Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Heir on a G String

Looking at the DAW file, I see it was nearly a year ago when I started this.  It happened one night when I was in the grocery store and thought I heard the Bach "Air" from Suite #3 (BWV 1068) playing over the store sound system -- by a 60s blues band.  As I listened more carefully over the reverberating shoppers' din, I realized it wasn't uncle Johann, but Procol Harem playing what for many qualifies them as one-hit-wonders.  It struck me then that their instrumentation would actually make a nice ensemble for the Bach "Air."  (And, yes, PH seemed to have "inherited" from Mr. B. some especially lovely harmonic and melodic structures for their song.)  Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, a short trip home allowed me to assemble the necessary virtual performers and have a go at it.

You will probably notice a number of problems with it:  the expression in the organ part is uneven (at best) and I did nothing with the tempo except to put the ritardando in at the end (live musicians would have varied it slightly for expression).  By the number of hours I put into it, you might expect more nuance, but, as an experiment and self-tutorial, it served its purpose and was fun to do. 

There is little for me to say about it technically.  I didn't do much to modify the emulators' presets (I know:  "Presets are for the weak"), but my interest here was not in sound design, but in learning how to coax musical expression out of a black box.  My principle avenues for this were velocity (which was the only expressive control for the guitar and bass tracks) and the "Expression" parameter on the tonewheel organ.  This latter is essentially a central portion of the total volume range; it does not affect the timbre as a true swell might, thus the sense of the organ moving away and coming closer, rather than getting softer or louder as such. 

So, in the end, it's down to being unwilling not to post something I put so much time into, even if it's merely the result of an exercise, rather than a small piece of my soul.  Still, I hope it is enjoyable. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

11 Mar 2004

First:  yes, it has been nearly a year since my last post, and more than that since my last new piece (which was itself a very modest effort, to say the least).  Paradoxically, it's not been for lack of inspiration:  I've been working on dozens of projects, some of which have fallen by the wayside, some of which have been ignored in favor of new ideas but to which I plan to return, and some of which I'm still working on.  'Twas ever thus

The piece I'm posting today is deeply personal; I debated with myself about putting it up.  In the end, I decided to go forward because I'm  rather proud of it.  It is the first piece I've done with any spoken part (the voice in "Cars" was synthetic).  Also, the text is based on an eponymous journal entry from a particularly challenging time of my life.  Using it for a piece is an idea I've had in my head for some time now; I only just noticed that the date of its fruition is (roughly) the anniversary of its source. 

I initially intended to include the text as a scroll in the video, but decided that the act of reading interfered with the aural space I wanted to create.  I recommend listening to the piece first, without reading the text, then, if you wish, go back and listen again with the text.  It is as follows: 

I am walking in a dismal bog under dark branches and an overcast sky.  Next to me is a small, brown boy dressed in ragged cutoffs and a grubby red t-shirt.  He carries a white plastic bucket of rotting, infected, poisonous crabs.  He ladles crabs into the bog every few steps. 

As we walk, I sink deeper into the muck.  Eventually, the bog bottom dives down into the water and the water begins to move.  I leave the boy behind and follow the stream.  I am soon carried off. 

The clouds clear and the trees become verdant in the sun, the air sultry.  The stream is covered with tiny green petals, obscuring the water below.  I fear what I cannot see, but the stream is beautiful. 

I reach out an arm to stroke the water and it is seized by two unseen hands.  Frightened but deliberate, I lift my arm from the water and pull up a man, gasping for air as if nearly drowned.  He struggles, coughing, clinging desperately to me for a few moments.  He is naked and hairless and looks as if he were made of riverbottom. 

Soon, he is able to breathe normally.  He tells me he has been underwater for two and a half years.  He had tried to kill himself, but then refused to die.  He was very frightened. 

We drifted downstream together, he in my arms.  As we bobbed gently in the water, the mud washed from him, revealing his pink, wrinkled flesh.  Bits of him had died during his long immersion and this skin began to fall away into the stream. 

The water widened.  We began to see houses along the banks, a woman hanging laundry in her backyard.  

I leave the reader to interpret its meaning (note the duration of the man's immersion). 

Technically, I'm pleased with the result, even if it is a simple piece.  It is my first experiment with recording my voice and it went better than I expected (not to say there aren't problems).  Also, the realization of the piece matches closely what I heard in my head.  This represents a small triumph in part because it indicates that I'm getting more facile with the technology:  I typically spend a frustratingly large portion of time on a project figuring out how to do what I want (which sometimes ends in me giving up and compromising or even quitting the project).  With this piece, I was able to develop the synth sound I wanted, as well as the vocal effects I had in mind, relatively quickly. 

As I have several pending pieces I'm excited about, with luck (and energy) my next post will come sooner.