Some Thoughts on Music Production/Composition/Software


Been working on an “Electronica” piece in GarageBand… my first real foray into dance music. I mean, it’s rather upbeat, although in D minor, so not too “happy” sounding. Started from a really cool patch in Korg Legacy– um “Cell”, which is a real cool area where you combine like three different patches from the MS-20, Polysix and (maybe) Wavestation into really phat Combis. Anyway this one patch had a really kickin’ beat and percolating synth washes that immediately caught my ear. Real easy to play, too.

Anyway, it’s got the standard “four on the floor” quarter note kick drum keeping the pulse, and them i’ve just had alot of fun jamming with the built-in Garage Band synth sounds, plus some Polysix sounds and several percussion tracks, both built-in GB sounds (which, i must say, remind me of the rather weak SY-85 percussion sounds). Luckily i got my NI-Battery plugin going yesterday morning with a BUTTload of cool “techno” hits. Yes. Very nice.

Have tried several times to get JDs Guru drum thing going, but w/o avail. But i did get iDrum going, too, so i’ve got two nice drum plugs going.

So i’m having fun with music again. Always makes my life better. Came up with some weird German-sounding name for it like “Phini Vesta” or somesuch (no, that’s not it, thank god).

Before it’s ready to go, though, will need to do some mixing and some playing with the arrangement. Get some breaks going, a better intro, some trippy effects to mash things together, playing with emphasizing certain parts over others. Just generally making the mish-mash of all those sounds some variation. Right now it’s just 3 1/2 minutes of jamming on all the tracks. Many of them loops, which always gets boring after a minute or two.

Which brings me to a little complaint, which i’ll start off supporting: Loops. Now, i love loops. They are instant grooves, instant moods, instant textures. And i love creating them. I love the process of creating them: that building, that unfolding of complex richness, of interweaving lines, of inter-related strings. (see Digital Performer’s POLAR for a pretty good live-looping environment. Also, of course, Ableton’s Live.)

It’s just a problem when in GarageBand i’ve created a really nice loop-based comp– with the built-in loops– which after a few repeats begs to change up a little. Now, it’s important to emphasize that this is a problem with the built-in loops. Because you CAN’T change them. At least not the notes they’re playing. You can add a different effect to it, or reverse it, or crop/truncate it. But if you just want to change the order of the notes, you can’t. Not without some serious patience and work.
OK then, maybe that’s the real problem: my laziness.

Maybe. But when i’m wanting to just create, having to break out of right-brain creativity to have to left-brain engineer really disrupts the inspiration for me. Yeah, for me. Not for everybody, for sure. I think of Craig McGonagill in particular. Very strong engineering skills that flow easily back and forth from and to his creative side.

I’ve always both admired and been jealous of Craig for that. I think he’d really dig the laptop competition they have up here in Dallas.

So i complain about the state of loop-based composition.

But it’s another thing when i’m able to loop the midi-fied tracks. “Freeze” them in Logic. That’s really cool because you can always go back in and edit the notes, the performance, the MIDI notes. Expand, expound, variate, elucidate. But in Logic, it’s very difficult to get to the plugin synths. You’ve freekin’ gotta create a freekin’ Environment-thingy. Geez, what a pain that is. I haven’t even figured it out, truthbetold! That is by far my least favorite thing about Logic. That stoopid “Environment.”

The process of enabling plugin synths in Digital Performer is at least “doable…” That is, i have done it. In the mixer window, you just pick the plugin synth on a given track. I think it’s just a MIDI track (as opposed to an audio track). Much like the way to do it in GB, actually. Makes me wonder (yet again!) why Apple bought eMagic+Logic rather than MOTU+Digital Performer… DAMN!

That seemed like SUCH a better fit! I mean, DP was already (and always has been) Mac-only, while eMagic had to completely trash their Windows half once Apple took over. DP has always been more user friendly than Logic (for example in how to pull up softsynths, as above). Now, granted, DP’s user interface has always been highly un-Mac-standard, and would have needed a rather brisk overhaul by Apple. But so did Logic! And i think Apple could have done a BETTER job making over DP than they have with Logic!

… oh well. Pisser. Steve obviously skipped over my opinion on that one…

But in the end, by which i mean this present moment in which i am writing, the state of music composition technology is extremely, um, BADASS!!! I mean, looking at what i have: a $600 Mac Mini, an old Apple G4 CRT monitor running at 1600×1200, a $425 Novation X-Station controller/synth, and a pair of $115 M-Audio BX-4 studio reference monitors; that’s $1,140 for a multi-track recorder/editor + a bunch of synthesizers, a bunch of drum machines, a bunch of effects processors…
Wow. Nice little setup.

Not to mention all the other stuff i can do with the Mac Mini, like Photoshop, video editing/production, web production, email+communication, etc, etc.

And it’s only gonna get better. See my stuff on “technoliberation” and “transhumanism.” Peace+love.

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