Monday, January 28, 2013

Through the Prism - A Closer Look

A lot has happened in the past year regarding my involvement in compos, and my creative output in general. In the latter half of 2012 I launched The Duosis Mixtapes, a podcast made entirely out of derivative material. It initially provided context for my music entries from competitions; rather than release my Duosis tracks as an endless series of singles, I merged them to create cohesive, themed episodes. After a while I started to make entire episodes from scratch instead of producing tracks for compos. This led me to consider making conventional albums again. Thus the seed for Through the Prism was planted.

The album was conceived as an alternate soundtrack to the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. As some people have guessed from the title and cover art, the concept is based on the supposed theory that the Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon synchronizes with the film. Rather than do a Pink Floyd cover album, I wanted to produce an original work that deliberately plays off of the visual imagery of Oz. The end result would effectively be an alternate score and therefore would have recurring themes. Melodic lines in the first half of the Through the Prism are rearranged in the second half, just like elements in the early scenes of the film come back later when Dorothy reaches the Land of Oz.

You may wonder if Through the Prism has to be played alongside a copy of the film in order to appreciate it. While it was fun composing and editing the album to match the on-screen activity, I see the music as a standalone work that merely has an audiovisual bonus. People may in fact loop the album two or more times to cover the entire length of the film, but there is no guarantee that the synchronicity will work after the first go-around. Through the Prism is set to be released on March 8, which happens to coincide with a certain other take on Oz. Now that’s what I call a tie-in.

JH Sounds – Through the Prism track list
01. Sepia Skies
02. Seeds We Sow, Part I & II
03. The Lord
04. True Haranguer
05. Genius Stroke
06. Forecast Horizon
07. Skies of Hue
08. Almighty
09. City Stroll
10. To the Hangar
11. We're Off
12. Vertex Fields
13. Softshoe
14. Bistro
15. Young in Heart

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Composer Spotlight on Andy Kelley

When I met him at a chiptune show in NYC earlier this year, Andy Kelley aka superjoe changed my perception of him as a person. For one thing, he’s shorter than I had imagined. Judging from photos of his angular head (think Conan O’Brien) I assumed he would be towering, but he turned out to be about 6’ by my estimation. At the show he also clarified his love of electronic music, favoring it over the acoustic tunes that came before. I asked Andy a few questions about his pet project SolidComposer, his experience in compos, and an Internet band he’s in called The Burning Awesome.

Andy commented on his earliest exposure to music, which happened to be of the acoustic variety. He said that, “My mom would always listen to country music while I played Legos. I hate country music. I didn't start liking music until much later.” His leaning away from non-synthetic sounds continued to the present day: On more than one occasion, he completely dismissed acoustic versions of electronic compositions. He affirmed this line of thought as my question brought it up, and he used OverClocked ReMix as an example. “I'm a sucker for synthesizers, what can I say? I'm disappointed that the OCR judges think there is too much electronic music, because I love it.”

This is also reflected in Andy’s approach to music production. Speaking of his common workflow methods, he said that “I usually start with some effect, trick, or sub-genre I want to try out, see how it goes, and then work from there. It's not a particularly effective method. I'd like to know a better way; maybe I should be planning on paper or something.” He uses FL Studio and works with two staples of that workstation: Sytrus and 3xOsc. Andy also incorporates the Vengence Essential Clubsounds sample packs as well as SampleFusion. He owns a guitar and occasionally uses a microphone. At one point he had a piano keyboard, but that fell away as he felt he had inadequate skill in that area.

With his gear in place, Andy made a number of entries for composition competitions. He first discovered compos via the OCReMix forums and found them compelling. “It's fun to get instant feedback. Also the Doubles’ Dash ones force you to quickly cooperate with someone you don't know, who you can only communicate through the Internet. It's super fun.” His interest in the mechanics of running a compo led him to develop a competitions arena at SolidComposer. He noted that, through ThaSauce’s existing format of using IRC to synchronize listening parties, “One Hour Compos don't scale to more than eight people; it gets unruly to manage. I saw a place where my l33t skillz could help make the competitions a better experience.”

SolidComposer embeds a chat room into the compo rounds themselves, and the listening parties are automated. Although he was mostly pleased in how the concept of his website worked out, he admitted that “Ironically ThaSauce currently scales better than SolidComposer after you pass the twenty-five entrant mark.” Over two years after its launch, Andy's site isn’t so much on the back burner as it’s almost off of the stove. He was visibly stunned when he realized how long SolidComposer has been running, and jokingly lamented that he should resume housekeeping on it.

Initially, the site's workbench system had been created as a way for him and his colleagues to work together as an Internet trio. Andy explained the pitfalls of making music as The Burning Awesome: “We ran into all kinds of problems with stepping on each other’s toes, trying to make sure we all had the same samples, trying to communicate effectively. I ended up creating a website to help our project along, and it worked great. I improved it a lot, generalized it, and made it into SolidComposer's workbench.” The Burning Awesome eventually put out a debut album, albeit one largely consisting of the same chord progression.

Despite the intentions of the workbench, the majority of activity on SolidComposer is through its compos. Andy reflected on this, and on the concept of collaboration: “I thought the site would help draw people into what I thought was a brilliant idea for working on projects. The benefit of working with other people is that when you run into composer's block, you have someone there to take the song in a totally different direction and give you all sorts of new ideas. The bad thing about working together is that you often disagree with what the other people do, or they don't understand that they shouldn't put seven Soundgoodizers on the master channel with the bass turned all the way up.”

Andy summarized his thoughts about competitions and group-composing by saying, “Yes, I think compo experience helped me quite a bit. Also vice versa: working on The Burning Awesome album together helped out in compos.” Andy’s attention has shifted away from the online arena as he moved to NYC and pursued his career at Indaba Music. To quote his response at the end of my questions: “Sorry, I’m a bit busy atm.”

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Welcome to Earth

Battle of the Bits had a small handful of battles in the past few days, not the least of which was the seemingly pleading “Submit Anything II”. As a result the combatants upload highly varied product: Jangler sent out a MIDI while LittleTheremin submitted a text file, gyms put up an MP3, and so on. Sonic Zone Remix Competition entered the final countdown as it got to the last to remixers standing: Amphibious, who unwittingly got in a minor controversy regarding the previous round, and Gario, whose vocoder vocals apparently put his entry over the top. 

Dwelling of Duels called up its denizens for a Free Month, which promises to bring in a variety of remixes because of its lack of restrictions regarding source material. SDCompo concurrently allows a wide swatch of VSTs for entrants to use in addition to the sample pack; in particular SQL8 offers emulation of a 1980s synthesizer. This is in aide of the optional theme for the round, which is to generate a nostalgic sound. Elsewhere at OLRmageddon the theme of the month was settled: for “Password” the participants could arrange any video game tune that originally appeared alongside a password screen. For bonus points the arranger would have to use unusual time signatures. 

JHCompo on Tuesday celebrated independence by way of its “Break Away” theme. Starting things off was my vocal narration accompanied by a recording of “Stars and Stripes Forever”, which thankfully did not last forever. Immediately following was dusthillguy taking a break from his pastiche of zany clips to provide some elegant guitar twanging. Duosis appeared with another of his sample-based dance track, this time infusing his drum and bass with New Orleans brass. Rob appeared from hiatus to deliver a brief foray intro pounding trance filled with pitched vocals. Finally nikola threw together an assortment of instruments for the sake of liberty and freedom. 

Thursday’s OHC fell into an unexpected area as the “Out of Their Element” theme provided two images: a fish out of water and flower growing from the pavement. With that in mind Aru Azumaya introduced the round with a narration of his own, included the foreward “See attached materials.” The first musical entry of the night came from Draconiator, who neglected to look at the theme before submitting his dance track. Zovi followed that up by making one of the biggest taboos in music production: using FL Slayer for guitar work. Blastron seemed to lean toward the fish by naming his track “Shallow Water”, expounding on a riff for the duration of his song. 

Duosis also referenced water his entry, although the composition itself consists of a chopped-up sample of a lullaby cover of a Metallica song. IXI came out of compo remission and wasted no time working out lots and lots of bells. At the end of the listening party, munchi made multiple uses of his song description: he announced that he intends to remix various entries from OHC past to celebrate the upcoming 200th round; he also made a point of mentioning that he is now in a dubstep/electrofunk group, and that a new single would be out soon. If one thing is certain, it’s that compo pages can be prime real estate.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

In a Sensual Way

Doubles Dash Compo 17 ignored the summer sentiment by having participants go back to “School” as its theme. A storm rolled in through the area where the compo organizer resided, further taking the fun out of the season. Level 99 and Wildfire prevailed by making a song with explicit lyrics and an unintentional vocal resemblance to “Weird Al” Yankovic. At the other side of the classroom, blastron and I composed a somber dance pop song making use of several Minimoog V presets. Earlier in the week ThaSauce also had a round of People’s Remix Competition dedicated to the game The Lost Vikings. sggod89 stepped up to arrange the source material by turning it on its head; he infused the tune with jazzy groove and reconstructed the piece in the process.

Dwelling of Duels saw June end as the results of “Town Month” flooded in. As expected considering the theme, a large number of RPGs had been remixed including a pair of Final Fantasy tracks, Dragon Quest and Skies of Arcadia. DoD's distant cousin OLRmageddon finished up its round based on a “Racial Stereotypes” scenario. Captain Hypocrite mentioned he would possibly join, and kept his word thereby becoming the only entrant that month. His Super Punch-Out arrangement stayed within realm of chiptune and asked the question: “Do You Want Some Pizza-Cake?”

Sonic Zone Remix Competition hit a snag of controversy regarding the voting of the previous week; in the end Rexy and Phonetic Hero lost by a hair, spurring a mixture of reactions. Round four of the Robotnik Bracket picked up thereafter, pitting Brandon Strader against Gario. This also caused some commotion due to the implementation of vocoderized vocals; at best they fill up the soundscape, albeit unintelligibly. Brandon played to his strengths, putting to use his live instrumentation and singing to convey a sense of loss and confusion.

SDCompo reached the end of round 67 with nine entries in a variety of styles. This was perhaps because of the wider selection of VSTs allowed for competition: FreeAlpha, TAL-Elek7ro, MrTramp2, and Delay Lama. Meanwhile LLCompo: Battle 23 chose a theme for the week that was unusual given the framework of the compo: participants were asked to make original songs about video games. Leading the listening party was an introduction by Captain Barbatar, whose voice undulated from left to right as he murmured without aim. 

JHCompo on Tuesday marched off into the sun by way of its theme of “The Parade”. I started off the proceedings with my usual narration, this time mixed on top of the keyboard instrumental of “Robot Parade” by They Might Be Giants. chunter bopped his way in with a ragtime-tinged piece composed of lo-fi synth sounds. SonicThHedgog settled on a two-shot of old works since his workstation crashed: the first bangs along in the style of dubstep heavy in reverb; the second is more in line with electro house drenched in piano. irrelevnt pleased the crowd working out layers of sharply juxtaposed instruments and clips, mostly in a salsa style. Finally Duosis forwent any attempt to compose, and merely uploaded a song from an episode of Reading Rainbow.  

Thursday’s OHC brought the past week full circle on the subject of birth, life and “a new beginning”. On that note, or perhaps a dissonant note clashing against it, sci worked out some detuned chords and sliced up some breakbeats. Resonantwaves suffered a crash and seemed to continue sci’s precedent of pads and an ethereal mood. Several contestants referenced birth in their song titles: “(BIRTH)” by A-zu-ra warmed over some chips for adequate ambience; “Time Reborn” by OMGitslewis held a vaguely marchable flair; and “rebirth red” by SupaSpeedStrut ran delay over everything. Near the end of the listening party Roseweave put together a seemingly straightforward piece of electronica, although the elements seemed to jostle at the finish.