Thursday, 19 December 2013

The longest post ever

That's just a prediction, it might not be.

Well, my dearest reader, it feels like generally these post start with "I've had a bit of a break and I've come back". This post is exceptional, I have not really had a break, I've been beavering away, but I've been uninclined to blog about what I've done. Partly because I've had a tendency to work in short bursts, and partly because I didn't feel like it.  Anyway, I ahve just finished a short session and now I feel like like because I think I have done some slightly interesting stuff, at least things I have not really done before.

When I left you I was working on the first section of what will probably be the third track. The track is about church and the section is based on a praise song I wrote a couple of years ago, which did actually get used in church a few times. At the end of last blogging I had done the long intro, a first verse and chorous.

I have added to this with a second verse (broken down and tune on a synth) anothe bridge section with acoustic guitars, introducing a synth bass, some tambourine over that, and a final chorus, with guitars, synth tune, etc. Then finally it breaks down again into a quiet repeated chorus. It's all a bit rough around the edges and needs mixing properly, but it has a good energy to it. I have not often used this many synths in one track together.  Anyway, I'm happy with it.

I then spent quite a bit of time thinking about the order of sections, and what they should be musically. I tried passing straight from this first section to what I thought would be the third section, which was the first I recorded, a treatment of "When I survey" to the tune "Waily Waily". To my surprise the transition worked well. It does mean I have two tune-based sections in a row. So I was contemplating doing this. In order to try it I was using a cubase project which also had the last section in. Now this last section is the one which I was most unhappy about when I had a listen through everything that was done back in november, and I had determined that I was going to completely rethink this section.

The problem I had was that when I listen to it in context of the previous (now second section), it made sense and didn't seem as bad as it was in isolation. This gave me a problem, because I like good transitions.

So I have effectively spent a couple of weeks trying to knock this section into shape. The structure if it is "refrains" which have a simple repeated chord sequence, and "verses" which have flute solos by my mother-in-law Kathy. Each verse has a different chord sequence, and is a different length

The first thing I was not happy with was the flute, so I spent quite a while messing with it. I had originally thought it weak so had heavily added effects - particularly phasing, echo, tone and reverb. One thing I didn't like was that at times it was too loud and at others too quiet. Adding a compresssor was the answer to that, and with a bit of tweaking, taking out the phasing and playing with the tone I got it to sound warmer and fuller, and I started to like it.

The second thing, when I listened closely, was the drums. It was very pedestrian. Now the drums for the previous two sections is also pretty standard, but seems fine because it seems to playt more of a supporting role. So I wondered if changing the samples used would help. I messed about qith the drum sets I ahve and eventually got intrigued by a sort of bangra set. Secondly, maybe the actual drum pattern was dull and unhelpful, so I completely revised that. Suddenly the whole section had a different feel, and instead of feeling lifeless and porridgey, it had a life of it's own.

For a long time I have tried to work on the principle of "don't be aftraid to ditch something if it doesn't work". There are two sections on the second album which I sincerely wish I had done that to. (Although bizarrely, when someobody at a prog rock site reviewed my albums recently, one of those was one of his favourite sections. Go figure!" Anyway, I feel like I have somewhat betrayed that principle - but maybe I've added to it. If something doesn't work, don't be afraid to ditch it, but if the idea is sound, you may be able to rescue it with reworking. I'm kind of happy to have got to this phase.

I cannot remember why I was also messing about with a synth, but I found a nice wibbly synth pad sound which sounded quite nice in context of the refrains, so I added it. Oh and I found that taking things out in the verses made nice contrasts.

So musically it was sorted, the final ingredient was to add sound clips from sermons at my church, JPC. Thankfully there is a large repository of recorded sermons available online. Thankfully also I found a good sequence of clips that I wanted to use in the first three sermons I listened to. Each by a different person, so that gives a contrast of voices. They form a pattern which roughly speaking explore faith, hope, suffering and the place of Jesus in all that, also with a little about the history of the church building. I also have the vicar saying "I must conclude" which is the closest he has to a catch-phrase.

So overall I think, no I'm sure the section is rescued. It sounds good, it's musical balance and interest is good, and it is well-paced and lays out some ideas as well. I guess having the section redeemed is quite appropriate in context.

So because of the shuffling around, that section is no longer the last section of the track, and having a section on praise (section 1), a section on the cross and in the setting of "church" on the communion (section 2), and a section on sermons (section 3), it seems obvious that the last section should be on prayer.

How does one represent prayer in sound/musical form?

Especially I wanted to de-emphasise ritual prayer, and evoke personal prayer - prayer is a very personal thing, and this is meant to be a largely personal album. I've thought about it a lot, and I'm finding that I really want to not over-think it, but rather to feel it. I wanted a short part exploring that experience when praying is hard and it feels like you are trying to break through a wall. This led to one of the more interesting things I've done in the name of music - set up a couple of microphones to record myself hitting a wall in increasing desparation. I tried to feel the frustration as I hit and pushed at the wall, and barged it with my shoulder. I got a little pain as a result.

Along with that I wanted a deep, sweeping and slightly disturbing ambience. I found, quite quickly, a lovely sound in FM8 (a NI soft-synth) which felt right. After the wall-slapping I wanted some tinkly noises - very high up in the frequency spectrum, random, quiet and stereo spread. I think musically the equivalent of sparks before the eyes when standing up too fast, or of sparks from a sparkler.  I searched absynth for an appropriate sound but couldn't find one. I recorded the sound of a key being struck by another key, which is a nice high-pitched "tink" and tried to mess about with it, multiple copies with pitch shifting, and stereo placement. It sounded truly underwhelming, too much background hiss, too much work and not really tinkly enough anyway.

I had a good think about what might give the right sort of sound. I wondered about using a triangle and pitch-shifting it up quite a lot (I wanted it up towards the limit of human hearing). I wondered about glass, and think that tiny glass bells would have the right tonal texture. Finally I thought about wind chimes.

I went to the garden centre and bought the smallest (and therefore highest pitch) wind chimes I could find. I did a stereo recording of them, quite a long one. I cut in legthways into three and put them in parallel so they play together. I put two of them over to the ears (left and right) to get a good spread of tinkles. Each one was pitch-shifted up by about an octave, but different amounts, and then time-stretched to thin out the tinkles, which gave a tremulous quality to them too. I fed the three tracks into a group track so I could add effects that would affect all three. I did some severe tone control to drop out background noise and only leave the top end, a stereo enhancer to widen the sound, and some reverb to make it feel mosre spacey.

Finally I have pretty much got the tinkling I wanted.

Sometimes I just explore with sounds and find things I like, But I do enjoy having a vision (for want of a better word) of a sound and trying to work out how to create it. It takes time, but is fun, and after all this is all about having fun with the process.

And so I have stopped.  I'm trying to get hold of a congregational recital of the Lord's Prayer to put in - it feels like the right thing to do. I have asked somebody at church for a recording and am waiting for that.

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