Friday, April 29, 2011

Voice of a Generation

A week went by without a 2DC round, followed by a lack of turnout in the month's ORC. A single entrant managed to submit an entry in PRC192, however; beckett007 put out an arrangement of Laboratory Ruins from the Batman NES game. His take on the source features a lush orchestral sound punctuated with a constant synth riff from the original. The track would not be out of place in an actual Batman film score. Beckett himself stated that reworking the video game track into a "cinematic style" was a challenge to him, although a welcome one. The high production values caused someone from the PRC forum thread to surmise that the remix "successfully scared away all competition".

The drought of participation in PRC struck me as particularly disheartening, considering the quality of the work generated specifically for it. A number of OverClocked ReMix arrangements originated from PRC: Showroom Dummy's mix "Pixelated Tales" took first place back in PRC119 and later made it into the annals of OCR. jmr revised his Super Mario Galaxy remix from PRC141 and went on to become a posted ReMixer. diotrans similarly polished her PRC156 entry and submitted it to the site, then created a music video for it with the help of members of the community.

Tuesday's JHC featured not one, but two self-disqualified entries composed prior to the start of the round. Dash clarified that his track was not created for that night, but felt that it fit the "Becoming a Machine" theme. The composition itself melded minimal synthesizers with acoustic drum sounds. dusthillguy offered a somewhat disjointed mixture of guitar strumming and spaced out percussion for his "Penis life 2". OverCoat humorously claimed that I selected the JHC theme deliberately to play to his strengths, as he previously released two cyberpunk-themed EPs; he inevitably served up an industrial entry. Pez busted out the iOS app Nanoloop to create a chip tune on his birthday.

Jacob developed a three-part composition: each section represents a phase in a transformative operation, culminating in a funk-laden outro for the "fun results". ProjectZero's track uses layered, distorted vocals along with harsh synth textures and glitch effects to express the absence of humanity. A series of motorized sounds fill the aural landscape in irrelevnt's "soul of what machine?" with an undertow of bass guitar, pads, rhythmic patterns and Vocaloid singing. mv's defiant entry description reflected what he composed, a blend of mellow electronic and militant orchestral music. The second disqualification of the night was from Smokie, who admitted the track was written beforehand and originally about zombies. The listening party ended with a brief entry from MandraSigma fitting the theme well with its mechanical style and continuous striking of snare.

OHC on Thursday featured "The Ultimate Power" as a theme, and I put together "The Ultimate Intro" as a response. My spoken-word entry recites the compo round description as well as comments starla made shortly after it was announced. When my narration method was referred to as a gimmick, I quickly responded that I "am
the voice of the compo generation". Judging by my recording that night, that voice seems a bit sleepy. Kaxon produced a miniscule piano piece attributed to "getting distracted". Relative newcomer Tomapella brought out a quirky collection of synth sounds via soundfonts. Based on chords suggested by starla, bjkmenu uploaded his signature improvisational guitar and vocal stylings.

Draconiator succeded in breaking it down with an uncannily familiar vocal phrase repeating throughout his tune. Arcana delved into a track combining string sections with a minimal groove. Bren deftly presented more than one reference to video games in his entry whilst maintaining his knack for chord progressions. sci's dance entry worked in a flurry of vocal samples alongside lo-bit melodic lines. Flexstyle conveyed power though a frenetic drum and bass entry in his "Power Trip". Fusion2004 took the opportunity to record himself singing amongst orchestral jabs.

CJthemusicdude put down a sound effects-filled intro, Super Mario rap, human beatboxing and piano noodling. A marching drumline comes to mind when listening to Forty-Two's take on the theme, accompanied by an effective backdrop of keys and strings. Usabell showed off his prowess yet again with a medley jumping between different genres of music. Jakesnke17 easily exhibited "The Power of Groove", prompting a listener to "wish there was a club where they only played Jakesnke17". mv interpreted the theme as the power of resurrection, taking a breather partway into his entry to display a series of pizzicato violins.

DDRKirby(ISQ) evoked a sense of mystery before throwing up a flash of 3-4-5-1-8, 2 Unlimited's "Get Ready for This" and several other surprises. jarski submitted a breakbeat track boasting lack of melody while td244 went for the superhero route with a bombastic film score-like composition. An eerie sense of foreboding rises in ShrackAttack's track, meant to represent a powerful tyrant whose days are numbered. Suzumebachi returned from compo hiatus with a nostalgic work driven by vintage keyboard sounds. MeteoXavier entered OHC for the first using various elements of an orchestra. Finally Acuity resubmitted his entry, revising the vocal for his dubstep.

When I sought out advice for my writing, I came across a striking quote from Ray Radbury: "You must write every single day of your life." I guess I owe it to myself to use the power bestowed to me by some crazy old Asian guy.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Don't Let the Internet Get You Down

Saturday's 2DC began the same way most of Dyne's endeavors do. That is to say, with him appearing in IRC minutes before the start and exclaiming in bold text that the event is about to begin. This seemed like a strange method to me, since it assumes that potential participants are merely loafing around in the chatroom, waiting for something like a compo to happen. In my experience, it's best to promote events in the hours leading to it, since people generally won't drop whatever they're doing to join in at the last minute. This isn't to say that Dyne should reschedule his real life for the Internet. There are more important things to do than navigate a series of tubes.

The theme for 2DC that night was "Song of Storms" with the clarification that "No, we're not talking Zelda here." Prior to this I had toyed around with Otomata, an online generative sequencer. The plinky, delay-heavy music put out by Otomata fit the round's theme perfectly. This would allow me to make an entry very quickly, expending almost no creative energy. Shortly after the round began however, I suffered an Internet outage. An actual storm pounded outside, presumably causing damage that disrupted service. Fortunately I was able to carry my laptop within reach of a faint Wi-Fi signal from my neighbor's unprotected router. I uploaded my entry, placed by computer down and said "good night" to the IRC people. In an interesting turn of events, I ended up being the only entrant for that round.

JHC on Tuesday featured "A Dark Road" as a theme and brought about a varied selection of entries. As a joke I changed my IRC nickname to "JHCompo" and kept it that way for the remainder of the round. A couple of participants suffered minor technical hiccups with their tracks, necessitating two brief deadline extensions. With two minutes left, someone waiting for the automated listening party asked "can we start?" After those two minutes passed, I answered "yes." I nearly went with "Secret Lab" as a theme, which is totally original and not at all inspired by the then-newly released Portal 2. My attention that night was split between playing the game and organizing the compo.

dusthillguy's characteristic synth-work took an unusual turn as his entry cut abruptly to guitar twanging. His minimal entry description "linux sucks" suggests that a technical problem may have been the cause. Draconiator's track opens with a cymbal strike, reminding me of a past entry of his from OHC068, "All Eyes On You". Whether intentional or not, both intros grab attention before settling into mellowness. In contrast, coda's "zombies on the road" went for a fast-paced jazzy style with vocal samples from Left 4 Dead uttering "yeah!" and "all right!" among other things. OverCoat once again composed something that he plans to include in an future album of his, this time flaunting his "elite 5/4 drumming skills". The moody first half of mu's song gave way to a bright and cheery composition unexpectedly, and ended with a drum and bass section.

Dash's "Never Travel at Night" is inexplicably preceded by 15 seconds of silence, but eventually establishes a mood appropriate to the theme. The ambiguous title of Brandon's "jhctehsuxorbomb.mp3" fit well with his avant-garde track. Obtuse decided to feature a lengthy fade-in for his electronic entry, peaking in volume a few seconds before fading out. Exhalation of breath served as the introduction of Jacob's composition, followed by an effective combination of piano, strings and light percussion. irrelevnt's "the Black Path of Metal" remained true to it's namesake, and the waveform displayed underneath was punctuated by Draconiator's comments: "I come for the wuggas" and "stay for the jiggy-juggas". Jarski gleefully put out "breakbeats everywhere" for his entry, while mv rounded things off with an extensive foray into IDM.

For Thursday's OHC, starla chose the theme "Lost at sea" without further description on the page. When asked for more detail, she insisted that the participants "break it down" and proceeded to give examples on how to interpret the theme. I used her explanation as a script of sorts for my entry, consisting of vocal narration. In the description I included a photo of my Kindle displaying the script I used when recording my vocal. Cyril evoked the theme of loneliness with his entry, using bass guitar and various effects. Kaxon beat the system by submitting a composition from Chrono Trigger, "To Far Away Times". Draconiator employed woodwinds to complement a spaced out, ambient piece featuring synthesizers. Filter sweeps permeated Flexstyle's song, surrounded by richly textured percussion.

The quiet intro of sci's track evaporated as a chip-infused melody burst into existence. Arcana provided a composition containing orchestral instruments panned to opposite ends of the stereo field. Acuity offered an intriguing take on the theme, using sine waves to create a "new navigation system" for those who may be marooned. Jakesnke17 ventured into the orchestra pit, then layed down some drumming before ending with sound effects of the sea. Once again melody proved his name's worth by submitting solid piano lines layered with funky drum riffs. Brandon had supposedly forgotten about the compo and put up an entry featuring live ukelele playing in the final 15 minutes of the round. DDRKirby(ISQ) broke it down with a multi-tiered tune, presenting several time signature changes, various genre choices and a mixture of synthetic and acoustic sounds.

CJthemusicdude went for a constant, overarching motif that takes on a multitude of forms until fading out. The swelling strings, flute and gentle piano of Usa's track was accompanied by a thorough text description on the OHC page. More tickling of the ivories was present in td244's interpretation of being lost at sea, and subtle background noise could be heard as he improvised on the keys. Finally munchi's track worked in ominous bell tolls and howling wind, building to a crescendo of harp, strings and soft thumping of timpani.

It wasn't until I went into composing hiatus that I realize how many connections I've made in the musical community. I was contacted by at least four people in the past week for tracks I was supposed to do for them. Even if I move away from composing altogether, I will always be delighted to hang out with such skilled and talented colleagues.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Community Voices

Late Saturday night marked the return of 2DC after a 2-week absence. The theme for that round dealt with fire, a broad concept that lent itself to varied interpretation. In an unusual event for 2DC, the compo round featured two collaborations: Draconiator teamed up with MickRip while I joined up with ProjektZero. According to the "NightBlaze" song description, Draconiator came up with the percussion and bassline, and MickRip took care of the melodic content as well as post-production. For my collaboration I sent ProjektZero some chords via MIDI, to which he added a bassline, kick drum and his vocals. Very late into this creative process, I opted to write a drum pattern and laid it over PZ's production. His vocal implied a time signature that clashed with my drums, creating a slightly disjointed sound.

Tuesday's JHC featured a theme that was perhaps my broadest yet. One entrant went so far as to call it "impossible" and left shortly after the round began. "The Answer" theme was a nod to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and it's famous use of the number 42, since that night's round happened to be JHC042. HarmDis got the reference most evidently with his entry, as it featured a Hitchhiker voice clip. My favorite interpretation of the theme came from mu, whose entry included the sound of an answering machine. Due to technical issues with my computer, I had trouble putting my entry together as I produced it. My laptop is an aged unit, and I guess it's time that I put money toward getting a new model.

At one point during the past week I asked people within the compo community to share their thoughts and tips regarding their craft. Draconiator offered insight into this process: "Well, for me at least, first thing I've noticed is that you need a clear mind. If you're thinking of too much before a compo, you'll get confused and can't focus on what you're doing. I would recommend setting aside an hour or two for quiet time before the compo to purge your mind of any thoughts, and so you can focus on making music. Second, even if you don't like what you're making, continue with it. Throwing a good 30 second (so far) song out the window only serves as wasted time."

In some cases, participating in compo provides incentive to generate creativity. RAMPKORV commented on entering competitions versus working on his own: "I'm having a hard time finding motivation to do music if it's not in a compo. Improvising on piano is one thing, it doesn't require hard work - it's just 'doing'. But working on details with a song in a sequencer, there has to be a reward for me to do it." When asked which specific aspect of compo helps to motivate him, he responded, "The fact that people hear my music. [It] gets a purpose other than me learning to become better at making music. I also don't feel like I have time making music 'for no reason' because there are always more important business I have to take care of."

For potential participants of compos who are curious about the competitions, the internal spark might not be generated. Meteo Xavier expressed his desire to participate and his reluctance to enter: "I want to compo, but never get the spark of real interest to do it... yet I would for any other reason." What would be the cause of this lack of spark? "Timing is one reason. It is difficult for me to even get something started within an hour. I can't just turn on music like a switch for something like a compo. As easy as they go, its still something difficult for me to do. Usually I'm working at home at that time too, or if I do music, its context is far from what the compo is about."

My computer again acted up as I attempted to create a song for Thursday's OHC. The busted CPU coupled with my inflamed bronchial tubes and general malaise underlined my lack of inspiration that night. Rather than duck out of the compo entirely, I offered yet another spoken-word reading of the round's theme. With great discipline I was able to record a take without having an uncontrollable coughing fit. I also used the entry description field to clarify that I intend go on musical hiatus for an indefinite period. I will continue to run JHCompo and participate in listening parties of the various competitions, but I will avoid composing in favor of devoting my energies to my unfinished novel and other endeavors.

Over time I've noticed that my musical output doesn't quite match my outward personality. People I've spoken to in person say that I am smart, wry and sophisticated. The music I make isn't really any of that. I think it's time I focus on another creative outlet.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Secret Word Is Artichoke

Another Saturday went by without a 2DC round, but the night was not devoid of creativity from members the community. ThaSauce staff were preoccupied with a livestream deep-frying event involving pancake batter, toasted bread, a bacon weave and many layers of cheese. Ramaniscence, starla and Fusion2004 were the prominent figures in the video stream, while Dyne joined the chat at the livestream page. On more than one occasion the broadcast suffered from connection issues, prompting Fusion2004 to ask viewers to type out "artichoke" to verify whether the show was still streaming.

Sunday marked the start of a new ORC round, this time featuring a source tune written by Gario. He deservedly got first place over my own entry in ORC139, and I was quite delighted to hear what he had submitted for the new round, ORC140. By Gario's own admission, his composition "Sweet Contemplation" is an old file of his that contains occasional issues with note cutoffs. The tune on the whole sounds quite sweeping and grand to me, especially for a MIDI. At least two regulars of Compo:ThaSauce expressed interest in remixing the material, to the point where one dared the other to do so.

On Monday I had the chance to mingle with musicians and music fans alike at a real-life venue. The Niagara Bar in Manhattan was host to a chip music show that night, and there I met up with friends and extolled the virtues of SolidComposer. One of the observations I stumbled upon during a conversation was how comparable a compo is to an open mic event. There is no pressure regarding the quality of the musicians' output in both cases, and many people take the opportunity to try out new material and get feedback on their technique. Both provide an eager audience, which is something I actively seek out when I work on music.

Tuesday was yet again a JHCompo night, and that round turned out to be JHC's largest attendance yet. Unfortunately the submission stage that night was accidentally set to end five minutes earlier than usual, catching me off guard when I was finishing my track. I hastily reopened the stage partway into the first song of the listening party, and this caused minor site bugs to reverberate for the entrants. My own entry started off as a riff I hummed to myself, quickly recorded as a voice memo so as to not forget it whilst I gathered participants for the compo round.

On Wednesday I discovered that my Sonic the Hedgehog arrangement "Finality" had reached the judges panel at OC ReMix. This marks the first time a track of mine had made it that far. "Finality" was collaboration between myself and Cyril the Wolf for my conceptual remix album Hedgehog Hysteria. Prior to this, I had created the song as a solo effort for a JHCompo round, though JHC was known by another name at the time. Cyril graciously provided vocals for my lyrics, and in doing so made slight revisions in the vocal melody and harmony. I still believe his contribution is what makes the song vastly improved over my original compo demo.

"Artichoke" came up as a subject again as I jokingly suggested it as a theme for Thursday's OHC. Prior to the start of that night's round, starla quickly weighed the possibility of an image of a hotdog being a theme before settling on "The Deep Blue Ocean". For my entry I used a synth VST that had recently been released, Tyrell Nexus 6. The virtual instrument had been mentioned in an IRC chat earlier that morning, sparking my interest. To reflect the sea-related theme I applied delay to the melody and reverb to the rhythm chords, as well as an additional filter on the master track to gradually muffle the sound before fading out. One listener had an interesting interpretation of the end of my track: "whale is going under the water again". Now that I think about it, I can almost see the fin slipping into the ocean myself.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Absences and Storms

The conspicuous absence of a 2DC round on late Saturday left me without a purposeful hangout for creativity that night. However, my musical week picked up as I ventured to a open jam the following evening. Among other reasons, I visited the venue in an effort to promote SolidComposer, with the reasoning that the musicians there would be intrigued by the concept of compos. That Sunday reminded me that performing music live is much more fun to me than feebly attempting to sculpt a song. In my case, there's no lingering sense of remorse or disappointment associated with potentially creating a mediocre product. There is no "product" with live playing per se; it is all about the moment, joining a groove and filling out a soundscape.

On Monday I again revisited an old composition of mine, "Bygone Times". I had originally written the song as an entry for OHC073, then re-imagined it for JHC003. A few other permutations followed before I shelved the track for nearly a year, then performed it at a local Best Buy. Listening to the different versions now provided me with an interesting perspective on the way I work on music. Particularly I noted my tendency to shift styles and genres in an effort to change things up and keep an open mind.

Tuesday's JHC was a chance to start a new creative phase in my compoing. The theme that week was "Wet", one I had deliberately chosen to be broad and open to interpretation. I took the opportunity to create an entry consisting of a recording of the ocean, filtered through various effects I toggled on and off and adjusted in real time. The response from the listening party that night was quite varied and humorous. One listener likened my track to dubstep, while another interpreted it as the first-person view of a sweater in a washing machine. My entry was accompanied by some prose I had written, based on the "Wet" theme. I later submitted this text to the Writing Competition Thread at the OverClocked ReMix forums to chip in and receive feedback.

On Wednesday I inquired about the Facebook page that Doulifée had created to help promote ORC. He eventually added me as an administrator of the page, and I worked on filling out the information therein. It is my hope that social media outlets such as Facebook will help bring about a larger turnout for this compo, as it has been a long-standing favorite of mine.

OHC on Thursday
had a slight hitch as its organizer, starla was unable to join the IRC chat due to a local power outage. With no one to reopen the submission stage after the deadline, several entrants were not able to submit their tracks to the compo page. This issue was later resolved, however. Draconiator stepped in to host the listening party, during which various takes on the "eye of the storm" theme were played. For my entry I used another field recording and applied filters to it, this time the sound of wind. Additionally I mixed in a reversed, time-stretched acappella section of the Röyksopp song "Remind Me". One listener was convinced that the vocal was a Big Daddy from the game Bioshock.

The potential bridge between the JHC and OHC themes allowed me to continue the prose I had written on Tuesday to a certain extent. My first bit of text in JHC detailed a story of a beach that had been affected by a rising tide, and the second for OHC described a monstrous tornado and how it was treated by the media. It may even be possible for me to continue this narrative for next Tuesday's JHC. I'm sure that won't sway my decision for what the theme is that week.