A History of Bedroom Music Production — Part Three

So this is the third and final part chronicling the evolution of my music.  What started out as a fascination with synthesizers largely due to the shallow(er) learning curve turned into an avid interest in electronic and computer-generated music.  Ironically, digging into the history of electronic music sent me in the opposite direction, towards more analogue and less pattern-based sounds.  This was most apparent in the Loafmen, where I abandoned the computer altogether and became part of a live, improvisational, experimental ensemble (with cookies).

After graduation, and subsequently leaving my Loaf-mates behind, the music I made was largely Loafman-based.  By that I mean that it was analogue (for the most part, I put the synthesizer and computer-based music on the side and picked up my alto saxophone again and played bass), indeterminate and improvisational.  This was joined with extensive tweaking and effects laid on the parts in SoundForge based in the solo experiments I was doing as a result of the Experimental Music class.  The album Urban Hymns is a good example of what I was working on at the time.

Also important was the name I put on the music.  Fœtus Kryste no longer seemed to apply — Fœtus, like Ziggy Stardust, was a sort of separate identity and was primarily based in loud, electro-industrial music.  So, the name I started attaching to my music became c.s.reynolds — a tribute to where I came from.

After a while, though, due to lack of inspiration and time, music took a back-seat again.  Also, I think I ran the solo, improvisational, indeterminate, experimental beast into the ground.  There was becoming very little I could do that wasn’t something I had already done.  And it was around that time (2007) that I discovered The RPM Challenge.

RPM has a very simple premise: record and release an album in February (the shortest month in the year), front to back, because you can.  It was inspired by discussions about the great Beatles and Dylan albums that were recorded in a week and still sounded fantastic.  Since I had made largely indeterminate music (and, as in the case of The Loafmen, entire albums in one recording session) for a while, the idea of recording an album in 28 days seemed like no big deal.  Moreover, maybe it could help me get off my ass and start writing music again.

My 2007 was largely a bust.  Since the goal had seemed so easy, I stepped it up by vowing to use only Linux technology.  Unfortunately, this sounded better in my head than in practice as I found myself struggling to get my (now antiquated) SoundBlaster Live! card to work in Linux.  When I finally got my Linux rig set up, it was halfway through the month and I never completed the challenge.  (I have one of the two completed pieces — a sort of remix of a song I’d done a year or so earlier on another unfinished project — Terror, which was to be songs about and inspired by 9/11 and the sudden media craze and social paranoia about terrorism — up on my Bandcamp page.)

2008 was a bust mostly because I didn’t try.  Around Thanksgiving 2007 was when I quit my “real” job to devote my time and attention to web design, so 2008 was spent mostly worrying about money and getting enough work.  At that point, it seemed like anything we were doing that was not either making us money or helping get us established, was wasting otherwise valuable time.

However, in 2009 I decided to make another go.  No pretenses, no lofty goals, just record the album in 28 days, art, everything and send it off to New Hampshire where RPM HQ is located.  The result, s3quence, was a result of whatever I happened to have available, and was recorded largely in the early morning hours when I was awake with my then 6 month old daughter.  It made sense, since I’d been using the handle jazzsequence for a long time, long enough that I bought the domain, that I should release my new material under that name.  Since I couldn’t use live instruments, it was a combination of experimental and more dance-inspired electronic music, and was largely sample and loop-based.  I found some great VST plugins that simulated analogue synthesizers and I reunited with my old friends FruityLoops and SoundForge.

RPM went so well (in fact, I finished early) that I didn’t want to stop making music, and I was inspired by a meme that was being passed around on Facebook where you create an album cover using randomly generated images and quotes available under the Creative Commons.  It seemed to me like it was only taking the idea halfway.  Why stop with a cover?  Why not accompany your randomly created album cover with an entire album of samples and sounds — available under a Creative Commons license — found through random means?  So I started searching and quickly found exactly what I was looking for.  Freesound.org is a database of user-submitted samples and sounds released under a CC license that just happened to have a Random Sample link.  I used a dice-rolling program (you know, the kind you use if you’re a nerd that plays a lot of role playing games) to come up with the number of songs for the album (which I didn’t actually get to), the number of samples in each track, and which quote to use on the randomly generated page from quotationspage.com.  I blogged the process and released the album on Bandcamp. With only two exceptions (songs whose midi tracks were randomly generated by Wolfram Research Labs’ Wolfram Tones), all the compositions were audio soundscapes using all the samples that had been randomly picked (some had more effects tweaking than others) using SoundForge to mix, splice, and cut them together.

gwoździec sucked up my creative and musical energy and I continued poking at it into the summer when I finally called it done after 5 tracks.  Not long after that it would be time to start getting ready for RPM2010.  2009’s RPM had a project that came out of the forums that I had missed because I wasn’t paying attention to the forums.  Called Blind Chaos, the idea was to record 35 minutes of whatever, mix it all together, and submit it as an entry into RPM.  I only caught on at the very end as they were assembling the parts and releasing the finished version, but it sounded exactly like the sort of thing I was already doing.  So, before RPM 2010, I started the thread back up to see if anyone was interested in doing it again.  Somehow, I ended up being the organizer and mixer (partly because the person who did it the year before was unable to take part in 2010).

My RPM2010 submission came on the heels of discovering Ableton Live.  It also came as I was compiling blog posts and emails into a memoir/book/thing called The Rise and Fall of Upstart Blogger.  (The album, therefore, was titled You’ll Have to Wait for the Book, anyone who was waiting, still is, as I never released or revised the manuscript.)  Live resembled many of the apps I’d used in the past, but with a much more intuitive and easy to use interface.  Moreover, it was made to support live music (something I’ve yet to really play with).  For my RPM submission, I didn’t play outside of the real basic uses of Ableton as I was still getting used to it.  However, with Blind Chaos, I couldn’t just leave the levels for the parts where they were for the full 35 minutes and one of the pieces of advice I got going into it was “you’re the mixer, so you’re in charge; if you think a track needs effects put on it, go for it.”  However, being 35 minutes long, I had to do most of the mixing work live, which Ableton handles quite well (it records your shifting of volume or effects the same as it would record input from a MIDI device, allowing your adjustments and movements to be recorded “live”).  Mixing the 2010 Blind Chaos entry was really eye-opening and I found that I really like being the producer almost as much as (if not more than) being the artist.

After RPM was over, I created a (somewhat short-lived) forum to continue experimenting with Blind Chaos projects.  Alas, after a while, most people were burned out, I think, and so activity eventually dwindled after the first couple projects.

That pretty much brings us up to date.  Last Christmas (you know, just about a month ago) I gave my wife an album I wrote for her which was recorded in about a month.  Predominantly an ambient album, it builds from the styles explored in You’ll Have to Wait for the Book.  Seeing that I was, again, relying on the same styles and methods for writing music, I wanted to approach RPM2011 in a different way.  I’ve thought a lot about soundtrack music over the last year.  Once upon a time I thought writing music and selling it to TV shows would be “selling out” but I don’t agree anymore.  I think that if my music could add to the tension or the release of a scene then it would be an extension of what I’ve tried to do with my music for over 15 years — instill an emotion in the listener.  It may not have always been conscious, but I’ve always wanted, in the music I write, to create the same feeling I get when I listen to music.  Phillip Glass thinks of music as a place; I think of music as a feeling.  The plan to write a soundtrack was to be an experiment in new forms of writing and composing music that would be completely different from anything I’ve done before, and much more planned and organized than anything I’ve done for the last 10 years.  Hopefully it will help to evolve the music even more.  I’ve also led the charge once again for Blind Chaos and this year it looks like we have quite a few participants.  It will be interesting to see what happens when I get all the submissions together as I’m sure I’ll have my work cut out for me in performing the mixing duties. We’ll see what happens in a month.

Also: my blogging buddy posted part two of his History of Bedroom Music Production a couple days ago, wherein he gets some new gear. If you’ve read this far and you’re not already following both of us, you should head over there and check it out.


2 responses to “A History of Bedroom Music Production — Part Three”

  1. theboyellis Avatar

    Awesome stuff. You've certainly been a lot more experimental than me, particularly with Blind Chaos. That type of experimentation with sound is something I've only really got into recently and I'm loving it.

    1. jazzs3quence Avatar

      That started with The Loafmen. None of us were virtuosos at our chosen instrument (well, with one possible exception). So part of the goal of the Loafmen was to play something that wasn't going to limit us due to our lack of ability. As Rob put it, "I guess the rock equivalent would be a cheesy bar cover band…if we were going to be a rock band, we wouldn't be that good, if we were going to be a jazz band, we wouldn't be that good…" That was sort of already in line with the punk rock mentality of "you don't need to be able to play your instrument as long as you can make noise with attitude" that I already sort of came from. But that's a lot harder to do with a lot of electronic music where skill actually matters (of course, you can fake it with loops and samples and repetitive beats, but I wouldn't really consider that to be good electronic music…). In the process, I discovered a few ways of creating sound/music that I thought were interesting and had fewer rules and expectations. One of the reasons I like Aphex Twin a lot (and glitch in general, but Richard D. James in particular) is because it seems to me like he's taking dance music and deconstructing it — taking it apart and putting it back together in ways you don't expect. When you break all the rules, you have less to hold you back. :)

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