Hello everyone, and welcome to Accidental Notes.
Now, you are probably not wondering what the heck this is about, because, frankly, in the modern world more people read blogs than newspapers. However, while this is indeed a blog, it is a Special Blog™, and not just because it is my blog (which is the largest contributing factor), but because the content is special. So what makes this blog special? Good question. This blog is about music. “Bleh,” I hear you say, “that’s not special”. “Au contraire!” I reply, “this blog is about my music, and my music is special.” Case closed.
Enough with the ramblings, let’s cut straight to the cheese. I make music, and I want to share it with the rest of the world. I have for a long time been fascinated by making music on a computer, but in the past, every time I tried, although the result was somewhat acceptable, I did not enjoy the process. To me, music is about improvisation, on the fly modifications. It’s about being in the groove, and using past experiences (intuition) to guide your way forward.
The methods I had previously experimented with on a computer incorporated parts of that. I tried recording samples, and then arranging them in Audacity. Or Ardour. But both of these methods lacked the kind of direct feedback that jamming with other people or alone has. You imagine how something should sound, then arrange it in some order, and if it’s not right, then you rearrange. The feedback has a delay of about 2-10 seconds, depending on what you’re doing. Not feasible. To me, that method felt like giving instructions to some worker units, who then had to execute the task for me. I didn’t like that.
This was about three-four years ago. Roughly a year later, I tried to do almost the same, except I invented the entire song in my head, then recorded entire layers and got the final result (i.e., no sampling). That didn’t work out too well. It was boring and laborious.
Shortly thereafter, I discovered terminatorX. Intrigued by the prospect of scratching on samples, I construct a small turntable (a mouse mounted on top of an old record). Together with a couple of friends, we extended the turntable to be belt driven, allowing for friction while scratching, as well as some other minor features. I found a ton of samples on ccMixter and freesound.org, but I couldn’t get terminatorX to accept mouse input on my primary computer, and thus had to use my Eee for scratching. I used the turntable during a couple of live gigs with my band, Quantum Jazz, where I scratched on some female vocals, and it was a success, but the fragile design of the turntable eventually led to its demise, and I abandoned the idea.
A year later, I decide to try programming songs in LMMS (Linux Multimedia Studio). It lets you loop parts of your song while editing. Acceptable feedback. But there’s something about LMMS that I don’t like. First of all it crashes rather often, the recording of MIDI events fails miserably from time to time, and the user interface is too messy. I’m not a fan of overlapping windows. It has nice oscillator features, though, and good support for plugging in to various instrument plugins, so I’m sure LMMS can be used to create very good music. Not my preferred environment, though.
And then about a week ago, I decided to try and build a new turntable. The new turntable is a record mounted on a canvas. Instead of having a mouse nailed to the turntable, this design uses the adhesion of painting tape, and two nails on either side of mount-point of the mouse, to let you place a mouse on top of the record and turn it, whilst the mouse stays perfectly still.
I then went on to program a drum pattern in Hydrogen, loop it in terminatorX, and while it was looping, I used fluidsynth to create a bassline and recorded in Audacity. And while the drums were still looping, I added a new turntable in terminatorX, threw in the bassline and I had a beat. I played on the keyboard using a Rhodes soundfont, found a very simple chord progression, recorded it, and threw it in terminatorX. I wanted some flute, so I took my flute and recorded a simple riff, routing the input through Jack-Rack to get the desired chorus effect. And I could continue, but I eventually got the samples for “Inside the Flying House”, and I really enjoyed the process. It wasn’t at all like live jamming, but it was fun in a different way, and it felt organic.
As I have previously stated, I am not a huge fan of arranging samples, so the way I create final tracks from samples is by recording the output from terminatorX. It takes a couple of attempts before I get the desired result, but the process feels more real, and although I may not be playing an instrument, turning knobs, pressing buttons, and starting and stopping samples gives me the impression that I am really making music instead of programming it.
-  The title was derived from a suggestion by starchild: Daily Notes. ↩