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.

Random Album Cover – the Creative Commons Way

i’ve been waiting for someone to tag me on that 25 things meme, mostly because it’s come across a couple of the blogs i read, but i guess i either have no friends or everyone knows everything there is to know about me.  either way poor, poor, pitiful me.  anyway, i’m getting my revenge by having the most bad.ass. random album cover, and it’s inspired me to up the ante on this whole thing…

first: 

CREATE YOUR BAND NAME & ALBUM COVER:

To Do This

1 – Go to Wikipedia. Hit “random”
or click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random
The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 – Go to Quotations Page and select “random quotations”
or click http://www.quotationspage.com/random.php3
The last four or five words of the very last quote on the page is the title of your first album.

3 – Grab the photo randomly generated from Creative Commons licensed photos on Flickr here:http://mikelietz.org/code/flickr-ccgettr.php

4 – Use Paint.Net or Gimp or similar to put it all together.

———————————-

this all started because i got the most awesome band name, and it only got better from there:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwoździec,_Lesser_Poland_Voivodeship

my random quote was
When you relinquish the desire to control your future, you can have more happiness.
Nicole Kidmanin The Scotsman 

and my random photo was
http://flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/3304450435/
by /meaghan préfontaine 

here’s the result:

gwoździec - more happiness

i am so happy about this result that i’ve decided this album needs to be made.  so to go along with the spirit of random and creative commons, i’m trying to devise a system by which one could create an entire album in the same vein as the album cover thing.

– so, the first step is to decide how many tracks are on the album.  i’m not sure of a cc way to do this, my idea is to go to amazon.com (there’s gotta be a random  page thing?) or possibly a better idea is go to discogs.com.  there’s no random album thing there, but i did a search for my album title and i think the answer is to pick the first full-length release you come to (my first 3 search results were singles).  that is, unless you just want to do a single/ep, which, i suppose, could be an acceptable entry.  so my first full length result is this:
http://www.discogs.com/Anything-Box-Dance-CD-5/release/237124
my album will have 11 tracks (i guess an even easier way is to roll a d12…)

now you need songs.  you can cheat and just do a compilation based on full-length creative commons tracks, but…that would be cheating.  a better idea is to scour freesound.org or some other such sound archive and create your own songs based on what you get.  most of these are fragments so they will require software and time and inspiration and some amount of musical talent (but in these days of GarageBand and song mashups, not really all that much musical talent).  freesound does have a random sample search, so i think the method is get as many samples as you need to compose music that is entirely created with cc’d samples.   there’s a couple other places to get sounds that you can find on the creative commons site, freesound is just what i used for the rpm project.

last, anyone who actually completes this, let me know and put me in the liner notes or send me a copy or something.  you can expect gwozdziec’s debut to be coming in the next couple months.

note: i have no idea how to even pronounce gwozdziec, that’s part of what makes it so awesome.

rpm album is done

i’m happy to say the album is done. now i just need to get the cover printed and i can send it off. i’ve uploaded some of the tracks to my rpm page, but i haven’t uploaded the brand-spanking-new ones yet…should be posting those int he next couple of days. here’s the tracklisting though, for anyone vaguely interested…

01 the beast awakes
02 zombie disco
03 the great big elephant in the living room
04 dream
05 revenge
06 skillz
07 xyz
08 go to sleep
09 memory
10 it keeps me awake
11 next level

this will be my first ever attempt at an rpm challenge that i’ve been able to finish, so i’m pretty freaking stoked.

rpm update

21 days left of RPM (which, as you recall, is the make an album in the 28 days of february competition).  the goal is to complete a full album, which is defined as 10 songs OR 35 minutes.  here’s my vitals so far:

so what does this mean?

it means in terms of length, i’m almost done, but my goal is still to have a full 10 songs done. it means that i don’t need to worry if they are short (like Naked City, 30-seconds, short). but it also doesn’t take into account cover art and such, which i do want to make, and we don’t have a working printer (unless someone wants to donate $120 for new ink cartridges). was planning on uploading something to flickr and then ordering it in. probably just a front and back sleeve for a slim case (which i have an abundance of).

i’m not going to post any tracks here until the whole thing is done, but you can listen to them on my rpm page. i may package some kind of thing where i offer tracks for free or for money (like the new medium of free for lower quality mp3s, charge for high quality flacs, maybe bundle in my samples or something so ppl can remix me). so no peeks on the .com until it’s ready, mm’kay?