Sunday, 15 November 2009

Very First Public Performance of my Music: "Nostalgia"

On Saturday I attended the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Guild of St. George in Sheffield. This organisation is devoted to the heritage of John Ruskin. Brian Lewis as the initiator of the "Rivers Movement Project" had received a £ 500 grant from them, and so he had been invited to give a presentation about this project. Because I had been involved in the project since summer 2008, Brian asked me to do a joint presentation. Last Monday we outlined the powerpoint slides and selected the pictures to show. Then he asked me if I could play some of my music in the background, to demonstrate how in this project various art forms are represented. I decided it would be best to create a new music instead of taking some of my old recording.

So this Thursday evening I spent a night on improvising and sequencing. I started with the Yamaha MU-80 strings. They do not really sound great, but they allow me to give the harmonic orchestral background carpet. And since they run on an external synth, there is no worry about the audio engine in the PC sequencer. I made some experiments with the Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) strings, which sound much better, but the lack of velocity-related sound volume in this sample set prevented me from directly getting the desired sound levels by intuitive playing - I would have to use the post-production only modulation to get the right dynamics.

After having recorded a 2 minute live improvised background piece (in MIDI of course), I added voices from the GPO samples: solo violine, cello, English horn. I also wanted to use one of the marvellous harps from the GPO collection, but my PC appeared to be overloaded: sound dropouts and a stuttering play was the consequence of too many voices. So I had to use the MU-80 harp.

After much trouble adjusting the settings I eventually lost the capability of creating the actual audio recording directly on the PC, so I had to resort to using an external digital HD recorder for capturing the final audio mix. Afterwards I used Audacity with the LAME encoder to get the MP3 file.

This all was done from 23:00 until about 4:00 in the morning.

When I listed to the piece then on Friday I was not satisfied: the live improvisation had resulted in some harmonic murkiness in some parts, and the end also was sort of open - a listener would expect the piece to continue.

So on Friday evening I did another session, revising the music. I added one track with a beat-only and used Sonar 4's feature of improvisation fit, to get the music properly set into the meter and bars. From there on I was able to properly align the notes with the bar boundaries and to edit out some of the disambiguities in the harmonies. I also cut down the ending, but I noticed something interesting in the music perception: as it got late in the evening, the ending actually did not sound that bad, whereas when listening to it in the morning I thought that it did not fit well to the beginning. It seems that late at night my music perception has had a shorter attention time span, and I was listening to the music more related to the immediate effect rather then to the overarching structure. However, when I had listened to the piece in the morning, it had appeared to me that the overall structure of the piece was somewhat broken by the end, and that it ended in a harmony which was not consistent with the beginning.

I did only some slight editing of the end, and I left the harmonic context of that end, only cutting out some solo voices which appeared to make the music go further.
And so the music recording was ready after two evening/night shifts.

Next day, on Saturday, I drove with Brian to Sheffield where we gave our talk. Unfortunately they did not have the right audio cable to get the audio from my laptop to their speaker set (note to yourself: next time bring complete set of various cables), so I had to play the music through that small tinny-sounding laptop speaker and place the microphone close to it. Still it sounded ok, as this whole audio chain probably took some of the sharp higher harmonics off. I had recorded originally with headphones on, and listening to the music through headphones usually results in a much higher dynamic range than would be suitable for listening through speakers. So in the second recording session I had listened more often through the speakers of my consumer audio system, and I set the volumes and instrumental balances so that the music would sound appropriate on those speakers.

I placed the music in my presentation while showing the poster about my work on Music Morphology, to give some background of my work.

Well, everybody was listening intensely. They (about 80 people) did not seem to know what to make of it. Afterwards one lady asked me if my music had been on the radio in the past week. No, it had not, but it appears that there was someone with a similar style, using electronics, samples, and computer to create music.

Well, this piece is not the greatest. I see several flaws in it, and I would redo it if I had time. The strings need to be reduces in volume in some instances, and it would be better if I could replace them completely with more appropriate samples from the GPO.

But since this was the very first time any music by me had been listened to by a group of people in a public performance, this is kind of a special event. I devoted this music to the Guild of St. George, and if anyone of you wants to listen to it: here is the MP3 file.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Upcoming: first public play of my music: "Nostalgia"

It is late at night, after 4am. I just finished composing and recording a little piece of music. I call it "Nostalgia". The usual slow sentimental lush string orchestral piece, quite tonal, with a few adventurous modulations. Just a bit over 2 minutes long.

Writing it went smooth, although I could have added a few more instruments and worked more on the theme and the structure. But the trouble came with the recording: Sonar 4 and Personal Orchestra did not want to work together well anymore... The audio, apparently in the reverb / ambience processing, got some hickups. I tried to change the audio settings in Sonar, but that made things only worse. In the end I could not even replay anymore, stopped by dropouts.

The only thing that worked was setting Sonra4 to ASIO. But that removed all the audio recording... Solution: I had to take my external digital mini recorder and record the audio on there.

This Saturday will be the Anual General Meeting (AGM) of the Guild of St. George in Sheffield. Brian Lewis and myself will talk about the Rivers Movement. Since this organisation is devoted to linking art with life, Brian asked me if I could write a piece of music, to demonstrate that there was also this link in our project. And so I sat down a few hours ago, around 23:00, and began to improvise on the Yamaha MU-80 soft strings, and then to fill in the other instruments.

And now I am tired and sleepy.