influences

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.

 
 

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.

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.

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.

The Roots

As another year passes me by, it seems like only yesterday my journey into the world of music had begun. Yesterday being Holi, I realised how remarkable my Holi was last year when I was working on a project that combined all sorts of noises into a background score track. At times like these, you cant help but get nostalgic and wonder how it all begun, whether you would have done anything differently or what would have happened had you not gone down certain paths. I find myself listening to songs and revisiting ideas that got me interested in music in the first place.

When I was about 11 years old, my first interaction with music that seemed interesting was rap music. My sister used to record mixtapes from the radio and dance to them, and one day I wondered into her practice room just to listen to music and 'Without Me' by Eminem started playing. What immediately attracted my attention was the fact that how everything was so brilliantly syncopated rhythmically while Eminem rapped and it sounded fun. An eventual connection with rap music developed over the next couple of years and I became a huge Eminem fan.

That was of course before the teenage years struck and my first contact with genres like Nu-Metal happened. While I very strongly rejected that genre of music the first time I heard 'Hybrid Theory' by Linkin Park, I started liking it as I kept listening to it. And that is where the power of groove lies. If your music is groovy and keeps the listener interested, you've done 95% of your job as a musician.

 
 

Forwarding to present day, I've spent the entire day doing nothing more than writing an article, and figuring out how to play the samples/fx for One Step Closer by Linkin Park. Apparently old habits die hard. A friend called, one thing led to the other and turns out I'm doing the FX/Samples for a few of the songs being played at a Nu Metal Cover night being held at Turquoise Cottage, a nearby gig hotspot. 

Talking to a friend, I realised I feel like DJ Hahn and I hysterically kept laughing for about ten minutes. The reason? I don't know. I don't think I've ever seen myself as a DJ person in strict sense of the word. I think the word DJ has been bastardized, ruined and completely destroyed by the present culture where it can mean a variety of things and not all of them might be good.

Reminds me of the rather cringe-worthy cover of Somewhere I Belong I did 6-7 years ago when I used to actually be a rap fan, not anymore though. But I realise that roots, the crazy thing about them is once they grow, they're set in stone. You can't move them. You could always create a new tree. But that weird pull will always stay there like a sour first-relationship gone bad.

Oh, and more APC 40 goodness coming your way this Sunday, woooot.

Tackling Issues

As a guy who's just put a couple of steps into the proverbial ocean of what is known as producing metal music, I've realized programming drums is a real pain in the arse (and mixing as well, lest I forget) I know some people who are pretty good at getting rhythms and writing them down on a drum roll. But, I'm not one of those people. My drumming abilities have always been noobish to say the least. And that's where the setup helped. I had MIDI hooked up to the computer and fortunately, the drummer was kind enough to tap that stuff down on the keys. Things became a little easier from there onwards.

My euphoria was short-lived unfortunately, as half-way through programming drums, we realized it was taking too much time and we decided to skip to the guitars. Brutal heaviness called. And I would be an idiot to not pick up the phone-call.
Guitar tracking followed, with nothing except the click at the back.This was also around the time that I figured it was not such a great idea.
Guitarists get sloppy when they just have a click. Lesson learnt.
Lesson #2 - Two takes are never enough for a clean guitar part. Especially when they're both messed up.
Lesson #3 - Editing guitars on the go > Editing later
Layers upon layers of guitars were stacked up on top of each other. Not all as good as you might think. Recording four takes of everything always helps.
Lesson #4 - The more guitars, the greater the awesome

When you're a band coming in to record your song. How tight you play pretty much defines the producer's scale of happiness. When the guitar's tight as fuck, everything eventually follows, but it's always slippery ground, when a guitarist's having a bad time with the click. I'm pretty sure most of them are like that. Nonetheless, after some incessant chatter, chips and lunch, we got back to the beast that was recording guitars. And it was almost like nothing was on time at some places. And some places seemed to have made it to the foundation stages.  And of course, everybody loves a tight band. Like this one I just came across below. What a guitar sound. I think I'm in love. Not that it's metal but nonetheless, A defined guitar sound is always a good sound, I guess.

 
 

Coming back to point, Bass tracking followed soon. It took about an hour. Which paled in comparison to the fact that guitars probably took about 5-6 hours. Then came the part where I tracked cookie monster vocals. It was my first time not recording clean vocals, so frankly I was kind of curious how I would approach it in mixing, but things turned out pretty fine in the end, I guess. Experimented with a lot of tricks like pitch shifting and parallel processing. FUNFUNFUN. Sidenote - Need to get myself a good dynamic mic soon. Gear updates soon, who knows. Woooo.

Not surprisingly, the first thing I did once recording got finished was go and grab a plate of momos / dimsum from the street vendor outside. Ah, the taste of victory. Jubilating.

Diffusing Timebombs

Back to real life, and repetition.

As I sit and give some thought to what I was doing the past week amid the chaos and repetition of an NIN album from 2005 playing in the background, I have realized quite a few things. One of them primarily being  that mixing, recording and producing a song is like diffusing a time bomb. Especially when its not your own. You know you're handling a bomb when there's a sweat on your brow and you're fidgety as fuck about everything. Green wire? Red wire? Do you create a bypass circuit. Do you try hacking digitally? There are millions of way you can go about it, to be honest. But what really defines whether the song is going to explode or not is what decision you take. 

To be frank, that's always too much power in one person's hand. And like I said before. More power, more responsibility. The fact that one small line you draw on the automation of a track on a Cubase can make or break someone else's career is heavily scary, empowering and kind of, a buzz-kill. But still, you try to do your best, always. Sometimes you succeed.

Back on Sunday, I recorded a metal band called Requisition. It was a whole day affair. I don't really have an extensive setup, just standard stuff. Think DIY Bedroom Producer stuff. A couple of 57's, A condenser, etc etc. One thing I do have figured out though, is setting up right is being halfway there. I woke up early, took my stuff upstairs and fortunately, there were no delays. The band came, recording begun immediately.

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.

In Splinters

Now that I was done burning it all up through the movie climax, I decided having a little reflection and sobering the score up would probably be a good idea. Ever since the first day I started working on the music score for this movie, I was told there needed to be a track in the end which perpetuates loss.

 

One of the examples I was given for the ending music. It was full of vocal laments and melodies

 

I was given a few examples, and I really took to them. Heard them a few times before finally figuring out which direction the last track would go in. It was very hard getting the end right as I used a lot of vocal samples, and there's always the problem of making them sit and be comfortable inside a mix is that much harder, not to mention the ever-persistent scale problems.

I finally finished another movie score, after two weeks of intensive working and prying out the sonic innards of every single track I made, and constantly going back-and-forth through them. Even though there are still a few loose ends to tie, like the one track where the protagonist and his love interest drive through a deserted road, and things get all intense and wishy-washy. Still have to sort that out.

But then, again work on music is always never-ending. It's like golf. You can always get better and there's always scope for improvement.

Signing off.

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.

Keeping It Classy

Now you see, jazz and action music is all good, but for a score to be really good, you need to have class. You always need something traditional and orchestral (in a subtle way if not all-out every time). There needs to be something heavy just to fill up the giant space of a movie filling up an entire screen. There needs to be character and a sense of epic larger-than-life sound.

That's what I set to achieve when I started to work on what I called 'Moonlight Nocturne I'. It was an entire track on the piano with an orchestral undertone. It was supposed to provide the background for the scene where the protagonist and his love interest are under the moon gazing up at the stars.
 

Things were a little romantic. Nothing expresses romantic better than the classical 'Nocturne'. A song about the night. There was a sense of longing and everlasting love in that song. Something that personally moved me a lot. You need depth in music. There needs to be weight. A sense of something dragging you, when you're watching an intense movie and I believe that was the driving force in this part of the score.

Another track with classical influences in the score was of an intense, ambient nature with the piano being played extremely low, in fact so low there was a certain ring that accompanied it after it went through some customised processing, which even though being purely accidental at first seemed to fit the mood quite perfectly. Otherwise the track didn't have much of anything else except an ambience that reminded me of the claustrophobic feeling one experiences inside an elevator and uncannily reminded me of 'The Shining'.

Time to go on a Stanley Kubrick marathon again. Woooo.

 
 

The Lighter Parts

There is always, a defining moment for every music score, an apex. A point of climax where everything that you've come to know through it is questioned and you know you're at the zenith of all that the movie stands for. To reach that point one has to take into consideration every shaping element in a movie and experience it objectively through your own eyes. This movie in particular has an entire domain that constitutes what I call 'The Sum of Lighter Parts'.

What is that, you ask? Of course like any other movie, there is drama, action and suspense. But what really defines it and really set it apart are the light moments, that in their unique way shine light towards human nature and what its really like to be human and alive between trials and tribulations. To see the happier side.

There are about two-three tracks that I plan to keep on the lighter side. And their placements are just crazy. While one is sandwiched right between the main theme and a really sombre piece of music, the other one was right before a romantic sequence.

I think the more fun I had was probably on the first one. I called it 'Downtown Shuffle (Munchies)'. Munchies, yes. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was probably just the guy running around a supermarket trying to figure his shit out. I made a hunch and figured he must have his headphones on, and made the music in such a way that it faded in from the crowd ambience like a low-pass filter with a subtle radio effect.

I think I've established already that the sound needs to be more jazz-centric in most places. Of course the action sequences ae exceptions to everything. I really had quite a ball composing Munchies. It was like a fun 2-minute jazz-rock track which sounded like a band just having a lil' bit of fun.

 
 

Then there was the other track, where I think I took the jazz-influence a little too far. It mostly had me playing some very complex chords on the piano. I tried making the piano go through a lot of processing but I guess it came out unique in the end. It was quite a unique electric-meets-boxy effect. 

I think this track came in at a perfect time where all the action and the drama has the viewer quite saturated, and things just go easy on you for a while. There's a synth-line going in the background and then the xylophone adds a nice playful touch before the jazz-piano chords kick in. It was a like nice evening in Hawaii.

I think the jazz influence is something I won't be able to shake off for a while.

Time for food.

 
 

Dreamscaping

It's been about 13 hours and I've been working straight-up on the next track for the film score. It's a song that deals with the somehow-uneasy experience the protagonist has trying to get some sleep. Something I can quite relate to at the moment.

I needed something central and very traditional in-between all the spooky stuff and beats going on. Something orchestral, and a little dark at the same time. I concocted some string arrangements over a piano piece that I recorded at my home. The layers were, to be frank absolutely ridiculous. There were atleast a thousand different string and orchestral sounds I must have gone through before coming across a few right ones.

I proceeded to arrange them after recording the basses, the violas and cellos followed by other orchestral sounds to create an entire bed of ambience going on underneath the entire orchestral arrangement. Even though the order doesn't seem to matter as much since I just use a keyboard through MIDI to record most of the sounds. But still, I wanted to keep it as traditional as possible.

 
 
 

Since I am composing for a movie, there are times when you realise silence has its own space and it is required, at times to provide space to the film sounds and dialogue. There was once again the itching need to have something dissonant across the domain of the entire song. I decided to use an orchestral bass sound constantly bending upwards and back from the root note, a decision I realised later, would do miles in terms of the kind of sound the entire score would have.

There was of course still the giant question mark on the ending, which even though seemed to be fitting I didn't quite like. But sometimes that's what you have to do when you're working on music. Even though there are times you're not satisfied with things, you learn to live with it owing to time constraints among several other things. That's music. That's life.

 

The music score for the movie 'Inception' by Hans Zimmer is something I always look upto as a benchmark of how grandiose a score should ideally be.

 

Beats and Scares

And we're off to the latter half of the giant 50-minute movie I'm supposed to be scoring. And, well what can I say, It's weird how as soon as you approach the 60-70% completed mark of a score, you find yourself wondering how much more longer it's going to take, especially when you're working on a tight deadline.

Then there's another elementary question, How much of the score should actually have a beat, if any at all? There's like a million questions in my head about the music, but the sad part of it is, I have nobody but myself to answer them for me. And then there's the scary quotient. How much is too scary, how much isn't enough?!

It's in the middle of this entire vortex of chaotic questions and doubts, that I ploughed through another couple of tracks last night for the movie score. They were mostly ambient tracks with not really a lot going for them but nonetheless, I managed to create something decent out of those ideas.

There was more artificial modulation of sounds to make them sound like something else than they were originally. Like door creaks and animal growls being pitch and time-shifted to shit just to make them feel like they were in tempo and scale. Crazy engineering stuff.

 
 
 

And of course sudden orchestral stabs. Stabs. Stabs. Stabs. People dig those sudden stab sounds. when there's a closet opening or a door closing. I live for that scare. Ah, so delightful when you're the one causing it instead of receiving it for a change.

Above: A really scary scene from one of my favourite horror movies 'Drag Me to Hell'. I felt the detail and texture provided to sound-design throughout the movie quite mind-blowing.

Influences : The Good and The Ugly

I have realised there have been quite a few influences that have shaped and changed how I approach making music for a film. Yesterday night while I was going through the usual sources to get my hands on new music, I came across a playlist on a website 8tracks. It had this playlist with really old creepy folk songs. 

There was this one song that stood out from that playlist, in particular that used a lot of harpsichord and there was this drone in the background whose pitch kept bending up and down. I never quite managed to find that song, but I thought it really did a good job of creating an eerie ambience.

Below: A similar mix to the one I heard on 8tracks to give me inspiration. It has a doomy folk feeling to it.

 

I set out to make something similar as a skeleton for a dreamy sequence about a bathroom in the movie I was working on. An important aspect when you're working on music for a film is the fact that it's not just about music or ambience, it's the sound as well. For example, I made it a point to incorporate the sound of tap water or maybe just water pouring down on a floor, so that the person listening/watching the film can actually relate it to. Sometimes it's all about the realism.

The track ended up sounding quite creepy and dissonant as well. I took some white noise, processed it and EQ'd it a bit and used it as a snare, It was quite an interesting thing to do, because it interacted so well with the rest of the track, I decided to keep it. I also decided to deliberately incorporate some vinyl crackles just to add a little dirt. Dirty is good, sometimes.

 
 

 

'Don't Be Afraid of The Dark', a horror movie released back in 1973 served as one of the inspirations for the movie score I was working on.

Another cool thing that I tried doing was I really turned down the kick a few notches, so there were times when all you could hear was the snare which created interesting audio illusions that there was a kick when actually there wouldn't be one at places.

I've also been using a lot of Reason to create soundscapes and ambient layers for this score in particular, and I think it sort of, shows that all those sounds were quite experimental, when you listen to them.

And I'm off to a break now.

Drumming Up.

Its been a couple of days since I started working on the movie score and there seems to be quite a lot of progress, in terms of ideas and the fleshing out of concepts. I had a talk with the producer, and one of the few pivotal points that he thought seemed to be crucial about the movie are a couple of opening sequences, one of which seems to be closer to an action sequence with a sense of chaos and urgency to it, rather than traditional horror.
 

 
 

The Perfect Drug', OST of the movie 'Lost highway' is one of my favourite NIN songs.

I have been digging through my influences to find something I could adapt in a more movie-friendly way. I checked out a few movies while I was at it and one of the movies that really hit home was 'Lost Highway', a movie that used a few Nine Inch Nails songs. I'm a huge NIN fan and I particularly seemed to like that NIN era where Trent Reznor experimented a lot with drum-step and electronic drum-breaks. So, yeah sped-up drum loops certainly felt like the steal of the day.

I also, ended up incorporating a little-bit of good ol' synth just to add that jagged edge of modernity to the mix. And there's just this point where the whole track just explodes into a chaotic rumble. I would say it sounds a little bit Fight Club-influenced as well even though I still haven't seen that movie.

Note to self : Watch. Fight Club.

 

Tyler (Brad Pitt) convinces The Narrator (Edward Norton) to hit him as hard as he can.