The Driving Force

Behind any form of art, there is always a driving force. I asked myself the question probably a lot of people ask themselves. 'Why did I work on this song?' or to arrive at the existential part of it 'Why do I make music?' The answer was of course not as easy as juice and pie. Maybe because I find it beautiful that a lot of things that happen to me on a day-to-day basis impact and affect the kind of music I make. While in the short-term it doesn't amount to a lot. But in the long-term, I like to think the kind of music I make and the people I collaborate with, shapes and defines who I am. And maybe that's why I hold it so dear.

Some questions never really have clear-cut answers but I think that's the beauty of the human condition. We make out of it, whatever we can. We shape our own realities in an abstract way. So what really was 'Daze Blue' about? I don't really think there's a clear-cut story behind the song yet, except the fact that the past few months have been an uphill struggle both internally and externally. And to keep at it, to continue making music regardless of what I get from it materialistically or what opinions other people might have - to continue following the wavy and crooked road of my imagination that leads maybe nowhere, maybe somewhere. That was the spirit of it.

Perhaps one thing that I really pride myself on, is the fact that I worked on the artwork, if not completely - atleast partially. My sister provided me with consistent support and let me use some of her photographs which proved to be essential and central to the theme of the song. But more on that later.

My month was of course peppered with the odd gig or two that I went to, some familiar faces meeting me and then some new. Having been accepted to Berklee College of Music, Valencia for a Master's in Scoring for Film, Television and Video Games about a month ago, I also had to run around getting various things in order. Learnt some Spanish, worked on some music theory and harmony among several other things. I shall start in September.

Also, getting a student visa for Spain must have been the most excruciatingly tiring process I have ever came across. But at the end, it was done, along with succeeding celebrations, fist-pumps and of course the obligatory 'Bhai, kab ja raha hain?' question being asked about fifty thousand times. But it's all good.

Now with barely two weeks left to clock, Things really come full circle. A new journey is about to begin, and I feel just as excited as I feel determined to take on the challenges that lie ahead of me. So many questions and so many possibilities, it's actually kind of freaky how fast your life can change sometimes, in the blink of an eye. Three months ago, probably none of this could have been imagined.

Onwards we go.

Clarity in Motion

Clarity is a slippery slope. I like to picture it as a thin sheet of ice, stuck halfway between completely dissolving into cold colorless water and being so solid it comes to the point of cracking.

It really does take a lot more than just willpower and determination to hold on to anything. Be it a thought, an idea inside your head or something that you hold very close to yourself. It stays for a bit, then it disappears.

It was trying to catch these few wisps of ideas and thoughts that I spent most of my last month trying to do. I embarked on a roadtrip to Chandigarh, a picturesque and quiet place in Punjab that has its own charm. 

I was basically cut off from civilization for about a week as my phone didn't seem to work. I like to think it brought a lot of things in perspective for me. I met my grandmother who's over 9 decades old now along with other family relatives. I had jacked up enough songs on my phone and iPod shuffle to make the time seem like a blur. Time flied away.

I also brainstormed on a few ideas that were developing in my head on my way there. And it dawned on me that it was just about the right time to start in motion the release of my new song. I had been stalling releasing it for a while as things kept happening . However, once I got back and things seemed to be going fine. August seemed to be the perfect time. I took the plunge.

Sometimes in life, you have to stop thinking about consequences, opinions, doubts that include all the junk in your head that stops you from making decisions and just go in for the kill.
 

 
 

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.

Climax & Relapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bigger Picture

During the course of my musical exploration over the past few years, I have realized that learning new things and concepts can be testing and quite unique in the terms of challenges it poses in front of you. But sometimes taking the risk and the prospect of going a mile in an unknown direction can be both rewarding, and confusing.

I spent some time off and went to Pune a couple of weeks ago, looking for interesting opportunities and experiences. While being there helped me think a bit more clearly about which direction my music has been going, I still haven't yet completely figured it out. So I have decided to take some time to contemplate and focus a bit more on projects other than Ebonix for now. While there is no dearth of ideas or concepts in my head, there is still the need to separate the stones from the diamonds.

I find music I'm making these days seems to be more gothic-influenced and there seem to be darker tones. I've been listening to a lot of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. Perhaps I shall arrive at the smack middle of an industrial, electroclash witch-house sound and ambient music with a few orchestral elements. A hint of psychedelia always works for me too. There's often so many different directions one piece of music can take, I find myself going in tangents and circles. Then before I know it, I'm back to square one.

 
 

This tends to get worse when I'm trying to work on several tracks and they're all from completely genres. It's complete and utter chaos. I hope that I could work on one track for extended periods of time but it seems to me like the longer I work on something at one go, the more ideas get dispersed. Hmm, maybe I just need a timetable for the month. But that's the problematic thing about ideas. They come at always the wrong time. Sigh.

I suppose workflow is very important when you're trying to work on something creatively. The process you use does have an impact on the kind of music you're making somewhere along the line.

 Hence, I try all kinds of combination these days. having coffee before working. Writing this blog after an intense music-making session. Everything helps when you're a little free to do things at your own pace and speed. Something, I suppose isn't present there as much when you're working with a band.

While I have been on a creative standstill for a while, I find ideas coming to me again, something that probably wasn't there a couple of weeks ago. But it's even harder to finish a half-done idea than to make one in the first place. I'm trying to look at it from an opportunist perspective. A half-full glass always looks better than empty one inside your head.

Trying to look at the bigger picture for once.

Two steps forward, one step back.

Losing the Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Battle Blues

As the music scene in Delhi develops and I gain a little more experience everyday, I realize that everyday is a new battle in itself. Sometimes things are smooth and ideas develop and flower into something beautiful, but there are as many days when you try and fail. But what matters is learning from mistakes and moving on to the next idea with the same dazzle in your eyes.

I attended a guitar workshop yesterday by Pranav Pahwa, one of the respected guitarists in the Delhi music scene who plays for a band called Jester, a band that fuses a lot of different elements from jazz and alternative rock among several other things. Even though the workshop was primarily for guitarists, its sometimes wonderful how you can find inspiration at the most unusual of places.

The concept of modes and their relation to scales in the musical sense seemed to be a point of discussion and I have decided to look through modes more carefully and try and grasp a little more over the period of the next few months. There was also a lot of talk and discussion about the blues, and not so surprisingly not many people in the audience even knew for certain what the 12-bar blues were. I've tried grasping and dabbling with that idea before, but to limited success.

At the same time, I found myself experimenting a lot more with synths than before at Ebonix jams, even before and after it. I've managed to add all kinds of tweaks and modulations to the patches I made for some of the songs initially. I find myself constantly changing up things. Sometimes I've been met with resistance and 'what the hell was that, bro?!' comments. But all in zest and goodwill, I hope.

I have always been a more experimental person in terms of sounds I like in music I make, while some idiosyncrasies have been accepted in the past as long as it suited the song, I don't know if that would continue. It shall be revealed, all in time.

 
 

An interesting anecdote from the jam did not fail to amuse and make me wonder about the nature of music -  there was a certain musical pattern that Vaibhav (pictured above) was trying to play while at the jam trying to connect two of our songs. And we arrived at a weird place. An almost jazz-like segue in between songs. But that was not the weird part. The weird part was when he changed up the scale a little bit. This combination of notes, almost sounding like a chord seemed to elude almost every scale we tried to play. It was kind of, crazy.

Going one step further we asked Pranav while we were at the workshop to try and improvise over that particular pattern, and it seemed to almost elude him as well. Music, I tell you never ceases to amaze and make you wonder.

Crazy? Yes. Kind of.

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.

Tackling Issues

As a guy who's just put a couple of steps into the proverbial ocean of what is known as producing metal music, I've realized programming drums is a real pain in the arse (and mixing as well, lest I forget) I know some people who are pretty good at getting rhythms and writing them down on a drum roll. But, I'm not one of those people. My drumming abilities have always been noobish to say the least. And that's where the setup helped. I had MIDI hooked up to the computer and fortunately, the drummer was kind enough to tap that stuff down on the keys. Things became a little easier from there onwards.

My euphoria was short-lived unfortunately, as half-way through programming drums, we realized it was taking too much time and we decided to skip to the guitars. Brutal heaviness called. And I would be an idiot to not pick up the phone-call.
Guitar tracking followed, with nothing except the click at the back.This was also around the time that I figured it was not such a great idea.
Guitarists get sloppy when they just have a click. Lesson learnt.
Lesson #2 - Two takes are never enough for a clean guitar part. Especially when they're both messed up.
Lesson #3 - Editing guitars on the go > Editing later
Layers upon layers of guitars were stacked up on top of each other. Not all as good as you might think. Recording four takes of everything always helps.
Lesson #4 - The more guitars, the greater the awesome

When you're a band coming in to record your song. How tight you play pretty much defines the producer's scale of happiness. When the guitar's tight as fuck, everything eventually follows, but it's always slippery ground, when a guitarist's having a bad time with the click. I'm pretty sure most of them are like that. Nonetheless, after some incessant chatter, chips and lunch, we got back to the beast that was recording guitars. And it was almost like nothing was on time at some places. And some places seemed to have made it to the foundation stages.  And of course, everybody loves a tight band. Like this one I just came across below. What a guitar sound. I think I'm in love. Not that it's metal but nonetheless, A defined guitar sound is always a good sound, I guess.

 
 

Coming back to point, Bass tracking followed soon. It took about an hour. Which paled in comparison to the fact that guitars probably took about 5-6 hours. Then came the part where I tracked cookie monster vocals. It was my first time not recording clean vocals, so frankly I was kind of curious how I would approach it in mixing, but things turned out pretty fine in the end, I guess. Experimented with a lot of tricks like pitch shifting and parallel processing. FUNFUNFUN. Sidenote - Need to get myself a good dynamic mic soon. Gear updates soon, who knows. Woooo.

Not surprisingly, the first thing I did once recording got finished was go and grab a plate of momos / dimsum from the street vendor outside. Ah, the taste of victory. Jubilating.

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.

Stasis

..aaaaand we're back.
Been six shaky months since I updated this blog. Sans redesigning the website, not much has changed. I would say I have been in a state of stasis. Think of it as a standstill at the crossroads of life, where I was weighing my options. Call it a bet with the devil, a game of chess with the universe or maybe tracing a map if you will.

That changed pretty much last week, when I finally decided to work on some of my own music, brand new stuff. (no spoilers yet). You see, making music isn't really like a tap of water. You can't turn it off or on whenever you want, It just sort of happens when it does. In the meanwhile, life happens. You learn to schedule and mould your life around seemingly random bursts of ideas, concepts and thoughts in your head. Sometimes it leads to magic, sometimes it just not enough.

I'm writing this as I slowly try and burst out of my creative block, I wonder what I could equate with that feeling of inspiration without alienating my fellow readers, however small the count maybe at the moment. Chips! Yes, it's like a bag of chips. So many of them in a bag. they're all the same but they're all err, tasty. Maybe not to the odd diet-conscious anorexic, but you get the drift.

Putting rants aside, I've started work on a band's song that I recorded the past weekend in addition to some more interesting ideas/projects that lie ahead this month. This one's sounding pretty heavy as fuck at the moment. I'm thinking Jambi meets Kyuss? Another two days full of hard work ought to do the trick. Time's ticking.

Tick Tock.

Ciao civilization, for a while.

GAMETYM!

One of my cooler hobbies when I'm not playing music or writing or maintaining blogs is to play games. I just recently finished Bioshock : Infinite and Crysis 3. I love to shoot stuff. First-Person Shooter Games are my second love. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I like chip-tune influenced music as well.

I recently joined an experimental/progressive metal band called Heisenberg as a full-time keyboardist. We jammed more than a couple of times and things just sort of, fit together. Even though it's just been a couple of months playing with Heisenberg, The energy and the vibe is incredible. The band has some incredibly talented people.

Somewhere around early October this year, I got a mail from Heisenberg's drummer Dipan Das. He had been working on an original composition on his own. He thought it would be a good idea to share it with us all. I heard the track a couple of time, and the guitars sounded pretty well done. The drums sounded pretty good too.

 
 

Now, having the creative itch that I have to work on almost anything interesting that comes my way, I decided to try working on keyboard stems for the track. I had recently got myself a copy of Logic Pro X and just upgraded my Mac to Snow Leopard and I figured it would be a nice way to test out the system.

What I ended up inadvertently playing on the track were a lot of chiptune sounds. There was also a lot of the trademark ambient sounds, something that I tend to do a lot, the main reason for which is the fact that Porcupine Tree has always been a huge influence on me.

As if the bundling up of chiptune with ambient sounds wasn't enough, the last section of the track had a very heavy breakdown-ish rhythm to it. I was at a point of confusion again and I decided to experiment a bit more and used saxophone sounds to make something like an improvised saxophone solo. It was a really interesting track to work on, and I still keep going back to the track just for the chiptune

 
 

Heisenberg is no stranger to the chiptune genre either. I would not be lying when I say Aishwarya Uniyal, the band's guitarist was probably the guy that got me into it and it seems like a really interesting genre. Heisenberg has released 8-bit versions of all their songs, something that's really unique and unheard of, in the scene. Something that makes me praise the band even more.

I have also been doing lots of interesting sounds on the Heisenberg songs and they all have fresh makeovers, which makes me look forward to the band's next jam. There's everything ranging from dubstep to chiptune to Electronic loops, and it's crazy.

Crazy is good. Right?

 
 

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
 
 

Smarter and Smarter

Re-imagining the entire score for Smartican from the start was something that was really hard to do. Primarily, this was because I had to go against the initial vision I had for the score for the game. It did not have anything to do with specifications or what was needed but rather what I felt about the score. I wanted it to be a little different from the previous revision. And there were pro's and con's to that train of thought.

For one, since I had made up my mind that the score was going to have lesser of electronic influences, I had to go back to the traditional sound, A more orchestral-oriented score which meant I had to put more stress on melody. Something I realised later on, though was orchestral scores can fit into a quizzical game, but it's probably better to keep things more electronic-influenced. Nonetheless, I had committed myself to getting out of the comfort zone and started working on the score.

I worked on the score for almost a month. It was a constant process of iterations and corrections. There were atleast twenty different ideas that were considered before arriving at the choices for the levels. There were a lot of levels in the game and every one needed to have a different track. Inspiration is very important when you're working on a score and I needed to think about the surroundings and the mood for every level. Doing that was just as important as working on the music itself.

There would be some times when how things panned out in my head about a certain mood and setting wouldn't exactly translate well onto the run-time environment. Things were much more dynamic and ideas were in constant flux. There came a certain point of time when I realised going back-and-forth between my home studio and the game studio was starting to become a daily habit. I decided to spend a couple of days at the game studio itself to work things out.

Once I decided to that, things did start to move a little faster. As the needs were constantly changing and so was the game and it was important for everyone to look at the same page at the same time, so we could collectively arrive at what would be the best set of sounds for the game. I had to make tons of changes to my tracks so that things better fit with the visual idea of the game.

While some times, I didn't like changing my work to fit the game, I slowly realised that even though it would feel weird in the beginning, while playing the game and looking at it as a whole, it would in fact make more sense. I broadened my horizons considerably and looked the other way to see what a game really requires not just in terms of sound and music, but also other things like graphics, promotions, visuals etc. as well. It was a great learning experience.

When I sit and think about it I realise we musicians are sometimes like little kids in a candy store. We always want one or the other, but somewhere in our heads we know having all of them at the same time is not logical. As we grow up and become more rational, we realise that there's more to life than just candy and we learn to start letting go of all that was, and we evolve. We get smarter and smarter, but the smarter we get the more we realise what being that kid in a little candy store means. To not have a worry in the world, to just imagine with a head full of ideas and the entire universe in front of you.

That feeling is all I live for.

Create & Destroy

As with any great idea, Finishing it up is never really the end of it. After finishing my score for the game I was working on, I went and met up with the good people at Motion Punch Studios and they seemed to like the music. After finalising it and deciding upon the kinds of sounds they required for FX and in-game scenes, I went back home that day and sent them everything they needed. Things were finally done.

This was not the end, though. About one and a half month later, they got in touch with me again. Apparently, the entire game had been renovated and changed from the top-bottom completely. It was an absolutely new game. It also seemed to be much better-looking graphics-wise and interactive quotient seemed to be higher. It was time to destroy the old and come out with the new.

With a heavy heart and a sad face, I went back home and started working on the new score. I realised that life isn't always fair and things don't always turn out the way you expect them to. Nothing really seems to be coming to my mind, so I decided to write this little blog post down.

Ah, life you witty lil' bitch you.

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.