avant garde

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. 

The Sound of Chaos

More months, more monotony. I keep doing some work or the other to keep myself busy. I believe its essential to keep changing, and keep finding new avenues to test and challenge yourself and your abilities. While there has been the occasional advertisement, trailer or promotional video I keep getting to make music for, at the studio. Been rarely anything the last couple of months that really piqued my interest in terms of concept, or art in film.

About a month ago, I got a message from one of those students at National Institute of Fashion Technology whose movie's music I worked on a few months ago. She told me there was an interesting project that some of her friends were working on. It was a documentary about a deaf and mute wrestler, and they wanted somebody who was good at sound design.

I got in touch with these people, and met them a few days later near the studio I worked in. They asked me to have some chai with them while they discussed the idea and introduced me to it. The movie was supposed to be called 'Goonga Pehelwaan'. While I had gone there with some skepticism, it seemed that they had elaborate sketches and storyboards with them, which showed exactly what they wanted. They sounded professional.

I decided to take them up on the offer, since it was quite an interesting one. They told me they had sounds of all kinds of daily activities and articles like a guy riding a bike, somebody tearing up paper, brooms, candles, papers, trains, roads, phones and basically every sound under the sky and they wanted me to arrange them all in such a way that things went from systematic to chaotic.

The main concept of the whole track would be the fact that the person can only hear, not see, speak or talk. They were of course very particular about the sounds they wanted so they decided they'd record the sounds themselves and send them to me to arrange and make a track out of.

 
 

I spent a lot of time working on the track. I think it almost took me a week to salvage an arrangement out of all the sounds they sent. There were about a couple hundred of them, roughly. Lots of times, the sounds wouldn't be in the same format or not be clearly recorded. I'd end up replacing a lot of them with clearer samples or worse, trying to restore them.

It was a gruelling and mind-numbing experience for me. Working on half a minute of audio for two weeks is no joke, period. I kept putting layers upon layers of all these samples that started almost at a four-bar beat but ended up being like a cacophony.

Now, even with cacophony there are rules. That's something I realised while working on the track. I could have haphazardly arranged all the samples in a way that it would actually 'sound' like cacophony, but the art of sound design is understanding the unspoken. I realised what they really wanted was not actually cacophony but a more refined form of cacophony, something that would exude logic and be sophisticated at the same time make no compromises with noise.

Two of my favourite samples throughout the lot was the train sample and another sample of cars passing by that I EQ'd such that the honking and the city ambience would be more prominent. Making certain sounds prominent and making some duck around and provide a framework is what made the track tick, I suppose.

Later, when I saw the finished video, I liked the way they used the various frames of video and combined them to create a something visually stimulating as well as something that would give the viewer something to think about. You can also check their website out at www.goongapehelwaan.com

Time to get some coffee, I suppose.

 
 

Whipping Up a Fire

The good thing about movie climaxes is, you can't really ever take feeling out of the equation. It matters so much, It makes and breaks the heart of the movie. If things were okay all the time in a movie, it wouldn't really be a film worth talking about. It pays off to kill and destroy, than maintain sanctity and your goodie-two shoes. It's always a great idea to whip up a fire.

There's a scene in the movie where the climax is almost being set up, and you get a hint of the twist the first time, and to say the least its quite heartbreaking. I needed a track that gave off pure unadulterated emotion. Something that would portray that terrible feeling you get when you're almost choking from the inside and you don't really know what to do.

Now, I didn't have an awful lot of tools at the moment, so I tried modulating sounds to arrive at that place sonically. I made strings go through flangers and ring phasers, and the outcome was, to understate it 'amazing'. A large part of the movie had things going on in secret, and there's this subtle underlying percussion that runs throughout the score, which kind of mirrors that thread of the story.

 

The Social Network soundtrack has always been quite an influence on my sound. A lot of sound modulation I did on movie scores was a direct consequence of that.

 

I've come to realise, you can recreate sounds, you can recreate compositions. But one thing you can never do is recreate a feeling, not in the same way anyway. That's another thing that really makes me even more curious about film-scoring. There are a million ways to do the same thing, and yet you have to be very careful with your methods.

In the meanwhile, I finished up the pre-climax and moved into the domain of the actual climax. And you know how climaxes are. Everything needs to burn and die. You have to do the equivalent of killing your audience sonically and emotionally. Make it feel like nothing is ever going to be the same again. Chaos and anarchy is the name of the game.

I spent a lot of time thinking what the darker and angrier emotions of mankind would sound like. I ended up using a groovebox-like VST that gave me some interesting rhythm percussion. I fiddled around with it, changing and modulating elements, shifting their placement and making things a little more primal. It still sounded a little too refined. I basically destroyed it.

I made the entire groove go through so much distortion you probably couldn't tell it from a washing machine, and I parallel-processed with the clean signal, and faded the clean signal out as things got messier and darker. It was a good idea. And then there was this point of explosion where basically, you could feel everything burning inside, as well as outside. Even though it was the messiest part of the score, it was the probably the most brutal part of the movie, and you really want the audience to feel that.

..Aaand that's the story of how I almost destroyed the climax of a movie.