glitch

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
 
 

Behind the Mirror

As I find myself feeling a little hung over after managing to barely wake up at 5 pm, I can't help thinking about the crazy, crazy gig I played with Ebonix last night. I don't really like following routine so I have been putting off writing this post for a while, primarily because I don't want this blog to turn into a primarily gig-related blog. But nonetheless, I shall talk about it a while.

I have often looked at the kind of unmarked line that exists between the audience and the musician/performer at live venues with a sort of disdain and curiosity. What if someday, the musician turns into the audience and vice-versa? What if there were no artists as per se, but only people doing abstract random things and the same people watching each other? Wouldn't it be more interesting?

Back at the gig at Matchbox, HKV, things moved pretty smooth. Happening at a venue we had never played before, it is always exciting to go to new places, figuratively and literally. The rest of it, was pretty much routine. The typical soundcheck peppered by the odd setup question and figuring out how the sound setup was going to work with the band. Hurling and moving around of gear, trying to find space and so on. Stages in Delhi, are pretty much usually quite cramped and you tend to get used to adjusting yourself according to space limitations.

As the night progressed and the other bands playing with us settled in, getting their soundcheck in order, we hung around Hauz Khas chilling, talking and discussing band strategies. The street art around that area is nothing short of amazing. with some artworks stretched out over buildings three stories long. It was nothing short of mind-blowing to look at them and be generally awed.

The gig went pretty spot-on. No major glitches or fuck-ups were noticeable as such. Probably was one of our tightest sets till date. It was a good crowd to play to. They seemed receptive and it really is a good feeling when music you've put years into gets an audience that likes and appreciates your work.

There was of course the odd fear I had of my laptop falling down as it was literally perched on top of a stand at the edge. But somehow, it fared well. There was no catastrophe, only fun.

A gig well done, makes for a good week. An interesting couple of new projects are in the works. I'm still trying to get them off the ground. But inspiration can be a hard nut to crack when you have so much going on in your life simultaneously. The situation behind the mirror is always a lot different than what it seems like, on the front. It will happen, sooner or later. Fingers crossed. Just need that one bright idea to get things going.

Guess I'll just sleep on it.

Building Cities

Shaping and creating sounds is like an art. Much like the art of building a city, A city of sounds. There is never only one plan. There is never a perfect one, either. It is a human process. You make mistakes, you learn. You take the good, throw away the bad. Then you build another layer on top of that. There's foundation and architecture.

Then there's landscaping. If you build only roads and forget necessities, your town is going to be messed up. People won't turn up to live in your city if it's full of beautiful scenic places but has small and shitty houses. You always need the right balance. You can always skew it a bit left or right, to add the human touch. But if one extreme is absent, you risk making the whole structure fall apart to chaos and uncertainty.

I hope you get the analogy. It matters to see everything in perspective when you're working on a project. It might take a few minutes and a cup of coffee or three 17-hour sleep days to get that golden idea or unique concept in your head, but at the end of it all, Believe me. It is the only thing shining through like a light throughout your city when you're done. The golden idea. The concept. Art can only go so far without a concept. Because truth is, you need a concept to sell your art, to make it bankable and establish a value of trust, money and time with it. It is what makes you legit.

As with any musician/artist, there are always influences. Mine, particularly for this score was the score for 'The Social Network' by Trent Reznor. I saw a lot of parallels in terms of theme and subject matter. There were a lot of 'smarts' involved. While I could've absorbed much more from the influence, I didn't want it to overwhelm the sonic picture I was painting for this game in particular.

The score began with the dominating motif on xylophones and a slow percussion and as the score progressed different melodies and elements just melted into each other. There was transformation and evolution. There was a certain 'catch' to the whole score. It was not long. Five tracks that clocked not more than a minute and a half. You need a certain tact to make scores short and concise and I, in particular have a bad habit of making tracks really long and I usually suffer because of it. I have to go back and shorten it, always.

It was not an easy task to create different melodies and chord progressions in such a way that they all had a different 'sonic signature' but somehow came together effortlessly as if made for each other. Creating sound, is indeed the art of making the impossible, possible.

As I finished the score and sat listening to the almost six-minute track on my home studio monitors, I was quite happy. I had tried endlessly for days to challenge myself and create something that was unique, organic in the beginning. Not just that, it transformed into something different and that was something I had never expected. In a good way, of course.

Time to play Bioshock again.