Music Production
Juilliard Evening Division
Fall 2018

Syllabus

Listening — this Spotify playlist will house all recommendations that come up in class.

General Notes

  • Overarching ideas about creativity

    • We are cultivating a mental state that is:

      • relaxed but alert

      • focused on one thing at a time

      • optimistic: the attitude that “it isn’t good now but it will be”

      • playful: it can spend a lot of time moving the blocks around, trying new combinations and shapes, with suspended judgment

    • Things that may help you approach that state before you begin:

      • working at a specific time of day

      • having a clean physical and digital workspace, minimizing distractions

      • some kind of meditation/relaxation/focusing exercise

      • defining your schedule and tasks first

        • for me, this is the most important. To practice, everything in our class is going to be done on a clock - we’ll work in fixed periods of time, with the task defined beforehand and a break between.

  • Suggestions for workflow

    • At the end of every work session, export a bounce of your work. Throw it in a folder or an itunes playlist or something. Two months from now you will have forgotten most of your sketches, and it will be a pain to re-open all of your working files — make it easy for yourself to skim all of your work.

    • We’re going to be doing lots and lots of sketching, which could result in a chaos of half-remembered filenames. I suggest thinking about it as a “journal” and organizing your project files accordingly. I’m going to have one folder called “sketching” and save all of my projects in there named with the date first and a few descriptive words after, like “2018.09.09 choir drums tuba echoes”. This works well for me and might for you too.

  • DAW essentials

    • Whether you are working in Ableton, Logic, or other software, you’ll need some basic skills. Here’s a list of things I assume you can do. If you have any gaps in your knowledge, I suggest setting aside some time each week to fill them in. Google for instructions and tutorials.

      • Navigation: move around in the track, zoom horizontally and vertically, loop sections

      • Audio Regions: cut copy and paste, adjust boundaries, loop, create fades in out and cross, adjust gain, use warp markers (Ableton) or Flex Time (Logic) to adjust the timing of a region

      • Tracks: create and delete tracks, choose software instruments

      • Mixing: change track volume and panning, solo and mute, EQ

      • MIDI: create midi regions, record midi regions, edit notes and velocities, quantize

      • Exporting: render wav and mp3

      • Global: change the tempo, use the metronome, add markers

  • DAW best practices

    • Stay organized: keep like tracks together, use colors and meaningful names

    • Learn hotkeys: figure out how to reference your program’s key commands. If your software lets you edit them, whenever you feel frustrated, or slow, or like you’re using the mouse a lot, ask, “can I make a hotkey for this?”

    • Save your customized instruments, effects and loops: build a personal library of sounds you’ve made.


Sampling Project

  • Sampling is a kind of collage, and so has roots in the Cubism of the 19-teens. It was pioneered by the French in the early days of electronic music, and today is a core practice for popular music as well. Here are some notes on the history of the French school, as well as some notes on Ableton techniques.

  • 20 minutes: scavenger hunt.

    • Go find interesting samples. Use software like Audio Hijack to record from Spotify, or Youtube. Cruise Freesound.org, YouTube Roulette, sample libraries. Get snippits of music, of speech, of natural sounds.

    • Things to think about:

      • The simpler the sound, the more versatile it will be. Solo instruments, tracks with more silence, sounds without background noise will all give you ‘cleaner’ materials.

      • Find samples that offer a diversity of sonic roles. There are lots of ways to think about this: with a spatial metaphor (foreground, middle ground, background), with an orchestrational metaphor (something low to be the “bass”, something high to be the “flute”, bright stabs to be “the trumpets”, glued together with mellow “horns”), a drum kit metaphor (the “kick”, the “snare”, the “hat”). Basically just find a mix of long sounds and short sounds, high sounds and low sounds (but know that you can make high sounds low, and long sounds short etc. with audio processing).

    • Don’t think too hard about your sounds yet. Find something interesting, record some of it, move on.

  • 20 minutes: excerpt, shape, loop, organize.

    • Drag all of your samples together into your DAW. Let it create a track for each one. Give each one a different color.

    • Trim each long sample to a single musical gesture. This can be a long phrase, a short isolated sound, or a loop (use the loop function of your DAW to experiment. Don’t worry about getting into any specific tempo now). But try to make each one into a single coherent unit, something with a beginning middle and end. If you can pull out a couple of these gestures from a sample, go for it.

    • You may want to further process these as you go. Add fades, audio effects, adjust the volume, change the pitch – sure, but just trust your first idea and don’t spend much time trying to get it exactly right.

    • Try loading samples into a sampler (EXS24 in Logic or Simpler in Ableton) and playing them like as a MIDI instrument. (In Logic, a fast way to do this is to right click the audio > Convert to New Sampler Track; you can have it slice it up where each bit is a different note, or you can sample a whole region to all notes, just edit the EXS24 so the range of the sample is the whole range of the keyboard. In Ableton, right click > Slice to New MIDI Track. If you’ve added fades or transpositions etc. that change the sound, you will need to render the audio first: Logic > Bounce in Place. Ableton > Consolidate).

  • 20 minutes: compose a 2 bar loop.

    • (I’m thinking of Chuck Close, who I remember saying on Charlie Rose something like: I don’t think of it as working on a giant painting for 2 years, I just make a little frame every day and fill it with a little painting. This 2 bar loop is our little frame.)

    • Set your DAW to loop over 2 bars. Turn on the metronome and choose a tempo.

    • Start filling the frame with selections from your samples. Anything is fair game: cut things up, change their pitch, throw things away. You’re just going to shuffle blocks until things start clicking.

    • Use Flex Time (Logic) or Warp Markers (Ableton) to adjust the timing of your samples, and the Transpose function to adjust the pitch.

    • Once you feel like your own sounds are articulating the meter well enough, turn off the metronome.

  • Compose a few more 2 bar loops. Choose your favorites.

  • 20 minutes: from a loop to a phrase. Possibilities:

    • Turn 2 bar loops into 4 bar loops by doubling them and changing something (doesn’t matter what, mix it up) about the second one. (Try articulating the ending somehow to round out the unit: this can be as slight as a single note changed or as dramatic as a drum fill or riser.) 4 bar loops become 8 bars the same way, and 8, 16.

    • Turn a 2 bar loop into a longer trajectory. Repeat it some number of times, and delete elements from the early repetitions so that the layers accumulate, or make some other change over time.

    • Do your own idea.

  • Homework for 9/25: finish this section to your satisfaction. This is A. Repeat this process to write a contrasting section, B. Make a final track with the form ABA. Make the second A a little different. Work on it until you’re satisfied. Bounce and email to me; we’ll all share next week.

  • FYI: if you plan on releasing pro tracks from your sampling adventures, two things to think about: audio quality (mp3s recorded from spotify or youtube are not full quality) and copyright (learn more here).


Sampling 2: Building Your Own Instrument

  • Technique 1: turn any single sound into an instrument

    • In Logic: create a Software Instrument track and add an EXS24. Click EDIT (near the top right corner). Drag the region that you want to sample into the instrument. Tips:

      • Set KEY to be the original pitch of the sample. This will make it play the right notes.

      • Use the VIEW menu to see other options. Here are a few you are likely to use:

        • Playback: 1Shot - plays the whole sound even if you lift the key before it’s done

        • Loop - lets you specify a portion of the sound to loop. (Know that these Start and End values are measured in SAMPLES (44.1 thousand per second) so your values will likely need to be in the tens or hundreds of thousands.)

        • The piano keyboard below lets you specify the range of notes that trigger any given sample.

        • Use the main panel of the EXS24 to control the volume envelope, add a filter, add glide, detune, add LFO and more.

    • In Ableton: create a MIDI track and add the Simpler instrument. Drag a sound into it. Tips:

      • Classic Mode plays only as long as you hold the key down, and can loop a portion to create a sustained sound. 1 Shot plays the whole sound no matter how long you hold the note down (good for drums). We’ll get to slice —

      • Warp mode on will keep the duration of the sound the same no matter what pitch you play on it. Sometimes this makes a more natural sound, sometimes it degrade the sound quality.

      • Open the Controls panel to shape the sound with a filter, LFO, and envelope.

    • Ideas: find a single note or sustained pitch and sample it to play chords or melodies.

    • NOTE: if, before you bring your sample into the sampler, you’ve shaped it with fades or effects, you need to bounce a new audio region that imprints those changes into the sound itself. In Logic: control-click > Bounce in Place. In Ableton: control-click > Consolidate.

  • Technique 2: slice a sound into parts.

    • In Logic: select a region you want to slice. Control-click > Convert > Convert to new Sampler Track. Here you have two options: let it slice according to its own detection of where ‘parts’ start and stop (Transient Markers), or you can slice it up yourself into different regions, each of which will become a different key on the keyboard (do this first, then select all regions and convert to sampler track).

    • In Ableton: create a Simpler instrument and choose Slice mode. Change Sensitivity to make the slices larger or smaller.

    • Ideas:

      • slice a beat on the rhythmic grid (into 1/4 or 1/8th notes) and play as a drum set.

      • slice a vocal part by transient and play with an arpeggiator (I did this in my song 100 Tongues)

  • Technique 3: build a layered instrument.

    • In Logic: drop multiple samples into the EXS24. Use the volume controls to adjust the balance between them, and the pitch controls to align the notes (or create a chord).

    • In Ableton: use an Instrument Rack to stack different Simpler instruments together.

    • There are different ways you can divide up how the sounds are selected: they can all play together, or different sounds can be played by different regions of the keyboard which can overlap, or different sounds can be triggered by notes of different velocities (how hard you kit the key).

  • Technique 3: build a mixed instrument - a “drum kit” or “soundpack”

    • A soundpack is a collection of all of the sounds needed for a song loaded into a single sampler for live improvisation. See: Beerology, Mad Zach, Colours of India

    • In Logic, drop multiple samples into the EXS24. Use the keyboard to limit the range of each.

    • In Ableton, use a Drum Rack.

    • Electronic musicians who work this way often think about sounds in categories:

      • a few drums (probably kick, snare, hat)

      • a few other rhythmic sounds

      • a few melodic elements, which can be bass tones or sampled vocals or harmonic pads…

      • a riser: something that rises in pitch over a few bars time to create drama

    • Examples to study: Mad Zach MIDI fighter performance environment // Rick Fresco Memory Lake // go down a youtube rabbit hole

  • Project for 10/2: create 4 instruments, one of each type described above. Use only samples from our Grab Bag, plus any drums you want to include in your soundpack. Using these 4 instruments only, create a 1 minute piece of music.


Generating Material: Sound

  • Audio Effects - essential tools:

    • Understanding of the effects. This just takes time & exploration & googling.

    • Automation curves: changing parameters over time.

      • Entering Automation mode: key A (Logic), A (Live 10), clicking a parameter (Live 9)

      • Curves can be on the track level or the region/clip level

        • In Logic, this is a toggle that appears on the track in Automation mode. Automation drawn on the region will repeat exactly if the region is looped.

        • In Ableton, clips are automated in the Envelope panel of the Clip editor and tracks are automated in Arrangement view.

      • Shapes can be made in several ways:

        • Clicked in (making nodes one at a time)

        • Drawn in (pencil tool)

        • Recorded in

          • In Ableton, Clip Envelopes can be recorded with Session Record button (make sure Automation Arm is on and track is armed). In Arrangement view, make sure the track is not armed (or you will record over it) but Automation Arm is on; press global record button.

          • In Logic, Automation is read/recorded in 4 modes: Read/Touch/Latch/Write. Learn about the modes here.

        • Shapes can also be copied/pasted.

    • Bouncing: creating a new audio file with the effects embedded.

      • Commitment! While it can seem smart to leave your options open (leave your effects editable, leaving your parts as midi regions that you can tweak forever), committing is really helpful for moving forward and completing a song.

      • Experiment. When you make a sound you like, record it. Then you can keep experimenting with the original and you don’t lose good things you found along the way.

        • Logic: select what you want to record. Control-click > Bounce > Bounce in Place.

        • Ableton - two methods:

          • For a whole track: control-click track > Freeze Track, control-click track or region > Flatten Track, control-click track > Unfreeze Track

          • Or if this is too slow (because you have a lot on your track), create a new audio track, set the input to Resampling, arm it, solo the track you want to record, select the region you want to record, press record.

  • First exercise: Variations

    • 10 minutes, pause, 10 more minutes. Our mental attitude for this is: fast, unfussy, playful. Quick decisions, gut instincts. Non-judgment. Start with a sample from the grab bag.

      • Add an effect. Play with the settings. Record some automation. Bounce (to a new track; mute that track). Repeat, adding each effect on top of the previous.

      • Suggestions:

        • Use automation to articulate meter (work with a loop; turn on the metronome or work to drums).

        • Sometimes do a subtle touch. Sometimes try to break it.

  • Second exercise: Becoming the Opposite #1 - Flow - we’re going to turn a short burst of sound into an long sustained environment using reverb, delay and feedback, other effects.

    • 10 minutes:

      • Start a short sound like a drum hit or a short clip of something.

      • Add lots of long reverb.

      • Send it to a Return track. Put a Delay on it. Set the Return track to send INTO ITSELF ! (Let’s call this the Feedback Knob).

      • Put a LIMITER on the effect chain on this Return track. This is important.

      • Play the sound. Play with the Feedback Knob - turn it up to get it to feed back, then turn it down to manage it. As long as the Limiter on your effect chain it will keep it in a safe range.

      • Add more effects on the Return track. See what they do. Change their settings to modulate the flow of sound. Notice the difference between effects placed before the Limiter and after.

    • 10 minutes:

      • Record a performance. Bounce it.

  • Third exercise: Becoming the Opposite #2 - Composing a drum - we’re going to take a long sustained sound and use it to make a percussive sound by layering it with a drum.

    • 10 minutes:

      • Cut a bit from your feedback flow.

      • Choose a drum sound to layer underneath it. Trim the flow to be the same length and fade it to match the envelope of the drum.

      • Maybe add another sound on top. Fine tune.

      • Bounce it and drop it in a sampler (Ableton: go straight to a Drum Rack. Logic: EXS24).

  • Motion

    • LFO

    • Sidechaining

    • Envelope followers

  • Flow and articulation

    • Vowels / Consonants

  • Project for 10/9: Make a 1 minute piece that is all about sound. Use sounds that you design, use lots of automation, make something interesting.


Generating Material: Pitch

  • We’ve been focusing on sound for the last few weeks. Now we’re going to take the opposite approach and eliminate sound from the equation (almost) completely.

  • We’ll compose with very simple sounds.

    • Logic: to get an instrument that only plays sine waves, load an EXS24 instrument without loading any preset. To get some more color variety without being overwhelmed by options, try the ES E, ES M or ES P synths.

    • Ableton: the default Operator instrument is a sine wave. I’ve also been into the pATCHES wave selector — it’s a collection of ‘single cycle waveform samples’ (very very short sounds that when looped produce a tone of a certain color) prepared as instrument racks.

 Taken from Boys Life magazine, the magazine for Boy Scouts.

Taken from Boys Life magazine, the magazine for Boy Scouts.

  • Approach #1: Variations over a ground bass

    • A 'ground bass’ is the name historically used for a repeating bass line. Working from a ground bass is the best way to get all of your parts to lock in harmonically with each other. The ground bass is like the first circles of this cat drawing, or like a single vanishing point for perspective drawing; by relating everything to it, you ensure that everything relates together.

      • Step 1: write a very simple bass line. This shouldn’t have any rhythmic interest at all — just long notes. Start with 4 notes, 1 per bar. Any 4 notes will do. Flip a coin if you have to.

      • Step 2: loop it, and on top play around (while recording) until you find a simple first layer on top of that that you like. It can be chords or a single note line.

      • Step 3: edit the last recording down to the part you like, loop that.

      • Repeat step 2 and 3, adding more and more detail. Tail, ears, whiskers.

    • More thoughts:

      • Your ground bass does not need to be your ultimate bass line. It’s more like a guide line to keep other things related. A dancing, rhythmic, interesting bass line is a layer you write later.

      • Your ground bass line does not need to be the lowest voice, either. That gives a certain clarity to the process but you may find more freedom if you start with a high part.

      • You can do this process on the keyboard with synthesizers or you can do it with your voice or on an instrument; the process is the same.

      • Making some notes to yourself as you can can be very helpful. Notation, chord symbols, just a list of pitch letters, use any tool you have to help you represent and remember what the other layers are doing.

      • Vary the ratios of notes to rests. Your first layer is all notes, no rests, but the more space you build into the other layers, the more space you will have for your ideas.

      • Mute some tracks if you start to feel claustrophobic.

      • Writing at a slower tempo can help you create faster material.

      • You may start to feel trapped in your loop. When you’re ready, break free. Double it, and write a two-cycle phrase on top. Or create a long flowing line over many cycles.

    • Pachelbel’s Canon is a great example of this process is real time.

 Imagination (Johnny Burke / Jimmy Van Heusen)

Imagination (Johnny Burke / Jimmy Van Heusen)

  • Approach #2: Variations over a melodic skeleton

    • This is similar to working with a ground bass in that we are conceptualizing music as having a foreground surface and a background which may or may not ultimately be audible.

    • It’s different in that our background isn’t there to give us a harmonic context but a skeleton for our melody. You can think about it like ‘connect the dots’ - the background gives us ‘dots’ to ‘connect’ with a more interesting line.

    • The skeleton can be any slower moving line, but strong melodies often have skeletons that are very simple: a part of a scale, or the notes of a triad. See the example above, the jazz classic Imagination, for example of a melody that has a clear, simple skeleton.

    • How to do it:

      • Step 1: write your skeleton. Record it in. Make it quiet. Loop it.

      • Step 2: record a new layer on top. Improvise a line that traces the skeleton but embellishes it. You don’t have to follow too closely — arriving early or late on your skeleton note is fine. If you make some mistakes or don’t like what you’ve done, try not to stop and start the program, just keep going — let the skeleton continue to loop and try something different.

      • Step 3: edit. Separate your favorite variations, clean them up. Keep all of them! Having several related variations will be useful as you build a whole song.

    • More thoughts:

      • You can play with the metronome or a drum loop OR let yourself be free of those and figure out rhythm later.

      • Try recording at a different tempo.

      • Try tracing on top of one of your surface lines instead of just the skeleton.

      • Try constraining your surface line. Do just quarter notes, or eighth notes, or repeat a rhythmic pattern. Or decide that you’re going to approach each skeletal note from above, or from below, or by step, or by leap, or you’re going to play the same figure starting on each one, or...

      • ‘Good’ melodies have:

        • a variety of types of motion: up/down, steps/leaps (but it should have more steps than leaps)

        • a single high note, somewhere in the middle of the phrase

        • general momentum rising at the beginning and falling at the end

        • a simple contour (make an arc with your skeleton)

        • Tweak these qualities to get melodies with more distinct character.

      • Play with elemental melody shapes. In The Wellsprings of Music, musicologist Curt Sachs traces two ur-melodies through many cultures and many stages of ‘development.’ These two shapes figure prominently in my own thinking about line:

        • Shape #1: The Tumbling Strain. It grows out of a cry: an intense burst of energy high in a singers range, which moves down to a low note of rest. As this cry becomes stylized, the descent becomes specific pitches, a scale, that can be decorated and embellished.

        • Shape #2: The Chant. This grows out of ritualistic recitation, where text is sung mostly on one note with another note occasionally used for closure or emphasis. These kinds of melodies have a more narrow range than the Tumbling Strain but have more forward motion. They move between just a few skeleton pitches, making less of a single arc shape than an oscillation. More stylized versions connect these skeletal pitches with scales, and decorate them in different ways. Gregorian chant is an example of a more florid version of this.

  • Approach #3: Motivic variation, or building blocks

    • A motive is a small element of a melody, perhaps a few notes, with a clear rhythmic and melodic identity. Creating music out of a motive and transformations of that motive can make what you’re writing “make sense” as your elements are all related.

    • Lou Harrison, in his Music Primer, attributes this list to Schoenberg’s student Adolph Weiss:

      • NINE WAYS OF VARYING A MUSICAL MOTIVE

        • Changing the intervals or notes & holding the rhythms

        • Changing the rhythm & using the same tones or intervals

        • Simultaneous combination of both of these methods

        • Inversion (reversing downward and upward motion)

        • Elongation

        • Contraction

        • Elision (of one or more notes)

        • Interpolation (of one or more notes)

        • the crab form (motus cancrizans, repeating the motive backwards).

    • Let’s practice by doing all of them:

      • Step 1: Make a MIDI region and click in or record a short melodic figure.

      • Step 2: Copy it, vary it according to one of the Nine Ways.

      • Step 3: Edit your variations together into phrases.

    • More thoughts:

      • Composer Daniel Wolf on his great blog Renewable Music lists a few more ways to transform a motive: replace notes with rests or rests with notes.  Lift all elements out, shuffle them, and put them in again.  Preserve a general contour but stretch the intervals that make it.

      • Probably the simplest and most useful transformation is just transposition.  If you repeat a motive a few times and transpose it by the same amount each time, you’ve created a sequence, a structure that organizes lots of music from Bach to jazz (Autumn Leaves is a very clear example).

      • Try starting with two motives.  Make variations on each and compose with them.

      • The fundamental principle of all variation: keep something, change something.

  • DAW tools for working with pitch.

    • Ableton: MIDI Effects

      • Arpeggiator animates sustained notes.

      • Chord adds notes to each note you play.

      • Pitch transposes.

      • Random adds or subtracts random numbers from your pitch.

      • Scale filters all of your notes into a single scale. Try putting Scale after Chord or Pitch or Random.

    • Logic: MIDI Effects

      • Arpeggiator animates sustained notes.

      • Chord Trigger lets you define what notes trigger what chords.

      • Randomizer lets you randomize different MIDI parameters including pitch.

      • Transposer can do simple transposition or filter all of your notes into a single scale.

  • Project for 10/16: practice each of the 3 methods above.

Generating Material: Rhythm

  • MIDI Drums

    • Approach #1: feel it and play it

      • Record a 1-bar loop in layers from the bottom up.

      • Use Quantize and editing to clean up.

      • Make it a 2-bar loop by doubling it and changing something the second time.

    • Approach #2: click it in

      • There are lots of great tutorials for building beats in different styles. I’m really impressed by Attack magazine’s series Beat Dissected.

      • A basic beat begins with a snare on the 2 and 4, a kick on the 1 and anywhere between 2 and 4, and hi hats on 8th notes.

    • Approach #3: transcribe something you like

      • Drop it into your project, cut out a loop, warp it to your grid.

      • On a drum track playing at the same time, build the same beat one layer at a time.

      • Try ‘transliterating’ - transcribing one instrument as a different instrument - say, the guitar riff onto the hi hats, or the bass part onto the kick, or the drums rhythms into melody parts.

      • To practice, let’s transcribe one bar of this beat from Motion Graphics’ song Anyware (original tempo is 78bpm).

    • Other ideas to get you out of your habits:

      • Linear Drumming: a drumming style with one constraint: only hit one drum at a time (and probably hit something every subdivision).

      • Syncopation: a syncopated rhythm is one that emphasizes the off-beats. If your beat is feeling square, try moving something forward or backward one subdivision of the beat.

      • Polyrhythm: on a separate track, make a loop that isn’t the same length as your beat – if your beat is in 4/4, try one that’s either 3 or 5 or 7 beats (or halves of beats). Loop it on top; it will fall in different places on each cycle, creating a constantly changing but still grooving phrase. Latin and African grooves are full of polyrhythms – the most common being 12/8 and 4/4 happening simultaneously.

      • Mix up 2s and 3s: all rhythms can be reduced to a series of 3s and 2s, so you can think about building up with them too. For example, the squarest way to divide 8 is 2+2+2+2, but you can also divide it into two 3s and a 2 (the most common order in music is 3+3+2).

    • Quantization and feel

      • A perfectly quantized rhythm sounds ‘right’ but can often feel rigid, uptight – a jazz musician might say it doesn’t swing, or a funk musician that it doesn’t have the right feel.

      • The magic of a good feel arises from variations in:

        • timing: small deviations from the grid

        • velocity: some notes louder, some notes softer

      • Swing is the most important of these: all of the off-beats occurring slightly ‘late’, and a slight emphasis on those off-beats.

      • One way to get a more natural feel is to play your beats in by hand and then only partially quantize them (possible in your quantization settings). Or only quantize parts of them: hip hop producers often quantize the kick and snare but leave the hi hats loose.

      • Different feels can be applied automatically with Groove Templates.

      • You can also explore making these adjustments manually.

  • Variation. Once you have a short loop you like, create a family of variations.

    • Variations with added and removed layers are useful for escalating and de-escalating energy. These layers can be written into the same MIDI clip OR they can be made on separate drum tracks for easier mixing & matching.

    • Variations with more density are good for propelling into formal divisions / points of change.

    • Turn your loops into longer phrases: double them and change something near the end; double them again and change something more near the end.

    • All of the ideas of Motivic Variation from last week are useful here: keep rhythm change notes / keep notes change rhythm / invert / elongate / contract / elide / interpolate / reverse.

  • Audio Drums: Chopping

    • Working with audio instead of MIDI closes some possibilities and opens others. I like it because it just feels more tactile.

    • The classic example of beat chopping is a breakbeat: a drum loop sampled from a funk album, sped up and edited into variations. Here are 3 to practice with. (Source: B. T. Express - Still good, Still Like it, Coke Escovedo - Runaway — track 38 from All The Breaks CD.)

    • A breakbeat will often be layered on top of another drum loop to provide some extra rhythmic interest.

  • Converting Audio to MIDI (and back)

    • Logic: Convert to Sampler Instrument / Ableton: Slice to New MIDI Track

    • Then create variations by editing the MIDI, and change the sound by changing controls in the sampler.

      • A common adjustment is to shorten the sounds: on the sampler envelope turn down Sustain and then turn down Decay to taste.

  • Rhythmic articulation of other sounds

    • Music feels coherent and tight when different layers/instruments are articulating rhythms together. You can do this by writing parts that line up and lock in together, but there are ways to yoke sounds together automatically.

    • Sidechained gate

      • Put a Gate effect on a track.

      • (Ableton) You can get a similar effect by warping an audio clip with the Beats warp mode, and choosing the single arrow that goes to the right under it, and turning the number down towards 0.

    • Clip automation

    • LFO

    • Autopan

  • Assignment for 10/22: make one beat in at least 4 variations each day. Make a simple arrangement that shows each of them off, bounce it, and send it to me.

Developing Form: From Loops to Song

  • First, a few housekeeping skills:

    • We’ve been making lots of sketches: beats, melodies, sounds. It’s essential that we have access to our past work when we sit down to create a song.

      • Use the User Library! When you make anything you even kind of like, give it a name (the weirder the better), and save it.

        • Ableton User Library is available in the Browser. Anything can be saved here: MIDI clips, audio clips, instruments, effects. Save by dragon into it in the Browser or pressing the ‘floppy disk’ icon.

        • Logic: you can save a customized instrument or effect setting in the drop down preset menu. You can save a midi or audio loop to the Loop Library by control-clicking > Export, Add to Loop Library. There’s not a way to see just your own custom loops separate from everything else, so you might want to name your loops something like “myInitials_loopName” so you can quickly search for all of yours.

      • Know to import material from one session into another.

        • Logic: File > Import > Logic File

        • Ableton: Drag any project folder from the Finder into the Places area of the Browser. Unfold the .als file to see individual tracks, which can be imported whole or just specific clips.

    • Form Template

      • Use empty regions on a MIDI track to set out a visual structure for yourself.

  • Ways of thinking about form:

    • Literary: Exposition / Rising Action / Climax / Falling Action / Dénouement

    • Strophic/ballad: AAAA…

    • Pop song: ABABCB — Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus / End

    • Top 40 hit: Intro / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Middle 8 / Chorus / Out

    • Jazz Standard: 32 bars, 4 8 bar sections, AABA

    • EDM: Intro / breakdown / buildup / drop

    • Sonata: First Theme / Second Theme / Development / Recapitulation

    • Rondo: ABACAD…

    • John Cage Square Root: section structure matches the phrase structure. Pick a few small numbers, like 2334. Make phrases of 2 3 3 and 4 bars. Those 12 bars are the first 1 of the larger structure — double it and you have 2, and then make 3 3 and 4. Fill in the boxes with music. More info.

  • A form is a great thing to steal. Let’s practice with this Katy Perry song.

  • Ways to create an arrangement

    • Subtractive. Start with all of your layers going the whole time for the whole piece. Cut away from there.

    • Paint-by-numbers. Create a Form Template beforehand and fill in the boxes.

    • Organic. Build up phrases and sections as they feel right; create contrast where it’s needed; see what happens.

  • Assignment for 10/30: Create a rough draft of a song. Choose a few favorite things you’ve made from the last few weeks. Bring them into one project file. Develop the material by creating variations or adding layers. Create a form template with one of the forms above, or one taken from another piece of music. Fill in the template with your own material.

Style Study

  • This week we’re going to stretch our skills by imitating something we admire.

  • Choose a track (or a section of one) that does something that excites you but perhaps mystifies you.

  • Study it by answering some questions:

    • Sound: describe each sound you hear. How many layers / instruments are playing? What are they?

    • Harmony: what chords are used? How often do they change? Do they change more often in one section of the song than another? Do the notes all stay in one scale? What scale is it? If they deviate, how/when?

    • Melody: is there one? What shapes does it make? Is it more about the notes it plays or the rhythm of those notes? How does the verse melody contrast with the chorus?

    • Bass: is it just playing the roots of the chords? Or is it playing other notes too? What rhythms are animating it? How does it relate to the drums (in particular, to the kick drum)?

    • Rhythm: What layers are providing the rhythmic activity? Are they playing complementary rhythms or are they playing together? What are the rhythmic patterns used?

    • Form: How many sections are there? How long are they? How many of those sections are unique and how many are repeated? What’s the order of those sections? How long are the phrases? How are they organized?

    • Tempo: What’s the tempo? Does it change?

    • Production: What kinds of effects are used? What other techniques do you think are being used?

  • Using your answers to those questions as guides, make something (can be just a section of a song).

  • Example: Aphex Twin XMAS_EVE10

Film Score

  • This week we are going to make a sound or music score to accompany a video. The purpose:

  • This project is open ended: just make something you like to video. You may edit the video if you like.

  • Working with video in Ableton:

    • Drop video into Arrangement view. You can edit just like audio.

    • To work with video clips in Session View, use the plugin VideoSync, which is expensive but lets you do a ton of things: warp video to the grid, trigger video with midi, do realtime video effects that synchronize with audio, more. Other video plugins include RokVid, Vizzable

    • Export works just like exporting audio.

  • Working with video in Logic:

    • Drop the video onto the timeline; it will open its own lane.

    • Detect Cuts is a very useful tool that shows you where the significant cuts in the video are.

    • To export movie with your composition, right click on the video lane and choose Export Audio to Movie.

Independent Projects

  • My goals for your project are:

    • it gives you an opportunity to consolidate and apply knowledge gained so far in the course

    • it connects meaningfully with your own artistic goals

    • it’s something you can do well by the final class. I’d like us all to exit with something that feels finished and that you’re proud of.

  • You are invited to share works in progress. My goals for these sharings are:

    • we learn from you by going deep into your work

    • class feedback and brainstorming helps you move forward (you should tell us what kind of feedback you are looking for).

  • Our last class will be a concert.