Two things in my life inspired the idea for this piece. The first one is the recent development of my fascination with ambient music that is very tonal, but treats tonal sounds as building blocks for a soundscape more than building blocks for a melodic structure. Through Pandora, I have discovered over the last couple years that I love this kind of music because it has a high amount of emotional resonance for me and yet a meditative quality.
The second point of inspiration for this song is more personal. Over the past few months I have had my first real experience of heartbreak. Suddenly a lot of poetry and music and art and literature that seemed really overdramatic and strange before now made a lot more sense and became quite powerful. In a long heart-to-heart over the phone with my mom, I mentioned this assignment and that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with it, and she suggested that I use my feelings as an opportunity to make emotionally-inspired art.
Well, I was pretty skeptical about my ability to make a piece of musique concréte about heartbreak, but I decided to try my best anyway. I started by browsing through one of my favorite blogs of love poetry, connotativewords. After a bit of searching, I found a piece of a poem I really liked:
You fell gently onto me
Like an autumn leaf.
And just like one season
after the next,
I was never the same.
Recording myself speaking the text proved challenging, as I discovered it's difficult to read love poetry well. My voice kept sounding annoyingly pedestrian. I was finally able to get a good recording when I closed my eyes and read it while thinking about my own life and imagining I was actually speaking it to someone instead of just reading words.
Next, I knew I wanted it to be tonal, because I couldn't picture making a soundscape about love with clanks and clicks and whistles and whooshes and crashes. As a percussionist, I think some of the most beautiful sounds are melodic percussion instruments (though this is certainly true of some more than others). So I took my own microphone and recorded rolls, single notes, and single two-note chords on marimba, vibraphone, and timpani.
I started the piece off with the timpani roll, which I added some EQ and compression to to bring out the low frequencies and keep the volume more even, respectively. I made several overlapping tracks to keep it continuous throughout the piece and used a bus to apply the effects. The first discovery that actually got me excited, though, was that the sound of a marimba roll backwards was really trippy and great for creating an atmosphere. I also discovered that if I ran it through a pitch bending filter up and octave or two and then changed it over the course of the piece with automation, it sounded kind of like an electric bass, only more interesting and irregular.
The vibraphone recordings sounded really cool with a delay, and I decided I really liked the marimba notes backwards, especially with an EQ boosting the low end. I used these two ideas generally to add punctuation to different parts of the piece, and to add spacial variety by having them occur in different orientations between the right and left speakers. But it was fun to mix it up every once in a while. In one instance I added reverb to a non-reversed marimba note and really liked the rattling sound that the attack made. In another I cut off the attack at the end of a reversed note and then played the same note non-reversed at that exact moment. In another I cut off the attack of a reversed note and played an echoey vibraphone at that moment. I discovered a pitch bending feature in audition that enabled me to make any note off my recording of a single note. I used this to create a higher vibraphone note, a lower vibraphone note, and a lower reversed marimba note.
The text was hard to incorporate, maybe just because it's disconcerting to hear my own voice, but also because manipulations of the human voice tend to sound strange or annoying or just plain disturbing, none of which are conducive to love poetry at all. I broke it up into pieces and slowed them down (without changing the pitch) as far as I could without it sounding creepy, and then introduced the pieces one at a time in the first half of the piece. Then toward the end, I played the whole recording at once without the speed changes. I applied some EQ to boost the super-high frequencies (so the consonants could be heard) as well as the lower frequencies, as well as some reverb, which I spent a long time trying to get right.
I decided the piece had too much tone and not enough noise, so I went and found some white noise on the internet, and subtly faded it in and out in the second half of the piece. I like how it's easily identifiable because of the high frequencies, but it's subtle enough that you don't hear it unless you're actively listening for it. I also like how it kind of sounds like waves, and is thus surprisingly soothing.
For the ending, I slowly let the timpani roll fade away while I brought in an echo effect on the reversed marimba just before stopping it and letting it echo. As the echo dies away, I finally used the recording of the single note on the timpani, reversed, also with an echo, to end the piece with what I hoped was finality but also contained an element of pensivity.
Overall, I really enjoyed making this piece and am quite proud of it. I think that I did manage to make a soundscape that did justice to a piece of love poetry, at least based on my own personal aesthetic sense. It also helped me deal with my own feelings, and that gave it a special value for me.
(Much of the process is described above)
The assignment was to create a "sound collage" inspired by musique concréte by recording sounds and putting them together into a piece of music. Here are some of the sounds I recorded and then manipulated:
Software used: Apple Logic, Adobe Audition