A Short Update!

Alright, it's almost the end of 2017, so it's about time to put an update out here, I thought.

I have been at work on a number of projects over the past year, some of them will slowly come to light as we go knee-deep into 2018!

I worked on a remix of the Wizpig Challenge theme from the Diddy Kong Racing game, it's out on the newest release by Materia Collective

You should check it out here

Also, I've spent quite some time re-working my website, simplifying it, complicating it and shifting it around. Hope you like the new look

Oh, also one more thing. Did I mention there's a new video of an orchestral recording I worked on from 2015? Yeah, that. You can check it out here

To conclude, watch out there's a lot more coming! Remixes, videos, music releases and some of those sweet, sweet music scores you can't find on the internet

Combine\\Rewind

I have eventually come to the realization that as technology advances and almost everything becomes as easy as the click of a button, what is really going to matter is our personal experience. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I believe technology will bring people closer as opposed to keeping them away. Think about it, in a world full of Facebook feeds and endless Tumblr reposts, Would you put apart six hours from your daily schedule to meet a random stranger? Or would you use it to have a meaningful encounter with someone you know really well and would rather spend your quality time on? I think these questions are essential to understanding what our future environment will be.

Here are a few examples, people exchanging mixtapes internationally via real mail is actually witnessing an increase, more and more people have been buying music on vinyl for the past decade now, Bandcamp is popular than ever. I think it's important to see the trend here, and extrapolate it to what this trend will eventually lead to.

Recently, I found out about a platform known as FanHub that helps artists tailor and create their own Facebook Messenger bots for their artist page. I found this fascinating primarily because it goes really well with the idea that more and more music consumers are now open to ditching traditional ways of interacting with artists and accessing exclusive material than ever before, and this speaks volumes about how there is a shift in thinking of the current generation. Being a video game enthusiast, I couldn't help wondering about what would happen if somebody created an ARG (alternate-reality game) using only a Facebook messenger bot. I am pretty sure at this point that choosing to let people and possible fans engage with you personally via Messenger could perhaps be lot better in terms of reach. Sadly, the service that FanHub offered seemed to be a lot more time and effort than I could afford. Hence, over the next month or two, I shall try and figure out the Facebook Messenger API, and try developing my own bot. If it works, cool. If not, I'll bury it.

Moving on, plenty of news this month on the music and audio front. For one, I just recently finished working on the music for the Life in a Kilt podcast, which consisted of a mixture of genres as wide as rock and folk to glitch-hop and synthpop. Fun stuff. Earlier this October, a movie, 'Figure A' that I mixed sound for premiered at Cinesonika 5, a reputed film festival and conference that focuses exclusively on sound design and music for films and visual media. It happened for the first time in the United States and I was super stoked to know that happened. You can check out the trailer here.

 
 

In the meanwhile, I am continuing to work on music for several games and a couple of short films, and it seems to be quite the testing task with work, slightly increasing in the music space, but not to be underwhelmed by that, I have taken some time off that to better update my website, portfolio and resume which also now contains plenty of examples of my software development work. I hope that you will go through the various new things added to my website and like what I've done with the limited resources available.

Coming back to something that is an extension of the idea of using bots to create narrative experiences, this month I decided to combine two rather disconnected fields to create something that is new and rather interesting. I curated a Spotify playlist and wrote a generative poem at the same time! Now, the Spotify API is known to have the ability to fragment sentences into words that can form tracks of a playlist. I decided to reverse engineer it's process in thought. Have a look below. What I eventually hope to do is create a tool that lets you generate a poem on any particular topic and then turn it into a Spotify playlist as well.

 
 

What's fascinating though, is there are always a number of words that can be songs from completely different genres, and simply the task of crafting this playlist led me to discover some interesting new music. There is also the fact multiple songs could have the same word as the song name, and in that case there could be a certain amount of chance thrown into the algorithm for it to be able to decide which of the tracks are suitable for the playlist. I am going to leave this here in itself, and hope that next time I shall be able to pick up on this.

Who says you can't write a poem and curate a playlist at the same time?

Platforms, Tech and the re-invention of audio

September is proving to be a month full of ideas and new work that has inexplicably found me. While the majority of the month seems to have been taken over by the herculean task of creating more music for a number of games, I have found myself increasingly trying to take out time to study more languages that could teach me more about software development from different  perspectives. Case in point, this webpage I worked on that lets you listen to some interesting sounds and look at visuals that seem very strobe-lighted to say the least. I believe even something as simple as a few oscillators can go really far in terms of sound design and help in designing some interesting sounds. I equate the sound you hear on that page, with something like a spaceship.

I think working with generative art, in particular presents its own set of challenges - the least of which is trying to figure out and make sense of how it can be used in real-world applications. After a while, the novelty of something and the 'ease-of-use' that makes frameworks like Maximillian so popular, tends to fade and eventually people end up going back to things like C++ to better solve their problems. But I believe that creative thinking is generally not hampered by a framework like Maximillian, that if anything - pushes the person using it to experiment with sound and visuals. I think that's an important part of creating any art, and even more so, something that has to be kept in mind when creating tools for creators and artists alike. The bottom-line is - if it's not fun enough to experiment with, people tend to get quickly bored with the same tools and decide to find another avenue to better suit their creativity. This is precisely the reason that creating tools has found even more importance in this era than, perhaps even creating the art itself.

If there is anything millennial artists and generally every artist in this era continues to struggle with, it's with medium rather than content. Netflix is increasingly taking over the television market picking up TV shows that were otherwise struggling trying to find an audience with traditional television, Shazam seems to be making huge losses to the tune of millions of dollars and then, of course is the classic question of Twitter vs. Facebook Live. Would you rather live-tweet an event or live-stream it? Does it really matter?

 
 

More recently, I went to an interesting conference that happened right here in the back-pocket of Delhi, in Gurgaon. It was one of the first conferences on Virtual Reality in Delhi / NCR that went by the name of vamrr, and there were quite a few fascinating points that I seemed to have picked on. Having lived in Los Angeles for a few months, I had more than enough time to mingle with the VR and game development community there. Being back here and attending a conference on VR with quite a lot of chit-chat in-between artists, designers, entrepreneurs brought me to the important realization that while the ideas and the initiative to start many ventures that can tap into the yet-untapped market of VR is there, it still feels like VR in Delhi is at a very nascent stage where people are still trying to figure out what to do with it. As with most new tech, it seems that the focus is almost exclusively on generating revenue as opposed to creating meaningful art and immersive experiences. While there is no shortage of creative visual artists like Charuvi Agrawal constantly trying to innovate creating things as varying as kinetic sculptures to augmented reality mobile apps, clearly creative people need more platforms and many new ways to express themselves to create more opportunities for themselves. I think that is something that needs to be present in any creative ecosystem in the future.

The point I want to derive out of all of this is - there are a large number of platforms in the current day and age that give the opportunity for the musician to share their music with the world. It is perhaps, not going to be the only factor that decides which platform stays and which disappears, but instead. What I believe is that the larger number of different services and opportunities one single central hub will be able to provide an artist or a collective of artists, is perhaps the platform that is going to be able to stay as disruptions are going to follow and completely change how things are being approached in the music industry. Blockchain technology has been on the rise for a long time, and it will be only a matter of a few years before it changes things not just for the music industry, but every single field like hospitality, real estate and engineering. Large-scale disruptions tend to cause ripples and in that particular case, platforms that are too dependent on a single technology are inevitably going to have to either re-invent themselves or crumble, the same way that artists struggle today. This is all indeed exciting, but dangerous at the same time.

All being said and done, while I believe that streaming is helping artists get more of an audience than what was traditionally possible as far as reach goes, I also believe that there is some probability that in the next ten years, streaming could go extinct unless there is a drastic overhaul of the current system of how royalties are paid out and the entire revenue of the music industry still seems pretty biased towards an artist with a 100,000 fans as opposed to somebody with a few hundred even though in some cases, the difference lies everywhere but the music. I feel that eliminating that bias is important and any platforms that pushes things in that direction could do pretty well for itself.

Platforms like Patreon, Pledge Music and Tradiio come to mind as interesting 'hubs of activity', particularly because they offer the artist the opportunity to stay busy with their creative endeavors and heavily push towards letting people pay not for a singular album or single or product, but as fans that engage more up-front and regularly as opposed to the traditional methods of generating revenue via CD sales. An artist gets more independence in terms of what they want to do and how they can do it, at the same time also being given the opportunity to create value for their work. I believe the artist of the future is not going to make only records, or only remixes. They're going to dabble and experiment with multiple mediums and different approaches to music distribution. A platform that allows that is eventually going to win. And understanding more about how that would happen is essential to making it happen.

Not All Binary!

Humans are a complex species. Some of us want to find patterns in everything, others perhaps want to elude these patterns at every chance they get. But we ALL find a pattern sooner or later, don't we? I like to keep things random in my general day-to-day life. I think a part of it stems from trying to be creative. I have this idea that if you keep doing the same things at the same times and inside the same cycles, you eventually stop getting new ideas. I'm not sure how strong a holding that idea has in actual psychology or social science but I'm sure there is some merit to it.

I recently picked up a book on Game Design, a field that I feel is going to matter more and more to people from different fields as gaming as a medium gets more prominent with the passing of years (Apparently Spotify just started an entire section exclusively dealing with game music). How does a music composer / sound designer get all mixed up with game design, you shall probably ask. I think music and games have historically and perception-wise a lot more things common to them, than you can imagine, so in a way I feel that it's natural. The real reason, though is that last year when I went to Indiecade, I was inspired by a variety of different talks that touched on the topic of game design. That eventually led me to an online game design book club, where people read a book on game design every month, and speak on their views about it.

Long things short, a friend gave me an interesting idea for a possible app / game which fed into me seeing many parallels between musical development and how games are developed. All of this happened reading this month's book on that discussion group which happened to be A Theory of Fun by Raph Koster.

 
 

It was a fun read, as it mostly dissects the idea of fun, what constitutes activities that are fun and aren't. Some of it could probably be interesting literature for algorithmic music creation. What I liked about the book was that it gives a lot of different perspectives - psychologically, socially and at times talking on even evolutionary terms in the sense of how games started out and how they've evolved over the past few decades.

There's quite a lot of points that actually mention music-making. Now, there are different levels of controls and restrictions players have in games but it pits that against how different kinds of music-creation could be classified under the same table. There are definitely are some fascinating thought collisions that happened to me while I was reading it. In the spirit of keeping this blog post shorter, I shall refrain from discussing it further. (you can join the club here). You could probably go here and here to learn more about game design and it's various intricacies (in case that's your thing)

 
 

Moving on, I'm going to harp once more on the concept of curation and how integral it is going to become in the larger scheme of things. A friend started using this new platform that goes by the name of Soundgood. I decided to follow suit and convert an old playlist to a Soundgood playlist. You shall find all kinds of experimental / electronic / chill music if that's what you're into. Another thought experiment with curation - I've lately noticed that people that do more reposts on Soundcloud tend to get more active plays, listens and follows. Having started my Soundcloud originally just to keep my own tunes there, I'm considering breaking that rule and going crazy with reposts.

Soundcloud closed down Groups recently, which probably was one of the first horns of collapse that I sense coming to the music industry as a whole. I might be wrong, I might be right. If there's one thing I don't understand it's why they closed Groups. They were probably great for getting your music across, but I definitely could think of better ways to get music out there. If anything, I've realised platforms evolve and so does music distribution and the several other cogs in the "machine" so to speak. Anarchy rules everything, eventually. (Open-sourcing of media and hacking culture might have to do something to do with all of this 'disruption')

 
 

Between dabbling with playlists and their curation, trying to understand more about game design and going off on tangents about hacking, music work has been slow but steady. Lots of track reveals are scheduled for September, and I look forward to them. In the meanwhile, I have been scoping out more work for short films and video games. I might start working on a new video game soon, but that news is probably still far off in the distance (maybe another 2 weeks?)

Creativity takes time, folks. It is what it is. It's a risky business. Sometimes you end up at the right place, at the right time. At other times, everything might be exactly where you expected it to be but things would still not work out. It's not at all binary. Sometimes you make a huge mistake and fuck up things. Most of the times, it leads to a torrential shit-storm. At other times, a spark you didn't quite expect. I have found myself working on music related to time, twice this year and it's a fascinating coincidence. The first time, I knew exactly what the client wanted and it didn't quite turn out the way I expected it to. The second time, the opposite happened. I think creativity is not an easy bird to catch. It takes a lot of time, patience, perseverance and self-control and very rarely do all the variables work exactly as planned, So the gist of it - I made a mistake while I was sequencing some music, and I stuck with it. Why? Because strangely, it stuck and went well with what was needed.

Moral of story - make more mistakes, fail a bunch of times and you actually learn more than you realise. With the extremely large amount of focus placed these days on music, art and aesthetics to be somehow "perfect". I think artists need to fail more frequently at what they do. We learn more about things when we fail, as opposed to when we do them perfectly. Not to say that one should intentionally fail. But learn with mistakes every time we make them. The learning slope is exponentially increasing while the grasping power of people - not as much. Eventually the machines will kick in. Knowing how to code and program will take an even stronger front-seat than what has been felt so far.

Hence, I dug into some code the past week or two. (write a poem. Type enter once to go to the next line, and type enter twice to end the poem and voila! something happens)

 
 

So, some time back a strange request was pulled up by a person I knew. They wanted to convert a poem to binary, and wanted me to help them do it. For a while, I thought hard and went back to my old engineering books to try and figure out how that was possible. Eventually, I came to the point where I felt that converting entire poems to binary would take a lot of time, manually. So, I wrote a program. While this could have been just doable in C++, I decided to take the opportunity to dive into the mighty Python programming language and gain some street cred, or in other words "coding cred". Turns out, it's probably a lot more easier to do many things in Python as compared to doing them in C++. The more you know, I guess. While I seemed to have grasped the basics fast enough. There still remains the problem of turning boring python code into something more eye-catching and visual on the front-end. That led me to things like Django and Flask, which so far seems to be a bit confusing to navigate. But more on that later. More bots, HTML and web scripting incoming too, hopefully. A lot of different things, and then there's always the music.

ow, let's see if I can reverse-engineer this binary code extract. (there's a hint somewhere, I'm sure of it!)

01010000 01100001 01110011 01110011 01101001 01101111 01101110 00100000 01100111 01101111 01100101 01110011 00101100 00100000 01100010 01101111 01110010 01100101 01100100 01101111 01101101 00100000 01110010 01100101 01101101 01100001 01101001 01101110 01110011 00001010 01000011 01101111 01100011 01101111 00100000 01000011 01101000 01100001 01101110 01100101 01101100
 
 

Breaking the Wall

The past few weeks have been unexpectedly more busy than I planned. I took some time to sit and mull over what I wanted to do as an artist and where I wanted to go with my work as a music composer / producer and I found myself tugged in several different directions, albeit very unrelated ones. This gave me the chance to explore the idea of breaking a wall. 

What do I mean by breaking a wall? I thought about the idea creatively and analytically. And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense. I feel that we're living in an increasingly isolated society where more and more people would prefer to do things on their phone and produce their music by their own in their own little home studios and setups. I realise to a large extent that the majority of my work consists of music I create and put out on the web single-handedly hoping for it to reach the right people and an audience that would appreciate it. As we move towards a more heavily 'curated' society, it becomes more and more difficult for me to maintain a coherent identity as an artist. For me, art is super-personal and every time I create some music, it stems out of a personal experience that had an impact on me. To expect somebody to have similar experiences in their life, seems slightly outrageous. I would rather write a 70s synth horror score one day, and a hip-hop banger with metal guitars the next. I don't care about stereotypes or what an 'artist image' is supposed to be. On one level, that for me is breaking a wall.

On another level, I really feel the need now more than ever to collaborate with new artists with unheard-of ideas and un-talked-about stories, because at the end of the day we're all storytellers. We love telling stories and we love hearing them. It gives us something real to relate with and comfort. Comfort, that in the wide universe spanning over a billion galaxies and a gazillion miles, we're not alone. Have you ever tried speaking with someone that never understood your language or somebody that you would never ever meet, if it were not for the internet? It's mind-boggling - the possibilities we have in this time and age and what we make of it.

It is this strange, but revelatory idea that struck my head about a few weeks ago when I discovered an interesting music producer perhaps, much like myself that liked a couple of my tracks on Soundcloud. Doing the customary honours (and being curious) I went over to their Soundcloud to check out the music. This eventually led me to the Bandcamp page of a producer that goes by the name Nea. This album in particular is something that I really digged for its sound as well as visual aesthetic.

 
 

We eventually collaborated on a track which turned out to be an interesting combination of psychedelic and trip-hop music. It fascinates me that sometimes, being where you are and having the surroundings around you that you have growing up, greatly influences how you think about music, rhythm and melody. And then suddenly, you throw it at somebody on the other side of the globe and you're never sure what turns up. The uncertainty and the thrill of it and how unpredictable results can be, still makes me think about every single notion we have about everything. Questioning everything is a gift. And as a musician, I only hope that I can do that every single day. It's literally what makes me excited to open my eyes to a new morning.

 
 

Moving on, I worked on several projects these days. One of them was actually a score for a short horror / experimental film that was inspired by the visual / audio aesthetic of the 70s and 80s. Seeing that Stranger Things is such a big deal everywhere just a few days after I started working on this film, I wouldn't go as far as saying that the style of music in Stranger Things is something I took inspiration from. But it fascinates me how sometimes one film / good tv show comes out following a certain music style and suddenly everyone wants to hop on to the bandwagon. It's sad seeing trends being given more leverage than actual hardcore creativity sometimes.

I would perhaps place the music I made for this particular short film as more inspired by the work of Wendy Carlos than, say music that is so to speak textbook 80s. Being a dissonant composer and somehow always having that Bernard Herrmann DNA running through the music I make for horror, I feel like it made for an interesting combination of sounds. John Carpenter is also another composer I deeply admire and look up to, when horror film music is talked about.

Apart from all that, another topic that found my curiosity was the use of non-diegetic sounds as part of a music score for a film. The idea first hit me when I was on Twitter and found somebody asking about examples where the wall between music and sound effects was removed. There were some pretty interesting answers to the question on Twitter (I added the tweet thread below). While the usage of a combination of sound design and music in recent video games might have been the first and most obvious answer, I actually found myself trying to find out about films in particular that did this. There definitely seem to be a lot more video games than films that do this, though.

 
 
 
forbiddenplanetposter.jpg
posterlabnebraska-2.jpg
2001.jpg
 

The first film that I could find about that tried blurring the gap between sound design and music was a film in 1956 called Forbidden Planet (poster above) and if you go and watch the film, the sounds you hear in the film are fascinating to say the least. What's piqued my interest in Forbidden Planet is that it's electronic music score's innovation stemmed out of the need to avoid film industry music guild fees, which eventually led composer Louis Barron to construct his own electronic circuits and a ring modulator so that he could create the characteristic blips, blops and beeps that you hear all through the film. What's sad is that they never got considered for an Academy Award for their score simply because they did not belong to the Musicians Union. People didn't get whether to put their work in the "Sound Effects" category or "Music" category. If that's not hardcore sound fuckery for you, I don't know what is, honestly.

There are also an interesting paper I found that talks in depth about Diegetic / Non-diegetic music scores and how they relate with film and narrative. There are some very interesting examples there. I also think that there's a lot of things in the concept of usage of non-diegetic sounds or music as score in film that films can borrow from video games and I am surprised that more people don't try to connect these seemingly unconnected dots. This article in particular talks a lot about the subtext of non-diegetic narrative in video games - things like people finding out more about the story of the game from items they collect inside the game. In a sense it's like people are breaking the fourth wall with video-games by finding out more of the story from items. What if people could do something similar with music in films? I feel that to a large extent, a lot of inspiration could be taken from the Bioshock franchise where some of the licensed music seems to be so well thought-out that it's almost like it tells a story just with the licensed songs themselves. Almost all of them strangely enough, seem to have their context twisted and made to fit what the narrative of the game is. Last year, I wrote my master's thesis on the topic of narrative in Bioshock Infinite, and I had a section where I talked about the idea of licensed songs being used as narrative in games. If you are interested to read more in depth about that game in particular, and how it put this to use, you can check my thesis which I've uploaded here.

 
 

It is with this context that, when I started working on music for a short film, and I saw the first few scenes, I inherently realised that it seemed to somehow go well with music that a friend and a close collaborator Nikita Sailesh had recently been working on. Having reached out to her and secured her permission to use some of her work in a derivative sense, I eventually tried to shift the tone of music in a rather different direction that seemed more nightmarish, yet elusive. At first, I re-recorded the entire track through a cheaper decades-old analog tape recorder and heavily EQ'd it to give it a characteristic radio-like texture. The idea at first was to have it sound like it was coming from a nearby radio, which incidentally was not in the film. But one can always use imagination to conjure things up, and somehow in the context of the scene it seemed to make sense from the non-diegetic perspective.

Eventually, the music composer in me started taking control, and I decided to add many many new things to the slightly destructive radio-filtered track that was the new version of the music. What happened later, was that the original track by Nikita got severely pushed into the background and something you don't actually hear much of, at all in the final version. But it definitely adds something to the core feeling of the track. I added a lot of synths, percussion and some sudden extended crescendos of violins and voila, what came out seemed reminiscent of somebody who was sitting at a beach feeling great, but there was this slight undertone of things not being normal or 'right' - something that suddenly came into prominence with the percussion hits and the orchestral crescendos. A french dream about the Riviera, gone very very rogue. Nightmares abound!

 
 

Moving on, there have been plenty of failures and plenty of successes doing things. I worked on audio for an art studio promo, but it perhaps didn't go as I expected. It would perhaps end up on the Disquiet Junto, an interesting collective of audio artists and experimental music composers that come up with new compositions and works every other week on a new theme or topic. It makes for a very interesting creative process to work on tracks that have themes they think up. It's full of innovative, creative and interesting musicians. If you're a musician, I would definitely recommend looking them up and trying out some of their 'juntos' to try and see where it takes you creatively.

As for me, I shall continue to create more music, and try breaking more walls with music, art and games - just as much as I try to find news ideas, collaborators and possibilities. Also, I just finished a new experimental hip-hop joint. So more on that later. wink wink.

 
 

Simple Movements, Complicated Times

The past month has been quite the whirlwind, working on all sorts of different projects and seeking out opportunities is all part and parcel of my day's work with its ups and downs. This month, I finally started a slow roll-out of tracks that I have been working on since the start of the year. While I might have talked about some of them so far, the idea behind some of those sometimes get lost and forgotten about, as I steadily hop from one project to the next. Hopefully, I'll be able to talk some more about it as time passes by.

A demo of a video game I made music for just rolled out a couple of days ago. You can get the download from here. It won't really work for a Mac right now, but if you're a Windows person, go get it! You might also need to get RPG Maker 2003 to run this, but I would love to hear any feedback you might have for the music in the game or otherwise. 

Moving on, I've also been dabbling with chip-tune heavily and I found some seriously nice software to make 8-bit and 16-bit music. This blog right here made it much more easier for me to navigate the interesting underground community of people that are heavily into Chiptune and woah, my mind was blown looking at the sheer amount of depth in that genre. For the uninitiated, the Chiptune genre is a genre of music where people try and emulate the music of  thegames of yesteryears or the glorious sounds of the 80s and 90s that are completely personified in the chips that were used with game consoles like the NES, SNES, Commodore 64 and many others. Getting the news earlier this week that the NES was making a come back, I'm fairly confident that Chiptune is going to see quite a big revival in the coming year. Having been to Indiecade last year, I still remember hearing heavy influences of the genre in a few acts that I heard there and I was nothing short of blown away.

 
 

From the perspective of music, this month has been liberating in the sense that there are things I've worked on that really pushed me towards different directions - directions that about two years ago seemed like frightening prospects to me. Mostly making a living off scoring short films and videos, it was only natural that I would be asked to do music that is more in the vain of western classical music. This kind of music always comes across to me as something that needs a very specific vision. Sometimes, people look for the typical 'epic' sounding music that has become very widespread in things like movie trailers or contemporary film. While at the surface, it does seem like all fluff and no substance when people ask for that sort of style, I've come to realise that every single time, the output is slightly different. Despite its name, even epic trailer-like music doesn't have one-size-fits-all generalisation. Perhaps that's what I like about the music projects I take up.  They give me earlier-unknown music identities to develop, create and evolve. It's like not waking up every day and having to eat the same old banana pie, but the flavours completely change.

One such example where I did something completely new for me music composition-wise back in March was a track called 'My Moon'. Written as a main theme for a video game 'Dark Sanctuary' under development, what was perhaps interesting was not the output but rather, the input I was given - A flute track that the game designer had themselves composed. While the quality of the flute track was patchy at best, what really took me on a ride about the track in particular was the fact that the presence of echo in the track. At first, the flute melody did not seem to be 4/4 at all, which led me to creating a number of abstract time changes throughout the track, which presented its own set of complications and challenges. Eventually the realisation dawned on me that what was happening was that the melody was trying really hard to not be 4/4 but when in fact it was exactly that. Having caused a strange back-and-forth in the entire arrangement due to my initial assumption, the combination of things slightly swaying back and forth while the time signature stayed constant provided for an interesting dynamic in the composition.

 
 

Clearly, it seems that every single project that I work on asks for a completely distinct and different music style that varies immensely from the last. While the music for Asgeirr has been intensely minimal to say the least with the usage of FM sounds and a slightly off-beat percussive style, the music for Dark Sanctuary on the other hand asked for something very different in terms of how its development was approached. Music for fantasy is a whole different monster as compared to music that is chiptune or FM synth-based.

hen of course, there are Twitterbots.

An Afterthought
As the AI Revolution marches through, the major thought on my mind about it these days seems to be - how much more time before working composers and music producers get replaced by machines too? If companies like Jukedeck and Filmstro are to be believed - not that much. While most music folks in today's age and times seem to be up in arms about it, mentioning things like 'real emotional quotient' and 'the human touch', I don't really see much of two ways about it. To me, honestly - In the future, people that could perhaps harness AI and machine learning and use it as an element working for their music (as opposed to working against it) would be a lot better off. Which is why I have been seriously mulling over what kind of programming project I should take up next. And it's probably important to my future. While I have tried expanding in the past towards more interesting fields like sound design and audio programming. I have no doubt, that even those things could be taken over by an 'intelligent machine' in the future. Just food for thought.

Where do we go from here? I should probably get back to producing my newest track. And leaving the bots to themselves. In the meanwhile...keep your eyes focused on my 'other' Soundcloud

P.S. - Following the interesting nucl.ai Conference happening in Prague right now. Some very interesting developments in AI happening there. 

Number Games

May has been quite the oxymoron as months go - Busy and not-so-busy at the same time. I have found myself drifting back and forth from my music composition work and shifting more towards the black art of programming. And so, like Foucault's Pendulum, it continues. I have been diving through more and more conspiracy theories when I get the time. Being in Delhi, perhaps gives me that luxury - to really delve into where my interests lie. It is a difficult game. To try and figure yourself out. Life is so much easier when you have it all mapped out for you - a 9 to 5 or maybe a year in school. But perhaps, that is not where my future lies.

Once in a while you need a kickstart to really snap out of a period of low creativity. Watching this, perhaps did that for me. But clearly that didn't last long either. Seeing that I am stuck somewhere between doing creative things like making music and writing code, I decided to make light of my situation and start a Github. Follow me there, to find some pretty interesting code that I'll be working on in the few coming months. Of all things, perhaps that is the only thing I have to show for now. There is a lot of code I've been working on, and work on that will probably continue. Some of it might make it there, some of it might not.

I've always been skeptical about things that are fairly open source in nature. It's one of those things where it contradicts so hard with your inner belief system, it becomes pretty hard to reconcile. You think about questions like 'what about copyright?' and 'is it safe?' among other fairly darker questions. Some of my apprehensions were fuelled when I stumbled upon this article. But seeing how things are, I figured there was no other way to perhaps demonstrate my coding chops.

Having finished working on a WAV format audio player using C++ right before June came knocking, I feel that I have embarked reasonably well on my journey through coding and audio and all the wonderful, interesting and headache-inducing goodness of it all. The question is, there are so many formats and approaches to implementing audio with code, one really is spoilt for choice. Having first started by taking a jab using SFML and trying to implement audio, I had several problematic things going on. But I'm getting way ahead of myself here, you would probably ask 'why work with audio and code in the first place?!'

Well, that is probably because, these days I have found this slight itch. An itch to 'solve problems' so to speak. There really are no two other ways about it. What do you do if you don't have a problem to solve? Well, you create one. But even before that, perhaps you seek problems. It is that pursuit that actually proved to be fruitful. After a fair amount of tweeting, DM'ing and Facebook'ing people, I came across a developer that wanted to build a cross-platform game that could play audio. It was not supposed to be something very complicated or complex. But it turned out to be quite the same. Seeing that things were not working that well with implementing audio using SFML, my initial approach was to try and seek out a fairly simple framework dependent on C++ that could play audio.

Methodically and carefully, I have been chipping at Processing the past few months, and I quite saw similarities between using something like Processing that already had a lot of functionality built-in and creating a simple audio player. My next obvious response was to seek out a framework that could provide all this functionality and then delve into how it managed to work. A reverse-engineering process so to speak. The first framework that seemed to be usable (from what I could see) was openFrameworks. However, I eventually gave up on using that, owing to its huge size. What I needed was something smaller and simple. Which is how I ended up at using SDL for my audio player. And that's pretty much what it still uses. The next question to dabble with is whether I should try other frameworks or continue forward developing more functionality into the current audio player. I've found that the latter would perhaps be the best way to move forward.

Moving on to creative things, work continues on music for a video game as well as short film. There should probably be a demo for the game by the end of the month, while I am yet to start on music for the film. There are another couple of tracks in the works as well. While the current situation means that I have my hands full, financially perhaps - maybe things could have been better. But I suppose that is something you have to sacrifice trying to build a career on your own. One of the major issues going forward seems to be, more people asking for work and lesser people willing to afford the cost. This is a sad situation for any creative person. But, perhaps there is a silver lining in all of this - I just don't totally see it yet. Sadly, this also sometimes leads to projects unfinished or abandoned in pursuit of greener pastures so to speak. Staying in a creative field can become quite the challenge as years pass by and things get progressively harder. All the numbers - they add up or they don't. But I always told myself I would never abandon my creative pursuits - and so that remains.

Back to my cup of coffee and looking at planes for now.

A New Update

Many new incoming updates! Once again, it might seem that I have been inactive on the blogosphere owing to the constant back-and-forth I seem to be having with Weebly and certain issues that plague me. Honestly, giving a thought to moving over to Squarespace. More about that later (new alternative website in-the-works maybe?)

The past few months have seen me working on a wide variety of projects that to name a few, included writing music for a radio show, dabbling with 80s synthpop in this jam game for Ludum Dare Jam 35 and developing an audio demo for a new Serum sound-pack. There are of course many more projects in the works, and rest-assured I will get to speaking more about them as time progresses and more things come to light. In case you like podcasts and listening to them is your thing, don't forget to check out the recent podcasts by The State of Gaming where some of my music got used.

This post is mostly going to be talking about key highlights of my work in the past couple of months, we will get to the more interesting parts later. In case horror and horror literature is what fascinates you, there's also a short story I finally put out on my Wordpress page which complements the music recording I composed, conducted and produced for 51-piece orchestra last year. You could read more about the process and thinking that went behind it here on the blog itself.

I realise that the world is getting smaller and the ideas are getting bigger, causing changes bigger in scale than ever before in history. We're in a very interesting time in the course of civilisation. The internet is a powerful medium that has perhaps caused and triggered a lot of these changes. While there's a positive side to all of this, there's also a negative side. Security breaches, information leaks and 'encryption wars', the need for instant gratification, the rise of big data/its exploitation and of course the classic pet peeve - drastically reduced attention spans (Check out my Tumblr for more frequent posts if you need more updates regularly about the going-ons in my life)

Perhaps all of this has also had an impact on artists, thinkers and the creative community as a whole, which has given rise to alternative approaches to how content is produced, presented and distributed. Perhaps, greater change will come in this field in the few years to come. I would perhaps choose to embrace change rather than stay routed in 'the old way' and how things were done before. As an artist, you either change with the times or you disappear. Talking about changes and how much they matter for the future, I'll sign off urging you to go sign this petition as I believe it's important for the future of music and it's fair use.

Elementary Mathematics

It's been a couple of months since I last posted here. There are a large number of reasons that has been the case. Some of them, you might find out soon, while others not. Having moved to Los Angeles about a month ago, I have been exploring avenues and possible paths of a future career in music technology or video games or interactive media or if possible, all three. I recently started doing an internship in Sound Design at Native Instruments and it has been quite the wonderful journey so far, full of broad learning curves, dynamically shifting perspective and one filled with opening up of new horizons for me.

Having just concluded with my master's course at Berklee Valencia in film scoring, Most people would call it a drastic jump to shift into a music technology company. I wouldn't call it so, primarily because in some ways, I always felt affinity towards music technology and how it fuels creativity was always a part of how I think about music. Even though I may or may not see myself composing and creating music in the more traditional vein music composers and orchestrators usually approach such fields, I believe that at heart if you've ever been a creator, you always stay one.

Methods change, approaches differ. There is conflict in how you perceive art and music with perhaps someone else, but I believe that's the beauty of art, music and life in general. Harmony in dissonance. Often walking down the street at Hollywood Boulevard on a warm weekday morning, I hear the distant honk of a car or the morning chatter of high school kids discussing there weekend adventures. and I tell myself 'ah, that sounds like music'. How, you may ask. If you're reading, you may already know the answer.

We all maybe artists, or accountants. Engineers or software whiz-kids. But in certain ways, we're all echoing off each other. Some artists, take what they have - the raw material. Throw it down on a canvas. Jumbled colours, an abstract idea. Software engineers? They use native data types and already existing functions to shape their ideas. Not sounding that different any more, I hope?

A flash of an idea late at night, or a sudden spark at lunch. That's usually how it always begins. A grand idea for the next path-breaking album or the next software revolution that could shift perceptions. We're all curators. Taking the idea off that graffiti wall we saw on our way to work or maybe using that flute solo we heard on an old Indian devotional song. You never know where it's gonna come from. And that excitement about the creative process is what always excites me. The inspiration, the journey. Rather than just the destination.

But that might not be what this blog post maybe about. It's about something a bit more subtle and something a lot less prominent in the normal daily life of an individual. Elementary mathematics. Technological process has been steady and slowly accelerating. A lot more in the last twenty years than the last hundred. But do we really see the process? How a new computer has seemingly faster speeds and more memory than the last one? What could have possibly made that a reality? Of course it's all coming out of mathematics. The universe creates problems and barriers, and creators find clever ways around it.

I have found myself wondering more and more about the mathematical nature of problems and how their solutions can sometimes seem to be counter-intuitive at first, but as the solution is developed in parts, the way the parts are then later combined to interact with each other can also prove to be quite mind-boggling. I would call it much like playing a game of chess. You might have absolutely no idea what's going to happen five moves later, but you make your best move and adapt your solution as the pieces change. It's all very dynamic and unpredictable. This brings me to the idea that perhaps programmatically devising and creating music as solutions to particular mathematical problems could bring about interesting kinds of musical experiences to the forefront. Perhaps, it's already being done as I write this.

Halt////Resume

As I sit in boredom listening to the erosively loud soundtrack to the new Wolfenstein game I have developed an intense liking for, I think about the past few weeks since I've been in Delhi. It has been a very interesting and rewarding year at Berklee Valencia. While my heart has been a bit on the heavy side - as with most things that you have to learn to let go of, I feel like somehow I may not have been quite done with Valencia. Something tells me I might some day return there. Or maybe not, and its just the uncertainty of what lies ahead talking. Maybe both.

While not a lot of musical work has been happening the past few weeks, I feel that the next few days might give me a glimpse of what future projects hold for me. Having very intensely concentrated on the orchestral side of music working with several film cues all through the year, I feel that I now see a lot more of the musical spectrum than I did before. I suppose somehow the internalisation in my work of that is yet to happen.

However, I will slowly be rolling out new compositions in the next few weeks that I have worked on all of 2014 and the past half of 2015 on my alternative soundcloud page. Some of them crafted with a blunt hand, others with careful precision. On some, I was quite the stumbler. On others, I found new avenues and genres that I had never thought I could do before. It has been a great learning experience and I feel that it’s important now than ever to leave the colourful world of preparation and study for one of application and hit-and-try-and-fail. Because truth is, you learn a lot more that way than any other else (not that going to school for music is not useful, quite the contrary)

In addition, there is quite the backlog of remixes that I have acquired the past two or three years. Having put it off for really long, I feel that the only way to break a giant tower is to first start taking a crack at it with a small needle and a hammer. Clearly, my compositional approaches seems to have changed and I’m looking to start a musical riot as soon as possible.

P.S. - To those of you who are looking at blogpost after blogpost, I worked on a small track for a sort of a ‘pitch’ to an indie game company, I’ve embedded the link below. More good stuff coming your way soon enough. Keep your eyes and ears open to the Facebook page as well.

 
 

After the Take

3pm, 20th June 2015
Gatwick Airport

As I sit in the middle of a crowded airport waiting for the next flight out of London, a combination of relief and a state of panic slightly sweep me over at the same time. I wish that the time spent at London could have been longer, a bit more rather than less. However, much like the food at Pret A Manger, it seems everything does come with an expiration date after all.

I can’t really shut myself down from all the feelings of wonder, joy and absolute euphoria that I experienced when I first walked into Abbey Road Studios. It is indeed strange that I could feel my heart beating faster and faster as I was motioned to go in and have a first look at Studio 1, the recording room and the huge stage in front of us. It was to say the least terrifying and mind-boggling to think here I was. Not even a year passed since I first came to Valencia ready to conduct an ensemble of the world’s best musicians ready to play my music.

 
 

7pm, 20th June 2015
In the Sky

To me, music has and will always be bigger than everything else. I revel in its spirituality and the power it gives a person engaged with doing something creative. If life truly was a painting, what would you draw?

That’s a question I found myself asking my own self in the middle of an art gallery, The National Gallery to be more exact. Having a sufficient amount of time to destroy in London after the Abbey Road sessions were finished, I decided to go art-hunting for inspiration. Isn’t that what drives every artist after all? Stone cold inspiration? And the answer to that question took me through a zig- zag line of thinking much like the network of Tube stations peppered all over the city. It took me to the Thames and then further away from the center to the quiet area of Tooting Bec and then back. 

To explain further, I saw an exhibit that was commissioned in the 19th century by a nobleman to be drawn by a tailor to give him an idea of how a certain dress was to look on his wife. What struck me as interesting about this exhibit was the fact that art stemmed not from thinking about the world in an abstract, twisted way or from some kind of fantasy but rather, something much more grounded. A lot of it grew from necessity, especially a few hundred years ago. Perhaps it still does, in different fields, places and applications.

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This brings me to the idea that perhaps everything happens in cycles. Humanity just repeats itself. In every cycle there are periods of progress, a general trend of unexpected disruption, and a complete breakdown in the order of things, before a revolutionary idea is seeded into the particular framework in reference. I have the viewpoint that these ideas arise most of the times out of necessity or the fact that sometimes existing methods or approaches become redundant to the point where someone somewhere has to really step out of conventions and break a few rules to make new things possible. Change is not always invited or facilitated, sometimes it’s a trip and a fall rather than a walk on a carpet.

12.28pm, 20th June 2015
Oxford Circus Station

As the tube train chugged on through the heart of the city, my pulse got faster. The coach to Gatwick airport was supposed to leave in twenty-two minutes and I was still four stations away. With just a few pounds in my pocket, I thought about the worst. What if I missed? I would subsequently miss my bus which would then be followed by missing the flight back home to Valencia. What would happen if I did end up getting stranded in the middle of London with barely any money and no internet? Of course it wouldn’t happen. But having nearly not travelled enough abroad alone, it still seems a bit terrifying to realize that sometimes it is up to you to decide your fate and everything you do has real consequences. Perhaps, time is greater than money.


8.17pm, 18th June 2015
Campden Hill Square

I quickly ringed the second floor bell haphazardly shifting my weight between my two feet while nervously cracking my fingers. I had managed to get myself confused between two very similar sounding places on Google Maps which in turn, led me to the wrong place for the party. But it did not matter anymore as I had reached where I wanted to be. The day had been quite a blur with many different Berklee-organised talks about the business of film scoring. Having been free for less than a day since I recorded my music, I was looking to unwind and have a good time. The rest was a blur with many film-scoring students (me included) going off across to the other side of town cracking jokes, making merry and finding places to hang out. Time was inconsequential.

2.29pm, 19th June 2015
The National Gallery

Pacing through the hall after hall of artworks from the eons far and between, it was strange to realize that so many visionary creative minds came and made a splash only to be disappeared and forgotten. And then there were the greats – The Van Gogh paintings and another artwork which interestingly had been broken up into two different works and then rejoined. In my mind, I somehow connected that to how music composition works inside a video game.

I could see mentions of words in exhibit descriptions and phrases that have somehow managed to seep into popular internet culture – words like ‘doge’ and ‘memes’. The widespread mention of these terms all over the internet are an interesting after-effect of artworks created over hundreds of years. Things are a lot more connected than it may seem on close observation. But it may seem that in this age of fast living and quick satisfaction no one quite sits and thinks about the small things. These small things that somehow shape the bigger ones.

10.43am, 19th June 2015
Goldcrest Postproduction Ltd.

‘Perhaps you might have heard that no one really is able to differentiate between more than 2.5 things at a time sonically, you can’t really make the music so busy, there’s sound effects, voice-overs, dialogues, ADR….’ The voice of the talking seemed to trail away as I stood and wondered about the aesthetics of common pop music these days. Was it really simple and great to have a great production with a ‘minimal approach’?  The answer I gave myself was perhaps a conflicting one.

12.39pm, 17th June 2015
Studio 1, Abbey Road Studios

Isn’t conflict the center of everything? I told myself as I took a deep sigh and prepared myself to get on to Studio 1 in fifteen minutes and conduct a 51-piece orchestra, something I had never done before in life. Through the past months, I had constantly asked myself if it was something I was capable of doing. To command and direct a group of fifty-one musicians, some of the best in the world and truly capture a riveting performance of music that was not inherently supposed to be conventional but more ‘dissonant’. But perhaps that’s the beauty of mankind. Sometimes to find a unique sound, one has to break a few rules. Sadly, rule-breakers aren’t always given the encouragement they feel they need. But then, I suppose no one wants to mess with a rebel. I had never wanted to be one. There is always the need for acceptance among peers, though. Something I’m thankful I received.

Sometimes experiences shape a person rather than a person shaping his own. I have managed to make peace with the fact that perhaps I am inclined to always move in a dissonant direction with my music than a melodic one. I feel a lot less burdened when no one expects me to create music with swirling melodies and perfect-sounding crescendos. I always had wanted music to depict the state of chaos and the environment of indecisiveness the world around us is in these days. I suppose it just comes across in different ways to different people.

 

Time to rock and roll.

A post shared by Antriksh Bali (@antrikshbali) on

 

Countdown.

With less than 24 hours left on the clock till I fly off to London to conduct and participate in a recording with a 51-piece orchestra at Abbey Road Studios as part of the culminating experience for my Master's course, many mixed feelings come to the forefront. Excitement, derision. Doubt, happiness. A mixture of frustration, inspiration and exasperation adds some more heightened euphoria to the concoction of strange emotions, voices and whispers in and around my psyche.

It has indeed been a wild ride so far at Berklee Valencia with so many highs, lows, slow realisations and sudden occurrences. One thing that I can be sure of is the fact that I have understood so many things in the past ten months about myself, not to mention the possibilities that exist and the giant steps that lie ahead of me, creatively and decision-wise in the future. It's almost like my carefree and fun life the way it was back in New Delhi seems almost like another lifetime before. But I suppose that is all about the smaller sacrifice for the greater good.

Onwards, towards the piece of music I have been working tirelessly on over the past month - I could say that it is always a real challenge to distill your ideas and musical thoughts into something that truly and uniquely symbolises you and what your 'sound' is, not to mention the challenge that exists twisting an idea completely on its head and to try to build backwards from an already existing sound or something that is visually available. Being primarily a person that relies on how things 'sound' as opposed to how they should be 'written' or orchestrated, it is a giant leap to go to a place where you are trying to learn composition as opposed to focusing on producing and mixing, something that is being stressed on so much these days. You will often hear statements being thrown around like 'The song/track/idea is great, but you need to work on production.'

Having the thinking that comes from the perspective of a music producer, I fully subscribe to the notion that production is important. However, it came to me after a certain amount of time producing and mixing music that in essence, interesting music becomes easier to write when you really understand more about music compositionally. Therein lied the reason I decided to pursue a film/video game scoring program as opposed to going after music production. In this day and age, I feel like production has become such an essential part of the musical framework required from musicians and producers in the industry, it really does come back full circle to composition. There also lies the idea that certain music compositions stood the test of time and are still recognised as legendary, as opposed to the culture of music being produced en masse these days with countless music producers and electronic artists coming out with new music releases every other day. Among the noise, chaos and helter-skelter, what really stands?

Being a person that truly does believe more in quality and quantity, I have been constantly been posing myself this question and hitting a wall simultaneously. Over the past few years, the amount and quality of music I make has been varied. The reason behind it is perhaps, because I am truly trying to understand where the boundaries lie. Where does music end and sound begin? Are they really as dependent/independent as they are perceived? Does it really matter? While producers and electronic musicians reading this will scoff at these statements, when you really go into the orchestral side of music composition and try to pull apart the elements, you see rigidity and then you see so much flexibility. It's a bundle of contradictions, perhaps not that different from what popular musicians are trying to do these days. After all, every idea comes from somewhere doesn't it?

Time to pack and say my goodbyes for the week.

Abbey Road is going to be fucking legendary.

P.S - A Muse video I saw back in 2011 came to mind. I did once think it would be one of my major dreams to be there, much less even dared to think up that I would have my music performed and recorded there. Maybe dreams do come true after all. Here's to more.

Ciao.

 
 

Website V2.0

It has been an interesting few months. I have been busy redeveloping my website and rethinking certain ways of visual representation. There has been a huge perspective change owing to my experiences and interactions in Valencia, Spain. Blog posts will happen more frequently starting this week. Feel free to roam and hang around my website. You might find some cool unexplored musical artefacts.

Stay updated and stay curious!

The Driving Force

Behind any form of art, there is always a driving force. I asked myself the question probably a lot of people ask themselves. 'Why did I work on this song?' or to arrive at the existential part of it 'Why do I make music?' The answer was of course not as easy as juice and pie. Maybe because I find it beautiful that a lot of things that happen to me on a day-to-day basis impact and affect the kind of music I make. While in the short-term it doesn't amount to a lot. But in the long-term, I like to think the kind of music I make and the people I collaborate with, shapes and defines who I am. And maybe that's why I hold it so dear.

Some questions never really have clear-cut answers but I think that's the beauty of the human condition. We make out of it, whatever we can. We shape our own realities in an abstract way. So what really was 'Daze Blue' about? I don't really think there's a clear-cut story behind the song yet, except the fact that the past few months have been an uphill struggle both internally and externally. And to keep at it, to continue making music regardless of what I get from it materialistically or what opinions other people might have - to continue following the wavy and crooked road of my imagination that leads maybe nowhere, maybe somewhere. That was the spirit of it.

Perhaps one thing that I really pride myself on, is the fact that I worked on the artwork, if not completely - atleast partially. My sister provided me with consistent support and let me use some of her photographs which proved to be essential and central to the theme of the song. But more on that later.

My month was of course peppered with the odd gig or two that I went to, some familiar faces meeting me and then some new. Having been accepted to Berklee College of Music, Valencia for a Master's in Scoring for Film, Television and Video Games about a month ago, I also had to run around getting various things in order. Learnt some Spanish, worked on some music theory and harmony among several other things. I shall start in September.

Also, getting a student visa for Spain must have been the most excruciatingly tiring process I have ever came across. But at the end, it was done, along with succeeding celebrations, fist-pumps and of course the obligatory 'Bhai, kab ja raha hain?' question being asked about fifty thousand times. But it's all good.

Now with barely two weeks left to clock, Things really come full circle. A new journey is about to begin, and I feel just as excited as I feel determined to take on the challenges that lie ahead of me. So many questions and so many possibilities, it's actually kind of freaky how fast your life can change sometimes, in the blink of an eye. Three months ago, probably none of this could have been imagined.

Onwards we go.

Clarity in Motion

Clarity is a slippery slope. I like to picture it as a thin sheet of ice, stuck halfway between completely dissolving into cold colorless water and being so solid it comes to the point of cracking.

It really does take a lot more than just willpower and determination to hold on to anything. Be it a thought, an idea inside your head or something that you hold very close to yourself. It stays for a bit, then it disappears.

It was trying to catch these few wisps of ideas and thoughts that I spent most of my last month trying to do. I embarked on a roadtrip to Chandigarh, a picturesque and quiet place in Punjab that has its own charm. 

I was basically cut off from civilization for about a week as my phone didn't seem to work. I like to think it brought a lot of things in perspective for me. I met my grandmother who's over 9 decades old now along with other family relatives. I had jacked up enough songs on my phone and iPod shuffle to make the time seem like a blur. Time flied away.

I also brainstormed on a few ideas that were developing in my head on my way there. And it dawned on me that it was just about the right time to start in motion the release of my new song. I had been stalling releasing it for a while as things kept happening . However, once I got back and things seemed to be going fine. August seemed to be the perfect time. I took the plunge.

Sometimes in life, you have to stop thinking about consequences, opinions, doubts that include all the junk in your head that stops you from making decisions and just go in for the kill.
 

 
 

Expecting the Unexpected

Some humans are straightforward and upfront about what they want in life. They have a plan. "Let's do A. If it works out I'll be at B." - that's what they tell themselves. Planning down to the last second of what they're doing is what makes them feel more stable and more confident that the future will work out for them. And then there are some of us, who take life as it comes. it's always a bit of risk expecting the unexpected.

Last week on an early Sunday morning, I decided to try something new. I ventured out of the house alone without a destination in mind and I decided to take a portable recorder with me. Several hours passed away as I walked around the neighborhood through half-broken footpaths, past the sounds of cars driving by, chitter-chatter of random old people, and all kinds of random ambient noises I never realized existed before. What's better, I ended up in the middle of a sparse jungle.

An interesting thing I noticed was the fact that field recording is drastically different from recording something inside a studio. There is never only a single isolated sound when you're recording. there's always the odd bird chirping in the back or some unexpected ambient noise. It was interesting to try and make these unusual sounds add more character to what I was recording. Say, for example a dog barking in the back while I was sitting near a leaked pipe trying to record the sound of water.

Interesting ideas popped in my head later on while I was going through all these recordings and interestingly what happened later that day ended up sculpting in part, a new song idea. More about that later.

Compress, Digress

It has been quite a while since I updated anything on here. Primarily because a lot has been going on for me on the net, and off it as well. I spent the past fifteen days trying to mix a song and make it sound as good as possible to the best of my knowledge. And during the course of me trying to find the right tools and know-how on how to get the right mix, I stumbled onto such a huge wealth of knowledge on various mixing techniques, that I still feel quite overloaded with the information. Now that I'm mostly done with the mixing process for it, I find myself much more free to write about it.

One of the biggest problems I faced during mixing this particular project was figuring out what my approach to compression would be. Believe me when I say, compression can either make or break your mix. While some tracks needed a lot of compression, others not at all.

For all you newbies, Compression or dynamic range compression is the process of narrowing down the range of dynamic volume of a track. In other words, when you apply compression to a track, the louder parts of the track might get lower in volume and the softer parts, louder. In common man terms, compression tries to level out the audio range of your track. It is a very important technique used in mixing music extensively. Enough with the producer talk, time to talk about something else.

One of the most difficult and processed tracks on a song are usually the drums, especially if it's more of a rock track than an electronic arrangement. However, compression has to be used sparingly and not to be slapped on everything, something a lot of producers tend to do these days. Sometimes you have to look at the odds and see if everything manages to balance itself out in a mix. Other techniques like EQ, automation and various types of aural exciters can always help to take your mix where it needs to go.

Another major challenge I faced was trying to make an orchestral arrangement properly fit into a mix, without really taking a lot away from the vocals. For the longest time, I tried to figure out whether orchestral instruments need to be compressed in a mix. I ultimately decided against it, as dynamics are quite important as far as orchestral instruments go. That being said, there's never really a rule of thumb for any mixing techniques and that's something that I have eventually realized. Sometimes it's better to ride the fader into battle!

There are a lot of sample libraries and instruments like violins and cellos that sometimes end up taking a large chunk of the 5-10k spectrum of the frequency range in a track and that's somewhere the lower end of the vocals might end up sometimes. At the end of the day, if you can't hear it in a mix, it's probably not worth it to keep it around. There is of course the Fletcher-Munson curve that you have to learn to deal with. You can read more about it here. To put it in short, we all have a hearing bias and nobody has a perfectly flat perception of hearing.

As far as updates and progress goes, I managed to get my hands on a ton of books dealing with orchestration, something that I have been dabbling around with for a while, and I realize that it's important to learn how an actual orchestra sounds like to be able to emulate it well enough through samples and sample libraries, something that I will hopefully try to work some more on, in the future. (courtesy an enlightening conversation I had with an experienced musician on Skype)

Progress has been slow and time hasn't been plentiful primarily due to an exam on the horizon, but hopefully I will be able to put up a showreel/portfolio of a lot of my previous work in a few weeks. Stay tuned for that. Also being the gear-head that I am, I managed to acquire new piece of gear, work with which I shall reveal in due time.

More exciting times ahead, Ciao.

Climax & Relapse

Often in life, you find yourself tackling situations and coming head-to-head with problems you never thought you would have to deal with in the first place. It's at time like these, you sit and try to look at life from different perspectives. Some of them show you the rosy picture, some don't. It's when I am trying to tackle such problems, I find myself running out of inspiration. I have been trying a lot of things to help me out with the creative process of making music. I seem to be running low on sleep, and its usually more productive than not

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The biggest challenge I faced during these two weeks was trying to formulate a point of climax. I like to think of a song as a story. There's the introduction, then there are a number of characters that come into the plot that add color to the story. There's chaos and there's drama. And finally there is always a twist that turns the entire plot upside down. In a lot of songs you find a buildup and finally a point where it all comes together and crashes down. For me, usually this point comes in between.

I am not a person that is used to thinking of songs as having a straightforward structure. I have struggled a lot in the past trying to follow a strict formula, but it always gets boring when there is a set structure. I believe music is free and it should flow the way it comes out. I feel that crafting and modifying it to follow a certain structure is akin to betraying the original spirit of the song.

It is nothing but ironic though, that a certain mistake I made while I was tweaking the reverb settings of a certain drum part, ended up forming part of the climax. A 'breathy' effect, you could call it.

I'm really trying to not give away a lot here. But it is really hard as a musician to control your excitement when you work hard on something and it ends up sounding good to your ears.

I realize that some of the best things in life are caused by unexpected things. Something that could fit in with the state of my life right about now as well. I would say nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. But what matters is learning from your past experiences and growing into a better person rather than lingering on the bad parts.

Earlier this week, I lost a couple of opportunities due to minor differences. I also ended up parting ways with my band Ebonix permanently, something that I had hoped would not happen maybe a year ago. but it seems like your needs and what you want from life changes as time passes by. While somewhere along the line, I had hoped things wouldn't come to the stage where differences became irreconcilable, but I realize that it had to happen sooner and later. Hard decisions have to be made when they are required. We all need to let go and move on. Maybe better things lie ahead. I plan to continue working on music on my own.

The only conclusion I can draw is, you have to keep moving in life. You have to keep hunting for opportunities and look for the silver lining in every dark cloud. All I know is making music is what I love, and I will continue regardless of any setback I come across.

The Bigger Picture

During the course of my musical exploration over the past few years, I have realized that learning new things and concepts can be testing and quite unique in the terms of challenges it poses in front of you. But sometimes taking the risk and the prospect of going a mile in an unknown direction can be both rewarding, and confusing.

I spent some time off and went to Pune a couple of weeks ago, looking for interesting opportunities and experiences. While being there helped me think a bit more clearly about which direction my music has been going, I still haven't yet completely figured it out. So I have decided to take some time to contemplate and focus a bit more on projects other than Ebonix for now. While there is no dearth of ideas or concepts in my head, there is still the need to separate the stones from the diamonds.

I find music I'm making these days seems to be more gothic-influenced and there seem to be darker tones. I've been listening to a lot of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. Perhaps I shall arrive at the smack middle of an industrial, electroclash witch-house sound and ambient music with a few orchestral elements. A hint of psychedelia always works for me too. There's often so many different directions one piece of music can take, I find myself going in tangents and circles. Then before I know it, I'm back to square one.

 
 

This tends to get worse when I'm trying to work on several tracks and they're all from completely genres. It's complete and utter chaos. I hope that I could work on one track for extended periods of time but it seems to me like the longer I work on something at one go, the more ideas get dispersed. Hmm, maybe I just need a timetable for the month. But that's the problematic thing about ideas. They come at always the wrong time. Sigh.

I suppose workflow is very important when you're trying to work on something creatively. The process you use does have an impact on the kind of music you're making somewhere along the line.

 Hence, I try all kinds of combination these days. having coffee before working. Writing this blog after an intense music-making session. Everything helps when you're a little free to do things at your own pace and speed. Something, I suppose isn't present there as much when you're working with a band.

While I have been on a creative standstill for a while, I find ideas coming to me again, something that probably wasn't there a couple of weeks ago. But it's even harder to finish a half-done idea than to make one in the first place. I'm trying to look at it from an opportunist perspective. A half-full glass always looks better than empty one inside your head.

Trying to look at the bigger picture for once.

Two steps forward, one step back.

Losing the Plot

Summer has set in, and it has become comfortable again, to sit under a fan and contemplate about ideas and where they can take me. No summer's complete without taking a plunge inside a swimming pool, though. I'm still wondering when I'll take one. It's all about time and it seems like I don't have a lot these days.

I find myself in a different city now. Tracing patterns, trying to find new avenues and opportunities. I feel like a rabbit in a new maze altogether. Picking one at a time, Eliminating them all by trial-and-error. Well, somebody's gotta do it right? Sometimes you have to completely lose the plot altogether to find it again. Ah, the ways of life.

The city of Pune situated in the state of Maharashtra is an interesting place to explore, if you have the time of course. Mainly cited as a 'student town', it is a vibrant city and you find all sorts of people walking and bustling around the streets till the wee hours of the night. As far as food goes, my experiences so far have not been very experimental. Two days is not a lot of time to explore this place.

The plot of how I reached here is not that interesting either. Let's just say I decided some new place would be great to recollect my ideas and thoughts while at the same time taking a break from my daily routine. Flights were booked suddenly and I was abruptly sent off for a couple of days not just to chill, but to 'explore opportunities' as I slyly told myself. Not of much use, unfortunately.

I have been experiencing creative breaks for a while, but it's amazing what a few days of fresh air and exploration can do to your mind. I suddenly find myself longing for home and its familiarity while I sit and sculpt out a few musical ideas. I don't have a keyboard. Only me and the computer. It's a new formula I'm trying, drawing things on a piano roll. I am already starting to see things develop creatively again. Hopefully the inspiration will stay with me as I head back tomorrow evening.