Concrete Music Brief

Matthew Lovett, CSM

You are going to compose a piece of music lasting between 3 and 4 minutes. The ...
A) How will the piece start? Gradually? (will the sound fade in) Abruptly? (will the
      sound start immediately with th...
has two main parameters ‘Threshold’ and ‘Ratio’ that allow you to determine
        how much sound is released from the co...
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Concrete Music Brief 2009

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Concrete Music Brief 2009

  1. 1. Concrete Music Brief Matthew Lovett, CSM You are going to compose a piece of music lasting between 3 and 4 minutes. The piece must be structured and demonstrate that you have an understanding of dynamics, speed, tone and texture. The key thing to bear in mind when composing music this way is that the sounds that your using are the basic building blocks: let the sounds dictate the musical decisions you make. Don’t use set rhythm patterns or try to use your sounds to make beats as such, this project is about listening to the raw materials you’ve got and making musical choices based on what you hear, not how they can fit into some kind of rhythmic scheme. Again, don’t try to write melodies as such with your raw material, what you have may be suggestive of melody or even harmony, but let the sounds decide the tonal structure for you. Work through the following exercises using the techniques and skills delivered during the Music Tech/Pro Tools induction sessions. If you have any questions or need clarification, please book a tutorial as soon as possible. Collecting Source Material Step 1: Collect at least 10 sounds from the environment. There is no limit to the type of sounds you can collect: indoor/outdoor, short/long, loud/quiet, bright/dull, pitched/unpitched. What you must remember is that you are going to be using these sounds as raw material for your compositions, so make sure you get clean recordings and think about how you are going to use them. For example, the sounds of a crowded room, a busy train station or a motorway might be interesting but it will be very difficult to manipulate these sounds. Focus on capturing individual sounds – you can combine them later. Step 2: For this project, you will be using Pro Tools with an M-Box, so you can easily record direct to computer. If you have recorded your sounds using a mobile or a minidisc recorder, then you must now transfer your recordings onto a computer. Composition Step 3: Your first task is to make 45 seconds of sound/music using only one sample. Pro Tools has a number audio processing effects, but start by making adjustments to pitch, direction (using reverse), EQ (to alter the timbre) and time stretching (altering the duration of your sample). At this point you must start to think musically:
  2. 2. A) How will the piece start? Gradually? (will the sound fade in) Abruptly? (will the sound start immediately with the element of surprise) B) What will happen next? Will the sound get louder? Change pitch? Repeat? Any other alterations? C) Repeat step (B) until you’ve reached 35 seconds D) Now you need to end the piece. Think about how it began – will you end in a similar or different way. Again, apply some simple rules of composition – is the piece cyclical (coming back to the same place), linear (travelling from point A to point B) or explorative (letting one step move to the next sequentially with no overall plan). You may find your first attempts falling into the last category – but is this how you want your music to sound? Step 4: Now you can experiment with layering your sounds. You’ve worked out how to use one sound, now combine two together to create another 45 seconds of music. What relationships can you generate? Antiphony/Question and Answer? (one sound responds to another sound using imitation) Polyphony? (more than one sound happening at once) Cacophony? (two sounds working against each other to create an unsettling/violent effect) Step 5: Now you’ve experimented with sound effects and combinations of sounds, the final step is to think about spatial positioning. Sounds complex, but basically you’re now going to use the panning function to decide whether your sounds are on the left or right of the stereo image, or in the middle or somewhere in between. In Pro Tools it’s very easy to move sounds from left to right – if you’re working with headphones on (highly recommended) then you’ll quickly realise how effective experimenting with stereo can be. Make a 45 second piece that just makes use of the left and right balance – use any of the techniques you’ve already acquired in order to generate sound. Step 6: You’ve now explored composition using a number of simple parameters and techniques. You can now begin to use more complex plug-ins such as reverb, delay and compression. • Reverb digitally simulates the effect of hearing sounds within certain spaces, e.g. a small room or a large concert hall. We call the echoes that we hear bouncing back at us from the walls, floor and ceiling in a room, ‘reflections’ and it’s these reflections that give a space its particular sonic character. • Delay literally copies the sound and plays it back. You can adjust how many copies are made and how quickly they repeat. The more copies that are made, the more they ‘feedback’ into the original sound, which causes the system to overload – sometimes you may want to use this feedback effect, but you must control it. • Compression is a way of controlling the dynamic level of a particular sound. It
  3. 3. has two main parameters ‘Threshold’ and ‘Ratio’ that allow you to determine how much sound is released from the compressor. The threshold sets the maximum volume that the compressor will output. Very basically, this means that if you have a sound that has both very quiet and very loud sections, you can decrease the dynamic range between them – i.e. so that the loud sections don’t sound so loud. ‘Ratio’ controls the amount of compression – a high ratio (e.g. 10:1) greatly increases the amount of compression and therefore greatly reduces the volume above the threshold, whilst a lower ratio (down towards 1:1) reduces the volume more gently. A ratio of 10:1 at a particular amplitude literally stops anything going over that threshold immediately and therefore acts like a noise gate or limiter. However, you’ll usually want your compression to work much more gently and therefore you’ll need to adjust your threshold and ratio accordingly – experiment with a number of different settings to get used to what compression sounds like. Once you’ve started to control the dynamic range of your sounds, you can then ‘make up’ the volume of the overall track. This is how many radio stations work: reduce the difference between the quiet and loud bits in a track then make the whole track as loud as possible. Usually you’ll want to avoid hearing the effect itself – you’ll only want to hear the improvements it can make to the sound quality of your music. However, in some situations, hearing the compressor working is actually the effect we’re after – but you need to be absolutely sure that this won’t be interpreted as bad mixing. Step 7: Now you’re ready to put together your final piece. Try combining all of the techniques you’ve explored, although don’t feel that you have to use everything. The basic rules of composition still apply: • Think about structure: how will the piece start/continue/end? • Think about dynamics/tone/speed/texture/pitch in order to create variation. • Very basically, composition is about tension and release – how can you make use of these two concepts in your work, how can you move between these two states? • As with Improv, avoid falling into the trap of using clichés: don’t try and make beats, riffs or conventional melodies. This project is about exploring sounds, creating sounds and combining sounds to make new textures. It is NOT about using abstract sounds to make dance music, so don’t think about key signatures or time signatures. • Don’t forget to use space – it’s one of the most powerful compositional devices. Silence can say so much more than an overload of sound, and understanding and using the relationship between sound and silence is basically what composition is all about. Enjoy

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