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