Notes On In-Betweenness

While there is something to those old sayings trust the process and it’s the journey, not the destination, in music production the process/journey often has the distinctive quality of feeling like an in-between state. Recently, while working on a new project, it occurred to me to think more about in-betweenness. I had just begun something new and was considering my options:

Do I build from nothing or create something to build on? 

Do I explore the potentials of this single sample or extract twenty and weigh them against one another? 

Do I make a new sound or adapt an old one? 

Answers to these questions were unclear.

With the sample material’s waveform in front of me, I decide to extract several samples. I move along the waveform, from its starting point to its end, looking and listening. I try super short samples. I try long samples. I try repeating clips. I try one-shot clips. I try pitching the sample up or down, then decide against it because that’s getting ahead of the process I’ve committed to.

Is there anything here that is sonically enchanting?

I extract six samples from the audio and line them up. Three of them fail the interesting test, and the remaining ones sound just okay. I’m in between processes: I’ve created some useable sample material, but what to do next? 

In-between is a state of transition—an awareness that where we are now isn’t the final destination, but rather a step towards the next action.

I decide to build the piece around just these two samples. Suddenly the pressure to generate new material is gone: just work with this

I use the first sample as an anchor, placing it at the beginning. I adjust volume fades on its start and end points. I add reverb to give it a space. I repeat the sample every beat, but it’s too insistent-sounding, so I mute every second one. But it needs still more space. I slow down the tempo and mute every second and third sample so that now it sounds once every four bars. Better.

In-between is recognizing that the humdrum-ness of the task at hand is enough to hold your attention and build towards future structures.

With the first sample as anchor I fit the other two around it. I return to re-pitching: How does this sound up a fifth or down a third? (An octave shift sounds robotic, so that’s out.) As I shift pitches a tonal center begins to take shape. I move to a piano sound and find the E major /c-sharp minor area and try out a few chord shapes. I notice that the piano sounds sharp which means that the samples are flat—about 22 cents flat, so I tune them up. Better to begin with euphony and de-tune only if necessary.

From deciding on my three samples, organizing them into a repeating pattern, trying out some piano chords, and fine-tuning pitches, I’ve begun making in-between an interesting state to be in. In-betweenness keeps the creative process light and playful. Just see what you can do with these parts.

Despite feeling not long ago that I was unsure how to proceed, something that feels like music seems to be proceeding. I add parts—chords and bass tones—quickly to hear the texture thicken. I de-tune the first sample by a fifth and the effect is better than I could have planned. Now I wonder: How would the other two parts sound at different pitches? I try out patterns so that it sounds as if the parts are listening to one another. The right change happening at the right time surprises me each time I hear it. One adjustment here, consistency over there, and vice versa. Or cascades of simultaneous changes. I keep at it for a while, letting the music cycle around while making small changes to its elements. Two minutes have become four, and maybe something can be made from this.

In-betweenness is a psychological state worth getting used to because it’s where we spend the majority of our creating time. In-between is the process not the product, the journey not the destination, the small decisions that may or may not culminate in a larger result, the single samples that anchor, and the trust that following what sounds interesting can become an interesting place to be.

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