sound design

Combine\\Rewind

I have eventually come to the realization that as technology advances and almost everything becomes as easy as the click of a button, what is really going to matter is our personal experience. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I believe technology will bring people closer as opposed to keeping them away. Think about it, in a world full of Facebook feeds and endless Tumblr reposts, Would you put apart six hours from your daily schedule to meet a random stranger? Or would you use it to have a meaningful encounter with someone you know really well and would rather spend your quality time on? I think these questions are essential to understanding what our future environment will be.

Here are a few examples, people exchanging mixtapes internationally via real mail is actually witnessing an increase, more and more people have been buying music on vinyl for the past decade now, Bandcamp is popular than ever. I think it's important to see the trend here, and extrapolate it to what this trend will eventually lead to.

Recently, I found out about a platform known as FanHub that helps artists tailor and create their own Facebook Messenger bots for their artist page. I found this fascinating primarily because it goes really well with the idea that more and more music consumers are now open to ditching traditional ways of interacting with artists and accessing exclusive material than ever before, and this speaks volumes about how there is a shift in thinking of the current generation. Being a video game enthusiast, I couldn't help wondering about what would happen if somebody created an ARG (alternate-reality game) using only a Facebook messenger bot. I am pretty sure at this point that choosing to let people and possible fans engage with you personally via Messenger could perhaps be lot better in terms of reach. Sadly, the service that FanHub offered seemed to be a lot more time and effort than I could afford. Hence, over the next month or two, I shall try and figure out the Facebook Messenger API, and try developing my own bot. If it works, cool. If not, I'll bury it.

Moving on, plenty of news this month on the music and audio front. For one, I just recently finished working on the music for the Life in a Kilt podcast, which consisted of a mixture of genres as wide as rock and folk to glitch-hop and synthpop. Fun stuff. Earlier this October, a movie, 'Figure A' that I mixed sound for premiered at Cinesonika 5, a reputed film festival and conference that focuses exclusively on sound design and music for films and visual media. It happened for the first time in the United States and I was super stoked to know that happened. You can check out the trailer here.

 
 

In the meanwhile, I am continuing to work on music for several games and a couple of short films, and it seems to be quite the testing task with work, slightly increasing in the music space, but not to be underwhelmed by that, I have taken some time off that to better update my website, portfolio and resume which also now contains plenty of examples of my software development work. I hope that you will go through the various new things added to my website and like what I've done with the limited resources available.

Coming back to something that is an extension of the idea of using bots to create narrative experiences, this month I decided to combine two rather disconnected fields to create something that is new and rather interesting. I curated a Spotify playlist and wrote a generative poem at the same time! Now, the Spotify API is known to have the ability to fragment sentences into words that can form tracks of a playlist. I decided to reverse engineer it's process in thought. Have a look below. What I eventually hope to do is create a tool that lets you generate a poem on any particular topic and then turn it into a Spotify playlist as well.

 
 

What's fascinating though, is there are always a number of words that can be songs from completely different genres, and simply the task of crafting this playlist led me to discover some interesting new music. There is also the fact multiple songs could have the same word as the song name, and in that case there could be a certain amount of chance thrown into the algorithm for it to be able to decide which of the tracks are suitable for the playlist. I am going to leave this here in itself, and hope that next time I shall be able to pick up on this.

Who says you can't write a poem and curate a playlist at the same time?

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.

 
 

A New Update

Many new incoming updates! Once again, it might seem that I have been inactive on the blogosphere owing to the constant back-and-forth I seem to be having with Weebly and certain issues that plague me. Honestly, giving a thought to moving over to Squarespace. More about that later (new alternative website in-the-works maybe?)

The past few months have seen me working on a wide variety of projects that to name a few, included writing music for a radio show, dabbling with 80s synthpop in this jam game for Ludum Dare Jam 35 and developing an audio demo for a new Serum sound-pack. There are of course many more projects in the works, and rest-assured I will get to speaking more about them as time progresses and more things come to light. In case you like podcasts and listening to them is your thing, don't forget to check out the recent podcasts by The State of Gaming where some of my music got used.

This post is mostly going to be talking about key highlights of my work in the past couple of months, we will get to the more interesting parts later. In case horror and horror literature is what fascinates you, there's also a short story I finally put out on my Wordpress page which complements the music recording I composed, conducted and produced for 51-piece orchestra last year. You could read more about the process and thinking that went behind it here on the blog itself.

I realise that the world is getting smaller and the ideas are getting bigger, causing changes bigger in scale than ever before in history. We're in a very interesting time in the course of civilisation. The internet is a powerful medium that has perhaps caused and triggered a lot of these changes. While there's a positive side to all of this, there's also a negative side. Security breaches, information leaks and 'encryption wars', the need for instant gratification, the rise of big data/its exploitation and of course the classic pet peeve - drastically reduced attention spans (Check out my Tumblr for more frequent posts if you need more updates regularly about the going-ons in my life)

Perhaps all of this has also had an impact on artists, thinkers and the creative community as a whole, which has given rise to alternative approaches to how content is produced, presented and distributed. Perhaps, greater change will come in this field in the few years to come. I would perhaps choose to embrace change rather than stay routed in 'the old way' and how things were done before. As an artist, you either change with the times or you disappear. Talking about changes and how much they matter for the future, I'll sign off urging you to go sign this petition as I believe it's important for the future of music and it's fair use.

Halt////Resume

As I sit in boredom listening to the erosively loud soundtrack to the new Wolfenstein game I have developed an intense liking for, I think about the past few weeks since I've been in Delhi. It has been a very interesting and rewarding year at Berklee Valencia. While my heart has been a bit on the heavy side - as with most things that you have to learn to let go of, I feel like somehow I may not have been quite done with Valencia. Something tells me I might some day return there. Or maybe not, and its just the uncertainty of what lies ahead talking. Maybe both.

While not a lot of musical work has been happening the past few weeks, I feel that the next few days might give me a glimpse of what future projects hold for me. Having very intensely concentrated on the orchestral side of music working with several film cues all through the year, I feel that I now see a lot more of the musical spectrum than I did before. I suppose somehow the internalisation in my work of that is yet to happen.

However, I will slowly be rolling out new compositions in the next few weeks that I have worked on all of 2014 and the past half of 2015 on my alternative soundcloud page. Some of them crafted with a blunt hand, others with careful precision. On some, I was quite the stumbler. On others, I found new avenues and genres that I had never thought I could do before. It has been a great learning experience and I feel that it’s important now than ever to leave the colourful world of preparation and study for one of application and hit-and-try-and-fail. Because truth is, you learn a lot more that way than any other else (not that going to school for music is not useful, quite the contrary)

In addition, there is quite the backlog of remixes that I have acquired the past two or three years. Having put it off for really long, I feel that the only way to break a giant tower is to first start taking a crack at it with a small needle and a hammer. Clearly, my compositional approaches seems to have changed and I’m looking to start a musical riot as soon as possible.

P.S. - To those of you who are looking at blogpost after blogpost, I worked on a small track for a sort of a ‘pitch’ to an indie game company, I’ve embedded the link below. More good stuff coming your way soon enough. Keep your eyes and ears open to the Facebook page as well.

 
 

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.

Compress, Digress

It has been quite a while since I updated anything on here. Primarily because a lot has been going on for me on the net, and off it as well. I spent the past fifteen days trying to mix a song and make it sound as good as possible to the best of my knowledge. And during the course of me trying to find the right tools and know-how on how to get the right mix, I stumbled onto such a huge wealth of knowledge on various mixing techniques, that I still feel quite overloaded with the information. Now that I'm mostly done with the mixing process for it, I find myself much more free to write about it.

One of the biggest problems I faced during mixing this particular project was figuring out what my approach to compression would be. Believe me when I say, compression can either make or break your mix. While some tracks needed a lot of compression, others not at all.

For all you newbies, Compression or dynamic range compression is the process of narrowing down the range of dynamic volume of a track. In other words, when you apply compression to a track, the louder parts of the track might get lower in volume and the softer parts, louder. In common man terms, compression tries to level out the audio range of your track. It is a very important technique used in mixing music extensively. Enough with the producer talk, time to talk about something else.

One of the most difficult and processed tracks on a song are usually the drums, especially if it's more of a rock track than an electronic arrangement. However, compression has to be used sparingly and not to be slapped on everything, something a lot of producers tend to do these days. Sometimes you have to look at the odds and see if everything manages to balance itself out in a mix. Other techniques like EQ, automation and various types of aural exciters can always help to take your mix where it needs to go.

Another major challenge I faced was trying to make an orchestral arrangement properly fit into a mix, without really taking a lot away from the vocals. For the longest time, I tried to figure out whether orchestral instruments need to be compressed in a mix. I ultimately decided against it, as dynamics are quite important as far as orchestral instruments go. That being said, there's never really a rule of thumb for any mixing techniques and that's something that I have eventually realized. Sometimes it's better to ride the fader into battle!

There are a lot of sample libraries and instruments like violins and cellos that sometimes end up taking a large chunk of the 5-10k spectrum of the frequency range in a track and that's somewhere the lower end of the vocals might end up sometimes. At the end of the day, if you can't hear it in a mix, it's probably not worth it to keep it around. There is of course the Fletcher-Munson curve that you have to learn to deal with. You can read more about it here. To put it in short, we all have a hearing bias and nobody has a perfectly flat perception of hearing.

As far as updates and progress goes, I managed to get my hands on a ton of books dealing with orchestration, something that I have been dabbling around with for a while, and I realize that it's important to learn how an actual orchestra sounds like to be able to emulate it well enough through samples and sample libraries, something that I will hopefully try to work some more on, in the future. (courtesy an enlightening conversation I had with an experienced musician on Skype)

Progress has been slow and time hasn't been plentiful primarily due to an exam on the horizon, but hopefully I will be able to put up a showreel/portfolio of a lot of my previous work in a few weeks. Stay tuned for that. Also being the gear-head that I am, I managed to acquire new piece of gear, work with which I shall reveal in due time.

More exciting times ahead, Ciao.

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.

Shifting Perspective

It's been quite a while since I last posted on here. A lot happened the past week. I played at a Nu Metal tribute gig that went reasonably well in terms of the performance, but in terms of crowd turnout and organization, it might have been just decent. I see the music in scene in Delhi as a consequence of a trickle-down effect. If the pub's shit and organizer's shit, it's usually us musicians that have to bear the brunt of the kickback. Things get complicated. I try and concentrate on what matters - the music.

Learning how to scratch with an APC 40 is never easy, but only if you test your abilities in the higher waters, by doing something new, by challenging yourself, do you get some sort of self-satisfaction. So there I was at a pub trying to make it work, and it did. Mostly.

 
 

But the problem kind of started not before our gig, but rather after it. I initially thought I would go home right after playing the gig, but my love for music did not really allow me to go back home while a cool gig was happening. But then at around midnight, in between a band's set. People were asked to get out and go home. Apparently a couple of people got a little too drunk. Some musicians weren't given food/drinks that they were promised all in the name of organizers trying to make a quick buck. The sound engineer was pushed around a bit. Things escalated. The whole episode didn't have a good aftertaste in my head. Even though the gig went rad.

A day later, I embarked on a roadtrip to Chandigarh, a small city in Punjab where most of my relatives live, including my grandmother who I hadn't seen in quite a long time. It was a bit transformative to see my 92-year old grandmother kicking ass and being really healthy at her age. We talked a lot. It's amazing how much old people can give you a reality check on life, what you're doing and where you're going with it. I spent the remainder of my trip wondering what my next big interesting project was going to be. I'm still pretty clueless, but thinking is still a start, right?

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.

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.

Super/Comical

The 48-Hour Film Project is an annual film-making competition that happens every year all over the world. Participants have to make a short film in the span of 48 hours, based around a specific theme and dialogue that changes every year. Once while exploring the vast depths of the Internet, I came across their website. It also happens in Delhi every year, which got me a little interested. But I didn't really do much about it.

Fast forward two years later, A friend of a friend was looking for someone to make music for their film entry for the very same competition. The first person my friend thought of, was me and I was more than delighted to come aboard to work with a team of film-makers that call themselves Celluloid Drapers.

I was contacted briefly on the phone by a guy who asked me if it was possible for me to work on their movie. Since the competition hadn't started, he didn't really have an idea about what kind of movie it was going to be and where it would take us, but he asked me if I was in for the ride and I said yes. Simply because the best things in life are usually the unexpected ones.

 
 

On the day the competition started, Most of the details I got were hazy and rough to say the least. I was told it was a superhero movie, and probably the last thing I expected to happen. Superhero movies are cheesy. And usually mostly fluff (Superman, Batman case in point), so I was kind of, not so sure but I had to continue as it seemed to be a challenge.

The good and the extremely bad thing about staying up an entire night working an obscure idea you've been told and dictated on the phone while you were probably half-asleep is the fact that you never know know what might happen the next day. Good things or bad things? Usually it's the latter, and that's what I realised the hard way later on.

 
 

I had created a mindset where the movie was supposed to actually be serious but it ended up being quite the opposite, A last-minute change they said. On the day of the submission, I ended up at the team's base where everybody was huddled up in a room - bed and rug, intact. Apparently the idea changed right in the morning during the day of submission. It was now a comedy. Slow clap.

Had to scratch off the entire four tracks I made and create everything from scratch on the spot. It was quite a hard thing to do, as I had no keyboard and MIDI controller, the entire score was created with the pencil tool on a piano roll, as ridiculous as it sounds, doing something like that does give you a new perspective of making music. You don't always need fancy keyboards or equipments. All you need is a vision and a sense of what sounds good what doesn't.

We slaved throughout the day and finished up the entire movie, it was a relief to finish it about a couple of hours before the deadline of submission.

Hopefully, we'll win.

P.S. : Important Update. 'JEP2MAN', The film entry for The 48-Hour Film Project by Celluloid Drapers won three awards.

  • 2nd Runners Up, Best Film
  • Best Sound Design (tie)
  • Audience Award
 
 

Record. Pause. Repeat.

Hello and welcome to another look at the daily life and day-to-day happenings of an aspiring sound engineer and musician. Oh, and did I say struggling? Yes, that too. It's a tough life trying to piece together a career out of music especially a place like Delhi, where competition is quite a bit.

The only time everything seems worth it is when people actually come to you to get their song/album recorded or maybe, give you some work. Srishti is a person I've known for a few years now and has always been supportive and helpful whenever I'm looking for new projects or something interesting that I feel, could challenge me as a musician or a producer.

A friend of Srishti used to play for Soul Reverb, a band I was associated with for a short time. His name was Neeraj Debakshi, and he was playing in another band that went by the name of Serenity Infused. Neeraj came in touch with me and asked me if I could record their song at my home studio. I looked at it as an opportunity and decided to agree.

Now this band wasn't the typical rock band, so I looked upon it as a challenge. They're a fusion band that combines elements of Indian classical music with progressive rock influences. They also had a tabla player, which would mean it would take much longer to record, as tabla is a unique instrument in terms of timbre, mic-positioning required and processing.

We decided to start recording in the evening at about 4 pm as I had other work to take care of, at SoundSpeaks at the time. I came back and we started with Guitars as we had finished programming drums the previous day. It took about four hours to completely sort out the guitars, which was followed by Bass and that took about an hour.

Tabla was special, and we took some time experimenting with several mic positions. Since I didn't have too many mics, just a couple of SM57's, it's not like there was too much room for experimentation either. But I think we finally settled at a certain position. One thing I realised later on though was the error I made of keeping the mics too close to the tabla player's hands. there were a lot of small intervals of time where he would unintentionally end up flicking the mic.

It was basically hell on earth, with processing the tabla. Even with the editing. There were huge errors in come places. If the whole song took 10 units of effort, I would probably say the tabla took about 4. It was that hard. But in the end, somehow managed to make it sound crisp and a little snappy.

The vocals gave me a pretty hard time too. But that's pretty much how your life is supposed to be when you're producing a song. It takes a lot of hardwork to make one sound good. I remember spending entire nights going through tons of forums and googling stuff, not because it was work. But because I found it so interesting.

Time just flies when you're doing things you love.

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.

 
 

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.

The Berlin Vibe

Last December, I worked on an interesting musical idea. A drummer I know from the Delhi music scene had recently started experimenting with electronic music. He got himself a copy of FL Studio and tried making something that would sound a little bit like deadmau5 meets Skrillex. He wanted it to be a dubstep song but it didn't necessarily have to be that way.

Now since he was pretty new to the DAW, He exported out the stems, The Fruity Loops file and the samples and sent them all to me. He was at a roadblock and couldn't really figure out the next course of action and asked me for some help and advice.

When I started working on the track it had nothing more than a few beats, a bass thrown in here and there with the occasional synth pad and swell thrown in between. It was nothing but a rough sketch of a track that was going to be.

Slowly, but surely I still kept hacking at the track like a slow hammer. Added drums, more synths and some of that distorted bass. Added loads of glitch effects to a lot of different elements.

I'm a huge fan of glitch and love incorporating it, everywhere. It adds a very sharp edge to the track. Especially when you're working in a genre like electronic music, the occasional glitch can do wonders.

There was also the last part where the vibe completely changed and I spent so long trying to figure out what could come in there. Nothing from any of the previous loops or elements I recorded for the track seemed to be fitting there. So I decided to think a little out-of-the-box.

After scouring the Internet for some time, I came across a royalty-free rough recording of a saxophone being played in the heart of a city, and I somehow felt it completely fit even though at first didn't seem so at all. After some careful EQ'ing and audio restoration, I came across the perfect way to end the song.

Saxophones are full of swag. Period.

 
 

More Drums, Less Drama

There are time when you wish there was more of music and less of talk. In any music scene there are always critics and people who gossip and say things about you. While most of them are usually false and made up, some people like to spread bad information and have wrong intentions at heart. Sometimes it is for their own gain, Other times it will be just so that they feel better about themselves.

At times like these, I find myself at peace working on a long, intense piece of music away from all the fanfare, judgement and ostracization. Nothing clears and calms my mind better than music. For me, it is the cure to everything ranging from depression to anxiety and stress. It is a medium of relief.

Another project in particular that I remember taking up with a friend was a song with the working title 'Dijkstra's Algorithm'. I programmed drums on it right after I worked with Aishwarya on Tooth Decay, and it was a welcome relief to be working on something like drums instead of keyboards and samples.

 
 

I spent just about a day on it, as the whole guitars and FX were already sorted. No drama, just plain ol' drums. One sound I particularly love is the sound of china on a good metal kit. Those things can do wonders to a metal song. Even though I don't particularly get to work on a lot of metal/rock these days, this project was a welcome excursion into the unknown again. I think I managed to pull it off decently enough.

There were of course hiccups during the last half-minute or so. One thing that is difficult to figure out is the time signatures Uniyal writes riffs and songs in. Sometimes, its pretty difficult to figure out where the beat started, where it ended.

Trivial things. Occupational Hazards of an aspiring sound engineer. Sigh.

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.

Wrapping it Up

I've almost reached the end of my music score for the entire movie, and it has been quite an interesting journey. Even though, I had set my mind on having a total of 14 tracks in the final arrangement, I decided to add a couple more in the end as I felt like the movie could use some extra filler music.

There was also the question of the ending credits and what music that would consist of. Even though I was sort of lazy and unwilling to work on some more music for now as it has been a long month, I still somehow mustered up the energy to create a reprise of the opening song as an ending. I wouldn't really call it much of a reprise as it drifted pretty far off from what the first track was supposed to be.

The song had turned into quite a mess before I completely scrapped it off and started working on it again from scratch. I decided to combine a few trip-hop beats with a sense of doom and an eerie feeling provided some absolutely crazy FX. Somehow, I feel like it always helps to keep an open ending to movies as they leave so much for things to be interpreted in so many different ways.

Finally, I was done with entire score about two hours ago. Went through all the tracks twice, and now it's time to chill.

Until next time, folks.

 
 

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.

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!