Thursday, 25 August 2011

New album published: 3 7 4 11 2 5

My newest album is already available for free listening and download on Jamendo: 3 7 4 11 2 5 features six tracks, all entirely instrumental, with a radically more electronic and abstract sound than my previous releases. The title of the album is a numeric pattern used to determine most -- but not all! -- of the rhythmic aspects of the music in different scales, from within each individual measure, to the album as a whole. All of the melodies, harmonies, instrument choices and everything else were NOT generated algorithmically, however.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Eleven Gifts in depth, part 11: v

This was one of the easiest songs to conceive -- and I mean easy in a good, self-assuring way, not in a dismissive way, if you know what I mean. Basically, this song was begging to be written; firstly because, since it would be the closer of the suite, I wanted it to be VERY different, upbeat and sparkling; and secondly because it matched exactly the mood I wanted for it. It was a win-win situation, and I can't think of any better piece to fit in here.

Yet, it's the simplest song in the set - a boogie-woogie, nothing more, nothing less. Of course, me being me, I just have to twist it somehow; and the best way to do that was to use unexpected chords -- in this case, modulating from C major to C-sharp major, and so on and on, culminating in a crescendo over a diminished chord, and back to the main key. It didn't need to be anything else. It's one of my favourite tunes in here, for being so effective.

Eleven Gifts in depth, part 10: t

This short piece came to my head in one lucky, inspired moment. I don't know exactly what prompted me, but I was seeking for a slow, solemn theme that transmitted a stately, not exactly sad, but poignant feel. Not that there's any special significance to this track, but I wanted it to have a different feel from the others. I guess I was thinking of using the sustain pedal for an enhanced effect, and when this sequence of notes hit my head, I scribbled them down on a notebook, with the working title of "Pedal".

Writing it was very easy a fast -- the song pretty much wrote itself from start to end. It uses a pretty predictable trick halfway through, which is to switch to what would be the relative major key, but in the minor key. In practical terms, the song starts in G minor, which has B-flat as its relative major key, but the song switches to B-flat minor instead. Yet, the tail end suggests a major key, and I like the effect of the trailing notes, which creates a hazy, ambiguous tonality.

Just not I realised that G minor and B-flat minor are exactly the two keys used in the song The Wedding, by the Legendary Pink Dots, which is also a piano led track which I truly, really love -- but I don't think I knew that particular song back then! A minor coincidence, I believe...

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Eleven Gifts in depth, part 9: s

I have to admit, I was scraping the bottom of the barrel for this one tune. I was out of ideas! All the other tunes just came to me one way or another: either the idea hit me on the right moment, or I remembered I had something that fit; but for this one, neither occurred. So I sort of "cheated": I started listening to old songs from the "project" mentioned in the "c" and "i" posts, trying to see if I could salvage something, but without much hope. Then, suddenly, this incredible bass riff hit me in the face: I had completely forgotten it, and not only it was brilliant and perfect for this spot, but I was delighted to write a "reggae" for the cycle. All I had to do was to start writing.

The beauty here is that I didn't have to change any melodic content at all from its original incarnation. The left hand melody was left intact, chord changes and all, and all I had to do was write the right hand staccatos, and make a crescendo lasting for the whole composition. I was amazed at how good it turned out. This was the very last piece I wrote for the cycle, and after it, I just started recording. A very happy ending indeed.

Eleven Gifts in depth, part 8: l

Among the eight compositions, this is the oldest one. The interesting fact is that it has been published before, on an album that I have pulled off because of its extremely subpar quality. It had eight tracks, and one of them was called "Water", and it contained a quite pretty piano melody that I had come across about 11 years ago. Of course, back then, I simply didn't know moderation, and the song carried on and on to nine minutes.

The only thing that truly saddened me about removing that album from the Internet is that the pretty melody would go to waste... but only until this project came to happen. It was the perfect opportunity to showcase the melody in its glorious simplicity. I didn't change anything substantial, so it's essentially the same as it was 10 years ago. Of course, this version is only one minute and a half long, and features solo piano, but it sounds a lot better now. I have always been quite proud of it, and I was happy that it fit so well in the project. It's a calm, peaceful song without being too cheesy.

To me, the stretch of "i", "j" and "l" is the true crowning achievement of this work for me.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Eleven Gifts in depth, part 7: j

One of the things that worried me is that this song is just too beautiful, and it terrified me that it would overshadow "i". Honestly, I'm not sure if it does -- I have no doubts that "i" is superior, but this one makes quite a competition.

It's an old composition, but not so old. In fact, all I had was a left hand figure in A major and in E minor, which is used in the beginning of the piece, and that was all. I found it so good, though, that I wrote it as a MIDI file and kept it filed with the title "Moon", because that is what it reminded me of. I'm not sure of when I wrote this, but I'm fairly sure it predates Big Robot, Little Robot. I never forgot about it, and when this project came by, I was delighted to bring back that little piece for it.

Like I said before, I had originally envisioned "d" for the place of "j", but I always felt that it didn't quite fit. I wanted a piece that evoked a profoundly fertile and imaginative mind and a gentle, tender feeling with a tinge of playfulness. I initially thought of a happy, jumpy melody with unpredictable chord changes and large intervals, but it wasn't working. Then I listened to that little piece I had written, and it all just came to me. It was just a matter of expanding those figures to other chords and making those dreamy, vague notes on the right hand. The closing chords were just a happy finding and matched my vision miraculously. I always had a penchant, for whatever reason, towards the G chord with that suspended augmented fourth; it works in other chords as well, but in G, it seems to have a very peculiar beauty. And for whatever reason, it translates exactly what I wanted to express in this piece.

Eleven Gifts in depth, part 6: i

This piece is an interesting case: the person represented in it, in spite of being part of the larger group of people represented by the album, is a special case for me. Therefore I wanted to give it a piece that was at the same level as the others, but that was particularly precious at a personal level. Therefore, I reached for this old composition that, for whatever reason, struck a chord in me and never left my memory.

It belonged to the same project from "c", but it was never actually included in it. I had a sudden moment of inspiration and wrote the song all at once, and I noticed that it truly stood out from the other songs. Originally, this was arranged for synthesizers and a few woodwinds, and it was a challenge to adapt it for piano, because I wasn't sure on which octave each line should be. I didn't want the notes to overlap, but I wanted them to be at the right range. I was afraid to make the right hand melody too high pitched, but it was pretty effective. I have to say I'm very proud of this song, and utterly surprised that I was able to salvage such an old composition with so little changes. Basically the only thing that is new is the arpeggios in the finale with that sudden change in dynamics. To me, the song does have a tinge of sadness, but the most important quality is that of deepness and introspection, of something huge, profound and profoundly beautiful. It gives me the feeling of climbing a hill and, at the top, finding an immensely beautiful landscape. Yeah, it's THAT personal.

Eleven Gifts in depth, part 5: g

This is a recent composition, but it was not written for this cycle. For about an year, I've been fiddling with ideas for entirely electronic and abstract albums, and one of them involved making a suite of several very short pieces, or sketches. One day, I caught myself with that descending melody, which sounded pretty endearing to me. I wrote it down, with the intention to make it as a simple synthesizer tune. When I started writing the cycle, though, I remembered I had this tune and noticed it fit in well. It was all a matter for adapting it to piano.

The right hand melody was written for the cycle, though, as well as the whole middle portion. I had the urge to make the melody filled with very large intervals, and the result sounded pretty nice to me. It's the kind of tune that, to me, is just as simple as it should be, and as effective as it could be. I can't think of a single note to change... though there aren't many at all...

Friday, 5 August 2011

Eleven Gifts in depth, part 4: d

This sounds an awful lot like Scary, from Big Robot, Little Robot, but I couldn't help it: THIS was the sound that I wanted. Oddly enough, when I first thought of this tune, I intended it to be the "j" track, but I realised it didn't sit right. Then, I realised that this tune was absolutely perfect for "d", and there you have it.

In terms of feel and mood, though, it's very far from Scary, which was goofy, slapstick and almost self-deprecating. This one, however, is merely a jumpy and neat little song intended to make the listener smile, at least a little bit. The "dark" second piece was mostly a facetious way to add some tension to the song, and hopefully the resolution from that hanging diminished chord into the sparkly coda in C major should show that it's not a menacing moment at all. This is, legimately, a happy tune.

Eleven Gifts in depth, part 3: c

This piece is based on a very old composition. In fact, it's rooted on a project that I started a long time before, and which is one of the most obscure things I ever did. I don't think you can find the original project on the Internet anymore, and that's good, because it's not that worth listening.

That project was a song cycle set to a collaborative story made on a Simpsons fanworks forum. That obscure enough to you? Well...

Anyway, the left hand melody that starts the composition was the opening theme of the first track on the original cycle, and it popped up a few times later as well. It used to represent frustration and deception, but it actually has a pretty mellow and sweet feel. All the chord changes and the right hand melodies are new material, written specifically for Eleven Gifts. It was one of those cases in which I decided a theme was too good not to be explored further, and I have to say that I've done here, in a minute and a half, what I couldn't do in 10 minutes back in 2004 or so, when the original piece was written. It's not meant to be a sad song. It's not happy, either, but it has a merely contemplative and calming effect for me. I like it quite a bit.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Eleven Gifts in depth, part 2: a

Back in 2007, when I wrote Big Robot, Little Robot, I felt I could tackle the challenge to write a full, three movement piano sonata. The first movement would be the the first track from that album, Scary, and the two remaining movements would be entirely new. This never came to fruition, but I did write the main theme for the third movement. It remained shelved for years, until I came up with the Eleven Gifts project.

The theme never left my head, so recovering it was quite easy, and it was also easy to find the person to attribute it to. The waltzing, partly-joyful-partly-whimsical feel was exactly what I wanted. The already written material actually ends at the full-tone descending scale -- everything from that point on was newly written. It was actually sort of improvised: I intended to keep the waltzing rhythm, but add those tonality shifts and crazy dissonances that I used in Scary. The result satisfied me: it sounds dense, fast, slapstick, and when an actual melody seems to settle in, it's quickly broken and discarded. That's the main idea.

This was one of the easiest song-person matches, in fact -- not only because I already had the theme, but because it was a perfect match. I like it quite a lot, and I guess the fact that the theme ended up here means that the "sonata" idea was never going to work anyway.

Eleven Gifts in depth, part 1: J

I don't know if I have made myself clear enough in the places where I have published Eleven Gifts, but in case you didn't notice, each piece in this cycle is dedicated to a person. The lower case pieces are in alphabetical order, but this one sticks out for a particular reason.

This piece wasn't the first one to be conceived, though. Far from it: some of these pieces are actually reworkings of songs I've written from 5 to 10 years ago, while many are new compositions. This is an entirely new composition, and the idea struck me quite quickly.

I was afraid that the sound of it was too "menacing" or terrifying to associate to the person it represents. The idea isn't to be menacing at all: my intention was to represent a very strong presence and a forwards motion, a very moving and powerful force. The very fast one-note ostinato on the left hand was a pretty obvious choice, and I'm a bit sad that I couldn't find a piano sample that made it sound as good as I wanted, but it still delivers. The odd rhythm and staccato chords are intended to grab your attention and keep you focused on it, but the ending unveils a tender and heartwarming feel that leaves your spirit positive and lifted. That's pretty much exactly what this person is all about.

The rhythm was one of those things that hit me all at once, and I had to keep replaying it in my head so I wouldn't forget it. It was too good to let it pass. Once I got to write it down, it was all a matter to find the right chords, which wasn't too hard. The softer middle portion was written entirely on-the-spot, and the finale just grew out of it. It was surprisingly easy to write this track, which was extremely satisfying: it was expecting quite a challenge from it. But that's art: the challenges sometimes are exactly where you didn't expect any.