Year 3 Semester 1 Portfolio

My first semester of my third year – this being the fifth semester overall – is now over. It’s been oddly “easy-going”, but still highly challenging. There’s a sense that I have possibly not undertaken as much as I could have done this time around, that I’ve done a certain amount less composition in terms of my studies than previous semesters. I have still been constantly at work, it seems, although quite frankly it has all flown by. Though I have much to talk about, this portfolio still feels a little lacklustre in terms of specially prepared musical content. Many miscellaneous projects have been conducted in the meantime, however.

Nevertheless, here’s downloads to everything I’ve done over this last semester:

[Google Drive folder]

Hit the button below for the full folio.


James Paddock

3rd Year Semester 1 Portfolio

Edith Cowan University / WAAPA

Student Number: 10350995

Contents

  • Pet Sounds/Revolver concert
    • “Chameleon Girl”
  • Sound Mastering
    • Mastering assignment: “The Yellowjackets – Mofongo”
  • Speedwriting Seminar 
  • Work-in-Progress/Other
    • Collaboration with others: Undefinable
    • 30in30-4: The Ever Shrine, et al.
    • Commissions: Osmose, et al.

 


Pet Sounds/Revolver concert

“Chameleon Girl”

 

Personnel:

  • James Paddock – Keyboards, lead vocals
  • Neil Paddock – electric guitar
  • Joseph de Kock – bass guitar
  • Azariah Felton – percussion (drum kit, bells, triangle)
  • Gabbi Fusco – soprano backing vocals
  • Annika Moses – alto backing vocals
  • Shanae Cooper – tenor backing vocals
  • Beth Gosper – bass backing vocals

[Score]
[Lyrics]
[Chord sheet]

Going into preparations for the Beatles/Beach Boys concert, I had only minimal knowledge of either of the two groups being paid tribute to. I quickly understood how they gained such popularity, however, and listened to their music closely, taking in what musical decisions they had made to create such timeless sound.

In the end, I sampled more Beatles material than that of the Beach Boys, although on this blog I featured both “Tomorrow Never Knows”, and the Beach Boys’ cover of “California Dreamin'” as Epic Song of the Week. Both acts did serve as a pool of unique inspiration that eventually, but quite quickly, coalesced into a song for rock band and SATB choir.

Two songs on The Beatles’ Revolver album stood out to me in particular, the aforementioned “Tomorrow Never Knows” (which seemed to be a recurrent theme in the concert’s programme in the end) and “Love You To”. It was these songs that served as a launch pad for the musical material of “Chameleon Girl”. All three pieces are primarily in a dominant C major scale (having a prominent flat seventh on which the lead vocals frequently lean). The lyrical subject is an honest, passionate message to a girl, perhaps bordering on the sensual. It is a song about revealing one’s “true colours”, shedding one’s skin, not being afraid to speak up or feel like an outsider, to not shut out those who want to help you blossom, and is another song I have subtly attributed to someone close to me.

During rehearsals, not much was changed from the original score, although we added bells and triangle to Azariah’s drum kit, which he would play during the intro and outro, for a slightly more “psychedelic” aesthetic. Joe did not follow the score exactly for playing his bass, instead using a sheet prepared by my father (the piece’s guitarist) that laid out the macrostructure of the piece on simple chords-by-bars basis (see chord sheet linked above). Only one word in the lyrics was amended. “Know you deep within” was altered from “please you deep within” for the sake of being less overt.

I am happy with how the performance went – I don’t believe any major snags occurred on the night, and nobody, to my knowledge, was or felt unprepared. I even had some very positive feedback from friends who turned up to the concert. Despite nerves immediately prior, during the performance, something felt “right” – I was very much in the zone and enjoying performing, even taking a few creative liberties with my voice in particular. Even so, there may have been one or two rehearsals we’d had prior to the day of the concert that sounded more “together”. We did not get the chance to rehearse as an ensemble on the day of the concert, which may have impacted our final performance. The recording above is still more than adequate, though, I feel.

 


Sound Mastering

Mastering assignment: “The Yellowjackets – Mofongo”

This assignment was a heavy undertaking for me personally. Recording and mixing and mastering a track proved to be a daunting set of tasks.

The recording of this song was organised by myself and Jean-Michel Maujean on May 5th at the Al Fresco Thursday concert outside the Grindhouse cafe on campus. The group was Contemporary Ensemble 3D – I had briefly conversed with the guitarist from this group beforehand to let the group know they were going to be recorded on this day. Jean and I received help from sound man Troy in setting up a laptop with ProTools to accept the microphones – and eventually, help also from Tim Landauer.

Frustratingly, we couldn’t get ProTools to capture anything for a good while. Audio was being picked up by the MOTU on the mobile rig, but the signal was not being fed through to the laptop. With about 15 minutes to go before the concert started, we called on Tim, who figured out that we had loaned out the wrong laptop and the required playback engine for ProTools was not installed on this one. Thankfully he was in fact able to download drivers onto the laptop and get them working – in order to connect to the internet, we had to use my iPhone as a WiFi hotspot.

The recording of the entire gig started perhaps a bar or two late, but through some miracle this was not particularly evident (from the sound of it, anyway). Beyond that point, the recording went without a hitch – I was half expecting ProTools to stop mid-recording with a CPU error or something similar, but miraculously the laptop held out.

On opening the project file and importing all the stems, we found our overheads to have not recorded properly. Only audio buzz was present on those tracks. We surmised that we had not supplied phantom power to those mics, whereas power was supplied to the rest of the mics from the sound desk. Our acoustic guitar track had very little audio, since we set up an audio track for it despite a mic not being set up for that instrument. We deleted the track. Audio from the band’s snare mic had somehow not gone into ProTools, so we had no track for that instrument.

I persevered and endeavoured to learn the practical applications of compression, gating, EQing and parameter automation, undertaking my own research and trying to gain an “ear” for these aspects of sound production, something I’ve lacked for a long time on this subject. Ear fatigue and personal grievances with the process proved to be an obstacle, however. Listening back to the fully mastered track, I am still not positive that I did the best job I could have done. Something sounds off and I can’t quite parse what it is, though I would probably summarise it by saying that I do have a lot of personal progress still to make before I can be confident with making studio-quality work within either ProTools or Propellerhead Reason.

At any rate, I now have about 50 minutes of audio including electric guitar, bass, keyboards, three vocal mics and one drum mic, with which to further explore and practise my skills in mixing and mastering. I certainly am now aware of a few roadblocks that are possible to encounter during the recording process, and using the mobile rig was, if slightly perilous, highly informative as to the process of capturing live gig audio. I will almost certainly be revisiting this audio at some later point.

I used the John Scofield instrumental song “Chank” from his “A Go Go” album as a reference track when mixing and mastering this.

 


Speedwriting Seminar

As I alluded to last semester, I have been pushing for composition students to attend creativity workshops with me that follow what I believe to be a fun and effective means of quickfire composition:

Ideas are written on scraps of paper and then placed into a hat, then randomly redistributed, one per person – the ideas received are then the prompts that the composers must use, in however loose a way, to create their pieces in the ensuing half hour.

 

Starting on 23rd March this year, I was able to begin holding weekly(-ish) workshops. The end goal of this workshop was to encourage others to compose music using a creatively stimulating and challenging “speedwriting” technique so they can harness and focus their creative drive. As mentioned before, I allocate thirty minutes to writing one piece of music, and usually having a creative prompt to go from that stirs a mental image or a reason for the composition in my mind. The main idea is that the prompts should not be restrictive to a genre or technical aspect, they should be written using the power of the human imagination, and for a creative mind to extrapolate on the textual prompt.

I held five or so successful seminars, although attendance was very low. No more than three participants were present at any one time.

The list below is of the tracks I created as part of the seminar. I have not had much time or inclination to revisit these, so these are more or less in the same state I completed them, eight-character names intact. I have unfortunately not received any of the participants’ tracks thus far.

  • [DRAMAS] Prompt: Teenage drama
  • [CHIPPY] Prompt: Chiptune
  • [BROKENW] Prompt: Chunks of the planet drifting off into space; track revolves around team of lone survivors
  • [EXPLODES] Prompt: Trailer music for new Michael Bay movie: “Everything Explodes”
  • [GIRLF] Prompt: Final boss – your ex-girlfriend

I have a lot to say regarding creativity, and it may be more of a set of beliefs than anything grounded in prolonged academic study, but I firmly believe that the gift of the human mind, especially the creative side thereof, is something that should absolutely be stimulated as much as possible in any institution.

Composers having to be introspective and considerate about their craft, like any artist who has to paint pictures with their mind, whether before putting pen to page, colour to canvas, or note to stave, must have a reliable, healthy cognition that aids their creative process. Like a machine, the human imagination can be harnessed intensely for production, but it is dependent on being cared for and maintained. I myself freshen my imagination primarily within the digital realm of video games, since video game music is very much the niche I wish to compose for, and I try to immerse myself in these worlds as much as possible when building (or “mapping”) them. Visual stimuli like these have helped me through the creation of many pieces of music, especially when it comes to more riveting, colourful, wacky worlds.

There is a tendency for people to burn themselves out with forcing their creativity while operating under unnecessary internal restrictions. Whether it’s technical, mechanical, or on some deeper psychological or philosophical level, composers, artists, can self-impose obstacles. And while I believe that limitation breeds creativity (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this is my mantra in life), I strongly oppose limiting oneself to a genre, or a set of specific, unvaried instruments, or writing to please a certain crowd. Nothing good can come of pondering at length “how” a piece should be written – instead, the composer should ask themselves “why” is it being written. What void is it filling – an intrinsic or extrinsic one? What role is it playing? What kind of personality does it have? Why must the listener engage, if at all? What reason has it to be. These answers don’t have to be particularly in-depth, and in the context of speedwriting they can be thought up on the spot, as they often were at my workshops.

The nonsensical, free-flowing subconscious mind is something to be used without impedance. I usually assign these tracks some strange or crude-seeming name when they’re completed, such as “Drop the Wombat” or “Gatorade Nightmare“. It is hard for me to apply logic to these naming conventions in the end, but I feel less justifiable creative decisions contribute to some specific aesthetic that is entirely your own – not everything needs a deep underlying purpose, or serious justification.

Short but powerful, motivating bursts of creativity I find are far preferable to prolonged stints of trying to pour creative force out of oneself, to painstakingly piece together music that for one reason or another is not co-operating with the composer. With practice, and with positively motivation limitation, works can be drummed up in very short spans of time. I find the comfort blanket of General MIDI to be the perfect means of limiting myself, while still giving myself ample choice with what to actually do compositionally. Just about every instrument in standard practice is accounted for under this instrument set, and I could write a string quartet, or a heavy metal song, or even an ambience piece with nothing but birdsong and ocean tides, and it is all neatly contained within this package. I have found a set of limitations that guide me through the creative process rather than hinder it. My music is, as a result, easy to put together when I apply my musical knowledge to the means at hand, and is also typically fast-moving, lead-driven, repetitive in terms of where it begins and ends (so as to loop coherently, often seamlessly), written with memorability and the evocation of a virtual (or real) scene in mind. I cannot say enough good things about the concept of limiting oneself to relatively few variable parameters. I cannot compare it to attempting to harness vast, limitless, impossible-to-explore breadths of music and sound, on which you may spend your entire life trying to even comprehend, let alone interpret and compartmentalise in your own unique ways, let alone distribute to an unknowing or uncaring public sphere.

 


Work-In-Progress/Other

Collaboration with others: Undefinable – “Simple Desires”

This was a short-lived project, but somewhat enjoyable and I was quite pleased with my work on it nonetheless.

At the Screen Academy meeting back in March, I was able to get ahold of personnel for two of the films I had deep interest in composing for – Sinclair Hughes, director of “No School No Game”, a film about a video game high school, and Pip Waller, producer of “Undefinable“, a film about two transgender drag queens living and working in Perth.

Pip responded to my email, and we arranged a time to meet. I liaised with the director, producer and writer at the Grindhouse cafe on campus, and we talked (quite briefly) about the project, setting a brief for myself, and a pre-emptive deadline of May 15th. I was to create an upbeat piece of dance music, reminiscent of many popular figures in the pop/dance scene such as Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Goldfrapp – but with an emotionally-charged piano and string introduction to lead into things.

It’s difficult for me to say how much the aforementioned artists ended up inspiring me. The track was worked on rather sporadically as ideas came to me in pieces, but I was not fully able to realise those ideas into a cohesive single piece until very close to the initial deadline. I ended up e-mailing the finished piece just after midnight on May 16th.

The audio here – which I sent to Pip – is merely a “pre-mix”. Minimal work was done on the mixing side of its creation, as the arrangement of the music itself, instrument choices, etc. was in my opinion the most important thing to get right first.

Frustratingly, I did not hear back from the filmmakers for another eighteen days. The producer eventually responded to me after I sent a catch-up e-mail, saying they had had a change of director since we spoke, who now wanted to take the music in an entirely different direction. I thanked them for letting me know and wished them luck with their project.

It does mark the third collaboration I have had since my attending WAAPA that has fizzled out. Still the one and only collaboration that has resulted in anything resembling a positive result has been my three separately-written tracks submitted to the Screen Academy for their collaboration with the Constable Care Child Safety Foundation, in something I eventually (i.e. within the last week) discovered was entitled “Your Call“. My music has apparently been featured in two (not three) interactive videos for this project, named “Wreck” (Jan 2016) and “#ShirtFront” (Sep 2015). I am credited as (one of the) composer(s) for these two films, but due to the interactive, narrative-driven arrangement of the videos, I have yet to actually find my music being used in either.

Strangely, the filmmakers mentioned that I had sent something to their crowdfunding campaign, something I was not even aware existed. Either someone got the composer name terribly wrong, or I have a doppelgänger/impostor.

30in30-4 – “The Ever Shrine”, et al.

30in30 4: Thirty Songs, Thirty Days, January Twenty Sixteen
Click for BandCamp link!

 

Throughout January 2016, I set myself a challenge to write one song a day. It was part of a set of “resolutions” (or, general life guidelines to be more exact) to maximise my productivity and well-being throughout the ensuing year.

It seemed perfectly doable, especially if I only spent thirty minutes on every piece, as I usually do with speedwriting. I figured I would go back and resume work on all thirty tracks at or towards the end of the month, and that I would be able to really flesh out the end product. This turned out to not be the case.

For some reason it proved difficult for me to stop working on one track once I’d started. On many tracks I immediately found a state of flow, and worked solidly for hours at a time on them until I had an end product I considered quality. The mean length for these tracks ended up being 2:51.

I also elected to do something special for the final two days of the month. Releasing the tracks in weekly installments, I had a remainder two days for which I decided I would work on a two-movement piece, which ended up being the finale to the collection, entitled “The Ever Shrine“.

On February 2nd, I released my fourth installment of thirty “speedMIDIs” via my BandCamp page. I also provided a link to all the original MIDI files via Dropbox, which I kept up to date as I released the tracks episodically.

It was received well, with many people praising the finale tracks, and the longest track “Cyanide Downpour”. The Doomworld online community has certainly found uses for the tracks I created here, which, along with self-improvement and the enactment of a strict working discipline, was ultimately my goal.

You can see my weekly progress throughout the month on each episodic installment of this project, and the community feedback I gained, in this forum topic.

I am very happy with this package of music, I think it features some of my best work to date, although it certainly was an undertaking that required much effort and energy. During the process, I took maybe a single day off from composing anything, but immediately made up for it by composing two tracks the following day. Still, my enthusiasm for the project carried me through to the end.

Track listing:

  1. Time To Be On Fire (2:19)
  2. Sol Plummeting (2:58)
  3. Encrusted (2:11)
  4. Violence Makes Violets (2:49)
  5. Protodojo (2:24)
  6. Nuclear Fumes (2:12)
  7. Delay(0); Restart; (3:16)
  8. Last Resort (2:43)
  9. Oh (2:27)
  10. Oxygenesis (2:55)
  11. Cyanide Downpour (4:01)
  12. Ampersand (3:08)
  13. Mal (2:28)
  14. Crystal Iris (3:05)
  15. Infuriation (2:25)
  16. .mid (2:12)
  17. Treacle Empire (3:30)
  18. Cloud Soup (3:32)
  19. Fearsphere (2:25)
  20. Unyes (3:10)
  21. Stairway Fairway (2:38)
  22. Space Cuisine (2:15)
  23. Gatorade Nightmare (3:25)
  24. CHaRybdIS (2:52)
  25. Minister of the Emu War (2:27)
  26. Freighthoppers (3:04)
  27. What If I Don’t Want To Be A Punching Bag (3:15)
  28. Tungsten (3:53)
  29. The Ever Shrine – Part 1 (1:59)
  30. The Ever Shrine – Part 2 (7:09)

Commissions – “Osmose”, et al.

This year I decided that in order to continue writing MIDI files for my various online communities, I would have to introduce a fee in order to limit the number of “requests” I got while also trying to complete my university assignments.

For more information, see my MIDI commissions page. I now offer a wide range of possibilities to potential commissioners, enabling them to handpick any number of them using bracketed keywords, i.e. [SPEEDY MIDI], [LENGTHY MIDI] or [MIDI ALBUM], and then contact me via an e-mail form at the bottom of the page. The e-mails are sent with the prefix [COM] automatically set in the subject line, and such e-mails are auto-flagged as important by my e-mail client.

Details on the pieces I’m completed so far can be found on my commissions list. This is where I have placed information on the completed tracks that the commissioners have allowed me to make public.

I am still very fond of writing tracks like this, and the move towards getting paid for the music I enjoy writing has been frought with trepidation. I have long been afraid of how my online community would perceive me suddenly changing my stance on creating musical work for them at a charge – I’ve long given my time away to them for free. The decision to move to commissions was met with both support, and discouragement, and I am still not fully confident if it was the “right” thing to do, but I have at least created some very interesting new tracks through the transition.

Completed tracks:

  1. Dead Machinery (4:24)
  2. Incan-tations (5:18)
  3. Of a Feather (1:13)
  4. Osmose (7:26)

I am also currently working on a much larger commission which I hope to complete over the holidays.