Friday, 25 February 2011


So I tackled 2.2.2 Biology tonight - and realised that fittingly it's the middle section of the whole album. Appropriate then that I had the thought of using a heartbeat rhythm. To be honest when I started that was really all I had.

So I used a bass drum gentle pulse to give a... well pulse. I then wondered what it would be like with a real heartbeat sound effect instead. I found one, and manipulated it to the right speed, and then actually found that it was nice when I combined the drum pulse with the real pulse.

Because I was doing biology I wanted feelings of growing, feelings of strength and solidity, and also feelings of delicateness and gentleness - all the sorts of things we think of for nature. I guess you could say what I got happened "organically" although I hate that mis-use of the word. I played with synth sounds, one giving a gentle rising, one with wide, broad strong yet gentle chords, and then a couple of rhythmic ones. I blended one into another, into another and stripped it back to the pulse and a rhythm synth - towards the end bringing in a gentle enigmatic piano. All of this over a long D note - actually that note carries through all three science sections.

At times this is quite "experimental" - meaning chaotic. Again this appeals to my idea of biology.

So this slots in before 2.2.3 chemistry, and as I write I am listening to the sequence. I seem quite convinced so far.

It's all Physics, isn't it Jimmy?

Months ago I talked about my old Physics teacher, with "Och no it won't do". This guy, Jock Marsden, was the most distractable teacher we had, easily diverted onto talk about his days in Aeroplane design. Typically at the end of a long, and diverted lesson, as we hustled out of the door he would declaim "But it's all physics isn't it Jimmy?" (he called everyone Jimmy).

After much deliberation I decided that the pseudo-heavy-metal and pseudo-acid-rock section is fine as Chemistry, and that it will be the last of the three sciences, not the first - the ease with which it will segue into the next section is too good to resist, and it turns out I can find a way of getting out of the previous section OK. So that's the order sorted - the next problem is, how do I turn the idea of physics into music.

Well for a start I could think about how sound is made, flutes have resonant air, strings vibrate, it's all physics. So physical instruments - good idea. Ahhh but electronic instruments have sounds generated by whizzing electrons, and once again it's all physics. The music that is generated at the end is a confluence of air pressure waves, formed by (hopefully) pleasing harmonies (concordance and discordance are not just subjective, they are physical things) and rhythm (periodic factors using the dimension of time...) it's all physics! On top of that, the whole of the first track is about the physical world, so tackles the states of matter (physics), the three classic forces electricity, magnetism and gravity (physics), and space, time and multidimensionality (physics). When it comes down to it, physics is everywhere, it's the fabulous science that links maths to all the other scientific disciplines.

But that doesn't help, what do I do to represent physics musically?

Well I had this musical idea that I'd done a prototype of, which is a kind of Alan Parsons kind of thing - I can hear it in my head with a nice 80s synth. Is it physics? Well everything is physics - but that's now a cop-out, is it particularly physics? I'd really like to use this idea somewhere though and I'm running out of viable sections.

Instead of intellectualizing it, what if I tried to tap into emotion - how do I feel about physics, and how does that translate into music? Physics to me is solidity, and to some extent the "clockwork universe" of Newton's laws.

Solidity = rock

That was the best I could come up with, and so I've used my idea and done it in a rock style. And for now, it's the best I can think of. Plus I really like it.

It starts with a drone and a tinkle, all three of the science ones will. An electric piano plays the riff, joined by rock guitar, slowly speeding up to speed. Then a quick 2-bars of clock noises and the drums come in with four on the floor. By now there are three strong rock guitars pumping out the riff. Twice through the riff fully and onto the B motif, which is more funky, and the drums back this up with a rock/disco beat. A few more iterations and variations and it all works out. The guitars are all in open Dm tuning (I really have a thing about altered tunings right now), and the whole thing is full. There are small bits of solo-ish stuff but having tried to find sounds to play over as solo lines it seemed resistant - the sound is full already but it's effectively a rhythm track.

So I'm going to leave it as is and see if it needs more when I get into the listening phase.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Oh and also...

The website is back up.

Tortured strings

This is a supplemental to last time, I had intended to talk about tuning.

As I wandered through the process of recording the section there were two interesting things that happened. The first is that although I had some ideas it very much evolved as I recorded it, which is something that often happens. As I play around with an idea, especially on the guitar, ways of exploiting that idea evolve in my mind. In other words, it's not entirely planned before I start, in fact this has been true throughout, and I like it this way (although I have never consciously decided that this is a policy). It make the process feel more "organic" - despite the fact that I dislike this use of the word it seems to fit. It may be that this makes the music itself less clinical as I pull at the threads that seem more interesting at the time.

The second thing, in this case is that as I played with the ideas on the guitar I started retuning. Normal guitar tuning is EADGBE, and the most common tuning for people who mess about with such things is DADGAD. Different bits were played in different tuning and it changed as I went along, I think I finished up at DADFAD, but that's because I wanted the highest three stings in their normal relationship for the solos (but didn't mind being a tone lower as everything is in D anyway). For much of the rest, the rhythm stuff, I seemed to gravitate towards DADGCD, and played the chords with 2 fingers together on the same fret on strings 4 and 5.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Physics, no wait, Chemistry, no wait...

So my next challenge was 2.2.1 Physics. I am leaving the previous sub-section with a D chord, and I had this kind of slightly metally guitar thing in my head I wanted a go at. The problem was - how was that physics?

It's not.

Hang on, heavy metal - that's chemistry surely? SO I change the order of my sciences section around, no biggie.

So there's a bass undercurrent pedal, a bit like right at the start of the first track, oh then there's a tinkly synth bit... like the very start of the first track... OK so if it's a good idea do it more than once. Then there's a guitar doing rythmic chords, sounding like it's played through a bullhorn, then in comes drums, bass, and multiple guitars.

I have a problem with guitars, in that I have a really nice suite of guitar effects called Guitar Rig that will run either standalone or as a plug-in for Cubase. However, if I run it standalone, and record my playing, I can only seem to configure cubase to record without the effect on. Well this is OK because I can take the same effect and apply it as an after-effect to the track. No problem, except if I want more than two guitars, the poor computer starts to struggle. SO I have a method - I record into cubase, isolate that one guitar track with the after-effect on and mix down just that one track to an audio file, which I then load back into cubase as an audio track... confused yet?

The end result is that I spent aaages on this track mixing down individual tracks because I have used about 10 guitar tracks in total.

The heavy metal thing takes nearly half of the track time up, and then I played around with some of the more extreme sound effect settings of guitar rig - getting a nice spacey background. Seeing as I am in chemistry I might as well embrace acid. I have made a fundamental decision that instead of aciiiiiiddd as it applies in the early 90s I'd rather emulate some of the more late 60s/early 70s acid-related music.

There's a problem with this, I start playing with the guitar on a setting called "superfunk" and I have come out with a funky rhythm. I love it, but it's not really the spacerock sound I'm after. Yes, spacerock is a recognised genre. I found another sound that complimented "superfunk" which also was funky. I played a bassline on the guitar (oh I did that for the first bit as well because my bass is at church again). By this stage I have abandoned the spacerock and shrugged my virtual shoulders.

However, once the rhythm is laid down I start looking for some soloing to go over the top. It turns out I can make it quite spacerocky by doing spacey soloing. I spent ages on a lead line, repeating bits, re-recording, and the pinnacle, a genuine tap-on part (that's fast fingering - often I fake this stuff, this time it's not absolutely perfect but I'm happy that it's real). When I played it back, I still had my guitar on my knee, so I started fiddling along to the music - a perrenial guitarist habit. The thing is, it seems that sometimes two guitars are better than one, and harmonising is fun. The first line took ages, the second was on the second take, fully done. And by now the spacerock thing was firmly back in play so I played up to that. I added a bit of minimal spacey drums and Bob's your auntie.

I kind of glossed over the first part - it has a complex, non-repeating rhythm and is in no particular time signature. It actually took ages, and a lot of care to make it work. In fact this may be the most intensely worked-on 3 minutes of music I have ever made, but hopefully it doesn't feel like it.

In the meantime I have a new problem, this was designed to go straight after the jazz section and it works well in that position, but I have a plan for sections 2.3.1, 2.3.2 and 2.3.3 which are all about music: rhythm, harmony and melody. I plan to carry a beat at 120bmp through all three, and the first one of these is funky. This chemistry section ends perfectly to go into it. So it could become 2.2.3 instead of 2.2.1, but the transition was good at the beginning...oooh dilemmna!