File Administration

Haven’t been blogging for more than 10 days now. So what’s been going on? Well, first of all one of my nearfield monitors  started coughing 50hz noise. Had to have it repaired. Next my Echo soundcard went belly up during a recording session. All very unfortunate. The result isn’t that I can’t do anything but it feels like anything you do is sub optimal. The replacement monitors (eight year old Spirit Absolute2 ones) are okay but not as sparkly as my Adam-A7’s. Plus I now use a 40 dollar Behringer USB soundcard (UCA202) which is REALLY sub optimal. Not only the soundquality (there is a constant beeping in the background) but also because the MIDI lag is awefull.

I HAVE been producing a lot of stuff, though. And it’s becoming more and more pop/funk/whatever like. I wouldn’t call it commercial but it’s in that area. I try to do a song every 2-3 days. See what happens. That, too, is experimentation. Producing pop music also means working in a ‘time =  money’ context. So I built up a drum, bass, melody construction on day 1 and from then on work towards a structure, and production, mastering  structure on day 2. If it’s difficult I allow myself a day 3. Then I leave it alone.

All of this is because the Radio Dub Soundtrack, step 1 is in hibernation now. As you may have read [ here ] the electro-acoustic stuff is finished and I need some time to distance myself. Just today I gave the project where all the mixes are stored in a preliminary order a quick listen. That was cool. I immediately kicked out stuff that wasn’t good enough and rearranged some elements. Tomorrow there will be a second session and then I will leave it again for a week or so. The next stage is to critically check sonic aspects and do a first mastering session. Sections which are not right will be mixed again. This requires a tight administration of versions of mixes and remixes and parts or remixes. I now have some 25 projects (compositions) underway. That is, with the rhythmic material, part of which will be included in Radio Dub Soundtrack, step 2.

I also did a rework of the Xilopi set which I published earlier through [ ] and the dubs are going better and better.


Rhythmic adventures

The past week I have been working further on a series of purely rhythmical constructions. Most of the used sounds have been derived from the original sequence called Radio Dub Soundtrack. You can hear five 1-minute snippets that give you an idea of how they sound.

The focus of my attention was on four things:

1. what’s it like to work with large quantities of repetitive modules?

2. how can I work with ‘grooves’ and still use 3/4 and 7/8 measures?

3. experiment further with commercial production techniques

4. if I start working in a rhythmical context, what will come out of that?

It’s been quite educational, so far and thus serves my purpose very well. The overall process made me think of the next step in the Radio Dub Soundtrack project. Currently I am reworking some of the tracks of the first series. You can read a lot about the original aims and my adventures down the road in the blog (just click on the tag Radio Dub Soundtrack to learn all about it). This second series takes parts or just single samples from the first series and uses them for a pure rhythmical sequence.  The next step will be to take the modules that are used in this second series and deconstruct them again for a third series. The third series consists of deconstructed rhythmical elements and thus returns to the original genre of electroacoustics.  In short:

1. the original series, consisting of a combination of popular sounds/modules/parts with more traditional electroacoustic structure

2. the second series, where the rhythmical parts and random samples from series 1 is converted into pure rhythm oriented constructs

3. the third series, where the rhythms and grooves are deconstructed again

To me, it’s all about the path. Going from 1 to 2 and from 2 to 3. It’s interesting and challenging to watch what will be the result after working my way back, just like I liked to struggle with basses and percussion and melody. The second series for instance for me relates very much to my previous post about structure and content. In this case I used the structure of rhythmical 3-5 minutes lasting compositions and dressed that structure with my personal (typically Jos Smolders) content.


Had an interesting discussion today about art. Let me give a slight representation of what we went through. It’s by no standard a fixed, finished and rounded opinion. Just a thought to sharpen the view of what I am as a composer and what I can do.

What do we, consumers and artists, use/need to be able to determine the quality of a piece of art? A lot of things, I know. Context (social, psychological, upbringing, etc) is extremely important, on all sides. The consumer, the artist, the work of art ánd the place where and the circumstances under which consumer and work of art ‘meet’.  To name a few.

I tried to divide a work of art into two parts: the framework or the structure and the ‘content’. Every work of art has content, of course, but it also is hung up inside/fastened to a structure. There are thousands of structures, like the painting of a tree.

Mondriaan did a lot of studies of a single tree. In the Gemeentelijk Museum in The Hague I saw them. The tree is framed on the canvas and depicted with the stem below and a crown of branches higher up. When we just look at that painting we see that the structure for depicting the tree follows a certain structural principle. Next to that framework Mondriaan had countless options to add to it. For instance he chose to work with black and white and greys.  (I will not go deeper into other choices he made; you can see for yourself) This tree has been painted several times by Mondriaan.

A year later (1912) he painted this one. As you can see the structure of the tree is still there but a lot more happened here. The painter added different content to the same structure (and slowly started compromising the structure itself).

For centuries structure was something that was firmly positioned. A still life needed to be painted this way, a portrait that way (person in chair, looking away from the viewer in a fixed angle). Symphonies followed this pattern, cantates that pattern. Only the bold ones like Caravaggio and Rembrandt) dared to deviate. Actually it was by the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th that artists started to fuck around with structure.

By the 1960s the ‘anything goes’ attitude in the art scene became widespread. For a long time I loved that thought myself, as well. Anyone can be an artist. Sure. And indeed anyone can be but that doesn’t mean that we have to accept all that is produced as equally valuable. Let’s go back to the olden days when structure was still a basic rule to measure quality with. That made it a lot easier for a consumer to qualify a work of art. As a viewer/listener one can concentrate on the ‘content’ because the structure are a give fact. So, as a consumer you focus first and very quickly the quality of the structure (does it follow the ‘rules’?) and then you can fully concentrate on the content. This has been valid for centuries but in fact still is operational in pop music which follows a lot of (structural) standards and varies (only) in the content.

Art music (whatever that may be) is a different piece of cake. Structure is for a lot of musicians a difficult subject. The whole ambient scene sort of let structure completely go. They are like Rothko canvases. Change happens on the borders of the canvas, nothing much in between.


comments are welcome

No Is E Monocle

This was my second vinyl release. I had developed my own style. I was working to get the best sound quality possible and worked with a computer already to get the best result. The master was done directly from computer to DAT. The quality of this master was further enhanced by a remaster in 2008.

There are 3 studies of specific material on side a. I was investigating the effect of stereo. Developed a particular attitude towards the fact that stereo makes use of an illusion (namely that the sound from the listener’s perspective comes from a different place than where the actual speakers are placed.) Side A consists of recordigns that have sounds coming either from left or right. The compositions can be played from one side only as well.

Side b consists of a studio edit of a soundtrack to a performance of Atty Bax. We performed this twice: in Dublin on the occasion of the opening of the Museum of Modern Art in Dublin and in Neurenberg on a festival.

The FLAC version is for sale for 5 euro’s. Mp3’s can be listened to online.

Rhythm as a spectral dancer

Working on a project where you try to merge popular dance music with electroacoustics can be a challenge. I know, many producers of popular music currently use ‘strange noises’ in their works and the production of dance music requires knowledge of a lot of sound technology. But I am one who works from the other end of the rope: I start as a composer of electronic music and incorporate rhythm into an abstract structure. That is what Radio Dub  Soundtrack is about.

It’s no easy task, since I need to master the rules of popular music production, AND then include it into my bigger picture. I have now some 120 minutes of material and am in the process of compacting, selecting and pumping up the sound. The latter is important in order to fire up the rhythm section. It only starts to really work when you make it big.

I will guide you through my work of the past few days. I am working on a slow rhythmic track that has a large bass blow (simple low frequency sine) at the start of each measure and then some 4/4 interplay of other percussion. All of the percussion has been hand crafted from fairly standard sounds. Each measure contains a male voice (derived from Pierre Henry’s Apocalypse, track 1, the text seemed appropriate somehow) cut and edited.

Here’s a snippet of where I was at the beginning of the section.

Sound file 1

This is just a tiny few measures but it gives you an indication. I had two problems with this: one, it was too much like a simple beat thing, and two, as a simple beat thing it didn’t sound ‘cool’ or ‘phat’ enough. I tried working it up with compressors and different other things but then it was still like the first problem. I have been working on this for a week on and off, gradually hating it more and more. “What is not right about it?”, “What step do I take to make it more something of myself?”. I also started going to and fro with different parts in the total structure (where this composition is placed in context with other works). I moved parts, entered more silence, tried adding layers.

Then I returned to an old technique that I had not used for a while: spectral editing. I started an Adobe Audition session where this works very well. The first picture shows the spectral of the above mp3 sample. Spectral viewing can help working on sound quite well. What you see is from left to right the time line, down are the low frequencies up are the high frequencies (up to 20, 000 herz). Bright yellow are the loud frequencies and dark blue are the soft ones. So you can see what frequencies are loud and which are quiet at what position in time. You can see the frequencies, you see the bass synth regularly positioned, etcetera. So this was the part that didn’t do it for me. So then I started working with that in Audition. This application has a feature where you can map a certain part of the spectrum and just work within that time and frequency zone. With trial and error I came up with this.

As you can see I few things happened here, it looks like it’s been shot at. In a way that’s what I did. I removed certain frequencies and enhanced others. So now this is what you hear.

Sound file 2

That’s a bit closer to what I am doing when it’s not rhythmical. This spectral path will certain help further down this road. Will keep you posted, as usual

Two clouds….

I have been working on a series of works that focus on the clash between modern popular rhythmic music and old school electroacoustics. This is a series that is called Radio Dub Soundtrack. I have rounding up what I have produced in the past year or so to make a decision about what to leave out and what to keep in. Also what still needs to be done. It seems appropriate to give the people who follow my progress a few sneak peaks. So here you go.

Please keep in mind that these are parts of larger works and that they have not had any treatment in the postproduction and/or mastering area.

Mastering experience / Experience mastering

A few weeks ago I testified about my work on production techniques for pop music. A new series, called Dub Radio Soundtrack, deals with this. You can click on the tag to read more about it. I am currently rounding up my recordings and will start up the post production phase (before heading into the mastering phase).

These pop mastering techniques I have used on an assignment earlier this year. I have been working for a New York based  artist who is currently in the NY charts alongside [ LCD Soundsystem ].  All new stuff intended for a future release. It’s really exciting to dive into the 4/4 beat world of guitar, drums, vocals, synths and bass. To do a master for a pop song is not easy at the start. You have to get a grip on the sound of a song; on the balance of the various instruments. It can be quite dense, especially if the pre-mix is already compressed and there is little headroom. Then you start to get a grip and an idea about how to brighten things up, giving specific instruments more ‘air’. and such. But once you have reached that point things get rolling. Because of their highly repetitive character you can add your mastering settings to long stretches of the songs. You can distinguish between chorus and other parts and you can give a solo a different ‘voice’. But who uses solo’s these days?

Mastering electro acoustic music is totally different. During the past months I have been working on a CD by Denis Kolokol which will be released by the Polish label [ Mathka ] in September. Here every (milli)second counts. Applying mastering techniques can result in different soundcolor and resonations which are specifically not what they should be. On this upcoming CD there are five works which Denis and I have been discussing a lot during the mastering process. Sometimes I hit the mark in one go but there were two compositions that took quite a lot of trial and error before we reached a point where we were both (and most importantly Denis, since it’s HIS music) satisfied.

And finally…

I have ordered [ Bob Katz’s ] book on the Art of Mastering. I am, by default, a self taught. And I like to explore and enhance my knowledge and wisdom through experience. But after reading a few pages in Katz’s book I was convinced that my wisdom would be much faster enhanced by reading this book. TBC.