Monday, 12 January 2009

Sometimes, making music can be a real pain

I don't think this should be any news to anyone, but in case it is: yes, it CAN. Does not matter how you're making music, sometimes it can just simply suck. In my, specific, personal case, making music can sometimes be really boring, actually. It almost seems contradictory, because making music is basically exploring an endless universe, filled with exciting possibilities and combinations. But there's always a sour side to everything. I don't know if it's the tools I'm using and the methods I'm applying, but there are very manual, repetitive processes on it that can be beyond annoying. You see, I use MIDI for writing virtually everything, and as amazing as it might seem, a great part of the effort is in copy-and-pasting. Really! It might seem absurd that making music can just be CTRL+C-CTRL+V-CTRL+V-CTRL+V, but you know, that's how it can be. But as you can imagine, the problem is not with the repetition itself, but with making the repetition not sounding too repetitive, in creating tension, building-up, softening-down, changing, making variations and things in order to keep things moving. Just to create, for example, the effect of a guitar strumming up-and-down and changing chords every two or three measures can be quite boring. And on the song I'm working on right now, there's a whole ensemble of instruments playing chords on a cyclical pattern of going up 2 and then 3 semitones. It's a really braindead, non-creative effort, but it has to be done because the final product sounds really cool.

There were moments like this on the making of Big Robot, Little Robot as well. For example, 'Noisy' was the last song to be finished, because it involved making those snare drums keeping up the rhythm but adding little trills and fills in every measure, which was needed to make the rhythm actually exciting and fun -- and it was quite painful, having to come up with fresh variations that kept sounding new and different. Same thing with the guitar chords that kick in shortly before the final melody in unison. Very boring thing to make. But the end result? Frankly, I love it. It was worth every minute. There were uncertain moments as well, for example in 'Tiny', which on the screen looked like a really boring thing going on and on with lots of "magic dust" (no drug references intended!) sprinkled on it, and I wasn't sure if I was able to make it sound good. I think I did -- at least there seems to be a rising tension on it, to these ears.

And there are just times when it seems like the work isn't progressing. And what is particularly frustrating is that, in almost all cases, I can hear the whole thing in my head. The songs dwell in my mind for MONTHS, until I can actually lay them down on the screen. You know Big Robot, Little Robot? Practically THE WHOLE ALBUM was stored in my head for about one year, until I could get it finished. The album I'm working on right now is entirely there too, and I pretty much know and hear every nook and cranny. But HOW THE HELL will I be able to get it recorded? I just don't know, and the work mostly consists of jotting down notes on the screen and hoping to hell that I'll be able to get it done properly. And it doesn't help that the songs actually have a more complex sound than Big Robot, Little Robot: on that one, many songs were a very sturdy, solid base with melodic components on top. On this one, the sonic textures are far more complex and intricate. It's pretty tricky.

On the other hand, though, when the work consists of actively creative work, it tends to flow very fast and smooth if I'm in the mood. Believe it or not, but 'Scary' was written entirely in a single afternoon. It was funny, because originally, it was going to be a completely different piece, basically a song embodying everything boring I just described above - repetitive yet ever growing, copy-and-pastey but ever changing, with tension, build-up and all that shizzle. But then, while I was walking to the bus stop one morning, I was struck by an idea to turn 'Sparkies' into a faux-classical piece for piano in one channel and harpsichord on the other, and immediately I followed it with a little melody based on diminished fourths, and soon it morphed into a solo piano piece. I figured I'd never be able to write it, though, but I finished it the day after. In one sitting. The ideas kept flowing out, and it was done very, very efficiently and smoothly.

The same way, sometimes I can produce entire solos and melodies in a matter of a few minutes, just placing notes on the screen. But when it comes to doing those repetitive, monotonous, manual parts, the thing seems to grind to a halt. And it gets worse when I have little time to work, and I sit down, listen to what I currently have and think "... so now what?... urgh, I'll guess I'll play some solitaire instead". So now, basically, you know why I take so long to make new music.

Oh, yes, and even though I'm already working on an album, I already have plans for another one. But I keep myself fixed to a very tight, restrictive work plan because I KNOW that if I venture into something else, I'll leave those old ideas abandoned for good. And I don't want that to happen: I don't give up on good ideas just because they're hard to execute. So, I keep doing this boring work because I know there'll be a reward in the end. And that's how I make music.

And then again, if making music was always 100% fun and games, it would become boring quite quickly, don't you think? That's the beautiful contradictory nature of life: things can become boring for not being boring. Life is indeed wonderful!

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