music composition

Countdown.

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

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

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

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

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

Time to pack and say my goodbyes for the week.

Abbey Road is going to be fucking legendary.

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

Ciao.

 
 

Climax & Relapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losing the Plot

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

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

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

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

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

Little Monsters, Giant Ideas

As work has progressed on music and sound design for Candy Catch (taking in to consideration my previous roadblock as well), things have managed to move pretty well. Making music for games is a little complex and takes a different kind of treatment than probably a movie or a video would.

You see, games are interactive. You push a button, move a control and suddenly the game is not the same anymore. There are different behaviours and patterns for every course of action that you take, and they constantly influence your position in the game. There are many more variables and constants than a movie would have, probably. Of course I'm not saying scoring for movies is easier, but it's different. I like to think of it as an a matrix of functions forming entire arrays that constantly interact and make changes in each other. It's like an orchestra of variables.

I predictably ended up making the Christmas theme track as a little bit of a derivative on the usual 'Jingle Bells' theme. I needed it to not look like straight up cut-and-paste debauchery, Hence a long process of constant refinement and modification of scales happened. It was an interesting thing to do. To sit with a bunch of scales and completely and utterly change the mood of an original track to suit your twisted needs. I felt like a butcher. It felt evil. It felt pretty good.

A musician's gotta do what he's gotta do. Even though the Christmas theme was not as subtle as I imagined it in my head, it fared fine as it was not the usual Christmas theme, there was something different. There were subtle elements of the halloween theme in there as well. Not as spooky though. Ah, the drastic difference a major into a minor and vice-versa can make to an entire song. Mind-blowing, to say the least.

After a snack break which consisted of binging on the usual potato chips and cookies, I got down to finally taking down the last brick in the wall, The opening song. Things seem much more easier once you're the past the two-track mark usually, and so it was. I had a giant folder full of half-recorded stems and elements from both the tracks. Some spooky, some sounded like Santa Claus himself.

There was more copy-cut-paste. Brutal modifications sufficed in extreme situations as well. I'm not the kind of guy who likes to hurry up with tracks and make them sound glued-together or disconnected. I hate that sort of thing. 1 am turned to 5 am and then afternoon, but the almost-done track was still not quite done yet. Even though most elements were borrowed from both tracks, I made sure I did a scale-change here and switched sounds here and there, just to give the track a refined touch. And now it's done. More cookies are in order.

God, I feel like a magician. Poof.

 
 

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.

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.

 
 

Something Uneasy

So, I finally got the script and it seems quite the part-dream part-reality psychological mind-fuck that I expected. But the twists are something that were completely unexpected.

Time to work on the the part of the movie before the credits sequence. There's something very uneasy about that part. Even though at the surface, everything seems to be normal. The darkness that seems to be looming throughout the movie over the protagonist has only started bubbling out.

 
 


Since this scene was based inside a room behind closed doors, I figured why not turn up the claustrophobia? I didn't want the background score to look too distracting and take over the setting and premise. But since I wanted it to look dark in a subtle sort of way to, I decided to create something minimal starting with a 3/4 Rhodes Piano loop over layers of drones.

What started off as a minimal beginning slowly builded up over the course of a few hours into a track that was only a couple of minutes long descending into an almost-Victorian waltz, but had a sense of black comedy to it. Since there didn't seem to be anything strictly horror-based, I decided to keep the creeps for later.