Music & lyrics...
Does a song really need lyrics to be a good song? No I don't think so, not at all!
Whilst words in a song can add to the emotion, imagery and meaning of a track, it is definitely not necessary that words are present for a song to have quality. I believe that the music bears more weight in whether a song translates than the lyrics do - that the sound is more important than the lyrical content.
Mainly because, well, music is a form of language - it does not need a verbal one alongside it to be effective! The two features, word and sound, whilst interconnected and interwoven, address different means of expression and communication. Lyrics do talk, but music is a language in and of itself.
Image source: https-//www.wishberry.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Quotes3
All I have to consider is the multitude of songs I enjoy, and that many others enjoy, that have no words in them at all.
In considering this topic I recalled a concert I went to a few years back by a wonderful pianist - Ludovico Einaudi. The emotion projected throughout the room, without a single lyric uttered, was unreal. I'll never underestimate the power of sound - to present heart, to give meaning, to affect one's spirit, with music alone.
Le Onde. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3u-IMopPBa8
Divenire. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1DRDcGlSsE
I Giorni - I just really like that there is an image of a hippopotamus.. the entire way through.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2K7D-uMH2g
Clearly music can be extremely touching without a voice present - instruments are voices enough.
This explains the power of classical music - some of the most beautiful, stirring, moving songs of all time have no words, no voices, no singing...
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Tr0otuiQuU
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E6b3swbnWg
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvNQLJ1_HQ0
Classical music has also proven itself to be ridiculously successful - some of the most well-known, sampled and referred to music of all time is classical music. There is an innumerable amount of classical compositions that have surpassed the classical era to still be admired and revered today, even with modern musical counterparts.
Image source: http-//quotesgram.com/img/rock-musicians-quotes/3208798/
The popularity even still of Wagner’s The Ride of The Valkyries, Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, Rossini's William Tell Overture, Beethoven's Fur Elise (to name only a few) is a great indicator of the power and influence of classical music to transcend generations.
Not to mention the countless film soundtracks that have made use of classical music - to convey the plot and where it's heading, to evoke particular emotions, to enhance the feeling of a scene or even to provide a quirky twist, with a jarring of styles and contexts.
This continued use of classical music beyond its era confirms its ability to stand the test of time; connecting to people of different time-periods, generations and contexts, through music alone.
Dubussy's Clair De Lune (the third movement of Suite Bergamasque), composed in 1890.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvFH_6DNRCY
Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake Waltz, composed in 1876. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CShopT9QUzw
Beethoven's Ode To Joy (the final movement of his Ninth Symphony), completed in 1824.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wod-MudLNPA
Beyond having no lyrics at all, I enjoy songs whose words have no meaning for me (being that I cannot understand them)...
Jimmy, Renda-se .. Just to be ironic, the 'lyric' video.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-lrW1wyjAg
Ca Plane Pour Moi, one of my favourite songs of all time and I don't understand a bleedin word.. there's no need!
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32SkxLCZz_o
... And songs with even just a single word...
TAKEELAAA. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uyl7GP_VMJY
With all of this talk though, I am not saying that lyrics aren't important. They add extra depth to music, and give an element of great relatability and connectivity between artist and audience. There are songs that just would not be what they are without their lyrics, and that I wouldn't feel so attached to were their words not so meaningful to me.
This again goes back to my ‘unity’ argument - the need for the parts to be on the same page - that the music and lyrics are working to the same end. If Adele sang about a love for shoes rather than humans the heartfelt music would certainly bear less emotion ("nevermind I'll find a new pair of shoes")... Surely Yesterday would not have been as successful if the lyrics stayed as "scrambled eggs"... There's just not the same profoundness there.
The two factors (music and lyrics) are simply different - they work within (and without) each other as features of a whole work of art, so both are extremely important. My point though, is that I just don't think a song's efficacy is in its written words, but in the way the words are conveyed - the melody of their projection, the soul of the music alongside them, and the meaning in this interconnectivity... Often it is the lyrics that touch us, but it’s their relationship with sound that really makes them sing.
As a nice way to sum all of this up (and to hopefully add credit to my argument), here is a video I did not make -
From 'The School of Life' YouTube page. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GeM-E8gMzk
Art is art, music is music...
The aesthetics of music are so troublesome to define, and should be! The arts by their very nature, as an expression of our innermost beings, are not easily explained (let alone defined). So when someone asks what constitutes a ‘good’ song, or a good work of any art form, it depends on how one feels about it, and what one personally considers to be ‘good’. The fact that a general all-encompassing consensus has not been made on the matter, and probably never will be (and doesn’t ever need to be, if you ask me), shows that every individual approaches art differently...
This is only my view on the subject!
Music is a matter of taste! Image source: https://spinditty.com/playlists/100songs
I was going to attempt, like Spector and Burgess, to make my own list of ‘good song’ requisites, but I don't find it the most true-to-form means of expressing aesthetics in art. I’d rather ramble on in a somewhat disorderly (possibly confusedly) manner to eventually (hopefully) come to some sort of a worthwhile conclusion whilst enlisting examples of songs I consider to be well ‘good' in order to help inform my argument.
Speaking of rambling, here is a favourite song of mine called Ramble On, by Led Zeppelin. I would say it is very much a good song, a great song even! So what’s cool about it? What makes it good?! Or at least not bad...
Ramble On, from Led Zeppelin II (1969). YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_284RNK8eCo
Well for starters, it’s got one of the smoothest, coolest, foot-tapping feels that opens any song I've heard. The subtlety of the persistent knocking with the flutter of the acoustic guitar drives a playful, light-hearted energy, the bass slides in and a style is building... The vocals softly begin; drawing a thicker image, you're brought right in and it keeps your attention, because nothing is stagnant... The voice slaps conviction, "for now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it's heading my way"... Instruments enter, rhythms are changing, layering, there's a dense interplay of parts, and something's impending, you can feel it.
Everything heightens as the drums pulse into the hard-hitting chorus, the style has changed up, there's a strength in its funky groove - the kick on the off beats, the wailing guitar - there's even more power in the vocals now, with the bass going mad in the back of it all, until, as abruptly as it began, we’re back out of it again - in the simmering build-up, knowing the punch will happen again...
What does this all mean anyway for how it's 'good'? Well the song is dynamic - it's up and down and in and out... It’s interesting! It has the large and looming, the loud and soft, the high frequencies and low frequencies… You can appreciate the grandness, the scope of intensities, through the quiet, the small - the flickering intertwining solos dancing through the structure of the song... Good music needs variation.
I'd call Led Zeppelin supreme at this... From Dazed and Confused to Stairway to Heaven, Since I've Been Loving You to Moby Dick - they master the art of contrast. Especially in one of my ultimate favourites of theirs, The Rain Song... The breakdown at 5 minutes, a heck eyeas!
The magnificent Rain Song, from Houses of the Holy (1973). YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDVnjCwCYCs
No matter how songs chop and change throughout, though, good songs always seem to have an underlying connectivity - a unity throughout their parts (at any given time), with individual features working as a whole, to give songs an intrinsic character, or feel.
There are rules that govern music and the arts (even when it seems completely at random), and ways of using principles that make art pleasing to our nature and satisfactory for us to experience. Humans like things to make sense... There is importance in a song's harmony - amongst the arrangement, the feel and energy of the various instruments, between the rhythm and the groove, the key and chord progressions... Good music has symmetry.
In Ramble On, the mix has been masterfully balanced, so as to make everything in it feel like it should be there, it belongs there. The stereo image too, so full and luscious, comes together to make the entire mix rich and purposeful. This is something I find key to determining a good song - it's a complete mix, a complete aural entity.
Tomorrow Never Knows is a wild song, for 1966 especially! There's anarchic drumming, a bellowing vocal from Lennon, strangely disturbing tape effects and whining strings, but it all fits!
It works because within the scattered calamity there's a unity - a common undercurrent in its meaning (there's no uncomfortable contradiction).
Tomorrow Never Knows, by The Beatles, the final track on the album Revolver (this is a random fan-made video, I am unable to locate any other one with any form of original audio). YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UjvdZm-Tu8
Same goes for Days Are Forgotten, which I consider to be an artfully balanced and blended song... Its parts are masterfully integrated.
Kasabian's Days Are Forgotten (2011). YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBsQVP-Olmw
It's this integration of parts that gives songs a particular sound - a distinct, recognisable quality...
I would say most songs that could be considered 'good' do have a uniqueness, a particular character to them - they propel a certain emotion, connect to a particular thought, feeling, experience - there's a time you would listen to them, even an image you recall, a scene, a circumstance.
These are the songs that make a mark, that are special! That stand-out, are popular, intergenerational, timeless...
Such is the case with House of The Rising Sun (the Animals rendition) - there's a great solidarity between features that gives the song a complete, recognisable sound - in its main riff, the interrelation of the rhythms (such as the guitar solo with the cymbals), the way he yells the vocals so full of fervour, the growing menace that builds with the song - it has its own feel (a focused determination in a way). This is most likely why it's been so commonly used in film and media in emphasising particular purpose and emotion.
The Animals' impassioned performance of House of the Rising Sun (1964)... My throat hurts just hearing him sing this. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sB3Fjw3Uvc
Alt J have mastered an unmistakable sound I'd say. I consider this track to be brilliant, and it serves as a good example of uniqueness in music. It's strikingly unusual on first listen, and its starkness against other songs sets it apart. It is cross-genre and cross-style - a song in and of itself (as a track such as Bohemian Rhapsody is)... In this song's eccentricity lies great artistic value.
Fitzpleasure, from Alt J's debut album An Awesome Wave (2012). YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npvNPORFXpc
Songs need to have their own recallable character In order to be in any way memorable. How else could it be catchy? So that before you even play the song, its aura is in your mind, with refrains that dig in enough that as soon as it finishes you could very well start it all over again, the music still swimming in your head...
Good songs have a style of their own...
The cool, unusual amalgamation of syles in Jack White's I'm Shakin' (from the album Lazaretto, 2014).
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkcGuZHPbKk
Supergrass' ball of youthful energy Alright (from I Should Coco, 1995).
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0KLEkZWL5k
With all this talk, the number one calling card for Ramble On is its spirit - it has character, funk, strength, soul! It's fun, it’s got a liveliness to it (the outro full of vocal quirks)! As do the other songs I've mentioned - the bouncing grunt of I'm Shakin', the pure fun of Alright... Music expresses anything between sorrow, angst, love, relaxation, madness, calmness and good songs come from feeling, and appeal to feeling.
Like the honesty of conviction in Cash's voice, along with the solid rhythmic guitar and the rich chord progressions, burning with spiritual undertones, in The Man Comes Around...
Johnny Cash's powerful The Man Comes Around. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9IfHDi-2EA
The placid spirit, with its emotional build up, of The Boxer...
One of Simon and Garfunkel's best, The Boxer. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzUEL7vw60U
To a hearty voice like Bill Withers, expressing lyrics so genuinely...
The soulful Ain't No Sunshine. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIdIqbv7SPo
And a song of calm softness like House Of Cards...
Radiohead's beautiful track House Of Cards (2007). YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nTFjVm9sTQ
To the emotive rawness of Julian Casablancas' screaming amongst a plethora of noise in Reptilia...
The Strokes' Reptilia, from Room On Fire (2003). YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8-tXG8KrWs
... Good songs have feeling. They have passion.
This is the part that translates, that affects you. Good songs stick with you, they define a moment in your life, a part of you... In short, they connect.
Maybe that’s what Burgess meant when he said ‘heart’.
Image source: http://quoteaddicts.com/tags/song-titles/11
Well what do you know, I think after all that I did incidentally formulate a list! (Whoever thought rambling could lead to such coherence)...
To me, good music needs:
(...almost looks like a list of ‘what you need for a good life’ ha).
And as a prerequisite to any of these, the beginning and the end, within and throughout them all - the song's spirit - its passion, its emotion, its heart, whatever you want to call it... The thing that connects... that gives the arts any value.
Image Source: http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/nme-staff-pick-their-top-10-greatest-albums-of-all-time-21877
In the end though (like I said at the beginning), it does come down to personal taste. If I’ve enjoyed a song in my life (even once), and it's added something to my life (even for a while), and maybe even if I am quite possibly enjoying this same song in 50 years, there's no mandate - I can safely judge it's a good song.
As an encompassment of everything I've spoken about, here's my 'song that I wished I'd written' - Heroes, by David Bowie. I find it just perfect, and I'll be listening to it for a very long time to come because it makes me feel good. As the late, great Prince Nelson astutely pointed out:
Image source: http-//www.picturequotes.com/prince-quotes
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tgcc5V9Hu3g
Good music is good music again...
Last week I explored Phil Spector’s ‘good music’ necessities, and discussed some of my thoughts on the topic. Another view comes from a fellow music producer (as well as a musician) Richard James Burgess. I think he addresses a greater scope of musical qualities and song-making particulars than Spector did in his succinct list.
Burgess (in his book The Art of Music Production) lists the following as being the precepts of making a good song, in order of importance:
I found the first point (I am assuming Burgess means the music and lyrics here) a little self-explanatory and slightly obvious. I would tend to agree that these are the most vital foundations of a good song - if the music itself is completely unimpressive then there isn't much hope for the performance, engineering and mixing (for example) to make up the gain. You could even draw that point apart and question whether it is the music or the lyrics that hold more importance! I'll be addressing this issue in a blog to come actually.
'The vocal' inclusion is spot on - the vocal performance can definitely make or break a song. It's interesting that Burgess set the vocal performance as a distinct point from the other instruments/sounds in his list - I think because vocals stand out so much, as unique and recognisable in timbre, and as the deliverer of the lyrics, that it's less forgiving to have an unfavourable vocal performance over other instruments (this does depend on the mix though).
Personally there are songs I would potentially love if it weren't for the vocals! Not to offend any diehard Cold Chisel fans but my oh my Jimmy Barnes' voice has a greatly negative effect on me, I would prefer I never had to hear him 'sing'. BUT I admit his voice is full of passion and for that I understand why people dig it / find it bearable.
At the same time, there are voices that can MAKE a song for me - I could hear certain artists sing the simplest tunes and feel so much from what is literally the honesty in their performance. Marc Bolan is one of the biggest, John Lennon, Paul Simon, FREDDIE Mercury, Otis Redding, Robert Plant... They could never be an ear-sore to me.
Cosmic Dancer is such a simply structured song (the chords, the arrangement, the pace...) but that's just its beauty I think, and thanks to Bolan's voice - its sincerity - this is all the song needs to be.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMfjA4gyEcU
Some of the more interesting additions to Burgess’ list I think are the arrangement, the engineering and the mix (points 3, 5, 6). These would often be ignored by the general public (in piecing the features of a good song), as they are more ‘behind the scenes’ than the music itself, and therefore less explicitly thought about, so to say. With the understandings formed through my Audio course, I have become more sensitive to discerning these features, and now consider them a natural part of the song’s wholeness. Their importance cannot be underestimated. Especially in songs with a serious lot of layers and complexities within them, the way the song is arranged and mixed is the song’s saving grace. Stephin Merritt would probably agree:
Image source: http-//www.azquotes.com/quote/1330120
The engineering, arrangement and mix in the album Who's Next is exceptional I think (that of The Who in general really). In Won't Get Fooled Again (production credited to The Who and Glyn Johns), the way it has been arranged and produced creates the vibe of the track, and unites its aspects so perfectly as to accentuate the song's power. Listening to this track in high quality stereo shows how the production and interaction of parts has created an entire image in space, and suspends a balance throughout the entire mix.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHhrZgojY1Q
Burgess nailed it when he added timelessness to the list. In my opinion, a song is proven good in its ability to transcend generations; appealing to a wide, varied audience in its inherent ability to appeal to the very nature of humans. This is the mark of music that has real value - that truly connects with and engages people (at a sincere level) - not as a fad, or a construct of impermanent popularity.
The fact that particular songs are still being listened to beyond the context within which they were created means they cannot be bad, valueless songs, so it serves true that good music and timelessness are closely correlated.
No one can argue this is not a good song - it was written in 1956 and has found a place in every generation since, beyond its birth in the Rock'n'Roll era. It has been covered a legion of times and has inspired a ridiculous amount of successive artists.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kT3kCVFFLNg
It would be naive to go past The Beatles in any discussion of timelessness - I argue they're the most (proven and potentially) timeless band in history. It seems there are countless individuals in every generation beyond The Beatles era that have discovered their music within their own lives and context, and have carried the songs into modernity. I detest that their music could ever possibly get old. Revolver, for example, sounds as current and modern as any music getting released today. I couldn't pick a song so here is an interesting documentary on the entire album (which helps to elicit its generational transcendence)...
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qs2OEdw7mrA (links to parts 2-4)
The last point in Burgess' list is the one I consider to be the most important. Heart is really within and throughout all the other aspects of a song - I'd consider it the undercurrent of music itself. A song can't be good without heart - if music doesn't connect, where's its value? To me, it's nothing. As Lev Tolstoy so perfectly elucidated: "Music is the shorthand of emotion" - and, like all the arts, so through emotion it should be created and experienced.
Monteverdi knew what he was talking about.
Image source: http-//www.picturequotes.com/claudio-monteverdi-quotes
I'll discuss 'heart' a little more in next week's blog, when I try to form my own list (of sorts) of what I think makes a good song... For now though, to end how I started and serve as a poignant illustration of the 'heart' discussion, here is Cosmic Dancer once again - this time live. Here one can really grasp the emotion within the music - through Bolan's vibrant, soulful performance (even with simply a guitar and voice!).
This feeling makes the song what it is, in it being what gives the song its spirit - what makes the modesty of the chords, the vocals, the arrangement, the lyrics, have any form of life...
YouTube URL: https://youtu.be/IO1DCE_43mY?t=31s
WHAT MAKES A GOOD SONG? The eternal question. What does ‘good’ even mean? How do we judge music at all? How do we judge the arts?!
All very pertinent questions. All questions pertinent to our class discussion this week.
Tim Dalton / Teebo brought up the concept of what makes a good pop song. Before we reached any depth in the deliberation, or enlisted the opinions of reputable/experienced sources (such as Phil Spector and Richard James Burgess), I thought, ‘surely there couldn’t be a list!?’ – music, and our relation to it, is completely personal, with qualities that cannot be described in words (especially through definitive ‘lists’).
An issue I had was how one would define a ‘good' song – is it whether it is successful? Does ‘successful’ mean to be critically acclaimed, well-received by the public or loved by even a few individuals? Does a successful song need to make a high volume of sales, make gold, make platinum?
I guess you it could be a combination of these things – which many songs have done, so it is worth considering the question of ‘how?’.
Tim referred to Phil Spector. I admire the man greatly as a producer, specifically in his work with the Beatles on Let It Be, with George Harrison and John Lennon on solo records, and with the Ronettes (Be My Baby is a genius song). I accepted, then, that there must be some validity in what he has to say about what makes a good song.
Spector's 3-point list says that to make a popular song, it:
1. Must be repetitive
2. Must have a primal beat
3. Must be about sex.
Firstly, this list couldn’t possibly be exhaustive because there are songs that tick all three of these criterion whilst not being what would necessarily constitute a good song (though that is always debatable). In saying that, the list isn’t misdirected and I agree with it to an extent.
I completely buy that popular music needs to be repetitive. Actually, I cannot think of a single song I enjoy that doesn’t repeat at least one section - whether a riff, a melody, a beat - or contains some sort of a structure (not to say it doesn't go in and out of it). Even the unpopular, alternative music I listen to contains at least a small element of repetition. You need something to latch on to with songs, that instigates it growing on you as the song progresses, and that will be catchy enough for your mind to grasp (and continue recreating even when it’s not playing).
The beat point is also very indicative. To have a steady, predictable beat, that drives a song and often underlies the various sections, helps to make a song repetitive and catchy, and give it its ‘feel’. We all like having something to clap along to, and drum on whatever tables and body parts are in reach. I think ACDC are a band that really got this (often using the steady 4/4 rock beat, with the kick on one and the snare of 2 and 4), and Led Zeppelin! John Bonham, the king of the kick...
The magnificent 'When The Levee Breaks' from Led Zeppelin - probably my favourite drumming in a rock song ever - so solid, grounded and strong... And it is continuous and quite simple in structure!
The sex point is debatable/questionable. I think it had more relevance in the 50s/60s than today, when talking about sex was (even) more ‘taboo’; making it more likely to fire a hit to number one in it’s utter outlandishness *outraged-posh-voice*. If the word 'sex' was swapped for 'love', the claim would have more leverage, but even then, it was never, and still is not, a prerequisite for good music. I can list a huge amount of GOOD songs (songs that are loved, have had critical acclaim, reached the top of the charts etcetera) that are not about love, or sex, or relationships, but have other purposes and messages...
David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' - a song that has its meaning in something mysterious, sci-fi, technological, futuristic... YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYMCLz5PQVw
Bob Dylan's 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' - with its huge scope of subject and imagery.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGxjIBEZvx0
The Clash's classic, 'London Calling' - like many of their songs, a political commentary with angst.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfK-WX2pa8c
Sam Cooke's passionate social commentary 'A Change Is Gonna Come'. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfK-WX2pa8c
What I consider to be the best of the Stones' - 'Gimme Shelter' - a musical expression of the horror of the Vietnam War. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9Y2gontVXs
One of my all-time favourite songs, The Ramones' fervent reaction to the controversial visit of Ronald Reagan (a.k.a Bonzo) to a WWII memorial cemetery in Bitburg - 'Bonzo Goes To Bitburg (My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down)'. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Su0Hvt6hTmA
I’d extend the requisite though to say that good songs do have some sort of a ‘point’ - a subject, or a particular feeling. They are about something, or convey something - something that can touch and affect the apposite function in people... it's about the FEEL (as the above songs illustrate)!
This 'feel' is addressed more by Richard Burgess' consideration of what formulates a good song. Burgess' list, which seems more wholesome, composes of 8 aspects, in order of importance:
One of the most difficult aspects of this Jingle assignment was CHOOSING a jingle. After that colossus task, it became the interesting, challenging and enjoyable period of recreating a viable sound to suit a story.
I have never previously attempted a task such as this, so there has been a lot that I have learnt in the process, about the technical aspects involved, my keenness to partake in post-production and any ways in which I could improve upon my methods in the future.
For my first clip, I went to a film I have long enjoyed and admired, both for the visuals and the produced sound - The Triplets of Belleville - a 2003 animated film directed by Sylvain Chomet.
There is a scene in which the characters perform on stage using various found objects - a vacuum cleaner for example - this is what inspired me to pick this film to work with, as it would be fitting for me to then use foley to reproduce the sounds. Though in the end, I chose a different, but similarly musical, scene, which would give more freedom in composing. The scene is also set outside, so I could experiment with ambient sounds and include a larger range of noises.
Here is the final product! -
I began this assignment by composing the music to the first minute or so of the scene - where the lady and her dog are sitting alone in a somewhat destitute part of town. I muted the original clip as I wanted to produce an original take on the scene, or at least one directly inspired by my personal interaction with the story and visuals.
To begin the scene I wanted an eerie, sombre sound, to tailor to the strangely alien environment of the animation, and represent the ill-fated situation of the character. I thought of a low extending brass sound to form a base for the entire sequence, this was created through the MIDI sound of ‘Soft1 Warm Brass’ (found by auditioning the possible sounds), and played as a C2 note (the C below middle C).
With the boat in this scene, I thought I could also add to the ‘bass-iness’ of the feel by having its horn as an addition to the music. (Please refer to Appendix A for details).
With these lower, longer-sustained, almost background sounds, I added a light melody played on MIDI with the 'Flute Lead' preset, to give a more curious depth to the opening visual of the scene, and imply more of the further story.
I wanted the sounds to represent something unfortunate yet hopeful - not being too minor but representing a soon to be resolve. The key turned out to be C major (or A minor) as I did not use any sharps or flats.
I aimed for the music to give a bright intrigue, especially as the old woman began to use the bike wheel to make music. This is where I brought in an accordion sound, I picked this as the feel portrays a light-hearted, playful vibe (and I generally love every piece of music with an accordion in it). Also because the film is set in France, so I thought an accordion could (though cliché) help to set the context of place.
I created this sound through the Accordion preset, under Piano and Keys.
I found I really enjoyed this part of the process; actually composing music to suit the scene. I contemplated having more elements to the melody but decided against it; trying various extra sounds like strings, guitars and violins, even a cello of sorts (initially my intention). It ended up sounding too busy for the scene though, especially because of the extra ambient sounds added, and the light refrains such as her and the dog exhaling.
I wanted there to be underlying ‘city’ sounds in the scene, to set the environmental character of where the lady was. For this I recorded a moderately quiet street - to gain some sound of traffic but also to have more distant traffic sounds (to align with her proximity to busy streets in the shots), including the sound of a level-crossing and placid ambience such as birds chirping. I was very happy with how it came out! It sounds natural and does not overpower the scene. I also recorded a siren to add to the hustle-bustle feel of the area which she was in.
Along with this was the fire within these scenes that added to the ambience, and her prodding it with a stick. To get the effect of a crackling fire I combined 3 different timbres. I recorded myself slowly crunching paper, and newspaper, and put these together with previous recordings I had of jangling keys.
For the woman sighing and the dog sounds I recorded my own voice (with an ATM 4050). For the dog I EQ’d to lower the high-end and boost the ‘gruntiness’ and transposed the pitch in Ableton to -15. I tried to record my dog but he never seemed to make that sound when I needed him to haha
Once all these sounds were down, it was time to add in the foley for the characters' music-making!
For the bicycle wheel, I thought me tapping a selection of pots and pans would give a sound akin to the metal.
I went in the studio with various kitchen appliances and played every part of them I could figure out; producing a wide array of various metallic sounds.
I played single hits to use as samples within a Drum Rack, to give flexibility with the sounds, and also played patterns that would fit the footage (for me to insert as audio).
There are parts in the scene where she is just moving the wheel around and grabbing it and such, so I recorded myself handling the pots and pans and shuffling them about.
These were given EQ seperate to the hits, with a low-pass filter, to lessen the high twangy sounds, a boosts in the lows and mids to accentuate their slow, subtle timbres.
Something I did not consider in all my excitement was how challenging it would be to match these parts up with the footage. Or not even that it was difficult so much as it was time-consuming! I had to quite meticulously arrange and rearrange the parts until it was convincing that they were coming from the actions on the screen.
Although, in the film itself, much of the music is not in sync with the character making it, so I found a balance by syncing the music and visuals up when it could fit but also loosely dancing around the beats when necessary, to still create some sense of accordance whilst also having freedom with what music I created.
When the three ‘triplets’ walk in scene, I wanted a mysterious, luring sound, and thought it would be cool to use the ‘Cosmos Soundscape’ for this part. I also used another ‘Ambient & Evolving’ sound which comes in to integrate with the first - the Simpler ‘Chill Outzone’. At the same time as the first character comes in shot I played the ‘Solo Female1 Fast Attack’ Operator - I absolutely love this sound and as soon as I heard it I placed it to come in with the three curiously ephemeral characters, coupled with the footsteps I think it has the perfect spectral feel to represent their presence.
With the footsteps I used samples I recorded previously for the sample library, with decent reverb (a large hall with decay time of 4.2 seconds), and made a separate footstep track for each character; panning them to suit where each were in the shot.
From this point onwards, it was time for intense sound replacement and beat-building!
For the first part of their singing, I focused on sound replacement. I created a body percussion drum rack - with samples I recorded of me hitting parts of my body, clicking and clapping, along with the footsteps, jumping, stomping, foot slides (recorded in a tub full of small stones) and steps crunching down on stones to emulate gravel.
The singing, was an enjoyable undertaking of my friend, sister and I. (Please refer to Appendix A for more details on the recording and editing).
I continued using the two drum racks here (one of the pots and pans and the other of the body percussion) to create the sounds that the characters were visually making - to a certain extent. I picked out the important aspects of the characters’ visual movements to match, but then focused on having some creativity in building my own rhythm, whilst also keeping credible that what is on the screen is expressing this music.
Lastly in this project were the laughs. This was the most enjoyable part of the whole process - recording them and putting them together felt ridiculous. I mostly left them natural, with slight EQ to take out any ear-piercing frequencies, but added a heavy reverb, of a Large Church with a 6.3 decay time (and increased the reverb as the camera view rose up past the bridge). I also wanted the laughs to hang over the footage, and that’s probably my favourite part of the whole clip.
Overall I am quite happy with it! I enjoy watching it, knowing how much work I put into it, and seeing that it came together as a full product!
After all of this pain-staking sound-replacement, the next clip I chose had (purposefully) quite a different process of working to it. I picked the final sequence of the 1920 film ‘One Week’, starring one of my favourite actors, Buster Keaton (directed by Keaton and Edward F. Cline).
The music in itself I am not hugely proud of, it was the second video I focused on and became evident as the ‘second’ part of this assignment… But I am quite pleased with the result in a score point of view – as in, with its relation to the clip. I believe it expresses the sentiments of the clip satisfactorily, so for that I am pleased.
Here is my version of the scene -
I enjoy silent films greatly, and am in awe of how the actors and directors convey a story without dialogue. I thought it would be an interesting task then, for me, to add to this visual story-telling with only composed music – no sound effects, no foley and no dialogue. I have never tried this before so I wasn’t sure what to expect, and it did prove itself quite challenging!
Overall for this piece, I decided I wouldn’t nitpick with timing and tempo, but rather, play along with film, and focus on feel and style of the 'real' playing (as real as a laptop keyboard could be considered). If any parts were quite obviously off though I fixed them, but I wanted the piece to be quite fluid, free-flowing and natural - not over-produced or electronic sounding (even though the 'instruments' are algorithms). I guess that was the challenge!
The most difficult part for me was the layering of the instruments - using certain instrumental combinations for different sections, that fit in with particulars of the story and at the same time sounded pleasant in junction.
I started composing with a piano; intending for that to give the main melody of the piece. I spent time just improvising short melodic sequences for each part of the film, and chose the ones I liked most; having one or two main melodic sequences to carry the entire piece (I didn’t want randomness the whole way through but a certain unification of sound).
The piano alone was sounding slightly uninteresting, so I consulted Ableton’s Instrument Rack for some more music flavours. I decided to stick to orchestral instruments, the keep a certain honesty to the silent film era, and keep a consistency between the visual and audio. (Please refer to Appendix B for instruments used).
I found with the amount of instruments I initially aimed for, there was still a strange hollow-ness – although I wanted it to be simple, and quite minimalistic, there was still depth missing. I added some extra parts, to cover a greater range of frequencies – providing low parts through a bassoon and tuba, through to a piccolo at the high end.
It was starting to come together more with each added aspect, and editing of the distinct parts to have a nice interplay between instruments. I found myself deleting MIDI notes a lot, taking some away from certain instruments to allow others to come through. It was all about contrast and connectivity for me.
At the very end, there was still something missing. I tried adding percussion and think it completed it! Even though I used it quite sporadically, it added another element to mix, and helped express some of the comedic value in certain parts.
Doing this activity further cemented my willingness to compose music for film! This was highly gratifying for me! I love the connection between the visual and the audio and this is one of the most interesting and satisfying ways of carrying this out.
Both clip feature on ViVE’s company wesite, at http://viveproductions.weebly.com/
The boat sound:
I used a field recording (from an iPhone) of a train horn - this I EQ’d to increase the low frequencies, and also pitch-shifted in Ableton (to -30). I warped each horn to different segment bpm’s (higher to make it longer, shorter, quicker), to create divergence in the sounds of the horns, making them more realistic.
To add depth to the horn, and make it an odder sound, I layered with it a synthesiser (called ‘Cosmos Soundscape’), that had a portion of Modulation and gave a vibrato to the sound. I played around with the tension and available parameters to get a sound that represented this quirky imaginary land’s boat sound. I played it at C1 (to keep consistent with the brass note).
The fire sound:
With the paper track, I EQ’d them in Pro Tools to heighten their ‘crack’ and ‘crunch’ (at around 2-3kHz), and the high end. I also found around 150Hz gave more depth to the crunch.
I sent all the parts to the same Reverb track, with the below parameters:
Pots and Pans:
With all these clips, I EQ’d them in ProTools, applied Compression and sent them to a Reverb track, along with a SansAmp plug-in, to give a trashier, scruffier feel to the tracks (making it believable they’re the sounds of a dingy bicycle wheel found under a bridge).
These were given EQ separate to the hits, with a low-pass filter, to lessen the high twangy sounds, a boosts in the lows and mids to accentuate their slow, subtle timbres.
The Dog sound editing:
For the sections where all three women sing together, I used an ATM4050 on Omni-directional, with the three of us standing around the mic in even spacing. We tested out the sound, our distances, and found a spot where I was happy with the balance! For the ‘verse’-type part, I wrote what I believed were the lyrics and we listened for the original harmonies to each separately sing a part each (low, medium and high), using the same microphone but on Cardioid pattern. I also added an extra high part on the last words of each line (I panned each part these to give each layer of the harmony their own space).
The processing of the vocals included corrective EQ, which was different for every track (mainly to take out any annoyingly high and/or sibilant frequencies and nasal-ness) and Compression. Plus for the individual parts, I thought they were not raw enough - they sounded too clean and crisp - which is usually a good thing, but I didn’t think they suited the character of the animation. So I sent them to a track with SansAmp to add some crunch and buzz; making them seem a little more vintage.
After this section there is a part in the music where it changes and becomes thicker and heavier and has more of a groove to it. The vocals here I wanted very grainy and lo-fi, so, after testing various effects, I applied the Eleven Lite plug-in. It gave the voices a good old-school, somewhat Blues feel, which is what I wanted! I found this wasn’t extreme enough for the solo part however, so I used that as well as a SansAmp.
The solo was funny to try to replicate - the character is just projecting gibberish, so I started doing exactly that, but then I kept incidentally saying certain lyrics, so I wrote them down and voilà I had a song!
It was sounding too clear though and I wanted to keep some abstraction, so I layered a take with gibberish under this one, and pitch-shifted it down a semitone, and panned it out slightly, to give it some disparity.
With the background vocals here, the two singers recorded this together, and I duplicated this clip to pan them hard left and hard right, to underlie the ‘solo’.
‘One Week’ session
Instrument tracks used:
'Real-world' Copyright complexities...
A decent portion of the work I have created this trimester would technically be in breach of copyright, if it were not for the fact that they were created primarily for educational purposes. In particular, would be the samples I used in the remix assignment - the audio from a track of David Bowie singing Fame (vocals only), and an excerpt from Alt J’s track Taro (about 6 seconds worth). Also, the reproduction of the song for our sound-alike assignment (In the Summertime by Thirsty Merc) and the sound in the film scene I replicated and/or adapted (The Triplets of Belleville).
Thankfully, the Australian Government’s Copyright Act (1968) specifies the “purpose of research or study” as a “fair dealing”, i.e. not constituting an infringement of copyright in works. If I were not creating these works for educational purposes, and were making monetary gain, and/or playing and performing the music publically, I would had to have sought permissions for each of these musical usages.
If I had created my remix, for example, outside of educational purposes, I would have needed to gain permission for both sampling cases because they were ‘substantial’ parts of the original works (Music Rights Australia, 2016). Music Rights Australia, in their factsheet on sampling, define ‘substantial’ as being “anything that is distinctive or essential to the work… if the section of the work you want to use is recognizable… irrespective of how small or large it is” (2016).
Going about seeking permission for use of one’s artistic creation is not a simple task, as The Australian Copyright Council explains in their “Permission: How to Get it” Factsheet:
"Unlike the systems for trademarks, patents and designs, there is no Australian registration system for copyright, so there are no official records of ownership that you can search. For this reason, you may need to use a variety of resources when looking for copyright owners. In some cases, you may need to do some detective work” (2014).
It is also made more convoluted in the fact that “there is generally more than one owner of copyright in any given song” - there is copyright in the “underlying musical work… the original tune and lyrics” and copyright in the “sound recording… the particular recording of that song” (Music Rights Australia, 2016).
In terms of seeking permission, I would had to have found the owner of the both the Sound Recording copyright and the Musical Work copyright of the music I used (Music Rights Australia, 2016).
For the Musical Work copyright, I would ensure I was not violating the original artist’s intellectual property by making contact with them through their representatives (often their publishers). As written in Part III, Division 1 of the Australian Copyright Act, one cannot reproduce, publish, perform in public, make an adaptation of, or communicate to the public, another’s work without their permission (outside of ‘fair dealing’) (Australian Government, 1968).
I would communicate my wish to use their creations, as the Australian Copyright Act gives songwriters and composers the right to control how their music is used (Australian Government, 1968). They, therefore, would have had the right to disallow my use of their music.
Music Rights Australia suggests contacting the licensing department of the record company – to obtain permission for the use of the sound recording – and the licensing department of the music publisher for permission to use the musical work. (Music Rights Australia, 2016).
In the future, with my use of others’ music outside of educational purposes, I will find ways of properly administrating this through means such as the Digital Content Guide - https://digitalcontentguide.com.au/music/ - which directs music users to works they can legally and fairly use, that will give the artists the credit and royalties they are entitled to.
I will also ensure that I fairly follow an artist’s stipulated Creative Commons license; allowing a fair exchange of intentions and compensation in using another’s creative products. Whether this be in attribution, share-alike, non-commercial or no-derivatives (Creative Commons Australia, 2016).
I think artists deserve the right to monitor how their creative products are used, especially in the public and commercial domain, so I will continue to ensure I do not allow myself to breach an artist’s copyright, through proper research, communication and ‘detective work'.
Australian Copyright Council. (September 2014). Information Sheet: “Permission: How to Get it”. Retrieved from http://www.copyright.org.au/acc_prod/ACC/Information_Sheets/Permission__How_to_Get_It.aspx
Australian Government: Federal Register of Legislation. (2016). Copyright Act 1968. Retrieved from https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2014C00291
Creative Commons Australia. (2016). Using a CC licence or licenced material. Retrieved from http://creativecommons.org.au/learn/howto
Music Rights Australia. (2016). Fact Sheets: Sampling Music. Retrieved from http://www.musicrights.com.au/fact-sheets/samplingmusic/
WELL DOES IT SOUND ALIKE THEN?
Our Soundalike project has been completed and this here is the result -
In comparing the original track of In The Summertime with that which we have created for the Soundalike, I am somewhat pleased with the result, but there are definitely areas I would fix!
I hear quite a lot of variance between our version and the original - especially in the electric guitar and the vocals. The rhythm section I think is spot on - the drums sound like the original, and have the right groove to them. The bass is also a very great sound in reference to what we needed to achieve, and is a perfect feel for the track. These aspects serve well to the entire vibe of the song as they are what drive it, so we thankfully got a great foundation laid out!
I think the most difficult aspect was having to mix the entire song on the desk, in a limited amount of time. There were parts we could have resolved given the opportunity to sit and do some in-the-box meddling, but that wasn't the point of the assignment!
Mixing down on the desk was also the best part of it though for me - I hadn't previously done a mixdown entirely on the console so I found it very informative and an interesting challenge.
Especially using the Patchbay with all the outboard gear!
What I think it really boils down to though were the performances - there are a few parts that diverge too much from the original, that should have been brought up and resolved in the recording process, such as the rhythm of the riffs - some upbeats are missing. The guitar sound is also not very akin to the original - it is grungier and dirtier - but it still drives the song well and is, separately, a cool sound. The sound was improved greatly through the desk though, and the resulting guitar sounds much better than the recorded stem. Mostly with EQ taking out the muddiness of parts (at about 350 Hz - with the bass and kick drum too). And boosting the mid-highs helped with the guitar timbre too. Plus compression did wonders for the entire mix!
However, there were meant to be two electric guitars recorded (that play simultaneously in the song) but only one was - so the overall sound is more hollow - there’s not the thickness of the mix that the original has.
The vocals also don’t follow certain parts of the original vocalist’s - especially within the chorus (the verse's are performed much more like the original), the intonation goes on and off. Vocally he sounds good though, and he does nail it at some points... Nice tone too. I also think the vocals should have been sitting lower in the mix, as to blend in better.
The harmony was another problem altogether! They weren’t recorded for all the parts they should have been, and where they were, they did not pitch-match the original!
The biggest reason these aspects were an issue was that the vocals and guitar were attempted in only one session - this was not a great idea, and proved itself to not have been.
I’m pleased with the product in and of itself, but I would say it doesn't sound as close to the original as we could have gotten it (if the situations were ideal). Overall though, the mix sits quite well, and the track aligns nicely with the original clip so that's a good sign of the timing! It’s also a lively, fun vibe, so definitely some things to be happy with there.
For our drum recording session I had the role of Engineer.
Studio engineers operate the audio console, and basically take care of the technical-side of recording. They also alter the sound signal as it passes through the desk using EQ, for example.
Well-known audio engineers would be folks such as:
Glyn Johns (The Who, Eric Clapton, The Faces), Andy Johns (The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull), Bill Porter (Elvis, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers), Bill Putnam (Count Basie, Duke Ellington), Steve Albini (just too many to mention), Eddie Kramer (Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Traffic), Alan Parsons (Pink Floyd, The Hollies, The Beatles), Geoff Emerick (The Beatles), James Guthrie (Pink Floyd), Bob Clearmountain (David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones), Tom Dowd (Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Dusty Springfield), Phil Ramone (Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan), and I'd say one of the best known, and personal favourite, George Martin.
Glyn Johns (looking stressed)
Wear a tie to work George Martin.
For the drum-tracking session, I was to be in charge of the processes of the console (not including headphone sends, as that was another team member’s role), as seperate to the DAW operation (again, another student's role).
My job mainly included setting the gain for each channel (12 used in all) - both through the console and through pre-amps - and adjusting them throughout the session as required.
This was my first time using the Audient ASP8024, but I had previously learnt on and used the 16 channel Audient ASP4816, so (basically being just a larger version) it was mostly just a matter of transferring that knowledge to the 8024 (which was thankfully not too complicated a task).
I was confident in all fronts bar the use of the preamps, as I hadn’t used them before, but that was simple enough to pick up.
Anyway, I was glad that the area I was in charge of for the day I knew how to do, so I could assuredly take part in the session.
I also had organisational responsibilities for the day; making a list of the microphone Inputs and Outputs (to ensure consistency and smooth-sailing throughout the session) and helping to choose mics and mic positioning for the kit.
For the kit micing, we had a Rode NT5 on the hit-hats, and one on the ride cymbal, two AKG C414s as overhead mics as well as -
There was a lot of communication necessary between myself and other team members, especially the Pro Tools operator and the 'Runners' - in needing to keep communication with our drummer (where and what to play to set the levels, and in discussion about microphone placement), and setting channel gains.
I aimed to have clear and helpful communication on my part at all times - and communicate openly and constantly with my group. I think this helped the session run smoother and more effectively, as open communication always provides greater awareness of processes and work necessary to focus on.
I also was there as an extra hand for whatever needed doing at any given time - we were running short on time, so if help was necessary I made sure to jump in.
For the round-up of the session I was in charge of closing down the console, turning phantom power off before any microphone unplugging, and making sure the console was normalised for the next user.
I also helped pack up the microphones and do a general clean-up of the space.
In terms of production, I was to revise the editing (only timing as of yet) of the drums (started by another student) and finish the Elastic Audio editing.
In general there are a few aspects of the recording process I know I need to work on - the main one being to become more competent in using patch bays! I also want to have better understanding of the frequency spectrum, and be able to more knowingly apply EQ parameters.
Overall I really enjoyed being the engineer for the session - I like using analogue desks and manoeuvring through them!
Engineering is the area in audio I want to pursue (as well as producing and DAW operation) so I like having opportunities to partake in the processes involved, under the helpful guidance of my teachers and collaboration of peers.
Here is the recorded drum track (after being edited in time with the original track) -
The song my group has gone with for the Soundalike Project is In The Summertime by Thirsty Merc. I’m not a huge fan of the song to be honest - I find it a little mundane and uninteresting to research and aim to replicate and whatnot, but it is a good example of a ‘regular’ pop rock song, and there is validity in the fact that many people like and enjoy it, so it is still valuable to critically analyse (every song is I guess!).
The song begins with an intro of just guitar, bass and drums - for 2 bars worth (if the tempo is 78/79bpm as I tapped into Ableton, and the time signature 4/4). The guitar is playing the main riff of the song, in the same style as in the chorus. The rhythm of the riff emphasis the first two eighth notes of the bars (both with dowstrokes), and the ‘three e and a four e and a’, with pick up sounds on the sixteenth notes in between.
The dynamics are quite large for such a small section, before coming right down - the drums drop out as the guitar plays a solo, with the same riff as the verses (a variation on the main riff), for eight bars; playing the up and downbeats throughout. The vocalist has some spoken word moments in this break too. With the bass coming in at the beginning of the eighth bar and the drums, playing the snare and floor tom, coming in on beat three of that of bar - playing eighth notes in unison leading into the verse.
The vocals come in on the last sixteenth beat of the first bar. This is Anacrusis, as the beginning of the vocals, “I”, precedes the first downbeat of the second bar (with “don’t” on beat one of the second bar). The guitar continues the same riff. The drums play a cymbal crash at the beginning of the verse, and continues with a snare, kick and hi-hat rhythm. He plays sixteenth notes on the hi-hat, with snare on beat 2 and ‘3e’, 4, and 4a (where he alternates sometimes between snare and open hi-hat) - this rhythm is syncopated with the guitar.
In the fourth bar, there is a solo hi-hat part of the fourth beat where he plays the sixteenth notes.
The key of the song I would say is E major; believing E to be the root note, and the E major chord to work better than the E minor chord.
The verse goes for only eight bars, and leads into the bridge (or pre-chorus).
The bridge goes for four bars. The E Major chord changes to F# Minor for the first bar (four counts), then A Major for four counts, back to F#minor for four and ending on A major (for two counts). The rhythm of the guitar is also different to the verse, and is grungier than before. The ‘one and’ counts are emphasised, with the drummer playing cymbal on both those counts to add to the feel. At the fourth bar the rhythm stops, with a sixteenth note build up for two counts by all the instruments. At the third count the instruments hit then drop-out to leave the singer to solo the words “take me back to the”.
All the instruments come back in with a crash on the first beat of the chorus. The dynamics of the chorus, and bright feeling, are added to by the drummer playing the bell of the cymbal throughout the chorus (on the sixteenth notes).
B major leads into the chorus, and changes to E major at “sweet times”. The chord progression is as follows:
E major, C#minor, A Major, E Major (approximately two counts / half a bar each), then goes to F# minor at “summertime” (third bar of the chorus), and A major at the second “summertime” (fourth bar of the chorus).
The progression repeats itself for the second part of the chorus. At the end of that part the chord changes to B major for “that is where I’ll be”. The instruments drop out again after the first count of this bar to leave the singer solo.
After the chorus there are two bars of the all the musicians playing the verse parts, then just the guitar playing the riff for a bar, the singer joining in, before the second guitar, bass and drums re-enter with an anacrusis of an open hi-hat.
The second verse has the same rhythm and harmony as the first, but with different lyrics, and only consists of four bars instead of eight, before going again into the bridge.
The second bridge has the same instrumentation as the first.
The second chorus is also the same as the first.
It leads into a guitar solo break, which goes for four bars, with a wild vibe, a lot of crashing cymbals and snare fills and a whiny guitar sound. To contrast the next part, where the vocals are softer and almost talk-like, alone except for some softly played guitar notes with feedback and tremolo for effects in the background.
In the fourth bar of this break, the guitar builds with a crescendo of sixteenth notes, before the drums take over with a solo (of different lengths depending on versions of the song, but this one goes for only two counts). Ending on the third beat of the first bar of chorus three. With the vocalist singing “take me back to the-” solo again.
This chorus has the same format as the others, except that the third count in the eighth bar leads in to another chorus, which is the same again but with small quirks to seperate it from the others and give it a fuller, stronger sound - such as altered vocals on “everything is gonna be alright” and a mini emphasised bass sequence/solo that is brought out in the mix.
The riffs are also more loosely played, with harder hits and a more ‘rough’ sound. This last chorus tries to build a fun-spirited vibe, reminiscent of summer activities etc.
At the end of this chorus they add two extra phrases of “in the summertime” (with a different before finishing with “that is where I’ll be”. Before ending with one final riff (four counts worth) and a unified hit at the end.
In general with the production and mixing, the track is very vocals based. The song isn’t very bass heavy, though it gets more so toward the end of the songs and within the choruses. The drum sound is very clean and crisp, with the high-hats and cymbals being emphasised (with a high, tinny quality). The guitars are more gritty and muddy (especially in the chorus), sitting in and around the middle of the mix.
The sound doesn’t seem altered a lot - I think the producing was focused more on corrective editing and mixing, rather than creative or experimental producing - the song has qualities of a live, normal rock sound, so should be okay to aim to replicate!
I think the hardest part will be replicating the guitar sound because it is very prominent within the song, though not extremely unique so it should be doable!
I plan to research the guitars and guitar equipment used more thoroughly in continuing this assignment!
I made a remix...
Well I started this remix with the thought that Ableton was really not a friend of mine - I have previously found the program difficult to work with, and have usually ended up not being hugely pleased with what I have created through it. The remix began quite tiresomely; getting used to the program WHILST aiming to create a cool-sounding product was not easy.
As I progressed through this remix, however, I started to find the program quite satisfying to create music in! I greatly enjoyed making this remix! Ableton enabled me to be creative and experimental, so it’s a good DAW I conclude.. I think I’ll even continue using it of my own accord.
Anyway,To begin with, I worked with the stems I received from Honey Buckets’ original song (Let Me Down); editing the parts and warping them. I made short sequences that I liked and looped them. Once this was done I thought I’d better throw in some music around it… I started by creating my own synthesiser sounds; using Operator and Analog to build simple MIDI loops along to the Vox and Bass parts. This gave me a grasp of where the sound was heading, so it was easier to continue with the additional features.
As I was playing the MIDI parts, I thought the track started sounding like Fame by David Bowie, so naturally thought it would be groovy to add a bit of that brilliant track in there!
I had way too much fun and spent too much time literally messing about with Bowie’s vocals; making strange sounds to add an oddity to the song.
Throughout making this track, I took ear-and-brain-breaks, and also re-centralised by listening to electronically-produced music that I enjoy - especially Alt-J. On an occasion listening to Taro, I thought I’d love to add the very beginning of the track (an absolutely beautiful sound) somewhere in my remix! It flowed well as a bridge between two parts, and a random divergence from the song thus far.
By the end of my arrangement, I realised there were quite a lot of parts and random sounds I had made that I didn’t end up using in the final edit, but it was good to have a selection of musical phrases to choose from - I like arranging music so it made that process more complex and interesting.
Before my final edit, I showed Nick (the friend who gave me the stems from the Honey Bucket recordings) a draft of the song - he 'approved' it, and said how he likes the style of it and how it differs from the original (which is something I wanted, so that's cool).
I'm looking forward to showing the band!
And after all those words, here is the track -
Remixing like a true Remixer...
For my EMP remix, I am currently working on a song entitled Let You Down, recorded by a young Melbournian band called Honey Bucket.
As yet, the original song is unreleased, so I cannot link to a published post or anything of the sort, but here is a wav file of an excerpt of the track (produced by Nicholas Elliott) -
I picked the song mainly because I dig the melody, and really love the singer's voice - it's full of feeling and natural genuinity. The whole track's a nice groove too. I'd like to maintain these aspects through my remix, so I am planning to keep the vocals basically identical to the original performance (with a similar, if not same, tempo), like a sample being used by Moby or something (as previously discussed). I also want to incorporate the original bass line, and possibly the guitar part (depending on how it will suit the style of the remix) because it's a great performance.
In terms of a particular remix 'style', there isn't a specific genre or anything I am going to try to emulate, but there are certain artists and songs whose style I enjoy that I aim to draw from... Folks I've spoken about (behind their backs) in my past blog posts - namely the Gorillaz and Radiohead - as well as some I haven't, and also a few here-and-there tracks that inspire me creatively.
I listen to Alt-J Alo-t and that's because their music is so pleasurable to listen to. The balance of their tracks is so pristine, and they have a wonderful integration between acoustic and electronic, to make extremely complex, creative and interesting tunes. Plus the rhythms are absolutely mental! The drummer is extremely unique, and the syncopation throughout the song is completely absorbing.
Hunger Of The Pine has a wonderful undercurrent of intertwining synths that give the song its strong base, and round, full presence (the song also employs an awesome use of sampling: the female vocals, first at 1:20, are from a Miley Cyrus song!)
Hunger Of The Pine, from the LP This Is All Yours (2014).
Tessellate (2012) is just an insanely cool meshing of parts and pieces that individually are great, but even more astonishing in conjunction. I will never fully comprehend the brilliance of the group as artists, and their production team - the music is really at the pinnacle of where I'd like to be production-wise one day.
Tessellate, from the LP An Awesome Wave (2012).
Teardrop is a song I loved from first listen. Its sharpness and lucidity are really alluring, and it has a graceful air to it, whilst being powerfully fervent. The electronica presents as effortless; all the features lay within the mix so at ease and concerted
(and what a great video clip goodness).
Teardrop, by Massive Attack (from Mezzanine, 1998).
This one is a real suave one, and definitely a song that brought EMP to an area of real admiration for me. The opening synth riff hits you immediately, and the funk maintains throughout the track. From the 80s drum-machine fills, to the Jamaican-style steel drum breaks, the wobbly modulating synth that sounds like a video game soundtrack, and the highly reverberant claps - it's a feel-good, loose track full of speckled electronic goodness.
I hope its sense of joy will rub off on the music I make.
Heartbeats by The Knife (from the album Deep Cuts, 2003).
I tried thinking what these songs have in common that draw me to them, and I think it's that they each boast a sort of faultless simplicity and clarity - there's not a great deal of sound invading the ear space at any one time, and you can always focus in on the individual parts.
They are nicely balanced and composed, and thoughtfully arranged... This will also hopefully be a description of the track I am to produce (wishful thinking).
They also mainly have a stand-out riff or melody to hang on to, so I will compose something of the sort, and a rhythm that drives the whole song.
I will depend on these artists and songs to act as guides for this remix of mine, considering this is the first I have ever attempted - I am going to need help, professional help.
I will also be keeping contact with Nicholas, who 'lent' me the this song to remix (also with permission from the band), and he will pass on a draft to the band to give the thumbs up, or the please-start-again-this-is-hideous, or the ol' changed-our-minds-please-leave-our-song-alone one.
Hopefully it is an all okay though, and I will ask for any feedback they can give, to hopefully produce a final product they are happy with! After all, it is their song.
Speaking of 'them', here are the lads on Facebook and Soundcloud !
There are several artists I greatly admire in their ability to effectively use sampling in their music-making. Two of these people are Moby - a.k.a Richard Hall - and Fatboy Slim - a.k.a Quentin Cook.
When I think 'Moby', my mind conjures clean-cut, masterly simple mixes with sombre tones.
He generally uses sampling as a means to heighten the expression he aims for in a song - it's about kindling people's emotions through music for him I think.
And I'd say he is successful in that aspect because there is great unity between the samples and the music he builds around it - it makes the music pleasant to the spirit.
I specifically really love his work on Play (his fifth album, released in 1999). There are such gems on this record, including Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?, Porcelain and Natural Blues.
The story goes that Moby was introduced, by a friend, to a collection of CDs entitled 'Sounds of the South: A Musical Journey from the Georgia Sea Islands to the Mississippi Delta' (1993) - full of field recordings of folk music (made by Alan Lomax).
Listening to the recordings, it is evident why they were so inspiring and intriguing to Moby as samples.
They contain extremely rich and tonally interesting voices, without other instruments cramping the recordings - they're clean vocal takes; lending them well to remixing (with greater space for creative composition and control).
What I find so admirable in the way Moby sampled these traditional vocal performances is how true he kept the samples to their original tone and timbre.
He did not over-produce them, so they have maintained their unique and soulful quality (this also gives Play its identifiable style and tone... Genius).
I like that the singers' vocal performances are therefore still very recognisable as their own.
He gave them new life, and brought them into a contemporary era of music.
You do not need to scour Play's songs very long or far to hear the recordings' influence - they're the crux of the songs. He made them the feature, and it seems as though they were the stimulus for the rest of the music, which sounds based around the sample.
The way the samples are edited, also, using effects such as Reverb and Delay, blends the vocals with the added features, and makes the song sound entirely devised in the same creative space.
Here is Natural Blues (1999), for which Moby sampled Trouble So Hard by Vera Hall (recorded in 1937!); bringing southern American, Gospel-type soul into Electronic music.
I dig when artists can seamlessly blend genres and styles into an alloy of a song - it's creativity at its finest, and interesting because it gives us something different to experience.
In Natural Blues, soul, electronic, pop, blues and gospel are inventively harmonised.
He couples the original sample with devised synthesis - his composed rhythms and melodies - so wonderfully that it somehow brings out the beauty in the original vocal performance - as if, if those vocals were performed today it would be for/with that music (like, Vera Hall would be proud of it-type-thing).
He brought out the meaning in the lyrics, and the sincerity of the original - which is still the shining grace of the tune - and even did so in the film clip; bringing a new context to the authenticity of the original vocals...
It is a very genuine use of sampling I think.
Here's another cool track from Play, where he took a folk-song from Southern America to build a dramatic-sounding, tough hip-hop-style tune.
I think he did it so well that the vocals don't even sound sampled - it presents as if the singing was performed for this track.
The way the music comes in and out, and intertwines with the vocals, and the layering of the synth parts - it's really quite brilliant in my humble opinion.
Another example from the album that shares very similar sampling methods is a real funky song called Honey...
A fellow sampling master of the 90s-00s is Fatboy Slim. I am also a huge fan of his music and sampling, he has made some very timeless Electronic tunes I think.
There are similarities to Moby in the way Fatboy Slim employs sampling, but he also has his own distinct method and style.
Whilst Moby, in Play specifically, often uses particular samples throughout his song that are the significant element (and adds mostly his own instrumentals and synthesis), Fatboy Slim takes a more composite approach; collecting from various sources and having more than one sample featuring in each song.
Fatboy Slim's songs also seem to have more sections - the track varies throughout. Whereas Moby often loops samples over and over; making more sample-repetitive songs (it's quite cool then really, that he can keep our interest despite constantly repeating 8-bars of vocals, for example).
With Praise You, Fatboy Slim incorporates six seperate samples from various sources into the one song. He uses Camille Yarbrough's voice from Take Yo' Praise for the vocals, which have not been over-produced (only slightly sped up). The original sample is clear and unobstructed - like Moby, Fatboy Slim selected vocals that are not surrounded by music (for cruisy re-use).
As for the rest of the song, the main piano riff came from JBL's Sessions LP (I absolutely love how he sourced this!), the feature at 2:20 seconds was taken from the Fat Albert theme song (slowed down), he sampled keys from Lucky Man (the Steve Miller Band) at 2:12, the drums of the song came from Running Back To Me (by Ruby), and, probably most hilariously, the funky guitar riff (first played at 1:17) is from a Mickey Mouse: Disco track.
These six songs sampled are all from the 60s and 70s - like Moby, Fatboy Slim is also into resurrecting past songs.
It's quite unbelievable actually that he managed to integrate all these random and disjointed sources into one flowing piece of music - it's like a puzzle that he managed to fit together perfectly... I'm kind of in awe. It seems fun actually I'd like to try this.
I would be interested to know how and why he sourced the particular samples! Even the organisation alone is praise-worthy - he must have had a sound sample library that he continuously added to, and drew from as he needed.
Other songs from that same era of his also sample a large number of tunes: Gangster Trippin' (1998) sampled sounds from 10 different songs, Weapon Of Choice (2000) - 8 songs, Rockafeller Skank (1998) - 6 songs.
And for a favourite use of sampling, below is an example of Fatboy Slim taking a vocal snippet from the film Strange Days (1995) and making it the chorus of a song, with the perfect touch of beautiful strings from the 1970 song Ashes, the Rain and I (by James Gang).
I think it's one of the most amazing songs ever made.
All sampling examples sourced from the "Who Sampled: Exploring the DNA of Music", and the brilliant website that it is - www.whosampled.com
Synths and Gorillaz...
Gorillaz are just a mighty cool entity, in so many ways. They're a virtual band, and the most successful ever... They're in the Guinness Book of Records for goodness’ sake. Most importantly though, their music is brilliantly innovative, and their use of synthesis is very praise-worthy.
It's the sort of style I'd like to emulate in my own EMP (specifically the Baseline project).
Gorillaz are the brain-child of Damon Albarn, Blur frontman (and all-round pretty genius muso), so the music has a soft/prog-rock, pop vibe, with hints of that funky, spirited Britpop; harking 90s Blur.
Gorillaz creators Jamie Hewlett (Visual Artist/Designer/Animator) and Damon Albarn.
Being a new, contemporary endeavour though, the Gorillaz's music is based more heavily on creativity through digital sound.
Their most recent album, for example, The Fall (2011), was created almost entirely on an iPad (Watkinson, 2011).
Whilst that's extremely impressive, the Gorillaz work I mostly enjoy (especially in the way they use synthesis) is the group’s ‘transitional’ work (I guess you could call it) - where there is a blend between 'real' and 'virtual', analogue and digital.
In general, I prefer when electronic synthesis is used in partnership with acoustic instruments; each imparting their distinctive character to the whole (which then becomes an interesting soundscape of miscellany and assortment).
Gorillaz have proven how perfectly they can balance these two aspects. All the separate parts, whilst being different and often contrasting, have their own space, and perfectly compliment each other (synths often adding to the thickness of an acoustic part).
Synthesis adds depth, as well as speckled diversity to the songs - they do not overtake or outshine... It's a healthy union.
Gorillaz use of analogue and electronic means they are able to perform live, using 'real' instruments and performers, with the electronic and virtual side of their music and image incorporated.
Plastic Beach is the group’s third album (released in 2010) and is an unbelievably creative product of unbelievably interesting collaboration.
Most exciting in my point of view is the inclusion of Paul Simonon of The Clash! The odd and eclectic list of collaborators is reflected in the complete mash-up of styles across the album -
From the soulful howls in Stylo (by the brilliant Bobby Womack), the Brit-style spoken lyrics in Rhinestone Eyes, and the chaotic nature of Glitter Freeze, to the surprise of oriental, Arabic-style rhythms coupled with rap on White Flag - it’s just a genuinely eccentric and inimitable collection of songs.
It is devoid of a single genre; unrestricted and without 'rules' -
hip hop, pop, rock and alternative come together with electronic in an all-inclusive, somewhat conceptual, album (complete with virtual characters entwined in a narrative).
Here's a real interesting behind the scenes video - "The Making of Plastic Beach" - the whole clip is long but worth checking out if you're.. interested.
(Stylo section at 10 minutes is very side-note great; hearing Albarn's idea behind the song... And also in Syria at 19 minutes).
The use of synths on the album is very diverse and creative, and some is evident within the video - at 22 minutes you can see Albarn playing a melody on a MIDI with a bright, sparkly synth sound (for the song To Binge), and from 29:30 is a snippet of synth playing with added modulation (for the title song, Plastic Beach).
"The Making of Plastic Beach". URL: https://youtu.be/Itp1lkxRA8s
Gorillaz do mostly employ MIDI to generate their desired synth sounds.
They perfectly layer MIDI tracks to create an interwoven synth image - without over-production - just a bunch of unique and cool individual sounds that work well within the whole sound.
What I really dig about Gorrilaz's use of synthesis is that it's not a huge synth-party of convoluted clutter (although that is nice sometimes). Rather, they create instrumental features really - catchy riffs that spur the song, the melody itself, the back-beat and even the solo break - it's how regular instruments would generally be used, but with customised sound thanks to synthesis.
Like the wicked bass-y, fuzzy, riff in Stylo - one of my absolute favourite Gorillaz tracks, and such a fine synth performance. It really is the song, like how a killer guitar riff is - it gives the song it's vibe, and it's the line that you recall and remember.
The synth is a harsh, powerful and prominent sound that drives the entire song (haha.. cars), and almost evokes an engine.
The brilliant synth undercurrent (first played at 39 seconds) so perfectly complements the riff - the chords played on a MIDI with a simpler-built synth, more reminiscent of a regular instrument. It sounds like a piano mixed with a woodwind instrument, with an extending sound (long sustain), and gives a hollow, calming, grounded quality to the song.
The layering and how the space is filled is wholesome but not over-busy, even though the track is densely intricate and multifaceted.
There are even all the added effects and samples, which emphasize the feel of the song alongside its clip (you can almost 'hear' the film clip). Such as the siren sounds, and the vibrato being created through frequency modulation (FM) synthesis, that is implicative of a helicopter (first coming in at 20 seconds).
Everything still works collectively and fits ingeniously - with synths, an integral part, also maintaining a level of unanimity (the silent hero).
Stylo (feat. Mos Def And Bobby Womack) (Plastic Beach)
On Melancholy Hill is another track from Plastic Beach that I find extremely well-crafted, with an elegant use of synthesis.
It sounds quite gentle and simple, with the main light and chirpy MIDI riff (coming in at 51 seconds). I like how softly it overlays the constant synth part that underlies the song - the long-sustained chords with tremolo - and that it is sweet and simple. It is an extremely catchy melody (which often the simplest parts are).
On Melancholy Hill (Plastic Beach)
Diverting from Plastic Beach - a special mention to my favourite synth part in any Gorillaz song -
the funky break that comes in at 1:20 in Dirty Harry (released in 2005 on the album Demon Days).
It's pretty great by itself, but it's its integration within the whole song (and that wicked rhythm) that makes it so ridiculously cool... and makes ya dance.
Dirty Harry (Demon Days)
Watkinson, Mike. (March, 2011). “iPad”. Sound On Sound. Retrieved: http://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/ipad
I'm not one to revel in the electronic music scene, or at least what I initially perceived it as -
dub step and 'phat beats' and LOUD NOISES.
But I've realised I do dig a tasteful usage of the electronic in music-making.
In considering a particular artist whose use of the electronic I enjoy, I'd go first and foremost with Radiohead. I've admired the group for a long time - they have a strange and unique style, and create structurally fascinating music. But recently my appreciation of them has grown, especially as I have progressed through my audio course; hearing a deeper greatness and precision in their music and production choices.
As artists, they're evidently unafraid of fusing various styles and influences, and they seamlessly incorporate new technologies into their music-making. Not sticking to a single genre has meant they've been unrestricted in their creativity, and their music is ever-developing and evolving.
They pioneered a brash collision of rock and electronic music, and blurred any division between the two genres, and their conventional elements.
In OK Computer (1997 album), their implementation of sound samples and synthesisers (and influence of their new producer Nigel Godrich), left the poppy tunes of this era behind, and delivered more dark, complex, technologically-driven music.
With Kid A (their next LP), their focus on electronic production exploded, and bold experimentation led to a product that sounds as modern today as it did on its release 16 years ago.
Kid A is considered to be one of the greatest albums ever created, and often labelled as the most ground-breaking record of its decade (Rolling Stone, 2012).
Motion Picture Soundtrack, track 10 of Kid A (2000)
I think Radiohead's employment of electronic music technologies has always been as a tool to express themselves artistically - they make me think about how electronic music can be used to ENHANCE creativity and musical experimentation.
They are continually innovative, and their exploration of the possibilities of the electronic in music has led to them having a distinct and identifiable sound. They incorporate electronically-created sounds within and throughout their music, and integrate the acoustic and electronic to build a product as a whole, with a creative blend of sounds.
Radiohead's Live from the Basement sessions illustrate this well - evident is their use of sequencers and samplers along with their acoustic instruments - here is The Gloaming, and a personal favourite 15 Step...
Out of all their tunes I'd single out Lotus Flower as a pinnacle of their style, and integration of electronic music. Also because I just love it.
The track was released in 2011, on the LP King Of Limbs and has one of my favourite drum rhythms in THE HISTORY OF MUSIC. The syncopation is genius - the drum in 4/4 with claps in 5/8, and they work perfectly! It's choppy, and the bounce that it gives is ultimately cool. It's an epitome of blended brilliance - a warmth along with the staccato feel, strange effects underlining a 'regular pop' structure, and a simple, mellow quality across a musically complex design.
With all its parts and complexities, it still comes together as an interesting, full and flowing piece of art. The way the electronic sounds are used to accentuate the groove is brilliant - it's a playful juxtaposition and arrangement, with the effects complimenting the whole (not over-powering the mix). Thanks to perfect mixing, and an amazingly creative and calculated stereo image - even the snare comes hard left and hard right and certain points - all the sounds have their space.
The track is just a superb lesson in creating, mixing and producing, and is one I will always listen to to inspire my own creating.
Tell me, WHAT IS NOT TO ENJOY.
Rolling Stone. (May 31, 2012). "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone Magazine. Retrieved September 24, 2016, from: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/500-greatest-albums-of-all-time-20120531
Whenever I am asked about determining a single creator that is influential to me I naturally panic. My interest in music has stemmed from the many artists and pieces of music that have impacted me throughout my entire long life, how do I choose one and WHO?! I would prefer instead to have a collection of VIPs, as a culmination of inspiration.
One of these VIPs would be Paul Simon.
Simon's someone I consider to be a genuinely genius artist – a brilliant and inventive musician, a creative and truthful lyricist, an innovative producer and a serenely honest performer.
Simon’s music made me realise how honest and exposing lyrics can be. Songs can so naturally and sincerely ensue from our emotions, and really ignite a deep connectivity between a creator and their audience. His music often embodies serious facets of the human experience, such as alienation, depression, love, loss, self-doubt etcetera. His first solo album, and my personal favourite, The Paul Simon Songbook, to me demonstrates this perfectly.
His lyrics can represent complex or simple ideas, be serious or utterly whimsical, and are often poems in their own right. They hold their own on paper without any melody backing them up, like fellow literary masterminds Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon and Mark Bolan (to name only a few).
Simon’s continuous exploration of the possibilities of lyrics opened my mind to new spheres of creativity with language, and its innate connection to music. It’s a genuine expression of the self, and this is the music I mostly appreciate and consider most meaningful.
As a future graduate of a Bachelor of Audio, I want to work with artists who, like Simon, possess an innermost urge to express - to share and connect with their audiences genuinely - and be able to effectively and earnestly assist them in their communication.
I also respect Paul Simon’s general slight-badass nature. Listening to his music, and learning about the creative processes behind the songs, I can appreciate that he follows his own artistic leadings, and maintains creative control in bringing his ideas into fruition.
Graceland – what a unique and interesting composition as an album! I admire that Simon finds inspiration from various sources; amalgamating the different styles to produce a unique and eclectic mix of music. Not only did the beautiful harmonies and rhythms of African music enrich the album, but the entire spectrum of popular music! Which up until that point hadn't experienced this traditional source in communion with popular music and already well-established artists.
And of course, experiencing an artist live has a major impact on one’s opinion of them. I had the pleasure of seeing this small but hugely talented person live in concert in 2013 (and 2015), and will never forget how purely rich, pristine and quite-damn-near-perfect the music was.
I can actually recall a distinct moment in the night where, being amongst the thousands of other people openly enjoying his music, I felt seriously content and thought, ‘man, I really want this’… I think the ‘this’ was to be a part of the communal power of music – to make and share it.
It is not an exaggeration for me to say that Simon’s music made me realise how ‘real’ and beautiful music can be, with meaningful lyrics, touching tunes and a truly communicative voice... I can assuredly say that as a creative, he further enlightened me to the extent of my passion for music, and the desire to be all-consumed professionally within it.
I hope that in working in audio production I can continue in Simon’s footsteps of being an innovative and experimental music-maker; facilitating the creation of music that, like his, will mean something to people - and maybe even be as timeless (we can only hope).