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The music we composed ourselves

Cosmik

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#1
This thread is inspired by @oivavoi’s video of a song he composed. What is the process by which music is created?

As points for discussion I cautiously submit a couple of small snippets of music I created 30 years ago, using a Commodore Amiga and an Emu sample player.

The story here is that I was very keen on synthesisers and sampling, and set out to create some music from scratch that would sound like real music played by real musicians. The music was composed using a MIDI sequencer program called Music-X, plus a 5-octave MIDI keyboard. The sample player output went into an Alesis Microverb and then to a cassette deck.

In the end, I found the creation of music this way quite arduous, and so I only ever produced a few pieces of music. But, I learned a lot.
  • You don’t need to be a trained, qualified musician to produce something that sounds kind of like music
  • You can imitate the playing style of real musicians using a mouse – but it’s an ‘intellectual’ satisfaction and not much fun to do
  • Amateur bungling can end up sounding like music
  • Serendipity happens; but you couldn’t make a career from relying on it
  • The notes are what is important; good ‘notes’will shine through poor production.
  • Unconnected sequences played in parallel can sound as though they were meant to happen.
I still don’t feel as though I know how real musicians work, but I think I have a slight inkling how music happens, sometimes.

These two snippets might be the closest I ever got to something that sounded like real music.

https://soundcloud.com/user-283664774%2Fdetective-theme
I did a short piece titled “Detective Theme” because I found that not having an ‘assignment’ usually made it impossible to create music – too many possibilities. I also found spinning out a track to four minutes very difficult while keeping it interesting and non-repetitive – it is possible to plonk down 8- or 16-bar sequences with a transposition (instant key change) and make a piece that way, but I was trying to make it sound ‘organic’. So I set myself the task of doing a TV theme tune, as I recall vaguely inspired by the title sequences for ‘Shoestring’, ‘Hazel’ etc.

I think this was a ‘mouse’ composition with not much live playing of anything. I think I plonked notes down on the screen with the mouse, guessing what rhythms might sound interesting, and then moved pitches and timings around on the screen until it sounded a bit like music. I would then have added in the little one-off drums, cymbals, bass harmonics, etc. on the screen with the mouse - again trying to make it sound ‘organic’. And finally the saxophones were programmed in by mouse, including the slightly complex runs – which serendipitously sounded sophisticated and as though I meant them. The process was without much structure, with me just following where it went, playing back the latest few bars, moving stuff around and then keeping what sounded ‘good’ or at least plausibly like music. It was weird how I could be almost disconnected from what was going on, but it still became a piece of music by filtering.

The next snippet was the biggest fluke that happened to me. Somehow I produced a bit of music that sounded as though I was controlling it rather than the other way round. I can tell you that I know nothing about walking bass lines, jazzy piano, perky string backings but I do have an affinity with pentatonic scales (or I think that’s what they’re called) and the music of John Barry (which the little segue at the end sounds like, I think).

https://soundcloud.com/user-283664774%2Fextract-0
I think that what happened was that I programmed the drum loop with a mouse, then played each instrument live on the keyboard - but more as an aspiration than a performance. Basically I played the rhythm with a token gesture as to whether the pitch should go up or down, but all the notes would have been wrong. Quantisation was applied. I probably played several versions of each instrument and muted their recorded tracks or not. Then I went in with the mouse and started moving the note pitches around and somehow made it sound like real music – I am still bowled over by the string backing that sounds as though I knew what I was doing. I then spun it out a bit by repeating it some of it maybe with key changes and mixing up which track played with which loop. Or something like that.

Anyone else on ASR with some snippets of their own music to share?
 

RayDunzl

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#2
I had a C64, and played with its 3 voice synthesizer using BASIC... it was well documented.

Had Macs for a while, don't remember if I made music with it or not, used it for text parsing of Telco switch translators (where does the number you dial go or do depending on the services your phone was assigned). Made days of manual checking occur in 7 minutes, still charged the boss for the days expected, but they liked my accuracy, so...

Bought a PC in 98, by this time documentation was no longer provided past a few sheets of paper to show you how to plug it in.

Couldn't figure out how to navigate Windows spaghetti code during a single lifetime, ended up using C to directly create the waveforms to be played sample by sample.

That's where I really learned something about digits and audio.

I didn't tell it what to play (as in writing a song), instead created a little ruleset and let it figure out what to do.

This one sounds repetitive, but isn't. And, as I said, each sample (at CD rate) calculated, for pitch, envelope, harmonic content, reverb, stereo, volume, and whatever else it needed. Maybe 200 lines of C did it.

https://soundcloud.com/ray-880875693%2F06-permutation
 
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Cosmik

Cosmik

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Thread Starter #3
This one sounds repetitive, but isn't. And, as I said, each sample (at CD rate) calculated, for pitch, envelope, harmonic content, reverb, stereo, volume, and whatever else it needed. Maybe 200 lines of C did it.
Excellent. Reminds me a bit of the mood created by Terry Riley's A Rainbow in Curved Air.
 
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Cosmik

Cosmik

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Thread Starter #4
Inspired by Ray's early computer piece, I submit this 'abstract' piece that I did round about 1983. This was created with a home made synthesiser that used wavetables loaded into RAM, clocked out by frequency divider chips into a dedicated DAC for each voice. It was polyphonic!

The voices were processed with analogue filters and envelope shapers. This piece used analogue delay and spring reverb with manual knob twiddling to modulate the voices as it was recorded. I think that the layers were built up using 'bouncing' between two cassette decks.

I intended to do something with the sequencer bit at the end - drums, overlaid slower notes, etc. but never got round to it.

https://soundcloud.com/user-283664774%2Fsci-fi-intro
 
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restorer-john

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#5
I bet you guys might remember the Tetra Sound Compositor.

It was amazing and I reckon changed the way music was created from that point on.

 
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#6
I knew a guy who once told me, "a real audiophile records his own music." By that he was referring to making his own recordings of other singers/musicians, not necessarily of his own music. He did indeed have some excellent recordings of church choirs. But, since church music isn't quite the center of my musical universe, it did little for me (other than to appreciate is fine recording skills).

This thread, though, takes it to the next level in which we are talking about recording our own music, as in music we've made. In the OP, Cosmik seems to go to great lengths skirting the boundary between real music and music hacks like us on ASR would make. The elements that everyone looks for in music to deem it "real" is different on a person by person basis. Thus, I feel that someone spending enough time dinking around on a computer to make something that pleases them is indeed making real music that is satisfactory to that person. For example, I like repetition in music - whereas Cosmik's comments would make me think he doesn't go for too much repetition. Which is fine.

I guess this is all just a way of saying that we all like different things. There is a wide breadth of what can be called music. What each of us like is considerably more narrow. Also, we don't have to like what the other members here like (in my opinion, perhaps we are supposed to like the same music). Appreciation of music is purely subjective. In fact, I'm not sure I can come up with an objective definition of 'real' music.

All that aside, here are some tunes I've put up on SoundCloud. I will say that the majority of my time on synthesizers is for sound design. In other words, programming the patches. I can spend days just messing around with that. Actual creation of a finished song is of minor interest to me, but it does happen from time to time. First song offered for consideration is one of my more favorites. Called 'Sea Twen Tea Sects' or what some refer to as 'the Whale Song.' The rising and falling whale sound is from an effects box and is quite accidental. But I like it.

https://soundcloud.com/house-de-kris%2Fseatwenteasects
Perhaps others here have run into this situation: I may be discussing measured performance of some gear on a forum and someone chimes in smugly saying that they are above measurements because they don't listen to test tones. This made me spend lots of cycles on thinking about making music that is useful for test and evaluation of gear. I could never figure out exactly how to accomplish that, but I did make a number of songs that would specifically challenge a system. 'Frankonium' is a useful "test" song for bass articulation. There is actually a melody in the bass line. Most systems that don't go deep cannot reproduce the melody at all. Others that have a subwoofer more inclined for home theater will just have a lot of bass mush. That would be for systems that have a one-note-bass sort of subwoofer. Often these include ported subs instead of sealed. I attempted to use a vocal synthesizer, which is beyond difficult to program, but essentially added a nice organic sound.

https://soundcloud.com/house-de-kris%2Ffrankonium
Finally, I'll share a song called 'Sunrise' that I made with a pretty simple setup. This is a song that just came together before I headed out to work one day.

https://soundcloud.com/house-de-kris%2Fsunrise
Those are all examples of putting in effort to realize a song. I also used to host jam sessions at my house. In a jam session, there are hours of sounds, but only a couple times something pops out that says it may be worthy of a song. I once had a jam session with a guy that I'd only known online through a mailing list. He happened to be in town for a business trip, so he dropped by in the evening for some messing around with electronics. There are four 'songs' from that visit on SoundCloud. I won't list each of them here, but if you're so inclined you can visit my SoundCloud page and listen to the four 'KrisnRob' tracks. He brought an Akai Remix-16 and loaded it up with some sound bites stolen from a Korg Prophecy promo video I had. The whole jam worked out pretty nicely (in my opinion).

I made an album once called 'One Note Wonders' where every song is designed to pretty much go on its own with me only holding down a note or chord, or very minimal changes throughout the song. As I'm running out of room on SoundCloud, I'll probably have to remove the jam session tunes to make room for these songs. Sometime in the future.
 
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Cosmik

Cosmik

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Thread Starter #7
I knew a guy who once told me, "a real audiophile records his own music." By that he was referring to making his own recordings of other singers/musicians, not necessarily of his own music. He did indeed have some excellent recordings of church choirs. But, since church music isn't quite the center of my musical universe, it did little for me (other than to appreciate is fine recording skills).

This thread, though, takes it to the next level in which we are talking about recording our own music, as in music we've made. In the OP, Cosmik seems to go to great lengths skirting the boundary between real music and music hacks like us on ASR would make. The elements that everyone looks for in music to deem it "real" is different on a person by person basis. Thus, I feel that someone spending enough time dinking around on a computer to make something that pleases them is indeed making real music that is satisfactory to that person. For example, I like repetition in music - whereas Cosmik's comments would make me think he doesn't go for too much repetition. Which is fine.

I guess this is all just a way of saying that we all like different things. There is a wide breadth of what can be called music. What each of us like is considerably more narrow. Also, we don't have to like what the other members here like (in my opinion, perhaps we are supposed to like the same music). Appreciation of music is purely subjective. In fact, I'm not sure I can come up with an objective definition of 'real' music.

All that aside, here are some tunes I've put up on SoundCloud. I will say that the majority of my time on synthesizers is for sound design. In other words, programming the patches. I can spend days just messing around with that. Actual creation of a finished song is of minor interest to me, but it does happen from time to time. First song offered for consideration is one of my more favorites. Called 'Sea Twen Tea Sects' or what some refer to as 'the Whale Song.' The rising and falling whale sound is from an effects box and is quite accidental. But I like it.

https://soundcloud.com/house-de-kris%2Fseatwenteasects
Perhaps others here have run into this situation: I may be discussing measured performance of some gear on a forum and someone chimes in smugly saying that they are above measurements because they don't listen to test tones. This made me spend lots of cycles on thinking about making music that is useful for test and evaluation of gear. I could never figure out exactly how to accomplish that, but I did make a number of songs that would specifically challenge a system. 'Frankonium' is a useful "test" song for bass articulation. There is actually a melody in the bass line. Most systems that don't go deep cannot reproduce the melody at all. Others that have a subwoofer more inclined for home theater will just have a lot of bass mush. That would be for systems that have a one-note-bass sort of subwoofer. Often these include ported subs instead of sealed. I attempted to use a vocal synthesizer, which is beyond difficult to program, but essentially added a nice organic sound.

https://soundcloud.com/house-de-kris%2Ffrankonium
Finally, I'll share a song called 'Sunrise' that I made with a pretty simple setup. This is a song that just came together before I headed out to work one day.

https://soundcloud.com/house-de-kris%2Fsunrise
Those are all examples of putting in effort to realize a song. I also used to host jam sessions at my house. In a jam session, there are hours of sounds, but only a couple times something pops out that says it may be worthy of a song. I once had a jam session with a guy that I'd only known online through a mailing list. He happened to be in town for a business trip, so he dropped by in the evening for some messing around with electronics. There are four 'songs' from that visit on SoundCloud. I won't list each of them here, but if you're so inclined you can visit my SoundCloud page and listen to the four 'KrisnRob' tracks. He brought an Akai Remix-16 and loaded it up with some sound bites stolen from a Korg Prophecy promo video I had. The whole jam worked out pretty nicely (in my opinion).

I made an album once called 'One Note Wonders' where every song is designed to pretty much go on its own with me only holding down a note or chord, or very minimal changes throughout the song. As I'm running out of room on SoundCloud, I'll probably have to remove the jam session tunes to make room for these songs. Sometime in the future.
Great stuff - I could also imagine these pieces making great, atmospheric intros to a variety of TV dramas on Netflix or wherever.

On the subject of repetition, what do you think to Philip Glass (e.g. Koyaanisqatsi)? He does the thing of repeating 'riffs' with slowly evolving changes. I like it.
 
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#8
Thanks for the comments. As far as Philip Glass, I don't know the album you mention, as I've only got a couple of his releases from a few years prior. From the examples I've heard, yes his riffs are very short duration and repeated extensively. Kinda swirly and makes my head circle around as I listen, while there is a much longer slowly evolving foundation that the riffs sit on top of. I do like it, I don't listen to his work too often, though. Of the PG I've heard, he seems to address the more spiritual side with his music consisting of sounds aimed mostly at chakras #5, #6, & #7, while almost nothing is given to chakras #3 and below. Personally, I like music that starts with a solid physical and sexual foundation in addition to tickling the third eye.
 

RayDunzl

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#9
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Cosmik

Cosmik

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Thread Starter #10
With reference to the recent discussion on classical music, I present a piece of music that I did c.1987 - an acquaintance was commissioned to produce some videos about history, and as a synthesiser enthusiast I tried to get him to commission me to do some music for it. So here is some music that kind of, sort of, sounds 'classical' in certain aspects. It makes me wince (I was young!), but I do like some bits of it: the violin runs, the brief interludes between the overly repetitive 'theme', and the final few seconds (you may also like that bit for different reasons :)). Retro audio enthusiasts will enjoy the cassette drop-outs.
https://soundcloud.com/user-283664774%2Faudiotrack-07
I'm sure the main, simplistic, corny 'theme' must be ripped off.

This was a 'mouse' composition i.e. no live playing (and I suppose closer to how actual classical music is composed). I can tell you now that at no time did I have to tear chunks out of my soul in order to create this. Nor have I any musical training except a few recorder lessons when I was a kid. So if there's anything in it that could pass for real, original music for a couple of seconds, then that's what interests me. How does music come into existence, and why? What is "classical" as opposed to "non-classical"?
 
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dc655321

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#11
With reference to the recent discussion on classical music, I present a piece of music that I did c.1987 - an acquaintance was commissioned to produce some videos about history, and as a synthesiser enthusiast I tried to get him to commission me to do some music for it. So here is some music that kind of, sort of, sounds 'classical' in certain aspects. It makes me wince (I was young!), but I do like some bits of it: the violin runs, the brief interludes between the overly repetitive 'theme', and the final few seconds (you may also like that bit for different reasons :)). Retro audio enthusiasts will enjoy the cassette drop-outs.
https://soundcloud.com/user-283664774%2Faudiotrack-07
I'm sure the main, simplistic, corny 'theme' must be ripped off.

This was a 'mouse' composition i.e. no live playing (and I suppose closer to how actual classical music is composed). I can tell you now that at no time did I have to tear chunks out of my soul in order to create this. Nor have I any musical training except a few recorder lessons when I was a kid. So if there's anything in it that could pass for real, original music for a couple of seconds, then that's what interests me. How does music come into existence, and why? What is "classical" as opposed to "non-classical"?
I'm not sure about "Vikings", but this definitely conjures images of some silent-film swashbuckling - floppy rubber swords and too-fast-to-be-real frame rates. Well done!

I've no firm idea about "where music comes from". I have inklings that it's related to language, speech, and human propensity for patterns.
When I perform music (percussion), I don't think consciously think, "make this sound, then make this other sound". It feels more akin to speaking a sentence in that there is something I wish to express and it takes some number of sub-expressions to get it all out. In fact, I often catch myself progressing (regressing?) from imagining the sounds I want to make on my instrument to actually vocalizing them. Sort of like talking to yourself or to an ambiguous, imaginary audience...
 

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