noise

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.

Expecting the Unexpected

Some humans are straightforward and upfront about what they want in life. They have a plan. "Let's do A. If it works out I'll be at B." - that's what they tell themselves. Planning down to the last second of what they're doing is what makes them feel more stable and more confident that the future will work out for them. And then there are some of us, who take life as it comes. it's always a bit of risk expecting the unexpected.

Last week on an early Sunday morning, I decided to try something new. I ventured out of the house alone without a destination in mind and I decided to take a portable recorder with me. Several hours passed away as I walked around the neighborhood through half-broken footpaths, past the sounds of cars driving by, chitter-chatter of random old people, and all kinds of random ambient noises I never realized existed before. What's better, I ended up in the middle of a sparse jungle.

An interesting thing I noticed was the fact that field recording is drastically different from recording something inside a studio. There is never only a single isolated sound when you're recording. there's always the odd bird chirping in the back or some unexpected ambient noise. It was interesting to try and make these unusual sounds add more character to what I was recording. Say, for example a dog barking in the back while I was sitting near a leaked pipe trying to record the sound of water.

Interesting ideas popped in my head later on while I was going through all these recordings and interestingly what happened later that day ended up sculpting in part, a new song idea. More about that later.

The Sound of Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

Time to get some coffee, I suppose.

 
 

Eerie or Weird?

'To be eerie or to be weird?' That is the question I'm asking myself while working on music for a horror film. While the occasional orchestral treatment is always there to get back to, what matters is how much one can push the boundaries in terms of whats acceptable as music, what's not.

A recurring theme throughout the score I'm working has been unusual percussion. While on one track I used white noise as percussion, in another I've used ethnic/african instruments like bongos and tablas. And then there's another that had sounds of decapitating heads, swords and animal howls (check out 'Cloak and Dagger' on my Soundcloud) I believe making music for film is all about creativity.

Now I know african instruments are not usually as wide spread as probably decapitating heads in horror movies, but it always helps to envision things from a different perspective and find the new in the old or vice-versa.

 
 
 
 

Part of how the african sound in that one track came about was a consequence of what happened yesterday. My film producer friend shared a snapshot of the 'monster' in the movie that sported a bird mask of sorts and was staring down from a flight of stairs.

The tribal mask seemed to give out a very ethnic and creepy voodoo vibe, so I went back to the basics. started with bongos, added orchestral percussion like bells and and odd sticks to the mix and a sitar pluck on top of it. It seemed almost like an african dance that was ritualistic. It was creepy.

Lots of times, I find it easy to start a track but much more difficult to end them. Now there is always the good ol' fade out or gradual muting of secondary elements to come back to the core, but I wanted something unique and eerie for that track in particular. I layered about twelve orchestral string sounds to once again create something very dissonant and Hitchcock-ish and to my surprise, it actually worked!