Thursday, 4 February 2010

Making music with a difference

In the days of awesome-fast mac-books, USB toasters, firewire, tap-tempo, automation and the lot... music making can become a bit clinical. The danger of our 'control everything' environment, is that, given the choice, we can, and we will.

What does this mean though? Brian Eno said something on the subject [which for the live of me, I can't source] so I'll paraphrase:

When you were younger, and you had all these colors of plasticine, eventually after playing with them, they'd turn this browny-purple color. Which is a bit like how editing has become. You can go and change one drum fill, because it's only 90% there... then you can change another, and another, and the whole thing becomes one homogenized mass that has no human feel to it.

I was at the NAMM show and I saw people quantization and pitch-correcting vocals in the Melodyne booth. Yer, If you have a take that was 95% there, and there was one fuck up, I'd do it too, but the danger is loosing what makes music some intrinsically humanistic.

I've taken some time to think about what it is that *I* do in my music making that tries to step away from this. My music may not sound awesome, but I have fun doing it, and where possible, I try to do things others can't.

1/ playing through the whole thing, start to finish... so how many of use, grab a rhodes multi, knock up 3 or 4 chords, quantize, then loop to finish? You wouldn't even get away with this in minimal techno or crunk or some other mind-numbing genre! Quantizing is fine, so long as you don't quantize the whole thing... some human error is what makes records sound real. Anyone can quantize and loop, only you have your own 'feel'

2/ using external gear - this can be a throb with a small soundcard, but it's amazing how much of a difference it can make. i use a Korg Kaoss pad for delays, filters, phasers with changing LFOs etc. There's a cool array of guitar effects pedals I'll call apon 'cos you can synch the delay, or the filter cut-off has to be adjusted by hand. Automation's fine if you're doing really fine details, but leaving the filtering to live is the way fwd>> if you ask me. Ableton and all those programs have midi learn knobs, which is good, and better than drawing it, but leave it down to something real if you can.

3/ randomizes - okay this is grey matter. what I mean is stuff that syncs to your master clock and chops into 8ths/16ths etc and re-arranges. That's fine, but for fuck-sake - chop chop chop when is done! I tend to [when dealing with drums for example] knock up 16 bars with a few variations in, then add randomizes and export, each time tweaking some functions. And I use a few of them so you don't get used to the algorithm. Then bring them all back in and re-arrange to your heart's content. Then why not re-randomize? Keep your chops to 8th/16ths or even small, so it's *your* sound, not the computers.

4/ on the subject of drums - like I said above, program everything yourself for your own feel, or .rex a decent breakbeat for someone elses. Too much of the time, people will get, an Apache break for instance, then slick it up and quantize to fuck. Jeez, what makes the Apache sound good is the interplay between the congas [or bongos? correct me people?] and the drums. Fair enough, I might knock the down-beats to grid, but let the rest flow.

5/ a trick I learned from JD73 about bass-line programming... program you 'perfect one' in, bounce it out. then play start to finish with all your pushes, pulls, rests, runs, substitutions and your mistakes! bounce... then a third changing the filter cut-off, mod-wheel work, perhaps velocity sensitive LFO, bit of delay added here and there. then pull all three in and have a chop for best results.

6/ truly random? if you want to step further away into the world of the weird, is suggest building your own bits in Reaktor or MAX/MSP, the latter I'm useless with, so I'll stick to Reaktor... there's plenty of built in macro to get you started, and you can grab bits from their own stuff. It's a throb to start with, but once you understand the architecture, there's a sound NO-ONE else has [less you share it on their forum ;-) haha]

7/ record your own percussion - I might tighten up drums for maximum beef, but laying down your own woodblock, tambourine, shaker etc, gives your beats your own feel [percussion like the latter two can be a sod to program from steps, and using a loop introduces too much of a wrong thing IMO] ...and a taste of the room it was mixed in :-)

Okay, I'm running out of steam, and it's not like I do *all* of these on every tune. But the best results I've got with my stuff is where it's the sound of *me* not my plug-ins, logic, what-ever.

It's too easy to bring in that kick you use on everything, dump an apple loop or two in, albetonize the lot, use native synths with preset sounds blah blah blah. Yer, people do this, and if their programming is interesting enough, it doesn't matter right?

Who's to say. All I',m saying is push-the-fucking-envelope. If I get sent another progressive-house track with sample-pack loops UN-TOUCHED or some crappy dub-step with YET ANOTHER Native Instruments Massive patch [distorted notch filter ring any bells?]

Yer... should have backed this up with a screen-cast or audio examples, but I'm lazy.... maybe on the re-edit...

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