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