sound effects

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.

 
 

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 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.

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.

 
 

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.

 
 

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.