Anatomy of a Disquiet Junto project

I participate in Marc Weidenbaum’s Disquiet Junto whenever I have the time and the brain space. Once a week, he sends out an assignment, and you have a few days to produce a new piece of music to fit. Marc asks that you discuss your process in the track descriptions on SoundCloud, and I’m always happy to oblige. But my descriptions are usually terse. This week I thought I’d dive deep and document the whole process from soup to nuts, with screencaps and everything.

Here’s this week’s assignment, which is simpler than usual:

Please answer the following question by making an original recording: “What is the room tone of the Internet?” The length of your recording should be two minutes.

Data Centre

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Composing improvisationally with Ableton Live

I just completed a batch of new music, which was improvised freely in the studio and then shaped into structured tracks after the fact.

I thought it would be helpful to document the process behind this music, for a couple of reasons. First of all, I expect to be teaching this kind of production a lot more in the future. Second, knowing how the tracks were made might be helpful to you in enjoying them. Third, composing the music during or after recording rather than before has become the dominant pop production method, and I want to help my fellow highbrow musicians catch up to it. Continue reading

Recording Peter Gabriel’s Security

This post was originally written for the Play With Your Music blog.

Peter Gabriel’s songwriting and recording process in the early 1980s was unusual in its technological sophistication, playfulness and reliance on improvisation. But now that the technology is a lot cheaper and more accessible, most pop, dance and hip-hop music is produced using similar methods.

Peter Gabriel's Security

The South Bank Show’s long 1983 documentary on the making of Peter Gabriel’s fourth solo album Security follows the production of the album from its earliest conception to its release and critical reception, giving fascinating insight into the creative process along the way.

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Animated gifs and electronic music

I was looking at a collection of perfectly looped gifs on Buzzfeed and thinking about how they remind me of sample-based electronic music. In both cases, you’re taking a piece of a linear recording and making it cyclical. Do it wrong and it’s extremely irritating. Do it right and it’s mesmerizing. I’ve given a lot of thought to how looping a segment of audio changes its meaning, but am only just starting to think about the visual equivalent.

George applauds

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The Groove Pizza

Walking to the subway this morning, I had a bright idea for how to make the Drum Loop more kid-friendly by representing the radial grid as a pizza. Here’s a very quick concept sketch:

Groove pizza

To really make this work, I wouldn’t just plop a JPEG of a pizza under the existing UI. I’d want a cartoon pizza rendered in a flat-color style. Instead of colored wedge cells, drum hits would be represented by stylized pepperoni, sausage, anchovies, olives, mushrooms and so on. I’ll throw it on the ever-expanding “future work” pile.

Usually I like to make everything on this blog freely available to whoever wants to use it, but The Groove Pizza is ⓒ Ethan Hein 2013, all rights reserved.

Reflections on the MOOC

This week marks the conclusion of the first iteration of Play With Your Music, the music production MOOC I’ve been contributing to this past semester.

Play With Your Music

Creating and running the MOOC has been a learning experience for everybody involved. It certainly has been for me. I do most of my music teaching one on one, and it’s been weird creating materials for a couple of thousand students I never see at all. (Though I guess that’s sort of what I’m doing on this blog.) My colleagues have been keeping close tabs on the community of participants, but my personal interaction has been limited by the course’s coinciding with crunch time for my thesis. So this post will be less about the students, and more about the teachers.

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Teaching audio and MIDI editing in the MOOC

This is the fifth in a series of posts documenting the development of Play With Your Music, a music production MOOC jointly presented by P2PU, NYU and MIT. See also the first, second, third and fourth posts.

Soundation uses the same basic interface paradigm as other audio recording and editing programs like Pro Tools and Logic. Your song consists of a list of tracks, each of which can contain a particular sound. The tracks all play back at the same time, so you can use them to blend together sounds as you see fit. You can either record your own sounds, or use the loops included in Soundation, or both. The image below shows six tracks. The first two contain loops of audio; the other four contain MIDI, which I’ll explain later in the post.

Audio and MIDI tracks in Soundation

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Teaching expressive use of audio effects in the MOOC

This is the fourth in a series of posts documenting the development of Play With Your Music, a music production MOOC jointly presented by P2PU, NYU and MIT. See also the first, second and third posts.

After PWYM participants have tried mixing using just levels and panning, the next step is to include audio effects for additional audio manipulation. As a painless introduction, you can load any track from SoundCloud into our own miniature web-based effects unit, #PWYM Live Effects. Then it’s time to open up some dry stems in Soundation. In addition to mixing and panning, you can now do some creative application of Soundation’s effects. These include:

Filter

Both low-pass and high-pass filters are available, which block high and low frequencies, respectively. Why would you want to do such a thing? There are practical and expressive reasons. The practical one is to keep sounds from fighting each other in the mix. So, for example, my electric guitar has a very bass-heavy sound. If there’s a bassist on the track along with me, together we’re going to sound like mud. By applying a high-pass filter to my guitar, I can stay out of the bassist’s way and still get across most of the information in my sound. Similarly, I’d want to low-pass the bass for the same reason.

A low-pass filter

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