Sunday, 19 June 2011

Giz a choon

I have finally started the last sub-section of track 2. This group of 3 sub-sections is all about music, so far we have had rhythm, then harmony, and now it's melody's turn.

As I hinted previously, I have a plan going into this sub-section, in fact it's one of the most prescribed sub-sections I've ever had. I need some melodies: I have some suitable ones already written.

I'm in a ceilidh band, which if you don't know is for communal folk dancing, a bit like American Line Dancing, but not in a line. A bit like old English courtly dances but faster, wilder and much more fun. I'm in this band with lots of very lovely people and so a few times a year we get together and play (broadly speaking) celtic folk for the revellers to revel to.

Sometime in the last year we did a ceilidh for some good friends, and I had a reasonably mad idea: I decided we should have a brand new dance created for the couple, and to go with it brand new tunes. And then I decided we would do the dance first thing after the food break, and the band would see the tunes for the first time at the beginning of the food break.

Except for my mother-in-law who is in the band, she got involved with the tunes before-hand because I needed someone who could write music to write them out. Also she co-wrote one of them.

So this section is the three tunes, each one twice. The first tune is called "washing up" and was written as I looked out of the kitchen window while washing up. This is the one that starts with the chords from Pachabel's canon.

The third one is called "deep blue sea" because it's the tune to a song that I wrote to sing when looking for something - and partly to amuse Sammy when he was a baby, although it would probably amuse him more now.

The second one was co-written by my mother-in-law and was specifically written to plug the gap between the other two and provide a contrast. We struggled for a name for it and eventually decided that between the washing up and the deep blue sea there was... Seaton Sluice. This is a place on the north-east coast locally famous for being the sewage outflow, and so evocatively named! In fact it's a really nice place with a beautiful harbour and a couple of miles of great beach with nice dunes and impressively free parking. It's also where the picture was taken for the album art for "11 Bells", my first album. Anyway, there seems to be a Northumbrian tradition of naming tunes after places. It also has the distinction of being the only ceilidh tune I know with a major7 chord in the accompanyment.

Ceilidh tunes are intended for dancing and often (almost always in fact) follow a formula. Each tune has two parts (part A and part b), each of which is 8 bars long - just right for 1 or 2 figures of dancing. Part A is played twice, then Part B is played twice. Once through the tune is once through the dance. The whole tune is then usually repeated, and so playing a "set" of three tunes, each one twice is exactly 6 times through the dance, which is usually about right.

this give me a problem, because I want to keep the drums going through from the harmony section (remember they started back in the rhythm section, actually the beat started before that in the chemistry section) The beat is at a handy 120 bpm. 3 32-bar tunes, each played twice comes to a total of 96 bars. 3 minutes of 120bpm is exactly 90 bars. It's too long.

Which is why it speeds up through the section, this is to make it fit.

So far I have copied drum patterns from the harmony section, recorded all the tunes on one hand on an organ for guide purposes (tricky as some of the tunes go quite fast, but I cheated and sped them up) and have started the process of altering the drums to make them more appropriate to the tunes.

The normal way of working for me, and for almost everybody who has an inkling of knowing what they are doing with multitrack recording, is to start from the drums and bass, any other rhythm (guitars, etc). build up to harmony filling (keebs, etc) and finish with the thing that's meant to grab the interest, the singing or the solo instrument. This time, the tunes are in charge, which is why I want the tunes in for all the process, the nuances of the rhythms in the tunes should be supported by the accompaniment, and this is in fact the way good ceilidh music is built - from the tune down.

After the harpsichord...

...comes the the string quarter playing Pachabel's canon. Well OK almost Pachabel's Canon - just the same chord sequence but as block chords rather than all the fabulous counterpoint. And almost a string quartet too - each sound is really an ensemble sound. This is all about having a chord sequence - and this is a pretty famous sequence. Also it very neatly moves into the next section, as the first melody I'm going to use there has the same (almost) chord sequence.

The drums prevail and the strings play the sequence one. Acoustic guitar and electric bass join and it's played again. Then twice at double sequence speed (each chord takes half as long). Increasingly the feel becomes bouncy and the strings are phased out. Over the whole thing is floated an electric guitar doing vague pentatonic noodling.

The guitar is worth talking about. I tend to use a lot of classic "crunchy" guitar sounds when soloing - I'm quite a fan of that distortion. However, I have been looking for a satisfying "clean" sound, something a little like the classic Santana sound would do me - compressed and sustained and clean. I think I have finally found it in this. Also I had an interesting moment. Sometimes when I want a line (often I can hear in my head what I want) but it seems too fast for me to play reliably, I play at half speed and double speed it up. Well this time I had such a line, and when I tried to double it up it just sounded...wrong. My trickery was unhelpful. So I tried several ways of playing it and eventually found one, and learned it and did it at normal speed. I did use a bizarre little technique though (never used this before but will again) - I was playing high up the neck, and to stop open strings ringing and getting in the way, I draped a jumper over the lower part of the neck to act as damping. Now I think I need to invent the damping capo - it would be really useful.

I have been having lots of problems with cubase in this project - something keeps causing to go into an "unstable state" and it invites me to save out under a different name. Anyway I seem to have finally taken all the individual ideas and aggregated them into one nice track.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Ahhh pants! Just lost the last hour's worth of work when cubase crashed and I hadn't been saving at milestone points like I should. Never mind, I'm not going to redo it now, but it will be faster when redoing.

I did some last night too, so I should report on that. At the end of the previous session it was noticeable that the computer was struggling, given the number of different things going on at once. The solution: given that this sub-section is split into little ideas, is to make a separate project for each one. So I did, it means even more stitching together.

Following on from the scales idea is a harmonic/counterpoint idea (the sequence of ideas is intervals->scales->counterpoint->chord sequences, which is in itself more or less a primer in harmony). For some reason lost in the mists of my memory, this idea was conceived to be on a harpsichord, and why not? The sequence of chords/notes is a little odd, which I think I'm fine with. I could have done a fairly generic harpsichord-type-piece in the style of Gibbons, but instead there is a secret in this bit - a hidden tune which was used as the coat-hanger to hang the section off. I think I like it, but it has led me to some un-typically-Elizabethan chrds, diminished 7ths and augmented 5ths and so on. As an explorationof harmony this is valid, but it's odd. Odd can be good.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Scales in F

This current sub-section is turning out to be quite complicated. I am now working on the second idea in it, in which I switch from C# (and a bit) to F. the drums continue, and I have an F Major scale played alternately on piano and glockenspiel. This has, partway through, the chords, Dm, C# and Am played on a distorted guitar, and underneath has some nice synth bassy paddy sounds. I might want to add something more to the repeat, and so far a lot of work is going to make the guitar sound right.

the point behind this idea is that we have moved on from simple musical relationships, or intervals, to the diatonic major scale - the foundation of western music. hence the scales. The chords are because scales are not intrinsically interesting and I want to spice up the background.

The list of things being dealt with by cubase right now though is quite big - and there's more yet to come. The harpsichord for example for the next idea.

Sequel to big scary thoughts

Well I've been doing a lot of thinking about big scary thoughts in the last couple of weeks - what started in reality as "how can I do press-packs without getting CDs duplicated" has triggered off a huge chain of thoughts, ideas, investigations and finally with some (I hope) reasonable decisions.

There are lots of things I could do if I wanted to start making money out of the music. Lots of boring, stressful things, and although I reserve the right to change my mind I seem to have made the following decisions:

1. I will not try and sell my music, I will still continue to give it away for free

2. Although I would like to increase my listenership, I will attempt to do so in ways that are a) free (or very cheap) and b) viral media-like

3. I will not, for the sake of commerciality separate out sections of the music and treat them like "singles". It was always intended to be album-based

4. I will focus on having direct download and streaming to continue as the main delivery method of the music. I may still make some CDs by hand

5. I will do what seems to be the minimum to set myself up as a "record label" (with neither records or in fact many labels) In my mind this label is called "patchwork sounds" and is part of "The Patchwork Umbrella" - a name for my creative output, which may also include other people in the future.

6. I will start to use ISRC - because I can. I will look into barcodes but I don't think they are essential.

7. I am unlikely to turn BMS into a multimedia experience, but I may still create an image for each sub-section to use in a companion booklet (probably a PDF)

8. I will master BMS to a better quality than previous masters - in terms of file format. I am trying to resist the temptation to remaster the previous two albums, at the moment I feel like they are alive and on their own. I may see if I can get ISRCs in them at Last.Fm

9. I will have a marketing push at the "release" of BMS

10. I will create a virtual press-pack on the purple website, designed so that instead of sending press-packs I can send a URL

11. I will create "trailer tracks" - super-condensed versions of all three albums to give the essence of them in 3 minutes. These will be available on the virtual press-pack

I think that's all. Like I say I reserve the right to change my mind, and to do something different in the future. I have said many times I don't think that music publishing has a future - so now I am attempting to not get involved in that process.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Delay Lama

More work on the harmony sub-section tonight (2.3.2) - well a bit yesterday but I'm counting this as one session. The singing bowls are there and they need some backing up with other instruments. Given that the bowls are in c# and a bit this meant some judicious tuning, but I ahve added arpeggiated tibetan monks.

I have mentioned the monks in a previous post. It seemed appropriate that alongside the singing bowl, traditionally from Tibet/Nepal, that I give the monks a go. Actually what it is is a "formant" synth, which models vocal chords and gives a human-like sound. This particular one is called "delay lama" (a play on Dali Lama) because it has a delay, and as a gimmick not only makes the noise but has a picture of a monk who sings as you play the notes. Its fun. I have used two, one for each ear and they are doing arpeggios.

Added to that was some bass. My old, (pretty old) fender bass has found it's way home on the principle that I will predominantly use it for recording while the other one will mostly live at church. Unfortunately it would seem that the Fender has some electronic problems - a disconnected earth by the sound of the big buzzing noises. I managed to get it to stop and have some nice slightly funky bass.

Next was some electric guitar. I wanted a floating guitar "tap-on" arpeggio pattern that flies through from ear to ear. Now in the past I have used Guitar Rig alongside Cubase but it seems that on the new set-up they don't play nice together. It looks like the free ASIO driver I ahve doesn't do multi-tasking. Never mind, I have discovered the "monitor" button at long last - and maybe because the computer is more powerful than the previous one, the latency (lag) is less of a problem than it used to be.

So I think that's the first 32 bars sorted - next I'm going to move into F major and do some scales.