This one is as much an experiment in sound design than anything else, tweaking a synth with a formant filter to create something… well, not really akin to it at all, but slightly evocative of overtone singing (which makes sense, considering that overtone singing is about formant manipulation above all else). It’s certainly an interesting thing to hear coming from what’s basically a subtractive synth, though. Not quite like someone singing, but eerily expressive nonetheless…
So, no surprise, I’m still busy with a dozen different things, which means that it’s been a good long while since I’ve actually sat down with my DAW and really worked extensively on a comprehensive new track. That’s not to say, though, that I haven’t still been involved with music. It’s just been a different process, more quickly playing around with stuff on my phone or tablet when I’m on the go, or pulling up a program and trying out a quick idea in a spare minute. Or, for example, singing random weirdness into the new Music Notes program and seeing how surreal the accompaniment can get:
What that means is that while I don’t have a ton of really cohesive songs to post, I do have a whole bunch of myriad random sound clips, that nonetheless have some very interesting sounds to them.
Such as this quick improvisation in iKaosscilator:
Or a couple of really quick clips of how the same underlying sound can be dramatically different just by tweaking a few effects:
Speaking of which, I’ve been playing around with a lot of new experimental effects, which can do quite a lot with even a very simple two-note sequence:
And then, um, there are these…
So, yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to music-wise recently. Admittedly, among some of these various tracks are some other clips that I think have some promise as the basis of a more extensive work, which will be heading for my DAW likely at some point in this next year (assuming the US isn’t swallowed up in a ravenous vortex of vicious politics). I’m still playing around with sound, still making music, even if it is a little bit more… bite-size at the moment. (Oh, actually, I did come up with a more complete track recently… trouble is, it’s another one for the NSFAE album, which means I can’t exactly release it here.)
In other news, while I haven’t really had a chance to utilize it a whole lot yet, I finally, after years of delay, made the jump to Logic Pro X. Which does, admittedly, have some nice features, although it killed off all of my 32-bit plugins, some of which I do miss dearly, although some of the replacements are even more promising (for example, CamelSpace, from the Apple-devoured Camel Audio, was a nice and extensive trancegate plugin, but Tantra takes it to a whole other level). And, in the interim, I have to admit that my musical style and technique have changed quite a bit, so while I miss some of the old sounds, a lot of the newer instruments that still work are more directly applicable to the things I’ve been wanting to work on, including some phenomenal granular synthesis instruments I’ve been having fun with. Between that and the rather impressive mini-studios I’ve managed to get going on my tablet, there are more opportunities than ever to explore the boundaries of sonic character, and I already have some fascinating ideas about what I want to try next…
As you may have noticed from glancing through my catalog, my family has been an inspiration for my music in various ways. Music has always been a large part of my family’s experience, and we’re all involved with it in one way or another: my father is an expert at manipulating song lyrics to create pitch-perfect parodies, my mother is an excellent vocalist who performs in multiple choirs, my brother is also a great vocalist and player of reed instruments (clarinet, saxophone, etc), and like me was also a radio DJ for a time. And as for me… well, I do all of this craziness that from time to time I like to call music.
My family has also been the driving force behind some of the music I actually create. I may have mentioned it before, but some of my earliest tracks created to add a little bit of original flair to the mix CDs I created for family members (at the time, my computer was the only one with a CD burner). Over time, that tradition continued, and for several Mother’s and Father’s Days, I used music to do something interesting.
For my mom, it was mainly about doing something unique and interesting, but for my dad, there was usually another layer involved. Another hobby that the two of us share is that of cryptology: of making and breaking codes. So, for Father’s Day, instead of just a card, I’d create something that had an encoded message in it for my father to decode. Over the years, I’ve done all sorts of things for it, from abstract color patterns to choose-your-own-adventure games, to painstakingly hand-drawing my own particular adaptation of the classic Dancing Men cipher from Sherlock Holmes. And, in several cases, it’s involved music and sound (in fact, there’s another coded musical message posted somewhere on this site, if you’re so inclined to track it down).
This particular one is the latest iteration, and thus far has remained uncracked, if for some reason you’re interested in trying your hand at it… (this particular one contains a more generic rather than personal message, so I’m okay with posting it publicly).
Some additional experimentation on live-playing instruments on my tablet (this one is done in Chordion).
I have to say, when it comes to playing things live, I’m definitely of mixed minds about it, and even more so when I’m working with melody. When I’m working on live manipulation of a weird soundscape, for instance, that live random element is almost part of the fun, to see what unpredictable thing might happen. With a melody, though, it’s a different story, especially since I’m not the kind of person who can jump in and improvise something while guaranteeing that I won’t hit an off note – and if I was going to practice and play something over and over again until I got it perfect, why not just take the extra step and program it directly into my DAW where it can be as precise as I want it? While I’m not sure it results in absolute perfection each time, for me the fun of improvising something is to just go with the music while keeping it reasonably listenable. At the same time, though, when I’m playing it back and hear something jarring, or even if not then at least something I didn’t intend or didn’t really want it to sound like, it can infuriate me to no end. And yet, I keep trying to improvise and play unusual things live, so…
I played several different approaches with Chordion, but this was the only track I really got into:
The annoying part of being busy with work and exam prep and dozens of other projects, creative and otherwise, is that sometimes you don’t get a chance to make music for a while, and it drives you crazy.
Anyway, here’s a little track that I came up with while working on some different musical sequences and tried to play live in Rockmate, mostly succeeded, and then probably titled by mashing my hand against the keyboard.
Step 1: Take the glass top to a corningware dish and spin it upside-down on a tile countertop.
Step 2: Record the oscillating glass noise.
Step 3: Experiment with the clip using various forms of granular synthesis, gating, extreme filter and delay warping, hyper-driven amps, and other fun stuff.
Oh yeah, warning: there’s a reason this one’s tagged “earbleed.” Some of the extreme driving produced some unusual side effects that are very shrill in pitch, so you may want to carefully moderate your volume when listening (or listen to the “minimal” version on the right, which has less of the especially hard programming).
Another collection of continuing experimentations creating music on-the-go with my phone and other mobile devices.
I finally got around to installing Nodebeat, and created this little sequence:
I’m still working on tweaking it to see if I can get some different sounds out of it. I think it might be due to the blending effect of the delay, but when I was comparing it to another work I did in the program a while back, while the two pieces are different it does present a certain similarity in tone. Perhaps some different processing is in order on subsequent works…
I also did a quick little sound clip/intro in a newish sequencer program called AUXY, which is a little limited but has some promising sequencers:
I did eventually play through the entire game/program, and here is the entirety of the album output that resulted:
If you’re curious as to just how much of a difference the user input actually makes, you can compare what I came up with to an album uploaded by another user of Cosmic DJ here. The background “structure” of the song does sound similar, as you would expect, but the user input forms the core of the melody and produces a decidedly different sound from different styles of input.
One of the things I’ve always wondered about since the advent of digital music composition is where the threshold is between music composed by a person, and music composed by a computer, algorithm, or other automatic or pre-recorded source. What specific action is the essence of creating music? If you assemble a track entirely of pre-recorded loops created by someone else, can you call that music your own – that is, can the mere arrangement of existing sound be considered music? Or what if the entire track is made up of automatically generated MIDI or arpeggiated sequences?
It’s a question that I’ve occasionally considered as I’ve explored various programs that allow people to more easily play around with the building blocks of music and create music of their own, under the guise of games or as simplified musical tools. Programs like this, to allow a novice to create something interesting that will also sound good more often than not, often do so by limiting the overall possibility space to ensure that the nascent musician has little opportunity to go off the rails, but by doing so it also places certain bounds on overall creativity. Because of that, I sometimes wonder whether such programs do more harm or more good overall, as they simultaneously encourage and limit music creation, but overall I generally consider them to be a benefit, considering that if you can introduce someone into playing around with music and sound, you can subsequently move them towards more complex and open music-creation systems as their proficiency grows.
I’ve played around with several of these types of programs over the years, from Electroplankton to Isle of Tune to DJ Space. The one I’ve been trying out now, though, is the recently released and similarly-named Cosmic DJ. It markets itself as a sort of music “game,” but primarily revolves around tapping out beats and melodies. It consists of several pre-built song elements, such as the intro, outro, and bridge sections, while letting the player compose most of the intervening segments using a simplified step sequencer where you can lay out the sounds from various four-part kits in whatever pattern you’d like (think a very simplified version of something like BeatWave). Once you’ve put in each section, it then assembles the song from your inputs and its other background/bridge components to create the final track. The end result, then, follows a very specific pattern, but with a considerable amount of melodic variation based on what you programmed in. Because of that, the results really do feel like they’re right on the edge of that question about what it means to create music. Take the output from Cosmic DJ: structurally, every song generated will be very much the same, but there’s also a tremendous amount of difference in how all of the main sections sound based on those different patterns.
The following track, I think, demonstrates some of that, as it is primarily based around two alternating versions of a Cosmic DJ track that I composed twice, with different ideas in mind each time (and bridging them together with some melodic rock loops and other stuff, because I’m weird like that). Listening to them side by side, it’s clear that the songs are similar enough that they can go back to back fairly seamlessly, but at the same time manage to set a considerably different tone in each of their various parts.
Oh, and just for fun, I also played around with using it as a source for various granular synthesis engines (which, right there, brings up another questions about what it is to create music, and creation by transformation). Philosophy aside, though, I found one setup that converted the track into some weird-sounding synthesized wind noise, which despite its uncanny variations is now on its way to fast becoming a favored track in my white noise/nature sounds background audio playlist.
So, ultimately, when it comes down to the question of what it means to make music, and where that specific threshold lies, I really don’t know any more. It is true that when it comes to creating music, the overall creative potential probably scales with the complexity of the music-creation system, increasing the attendant expertise necessary to operate it to that maximum level of creativity. However, I do think that higher-level programs like this one do have their purpose, and even within the limitations of that framework, I think there is still plenty of variation and creativity that can be delivered from them if you have a mind to.
(Oh, and if you’re wondering about releasing tracks involving music created in Cosmic DJ, it is allowed by the developer.)