Category: Music

My passion.

I know so little

I do think from time to time that I don’t know everything about music.

And if that sentence makes me sound like the rest of the time that I think I do know everything I could possibly know about this great medium, then you’re sorrily mistaken. The rest of the time I’m thinking nothing, because I’m one of those people who is perfectly capable of complete and total mental vacancy. A man, basically.

The fact is, I operate by what I know, and I make it my mission to know anything else that I feel would be useful. Every waking moment I spend with an inkling of a thought, however meagre or subconscious, that I must obtain knowledge. Because god knows there’s a lot I don’t know. He knows very well what I don’t know, but unfortunately I don’t know half what I don’t know, and half of what I know I don’t know where I know from, which I guess is okay because if I knew where I knew half of what I know from, I’d only be able to know half as much.

Sorry, went off on one there.

The problem I have is that I’d like to know how to, for example: sing well, properly play the piano/keyboard, write instant hits. The thing in common with each of those is that I’ve taught myself everything I currently know about them. I’ve had no formal tuition, or learned from books, or flung money at intensive courses to try and hone my skills quicker. I’ve essentially home-schooled myself in each of these regards – a process that, while it has certainly reaped its benefits, also has its limitations. I can think of three right off the bat: (1) it invariably takes longer, (2) it devours a lot more of my energy and focus, and (3) I only acquire the knowledge through one viewpoint – my own. That last point probably plays a vital part in why my brother yells at me for being a lousy teacher.

Certainly I’d like to take up piano lessons at some point, even if it’s starting from the basics again. I’d like to see how well my current knowledge in playing the piano, and the ways I’ve learnt it, tie in (or indeed conflict) with the ways I’ll get taught it. I’ll be able to see the piano, and maybe even the music, through the eyes of someone who is more adept at the subject than I.

It often pains me to realize how much I don’t know. Not being able to sing or play the piano to a satisfying degree are what get to me the most. I’ve been learning these things myself for a number of years now, and with both, I’ve hit stumbling blocks. Singing requires a degree of bodily discipline like throat exercise and a reasonable diet, which I’ve foolishly not been undertaking through my self-styled teachings of singing. Piano-playing requires a considerable amount of dexterity and self-control, and my current methods do seem to be inadequate when it comes to playing certain things. As in, I can’t play some of my own stuff.

As a perfectionist, it seems to me that if I’m going to be good at something, I need to be really good – enough for it to be officially recognised. And I really hope that, in the same way that I learned English Language/Literature, Music Technology, and Drama and Theatre Studies through an actual academic system and received decent passing grades and certificates for completing them, soon I will receive official confirmation that I am at least competent in piano-playing.

YouTube update 03/10/11

Yay!

Just one video this time, but it’s without doubt one of my best yet – at 6:21, it’s definitely my longest ever, beating Built to Kill by 21 seconds.

(Yes, the actual song is 6:21. The video is 6:23 but those are two extra seconds of silence, basically.)

Also, strictly speaking, this is the one hundredth song that I’ve uploaded to my YouTube channel! So that’s awesome. 😀

“Conductor”

This post makes me sound old but I’m actually young

I was born in the 90’s. As such, I sort of feel regret at not having heard all the great bands of the decades preceding that time period. I don’t listen to enough music from those days gone by. I’ve always liked Black Sabbath (formed in 1968) and Queen (1971), and lately I’ve really taken a shine to Metallica’s albums Ride the Lightning (1984) and Master of Puppets (1986), two of the greatest thrash metal albums to exist, even today – though I do wish from time to time that I’d been around while those bands were still in their infancy, and still climbing the stairway to super-stardom. Experienced the freshness of their ground-breaking sound. Attended their gigs. Watched them rise gradually to the top, like the Brazils in a bowl of nuts, in that way that science doesn’t quite understand.

The internet and its various websites have sure made music distribution and acquisition a whole lot easier (and more illegal, in some cases), so I’m perfectly able to look up any band from times gone by and, wherever possible, sample their work for myself (in the sense of “taste test”, not “rip bits from their songs and claim them as my own”). Yet, despite the fact that their music is undeniably brilliant and utterly timeless, I still get a somewhat jaded listening experience – it often fills me with a kind of “We’ve moved on from this” and “They don’t make it like this any more” gut feeling.

What I’m asking is: Have we peaked?

If I’d listened to these bands back when they were first releasing this material (please suspend your disbelief here, I wasn’t born then, and even if I was, the global music scene was a far cry from what it is now so I would’ve invariably listened to completely different bands now – but just imagine that my tastes insofar as rock and metal remained pretty much the same), my train of thought would most likely have been along the lines of “Wow, is this where music is headed? I like it! I want more!”. I mean, it was pretty clear at the time that acts like Black Sabbath, with their satanic lyrics, the unmistakeable haunting sound of Tony Iommi’s guitar tone, and stellar riffs, where going to explode in popularity over the coming years/decades, and I wish I’d been around back then to enjoy it while it lasted.

Fast forward several years… Now that experimentation and brand new innovations in the music production business have made music evolve into something so much more varied, the ability to create unique and endlessly-interesting soundscapes has become easier than falling off a log in zero-gravity. It means that music has so many different possible sounds now, that it’s getting harder and harder to find a formula that works as well as, say, Metallica did at the time.

Most new innovations in style and genre involve taking an existing genre of music, and slowing it down/speeding it up by a few bpm. It’s nowhere near the same.

To say that all music is unoriginal would be a blanket statement and an utterly retarded thing to say. It’s a constantly changing thing, so there will be evolutions and mutations. But while there are certainly many bands out there that do have a lovably unique sound all to their own, I do get the feeling that we won’t be seeing another Black Sabbath or Metallica – a band with a sound so unconventional and freakish that it literally dominates the world and changes the face of music development forever – any time soon.

Which is why I’m sticking with you, Muse.

Harmony MIDI Pack now on /idgames

The Harmony MIDI Pack which I updated a while ago has now been approved on the /idgames archive, meaning that its release has basically been finalized.

It took about three days after uploading for it to be approved, and to be honest I was wondering if it would be, since I went against a couple of the upload rules – e.g. the file names of the MIDIs aren’t restricted to eight characters (a DOS-era convention which /idgames still adheres to).

For those unaware, /idgames is a database of files and add-ons for all things Doom. The game Harmony is based off of Doom, and it’s a damn fine creation – make sure you give it a whirl. Run my MIDI pack by dragging the .wad file onto the exe.

Get the MIDI Pack via /idgames here.

“In the works” #1

Occasionally I won’t release anything for a while. This happens – either my creativity stagnates or outside forces conspire to prevent me from uploading anything to this site or my YouTube channel.

This post will serve as an update to any and all works that I am currently working on (or that I owe to people and have yet to send to them), which will hopefully be done in the very near future. They will be uploaded to my channel once complete.

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Abandonment – For Chaindude. This is a song that has remained in an unfinished state on my computer for probably years now, but it deserves the courtesy of being finished. [Done: 80%]
Art of the Conjurer
– Random song. This will be a creepy orchestral/woodwind track in 3/4 time. [Done: 80%]
Coal – For skillsaw. A mid-tempo synthy song reminiscent of Doom’s “Dark Halls”, with of course my own stylistic elements thrown in. [Done: 100%]
Conductor – For Grymmoire. A moody, mid-tempo guitar based track with 80’s-style polysynths over the top. [Done: 10%]
Dispersion – For valkiriforce‘s project “Reverie”. A fast-paced, guitar-oriented track, inspired by Mark Klem’s “Reason for Nothing”. [Done: 20%]
Fallen Sun – For valkiriforce‘s project “Reverie”. A progressive, sombre, guitar-and-synth-based track. This will also feature on “Creation”. [Done: 100%]
Slough of Traps – For Grymmoire. A remix of the original Doom’s music tracks for the levels “Slough of Despair” and “Tricks ‘n’ Traps”. [Done: 50%]

Two reasons why I don’t like your song

I’m addicted to Symphony X. It has to be said. Most recently I bought their two latest albums, “Paradise Lost” (2007) and “Iconoclast” (2011), and have had them on almost perpetual repeat since. I’m up to about 40-50 plays on each song by now.

So why do I find their music so more-ish? Very few other bands pull me into their world of sound with the same degree of force.

Okay, I don’t listen to a huge amount of different bands (I certainly wouldn’t know Take That from Coldplay), but I believe that I’m fairly open-minded about the various kinds of music – I can appreciate pretty much any genre, given that I decide to give it a listen in the first place. There aren’t any genres I outright refuse to listen to, but there are two criteria by which I judge the extent of my dislike for any given song or type of music. If your song violates either or even both of these rules, you will find it incredibly difficult to impress me.

  1. Repetition. It’s good in moderation, but a lot of music nowadays (particularly electronic) is direly repetitive. I can’t stand to listen to most pop for more than about 10 seconds before I start pondering on how exactly I could chew my own ears off to spare them the misery of how lazily most of it is written. This goes for not just the music itself, but also structure. In order for a song to really stand out from the crowd, it has to be something far more than just intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-outro. It should take the listener by surprise with a few unexpected bits thrown in here and there. A less pronounced structure is better, in my view. That’s why Symphony X resonates so well with me – their songs’ structures are terribly complex, and that entices me to listen to them more and more – to get those weird time signatures and syncopated sections memorized. 😛 In my own music, I try to avoid mindless repetition as best I can – it’s a kind of last resort if I’m low on ideas otherwise.
  2. Vocal dominance. That is; the balance between vocals and backing track. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with your song having a message – but for me, lyrics are an afterthought when it comes to writing music, and they should be. It seems for a large portion of music (again, pop mainly), whenever a vocalist first appears in a song, the focus of it seems to shift entirely onto them, with the musicality of the piece taking a dramatically steep drop. Now okay, I understand that a “backing track” is so-called because it provides backing for the vocalist. But if the whole track revolves around either (a) the vocalist yelling out a repetitive and clichéd message, drowning out most of the backing track, or (b) a single repeated motif in the backing track that runs throughout the whole of the song while the vocalist fires words into the mix like some kind of lyrical submachinegun, then I will lose interest quickly. For music to appeal to me, there has to be a balance – the music has to be nicely varied, and the vocals mustn’t complete dominate the mix. As such, I don’t tend to write my songs with lyrics of any kind in mind. I will occasionally write lyrics for the songs well after I’ve finished them (which I do enjoy), but I will always feel that my songs don’t really need them. Again, Symphony X do this well. They keep the music interesting by introducing a brand new guitar riff whenever vocalist Russell Allen starts singing a new section.

Pop music producers, take note, please.

Harmony MIDIs updated

To go with the YouTube update yesterday, I have now updated the Harmony MIDI Pack zip file.

Get it here. You’ll find the tracks under the /midis folder, and the zip contains a .wad file which you can run with Harmony by dragging it onto the .exe. It will replace the levels’ soundtrack with my own tracks.

Enjoy! 😀