collaboration

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.

 
 
 
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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.

 
 

Stasis

..aaaaand we're back.
Been six shaky months since I updated this blog. Sans redesigning the website, not much has changed. I would say I have been in a state of stasis. Think of it as a standstill at the crossroads of life, where I was weighing my options. Call it a bet with the devil, a game of chess with the universe or maybe tracing a map if you will.

That changed pretty much last week, when I finally decided to work on some of my own music, brand new stuff. (no spoilers yet). You see, making music isn't really like a tap of water. You can't turn it off or on whenever you want, It just sort of happens when it does. In the meanwhile, life happens. You learn to schedule and mould your life around seemingly random bursts of ideas, concepts and thoughts in your head. Sometimes it leads to magic, sometimes it just not enough.

I'm writing this as I slowly try and burst out of my creative block, I wonder what I could equate with that feeling of inspiration without alienating my fellow readers, however small the count maybe at the moment. Chips! Yes, it's like a bag of chips. So many of them in a bag. they're all the same but they're all err, tasty. Maybe not to the odd diet-conscious anorexic, but you get the drift.

Putting rants aside, I've started work on a band's song that I recorded the past weekend in addition to some more interesting ideas/projects that lie ahead this month. This one's sounding pretty heavy as fuck at the moment. I'm thinking Jambi meets Kyuss? Another two days full of hard work ought to do the trick. Time's ticking.

Tick Tock.

Ciao civilization, for a while.

GAMETYM!

One of my cooler hobbies when I'm not playing music or writing or maintaining blogs is to play games. I just recently finished Bioshock : Infinite and Crysis 3. I love to shoot stuff. First-Person Shooter Games are my second love. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I like chip-tune influenced music as well.

I recently joined an experimental/progressive metal band called Heisenberg as a full-time keyboardist. We jammed more than a couple of times and things just sort of, fit together. Even though it's just been a couple of months playing with Heisenberg, The energy and the vibe is incredible. The band has some incredibly talented people.

Somewhere around early October this year, I got a mail from Heisenberg's drummer Dipan Das. He had been working on an original composition on his own. He thought it would be a good idea to share it with us all. I heard the track a couple of time, and the guitars sounded pretty well done. The drums sounded pretty good too.

 
 

Now, having the creative itch that I have to work on almost anything interesting that comes my way, I decided to try working on keyboard stems for the track. I had recently got myself a copy of Logic Pro X and just upgraded my Mac to Snow Leopard and I figured it would be a nice way to test out the system.

What I ended up inadvertently playing on the track were a lot of chiptune sounds. There was also a lot of the trademark ambient sounds, something that I tend to do a lot, the main reason for which is the fact that Porcupine Tree has always been a huge influence on me.

As if the bundling up of chiptune with ambient sounds wasn't enough, the last section of the track had a very heavy breakdown-ish rhythm to it. I was at a point of confusion again and I decided to experiment a bit more and used saxophone sounds to make something like an improvised saxophone solo. It was a really interesting track to work on, and I still keep going back to the track just for the chiptune

 
 

Heisenberg is no stranger to the chiptune genre either. I would not be lying when I say Aishwarya Uniyal, the band's guitarist was probably the guy that got me into it and it seems like a really interesting genre. Heisenberg has released 8-bit versions of all their songs, something that's really unique and unheard of, in the scene. Something that makes me praise the band even more.

I have also been doing lots of interesting sounds on the Heisenberg songs and they all have fresh makeovers, which makes me look forward to the band's next jam. There's everything ranging from dubstep to chiptune to Electronic loops, and it's crazy.

Crazy is good. Right?

 
 

Reimaginations: The Art

A few months ago, while I was still in the middle of recording my solo remix EP 'Reimaginations of a Different Universe', I realised the album needed some strong visuals and art to complement it. I tried getting in touch with a lot of different people who were into creating artwork and visuals for album covers. While some people were ridiculously amazing at what they did, They required much more in terms of money and time than I could have afforded, and since it was a small debut effort and not a full blown album, things were even more difficult to sort out.

I set out to look for somebody who could really create artwork the way I was imagining it in my head. One night while going through random Facebook profiles, I happened across Shrey Kathuria's profile. We had previously collaborated together when he wanted to get his vocal cover recorded, I realised it was a good time to ask for his help and aid.

 
 

Next day, I discussed some minor details with Shrey over Facebook and he seemed willing to try working on the artwork over the course of a few weeks. I gave him a few guidelines about the kind of artwork I wanted. It had to be colourful and there needed to be a giant eye smack in the centre. Even though initially, I thought a spider or an animal would have looked better, After talking and having long discussions stretching over a few days, I realised I needed something like a three-headed face.

Another interesting point to note about the artwork for Reimaginations was that the first idea I had regarding the artwork was drastically different than the one we eventually gravitated towards using. I thought a little futuristic theme could have been a little fitting as well, but that idea did not work out well in particular.

Below: Influences

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The futuristic idea came into my head from the fact that the entire album had mostly re-workings of earlier songs and giving it a futuristic avatar would be nice, primarily because I heard the 'Reanimation' album by Linkin Park when I was a kid and as much as you move away from your first influences as you grow up and change, I feel that there is always a small part of you that clings to things you liked when you were a kid regardless of how much it is frowned down upon or not taken seriously in the 'grown up' world.

There were plenty of directions and avenues the artwork could have eventually moved towards, but I'm glad it moved towards the direction it did, and for that I'm quite thankful for all the advice and help Shrey Kathuria provided me with. It's always nice when a fellow musician pitches in and helps you work out things you would otherwise have a very hard time figuring out.

Creative people are awesome. end of story.

 
 

Looking to The Skies

Ever since the dawn of mankind, man has been looking up to the skies for everything ranging from inspiration and direction to meditation and as part and parcel of a sense of curiosity. I tend to think it is ingrained somewhere deep in the very fabric of us all. To look at something deeper and much more larger than us and feel content with the mysteries of the universe.

It's with a similar feeling I started working on another track with friend and collaborator Aishwarya. It started once again, the usual way. I played a piano rhythm track on top of an electronic beat and sent it to him. What he created on top of that was pretty huge. He sent me back about 40 stems if I remember correctly, and it was absolutely mental going through all of them.

What I love about collaborating with other musicians is the fact that sometimes you create something that you feels vibrates from the essence of your being, and they will take it and make it their own instead. It's exchange of ideas that goes way beyond all the artificial ties and friendships we all have. It's something so untainted, so true. The fact that it exists is what makes you want to go on making music. It's the feeling you live for, as a musician.

As days and weeks passed by, I slowly ploughed through each one of them, EQ'ing, mixing and compressing them, shaping and moulding what the building blocks of the track were. Lots of times, some things wouldn't fit the way he arranged it so I would flip it around, add a couple of effects and try something new. It's always good to progress and evolve. That's what music is for me, a whirlwind of constant change.

Ultimately after about a couple of months, and some added feedback by Uniyal, I put this track up on Soundcloud. And I realised there was something very spacey and other-worldly about this track. That feeling of being a kid and having an entire universe in front of you to explore and discover, that's the feeling I wanted to convey.

One doesn't have to always get old. You just have to stay true to your heart.

Time to watch a movie. About aliens.

 
 

The Crack.

Back in 2008, when I had just started fiddling with Fruity Loops, Some people I closely knew at the time were a few hip-hop producers and they were probably the first ones to give me advice and help me out while I was figuring it all out.

I used to listen to a lot of hip-hop when I was 10, and it seemed to be the easiest to start with, if I had to learn to produce and mix. I also collaborated with a few rappers in the next couple of years, I made beats and I feel that somehow, the experience influenced a part of my music.

 
 
 
 

Above : One of the several beats I made for hip-hop artists back in 2008

So imagine my surprise when, I realised that some of the people working on the short-movie were hip-hop fans as well. In the meanwhile, I came across a scene in a house, where you're not sure if there's somebody in there or not. I decided to bust out a beat.

While I laid out a skeleton of the track which consisted mostly, of just a beat in the beginning, I realised even though it was strong, it didn't seem to be making an impact. The 'crack' just wasn't there. Now, I'm an experimenter by nature, and I decided to layer the snare and put another two layers of snare sounds over it. One was boxy and the other one was the typical rock snare with a 'crack'.

Finally, when the percussion was in place. I thought a few electronic loops on top of that would do the trick, with the constant fade-ins and fade-outs. It did, but not completely and I proceeded with making some of them go through Guitar Rig just to add a little bit of grit and roughness.

Since, the scene wasn't entirely supposed to have just a mean attitude to it (which I think I managed to project decently enough), It was also supposed to be a little dark as things weren't as they seemed. I added strings and turned the second half into quite the scare.

Another track done. Proverbial Hi-five.