Friday, November 01, 2013

A Big Post About Music Production

Well, my Iris is still not finished, despite days of work. Each step seems to just lead to another, but the end is in sight. I'm reminded that Fabergé didn't make his eggs, he might have designed them, and quality checked them, but he had a vast team of experts to actually do the craft work. That unskilled Carl Fabergé.

Now, speaking of Kraftwerk I'm in music mode. Yesterday I saw a call for the National Songwriting Competition and decided on the spur of the moment to enter. I'm not very keen on this contest as I suspect that it's there to leech money from the vast numbers of people eager for music success (I base this judgement on A: the fact that they've spammed every email address I have with calls for entries, and charge a lot for them, and B: I thought their critique of my last entry One Day was poor, it seemed they'd not even heard the song never mind analysed it). That aside, a deadline is fun and inspiring, and I want to write and record a new album this month, so I thought I'd record a new song in the four days until closing date. I re-wrote (the music to) a 2009 song a few days ago so I chose that.

The song is a plodding ballad that grows in power. In my head the backing was a piano, and I began with "Imagine" style chords (two then one then two etc.) this was a bit monotonous (sorry, John) so on the piano played something grand like Tchaikovsky's 1st piano concerto, but made the low notes single notes, then realised that it was similar to the Bohemian Rhapsody intro. I stuck with it, then added alternating flutes. In my head the song had the power of Calypso 3 by Jarre, a climb of mountains up and down in vast sways, and I toyed with booming slow percussion and considered a vocoded part like a titanium sound cannon at the start of each pattern.

The song is in three bits, but one interesting feature is that the chorus really should be quiet because it's about invisibility, being unnoticed. A vast chorus wouldn't fit the meaning yet songs demand a chorus that's more special than the verses. The chords in this one are pleasant, so I wanted something gentle that enhances them, like Karl Jenkins Palladio, or Vivaldi, and a harpsichord was ideal, stabbed in regular beats. It has a gentle feel (the modern ability to make it quiet is really a godsend for this wonderful instrument) and also a high narrow register that means it goes really well in songs without interfering with other instruments.

The last part was integrating the piano and harpsichord. At one point I toyed with having either, not both, but I found that the depth and richness of the piano really improved the verses, the song sounding icy spidery without it. In the chorus, alongside the harpsichord, I added high tremulating strings, ghostly. The lead in (the "I drift" lines...) was powerful, initially a large piano stab (Tchaikovsky/Greig! again) then more subtle. I added some warm brass there, echoes of Comfortably Numb, which is a song with similar mood and themes (I experimented with an electric guitar solo in the middle too, which I might add later, but I didn't have the time and there was no real need for one; would it add to a sense of invisibility? That most famous and wonderful solo in the Pink Floyd song, does it really convey numbness? Not really, you could say that it's a wailing at the forces of malevolent emptiness, a banshee at the oppressive doctor, but it was more a showy rock part I think, an aesthetic element, than anything on an intellectual or emotional connected with the song).

I added and removed lots. At one point a large echoing stab took place on each chord change of the chorus, but it made it too dramatic when the chords alone convey enough. I played with the Strawberry Fields style flutes (more inspired by Beethoven's 6th and my Infinite Forest music, which is full of sighing alternations) but left them in because it added something to the song generally, I hummed them when I took them out so they must be worth keeping. The intro is short but was extended a bit, and some casual ambient speech added there. A wailing ambulance (a Vangellisism from Blade Runner) was toyed with but unused. The tempo changes were the last thing, a gentle slow into the chorus, so important. The deadness of tempo and volume expressiveness is the curse of modern pop. Then finally a booming piano end (ala I Don't Like Mondays).

Overall though, the whole song is all of those influences and none. If anything, the tune and mood is more like Nobody Home than Comfortably Numb on that Pink Floyd album, but with a soupcon of a power ballad by an 80's Heart, the verse with a relaxed feeling like Love Letters Straight From Your Heart...

To hear the final tune, you'll have to wait until I learn to sing it (I must learn fast!) and make at least a crude video for YouTube (though this song would benefit from some special effects - yes?)

Here, in the mean time, are the words to The Invisible Man...

No parts.
No broken clockwork heart.
No bits of hair to depart.
That's me.
That gap inside the crowd.
A snowflake inside a cloud.

I drift inside a fog all day.
I close my eyes to find out that the world won't go away.

There's no-one to believe me.
There's nothing left to leave.
My body is clear as air.
There's no eye that can see me.
I blinked and I was gone.
I woke up to find myself
invisible.

Too bad.
My happy life went sad.
I've turned from obscure to mad.
I call,
but make no sound at all.
The mirror just shows the wall.

Is this what it feels like to die?
Appealing to a frozen sun inside a silent sky.

no-one to believe me.
There's nothing left to leave.
My body is clear as air.
There's no eye that can see me.
I blinked and I was gone.
I woke up to find myself
invisible.

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