Thursday, 15 January 2009

Talkin' 'bout old works and future projects Blues

Sometimes I'm amazed at how long I've been producing music for. My first sketches of MIDI music date back to about 1999. Ten years ago! And worse: I was fourteen! Thankfully those pieces of music have pretty much disappeared, as they are laughably bad. Ok, perhaps not laughably bad, but more like laughably, absurdly amateuristic and aimless. You see, back then I was just piecing together little bits of music that I could come up with, and trying to stretch them up to 3 or 4 minutes or so. And usually, would you ever guess, I'd do all that stretching by picking up bits from other songs I listened to and admired. But to be fair with myself, I wasn't doing that as in "I'll steal these ideas and earn recognition and fame off of someone else's effort, MWAHAHAHAHA!", but more like "wow, man, THIS is what good music is supposed to sound like! From now on my songs will sound exactly like this". I was a kid, barely discovering music far above the fluff I was used to hearing until then, amazed at the still horribly limited possibilities. It would take LONG time until I started having ideas of my own (actually, do I have ideas of my own already? I'm still not sure!).

In fact, this style of ripping off went for quite a long while. In my first days, I'd just to a few compositions, produce MIDI sequences of other people's songs, download MIDI compositions I enjoyed, and one day I recorded a mixtape of that stuff. Yes, a mixtape of MIDI music. And eventually I felt like I was able to stand on my own two feet and write my very own ALBUM. And so I set off, doing lots of compositions, ranging from short snippets of stuff to a 9 minute magnum opus (yeah, right), including more and more borrowed bits and an entire "cover" of the first minutes of 'Into the Heart', by U2, a piece of music that to this day never fails to amaze and fascinate me. Back and that time, I didn't even have a CD recorder, so I asked someone else to record the CD for me. I titled it Electronic Rock and proudly published it on an Internet page. The album is disappeared. Really, I sent it off to some TV program, never heard about it and never got it back. I hope it has ended on some garbage deposit, because if someone ever finds it, my reputation (?) is gone. Gone!!

Well, ok, so the CD is not entirely bad. I could possibly salvage about five or six of those compositions; matter of fact, the so called 9 minute magnum opus ('Water') was recovered for another album of mine, and 'The Giant' was reworked into 'Spotty', from Big Robot, Little Robot; and maybe, MAYBE, a few other pieces might pop up in future projects. But I was still fairly proud of that album when I started working on the second one. This second one is Musics for Highways, an album which is still available for download on my music website. The first version of it was made entirely with MIDI, but a few years later I re-recorded it adding little sound effects and affecting the mix with some audio editing. Let me tell you: I'm still proud of that record. Really: as much as there are still things borrowed from other bands and bits of naïvety here and there, I like that music. There are several great little melodies and music ideas, and I still have difficulty in coming up with music as good as 'A Landscape in Red', 'Warm Breeze' and 'Somewhat Late'. As much as Big Robot, Little Robot is far superior an album in about every aspect, Musics for Highways has a charm of its own, including the misspelling "musics" (a mistake caused by a mistranslation from Portuguese to English, but which actually gives it an interesting spin).

The following album, The Binary Sounds of Nature, marks my dabblings with -- oh, the horror! -- Prog Rock. That was the time when I was into long songs and time signature changes, and I churned out a whole sixty-eight minutes of MIDI music, in eight songs. The album is also available for download, but honestly, I don't like that album as much. 'Water' and parts one and three of 'The Spirit of the Tree' are quite good, but the rest is highly dodgy. And for one, that MIDI sound is grating - mostly because I use only about six different instruments (synth strings, drums, picked bass, piano, electric guitar, acoustic guitar) all over the whole album, with just a few pinches of diversity (like a Morse code on track 2, which dates back to when I was a rabid, lonely fan of Lisa Simpson. Yes, I've been there!).

If that wasn't enough, "Buses" pushes the envelope forward into a SEVENTY-FIVE MINUTES LONG COMPOSITION. I was intent as hell in producing my own Tubular Bells, my own Amarok. Though I have to say, the music is a vast improvement over the previous album. It's also subtitled "Concerto Schizophrenia II" because "Concerto Schizophrenia I" was a piece written about a story written by a group of Simpsons fanwriters (me included) in collaboration. The story was never finished and the resulting album might still be up there somewhere, but "Buses" is the masterpiece. In there, I went ballistic, including some REALLY twisted ideas. For example, I commissioned a poem written entirely in Latin from a friend of mine, Christina Nordlander, and set it to music. However, I wrote the melody without knowing whether I'd be able to sing it, so when I realised my singing was crap, I double-sped it into a twisted, rather creepy nine voice chorus. There are several parts of the album that feature really good music, in my opinion, and some of the melodies are great. But here's the catch: the whole album hints are personal problems I was having, and I hate that. The album sounds dated to me, and there's even a spoken bit dedicated to -- AGAIN -- Lisa. I hate everything the album represents, I heartily despise Lisa Simpson, I despise everything I was and thought back then, and I can't listen to "Buses" without wincing.

Musically, though, I'm still rather proud of it (Chris's poem, for example, is fantastic, and my musical adaptation of it isn't really bad), but I was already starting to play and experiment with different sounds produced with different software, and wanted to go deeper into it. And since "Buses" was a way for me to stuff whatever idea I had into a wider musical frame, I took my time to "filter out" the ideas I deemed not good enough. Giving myself the time to develop actual ideas, I produced five tracks which I assembled into the recently re-published "Better Than the Beatles!". I already gave a long-winded description of its concept here, so it's uneeded to explain it again, but there's one thing I left off: the concept of "human presence or lack there of" was so fleshed out that the actual title of the album was "Better Than the Beatles!" The Adventures of Piggley Winks, and one of its "features" was the presence of a "rock band" formed by me and characters from the TV cartoon Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks. I was really intent on showing, once and for all, that music doesn't need to sound "human" in order to sound "emotional" -- it all depends on the listener.

At this point, my interest in cartoon shows reached a new height, and I considered making an entire album inspired by one. Instead of using its characters as members of a fictional band, I'd use them as inspiration for the songs themselves. And I guess you know what came out of that idea: the album that was so superior to everything else that it basically rebooted my notion of musicmaking. Really, it just started all over again. The album was, at the time, quite challenging to make, because it incorporated tools that I wasn't familiar with, and demanded a kind of music making not based solely on putting notes on the screen. All those sound effects, playing with echoes, samples, reverb and whatnot, all of it was oriented towards a sound I had on my head. And it took me two full years between coming up with the first song ideas and creating the final mixdown. I was so satisfied that I now consider it as the beginning of my carreer, with everything that came before it as a mere warm-up.

So, what comes next? Currently I'm working on a "follow up", which is also based on characters from a cartoon, and took on a life of its own. Stylistically it's very different from Big Robot, Little Robot, with a more modest mix of influences, less abstract sounds and a more post-rock approach. I'm also planning ahead: I intend on trying something purely electronic and abstract, to try to rip me away from the conventions of "guitar and drums" music, and then I want to try and remake Musics for Highways. Yes, I want to reapply those melodies and themes with a different approach, maybe with a few new compositions as well. So, you might know what to look out for from now. And those old albums, well... let's say they gave me experience, so I'm not embarrassed of them -- except for the first one. That one deserves embarrassment.

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