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Wednesday, September 7, 2005

The Web – Malen nach Zahlen Dub

I wonder if there is a blog somewhere which analyzes electronic music
in the same way that classical music gets analyzed. Taking the track
apart, naming the effects used, analyzing the structure, the way the
tension is built up, questioning the ideas behind the track. This
could be applied to experimental music, dancefloor music, etc… As I
didn’t find such a blog, I guess I’ll just have to start myself. As I
have no real clue about music in general, and electronic music in
particular, most of the ideas presented here will sound naive, but you
have to start somewhere, don’t you 🙂

I got Ableton live 5.0 a few weeks ago, and started doing “musical
exercises”, actually producing stereotypical music in a certain style
in order to grasp the style’s basic patterns. It’s music I call “mahlen nach zahlen”, just following certain basic
ideas, not trying to do something interesting or something new, just
something that sounds ok. In these weeks, I finished one
track, a pretty boring, overly long dub track, called “The Web” as it
uses samples from a lecture by Fravia about search techniques. You can
download the mp3
here
and listen to it while reading the article. You can
also download the live set with all the samples (hope there is no
copyrighted stuff in there) here.

The structure of the “The Web” is quite simple. It consists of an
intro composed of a weird sound effect, a first verse, a break, a
second verse, a third verse, and an outro. Each verse consists of a
syncopated beat, a very simple melody, two chords played on offbeats
by a sampled guitar, a bass line, pads playing single notes and vocal
samples by fravia. Underlying the whole track are sound effects,
whirling around in the background, and becoming more present at the
end of the verses and during the break. You can see the overall structure of the track in
this image.

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The weird sound effect at the beginning of the track was produced by
feeding some sound (I don’t remember what, but I think some kind of
drum beat) into a VST plugin called “Crazy
Ivan”
. The plugin produces very harsh sounding bubbling, depending
on its settings. I don’t understand the settings at all, so I just
clicked repeatdly on the “randomize” button, and recorded the output
onto a separate track in Live. I then looked at the produced sounds,
chose this nice sounding sample and added a lot of delay on top of it
by sending the output of the effect track to the first return channel,
which has a pingpong delay effect in its effect list.

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The vocal samples by fravia have been cut out of the lecture he held
at the 21c3 congress in Berlin in December. The ogg file of the
lecture can be found here.
I cut out the samples using audacity, edited them to
remove the weird stop-and-go speech flow of fravia, and imported
into live. I then pitch shifted them 2 halfsteps down to give them a
grooviger feeling, equalized them a bit so they wouldn’t sound to
bassy, and compressed them in order to make them louder. I then sent
them to the return track B, which features another pingpong delay with
slightly different settings than return track A.

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I actually spent most of the time working on the drums and the
bass. I started with a simple bass line, added some basic drums, and
started tweaking the sound. On second thought, I think this is an
approach that doesn’t work really well for me. I think I’m better off
laying the melodic structure of my music out, and then adding beats
and bass. Anyway, I used an impulse preset of live as a starting point
for the drums, and started stacking effects and tweaking and doing
until I got a sound I liked. The effect queue actually is quite
scary. I also added a separate sample for the crash cymbal, but it
ended sounding “out of tune”, and ended using it like two times in the
whole track. I added the saturator to make the drums a bit
crunchy. The auto filter adds some kind of automatic panning and
filtering on the high-hats and the top of the snare spectrum so that
the drums don’t sound too static. The ping-pong delay is actually
pretty nice, as it adds complexity to the beat. Finally, a bit of
reverb to add some room. The drum tracks is sent to the return track A
for some more delay, and to return track C which has a supa-trigga
VST. Supa-trigga is a very nice plugin adding repetition, slowing
down, reversing, etc… Here it is used “in the background”, that is,
the drum track itself is loud, and in the background you can hear
random modifications of the beat. The disadvantage of this however is
that the track never sounds the same. Another problem I have with
supatrigga is that I didn’t program it myself, and don’t really
understand what is going on. I think I’ll write a similar plugin
myself in the future, and play around with it. In a track I’m
producing at the moment, I use supatrigga on the drum track, and
record its output. I play with the settings, and then look at the
output, and keep the “nice” variations that I’ll then include as
“static” audio samples in the mix. You can only do this when are
finished with tweaking the drum sound though.

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While programming the drums, I would let a basic loop I programmed
by clicking on the payroll play, and use the keyboards to add single
snare drum or bass kicks with high velocity, which give a strong
impulse to the beat. I would also program some breaks by hands on top
of an basic loop, and then arrange all the loops I had (like 12) in the
arrangement view, and consolidate them into a long 32 bars drum
track. This way, the drum track is pretty varying, although you don’t
hear it really unless you give it a bit of attention.

The melody I found by jamming on my keyboard after finding an “OK”
sound in the live presets. I first had a single loop of the melody,
but finally played the whole verse on the keyboard in order to have
varying velocities and a more human field. I did this for the second
and third verse too. Finally, I let the track played and fiddled some
knobs on various effects of the melody instrument. These effects were
the feedback and the frequency of the phaser on the first verse, and
also turning on the bouncy delay I downloaded on the smartelectronix
website
. The third verse uses a different instrument for the
melody, where I played with different settings of the simpler filters
and lfo.

Getting the bass line was a very similar process. I cliked a few
notes on the payroll using the keyboard, used that as a starting point
to add the drums, and wound up replaying everything on the
keyboard. While replaying, I found some new ideas for variations of
the bass line I used for other verses. The most difficult part however
was to twiddle with the sound settings so that the bass wouldn’t sound
like “flat MIDI sound”. I achieved this by carefully tuning the
impulse filter, adding a bit of reverb on the lower part of the
spectrum, and eroding the sound a bit so that the bass would sound
like being played on some cheapy bass amplifier.

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The pads were the simplest part, they just underline the melody by
playing single notes. I modified the velocity amount controlling the
LFO a bit, so that lower velocities would produce more of a bubbling
sound, which then gets amplified by the delay. At the ends of the
verses, the velocity of the pad notes gets lower and lower, and
everything starts to fade away in big bubbling, reinforced by the
sound effects becoming louder and louder.

I also added some “subtle” melodic impulses using strange
instruments, one producing a kind of burp, and the other a synthesized
human voice singing “doo”. I played these by hand on the keyboard, and
reuse the same loops on the first and third verse.

Finally, I reused sound samples produced by playing around with
Crazy Ivan as sound effects, looping them after having warped them to
match the rhythm of the track. I added a filter to the effect track,
and sent the output to the pingpong return track A. Using the filter,
which I controlled with the mouse on the two dimensional field
presented by Live, I could make the whirling swirling sound which is
quite typical of a lot of dub tracks.

What actually scares me in retrospect is how much work was
necessary to produce this quite dull sounding dub track. I also notice
that I have not managed to built some interesting tension in the
track, it just seems to start on one level and stay there for
a very long time. If I had to do it again, I would make the track much
shorter, make the melody a lot more interesting (I quite like the easy
listening kind of melody on the third verse), and build up tension by
building “weird” breaks, using strange animal samples for examples,
different drum sounds sometimes, and removing a lot more instruments
before kicking in again. I guess that’s what you learn through
experience 🙂

I just noticed I kept a few of the early versions of the track, the
first one consisting of just the basic loop I found “interesting”. first version
(12.08.2005)
, 14.08.2005, 16.08.2005.

posted by manuel at 4:22 pm  

5 Comments »

  1. DAS HÖRT SICH AN WIE SCHEISSE DAS WIRD JETZT NICHT GESPIELT!

    SCNR 😉

    +++ neingeist

    Comment by neingeist — September 7, 2005 @ 6:03 pm

  2. Finally, a blog about my two favorite things .. Beats and Lisp!

    Great post, i can’t wait to get to a PC with audio capabilites to hear the track 🙂

    drewc

    Comment by drewc — September 7, 2005 @ 8:47 pm

  3. Hi. GREAT PAGE!
    Could you check to see if http://tracker.bl0rg.net/torrents/the-web.tar.gz.torrent is stll loading. I get a file not found error, after clicking the link.

    Thank you,
    Syid

    Comment by SR — January 23, 2006 @ 1:02 am

  4. Vielen Dank für die Mühe!(und für den link zur fravia’s searchlores, eine echte Fund grube 😉

    Comment by Zöllner — January 23, 2006 @ 3:08 pm

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