternatives run in parallel, but over time they become more and more different, so first of all I intruduce a second acoustic guitar playing exactly the same, then they separate in the stereo image, then the "new" one plays a slight variation on the same tune, then it changes for being player with a plectrum, giving a harder sound, then fades into an electric guitar instead of acoustic, then it plays a harmony with the first (constant) one, and then starts to "noodle" over the chords, different to the tune.  Eventually everything fades out and leaves the electric guitar alone, which stops short of the 3 minutes end - the electric guitar is going to stay the same and start up relevant playing for the next sub-section.

My only reservation on this is wondering if the repeated tune is going to get a bit boring, time will tell as I let it "settle in".

One thing I am finding quite interesting is that having done two sub-sections as one recording project file, over this 6 minutes I only have one midi track, all the others are "real" instruments, guitars, bass, percussion, triangles and all - quite a few of them.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Whole lotta shaking going on

Well I had a spare hour with my wife out, and my son asleep so I did some work on 1.2.3.  The clock ticking and guitar chord sequence from 1.2.2 has been carried on all the way through it, and tonight I added some bass and shaker.

I tried some drums but it didn't work, shaker is better.  Bass, as my main instrument was reasonably OK to do (I have recently been experimenting with different bass tones). Shaker: well the old me would have recorded one bar of shaking and repeated it, but this is the new me, so I recorded all 3 minutes of shaker all in one take.  This is actually pretty hard to do and keep in time, I hope I have managed OK.  I have some spare if the occasional bar needs editing out (I'm not yet stupid enough to scrap the whole thing for the occasional bar).  

All this is kind of workaday, not very exciting yet, the interesting bit comes as I extend the guitar solo into this section, which will come, but not before I get a new battery for my guitar!  I also need a good stretch of time because I feel there is quite a bit I need to do in one session, keeping the same sound. I am deliberately not telling what I plan to do to get a concept across, becuase I am trying to engender a small amount of suspense into the proceedings

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Curse of 1.1.2

The last few times listening to what I have so far have led me to believe that I have a problem with the transitions between subsections - some of them are just too abrupt.  This was a criticism that my wife made about Binary Tree, so I was fairly determined to do something about it.

I had a listen and made some notes, the problem transitions were between 1.1.1 and 1.1.2, between 1.1.2 and 1.1.3 and between 1.2.1 and 1.2.2 - in fact all the transitions except between 1.1.3 and 1.2.1 - which is an abrupt transition but I think it works, and less of a problem as it is the break between two "sections".

So the plan was

  1. extend the hangover from subsection 1.1.1 so that it is longer - better transition.
  2. change the playing out of section 1.1.2 so that it segues into the theme from the next subsection earlier
  3. bring the clock winding noise in a little earlier for subsection 1.2.2 to cover the break, and give a smoother transition

1 and 3 were easy.  2 turned out to be nearly impossible, as the curse of sub-section 1.1.2 kicked in.  I could not mix down without it crashing.  I have spent about a total of 6 hours on it today.  I have no idea what causes the crashes.  I tried rebooting (several times).  I tried creating a new project and laboriously copying stuff across, recreating all the settings and guess what - still crashes.  Finally I tried splitting it into the first part and the second part.  Even then I was getting crashes but they were intermittent so I managed, finally to mix down the two parts, recombine them and mix that down, and combine with all the rest and mix down.  For now the problem has been overcome, but I will no doubt have to go through all this again when properly mastering.

I'm now listening to the combined mix-out on mp3 and it sounds pretty cool - I think the transitions are better.  I do however have a small problem, I have managed to butcher a couple of notes near the end of one section.  I bet you can guess which one.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

A reflective pause

Normally I blog after working on the music.  Not tonight.  Tonight dear invisible (and probably non-existant readers) I blog after some reflection last night on where I am musically with the Purple project.

I appreciate being in a place where not only can I think that a triangle quintet is a cool idea, but I have an appropriate forum to go ahead with one. I appreciate having 5 triangles in the first place, and having the equipment to go ahead with the recording. I appreciate the artistic freedom to follow whims like this and not have to be thinking "will it sell?" After an evening of Eurovision, I appreciate not being tied to formulae, to a three-minute window, to an expected key change, or to the pressure of national expectations. I appreciate the fact that right now my living is not dependant on my music.

But maybe most of all I appreciate having gone through the creative process of two albums, and being on my third feeling like I have permission (from myself) to try almost anything musically - to have the confidence to step out into something as "out there" as a triangle quintet, to be comfortable enough with my musicality to (hopefully) judge whether it works or not.  on "binary tree" I experimented with brass bands in the rain and church organs, and now I feel like just about anything is musically permissable - except maybe rap.

I guess the challenge now is to take on board "everything is permissable, but not everything is beneficial".  Just because I want a flugelhorn/musical saw duet it doesn't make it "right".  Where is the boundary between experimentation and indulgance, between art and pretension? Or is this question itself the dangerous ground where I stop having fun and start taking it all too seriously?

Bwwwwaaaah - shake off the second-guessing, embrace the musical place I'm in and see if I can't just make some truly satisfying music.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Triangulation solutions

I think I have solved all of my triangle problems.  Warning, I am definitely "twitching the veil" on this.

Firstly the pattern part, after mulling a while I had a brainwave! The problem is that playing fast off-beats is very hard, especially when mixed with on-beats.  I considered slowing things down foor recording and then speeding them back up again.  I was concerned that this makes the natural ring of the triangles shorter.  I am recording the 5 triangles as a track each.  What I actually did was rearrange the pattern so that the off-beats were all played on two of the 5 triangles, and those two only played off-beats.  I worked out the pattern and played those as on-beats, and then shifted the recordings so that they were now on the off-beats.  I consider this to be elegant cheatery.

The second bit was the cutting off of the delay, I decided to try a different approach which is "realer" than the original rather than elegant fakery.  I again had the jangly bits, but stopped them dead by hand, waited and then had a single hit where I wanted the ringing bit to come back in.  This had exactly the effect I was looking for with the planned editing, a tightening up and then a release.

Thirdly, the first section, the "free-for-all".  I shortened it by introducing a clock winding at the beginning, which I wanted somewhere anyway.  I was thinking of having it at the back end of the previous sub-section, but this way seemed to make more sense.  This means the triangle free-for-all gets going slower.  There is a little more structure for the free-for all but not a lot, that little bit shorter really helps.  And I also used a technique called "when you think something might be boring, add something else to distract from it" - I added a nice backwards electric guitar chord, something I felt like I had wanted somewhere in this sub-section anyway.

The other thing I added was a wood-block being played, starting when the triangles pause after the jangling bit.  Actually it's not a wood-block but I don't know what it's called.  It's wooden, and shaped like a tube with a split up the side.  It's ridges so you can get noises rubbing a sick up the outside, or it rings in a wooden way when you hit it.  There are two of them on one stick, which hit alternately sound like "tick-tock" - which is why I wanted it. I'm sure I could have found a sample of the soound but I wasnted to record it, straight through proper live recorded instrument.

So the final (maybe) structure of the time sub-section goes like this:

Triangle at the start, clock winding.  as the clock starts ticking there is a triangle free-for all.  in the background a reverse guitar chord comes to it's climax, at which point a rythmic complex pattern is played on 5 triangles.  After some repeats all triangles jangle and are held.  The tick-tock starts, the triangles have a single hit and are left to ring.  Drums come in with some fills, settling to a regualr pattern, behind which the guitar chords fade in.  There is a drum fill, the tick-tock stops (not the real clock SFX) and then the guitar soloing starts, accompanied by guitar chords and bass drum only.  Solos for over a minute, end of sub-section.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Triangulation problems

Tried the three triangle bits I mentioned in the last blog.  The rythmic pattern bit was i think, for me, impossible as it stands - too hard to play fast offbeats with no or little context.  The jangly bit is OK but not as dramatic as i hoped and the cut off decay really seemed to not work.  The earlier parts of triangle soloing sound like someobody is randomly hitting triangles - which is exactly what it is.  All in all I feel like it's not working very well, and I need to think either of ways to make it work, or have the courage to jetison the whole thing.

On the plus side, my triangle technique is vastly improved over the last hour and-a-half, I have discovered how to hold the string so that it doesn't swing around uncontrollably!  This will help in any future efforts.  Who knew you could actually get better at playing a triangle?

After a rethink

As I left the project last time, I was feeling that I was lacking inspiration for three minutes (minus a bit) of acoustic guitar solo.  I had at least two options to deal with this: a) get more inspired, work harder, pull out the solo of a lifetime or b) have a different idea.

I had a different idea.

I need this section (1.2.2) to finish while soloing as I was - this carries on into 1.2.3 for reasons which will become clear later, when I deal with that section.  But then again, why does it need to *start* with the soloing?  No reason.

We can build up to the soloing, maybe with a bit of drums.  Yes not a bad idea.  We can use some woodblocks to give an extra ticking dimension. How about a triangle solo?

Well more of a triangle quintet.

You see, I have 5 triangles of different sizes.  Up until now I have been using a sampled triangle but I think it's time to pull out the real things and have a go.  I have three things I would like to do.  Firstly some "free jazz" triangle improvisation - in other words unstructured playing, this can build up for a while.  Secondly, the structured bit - I have a pattern I would like to play.  The pattern goes quite fast and I'll have to play them separately, recording each part alone and then combining them.  This will be difficult, which is good, I like a challenge. Finally the climax - there's this thing you can do with a triangle, you hold the stick inside the triangle and rattle it round the sides to make a long jangly noise.  I want to do that on all 5 triangles at once.  And then stop all at once and let them ring. And then take the recordings and chop the sound just after the active jangling stops and move the "letting them ring" bit (the decay) back by two bars, giving a gap in the middle.  I don't know why I want to do that last bit but I think it might be cool so I'm willing to give it a try.  I also have possible plans to use the structured bit again in a later sub-section.

OK, so having said all that, what have I actually achieved?  Moving back the start of the guitar soloing, fading in the guitar part, and some drumming to go with it all.  In the long run this gives me about a minute, maybe less for the triangly bits.  

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Mysterious Ticking Noise

Before I get going on the music stuff - the title of this post is a literary reference.  If you have not seen The Mysterious Ticking Noise then I highly recommend it for a good larf. 

Subsection 1.2.2 started, and the subject is time.  There have been many songs about time, notably "Time" by Pink Floyd and "Time" by Sam Brown (two of my favourites).  Signifying the passage of time is really easy - you just need a clock ticking noise.

I have had a subtext of determination so far with this project - to resist sound effects as much as possible.  It would be all too easy to signify water by rain effects, air by wind effects and so on.  However, in this case, the ticking becomes an integral part of the music.

So I looked online for a clock ticking.  I could have recorded my one, but I don't think I have a mechanical clock any more, and my watch is very quiet. Free sound effects are available, but often have a lot of background noise.  I found quite a good one at Sound Jay ( , a source I think I'll use again in the future.  There was only one problem with it, unbelievably it was fast!  You would expect a ticking noise from a clock to work perfectly alongside a 120bmp click (2 clicks a second).  I had to process the sound to slow it down!

You can't really have a ticking noise for 3 minutes with nothing else, so I needed a musical idea (maybe more than one).  As it happens I have an idea that has been forming.  A couple of weeks ago in church we played a song that had the following chord transition:  Cmaj7 to Em/C#.  This involves moving one finger one fret on the guitar and is sweet.  Well I've been playing around with this a bit recently and have come up with a cyclic chord progression:

G, Am7, G/B, Cmaj7, Em/C#, D, B7/D#, Em, D/F#, G....

So I thought I might as well use this, but for some reason when I started playing, the G/B suddenly became a D/B - a bit of a thumb stretch but a nice gentle chord.

Now I have a vague sort of plan that whatever I do in this subsection will spill over majorly into sub-section 1.2.3 (in fact right now I'm thinking of recording them both together as one 6-minute track).  So I gave the ticking a few bars to settle and recorded the chords on the guitar, once for each side, many many repeats to be over the 6 minutes long each side - that was a long slog and my attention wandered but I made it.

So I started acoustic guitar noodling over the top, and have come to a conclusion - it gets boring after a while. Anyway at that point I stopped as I seemed to have run out of inspiration.  I'm starting to have extra ideas to come in, basically I think the chords will start later after some other fun with percussion.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

27 mini solos

This is an up-to-date post, I've just finished what I'm talking about.

So I was working on 1.2.1, as described in previous posts.  I had the refrain tune recorded for the three voices (I tend to think of solo, lead instruments as being "voices", almost as if they were singers).  I also had the Bodhran backing which comes in at bit 4 (there are 9 bits of 9 bars, each followed by a refrain of 9 bars, the first three are quiet, the next three (4-6) are middling and the last three (7-9) are full on).

Time for some backing.  Two acoustic guitars (one for each ear).  I used a trick of using a capo on one to get a different tonal quality.  They come in at bit 2, quiet for 2 bits, then middle, then load, dropping out for the last refrain (which is just tunes).  Then I felt like the last three should have some bass - unfortunately I have left my bass at church.  What to do?  I wonder what it sounds like if you play the bass notes on the guitar with a plectrum, which will be an octave too high, and then process the sound to drop it an octave. Interesting, that's how it sounds, I quite like that so I'll keep it.  It sounds like a really bright bass with brand new round-wound strings and the treble turned up.  Finally some drums for the last 3 bits to go with the bass.  I used the same trick as before, programming the bass, snare and toms, and using the electronic kit to record the ride cymbal to give it more of a "live" feel.  Once again I found I didn't really like the hi-hat and the ride has a more "open" feel.  I guess I wasn't really after "tight".

And so there are 9 bits which need three solos each (one for each of the voices).  Each solo has a different chord sequence, but the three sequences in a bit are similar, so it's possible to use similar ideas over the three instruments.  This was fun, tracking through finding different ideas.  I've borrowed a proper MIDI controller keyboard from work (I'm thinking of getting one) and so I used this to record the solos.  Some are folky and jiggy and some are just meant to sound like people jamming solos.  Almost all of these were performed on the keyboard, with just the occasional bit of programming or tweaking to make it work.  My one-handed keyboard playing is definitely getting better, there were some relatively challenging bits (for me) but I thought I pulled them off.  

What I definitely try to do is replicate a style of playing you might get with a real instrument, but then maybe throw the occasional bit in which is untypical, or would be difficult or impossible on the real thing.  Well both accordion and organ are keyboard instruments already, but they tend to be played a little differently.  The pipes of course were more of a challenge with this, but thankfully the samples were very good indeed, which gave it good expressiveness - it might even fool a few people (who have not read this) into thinking that it's real pipes played live.  As it happens my wife has a set of Northumbrian bagpipes which sound quite similar to these.

So I've put it all together, and I quite like the effect.  ow to listen to it in sequence with the other sub-sections.  I still have some time today so I may be able to start 1.2.2

Bodhran: an owed post

I should have posted this ages ago when I actually did it, but I kept forgetting so now you get it, dear imaginary reader, before today's legitimate post.

I spent quite a while choosing my three solo instruments.  At first I thought I would use three different synth sounds, but that didn't satisfy me much, then I worked on finding three folky sounds. Accordion was quite easy to settle on, fiddle: well it's using samples, and it's pretty impossible to replicate a fiddle sound.  For a while I tried a Chinese plucked thing (it's been a while so I forget which) and for a third chose Irish bagpipes, again sampled, but possible to sound fairly authentic.  Eventually I discarded the plucky thing for an electric organ.  2 out of three are folky and the three sounds go quite well together.

So now onto the bodhran, or "Irish drum" - one of those ones that you hold sideways and hit with a double-ended stick, called a "tipper".  There seems to be no consensus about how to pronounce the name, some have it as "BORE-ran" but some have it as "bor-RAAN".  I have even heard it "BOUGH-ron", but I'm pretty sure that's just bow-wrong.  

Anyway, I wanted some rhythm on the thing (I have one).  I used the newish tactic of just recording a whole lot and editing out the bits with mistakes, or that I didn't like.  The whole thing was made tricky by the fact that the room I'm in to record was rather hot that day, and the heat affects the skin of the drum, so it was slowly getting higher and higher.  I had to keep going quickly to not have any big differences when I edited it down.  Like many things when I record, I recorded it double, one for each ear (this gives it more presence and "thickness".  The change in tuning was beneficial for this in that the two tracks have different resonances, making it sound more like two different drums.  You would have to be very observant to notice that they both rise in pitch through the length of the sub-section.

Over time, one of my ambitions for spatial changes has been dropped - the changing the pitch one.  It was going to make it too stupid.

Friday, 23 April 2010

The extra factor

No this is not a reference to an annoying TV programme which goes behind the scenes at another annoying TV programme (actually I have to confess I tend to watch the X factor).  No this is the correct meaning of the word "factor" as a mathematical term.  I have an extra factor of 2 amongst all my threes.

Let me explain.

I was trying to think of ideas for sub-section 1.2.1 which is meant to represent space.  how do you represent spatiality in music?  Well you need three dimensions, side-to-side (L and R stereo panning) up and down (higher and lower musically) and in and out (louder and quieter should do the trick).  Oh look, we have 3 things, and this album is an exploration of the number three.  So we can have three positions in each dimension (left, centre, right; high, middle, low; quiet medium and loud) which gives us 27 combinations.  And so I thought I could also use rythmic threes: 9/8 time is a jigged version of (sometimes called a "slip jig"), and I can have lines of 3 bars length and "bits" of 3 lines length.   

Wouldn't it be sweet if in a 3 minute sub-section I could neatly fit in 27 bits, unfortunately I cannot, well I can but it goes too fast. If it goes at a decent jigging speed I can nicely get in 18 sections.  Instead of 3x3x3 x 3x3x3 I have 3x3x3 x 3x3x...2.  Shame.  Never mind, there comes a time where musicality takes preference over maths.

So I can still do the 27 different spatial positions, but instead of each one being a bit, each one is a line.  After each bit comes a second bit which is a refrain.  This will give me the 18 bits which fits exactly into 3 minutes.  

Have I got enough 3s into this mad thing yet?  Well I have a chord sequence and tune for the refrain, but I was asking myself what I would do for the chords for the active bits.  The three most commonly used major triads (each of which has three notes in it, coincidentally) are the chords based on the tonic, sub-dominant and dominant of the scale, otherwise known as chords I, IV and V.  With three bars in a line, there are 27 combinations of these three chords I can play, and so of course once I have thought of it I cannot resist using this.  I think I'm probably going to be in G, so I have the following sequences for my 27 active "bits"










I really think that this might be an opportunity to get the obsession with threes significantly out of my system.  Can I resist the temptation to reshuffle everything so that this is the central sub-section of the whole ablum?

So all I need now is to choose three melody instruments, work out the backing, and write 27 tunes.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Section 1 complete?

Back to subsection 1.1.2 - after a positive start to the second half the rest was relatively plain sailing - repeats of the tune adding mellotron choir backing, taking away the rythmn and finally a quick coda on the piano, dropping down a tone. The tune at the end reflects the motif at the start of 1.1.3 which it goes into pretty much immediately. The timing might be a little off, and I had in my mind something clever on the hanging on over mellotron chord but didn't do it - I may go back to that.

I have an MP3 of the three sections stitched together, which I can liten to a few times to see if it gels, work out which bit jar and where it is weak. So far I think... transition from 1.1.1 to 1.1.2 is a bit empty, and still not sure about the bridge section in 1.1.3. I wonder about the the later parts of 1.1.3 but I'm just listening right now and it seems pretty good.

Once again I'm being struck by how different 3-minute sub-sections is to 4, 5 or 8 minute sub-sections, and maybe I am trying to do too much in too short a time. At first I thought "oh good this will keep it interesting" but now I wonder if for example 2 ideas is to many for 3 minutes, certainly I'm used to taking more time exploring themes and arrangements. I'm sure I'll get used to it, after all i ahve a total of 27 sub-sections to do.

Speaking of which, it's time to start looking forwards to section 1.2: or in other words sub-sections 1.2.1, 1.2.2 and 1.2.3. The theme for 1.2 is time and space, and at the moment I think 1.2.1 is time, 1.2.2 is space and 1.2.3 is relative dimensions - or parallel dimensions. Now how on earth do you represent those ideas in musical form?

The tricky transition

Back to the difficult section 1.1.2. The first part of this is flute and flute mellotron in a slow 5/4, with ethereal wind backing. Then there is a transition - I have a tune I want to use in the second half but it needs to go faster.

A quick word about this tune, it is based on a sequence of notes I sometimes humm while I walk, which in turn is based on the musical backing in the game Diablo - released quite a few years ago now. In the process they have got mangled probably beyond recognition (funny how these things go) It goes for flattened notes in a minor key, making it "more minor" in my head (actually diminished in at least one case). This sequence of notes has been strung out and added to to make four lines, the fourth of which has similarities to a line in a riff I hope to use later on, which reminds me of the Alan Parsons Project. It's actually a tune in 4/4 but the lines are 5 bars long, which means it will fit against a 5/4 rythmn.

Anyway, back to the transition, which has been worrying me. I break out of the sad fluetey stuff with with a vocal percussive sigh ".Aaaah" (the dot is a "glottal stop"). The problem was, what comes next. The more I tried things the more wrong they seemed, and something in the back of my musical sensibility was telling me it needed something fast and low. I brought in a piano, fast and low and menacing. So far it seems to work.

The piano goes half time when I bring in white nose sounds in a 5/4 rythmn - This is about the 3rd time I have attempted to get this sound, tuned noise, like air being forced through a pipe - only not very tuned. I used a softsynth called "V-station" which is just about simple enough for me to understand how to change, while sophisticated enough to have a white noise generator. I hope this time I have managed to actually save the settings because the previous time when In reloaded it defaulted back to the originalpreset. This time also it seemed to work in a musical sense, better than previously.

Bouyed on by the succes of the white noise I decided that after all I would bring in the hip-hoppy drums playing a variation on the Funky Drummer in 5/4 (the white noise is in 5/8 really). Spent a bit of time gettng the right sounds and then applied a phaser to the whole thing. Sweet. A few bars of that and then bring back the flute with the tune I was after. Hurrah, it seems to work and make sense, at least to me.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

End of the beginning

For some reason i have forgotten to blog the work I did a couple of days ago, so here goes.

I finished the first pass of 1.1.1. It was going pretty much to plan, a series of introductory noises: cymbals, deep rumble, tinkly electronics, whalesong and rainsticks, then it broke into african rythmns, combined with guitars and mellotron and a tune on a chinese ehru. However when i listened to it, the tuneful section seemed too short, or was the introduction too long, or was the whole thing too short? Anyway it didn't gel quite right. What if I introduced the tune earlier - so I did an acoustic guitar version as the rainstick came in, and then somehow again when the african rythmns came in. Better, much more rounded, makes the nnoises section feel a bit less random and self-indulgent (hah! as if the whole thing isn't enormously self-indulgent anyway).

Now it feels right - I'm asking myself whether the cymbals at the beginning are right, but they are growing on me which is a good sign. I'm a great believer in elapsed time as a creative tool. If you litsen to something you have created enough over time, you firstly start to loose the "closeness" you have to it - it was created by a past you not really you, and it helps you be less precious about changing it. Also I have found that if there are things you are unsure about they either "bed in", feeling more and more right over time, or stand out feeling more and more wrong over time. I have a feeling the cymbals will do the former - but the other question is, is the opening strong enough? One thing about an album like this is that I am unlikely to be able to change the order of things around. For a conventional album, you create a load of songs, and then you can pick the order when they are done. All albums need a flow to work right, and especially they need a strong beginning and ending. Anyway, time will tell.

So back to section 1.1.2 - the gaseous airy section. I'm stuck, it really isn't going right at the moment, the change in the middle is wrong, it feels like two ideas bunged back to back (which is what it is) - but does not transition well at the moment, not that I've really done anything of the second idea, but I have a tune. So this is the next thing to tackle - rethinking 1.1.2.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Whales and visitors

Well I had chance for another short burst last night at the whalesong.  I changed tactic and instead of attempting the perfect whalesong in one take I resorted to one of many methods of cheating (actually it's only cheating if you think there are rules to recording) and did a really long take attempting the sounds, and then edited it down to keep only the good bits - changing the order around.  I've done a little processing so there's a good reverb on it, and it wanders in the stereo image, and it may not be authentic but I like it.  I actually like the fact that as it goes on it becomes lsightly more obvious that this is a bass.  Oh and for anyone else who wants to attempt this, I used a volume pedal and a slide to help me.

The other news is about the self-promotion.  I had that big push a few weeks ago and have just left it to itself since then - the facebook presence, the website, this blog annd an entry in the unsigned bands forum at (  Well visits have been ticking over gently, I have a counter on the front page of, which counts visitors not visits (I guess strictly speaking it counts computers  rather than people). This evening it has excitingly clocked in the 100th visitor.  The facebook presence encouragingly has 31 fans too, most importantly, 2 of them are people I don't know!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Arrival of the rainstick

Yes, folks the rainstick has arrived, a bubble-wrap-clad tube which sounds almost as good wrapped as unwrapped.  I've got quite excited about it, it looks cool (covered in a dotted pattern) and sounds even cooler, and it's nice and long.  I have already discovered an alternative use for it - get the beads (seeds or whatever) spread throughout it and use it as a monster-big shaker.  It should sound fab in stereo because it's so long.  So I'm planning to do just that as well as using it in a more conventional way - both at once.

Which all means that I can start section 1.1.1 - all about liquid.  And I seem to be bursting with ideas suddenly, probably too many for a 3-minute sub-section, but that's not a problem, I can pick the best few and run with them.  There's the African rythmns for a start, inspired by the rainstick.  I should dig out some of my African drumming notes.  I wonder if I can find the rythmns for a raindance.  There's the guitar chords and a tune all in there too.  

I've made a start.  The opening of an album is always important, and I have started with a few splash cymbals (I can't resist a musical pun).  Now I need to wait and see if I think they work.  Following this is a very deep synth sound, a tinkly synth sound, and next I am working on whalesong on the bass.  Not as easy as I thought it was going to be actually.  And that's where I'm up to.  it's nice to be excited by this.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Rainstick, steampipe, mellotron and sadness

I've often wondered if I wanted a rainstick, one of those things that you up-end and they rattle for a while, that are supposed to sound like rain but don't really. I quite like the sound.

I've noticed that this time round, with BMS I am having a tendancy to think about instrumentation quite carefully. I think this is a consequence of this first trinity, solid, gas and liquid. This leads naturally (in my mind) to thinking about musical texture, which leads to thinking a lot about instruments. I did 1.1.3 first because of thinking about lithophones then experimenting with xylophones. Now I'm thinking about 1.1.1 and 1.1.2 which are liquid and gas respectively. For liquid I have various possible ideas, but thought here is at last an excuse to get a rain stick. Grand expenditure on this album so far: £9 - for a rainstick over ebay. It will take a while to arrive so in the meantime I am working on 1.1.2, gas/air/steam

There is a sound I really want, like the sound of a machine venting steam. I have a rythmn in 5/4 in my mind for it. My brother suggested a Reaktor ensemble called "steampipe" as a starting point. Reaktor is an amazing software synth from Native Instruments that I have, it's like the software equivalent of ane electronics set, allowing you to build your own instrument from first principles, using an incredible modular architecture. It is incredibly powerful, and utterly bewildering, and someday i will spend some time getting to know it (and sound synthesis) better. Still, there are plenty of built-in "ensembles" (configurations making an instrument) and "presets" (setting for an instrument to give a particular sound). The "steampipe" ensemble has a "steampipe" preset which is quite nice, but not quite what I'm looking for, it is too tuned - more like a note than a hiss. There is another preset called "steam ghost" though which is amazing, a haunting wind. Gotch, gonna use it.

Which brings us to the mellotron. A mellotron was an early sampling instrument which was popular in the late 60s/early 70s, and especially became a sort of signature sound for the progressive rock scene. It was used loads on the album "In the court of the Crimson King" by King Crimson, one of the most wonderful prog albums ever. It worked by having a tape (as in recording tape) for each key, when you pressed the key it played the tape. The tapes were about 8 seconds long (so you couldn't play really long notes) and had to rewind quickly inbetween playings. The sound was recorded from real instruments, typically strings, flute, choir and brass. To change the sound you had to physically remove the bank of tapes and replace it with a different set. Over a period of time the tapes would get a little stretched in places giving some "wow and flutter" effects, which made each mellotron sound subtly different, and this quality, far from a detriment is embraced as being a beautiful quirk of the instrument.

Anyway, I have had a gentle hankering for a while for using a mellotron sound, I guess mostly as a badge of progressive honour, butas I love the sound. Suddenly a couple of days ago it struck me that the mellotron strings sound had a particularly watery sound to it. The excuse has arrived! after some research and looking at expensive mellotron software, I found a free mellotron VSTi (argh, I'll explain what a VSTi is some other time, OK) called Meltron, downloaded it in minutes and tried it out. Fabulous! Strings, brass, flute and choir.

Flute and choir you say? Both airy sounds. Bonus!

I got a chance today to start work on 1.1.2 - steam ghost with mellotron flutes, and a real (sampled) flute over the top with some chords in a 5/4 rythmn - gentle, airy, and incredibly sad. As I was creating it the music filled me with a deep melancholy. I love it.

This takes me sideways a little into musings about the nature of the Purple music, and about prog music in general. I have been wondering if a possible uniting attribute of prog is that it tends to appeal to the brain and the imagination primarily. Possibly this is why many of the fans of prog are quite educated people - people who embrace things which stimulate the brain. Sure sometimes it engages the emotions and/or the body, but I have certainly found that often enjoyment of prog is an intellectual enjoyment. I find it ironic that after a few days musing over this, the music I produce exudes such sadness - a very emotional connection.

Oh, back to the mellotron, and a note about the bizarreness of using a software sampled emulator of a mellotron - effectively using sounds which started life as a real instrument but have been through two sampling processes, a bit like heated up leftovers or refried beans.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

A solid start

Well I've had some short sessions at it, and now a good long session, section 1.1.3 is in a "finished" state. By "finished" I mean first pass done, ready to move on to another section. It needs editing, checking, listening and mastering. There are quite a few phases of letting stuff "settle in" before they are truly finished.

So I'd got about 3/4 of it done before, and was wondering what to do with the last part, when the idea of a "middle 8" or Bridge came to me. Change key, change pace. I thought for a long time about a melody, and then thought about what instrument to use - finally it hit me - use the bass.

So this meant a change not at the end, things needed rejigging somewhat. I had actually left the settings exactly where they were at the end of the guitar session, because I was reasonably sure I'd want more guitar. Lo and behold, I did, and it sounded fine. So with added guitar, and bass (including bass melody, controversial!), and some shakers and a guiro (using a stereo pair of mikes for the first time in a purple project), and it all seems to be coming together quite well.

There will be some problems with mastering, but they can be overcome. The end result is cheerful and rocky in places. Does it convey the solid form of matter? Not sure.

Friday, 2 April 2010

The guitars of wrath

Hurrah I got some time today in which to do some guitarring for 1.1.3.  It might need more but I'm pretty pleased with it.  I feel like I've got about 80% of the content done, so I'm thinking of adding some bass and then wondering what inspiration will lead me to also include.

I always have a choice when doing electric guitar - I have a pretty comprehensive package called "Guitar rig" which runs on the computer, and has a total plethora of high-quality options.  There are two drawbacks with it.  Firstly when I use it as I play, it doesn't affect the recording (so the recording comes out "dry") Secondly, (and related) I then have to apply it as an after-effect to regain the same sound - and that takes processing power.  More than two guitar tracks and the poor computer is struggling to keep up.

The other option is my trusty boss multi-effects pedal, not as high quality but what I hear is what records, and processing is really cheap as a result.  Oh and a bonus is that it is easier to get stereo effects.  And another bonus - I can apply wah effects as I play.

So today I compromised, and used guitar rig for rythmn and boss for lead.

In retrospect, I really like the drums.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Twitching the veil

So the problems with the drums are not so much sorted as I have decided I can live with them, and maybe they are not as bad as I thought.  If I take the MIDI track recorded and chop it into smaller sections this gives me some artificial "note off" events which helps, and it wasn't as quiet as i thought.

So this is where I wondered about how much of the secrets to reveal, and thought, "hey, if I'm blogging I might as well be honest, it's not like anyone is reading it anyway".  I might do it in different ways in different sub-sections but for 1.1.3 which I have been working on I have a compromise between programmed drums and performed drums.  I programmed the bass and snare, and performed the hi-hat, ride and cymbals, and fills.  This means it's tight but loose at the same time, giving it a more live feel.  I think.  I hope.  I doubt a drummer would be fooled.  I'm quite liking the drums, they are slightly trippy, slightly shuffly.

So at this point I have pretty much planned about the first half of 1.1.3, with enough drums to cover the second half, but I might not use them all.  I'm not really sure where it's going next.  One of the problems I have now is that I'm trying to imagine what it will sound like, but don't have the guitars in.  this is because a) I haven't had time to do them yet, but also b) because experience has taught me that once you pick up a guitar you should do all the guitar that you want to have the same sound.  When you come back another time the settings are never quite the same.  It's a chicken and egg situation though, because I feel like I want to hear the guitar to see where it feels like it might go next.

I'm going to end on a more general note, which is that I intend to put even more thought into BMS than the previous albums, I think about 50% more care is needed to get it sounding more professional (I am my own worst critic). This means I will have to "give it 150%".  Simon Cowell would like the effort.  

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

More e-drum problems

I have found a power supply which works with the drums - it says 12v and the drums want 9v but they seem happy enough, nothing has gone "bang" - well nothing that I didn't intend to.

So I have linked them up to the computer, and so can record the MIDI output.  There are 2 problems at the moment (apart from the challenge of drumming).  Firstly i don't seem to always get a "note off" event, and so the midi recording is littered with very long notes.  Secondly I seem to have to hit them REALLY HARD to get it to work at all.  They are fine with the internal sounds (which are not great) - so there must be a MIDI sensitivity issue.

Honestly sometimes I feel like I need to be more of a computer whizz-kid than a musician!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Making a start

Hurrah, I managed to make a start on album 3 today.  Despite the lack of lithophone (see earlier post) I have a nice marimba and a nice xylophone which are almost as cool.  So I have started sub-section 1.1.3 with a nice tuned percussion motif in alternating bars of 8/8 and 7/8.  I got the riff and rythmn while driving and have decided to leave the radio off more often if I'm going to get creative in the rush-hour jam.  I love the fact that I ahve been listening to enough prog that when i start tapping on the steering wheel in's almost always in some nice time signature.

So I have a good starting point, and some variations, and I need to add rock instruments next I think (get it?  "Rock" instruments... never mind) 

I have a drums problem next - my electronic kit has been in mothballs for a while and I can't find the power supply! I would dearly love to have as much of the drums as possible "performed" (ie using the kit) rather than programmed, although a combination of the two might give the best results.  I just need the power!

Oh and on 11 Bells I had bells at the section boundaries, on Binary Tree I had gongs and digital noise, but because of the focus on the number three it's obvious what I need this time... triangles! Luckily I have 5 of the things.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Sammy's post

Sammy (my son) would like to post. Here he is...
~ mm,

33+636-++-+++656 kljk fdvddbd

Sample envy

So I'm starting to think about rythmns and sounds and riffs for BMS. Track 1 is all about the physical world, section 1.1 is about matter and the three major states: solid, liquid and gas, and so for sub-section 1.1.3 I've been thinking about what sort of sounds you might use for solidity, frozenness, ice, that sort of thing. I've heard of a lithophone, which is a sort of xylophone made with stones. I had a quick look on the internet for lithophone samples and I found somebody who has professionally sampled the skiddaw stones. One problem: it's £50 for the samples. Now I can't go buying exotic instrument samples every time I have a whim like this, they have maybe 3 minutes use tops. Sigh.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Viral marketing blues

I dislike selling myself like a used car or cheap double-glazing. The past 24 hours have been fairly difficult in this respect, but I have bitten the bullet and gone for it. As well as the website, this blog, the facebook presence and the music itself at, I have now messaged all my facebook friends, emailed as many people as I dare from my personal email mailing list, sent out an email to the whole department at work, and emailed almost all the students I teach, in an attempt to get the word out, get a ball rolling, get some sort of encouraging metaphor underway at any rate.

At least I feel reasonably secure here on the blog, i don't think anyone has made it here yet. Amazingly in just a few hours I already have 11 fans on facebook (all friends or relatives and of course myself) and have had 9 hits on the website (although 3 of them are me!). To be fair the visitor counter was an afterthought, so I may have missed a couple of hits.

All of this means my adrenaline is fairly high, and I feel nice and vulnerable. Exposing my creations to public scrutiny is not easy, although by now I'm getting used to the fact that the general response is not scorn, ridicule or criticism, but apathy.

And it's all pointless unless some people actually listen to the music, and (very importantly) tell their friends. I feel like I would like to give a prize to the first person who finds their way to the music through a second step referral. If that's you, what would you like?

Thursday, 25 March 2010


The website for the Purple music project has gone live, it's not that pretty, it's not big, and it's not really clever. You can see it here. Now the publicity machine can go into first gear - the next stage is a facebook presence, and after that a mass mail-out to everyone I know. be warned, if I know you I will be mailing you soon.


Donations have gone live, you can now donate to the Purple music project using the button here.

Intentions for number three

So there are 2 Purple albums already, and I have big plans for number three.  In keeping with the ethos of Purple, the number 3 will feature quite heavily in my plans.  There will be 3 tracks, each with 3 sections, each with 3 sub-sections, each of which will be 3 minutes long.  This makes 3 27-minute tracks, for a total of 81 minutes.  This is quite a lot of music to make, and I think the maximum for a CD is 80 minutes (unless there is a way of squeezing more on).  This may mean it can only be distributed electronically, or on 2 CDs, but I'll do cover art anyway, because I enjoy it.

I even have a title: "BMS". This is for "Body, Mind, Spirit", which will be the themes of the three tracks.

I have lots of musical ideas, well about 7 currently waiting.  With 27 sections I need another 20 ideas. Opening brain... waiting for inspiration...

Welcome to my blog!

Errrm, hello

Welcome to the Purple blog.  Look I know the page is purple, but that's not what I mean.  

"Purple" is a musical project by me, Dan Hodgson.  It's instrumental, and kind of "progressive rock".  Have a look at the website. (actually there's not much there yet, it will go live in a few days.) So far there are two albums you can listen to and download for free at and I'm about to start work on album number three, once I have finished putting together a website, facebook page, blog, donation system, and who knows, twitter, mySpace?  All I need and can be bothered to do for a viral marketing campaign.  To be honest I'd rather be doing the music and have a publicist to do this but needs must and all that.

So this is a really tedious opening blog post I know.  Blah, blah, advertising, self-aggrandising and all that.  Never mind, the real purpose of this blog will be to follow the creation of album number three.  See next post...