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.