Monday, September 3, 2012

Trade secrets!

I recently posted a quiet meditative piece somewhere between Jazz and Classical and a few folks asked for some details on how it was composed and produced. I am a bit hesitant sometimes to describe the entire process since I like to see the piece critiqued on its own merits or lack thereof, but for the very few who click through to my blog, here is the tell-all for "Echoing Thoughts"

Echoing thoughts features an imaginary combo (J422 combo - lame I know!), that I start the process with. Usually this is a small number of jazz performers. In this case I started with drum kit, upright bass, tenor sax, piano and later added a flute. As the piece progressed, the tenor sax was a bit too harsh and I fitted in a cello section which sort of made the piece somewhat classical sounding. Originally I was thinking of Boren and der Club of Gore but the piece morphed into something more New Age.

The piece was captured in Logic Express 9 with software instruments - everything is MIDI based. The piano is the Yamaha grand provided with Logic 9. The cellos come from software instruments in the Apple Symphonic Jampack. The flute comes via WIVI band - a software modeling suite that creates very realistic instrument sounds. The upright bass is also from Logic's sampler.

The piece is composed and directed via Noatikl 2 (, which is a generative music engine. With Noatikl, you define the voices, whether they play melodically in a scale or play fixed rhythms or notes, what notes they play, what chords they play, the probability of each note, the number of rests versus notes - whether or not to follow another voice, etc. etc.

Basically you feed in all the parameters and tendencies that you want the musicians to follow and Noatikl, in turn, feeds these MIDI events to each track - which you can either just listen to or record. The process in Noatikl is much more akin to composing than it is performing. Its a composer's dream! You tell every musician what to do and how rigid or loose to play, and here's the great thing - they do it! Frank Zappa would be drooling if he were alive to see it.

The piece was started with the drum voices - simple kick, ride cymbal and snare - very minimalist. I created 3 differing patterns for the cymbal and snare and assigned probabilities to them. One main pattern played "most" of the time with alternating triplets and variations mixing in occasionally. Each of these voices was assigned to an acoustically sampled drum kit on MIDI channel 10 in Logic.

The bass plays a slowly evolving pattern of either whole or half notes with a restricted range of notes. The cello plays a slow pattern with the flute eventually playing a following pattern one beat after the cello.

For the piano, there are 2 voices - one per "hand". The left voice plays 3 or 4 note chords in C-minor on the lower part of the keyboard. There is minor variation in timing to make some chords feel a little bit arpeggiated. The "right hand" is another voice, higher up the keyboard playing only one note at a time. Both of these are fed into MIDI channel 6 for the piano sounds.

Once composed and I liked the sound, I recorded the parts into several tracks in Logic 9 that were set up on individual MIDI channels. I did some very minor editing post - MIDI capture to find a decent stopping point.

That is basically the whole process. Below is a screen capture of Noatikl with the MIDI parts "wired" to the MIDI channels. There are pages and pages of rules that also come into play such as the scale (C Minor in this case), the probability of each note, whether to evolve patterns or not etc.

No comments:

Post a Comment