synths

Remixes, Aliases & The Future

The past couple of months have been a combination of exciting, busy punctuated with bursts of idleness and happy news. What's great is I've somehow kept myself busy through all of this. So here's a few tidbits of news and general going-ons:

 

Tinker Quarry

I have been working on the soundtrack for the game Tinker Quarry over the past few months, and I'm glad to say that I'm at a place where the soundtrack for the game is somewhat at the end of completion, hopefully more news will follow about it in the coming months, about the game and the music.

In the meanwhile, you can find the game on Steam , it's currently in early access

 

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As the aftermath of working on some pretty cool things on the Tinker Quarry Soundtrack, I've found myself dabbling with more genres like Industrial, Chiptune and Synthwave . Going to be working on a few remixes of music by other artists, as well as some of my own original stuff under a new alias I've invented for myself called Meta HTML

To start off, I remixed the absolute banger of a tune by Karan Kanchan called 'Kendo' and you can find it below

 

 
 
 

What's Next?

In the works: Hopefully, another video game soundtrack release in 2019, scores for a couple of films, an animated short and maybe even more. Drama, comedy and mysterious magicians punctuated with the odd dissonant, screaming violin. 

Stay tuned, folks!

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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.

 
 

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.

Looking to The Skies

Ever since the dawn of mankind, man has been looking up to the skies for everything ranging from inspiration and direction to meditation and as part and parcel of a sense of curiosity. I tend to think it is ingrained somewhere deep in the very fabric of us all. To look at something deeper and much more larger than us and feel content with the mysteries of the universe.

It's with a similar feeling I started working on another track with friend and collaborator Aishwarya. It started once again, the usual way. I played a piano rhythm track on top of an electronic beat and sent it to him. What he created on top of that was pretty huge. He sent me back about 40 stems if I remember correctly, and it was absolutely mental going through all of them.

What I love about collaborating with other musicians is the fact that sometimes you create something that you feels vibrates from the essence of your being, and they will take it and make it their own instead. It's exchange of ideas that goes way beyond all the artificial ties and friendships we all have. It's something so untainted, so true. The fact that it exists is what makes you want to go on making music. It's the feeling you live for, as a musician.

As days and weeks passed by, I slowly ploughed through each one of them, EQ'ing, mixing and compressing them, shaping and moulding what the building blocks of the track were. Lots of times, some things wouldn't fit the way he arranged it so I would flip it around, add a couple of effects and try something new. It's always good to progress and evolve. That's what music is for me, a whirlwind of constant change.

Ultimately after about a couple of months, and some added feedback by Uniyal, I put this track up on Soundcloud. And I realised there was something very spacey and other-worldly about this track. That feeling of being a kid and having an entire universe in front of you to explore and discover, that's the feeling I wanted to convey.

One doesn't have to always get old. You just have to stay true to your heart.

Time to watch a movie. About aliens.

 
 

Round 2 : Fight!

Now we come to the interesting part. Fight sequences! Being the avid gamer that I am, there are months of my life that practically disappeared when I started playing games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Ask anybody and they'll tell you they were the best games ever made.

Nonetheless, coming back to focus, approaching fight sequences is absolutely no walk in the park. It still would have been much more easier for me, if there was just one fight sequence in the movie, but two made stuff complicated. Because the thing with fight sequences is you have to keep them as interesting as possible. and no two can ever be completely the same

I think the second sequence has a very Matrix-esque vibe to it, But not really a lot in terms of actual melody. Something that's absolutely crazy about making music for movies is, sometimes you don't even have to necessarily know a lot about music to make it. I really just fiddled around with random notes on the second action sequence as I was literally on the verge of running out of ideas by then.

 
 


I used a few analog synth VST's too with some kind of rhythm going to them, at about four times the actual speed in both the tracks, something that really complimented the speed of how fast the sequence was. There was a lot of FX going around in the track as well with wooshes and cymbal crashes all over the place. Going absolutely bonkers in a fight scenes has its own perks.

While the second sequence was still much more experimental, I think the first one really upped the ante in terms of attitude and swag. It had hoodlums cornering the protagonist from every side. Once again, it was synth ftw. The good thing about action sequences is the twisting and absolute destruction of drums that is permissible most of the times if not all the time. Of course, the occasional booms and bass add to the thrill as well.

And that's pretty much the gist of it. Track finished. Game Over. I win. Muhaha.

PurpleGreen

During the period of Oct 2011 to Jan 2012, I was pretty much out of work and music to make. My first band had just broken up after a bad gig, and I was taking my time to recover from all the bad vibes and negativity that had taken quite a lot of space in my head.

Even though I didn't really play music for some time, I decided it was time to work on my own music for a while. I decided to start from scratch right from Day 1 and made it a priority to try and become better at what I do, music-wise and focus on progress and positivity. It was time to let go.

Another friend Mayurath, a guitarist that plays (now in the past) for a band 'Purple in Green' has always been around and we keep in constant touch. He was just a kid back then, and I think he still is in school. Even though he's a kid, He's a huge fan of progressive metal and he made more than a few demos during that time.

He was looking for a keyboardist for live performances and somebody who would help him record a few demos and I being out of work for a while, didn't think it was a bad idea at all. There was a period of about a few weeks where we used to jam at his place regularly like once or twice a week.

 
 
 
 

We sat down and worked on a pre-production demo of his track 'Perry'. We fooled around a little bit with sounds and music, there used to be the occasional drummer to give us company. There were plenty of inside jokes accompanied with sniggers and maniacal laughter, and we just sat and listened to stuff lots of times. They were fun times.

I made him hear a few demos I was working on my own at the time. Half an hour sound-experiments. We would just sit staring at windows and glasses of water while the whole thing played. We have always been into trippy music, music with experimental vibes. It's always good to experiment as a musician, I feel.

 

Above : A video of a song 'Rapture' by Urban Soundscape, a band that made quite trippy music and whose music I heard on a number of instances while jamming with Purple in Green and looking for inspiration.

 

Drumming Up.

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

 
 

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

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

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

Note to self : Watch. Fight Club.

 

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