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Compositional Methods

Bruce H. McCosar
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permalink   Sun, Feb 17, 2008 @ 3:10 AM
I’ve been writing music for a few years now, and I’ve developed a fairly consistent method. Most commonly, I start off with a beat and a bass line, then build from there. Most of my melodies start of as improvisation, but develop into themes the more I work with the song.

However, the world of remixing is a new universe. As I’m learning, I’m discovering … well, that I need a lot of practice before I jump in! My first few efforts weren’t exactly great. In many cases, I find I’m starting off with the end product (a melody or a theme) and walking backwards toward the origin point.

Which brings me to my questions:

1. How do you compose for remixing? What is the order of events and procedures that works for you?

2. How did you learn? I know most likely the answer is “learn by doing”, but what I’m asking for is what helped you along the way? For example, for me, there were three main events that shaped me as a musician:

— Learning jazz standards (helped me to develop melody skills).

— Playing live shows in a few local bands (forced me to run with what I have rather than holding back until I’m perfect).

— Switching to bass as my main instrument (for me, easy to compose on). Maybe, properly, I should say “switching to bass clef”, since I also tend to develop ideas based on left hand piano or organ lines.

Any input appreciated.
fourstones
admin
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permalink   Sun, Feb 17, 2008 @ 9:56 PM
have you ever reharmonized a fake book tune? done any orchestration/instrumentation - you can approach it like that.

of course this doesn’t touch on the world of disciplines involved in sampling/remixing in the purest sense - for that you have to train your ears to hear variations and processing possibilities of samples, being able to do it very quickly and have huge recall. Most of the good remixers I know don’t even know what the process is but that’s what it looks like to me: listen to 1,000s (10,000s) of samples, using judgement and experience to filter in the ‘usuable’ ones and start building a matrix of combinations in their mind’s ear so that they ‘instinctively’ know what samples will work together. Of course this ‘instinct’ is the result of a mind-numbing amount of digging through samples and trying things out.
 
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permalink   Bruce H. McCosar Mon, Feb 18, 2008 @ 2:53 AM
Quote: fourstoneshave you ever reharmonized a fake book tune? done any orchestration/instrumentation - you can approach it like that.

Most of my music, nowadays, is original material — composing from whole cloth. However, I started off in mainstream jazz (seems like ages ago). At one point, I had something like 300 tunes memorized (nothing compared to folks like Jamey Aebersold, who know around 3000).

Orchestration, on the other hand — I actually left the world of jazz standards behind because it seemed to me tradition had bound the world of improvisation into a set of fairly strict formulas. Lincoln Center was sitting on Birdland, you might say.

I guess a lot of my energy is spent escaping from tradition — trying to go ‘outside’ without getting caught at it ;-) So yeah, I’ve been into reharmonization for a while, because I can’t think of a single fake book type tune I’ve played in the past few years that wasn’t altered in some bizarre way.

Quote: fourstones…you have to train your ears to hear variations and processing possibilities of samples, being able to do it very quickly and have huge recall … listen to 1,000s (10,000s) of samples, using judgement and experience to filter in the ‘usable’ ones and start building a matrix of combinations in their mind’s ear so that they ‘instinctively’ know what samples will work together.

This is great advice — I’d never approached it from the ear training perspective before. I may be coming at it from the wrong end: instead of taking a theme and forcing it to fit to my ideas, take the available materials I find and experiment until something new falls out of the mixture. Don’t go in with that fakebook, in other words. Instead of a whole composition, start out with sections and bits and learn to stitch them together.

Well, you’ve probably just made sure that I spend this entire holiday working on music ;-)
John Pazdan
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permalink   Mon, Feb 18, 2008 @ 7:50 AM
Quote: Bruce H. McCosar

1. How do you compose for remixing? What is the order of events and procedures that works for you?


I started doing this remix “stuff” about 10 years ago..before I started working in this medium, I worked live as a musician (still do) for 25 years…(dear Ja Victor, I am really fucking old..)my background is similar to yours, though without the jazz standards part; I come from the pass it on tradition, learning by ear from people I was fortunate enough to be around, mostly blues and r&b musicians. I did go through a bit of the jass stans but not enough to hurt me….

I have tried to do remixing and composition several different ways..starting with a scrap of solo..(as any good jazz platform could be built from, and often is.. see Ornette FE)from which I build, usually harmonizing it with my bass (another similar path to you it seems)..but as Victor sez below, a lot of times, especially with becoming more experienced with the mind set of remixing..and even more so, that mindset covering composing…well he says it all here. One thing I have noticed, is that you almost need to consciously set up to write in a certain way..though then again, with experience, there is a cool thing that happens when you can switch back and forth. As far as starting with an idea, ie bass/beats etc..that’s a good way to begin, but after a while, i found the melodic scraps (saxophone especially, as i like jazz/improv/whirl/dub a lot) and/or the ‘pella/spoken word thang a better way to start..orchestration is probably the term, though this doesn’t always lead to it..LOOK AROUND! there are some amazing people here at ccM to work with..dig through the crates..

Two guys doing amazing “jazz like”(..hi victor, see I snuck it in)) performances LIVE are DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist..search out a set from these two and you will be knocked flat..they’ve created an amazing intelligent fusion that is one path for the future of this Art. You will be inspired, I guarantee it.

BTW, nice to have you here, welcome etc..stick around and contribute…, this IS the place.
jp
 
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permalink   Bruce H. McCosar Mon, Feb 18, 2008 @ 7:12 PM
Quote: John Pazdan…LOOK AROUND! there are some amazing people here at ccM to work with..dig through the crates..

I’ve already found quite a few that I like, and the feel for the songs was so distinctive that I couldn’t really get a handle on how it came together. Sort of like one of those Magic Eye pictures, you know? Focus on the dots and you miss the point.

Particularly, I found Bill Berry’s recent “Short Fuses..” amazing. Then when I read the reviews, he admitted it took about 3 months to get right. That’s about on par with my traditional method.

Thanks for the tips and the pointers, and I’m glad to find this is such a musically literate crowd — Ornette Coleman references, even ;-)

All of this is an effort, on my part, to stretch out and find something new, a to develop a new route for expression. One of my favorite local bands, El Robot, did a lot of remixing, and their tunes are memorable years later. Too bad so many of them came from copyrighted materials … just getting the permissions for a single tune would probably take a conga line of lawyers. Creative Commons is definitely the route to take.

And thanks for the welcome, too — it may take me a few months to get the hang of it (like learning any instrument, really), but I’ll try to bounce up a few of my ideas here as soon as they’re closer to worthwhile :D
 
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permalink   John Pazdan Mon, Feb 18, 2008 @ 9:33 PM
this is the place to experiment..when i say ‘dig thru the crates”..i mean take a listen to what samples people have posted..especially the pellas.

Look on it as a different medium within the Art..it gets clearer that way… not to try to approach it as an offshoot..debatable..but in the long run, worked for me..to further complicate the matter..when i started out doing this..I approached it as a layering (which victor alluded to) thing..which led me to look at and study collage artists like Romare Bearden and Pablo P..they are the masters..it’s really the same thing in some cases, simply using sound as opposed to tearing japan paper.

easy huh?
gurdonark
admin
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permalink   Sat, Feb 23, 2008 @ 1:37 AM
1. How do you compose for remixing? What is the order of events and procedures that works for you?

These days I usually use samples through my synth to create a new melody, and then add additional samples to leaven out the sound.

Sometimes I do a remix which involves merely alteration and reconstruction of samples into a new integrated piece.

Once in a while I use a beat slicer to morph a piece into a track which has different structure, timing and pitch. Another device I sometimes use is to convert a wave sample to MIDI in Wave Goodbye, and then play the MIDI track through a synthesizer to create a new piece.

2. How did you learn? I know most likely the answer is “learn by doing”, but what I’m asking for is what helped you along the way? For example, for me, there were three main events that shaped me as a musician:

— Learning jazz standards (helped me to develop melody skills).

— Playing live shows in a few local bands (forced me to run with what I have rather than holding back until I’m perfect).

— Switching to bass as my main instrument (for me, easy to compose on). Maybe, properly, I should say “switching to bass clef”, since I also tend to develop ideas based on left hand piano or organ lines.

Any input appreciated.

—5 years of piano lessons, which left me with almost no skills at play, but the ability to read music and understand chords and harmonies.

—amateur play on the mountain dulcimer and the autoharp

—The wonderful free software at ixi-software.net,which got me going

—teaching myself how to use the shareware software synths that I use the most in writing music.

—a devout love of kazoos

—figuring out it would be cheaper to learn to use my simple magix softstudio than to buy a new computer and a new digital analog studio.
 
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permalink   Bruce H. McCosar Sat, Feb 23, 2008 @ 3:45 AM
Quote: Gurdonark—The wonderful free software at ixi-software.net, which got me going

—teaching myself how to use the shareware software synths that I use the most in writing music.


That ixi software link looked interesting. Right now, I’m finishing up my 4th Jamendo album; I’m also learning Csound.

PureData, ChucK, and SuperCollider are scheduled for later — I wanted to start with Csound because it seems to be old and stable, yet incredibly powerful. However, if the ixi stuff pans out, I’ll have to start the ChucK migration earlier.

Electronic and synthesized sounds have been my fascination here lately, especially instruments that have a ‘real’ feel to them, but don’t actually exist. So yeah, I’ve been going the softsynth route as well.

I’m glad to see that some of the things I’m pursuing have popped up in this thread — it makes me feel all this background work I’m doing is time well spent. There is an urge, as a musician, to be productive, productive, productive. But what good would it be to turn out album after album without learning anything in between, or bringing anything new to the game?
 
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permalink   DoKashiteru Fri, May 2, 2008 @ 10:54 AM
Thanks for that ixi-software link, there’s some really great stuff there!
fjam_keeper
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permalink   Tue, Mar 11, 2008 @ 12:32 PM
I’ve actually been working with loops and samples from almost the beginning. I use acid pro, and it’s actually quite easy to do with it. It lets you audition parts until you find something that works. The work I’ve been doing really doesn’t fall into the category of re-mix, although it’s close. If a part is done to a metronome it’s actually quite easy to do with the right tools.

I’ve actually had decent success at editing parts that were not done to a click so that they stay with a click. I go through them measure by measure with acid pro and put them right on the click. Once that’s done it’s simple to put parts against them.

I have some finished tunes I’ve done this on if you are interested in hearing them.

There are all kinds of tricks that can be used. I use a program called winBPM for finding ballpark tempos and then I can tweak the parts to be exact against that tempo.

I understand the idea indepth, but I am struggling with the restrictions of this “re-mix” format. A lot of what I have in my archives could qualify, but a lot doesn’t if I’m understanding things properly.

The restrictions are what seem to not feel right to me…
Bruce H. McCosar
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permalink   Sun, Apr 6, 2008 @ 8:16 AM
Well, there comes a time in any musician’s life when you have to “pay your dues.”

I can remember way back having to memorize all those guitar scales. Now, I’m to the point of being able to invent a scale on the spot and create with it.

Same thing with remixing. Over the past two months, my efforts have been spread out in time. We’re in the process of moving to Virginia, and I was in the process of releasing my 4th Jamendo album.

It was actually a good thing. The extra time between efforts meant I approached each composition with open ears each time.

In the end, none of my early efforts proved worthwhile — I kept them to myself. However, I have been learning from each one. I’m paying my remixing dues, I guess.

I’m not upset about it. There are other artists on Jamendo that come out with a new album every few weeks. For me, personally, it takes months. I guess you could say I’d rather have a small bag of gems then a truckload of crap ;-)

Still, let me ask a burning question that has come up recently — a technical point about composition and remixing that I don’t think can be answered anywhere but here:

To Envelope or Not To Envelope?

I’ve been making a lot of new sound textures using Csound. If I upload these samples to ccMixter, I’d like to know this:

If I do not envelope the volume, they can be reinterpreted as needed by the remixer.

However, the preview .mp3 will sound horrible. It will take imagination to see how the sound could be useful.

On the other hand, if I do envelope the volume, then you’re stuck with my interpretation of the note’s duration and dynamics.

Further, if my idea makes any sense, could there be a new tag called “nonenveloped” (or similar) for raw textures that can be shaped by the remixer? I mean sounds that sustain a very long time, so that an ADSR could be applied and make sense.
 
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permalink   DJ Rkod Sun, Apr 6, 2008 @ 10:44 AM
Have it both ways. You can upload the raw texture and use a shaped MP3 for the preview. You could even upload full versions of both by using the Manage Files link to get them under the same identifier.

You could also upload the CSound patch as a zip file (I don’t use CSound, but I think it’s possible to export patches like that) so people can work/play with it on their own.
 
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permalink   Bruce H. McCosar Sun, Apr 6, 2008 @ 1:00 PM
Quote: DJ RkodHave it both ways. You can upload the raw texture and use a shaped MP3 for the preview…

You know, I really should have thought of that. I just went through almost exactly the same process on the 5 full tracks I just submitted … I guess someone had to kickstart my brain to think “As above, so below” (what works for long samples works for short samples).

Quote: DJ Rkod…You could also upload the CSound patch as a zip file

There’s another issue. Csound lets you do a lot of raw coding, but I’ve been using soundfile analysis on samples from here and Freesound to create entirely new textures — using linear predictive coding analysis of a voice track to modulate ocean surf or broken glass, for instance. Therefore the Csound file depends not only on another sample, but on an analysis file of that sample … it turns into a bear pretty quickly, because the analysis files aren’t portable across platforms — Calgon, take me away! — and in the end, I’m just at “Hey, here’s the sample.” ;-)
shimoda
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permalink   Fri, May 2, 2008 @ 2:23 PM
Hopefully after reading all these posts, I’ll add something useful and not forget what I meant to say in the first place.

I, too, have some jazz background, from college on, and am also primarily a bass player. That said, I took piano for many years as a child and while I’ve lost much playing ability, I have always played by ear. I still could use real ear training (intervals, etc) but have studied some composition.
I usually find myself stuck when I just go with any particular method for songwriting, whether it is melody or rhythm first. I can beatbox all day, but get stuck when it comes to programming sequences and multiple loops. So, this is how I have, so far, approaching remixing:
As I have said elsewhere, I approach it much like painting (which I also do from time to time). I load up my palette with basic colors and mix from there. It seems that when I fill the palette I rarely add anything, but something usually goes unused.

When mixing Spies (Anchor Mejans pell), I dropped in all the samples I thought would work and quickly filled up 24 tracks and then some. I pushed play just to hear what I had all together. Despite the large number of samples playing at once, I could hear almost immediately what I would use in the first couple of minutes and what might be added later or removed altogether. While I haven’t done mind-numbing amounts of listening to samples and have really only been doing remixing for a couple of months, my years of listening to muic and humming in what I thought could go, as well as my love for musique concrete and early industrial and ‘noise’ bands probably has contributed to my appreciation to this medium. Frankly, I think of remixing as much more than extending a dance piece, all thanks to this site.

I also sense that many people use loop metaphor software rather than linear audio software. I could be wrong here, and it’d be interesting to really know this, but the two branches of DAW’s have several enviable points. I’m stuck on Cubase, partly because it’s what I first had, and for some reason it is very intuitive to me. I’ve also spent a lot of time with it and though I have access to Acid Pro, Sonar and Fruity Producer 7, I’ve stuck with Cubase. I’ve even messed with ABleton and found features there useful, but perhaps I’ll be here till I have to move to Vista and can’t use Cubase SX2 any longer. My point here is that I think to some degree, your philosophy will be influenced by software and the type of editing/composing/auditioning you do. It’s entirely possible that I could work more efficiently and produce more with the other programs, I’m just not sure, and the desire to keep doing any music makes me want to stick with where I’m at, at least for now.
vo1k1
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permalink   Fri, May 9, 2008 @ 3:59 PM
Quote: Bruce H. McCosar1. How do you compose for remixing? What is the order of events and procedures that works for you?

I went to this amazing Brian Eno “concert” – he sat in a big comfy chair by a 8’ rack of gear and played songs and then talked about them – it was fantastic. He made a comment about making music that went something like – you need a goal so that you know in which direction to start, even if you expect to end up someplace else. That resonated a lot for me; I usually start with some specific aural vision; and while heading there, some side trip ends up being fulfilling. So, I usually gather up supplies for my intended trip (vocals, samples, etc.), and restock for the unintended side trip.

There is a skill that I would like to learn – which is how to mix some mainstream genres really well, like rock and pop. I do not really have the time to apprentice at some studio (kids, career), so I am reading and listening a lot. Most of what I have read is frustratingly technically rudimentary (I have a degree in physics). Though there is some great reading out there for mixing perspectives (e.g., Behind the Glass by Howard Massey). Ike Carver http://www.youtube.com/user... has something that is close to what I want; I like the continuous monologue while he is actually mixing; I think I’d love it if he was a little more out there with his technique.

Any suggestions?