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.”