Thursday, May 26, 2011

Demand and Panic

Saturday’s 2DC was an example of a compo round that existed purely out of demand. During the mixing stage of last week’s OHC, people expressed interest in the two-hour competition that until that point had sat in hiatus for weeks. After being repeatedly notified by name in IRC, Dyne fulfilled the request and created the Saturday round. The theme for the night was “Metal Dragons of the Apocalypse That Never Was”, a partial reference to the concurrent nonexistence of the Rapture. liquidwind submitted a moody mixture of low drum pounding, gritty bass and plunking lead riff. MickRip’s nimble guitar playing was complemented by his overdriven vocal, funky drumming and extended solo. ShrackAttack brought in arpeggiated lo-bit sounds supported by strings as well as harp lines. jarski signaled the end of the world and the listening party with a head-bobbing tune centered on filtered synth bass.

At OverClocked ReMix, Saturday was also the submission deadline for the Mega Man Bracket of the Grand Robot Master Remix Battle. Out of the 16 entrants signed up for the bracket, 14 successfully submitted tracks by the end of the mixing stage. TheGuitahHeroe delivered a pulsing dance rendition of the Wind Man theme, with Bubble Man serving as the breakdown. The subdued intro in Gario’s “Windswept Bubbles” leads to a snare-propelled arrangement with occasional gating on the melody. Starphoenix sent along an unfinished WIP due to technical and time constraints; his “Shocking Sewer” eventually pairs down to an unaccompanied lead instrument. Enigami similarly entered a sparse entry for Shade Man and Fire Man featuring violins, bass and a drum part. Anti-Syne threw down “Bombs Away!” melding the Heat Man riff with a four-on-the-floor beat and giving Bomb Man the lo-fi treatment. Sir_NutS chose an 80s synthdisco route as he ventured on a “Journey to the Sun”.

Chickenwarlord offered vocals with his “Ocean for Two” containing romantic lyrics such as “you’re not just another fish in the ocean…” Brandon Strader put aside his usual guitar and voice for a sweeping orchestral arrangement of Splash Woman and Wave Man. Draconiator’sSuncoils” goes through a shuffly dance beat covering the Solar Man and Spring Man themes. A rush of wind precedes SilvernixSP’s “Hard Breathe”, a combination of synthesizers and acoustic drum samples. prophetik took a “Spring into the Inferno” bringing along chugging guitar and acid bass. Hylian Lemon’s “Air Friction” is an up-tempo merger of Hard Man and Air Man that takes a chilled breather two-thirds of the way in. PrototypeRaptor laid down some electro-house with his “GroundBased” entry, additionally evoking the ghosts of chip’s past. The bracket rounded itself out with BlackPanther’sDirtBike” riding across of a field of breakbeats.

The Monday deadline for PRC194 pulled in three entrants for the round. The source tune chosen was from stage 4 of the NES game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II. toilet goat submitted heavily reverbed piano, drum riffs punctuated by high string lines and continued with electronic lead work and guitar shredding. marcusg starts off with unaccompanied melody using delay effects and eventually puts in the Amen break to bring the Turtles to the jungle. The third and final track came from chroxic, who admitted to being short on time and sent along a lowpass-muffled entry that unfurls to become a danceable rhythm.

For Tuesday’s JHC, I chose the “Let’s Wrestle” theme as a tribute to the recent passing of "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Following my spoken-word entry, coda melded orchestra hits with guitar chords in his tribute to dog wrestling. A familiar clanky sample clip pervades MandraSigma’s aptly-named entry “46 Second KO”. OverCoat’s entry description wonders (in Spanish) why he decided to explore house music for a wrestling theme. CFX Music delved into electro and ambient crowd sounds for his track along with seemingly incongruous baseball stadium organ. chunter submitted a marred render of his piece, unintentionally creating rhythmic glitch effects in the process. mu danced it up with his “shiba” using vocoder and compressed synth. Andy Kelley also used crowd sounds for his electronic entry, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Lipps Inc song “Funkytown”. Finally irrelevnt showed off an avant-garde mixture of voice clips, extemporaneous drumming and various other instruments.

Trippycompo took place on Wednesday, based on a “refridualpack” given out to the entrants. The sample pack consisted of various snare-like clips and looped electronic tones, one of which resembled a distant ship horn. Despite the small turnout that night, a listening party went on for the two entries submitted. MandraSigma uploaded the dancey, staccato-filled “The assiest castle”, reflecting his thoughts about the track when he composed it. Not to be outdone by Mandra’s self-deprecation, null1024 stated that he “felt tonedeaf composing” his tune titled “time is an issue”, which holds a consistent groove until the tapestop-like ending.

OHC on Thursday featured “The Avalanche” as a theme, as well as a noticeable typo in the description that was quickly rectified. DDRKirby(ISQ) had to leave quickly and submitted an industrial tune in ten minutes. He unwittingly created an overture for the vocal narration of my entry “Don’t Panic”, in which I chuckled as I recalled the theme typo. Jakesnke17 brought about pounding percussion and strings, ending with ominous rumbling and a solitary deep note. dusthillguy's track joins together slappy bass with a hihat pattern and e-choir for a laidback piece that opens up halfway through to relentless arps. RAMPKORV's entry-that-must-not-be-named contains layers of bouncy piano, electric burbling and vocal muttering. Arcana also had to compose in a hurry due to attending a conference, displaying 30 seconds of synth elements.

sci's track is a trip-hop-induced foray through random segments including my reading of the word avalanche. Flik broke out of compo dormancy and uploaded an ambient composition, wondering "how does this go again?" melody similarly appeared after a significant absence with a piano-laden bit of funk. Rounding out the trio of long-time-no-seers was ProjectSpam joining in with a sung tribute to the "Rain In Alaska". Usabell generated a weave of vocal harmonies building to a forceful beat that quickens as the song continues. bjkmenu showed up to sing and strum his entry for an appreciative audience. Rising pads and wind effects flood CJthemusicdude's track before going into drum-centric middle section. jarski tossed in a frantic dance number with a climatic cymbal crash. Acuity's somber-then-pumping "Haunted Snowslide" served to notify listeners of the entrant's impending departure until July. mv fittingly appeared as the final tune for the night with a minimal and evocative submission, "The Cold End".

I recently read a book about the art of memory and how visual imagery can help with storing events in the mind. Now that I think about it, my fondest compo memories are often associated with things I see in my mind's eye. Invariably I imagine smiling faces and laughter when competitions are on; they never cease to be fun.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Composer Spotlight on OverCoat

'Composer Spotlight' is a new supplement to My Compo Life focusing on specific composers and their background in creative competitions. It will usually feature a recent release by the composer as well as some history behind that release's creation. The normal My Compo Life entry will continue to be published weekly.

I had the chance to chat with Scott Porter, who goes by the artist name OverCoat, about his recent release Gardens EP. He certainly has made a name for himself in the arrangement community since he started making music in 2001; his remixes of Cave Story and Seiken Densetsu 3 appear on OverClocked ReMix, and he contributed to the Tales of Symphonia tribute album Summoning of Spirits. His new EP consists mostly of original material he composed as early as 2008.

Conceptually the EP is considered an extension of OverCoat’s 2007 album Garden Art, and carries the same botany-themed naming system. Regarding the garden numbering, he said: "I imagine back then I felt like each track was like its own little garden, with its own personality and style." The effect of isolated environments is evident in the first two tracks of the Gardens EP -- the "Fifteenth" and "Sixteenth" gardens, respectively. Track 1 offers a minimal groove and arpeggio while track 2 displays an ambient soundscape driven by percussion. OverCoat mentioned that a "big break" occurred between producing those two songs, and he picked up where he left off in March 2011. The rest of the EP was composed "on and off" within a 2-month span.

A number of tracks in the release originated as entries made by OverCoat for compos. He spoke about his background in the competitions community. "I've been entering one hour compos since at least 2003, even hosting a lot of my own for #soundtempest and #mod_shrine on IRC. I must have at least several hundred compotunes by now." He stated that he gained interest in compos through IRC, "since really that's where the whole idea came about way back in the 90s. I was in #vgmix and virt used to host these compos called 'kwakfests' which were all general MIDI. My first one was in 2003 sometime. After 2004 I started getting into trackers and doing compos in #mod_shrine using MODPlug, and samplepacks."

OverCoat revealed that the Gardens EP was spurred by a particular compo theme. "My first JHCompo that I did I believe the theme was 'The Secret Garden' so I was like, hey … let's make a sixteenth [garden] … and then week after week the themes just kept matching up with that album's style in my head, so I kept going until I had about 6 tracks." Once the musical content for the EP was put together, OverCoat commissioned the cover art illustrated by Min 'Keiiii' Kwon.

Aside from the original compositions, the EP includes a cover version of the Yellow Magic Orchestra song "Epilogue" under the name "The Twentieth Garden". OverCoat expressed that "YMO is probably my favourite band ever, and I figured it was about time I paid homage to them. I was trying to learn to play some of their songs and 'Epilogue' was fun to play. So I covered that. I also felt like I needed to release a song utilizing Vocaloid, and while it's not the most creative use of the tech, I killed two birds with one stone there." The synthesized vocal leads a conservative rendition that de-emphasizes the industrialized rhythm of the original "Epilogue". The wordless singing eventually overlaps and builds to a crescendo, signaling the end of the album.

Gardens EP is OverCoat’s first commercial release, and he hopes that people from the community will support his creative endeavors. "I know, it's hard to pay for something when you've been getting it free for so long, but I gotta start somewhere."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Sensations

Tuesday’s JHC got off to a positive start as the “Mystery Island” theme was well received by entrants. I began the automated listening party with spoken word, my first such entry at SolidComposer. Jacob presented his synth-laden track that gradually fills with strings and tribal percussion. Swelling alpenhorn sets the mood for OverCoat’s entry “Isla”, a spaced out tune that gains steady percussion at its midpoint. MandraSigma’s “scary island” description belied his cheery combination of steel drums, organ and voice singing “palm tree…” b-type provided another rap freestyle during his radio show, preceded by a mildly concerned “I hope JH Sounds is recording this” and proceeded by the start of a Yakko Warner song.

mistermv’s “Outlander” is awash with delayed plucking and upright bass, eventually joined by woodwinds, bongos and shakers with a degraded breakdown. chunter put out bossa nova surrounded by otherworldly synth sounds and mellotron-esque flute. irrelevnt ventured to the mysterious island of Cuba, bringing along a hand-driven beat, acoustic guitar and a bit of cussing in the native tongue before tossing in an electro ending. sci made his JHCompo debut with an array of chips spanning generations as well as an apparent cameo by K.K. Slider. ShrackAttack submitted a somber piano entry punctuated by glissandos and high end plinkiness. coda’s synth groove drew comparison to the Sonic CD soundtrack during the listening party. Finally newcomer Clockwerk brought in a nearly 6-minute dance track with wobbly electronic bass.

A Trippycompo round occurred on Wednesday, and entrants were restricted to using a sample pack. The pack consisted of a varied assortment of sounds, including a song fragment, lopped metallic tones, a sonar-like bell and a synth burble. chunter ran down “A Road to Triplet Hell” by using extreme stereo panning along with the titular triplet rhythm. coda served up “cannoli sigma”, a chilled track revolving around a vocal from the pack. MandraSigma’s “Enter Charlie Sheen” alternates between loop-propelled electro and quiet ambiance. delt created his first compo entry in a decade with a stomping song under the file name “delt”, unwittingly breaking the rule of anonymity for submissions. Under the name “Barrack Obama”, mad popped in with the steel drum-centric “Popd” featuring a tripped out beat. At the end qualo ran the gamut of samples with “roboter” and submitted his track as an MP3 rather than a module file.

Thursday’s OHC featured a theme without a description, "The New Sensation". With little to read aloud for my entry, I looked up the word sensation in the dictionary and used the definitions for my vocal narration. Obtuse displayed a collection of synthesizers and shakers along with koto, flute and bongos. Arcana put on his elbow-padded smoking jacket for an initially orchestra-backed reading of fan fiction. Tomapella sent along a bouncing song with gargly bass and a vocal that appears to duet with a helium-infused version of itself. DDRKirby(ISQ)'s "Shifting Sensations" carried a drone-like atmosphere interspersed with drum elements before switching gears to lo-bit arpeggios.

coda appeared to acknowledge the site hosting the compo with his track "the Sauce", a brief swingy bit of electro. Usabell had a technical issue finishing his entry, but nevertheless delivered a full sounding dance journey to "The Fifth Dimension". sci's composition includes growling synth and human beatboxing that gives way to conventional percussion. mv's tune consists of pitched sighs and a trip-hop backing followed by a jazzed up interlude complete with Rhodes keyboard. CJthemusicdude provided new sensations via heavy delay, pads, violins and vocoder. InvisibleObserver returned from OHC hiatus with glitched out breakbeat. Shadix put up a patchwork of song clips while jarski showed off a thumping psybreaks-inspired piece to finish things off.

At one point during the week I discovered that an arrangement I submitted to OverClocked ReMix was placed under the to-be-posted list. After a moment of stunned disbelief, I thought of how cosmic this judges' decision was. I first visited OCR and compos from the outside looking in, and now things seemed to have spun around.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

It Doesn't Matter

For once, my absence did not affect my ability to review compo activity. Late afternoon on Sunday, my intention had been to attend a one-hour round of Trippycompo. I was away from home, however, and my mobile device reception failed just as it began. Afterward, when I asked for a chatroom log of that round's conversations, I was told that "nobody typed a word" for the entire time I had disconnected. The competition was not without entries, though: MandraSigma's "Mansion of Puzzles" evoked a harpsichord-sounding instrument joined with short e-pianoesque chords and funky percussion. The other track, coda's "faerosol" contains a noodling guitar-like lead and chilled-out drumming.

Compos have affected musicians and their workflow in various ways. When asked about the subject, diotrans responded, "I'm a firm believer of creative challenges with deadlines, because it forces you to create quickly without worrying about what your inner critic is saying. [...] It's incredibly liberating." Her OC ReMix arrangement "Insomniac Skies" originated from PRC156, and she noted that the remix "wouldn't exist at all if it weren't for PRC." liquidwind's entry "sunrise over mardia" from PRC156 was later reworked to be submitted to ReMix: ThaSauce. The turnout for that round was partially attributed to an "invasion" of ThaSauce's OHC regulars, led by Level 99. He stated that "Doing things like OHC have been an amazing boost to my musical progress" and that the idea to invade PRC occurred on a whim.

Tuesday's JHC went off to a bumpy start as bugs manifested themselves at SolidComposer. Incidentally the website administrator superjoe attended the round, witnessing the glitches and proclaiming: "need to fix my broken crap". b-type performed a rap freestyle on his radio show for JHC, complete with "mountain peak, take a peek" wordplay reflecting the compo’s theme. Jacob uploaded a subdued electronic homage to The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. mv's "White Ascension" displays a combination of bowed and plucked violins, concluding with a rush of wind. Under his name Andy Kelley, superjoe submitted a swift electro entry with an unexpected vocal clip at the end.

mu delivered a downtempo track that drew comparison to Secret of Mana and also contained a sampled voice. OverCoat put up a unusual mixture of ambient synthesizers and ukulele in his composition "Alta". More appropriated singing made itself apparent in Jarski's "beauty and the beat", in this case a repeating "you, you, you..." accompanied by dance rhythm. The prominent bass growl in CFX Music’s "Clouded Peak" meets an ominous lead and kick, giving way to a laid back outro. irrelevnt brought up the rear after suffering software issues when rendering, and accidentally uploaded a 27-second segment instead of his full tune; it features drum looping and short strums of guitar.

On Wednesday the voting period ended for Soundevotion Competition round 57. SDCompo celebrated its fifth birthday with a "Spring" theme. JustinCredible's track "Ueberschall" (german for supersonic) carries an extensive industrial feel before tossing in a four-on-the-floor rhythm. chunter delivered "Springtime Air", a rollicking pop tune using AquesTone vocal synthesis. Airmann's drum and bass entry "Unleashed" worked in the subtle presence of choir. The Evolutionary Cell entry is a collaboration featuring organic io (production) and ambtax1 (singing, production) with synth leads and vocal lines bouncing throughout. Chotoro rounded things off with a mellow, pulsating composition containing voice samples.

Wednesday was also the submission deadline for PRC193 once it had been extended. The menu music from the NES game Predator had been selected for the hundredth ThaSauce-hosted PRC round. This marks the third consecutive PRC featuring a film-based video game, following Batman in PRC192 and Jurassic Park 2 in PRC191. Showroom Dummy appeared after a lengthy absence with "Stealthing Predators", a moody, chiptune-influenced trance entry. The remixer expressed that he took the opportunity to explore the genre whilst adding an abrasive edge.

OHC on Thursday was greeted by a failing style sheet in addition to the ongoing issues with logging in to ThaSauce. The visual brokenness of the site rendered the night’s theme invisible at first glance; coincidentally this fit perfectly with the theme itself, "The Secret". In an effort to change up my usual spoken-word entry, I preceded my speech with the drum loop intro from The Chemical Brothers song "It Doesn’t Matter". OCRE chose to submit his track in the form of a question with the wistful and short "Memorial Song of Secret Village?" sci seemed to go on a trip-hop bent including various sliced clips and grunts. Shael Riley joined unexpectedly and showed off an quick acoustic entry with self-referencing lyrics such as "I wasn’t gonna enter the compo..."

Arcana displayed slap bass layered with electronics and a ¾ time signature. Tomapella laid out a sprawling song merging live guitar with programmed drums and synth bass. As suggested in the title, ShrackAttack’s horn-filled orchestral entry was made in five minutes. Usabell sufficiently warmed up his electric piano to deliver a bright intro before delving into a dark sea of strings and pads, then burst into electro for a upbeat finish. DDRKirby(ISQ) put out sharp chippage and pounding kickdrum to "Unlock the Universe". CJthemusicdude’s arpeggios brought to mind Usa’s entry from the same round, and the track eventually goes into high gear with unts. mv wrote yet another thought-provoking description to accompany the filtered keyboards and lush violins in his track. jarski finished the party of with a swinging beat and pokes of organ.

Among other things, I seek out creative outlets to obtain spiritual fulfillment. For a time I felt I gained this through musical composition. While I may stop releasing songs, I suppose I’ll always keep making tunes in my head. Nevertheless, putting a melody together is not quite as fun to me as telling a story.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Overstated Satisfaction

Saturday's 2DC was not so such announced as it was growled; when someone asked if the round would occur, Dyne replied with a "RAAAAAA! YES".* The theme that night dealt with the recent suspension of the PlayStation Network, and offered less-than-truthful "CAKE". Dyne showed off his multitasking skill as he played through Portal 2 while the compo went on. The turnout was a small triumph with two entries: By his own description, Draconiator rescued the 2DC from "non-participation" and composed a dance track with voice clips courtesy of Aperture Science. liquidwind put up a chippy, piano-infused piece after returning from hiatus. Concurrently I was away attending a Pulsewave show with musician friends, discussing the viability of weekend compos.

The end of April marked the closure of the Dwelling of Duels voting period. The "Japan" theme for the month also tied into current events, acknowledging the disaster that hit the region. tibone's Bare Knuckle arrangement "Special Kickass Unit" starts with a Law and Order voice clip over sparse strumming, then opens up with the addition of drums and lead guitar. Cursed Lemon's remix of Blaster Master evokes a bygone age with a mixture of rock riffs, synth tones, murmured speaking and echo-drenched snare. Harjawaldar took on Chrono Trigger with "By the Old Mill", an acoustic guitar-centric track that picks up steam halfway through by introducing organ sounds. Kidd Cabbage gave Castlevania 3 the metal treatment with somewhat unintelligible vocals.

Ryan8bit's rendition of a Daikaijuu Deburas tune snuck in 3-4-5-1-8 and flaring of brass amongst the shreddage. DragnBreth submitted a Final Fantasy VII entry featuring mellow, solitary twanging before adding distorted fuzz and eventually percussion. Daniel Alm approached his The Goonies II source with samples of The Goonies film submerged in power chords. Axe grinding is also prevalent in Greg's Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts remix "Save Yourself or Die", which people in the listening party isolated as being the definitive DoD entry. Hoha's Shatterhand arrangement "To Japan, With Love" opens with a distinctly Asian selection of instruments, and jump-cuts to rock covered in koto lines and woodwinds.

CarboHydroM covered Thunder Force V and VI with slapped bass (not picked bass, as he clarified) supporting a rolling track accompanied by church organ. M-H's Tales of Symphonia entry crashes into existence with energetic drums, horns and rhythmic chugging followed by a choir-filled breakdown and keyboard solo. Aleph paid tribute to Ys with "Darm's Funky Death Jam" including acoustic guitaring hidden under prominent electric. Finally DragnBreth offered a Final Fantasy IX rock-orchestral arrangement as his alternate entry for the round.

On Tuesday, JHC featured another interpretive theme with "The Split". Its broadness brought in a varied selection of approaches, but caused at least one entrant to leave out of frustration. OCRE took the theme and made "Separation Anxiety", a diminutive entry featuring subdued electronic and repeating piano stabs. Jacob underwent "Groovy Cell Mitosis", which stayed true to its name despite an overall quiet mastering volume. At the extreme opposite in terms of sound level is "Line in the Sand", B-Type's interpretation of division with incisive rapping.

Separation was also taken to mean the "Sound of a Broken Heart" as Dash composed a gloomy strings-only piece. Kelintray's atmospheric "Drifting Apart" breaks into a percussive section and arpeggios until the "slapped [on]" ending. Listeners noted the use strong words in mv's description ("When trust is raped, all that remains is separation") for his piano and violin-heavy "Intimalice". irrelevnt wrote a meta-song about his attempts to avoid the A minor chord. At the end of the party, chunter wondered "Will We Be Together?" creating an amalgam of synth, keys, flute and drums.

ThaSauce reached its sixth birthday with a round of OHC on Thursday. The "Revolution" theme was accompanied by various examples how to interpret it, and I expanded that description with my "Revolutionary Intro" soliloquy. cyrilthewolf joined the fray with a one-take guitar and vocal recording. OCRE's "Dance Dance Revulsion" runs a little over half a minute, sprinting its way across a bevy of synthesizers. Jakesnke17's compressed drums supported his "Happy Jolly" track along with chip elements. Tomapella blamed finals, alcohol and declining sanity for his avant garde submission. Draconiator brought in the pulsing "ChipStuff" initially containing a pitch error that took many attempts to resolve. Fusion2004 made an effort to outshine my entry with a monologue of his own.

sci characteristically undersold his pounding dance tune sampling my voice and Trololo, among other things. jarski tossed up NES funk that brought up comparisons to Earthbound and ToeJam & Earl in the listening party. CJthemusicdude tried to channel DDRKirbyISQ's signature square wave and put in glitch effects for good measure. Usabell visited his private orchestra for a majestic, sweeping tune. Arcana chose the electronic route combining acoustic instruments and an unusual rhythmic pattern. cfx suffered technical issues in uploading, but got in his programmed "standard walk". mv's "Genetic Revolution" fills the aural canvas with drum-propelled strings and synth. MickRip used 15 minutes to produce his acoustic guitar and scat singing. DDRKirby(ISQ)'s moody "Reversion" carried along chopped-up drumming and and a lo-bit interlude. The night ended with Suzumebachi bringing out his e-orchestra and using non-accepted text formatting in his description.

I think my creative life has gone full circle. Before going into music production as a hobby, one of my major creative outlets was editing a school newspaper. I organized a publication for a bright community on subjects I cared about. With my blog, I'm right back where I left off.