On Copying, Manipulating, and Pasting Musical Parts 

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One of the few rules of composing music I almost always adhere to is to play every single part myself in real-time. Based on the kind of music I like to listen to, I’m convinced—or I’ve convinced myself—that this approach produces the most reliably interesting results in the shortest amount of time. If I want variation, I can play it; if I want consistency, I can play it; if I want to take an abrupt left turn, I can play it. Or at least I try aiming for these things. I find that even when I fail—which is every time I play—I’m closer to a sound I find interesting than I would have been had I used a pre-fab sample or loop or other quantized bit of Lego-like musical building blocks. Playing the music into the computer when I could just mouse-click-program it into a semblance of a living musical thing now feels like one of my essential practices. Playing rather than programming it makes sense: it makes sense of the years I spent practicing and trying to reproduce all those cool sounds and phrases I heard on recordings and from my hands of my teachers. Most of all, playing the music keeps me on the cutting edge of myself. Aware of my technical limitations, I still try to nail the parts in a single take every time I sit down. The goal is to achieve, in one fluid gesture, a genuine sense of sonic surprise, so that when I re-listen I go, Wow—how did I come up with that? 

The one exception I make to my rule of playing every single part myself is that occasionally I copy a part, manipulate it in some way, and paste it somewhere else. I did this recently in a piece that has a bell-like sound that functions like a timeline that plays a repeating rhythm. (Think of the bell part in West African music or the clave part in salsa.) The timeline part was pitched to the key of the piece and I was curious to hear how it would sound if it were joined by a friend. I copied the part, which involved bouncing it down to an audio file which was then re-inserted into the piece. Next I transposed its pitch upwards, and offset it from the first timeline so it could be a kind of response to that initial part’s call. I repeated the process for a third timeline part (imagine salsa music with three clave players!) and fit this part in with the first two. The two copied timeline parts had the same little imperfections of the initial one (which I had played), but because of their alterations in pitch and time they sounded different—different enough to add something to the music.

For some of my readers, copying and manipulating and pasting one musical part to create a new one isn’t a big deal. In fact, entire electronic dance music idioms are assembled mainly using this technique. But as I get deeper into music production, I give myself license to ponder the implications of how I work and which ways of working work best. I keep an ever-lengthening “database” of everything I’ve tried while composing. If the technique makes the list, that means that it actually helped a piece forward in some way. And sometimes one’s notes leads to new ideas. When I made note of Copying, Manipulating, and Pasting musical parts something else occurred to me to try next time: Begin a piece with the timeline, and build it up from there. Here I was thinking that copying a part is an exception to my rule of always playing parts in real-time. But what if that’s not its main point? In trying it out this technique I could re-think how a piece can begin.          

Curating The Week: Chill Music Playlists, Music For Notre Dame, Hip Hop Country Music

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An article on “chill” music playlists on Spotify.

“These days, to describe someone as “chill” is to propose that they’re slightly apathetic, but in a delightfully easygoing way. The rise of chill as an aspirational state suggests that perhaps the best thing to feel is not much at all…Spotify presently classifies chill as a genre, and there are an incredible number of playlists devoted to insuring a chill experience….I find it disheartening to see art being reconfigured, over and over again, as a tool for productivity—and then, when the work is finally done, as a tool for coming down from the work.”

• Music composed for Notre Dame Cathedral.

An article about Lil Nas X’s controversial country music/hip hop hit.

“For decades, Nashville has essentially framed and marketed the rural experience as white — despite and in defiance of the deep black roots of country music. So when an artist like Lil Nas X — who is black, and raps, and is from Atlanta, with no ties to the country music business — lays claim to rural aesthetics, even in a way that’s partly tongue in cheek, it causes real disruption.”

Nine Books About Creativity

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Ferran Adria.
A Day at elBulli: an insight into the ideas, methods and creativity of Ferran Adria 

Ed Catmull
Creativity, Inc.

Marcus du Sautoy
The Creativity Code: Art and Innovation in the Age of AI

Ken Kacienda
Creative Selection

Kyna Leski
The Storm of Creativity

David Lynch
Catching The Big Fish: meditation, consciousness, and creativity

Philippe Petit
Creativity: The Perfect Crime 

Grant Snider
The Shape of Ideas: an illustrated exploration of creativity

Nassim Taleb
Antifragile