Composing (as opposed to automatic modular music)

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Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
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Post by Dr. Sketch-n-Etch » Tue Mar 03, 2015 11:07 pm

Sorry to be "tooting my own horn" again (actually, I'm not that sorry) but I'd like to draw your attention to a little ditty from my Soundcloud page:

http://soundcloud.com/dr-sketch-n-etch/ ... e-ostinati

I had very little gear when I made this. It involves two VCOs, each one getting its CV from a square-wave LFO. This LFO is a triple LFO. Two of the LFOs are driving the VCOs and the third (in triangle-wave mode) is sweeping a 4-pole filter.

So, the square-wave LFOs have 3-way polarity switches which allow one to select between the whole square-wave (+5/-5V), or just the positive part (+5/0V), or just the negative part (0/-5V). I discovered one day, messing around, that if I drove the Expo FM input of a VCO with these square-waves, then I got different diatonic intervals by playing with these switches and the setting of the Expo FM pot. So, one day, I sat down to improvise a piece using only these switches and two VCOs as my only "musical" material. You can hear the result in the clip.

So, I have a couple of pleasing sets of intervals going at two different speeds for the first three minutes, where the only improvisational element is flipping the polarity switches on the LFOs. Then, between about 3:00 and 3:15, I change the settings of the Expo FM knobs attenuating the CVs from the LFOs at the VCO inputs to change the intervals from the LFOs. I make the change over about 10 seconds, then try to put it in tune for about five seconds. This interval change was something that the music itself suggested to me. It was not done "randomly" in the sense of just twiddling a knob without forethought. It was a conscious adjustment.

Then, after a little bit of that, at 3:42 I quickly readjust the knobs to their original settings (or what I thought was their original settings), thus giving the piece a bit of a coda and a sense of form.

I consider this piece an improvisation, but a somewhat "compositional" one. In fact, I think that I got a bit lucky with it. It turned out better than I could have hoped.
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Post by Moog$FooL$ » Wed Mar 04, 2015 3:47 pm

well Doc, not bad, kinda made me think of "Nectarine Nightmare".

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ju4n
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Post by ju4n » Thu Mar 05, 2015 10:41 pm

i generally don't compose away from an instrument, ie purely in my head. As a synth player, when realizing a theme or progression, i find the sound im playing sets the path for how i play, and thus what i write.

i can write a progression and try playing with different sounds and the change in sound changes the rhythm or intuition of note order and can shift the progression in a different direction.

with that in mind, strictly composing (ordering of notes) is almost always linked to what patch is being used.

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Post by felixer » Sun Mar 08, 2015 8:22 pm

ju4n wrote:strictly composing (ordering of notes) is almost always linked to what patch is being used.
yep. and that is why composing (of notes) should go hand in hand with composing of sounds (sounddesign). and why you can only get old music from old sounds. some people are into that. no offence ...
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Post by blipson » Sat Feb 16, 2019 9:52 pm

I practice--both reflexively and in a more studied kind of way--most of the techniques discussed above, but I'm reviving the thread to add my two cents regarding a macro level of organization that perhaps exceeds what any generative I've heard interestingly do. The tone poem concept always works for me at the highest level of form when I'm working on something larger. The programmatic aspect gives quite heterogenous "wholes" an aesthetic unity, at least in my mind, that keeps me developing different areas of the composition in parallel, according to which part I feel like working on at the moment. The programmatic structure's story might be a musically irrelevant fiction that I employ as a psychological tool so that it doesn't matter if listeners are aware of it or not. Primarily, though, I really prefer the opportunity to collaborate with other visual media artists so that the the production feels like a novel without words, with drama, fantasy, humor, and whatever. My dream would be to work in an overly operatic form, but with instrumental soloists in place of vocalists. That's just my personal taste: I only like vocalists in pop music and jazz, and have an aversion to voice in more abstract instrumental and electronic stuff, and I really don't like opera vocals at all. I like baroque chorales, though, so go figure.

At any level, I'll freely violate whatever rule of organization I've put on myself if some unrationalized variation of sound in any form just sounds right at a given moment; ultimately, the music depends upon your ear and nothing else. I always end up making even more of the "mistake." I had a piano teacher who taught me "Never make a mistake," meaning to practice new material with patience so that you don't acquire bad habits that you have to unlearn later. That's a good rule, perhaps, for performaing other people's written music. On the flip side, I had a theory teacher who taught that, when improvising, "If you make a mistake, make it again."

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Post by Idunno » Sun Feb 17, 2019 1:50 pm

My style of producing music has changed over the years. I used to painstakingly compose every note (although it'd often be different in a band situation). I've become more of an improviser now though. Latterly I've been recording drum tracks (with rarely any preconceived idea of what I'll be playing before I play it) and then improvising and composing over the drum tracks.

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Post by WisdomWriter » Thu Mar 28, 2019 4:09 pm

I tend to love making melodies because you can really bring the mood to life or clash opposing moods to create something totally different.

I tend to start with a basic "da da dahh da da da" idea, with different note length and tempo and key and what not. but sometimes i make a bassline with my eurorack and see if i can create a melody that will blend well or atleast play nicely with the euro sound.

I use ableton and i use an OB6, that i will play with (im no keyboardist so its literally just play and listen and repeat). I tend to start in a default key, either Cmajor or Aminor because they blend well into one another, and it helps me conceptualize key changes as i am still teaching myself music theory. once i have a good "skeloton" of a melody, ranging from 4-16 bars, i will change not length, change a couple chords around add a overtone melody. just depends on the mood the original creation creates. ill generally insert those in with a piano roll in ableton. i tend not to record live play, as i am still leraning, but i will play small little 4 bars at a time then build more off of that when i have the bases created.

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Post by 3hands » Sun Mar 31, 2019 11:50 am

I am definitely in the “walk down the street and hum an idea” camp. Once I have that idea, it may sit in my brain for a couple of weeks. If I can’t get it out of my head, that’s a sign that it’s on to the next stage of development. I will sit at my MSQ700, and sketch the original idea or hook, usually with whatever is plugged into it at the time. Once the notes are inputted, I then set about designing the rest of the music around it, in order for that hook to be brought to the forefront of a song. Then it’s onto sound design. This is where I sit at my modular, or the rest of my hardware and having the track looping build it all up with the sounds that best fit the instrumentation. Then begins the routine of inputting each track one at a time into my DAW (Cubase), and I can then flesh it out with production and whatnot at that point.

Inspiration comes from a lot of different places for me. Psychological states of mind is a big one for me, being that I work with children with Autism. I try and sit down and compose “what they see”. I also get a lot of inspiration from things I see, nature, colours etc... smells are inspirational as well.

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Post by BenA718 » Mon Apr 01, 2019 6:59 am

An older thread but fascinating topic!

As someone who studied music formally I think that having at least the basics of music theory down is an invaluable skill to have.

When it comes to writing it’s equally important, in my opinion, to have form and to follow your muse. For most pieces I will know the key, tempo, meter, etc before I have any type of sound in mind.

Composing on modular adds another skill set layer, as does integrating MIDI and whatever recording platforms you use.

I usually start with the basics: intro, Section A, Section B, and transition. Those parts are then contracted, enlongated, sub-divided or thrown away entirely. The entire thing is then recorded.

One of the most important things you can develop as a composer (or any type of artist) is a good sense of self-editing and knowing when to call something done and move on.

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Post by Idunno » Mon Apr 01, 2019 10:36 am

I hardly know any formal music theory. I've never needed it and never seen my lack of it as a hindrance.

For instance I have a form of perfect pitch. The other day I sang a couple of songs to myself that I hadn't heard for twenty years and I went onto YouTube to find that my singing was perfectly in tune with the original recordings. However, I can't tell you what the notes or intervals are, or what key or mode or scales are being used. To me, that labelling of stuff is irrelevant to the musicality.

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Post by felixer » Mon Apr 01, 2019 8:58 pm

Idunno wrote:I hardly know any formal music theory. I've never needed it and never seen my lack of it as a hindrance.

For instance I have a form of perfect pitch. The other day I sang a couple of songs to myself that I hadn't heard for twenty years and I went onto YouTube to find that my singing was perfectly in tune with the original recordings. However, I can't tell you what the notes or intervals are, or what key or mode or scales are being used. To me, that labelling of stuff is irrelevant to the musicality.
it is very usefull for communicating your music to other musicians. i find it very unpracticle if i'm working with people who have no idea of theory. otoh it works very fast if half a word is enough. and you can quickly get an idea across ...
forthe composing process itself it is essential if you want to go beyond what you know/feel intuitively. some us want that, you know ... don't hang about endlessly on old stuff ...
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Post by Idunno » Tue Apr 02, 2019 9:25 am

felixer wrote: it is very usefull for communicating your music to other musicians. i find it very unpracticle if i'm working with people who have no idea of theory. otoh it works very fast if half a word is enough. and you can quickly get an idea across ...
forthe composing process itself it is essential if you want to go beyond what you know/feel intuitively. some us want that, you know ... don't hang about endlessly on old stuff ...
Yeah, as a non dot reader I've found that other non dot readers can pick up on ideas I put across a lot faster than a dot reader might. But there's all sorts. You can't really generalise about these things.

I tend to think that music is a voyage of discovery, both in listening and playing. As in most things, for better or worse, I tend to prefer to chart my own course.

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Post by calaveras » Sat Apr 20, 2019 2:43 pm

I'm always shifting my approach. Sometimes I start with a modular patch and try to shoehorn it into something compositional.
For instance, syncing the clock to a drum machine, so all the LFOs gates and envelopes are acting in some relation to the tempo of the drum machine.
I used to have to use a Moog MP201 just to get these two worlds to communicate. But the Elektron boxes all sync with each other and various external devices very easily.


That said I often find myself falling into a creative rut, where all my output starts getting pretty vanilla. So I will switch back to writing on guitar or bass for a while. That is what I am most familiar with, as that is how I first got into music in high school.

I've noticed that one approach usually results in harmonically complex and rhythmically homogeneous results.
The other gets me more complicated songs, that tend to be riffs on an E string.

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Post by Dr. Sketch-n-Etch » Mon Apr 22, 2019 1:49 pm

One piece with which I am very impressed right now is "Magnificent Stumble" from the "Traditional Synthesizer Music" album by Venetian Snares. I wonder how much of that track was composed beforehand. It is in 11/8 time, and has several threads of counterpoint. It sounds like the 21st century evolution of Baroque music.
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Post by Koekepan » Thu May 02, 2019 9:57 am

What I'd really like to see is a major linear sequencing/arranging tool for modular.

Say, 100 3.5mm output jacks (let's go with eurorack for now) and an interface that lets you control triggers, gates and slopes out of any or all of them, then organise those elements in patterns that can be arranged on a timeline to make up a whole piece.

You can kinda-sorta get there now with MID-to-CV kit, but a really good standalone modular sequencer that isn't just about cycling patterns would be of great value. That would absolutely kill MIDI for expression and precision.

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Post by rec.Koner » Tue May 07, 2019 9:55 am

Not sure if this is right thread, but gonna ask anyway...

Lately i dont feel like i can do any composition anymore, it all ends up at me getting depressed at endless loop of 4/8/16-stage sequencer and that's it. Even if i find some cool sequence of pitches, i dont go any further.

:deadbanana:

same with pianoroll in software

~10 years ago i did some tunes on guitar (never arranged, cant compose drums and bass on top of melody for life), but that was riff-heavy/chord-based, not something i might translate into monophonic synthesizer music, also it was more freely than pattern-based
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Post by Dr. Sketch-n-Etch » Sun May 12, 2019 11:35 am

I think you've got to hear something in your head, and then somehow realize it -- either on paper, or on the modular. That's composition.
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Post by MARK27 » Sun May 12, 2019 12:29 pm

For me personally, I usually get bored of music that doesn't have a well thought out harmonic structure, with chord changes that take good advantage of tension and release.

In terms of songwriting, I tend to like the "singer-songwriter" types, like the Beatles, Elliot Smith and Aimee Mann.

Unfortunately for me, I have always been bored with the sound of guitars and in love with electronic music. That left me with a very limited set of artists that really spoke to me.

Then again, that is what was so great about the early 80s -- you had all these pop song writers that suddenly felt like they had to put synthesizers all over their music to stay relevant. I was in heaven!

But that was a really long time ago. Things have changed. I love all this "experimental" electronic music, but it only takes me so far.

Regarding the discussion about the value of music education, all I can say is that I sincerely believe that all knowledge is power. I have never met a musician that was hindered by knowledge of music theory while I have certainly met musicians for whom ignorance was an obstacle for one reason or another. Yes, that is a generality, but one that has been reinforced again and again by my experience. And there are always exceptions. I have loved any number of works by authors with no formal education, but they are probably in the minority.

That's just me. It probably also makes a difference that I am from an older generation. If I was a young man now, my beliefs might be different. You never know.

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Post by dubonaire » Sun May 12, 2019 3:19 pm

Dr. Sketch-n-Etch wrote:One piece with which I am very impressed right now is "Magnificent Stumble" from the "Traditional Synthesizer Music" album by Venetian Snares. I wonder how much of that track was composed beforehand. It is in 11/8 time, and has several threads of counterpoint. It sounds like the 21st century evolution of Baroque music.
Venetian Snares is known as a tracker producer, but for Traditional Synthesizer Music he said used a Machinedrum as the main sequencer. He also used a 101 and a Microbute to send sequencers and used eurorack sequencers as well working of different clocks from the Machinedrum. Apparently he clocked from Renoise which you can see in the video below.

As a tracker producer it's likely everything was very carefully composed. IDM producers in general use fairly classic melody structures over the top of intricate drum beats.

[video][/video]

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Post by rec.Koner » Sun May 12, 2019 5:22 pm

As sequencer? I've been told that machindrum was only providing clock for these pieces by VSnares, so sequencing was done in modular. Hm :hmm:

As for his tracker-based compositions, yeah, i respect how he usually place one-shots manually. While other musicians might instead apply glitching/slicing/retriggering effect on the whole loop and be happy

edit:

speaking of which, i often wondered about composition of drums
viewtopic.php?t=184602

but most people were like "just start playing drums and it ll come eventually" which is a bit bullshit position, don't ya agree? The closest thing i found out to look into is existance of book called "Geometry of Rhythm"
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Post by dubonaire » Sun May 12, 2019 6:40 pm

rec.Koner wrote:As sequencer? I've been told that machindrum was only providing clock for these pieces by VSnares, so sequencing was done in modular.
According to him clock from Renoise, Machinedrum into Analogue Solutions MT-16 16 x Midi to trigger, which was also triggering other sequencers in the modular which made them run at different clock rates.

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Post by rec.Koner » Mon May 13, 2019 4:42 am

I see, thanks for info.
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Post by dubonaire » Mon May 13, 2019 5:33 am

rec.Koner wrote:speaking of which, i often wondered about composition of drums
viewtopic.php?t=184602

but most people were like "just start playing drums and it ll come eventually" which is a bit bullshit position, don't ya agree? The closest thing i found out to look into is existance of book called "Geometry of Rhythm"
Sorry I didn't respond to the last part of your post. I read "Geometry of Rhythm" and it didn't help me that much, which I'm sure says more about me than the book.

I'm not sure I agree that "just start playing drums and it will come eventually" is bullshit, but it should probably be stated as "just start playing drums for all of the time you can afford and it will come to you after a very long time".

I think the thing people most underestimate is how long it takes to become a good musician. And the big unintentional deceit with electronic music is you don't necessarily need dexterity, but there is still much mastery needed to be good.

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Post by rec.Koner » Mon May 13, 2019 8:39 am

I don't mean that "it's not helpful", but i'm surprised.

Also many of "composers" only ever used keyboard/sequencer-based things yet created the whole compositions while never drumming. And some weren't even doing electronic/sampled drums but basically writing notation for performers (?) though i m not sure how much freedom composer gives to drummer musician for performing piece
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Post by Idunno » Tue May 14, 2019 11:18 am

MARK27 wrote:For me personally, I usually get bored of music that doesn't have a well thought out harmonic structure, with chord changes that take good advantage of tension and release.

In terms of songwriting, I tend to like the "singer-songwriter" types, like the Beatles, Elliot Smith and Aimee Mann.

Unfortunately for me, I have always been bored with the sound of guitars and in love with electronic music. That left me with a very limited set of artists that really spoke to me.

Then again, that is what was so great about the early 80s -- you had all these pop song writers that suddenly felt like they had to put synthesizers all over their music to stay relevant. I was in heaven!

But that was a really long time ago. Things have changed. I love all this "experimental" electronic music, but it only takes me so far.

Regarding the discussion about the value of music education, all I can say is that I sincerely believe that all knowledge is power. I have never met a musician that was hindered by knowledge of music theory while I have certainly met musicians for whom ignorance was an obstacle for one reason or another. Yes, that is a generality, but one that has been reinforced again and again by my experience. And there are always exceptions. I have loved any number of works by authors with no formal education, but they are probably in the minority.

That's just me. It probably also makes a difference that I am from an older generation. If I was a young man now, my beliefs might be different. You never know.
One notable exception, you've already mentioned - The Beatles. They didn't study music theory. Didn't seem to hamper then none.

I don't think you have to be musically studious to compose great music, you just have to be musically minded, and highly focussed.

Perhaps the Beatles were so great at composition actually as a result of not knowing much music theory, as it forced them to compose rather than improvise like a jazz musician with a good knowledge of theory might.

And that's not to say that great improvisors need a knowledge of music theory either. Like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix knew scant music theory.

And on a personal note, I've played with many fine and talented musicians that have studied music theory and they invariably all play a tad conventionally for my taste, like they know how to play the "right" way but don't know how to make something beautiful out of doing it the "wrong" way.



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