February 4, 2014

It's Process Day!!!

by Chris Randall

My attempts at creative endeavors over the weekend were utterly and completely foiled by hardware (not software!) problems. My Maschine Studio got crashy all the sudden, I had to whittle a new tape loop for the echo, the old Doepfer modules/Stackables problem reared its head, and basically everything was conspiring to keep me from making music.

However, creativity struck last night and I was able to pull things together on a track I've been making on and off for a couple weeks now. Just for fun, I let the GoPro Hero 3+ run while I was trying to come up with a part on the DK Synergy for this track. So the video above is actually a snapshot of my writing process, not a finished and arranged song (or real-time improv, like most of my videos, although it does smell like that.) When I'm doing a track with full production that isn't real-time, I like to separate the parts out in the Clip view in Live, blow up the UI so I can run it from the touchscreen, and dick around with different arrangement ideas while I'm trolling for sounds, and that's essentially what I'm doing in the above video.

Sidebar: the DK Synergy is a strange and wonderful beast, and I dearly love owning and playing it, but Jesus fuck the fan in that thing is loud. Something needs to be done about it.

I'm intrigued to learn about your writing process. Since electronic music is almost more about sound design than songwriting, do you play parts first, then do sound programming like me? Or do you come up with cool sounds, then figure out how to use them? Or some other method entirely?


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Feb.09.2014 @ 4:57 PM
Chris Randall
Okay, that's pretty fucking cool. I am fully in favor of Mike's methodology. I've tried to do that for myself a few times (and there are actually two tracks on one of the SMG records that are almost entirely generated via a similar method) but you've taken it far further than I ever did. Gonna experiment with this.


Feb.09.2014 @ 5:26 PM
mike kiraly
Would you guys be interested in a short screen capture video demonstration?

Feb.10.2014 @ 1:03 AM
mad ep
^^ definitely.

The method sounds very creative to me, and I like the track you posted.

As Chris said "pretty fucking cool"...would love to see a demo vid of the process.

Feb.10.2014 @ 1:31 AM
@mike sounds a lot more cohesive than I imagined it would. In fact it's pretty good. I've tried a simpler version of your method a couple times. Just winds up a brown digital mess.

This method og working is very Eno-esque. Setting up a system and letting music be generated. The act of compostion is to build a system and listening/editing the result.

But in the end the proof in the pudding is still, how dyu like the music?

Feb.10.2014 @ 9:50 AM
Sometimes I use a generative method too - Axon. My mouse doesn't like the GUI though so not as often as I would like.

Feb.10.2014 @ 3:52 PM
Adam Schabtach
Mike: even before I finished reading your first post I thought, "I'd like to see a video of this." So, yes, please.

I haven't finished a track in years so I won't attempt to pass on any wisdom about processes. However, I am about to start an experiment of sorts which is to abandon computers altogether while writing music. I spend entirely too much time around the things (and around music software) as it is, so I'm going to restrict myself to the Octatrack, the A4, and the Virus TI and possibly some effects boxes, and see how it goes. One thing I've figured out is that taking notes (on paper) seems to be a good idea in that it helps me remember sub-ideas that came up in the context of pursuing a main idea. For example, something like "tweak the delay feedback on the bass track" as a reminder to myself that this produced an interesting result, even if I don't know how to make use of it at the time.

Inevitably, though, I'll need a computer to actually finish songs. I don't have an adequate mixer and I'm too fond of certain plug-ins.


Feb.10.2014 @ 5:47 PM
mike kiraly
I'll get something together tonight - check back for a link tomorrow.

Feb.11.2014 @ 12:54 AM
I was a writer long before I was a composer of music, so for me the composition process starts with a pencil and paper or a multimarkdown file in vi. All of my completed musical releases are concept albums of a sort. They all have a rough story line or plot. They all have a beginning, middle, climax, and ending. I don't ever expect (or necessarily desire) the listener to have a real sense of this. The story is just a framework for me. A path towards an end. A way through the trees. To that end, the project gets a name, the individual tracks get titles. Titles are generally a clue to the story, and can often be read from track one to the end as a rough outline of a short story. The next step is that I start assigning a set of limitations on the project. These can be anything, a maximum (or for that matter minimum) channel count for each song, instrumentation, tempo ranges, etc. etc. etc. Anything to keep me from endless noodling around with my gear. Any time I don't have constraints, I end up not getting anything anywhere near finished product. That path leads down the road of more unfinished files named "midnight jam number 6753" or "evil beat" or "guitar/rhodes/kitchen pan thing 57" filling up the hard drive. Occasionally I'll render out a loop or two from those files, and every great once in a while I'll resurrect one of these tracks if it has the right feeling for a new project/fits in a narrative hole in an existing project. I also collect a fair amount of imagery and text that I find inspiring to the current project. Some of this ends up as part of the graphic design of a release, but most of it is there as meditation fodder while writing.

I usually start composing from (roughly) lower frequencies up. That is either bass or drums. I don't spend a ton of time on sound design on that end. I find that too much deviation from "normal" on bass is a waste of time. I've spent days trying to make interesting bass sounds for a track only to toss the whole thing out and pull up a simple sine wave bass with a touch of lfo modulation. Simple usually is better. I spend a great deal of time on sound design for pads and atmospherics. Slightly less on lead tones. I do a lot of work with samplers. I drop a lot of sound into the S3000 or the TX-16w, chop it, manipulate it, and then import it back into the computer.

I don't do much eqing anymore. I mainly just throw a low pass or hi pass filter on individual tracks. Sonimus Sweetone is my current go to. I get hi and low pass filters as well as a tilt eq and a gain stage with soft sat. It does the trick for quick adjustments. If I need more than that on a track, I re-record or -synthesize. PSP Old Timer and/or the Vertigo VSC-2 comp are all I use for tracking these days. I like to work quick most of the time. I can fiddle around with more precise/complex plugins when I'm mixing. Most things done in the box get sent through something physical at some point in the process. I'll run a bit of sound to tape and then re-import to the DAW, or I'll run a synth line through the Vox Pathfinder or the busted little Peavey bass practice amp and close mic it, or broadcast it on my AM transceiver and record it back to the computer. Most of my outboard is on the cheaper end, so it's mostly used for "character" as opposed to pristine quality. If I wan't "clean", I keep it in the box.

I find that tend to get vastly different results sonically based upon the environment that I'm working in. Each sound processing program or DAW has its own strengths and weaknesses, and I interface with them differently. I mainly use Live, but I also heavily rely on Five12's Numerology and Audiomulch, as well as a host of barely working, antiquated software (turbosynth, sonicWORX, cloud generator, CDP, etc) that I have running on an old blue G4 mac pro running OS 9. A friend just gave me a silver G5 mac pro. I have a dream of getting an Audiomedia III card and an Oasys PCI to put in it and start using it as my hard disk recorder. Also, I live inside of a wave editor. Twenty some odd years ago, I did my first compositions entirely in a wave editor. Snipping drum hits and spacing them out to make beats, making small loops to create tones, etc. I still feel most comfortable in that environment.

- William

Feb.11.2014 @ 8:16 AM
Adam Schabtach
William: I believe that I have a Korg 1212I/O card in my attic (literally). I don't recall the generation of Mac that I used it in, but if it would be useful to you I'll cheerfully give it to you. I used to have an OASYS PCI but sold it when it was announced that Korg was orphaning it.


Feb.11.2014 @ 10:40 AM
beauty pill
Is anyone reading this blog primarily a guitarist?

- c

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