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Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Dawn Procession

Hear this on SoundCloud.com

My newest piece is entitled: The Dawn Procession

Some quick information about this piece:
start date: 26 jan 2013
complete date: 25 march 2013
DAW software: FL Studio 10.0.9

This piece consists of 18 tracks (18 parts). Instruments used:
Albion 1 and 2 (mainly for percussion)
Albion 3 (for the low / hi brass and cellos)
VSL Special Edition instruments (for all other melodic elements, including harps, timpani, strings, woodwinds, horns and a celesta)

All 18 parts and their note data in dots and dashes
in the step-sequencer window in FL Studio
In this song I take my newly acquired Vienna Symphonic Library Special Edition and Spitfire Albion 3 Iceni for a spin.

With these 2 libraries as the main instruments. I tried to explore a greater range of expressiveness in terms of tempo, volume and spacing in the piece.

The very dramatic feature in this piece is the abrupt change in tempo and mood at the exact middle portion of the piece. Many times when writing I find myself unable to break out of a certain groove the music is carving out, and I was unable to break out of it. So here I challenged myself to break out with this huge increase in the speed as well as from an orderly harmonically sensible flow, to a fast, chaotic and tense mood. I do hope I did it in a tasteful manner.

I also tried to explore the use of atonal intervals and groups of chords to try and portray chaos and tension in  certain parts. At the beginning, there were some portions where I felt was quite forced and awkward. However, when I progressively work on a piece for close to 3 months, strange things happen to my perception of those dissonant lines and chords after a while. They became acceptable to the point where they now lead 'naturally' to those notes in my head when I play the piece through in my head.

This can be due to the 'tunnel vision' composers tend to get when they become too focused on their music. So I took some time off (like a week or two, while working on other ideas for other pieces) before I came back to this. Somehow I found it to be acceptable still.

Coming from a pop, rock and ballad background, I did not use to accept things like that (I used to be turned off by classical music, especially the dissonant and atonal kinds). Am I gradually loosening my perceived rules of music, or am I actually deviating from widely accepted norms of harmony? Will this be a passing phase for me as I try to discover how far I can go with this, or will this stick to my writing from now on?

A full view of the piece in FL Studio's playlist window.
Looks very much like mountains, terrain and clouds doesnt it?
To bring the piece to a symmetrical ending in terms of speed and key signature, I slowed down the tempo over 4 bars (hope you did not find it to be too abrupt). This is something that I've never done before. Harmony-wise, I went through a couple of strange chord progressions to land me back in the initial key, ending it off with a familiar chord progression from the beginning.

I can hear quite a few parts that sound similar to my previous writings. I need to broaden my vocabulary and listen to more works from other composers.

This journey of music is bringing me somewhere, and it is not over yet.

Friday, 15 March 2013

A New Generation of Instruments - WeAreRoli.com

Roli is an up-and-coming company with an innovative instrument on their table.

This is a familiar yet unique musical instrument which they have named it The Seaboard.
The Seaboard has the familiar layout of a keyboard instrument, but it has added controls that from the demo videos, seem to involve pressure as well as touch. There is a ribbon controller near the base of the player's palm that allows for smooth bending of pitch. The indication of pressure and touch capabilities seems to also hint at the possibility of being able to control expression, vibrato amount and vibrato speed as well. The official site says that the performance can affect the timbre of the instrument as well.

One of the team members helping to shape the product is Jordan Rudess (head of music experience), who is an established and outstanding keyboard player who is also a member of 2 outstanding bands in the music scene.

Here are 2 demos featured on their official page:

From the comments from YouTubers I see mixed reactions. Many commented on the style of music that was played, or the sounds that are used in the demo. I feel all these comments are besides the point.

If you are doing any composing, sequencing or music arrangement with a keyboard/computer set-up, you would know about the expressive limitations of your regular midi-keyboard. With just the playing keys as controllers, we can only control the note, the velocity and aftertouch (channel / note) in some cases. In an attempt to achieve deeper control and expression in our playing, the industry has come up with additional controllers like breath, expression pedals, joysticks, pitch and modulation wheels, touch-pads or even gestural and optical sensors. Virtual instruments implement key-switching to trigger a change in the timbre and performance in the sounds.

As you can see, The Seaboard does not have external wheels/joysticks. It only has a ribbon strip besides the 'keys'. Yet it looks like it can control pitch bending, expression, timbre, all from the keys without the aid of external input widgets. The Seaboard looks like it is able to empower a keyboard player to new dimensions of expression in his/her playing, breaking the current limitations of only velocity and after-touch. I am hoping this keyboard has midi utilities to remap whatever input it's getting into various different continuous controllers messages. This would make it an extremely versatile input device for performing artists on stage and composers working in the studio.

The Seaboard is now available for pre-orders.

Engadget did an article about the Seaboard, with a 7 minute video of the creator giving a hands-on demonstration explaining what the instrument is made up of and a little bit of demystifying of the technology behind it:

Here is another article on The Seaboard from MusicTech:

I do hope it takes off, and I look forward to seeing more of such instruments that can help us create more expressive music, which should be what an instrument is about.

Monday, 11 March 2013

FL-Studio - Resetting "Init Song With This Position"

This is a problem that I was stuck with for a while. Today I finally took the time to search for the solution on the internet, and the solution was readily available on many forums including Image-Line's.

The Feature
Init Song With This Position is a feature of FL Studio to enable the user to set a particular knob/slider/control to a certain value at the beginning of a song.

Any control, knob, toggle, slider from FL Studio's main application interface can be assigned an initial value this way. These include mute/unmute, volume, pan, mixer sends, tempo (coarse/fine), master volume, master pitch, etc. 

Once you set an 'Init song with this position' on a control, that control will revert its value to the set value every time you hit play on your song (even when you are not at the beginning of your song). Even with initial values set for a control, it is still possible to record automation on it, since 'Init song with this position' is not automation data in itself.

To use it, right-click on the control (knob/slider/button), then select 'Init song with this position':
Right-click on the control you want to init
Click on 'Init song with this position'
I can think of many uses for this feature. The most helpful situation for me, would be when I am going to use a physical controller's slider (Korg NanoKontrol2 for me) to affect the values of a FL Studio knob for example. I may actually mess up the value if I accidentally bump on my physical sliders positions (or someone changed the slider positions while I am away from my computer for a while). 

If that control has recorded automation, there would be no problem with this since during playback automation will automatically get the control back to the correct values. However, if that control has no automation set, that value would be lost and I would not be able to know what it was originally set at. 

This is where the 'Init song with this position' comes in very handy. It behaves like an automation snapshot that remembers that value without writing automation data on that control.

The Problem
Having knobs initialised with a certain value, without knowing how to remove that initialisation, can be annoying. Say at the beginning of my mixing stage I have 16 tracks. I do a rough mix of the levels, and I set the 'init song with this position' for each fader on each track.

Later on I tweak the levels of track 6 while the song is playing, from -10db to -5db. I'm happy with it, and I stop the playback. I play back the song again wanting to hear another part of the song with the new level at track 6, and lo-and-behold, my track 6 level jumps back to -10db because the track is initialised to that value.

One of the solution could be to set track 6's levels to -5db, and re-initialise this value as initial position on track 6's volume, before playing again to hear this new level for another part of the song. This could work but imagine having to keep setting initial value like this.

This is just one example. Another crazy example would be if a track's mute state was set with 'Init song with this position'. Every time you play the song, that track jumps to be muted, or un-muted as dictated by your init value. I don't know about you, but in my workflow I need to keep changing the states of mute/un-mute/solo. So having them init-ed and keep jumping to a certain position at the start of the song is unthinkable. (You can also accidentally produce this phenomenon if you are in automation enabled record mode, and you solo/mute/un-mute tracks during your playback. its really painful to undo).

The Solution
From the discussion threads on a few forums, the solution involves 2 steps:
  • In the browser panel (F8), go to 'current project' -> 'initialised controls'. There will be a list of controls that have initialised values. See the diagram below.
  • select from the list of controls those that you want to remove the 'init song with this position' from.
Browser panel's Initialized controls folder shows a list of controls that have initialised values.
Delete these to remove the initialisation.
This should successfully remove the init state of the control, and now the value should not jump to any pre-init-ed values upon playback.

All this while I appreciate the usefulness of this but was afraid to use it because I did not know how to reset the initialising. Now I am confident to use it, knowing I can remove it any time I want to.

If you have a better workflow please feel free to drop a comment :)

Some helpful links on this topic: