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What is Your Composition Strategy?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Modular Synth General Discussion Goto page 1, 2  Next [all]
Author What is Your Composition Strategy?
Pelsea
How do you approach composing on your modular? Do you write a score ahead of time, then patch it up? Or do you wing it during the show? Something in between, perhaps? I ask because that is the second question beginners ask -- I've bought all of this sexy gear, now what?.

I've used every imaginable approach over my life, but in my current efforts I'm doing something I call explore and assemble.

I have two kinds of exploration, based on the fact that my system is usually driven by a Max patch. Those patches are modular in the same way the synthesizer is. Each is a fairly simple process like a probability series or chaotic formula, but they can be linked in various ways for complex compositions. When I'm developing Max patches, I generally drive a tried and true synthesizer patch that has just enough requirements to keep the Max patch busy. When I'm exploring a module, (either something new, or unused aspects of an old favorite) I stay with the simpler Max patches and concentrate on how the module behaves with input I'm very familiar with. As an example, the patch running as I write this is a 4MS multiband resonator. It is being pinged and controlled by a Max patch called simpleMutatingSequencer. That is an 8 step sequencer which randomly changes one CV and one trigger per cycle. I'm working out exactly what the various 4MS features do. It has been running most of this week and I've made many discoveries. (For instance, I need to get a limiter.)

Assembly comes when I am offered a performance opportunity. I pick a few of my favorite patches that don't compete for modules and link them together in an ABA or rondo form. I then improvise a WX5 part over that and call it a piece.

What do you do?
hlprmnky
Speaking as a hobbyist with a barely-measurable fraction of your experience and expertise, my modus operandi:
1) See or read about something, or have some idea, that seems interesting.
2) Patch that up and start changing parameters to see if I can get the results I read about/heard, or to determine if the patch does what I imagined it would do.
3) Continue to tweak and add and add and tweak until I run out of patch cables or useful new places for CV or audio to go.
4) Enjoy the view from the place I have come to; maybe record a sample for later consideration.
5) Tear down the patch.
I feel like there’s a long road ahead before I’m making anything that I would consider performing or recording, but I fully expect I will enjoy every step on that road.
MindMachine
As a rank amateur typically I will just have an idea for a patch in my head or stare at my system to find untried combinations of functions/modules, etc. Then if those timbres are usable they will dictate the type of piece it will be: pastoral, industrial, experimental/aleatoric whatever. Then I might patch off of that original voice if clocks are involved or just add some other voices as keyed lines, sequences or manual trigger generated events. I'll record then add in some samples or loops of whatever is laying around to fit with the theme (cd effects, my woodwinds, percussion - whatever).

Sometimes I'll have a theme or exercise that I think up and attempt to execute it (examples: do a western movie background theme, do a patch from scratch clarinet solo over some e-piano, etc.).

I do all of the recording playing live with no MIDI, no computer. Set levels and make a racket.
oberdada
The strategy depends on the setting the work is made for.

Is it for live acoustic musicians? Is so, no modular.

Is it an electroacoustic piece? Then I might use recordings of the modular along with other sources and do a collage. In some cases I just experiment with patches and record everything for later potential use. Sometimes I have a definite plan for a composition, like my Circular Golomb Rulers, for which I had to write a score before attempting to have a sequencer control the notes.

If the setting is live performance on the modular I set up the patch and practice a lot. In that case I use no sequencers or other automation, it's all triggered and controlled in the moment.
PietroC
I Start by Imagining an Image or focusing on a feeling ( Dread, Solace, Fear ... for example ) and Creating the Melody / Soundscape for it
Once the Soundscape feels right and embodies my initial intention

I start Listening to this over and over
and Adding Sounds that complement this
( Drums, Bass Line , Atmosphere. . . .)

Funnily there are always sounds and melodic ideas that are removed later but help guide the composition and arrangement. Even at times those passages seem useless but without them you would not arrive there.

Also Sometimes the notes are right but the instrument is not and vise versa , even doubling the passage by adding a fifth / octave / Halftone
Or One instrument starts the passage and another finishes the passage
Brings a boring melody to life and gives it forward motion ( Like a March For Example )
Or One Instrument does a Whole note while the other thrills that note during the 3-4 beat of the whole note giving a new dimension to an other wise boring musical passage

I believe that idea is complete in our mind but it communicates it by giving it to us in puzzle pieces

Even More in Modular because of its chaotic nature I believe

The Hardest For me is
- When is it Enough Layers
- Figuring out what I want to hear next
- When the song is complete
Keltie
When setting up for a performance, I configure several voices. This is where triggerable oscs with their own env/vca built in really shine. In my case, I have 2 x plaits and 1 x braids that take this role. I also have stand alone oscs like e352 that require a voice to be built around them. Typically most oscs will go via filter, even if that is left open for now. I often mult gates to two envs to have vca and filter control separated out.

For sequencing, I will typically mult out of one sequence to all oscs, in terms of pitch cv. Triggers come from a mix of grids and Euclidean circles, and these will also typically clock the main sequencer. The pitch cvs go via a sinfonion, which has the effect of acting as a sample and hold too. This set up breaks the concept of each gate event having a specific pitch attached to it. Effectively, the gate sequencers define both when a note fires, AND ALSO, SEPARATELY, when a pitch is selected from the sequence.

The result is that a row of pitches in the main sequencer is distributed to the various oscs. The tuning set ups allow the same pitch to be a bass note in one voice, a lead note in another, and using plaits in chord mode, the root of any given chord tonality ( m7 being a particular favourite)

Then, I’ll add some abstract stuff. Typically voice samples, old movie dialogue etc, and this may go via stuff like rings/ supercell/ delay to become a pad/ ambience/ atmospheric flavour.

Drums come from bsp, typically a basic pattern, maybe with the odd trick like a divider/ logic / modulated BIA in the mix. The drum sounds come from pico drums, peaks, and 1010 bitbox.

I’ll run all of that while improvising mutes, mods, changes to the Euclidean and grids patterns, sometimes using a Ladik delayed lfo to add detail into the grids fill cvs. Running stepper acid and/ or per|former as the melody sequencer gives me different pitch rows to play with for progression.

So, the compositional shape comes the introduction, repetition and muting of parts. The melodic detail from the interaction of the melody sequencer with its clocking sequencer, coupled with the triggering of voices and the triggering of the quantiser. Atmosphere and abstract interest from bits and bobs of samples, effects, filter drops, fills etc etc, all improvised live.

It’s a hugely flexible and powerful way to improvise, especially so for the sort of dance floor friendly but musical type of EDM that I like to make.
starthief
I don't perform live, but:

I begin by playing with sound until something really grabs me.

Then I add a few more voices (usually -- I'm pretty minimalist about things) intended to fit together. Each part is almost always a drone, a simple sequence (often algorithmic) or a manually controlled part (or some combination of those) and I have some manual control over gating the sequence or drone, setting the mix level and some timbral control.

I listen to the voices in various combinations, maybe experiment with other tunings, tweak them relative to each other, decide if I want to omit any completely or add more, and come up with a general plan.

Then I hit record, and improvise. I record only the full mix, not individual stems or busses.

I listen to the take, and if I decide it's good, unpatch everything and commit to what I have. Usually it's just one take, sometimes I redo it, and much more rarely I'll crossfade two takes.

Then I edit and post-process the recording. Sometimes that's very lightweight and sometimes it changes the nature of the thing completely, but it's just whatever I feel is needed -- in a way it's also part of the improvisation.
BenA718
My approach is boring, I actually work out the theory! smile

For example, in the new large-scale piece I am finishing up, the core scale is D harmonic minor, which leads to some interesting chord progressions and harmonies using AMaj. For each section of the larger piece, I explore neighbor tones by using both a Dm to CMaj progression and a Dm to Em progression, but still using other chords in D minor. In one section, I modulate to F#m and then use the AMaj chord as the IV chord in the key of E. There is a nice chromaticism when I end on C#m, which happens to be the relative minor in E as well as the leading tone in D Harmonic Minor; and then go to Dm again to bring it back home to the original chord progression of Dm-Bb-Gm-AMaj.

TL;DR version: I work out the key and chords, write melodies based on the chords, tempo, and time signature, and vary it as much as I can until I feel that it reaches a conclusion, whether it resolves with a clean cadence or not. smile
Parnelli
Dang... I'm sort of a simpleton at this!

Sometimes I have an idea and set about to patch it up, but many things I do stem from experimentation. Often I will run across a certain sound that will give me an idea and I take off from there refining it and adding voices until I either get something tangible to record or screw the entire patch up and start over.

There are themes I have in mind and sometimes set out to create them with some success, but most of my work evolves from a random experimentation/learning process.
daveholiday
Parnelli wrote:
Dang... I'm sort of a simpleton at this!


Don't sell yourself short!

All of my songs have come from a sound. I don't have anything in my head...no grand masterpiece...just inspiration from a sound and how it should be combined with other sounds to please the voices in my head!

Most of the time I sit down and just plink keys and twiddle knobs, 9 times out of 10 gear gets turned off and nothing happens. But once in a while I will stumble across something that makes the voices in my head scream "run with that" and it becomes a fun artistic process.

Other times I will (because of my modular) dive into my other gear for a better understanding and find a capability that opens new doors.

I like to think of my composition process as very Bob Ross. "Happy accidents" have written songs for me, and it is my own little world and I can do what I want! If that happy little synth line needs a friend, I will give it one!

Seriously, I have some music background, but not much. Music composition for me is putting something together that sounds "right". Sounding "right" doesn't mean good, bad, set to a particular key.....but what makes me feel satisfied that I have transferred the thought and mood at the time so that I might replay it later.

That may seem cryptic or you may feel it....either way this is a hobby that I have enjoyed for 25 years now!

https://daveholidayexperience.bandcamp.com/album/live-joeygs
Parnelli
Well I am pretty good at stumbling about! Guinness ftw!

I rarely ever tune my machine to a key just so long as the oscillators are in tune with each other I'm usually good with it.

I have a basic music background from high school, but I pretty much quit reading music from then on. I still can but I'm lazy about it, there's no other way to put it.

I too am in my own little world and enjoying myself immensely!

I have a very solid background in electronics technologies, and that helps as well. In fact much of what I do in modular I do more through math and electronics ideas than traditional musical ideas.

I see this as a bold (new?) barely explored musical genre that's been forced to sit on the back shelf the past few decades, no more. I am determined to either find or create my niche in modular and present them for approval.

Or not. Rockin' Banana!
hlprmnky
BenA718 wrote:
My approach is boring, I actually work out the theory! smile

For example, in the new large-scale piece I am finishing up, the core scale is D harmonic minor, which leads to some interesting chord progressions and harmonies using AMaj. For each section of the larger piece, I explore neighbor tones by using both a Dm to CMaj progression and a Dm to Em progression, but still using other chords in D minor. In one section, I modulate to F#m and then use the AMaj chord as the IV chord in the key of E. There is a nice chromaticism when I end on C#m, which happens to be the relative minor in E as well as the leading tone in D Harmonic Minor; and then go to Dm again to bring it back home to the original chord progression of Dm-Bb-Gm-AMaj.

TL;DR version: I work out the key and chords, write melodies based on the chords, tempo, and time signature, and vary it as much as I can until I feel that it reaches a conclusion, whether it resolves with a clean cadence or not. smile

I don’t find this idea boring at all. I don’t have any musical training beyond high school but I am trying to Udemy myself up some theory knowledge for exactly this kind of thinking about organization of melodic content.
Do you find that the “theory” and “sound design” aspects of developing a song/patch inform each other as you work on a piece, or is one subordinate to the other (maybe a different one at different times!), or are they unrelated?
electricanada
Quote:

Assembly comes when I am offered a performance opportunity. I pick a few of my favorite patches that don't compete for modules and link them together in an ABA or rondo form.


How do you move between sections? Mixer, or sequencer, or...?
Pelsea
electricanada wrote:
Quote:

Assembly comes when I am offered a performance opportunity. I pick a few of my favorite patches that don't compete for modules and link them together in an ABA or rondo form.


How do you move between sections? Mixer, or sequencer, or...?


It’s all done in Max. I set up a window with buttons that can turn on subprocesses. Sometimes I use MIDI messages to step through sections. (The WX5 can send program changes.)

Actually you’ve given me an idea— I will build a module or control box to send that sort of command. I’ve got one on a breadboard around here somewhere.

I also have a switched mixer to choose which of four patches the WX5 is playing.
joeTron
I use the Orthogonal ER-101 sequencer that has like a gazillion steps you can generate instead of the usual 8,16 or 32. To me Eurorack lends itself to excessive repetition and I try to find ways to remedy that.
naturligfunktion
BenA718 wrote:
My approach is boring, I actually work out the theory! smile

For example, in the new large-scale piece I am finishing up, the core scale is D harmonic minor, which leads to some interesting chord progressions and harmonies using AMaj. For each section of the larger piece, I explore neighbor tones by using both a Dm to CMaj progression and a Dm to Em progression, but still using other chords in D minor. In one section, I modulate to F#m and then use the AMaj chord as the IV chord in the key of E. There is a nice chromaticism when I end on C#m, which happens to be the relative minor in E as well as the leading tone in D Harmonic Minor; and then go to Dm again to bring it back home to the original chord progression of Dm-Bb-Gm-AMaj.

Im lovin this! Might even steal it for my own compositions hehe

But how do you manage to do these chord changes on the modular? To you need to re-patch for every change or how do you do it?
search64
Composition is a big word for the random patches I make on the Music Easel. I just muck around until something sounds interesting and then I record it... that's it, that's my "strategy".
naos
I was 40 years old (this year) when I first understood that melody + bass are not enough, you need melody + bass + chords to make actual music.

As for composition strategy, I'd really like to find a simple system / concept that allows me to complete and get rid of about 1000 unfinished tracks. Is that too much to ask?
cptnal
naos wrote:
I was 40 years old (this year) when I first understood that melody + bass are not enough, you need melody + bass + chords to make actual music.

As for composition strategy, I'd really like to find a simple system / concept that allows me to complete and get rid of about 1000 unfinished tracks. Is that too much to ask?


I've stopped listening to actual music. As a genre I think it's had its day.

Mr. Green
joeTron
@ Naos

I have the same problem. What helps me is writing out on pad and paper ( I'm old school like that) a super simple chart with a drum loop, tempo, chords, and an Intro, A, B, ending. It's a map maybe worth sticking to instead of multiple computer files scattered about.

Also, all you need is a third voice to add in the middle and you'll "hear" chords especially keeping the root, 3rd and 7th in mind.
starthief
naos wrote:
melody + bass are not enough, you need melody + bass + chords to make actual music.


So a jazz quartet is music, but none of the players in it are individually making music, and the drummer doesn't contribute anything? hmmm..... Mr. Green

I think attempts to define what is (or especially, isn't) "music" are even more futile than attempts to define "art."
electricanada
naos wrote:
I was 40 years old (this year) when I first understood that melody + bass are not enough, you need melody + bass + chords to make actual music.?


No. You don’t. Harmony is completely unnecessary. I love it, but it’s the least important element in music. Listen to Hildegard of Bingen, or any Indian classical musician.
naos
electricanada wrote:
naos wrote:
I was 40 years old (this year) when I first understood that melody + bass are not enough, you need melody + bass + chords to make actual music.?


No. You don’t. Harmony is completely unnecessary. I love it, but it’s the least important element in music. Listen to Hildegard of Bingen, or any Indian classical musician.

I wasn't talking in absolute terms (I also like noise and random improvised nonsense) but more like a general rule or trick, something to check when a song just doesn't work the way you'd like it to.
BenA718
hlprmnky wrote:
BenA718 wrote:
My approach is boring, I actually work out the theory! smile

For example, in the new large-scale piece I am finishing up, the core scale is D harmonic minor, which leads to some interesting chord progressions and harmonies using AMaj. For each section of the larger piece, I explore neighbor tones by using both a Dm to CMaj progression and a Dm to Em progression, but still using other chords in D minor. In one section, I modulate to F#m and then use the AMaj chord as the IV chord in the key of E. There is a nice chromaticism when I end on C#m, which happens to be the relative minor in E as well as the leading tone in D Harmonic Minor; and then go to Dm again to bring it back home to the original chord progression of Dm-Bb-Gm-AMaj.

TL;DR version: I work out the key and chords, write melodies based on the chords, tempo, and time signature, and vary it as much as I can until I feel that it reaches a conclusion, whether it resolves with a clean cadence or not. smile

I don’t find this idea boring at all. I don’t have any musical training beyond high school but I am trying to Udemy myself up some theory knowledge for exactly this kind of thinking about organization of melodic content.
Do you find that the “theory” and “sound design” aspects of developing a song/patch inform each other as you work on a piece, or is one subordinate to the other (maybe a different one at different times!), or are they unrelated?

That's a really good question. It's pretty much simultaneous for me; if I need another melody, let's say, I will figure out what works musically and tonally at the same time.
BenA718
cptnal wrote:
naos wrote:
I was 40 years old (this year) when I first understood that melody + bass are not enough, you need melody + bass + chords to make actual music.

As for composition strategy, I'd really like to find a simple system / concept that allows me to complete and get rid of about 1000 unfinished tracks. Is that too much to ask?


I've stopped listening to actual music. As a genre I think it's had its day.

Mr. Green

LOL!
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