Friday, March 4, 2011

My Toy Story

My week of compos got off to a bumpy start with a slightly broken JHCompo. While I had successfully created a JHC round for the week, an error within the SolidComposer site prevented me from making further edits to it. This resulted in two unfortunate setbacks: the theme displayed a barren "TBD" that was intended to be provisional; last-minute deadline extensions were also not possible, so at least two entries were not uploaded. Despite the circumstances, the round maintained a decent turnout.

The "Endless Rain" theme was the first climate-based one since the "Ice Planet Club" round several JHCs ago, and the compo regulars seemed to respond positively to this. Why are compo-ers attracted to such themes? My guess is that perhaps visual elements such as weather and terrain can more easily be associated to mood, and music is commonly tied to mood in conceptual art. In film for example, a stormy scene is usually backed my some sort of evocative soundtrack. The music sets or reinforces the tone, and we may associate that mood to the visual elements of the scene to the point where the music, tone and visuals are inextricable.

As for my entry that night, I chose to do a live recording of me playing a toy keyboard. I had discovered the Techno-Beat brand device lying on the sidewalk one day and decided to take it home. After loading it up with 4 AA batteries I was pleased to find that it still worked, and immediately set to work on composing something with it. I laid down a take I was mildly satisfied with, but the keyboard was set too low in volume and background noise dominated the recording. As a quick fix, I recorded a take of just the drum loop playing, then layered that over my first recording, thereby making the drums louder.

My attempts at resolving the keyboard issues yielded further problems when I chose to use it again in OHC later that week. Increasing the volume caused the recording to peak harshly and distort the high end of the frequency spectrum. As a quick fix, I equalized the track and put in some slight limiting to keep the peaks down. For future entries, I may have to use my usual microphone instead of the using the recording app of my iPod touch. My favorite comment regarding my entry came from mv, who said "that toy keyboard could make the requiem for a dream soundtrack sound cute".

Moving from my usual FL Studio-based production workflow to recording on a cheap toy was an exciting experiment. I'm not sure whether my future entries will utilize it, but it was quite a change. I learned a lot, and that is one of the aspects of compos I enjoy most.

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