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.