Pyramids – Live at the Funkhaus (Recording)

via Pyramids – Live at the Funkhaus

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Pyramids – Live at the Funkhaus (Recording)

iChing and Creative cards: Chaos

There are frequent moments in which a producer is stuck in a rut or is sick and tired of the usual way of working. This new method is of great help in this kind of situation since it helps the artist to get ideas by chance.

iChing is a really ancient Chinese divination text that tries to use randomness to define a situation, to give an answer. It may be used for a lot of matters and in many different ways but in music, one of the most important artists who gave it a try was John Cage. How he actually used it has not been defined well because it would be impossible to interpret since inspiration may come from anywhere.

Chaos is a song created after consulting iChing. The way the results obtained helped the production is quite simple: some words and sentences were taken as inspiration. It is a challenge for a non English-native-speaker to be completely inspired by all the text given since the text is of an extremely complex nature. The word “Chaos”, which gave the title to the song too, grabs your attention and the sentence “Thunder from the deep” conveys a greater sense of disorder. This required the use of several different instruments, without caring too much about harmony, overlapping each other with tension in the sound. Also, the creative cards were useful in supporting the production: a chosen card suggested using various different plug-ins and instruments, whereas another one advised reversing the guitar at the end (after advising to record it with the laptop microphone). At one stage they said to concentrate on quantity and not quality and then helped in the mixing stage with advice for FX, compression and levelling. They were useful not only because they were giving musical related “orders” but also because they helped to create pauses, allowing work on other incomplete tasks.

For a better experience use anything but laptop or smartphone speakers (it is just a rough mix).

iChing and Creative cards: Chaos

Dubbing: Jay’s Dub

Dubbing is a sub-genre, applicable to any kind of music. It is a sort of remix in which the vocals disappear and bass and drums are stronger. This manipulation of the tracks of the song works while it is playing by changing their parameters.

It was in Jamaica, thanks to Lee Perry and Osbourne Ruddock, where these techniques were applied to Reggae. Numerous artists and bands publish dubbed music as B sides, bonus tracks or, songs for their album (a famous example are The Clash).

The material was a kind of minimal song with really catchy drums and good instrumental balance. Dubbing originally made songs quicker, dirtier, faster and sharper. For movement, a flanger was added to the higher frequencies of the drums and, while the track was playing, the parameters of this effect were changed and the panning and levelling of all the instruments were modified. To make the track dirtier, noise and distortion were added to the synths, to make it faster, add tremolo on guitar and delay on the lows of the drums during a live. The sharpness came from two new bright guitar arrangements (some reggae vibe to give a sense of the first dub music).

This is the fruit of K3 desk (located in Funkhaus, Berlin): three performances were recorded after connecting the pedals and some output analog gears to some tracks. At home, Pro Tools edited and comped to find the best structure and emphasise these techniques. The guitar arrangements were recorded onto this. Noise, reverb and delay were added digitally and, by a MIDI controller, dubbing their parameters.

For a better experience use anything but laptop or smartphone speakers (it is just a rough mix).

Dubbing: Jay’s Dub

Glitch: Glitch My B**t

Music is not just a harmony-based piece of sound played only on any old instrument. Music comes from any kind of conventional or unconventional sound, and the instruments may be anything: the wind, fire, a moving chair and so on. This method takes its form from anything because it uses malfunction sounds as the core for creating a track.

Failure is a bright side in this technique because it represents a chance to create something new that can be used in an arrangement inside a piece of music. There are no limits to this and it is actually possible to use this idea to create something completely unique.

The song chosen to apply this technique was a dub track of a classic origin. A dozen of interesting pieces of audio were cut from the stems and looped into Pro Tools. After rendering them, they were burned into a CD by iTunes. When you colour or spoil the back of a CD, the player has serious difficulties playing it correctly; so, usually, it doesn’t work right and it creates malfunctioning sounds called glitches. A 15-minute recording of such a CD playing was done onto Pro Tools and from that, arrangements were created with a creative logic. The idea was to come up with some percussive tracks, some noise tracks to give some air and sparkle to the song and some central pieces of audio that could be used as melody or main lines.

Furthermore, the other techniques were tried out (Smplr, Audacity and Vocoder) but no good inspiring material came out of these. The main reason is because that was done in a second moment when the song already had taken on a structure and it was at its final arrangement stage. What these techniques give is something unexpected to use mainly as starting points but, at that moment, final details that were already in the artist’s mind were all that was needed.

For a better experience use anything but laptop or smartphone speakers (it is just a rough mix).

Glitch: Glitch My B**t

Sampling: Italian Dinner?!?

Italian Dinner?!? is a musical track made up of samples taken from several recordings made during a friend’s dinner party here in Berlin. It was decided to use only that material to try to achieve something completely unique and, in a certain way, alternative. All the takes were done by using a stereo microphone recorder. It was inspired by Empire Of Coffee by Matthew Herbert.

After completing the dinner recordings, the most time-consuming part of the work was that of selecting all the best samples out of the over twenty takes executed.

The chosen ones were dived into three categories: rhythmical, voices and non-percussion instruments. Thanks to the Ableton digital tool Simpler, all the sounds in the first two categories were treated with its “1-shot” modality in which each time you press the linked key, you hear the whole selected sample with all its editing (fade in, fade out, filters, etc…). All the samples were, then, gathered into a layout so that it would be easier to play them as if they were instruments. Thus, both the percussive instrument and the vocal one were achieved and all the sounds were roughly mixed following their audio characteristics.

Three other tracks were created but, this time, thanks to the “classic” mode in the Sampler. This mode helps you to create an instrument by using only one sound: the original sound is linked to the C3, while all the others are pitched and, when needed, stretched to all the other notes. In this case food mixer, a tap and a beer-drawing instruments were created by using this method.

The song was built from a horizontal point of view: twenty or more loops were created and linked to a scene and, afterwards, they were recorded in the arrangement view in a way that sounded right and made some sense.

All the proper mixing was done at the very last stage with the addition of three return tracks per each kind of instruments with reverb on it (for the vocals a very fast delay was added).

Some simple volume automations were executed too but it was decided not to push this button too hard, letting the sampling itself taking the lead.

This is just a rough mix.

Sampling: Italian Dinner?!?

Maria’s Transformation: Metropolis (Synthesis for diagetic and non diagetic sounds)

Metropolis is a Fritz Lang 1927 science-fiction movie. It is a silent film and the score was composed for a large orchestra by Gottfried Huppertz: he tried to mix the classical world with some more modern sounds to emphasise its industrial and apocalyptic environment. This movie is considered to be the pioneer of the science-fiction genre and has inspired a lot of contemporary  production styles.

The target of this project was to create both non-diagetic and diagetic sounds on a selected extract from this movie, using only modulation synthesis and trying to reinterpret only the frames,  without being influenced by the original sounds.

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Non-diagetic sounds

The non-diagetic sounds are everything whose source is not visible and is not intrinsic to the action. Some examples within this category could be: the soundtrack (mood music/score) or the sound effects which add to the drama.

Four instruments were created thanks to modulation synthesis and all of them were created by the Operator (digital synthesizer) in Ableton.

The first one is a high-pitched sine wave with an LFO constantly modulating both its filter and its amplitude. When the amplitude of a waveform is modulated, this synthesis is called AM synthesis (Amplitude Modulation Synthesis). If the modulating wave rate is below 20 Hz, the tremolo effect is audible on the original wave form but, if it approaches the audible range, it is more difficult for the human ear to  detect each individual amplitude fluctuation in the carrier and “sidebands” are produced. The frequency of these sidebands (which are usually inharmonic overtones) is the sum and the difference between the carrier and the modulator. If we are modulating a complex tone made up of more than just one frequency, two sidebands are produced for each. A good reference for this kind of synthesis is to be found in some of the Karlheinz Stockhausen works. Anyway, the idea of this non-diagetic sound was to create a constant harmonising looped high pitched drone to go with the whole frame for a sense of tension. The bass takes on a similar role and, with his fast arpeggio and boomy sound, it aims to keep the viewer’s attention. In order to further enhance this, and to raise the tension level, some automation on the bpm of the entire track was added to speed up the whole soundtrack right through to the end. This was to typical of the famous Jaws 1975 movie theme in which the shark is never seen but when the particular sound is heard, everybody is aware of its presence and, when the animal gets closer, the interval is ever shorter.

In the middle range two other instruments with the same modulation were created and then everything was panned and mixed to fill out the space properly. Thence, some volume and filtering automation were set up too, to facilitate arranging.

Diagetic sounds

All the sounds whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implicated to be present by reason of action are called diagetic. This reference-category can be found in Forbidden Planets (1956): this was one of the first movies in which synthesis was used.

Numerous samples of diagetic sources appear in this piece of audio so it was really hard to distinguish between them, create, synchronise and mix them. The working process was based on creating one sound at a time, repeating it whenever necessary (with proper editing when needed) and mixing it with what had already been created. Some of these sounds were created by using AM synthesis like the sound of the lighting cylinder at the very beginning: here the amplitude of the triangular waveform (in digital VCO A) is modulated by the Operator LFO with a high rate but a low amount. The sound of the switch, as all the others in the project, is created in another track by an envelope with a short attack and fast decay linked to the noise.

The rest of the sounds are mostly made  most by FM synthesis (Frequency Modulation synthesis). This technique was developed by John Chowning in the 60’s and is based on modulating the frequency of one oscillator with another one. When you put two oscillators (or more) in series, the pitch of the first one is modulated by the next. If the rate is below 20 Hz a vibrato-effect is reached but if you feed it at a faster rate, then sidebands are created. It is similar to AM but, in this case, more than two sidebands are created relating to the feeding oscillator amplitude. Most FM result in a very clangorous and a-tonal sound. The way to make it sound harmonic is to use harmonic ratios between carrier and modulator frequency. An example of FM synthesis in this project may be found with the energy rings sound (fluctuating around the robot). Here four oscillators in series were employed and they were automated so that they are turned on one after the other depending on the number of rings we see on the screen. All the waves are sine waves, to get a rounded effect and the automation is carried out while the scene is changing to make it un-noticeable.

Some other sounds were created using both AM and FM synthesis. An example of this is electric noise: a sine wave is feeding a squared wave and the LFO is modulating both the filter and the amplitude of the sine.

For a better experience use anything but laptop or smartphone speakers.

Maria’s Transformation: Metropolis (Synthesis for diagetic and non diagetic sounds)

Minimalism: Electronic Bi_ch

When you talk about minimal music, you are surely talking about a genre but, more that anything else, you are also talking about a series of techniques to be applied to any kind of track you want to produce. These techniques are really simple to understand and they are the key to turn your production into minimalism. Here they are:

  • Drone (long notes);
  • Ostinato (loops or short repeated melodies);
  • Augmentation (playing a melody at a slower speed);
  • Diminuition (playing a melody at a faster speed);
  • Note subtraction (take one note away at a time from your melody);
  • Note addition (add one note at a time to your melody);
  • Metamorphosis (change one note per repeat);
  • Static harmony (change one note per loop to reach a new chord);
  • Rhythmic displacement (change the accent of each next note as it repeats);
  • Phasing (creating longer loops of the same melody by extending the last note and repeat it until they sync again).

This piece of music is a clear example of all of these, and with also its only four instrument tracks it can be definitely defined as a minimal work.

All the synthesis is done thanks to Ableton Operator tool and the main theme was created taking as a reference Baba O’Riley by The Who.

For a better experience use anything but laptop or smartphone speakers (it is just a rough mix).

Minimalism: Electronic Bi_ch