Archive for the Creativity Category

The Sounds of Sleep No More: Revisited

Posted in Creativity, Music, Performance, Soundscapes with tags , , , , on May 8, 2012 by deliriumdog

I’ve had another visit (#4 for me) to the McKittrick since my first commentary about the sound design to Sleep No More. My initial thesis was that while the soundtrack melded beautifully with the other elements of the show, it was among the least ground breaking aspects of the production. I noted that much, if not all, of the music is taken from pre-exisitng recordings, which is a common practice for plays. The reason this is surprising is because SNM is no common play production. Boundaries are stretched, envelopes are pushed, and genres are bent every which way when it comes to the action, presentation, and set design…but not so much for the soundtrack.

[Note: I have since posted a response of sorts from the producers themselves in which they explain how the music itself inspired them.]

To be clear: this is not a value judgement. I think the soundtrack is aesthetically beautiful, lovingly constructed, melds wonderfully with the visuals, and represents a great amount of hard work on behalf of Stephen Dobbie and anyone who helped with the installation. If you read my first post, you will see a good deal of praise for what they’ve done.

So did that thesis hold up as I listened through once again? Basically yes, but I heard some things that complicate my original take. Overall, I was impressed about how well the soundtrack holds up to repeat listening. More on that in a bit.

That Whole REMIXED Thing

First, a response to reports I’ve read about the April 1st REMIXED show.  When I first read the invitation to the show, I was hearing in my head all kinds of ways one could mash up the existing soundtrack with elements of modern electronica. (Trip hop rendition of “Is That All There Is,” anyone?) Sounds like my little fantasy, perhaps, but it was inspired by the fact that the SNM New Year’s party DJ reportedly did something similar to that. (Lest anyone thinks I’m angling for Punchdrunk/Emersive to hire me for their next Remix–which I won’t discourage–I wonder why they didn’t just find that guy to do the remix.) Initially, I was desperately jealous of everyone who scored tickets for that event. I figured Punchdrunk and Emursive would prove me wrong by crafting a totally mind-blowing new soundtrack.

But no. For REMIXED they reached no further than pop songs from the 80’s. Some guests were impressed by their selections, others were nonplussed or disappointed. (I become mostly depressed by 80’s music, so I was no longer jealous after reading this news.) At best, seeing a dance set to Phil Collins “In The Air Tonight” would have produced in me a kind of sugar high that would have me crashing shortly after the giant drum fill kicks in. I’ve always been jealous of friends who snap into fits of pure nostalgic ecstasy every time they hear Mr. Mister or Chaka Khan or [insert favorite 80’s one-hit wonder here], but I just don’t have that in me. Surely it’s my loss.

Hey, while we’re digressing: remember 1985 when Phil Collins was pretty much the coolest guy in the wide world of music? Difficult to do now, isn’t it?

RELATED: Delirium Philharmonic
ReMixing electronica with the Philadelphia Philharmonic

Anyway…

In my previous article, I pictured the show’s producers being fans of certain film soundtracks and songs and, rather than working with a composer to create something new, using those very same recordings in their new original work. Call it an homage, call it appropriation, call it whatever you want, but with REMIXED that still appears to be their primary mode of soundtrack design. Of course, if they were to take the time to do something truly new and brilliant, one would hope it would be used for more than one night. It was an April Fools joke, after all, so I’m probably overstating my case.

Our Regularly Scheduled Soundtrack

Okay, back to the original soundtrack that they’ve used nightly for over a year. My respect for all aspects of the soundtrack increased during the 4th listen. Here are a few additional details I noticed:

My best guess is that few, if any, of the soundtrack elements were used verbatim. I noticed more manipulation, especially in some of the old crooner tunes, like an added  “preverb” effect (a kind of reverse echo) added to the vocal range to evoke a ghostly quality. Some additional vinyl scratchiness may have been added to some tracks. Some tracks have more than one sound layered upon another. A friend who attended with me claims to have heard a piece from the Halloween movie soundtrack that was manipulated to fill more time than the length of the original track. In all these respects, each musical piece is treated like a sampling of sound to be woven into a larger ambient soundscape rather than a solitary composition.

The result of all these pieces stitched together–running in parallel in multiple spaces at the same time–is a huge 4-D woven quilt of sound. A collage. A pastiche that, taken as a whole, can be seen as a new orginal work.

Each track flows so seamlessly into the next that I suspect the whole soundtrack was carefully mixed and mastered so that all the songs play well together. (That is, each track was tweaked so the overall volume, loudness, and EQ was consistent.) Nothing distracted me, jumped out at me in a bad way, or took me away from the experience in any manner. This is a great feat in and of itself.

I cannot place where the soundtrack to the banquet scene comes from, and it sounds like an original amalgam of different sounds. I remember one moment when the track was droning down in the lower registers and a high-pitched violin slide cut through the din. A man in front of me looked around to figure out where that sound came from. It leaped out of  the mix so much he thought it came from another source. I love it when that happens.

While I was keeping an occasional eye out for speaker installations, I was never distracted by their placement. However, some were clearly visible. I approve of that visual compromise because the sound is always clear and immediate. The system sounds great.

There was some bleed between sounds every now and then, but I consider that a feature not a bug. I avoided the witches’ rave this time (curious what was happening at the same time) and could hear the pulsing kick drum in other rooms and other floors. I was more likely to notice footsteps from the floor above–a natural sound that added a lot to my awareness of multiple planes of action.

I continued to notice the characters reacting to subtleties (and not-so-subtleties) in the music. It’s clear that the performers have heard the pieces enough to be able to react and anticipate each dramatic flourish and use them to their advantage. I was reminded of this phenomenon when the hostess in the bar, who surely had heard many times the music that’s piped in before the band plays, sang a line in the music just moments before the vocalist in the recording sang the same.

This soundtrack is in the performers’ blood now. They probably dream it at night and inadvertently hum it during the day. Of course they would be responding to it in their performance in all kinds of ways. It’s impossible to discern from my standpoint what may have been the originally drafted choreography and what has developed over time in response to the music. All of the action feels both structured and organic at the same time so I do not even try to figure it out and just enjoy what I’m seeing.

Taking these additional observations into account, I’m still trying to decide if it even matters that no new music was created explicitly for Sleep No More. My bias is so much in the direction of incorporating original music into any new work that I can’t completely let it go. To me, being original and groundbreaking means that the music should be made mostly from scratch. However, the soundtrack as it is truly works and is difficult to criticize on it’s own terms. I have only read praise for it and I doubt many visitors to the McKittrick will give it a second thought. I imagine most people feel and intuit exactly what the producers intended. It’s hard to fault them for that.

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The Sounds of Sleep No More (Part One)

Posted in Creativity, Performance, Soundscapes with tags , , , , , , on March 6, 2012 by deliriumdog

I’ve been meaning to write something about Sleep No More, the experiential play/haunted house/adventure game/so much more. It’s Macbeth by way of Hitchcock and Lynch. It’s 100,000 square feet of gorgeously designed sets that you are free to explore, masked and silent, with other audience members who are also instructed to remain masked and silent. You encounter characters in the story (who you recognize because they’re not wearing masks) and choose whether or not to follow. There is very little speaking, so most communication between characters is done with action and dance. Really cool dance, mind you. I admit I do not have an innate appreciation for dance, but the tight choreography, often in small spaces among the audience members, really won me over. The soundtrack comes from popular music of the 30’s to 50’s (Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and the like), Hitchcock movie soundtracks, and a healthy dose of eerie droning and distant, foreboding thunder.

That’s the basic gist. Still, if you haven’t yet visited The McKittrick Hotel, you don’t get it. Sorry. I can keep throwing more words at you, but I know it won’t help. What could I write that hasn’t already been written many times and still fails to capture it? Yet I must say something because it’s an experience that will never leave me. It’s transformed me in a way only the best works of art can.

–> DD’s Facebook Page

Oh wait! Not much has been written about the sound! So here goes…

While highly effective, the music (and I’m guessing all or most sound) in SNM was taken from existing recordings. There was no original music composed just for the show. Because the show is so impeccably executed overall, I can discard the notion that they simply could not find a composer to work with and instead went dumpster diving for old LPs. They clearly wished to evoke a certain prohibition-era feeling and nothing does that like playing scratchy recordings from that era, give or take a couple decades.

The only sound-related person in the credits is sound designer (and graphics designer) Stephen Dobbie. His credits include two earlier Punchdrunk productions. He started with the company as a graphics designer, so I can only guess that he developed a latent talent for sound design while on the job. This is not a crazy notion as a producer is more likely to choose someone they know is on their creative wavelength and generally good to work with over someone with a pile of credits. Dobbie obviously has the taste and chops for the work and a sense of the Punchdrunk’s vision, having shared the same air with them for a few years prior.

(If anyone involved wishes to set me straight about the above imagined scenario, please do so!)

Drones, Big Bands, Film Soundtracks, Techno…

I love how the soundtrack often envelopes you in a deep drone like violins played through an ancient system of air ducts. This eventually becomes background noise, your mind able to filter out all but the instinctive feeling of dread. Then the crispy crackle of a needle on a pre vinyl platter pokes through and a familiar big band crooner from the 30’s roots you into into the era. Or so you think. We’re in dream logic here, and after all, whose dreams are free of historical anachronisms?

The soundtrack pieces from Rebecca and Vertigo often come in during major interactions between characters. It’s as if all the other sounds are what is happening off-stage or in between major scenes and the movie music follows around the key moments of the story.

Then there’s one modern tune that stands way the hell out. It cranks at around 170 beats per minute (BPM as we say in the business), rocking a variation of the amen break over a single, gripping synth-bass line. It screams “Rave!” as the lights go nuts and creates a frenetic space that leaps through another window in time entirely. It’s a key scene in which the witches reveal their second vision to MacBeth and stands out nakedly (wink to those who saw it) in contrast to the whole rest of the show.

Dobbie may not be a composer, but he clearly understands dynamics and contrast.

Since I did not dedicate a great deal of my brain analyzing the sound system during my stay, I cannot say how many separate sound sources there were total or even on a given floor. There were times when large areas of multiple rooms would be playing the same track, and then a separate track would kick in in a separate room or area. All I know is that coordinating it all must have been a real bear, as was running all the wiring. The sound sources did not appear to get more local than the room level. I did not hear objects emitting their own sound, or any aural tricks being played. It was quite loud at times, but not ear-splitting loud. Because the crowd was not competing with their own vocalizations, extra-huge volume was not required.

Impeccable Timing

Now that I’ve had my 3rd visit to the McKittrick, I have a deeper appreciation for the show overall and noticed much more detail about how the sound underscores the action. Most guests will notice the large flourishes. They draw your attention as if to say “Hey, you in the mask, over here! A scene is about to happen.” My first time through, I incorrectly concluded that the actors use these obvious swells of music to cue them into major scene changes. I now know that’s totally wrong. (How bush league for me to even think it!?) Whether it’s music or pure ambient sound, the cast is constantly in sync with every beat.

Indeed, the whole show is timed succinctly, but I didn’t realize to what extent until I saw one character take a drink, put down the glass, and then heard the deep bass rumble of a far-off thunder clap. It punctuated and heightened the drama of the moment. Even if the audience did not consciously notice it, I’m sure they felt it. There was no proper music playing at the time, just a fairly loud drone built from strings, other atmospherics, and rumbly weather. Other sounds loud and soft continued to follow the actors’ marks and I came to realize that while the two actors in this scene were not dancing, they were executing a type of ballet along to an ambient soundtrack.

Other scenes have actual dancing to actual music and there again, once you notice, you can’t help but be impressed with how music and action play to each other. The choreography has (and here, lacking dance vocabulary, I’ll stick with film) a Jackie Chan-like precision to it. Often times it is stage fighting as much as dance. A good bit more fluid and musical than most fighting you see on screen, but definitely violent. As with an action flick, the score punches up moments in the action. Unlike an action flick, they had to match the choreography to the score rather than the other way around.

A Matter of Focus

This all speaks to Punchdrunk’s pedigree as a theater company. As much as SNM borrows some DNA strands from film and haunted attractions, their approach is pure theater. That is the approach of taking an existing text (in this case, MacBeth and bits of Rebecca) and adapting it–creating sets and adding live action to that underlying work. In this case, you could say Punchdrunk is adapting the hell out of the underlying work, and making an entirely new work (and artform) in the process, but it’s an adaptation nonetheless. Using existing compositions is very much in keeping with that theatrical tradition. I can imagine the directors listening to the soundtracks of Rebecca and Vertigo years ago and dreaming about how they could one day be incorporated into one of their plays.

Having said all that, I still find it interesting that the wellspring of creativity and innovation that is evident in the set design, choreography, and overall approach to SNM does not spill over into their approach to sound. You may say “hey, Glenn, don’t be a downer, the sound really worked for me!” and yes it does clearly work. But imagine how different an experience it would be if the sound were as original, strange and off-kilter as the rest of the production elements. While so much of SNM manages to destabilize you, the familiarity of the sound actually has a stabilizing influence.

With the ScareHouse, I’ve always felt strongly about making as much original sound as possible. Yes, there are times when I needed to use canned material and didn’t have time to record 1000 flies. And there is even a Victrola player in a corner of Forsaken that plays about 45 mins of classic tunes similar to those found in SNM. But when it comes to the big set pieces, like a theme song for a major character or the music played by a large, broken pipe organ, it’s all made from scratch. I like to think that this added layer of detail makes for a richer experience and helps to further throw our visitors off-balance.

–> More Music by Delirium Dog

I’m not saying this to be smug (ok, maybe just a little), but to highlight different angles of approach and areas of focus a production company can have. Consider again how Punchdrunk blows wide open many aspects of a traditional production of MacBeth: It’s mostly silent, features dance, set in a separate era, incorporates plot strands from a 1940’s film, lets the audience inhabit the set, is incorporated over 100,000 square feet…the list goes on. Any one of those elements alone would sound terribly ambitious and unique. I would not say the same about the sound.

Does that make it a failure? Not at all. An opportunity missed? Maybe. Hard to say. What I do know is that while Sleep No More pushes so many boundaries in ways I’m still trying to fathom, the sound design remains one area with the boundaries firmly in place.

[Note: I have since posted a response of sorts from the producers themselves in which they explain how the music itself inspired them.]

If this song did not exist prior to production, Punchdrunk would have had to invent it

Even though they limited their creative expression to the selection of existing musical works, the choice of what I would call the show’s theme song was a master stroke. Each evening plays out in three one-hour cycles, which loosely end/begin with two characters in separate locations singing the existential pop song “Is That All There is?” (If you read the lyrics, it’s about as unlikely on paper to be a popular song as SNM is a popular play.) On one floor, a male witch is lip syncing a straight-up replay of the Peggy Lee version while one floor up, a female witch (Hecate) is syncing to an ultra-creepy, a heavily pre-verbed male vocal–possibly Tony Bennet‘s rendition. Her face shifting to a haunting grimace as the first lines of the song surge from out of nowhere, one could believe Hecate was channeling Tony Bennet’s spirit from the afterlife, if not for the fact that he’s still alive. It’s a highly doctored piece of audio (may even be mostly original) and is easily the creepiest moment in the soundtrack. This is a hint towards what could be done if all of the audio were just as original.

[UPDATE 5/21/12/: The movie The Man Who Knew Too Much, which is also referenced in the SNM soundtrack, features the song “Que Sera Sera” in two scenes. “Is That All There Is?” could easily be the B-side to that more upbeat take on life.]

“Is That All There Is?” The answer is embedded deep within the experience that is Sleep No More. As the musical question lingers, the show loops over again and you can watch the same events or others and have a completely different experience. You never step in the same river twice. The sequence of events continues to reveal new layers of complexity and your appreciation deepens. After enough time in the world of Sleep No More, you realize the reason you are there. It’s the same reason you are here on earth: to pay attention. Pay attention to what is happening right now because your experience will not be the same again. Even if we were to loop your life over and over, you would see it differently. You never can even step in the same river once. Just pay attention right now and you will reap the rewards. If that’s all there is, I’d say that’s enough.

Summoning my Inner Tom Waits

Posted in Creativity, Delirium Dog, Music, Performance, Scarehouse, Video on January 17, 2012 by deliriumdog

In much the same manner as the DD video for Absinthe Cola, the new video (below) was a mostly unplanned, quick shoot using sets inside The ScareHouse. I’m still amazed how well their sets show up on video. They’re so beautiful that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, really, except I’m also one of the fish in this analogy.

The role of the shooter was played by Steve Friedrick, who co-produced and co-directed the video with me. He also handled all the editing and post-production, which is great because I would have gone insane looking at myself so much. I also would have made it a lot blurrier and layered a lot more effects over my face. In fact, the extent of my contribution to post-production, when Steve was showing me draft edits, was to tell him to use more effects and to dirty it up more. The original footage (shot with my Canon T2i) was painfully crisp and clear. You could count the whiskers on my chin. I don’t know how any actor can survive the scrutiny of the HD camera lens these days. I’ve been noticing more lately how on-screen talent (from newscasters to dramatic performers) use makeup and other techniques to hide the natural process of aging. Some appear to have a “no extreme close-ups” written right into their contract. Anyway, while I’m not afraid of revealing any “age lines,” I’m still a little weirded out by seeing my face so clearly. Especially when I’m performing a caricature of evil incarnate.

I knew that I could not successfully embody said evil if I just played it straight (whatever “straight evil” means). So here you get me channelling Tom Waits, which, either because I’m not being very successful or because I’m not actually Mr. Waits, ends up looking unique enough for a music video. Steve brought the goggles and they are roughly half the character. That wicked smile was quite painful to hold and my jaw hurt at the end of each take. The twitchy dance technique also burned quite a few calories and I was pretty well wiped after a couple takes. Such is the price we must pay for our art.

Random Thoughts from the First Weekend Playing at The ScareHouse

Posted in Creativity, Delirium Dog, Performance, Scarehouse, Uncategorized on October 3, 2011 by deliriumdog

First thought: Wow, what a blast!

Actually, that’s my first thought now that it’s over. My first thought when we started playing on the first night was “What the hell am I doing!?!?” I’ve had that thought at several moments over the past few weeks preparing for this gig. It especially hit home while putting on my custom-made costume, which is pretty fab but includes a neon green fishnet top which, let me just say, has never been a part of my wardrobe prior to Friday night.

I’ve managed to be free of Impostor Syndrome for  quite a while. Years, maybe. Then came my battle with Who The Hell Cares About What I’m Doing Syndrome. (“There are a million people out there on the internet making music and starving kids all over the world–what makes you feel like you’re so special, Delirium Boy?” That sort of thing.) The supportive atmosphere I found at The ScareHouse, as well as online and other friendly corners of my life, helped me greatly with this. But then the What The Hell Am I Doing Syndrome sneaks up on me and it feels like a proxy for all the previous syndromes combined. My wife reminded me that this is what happens quite often to every artist, and I think “oh yeah, I guess so” and try not to think about it any further.

Then the performance starts. If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know what an odd type of “show” this is. It took a while for the first visitors to wind their way through the first haunt (“Foresaken”) and into Delirium, so starting early as we did was not necessary and the first 20 minutes was basically a holding pattern. No problem, I was still getting my bearings.

The “pulsing” of the groups that evening was strange. We started to see groups coming through, then there would be 5 or 10 minutes with nobody. I tried to time it so that we were not singing our hearts out to an empty room (more than half the songs contain some singing) and got better at extending or shortening sections of the songs as needed. I would use the spaces between groups to switch songs. Ableton Live cannot have two projects open at once, so I would cross-fade to a sound bed on my ipod for the 30 seconds or so it takes for me to open a new song.

What was difficult as a performer was getting any sense of reaction from the highly transient and distracted audience. This was easier Saturday night when there was a sold-out crowd and a more continuous stream of people. Great energy. It often felt like a real party at which new people were constantly were arriving and joining in. I never got tired of seeing people stumble in, a tad disoriented, take in the wacky surroundings and start to dance. One group appeared to be professional club-hoppers because they were dressed the part and could really dance. I was glad to see that the music worked for them.

With all the distractions, few people could actually see me, but some (and not just my brother) waved and acknowledged that they knew who I was. At 8ish, we were told that four Ghost Hunters would soon be passing through. I had a good groove going and didn’t want to risk stopping it just as they entered but ended up keeping the same tune going for over 20 minutes. I felt less guilty about that when closing time rolled around nearly seven hours after we started. That was a lot of time to fill, and somehow I did it without repeating any piece more than twice. Maybe it was a time warp. Perhaps we were abducted by aliens. Maybe the rest of the cast of Delirium are aliens. Who’s to say? The fact they didn’t want to kill me after many hours of sonic assault definitely raises my suspicions.

During the final hour, delirium was more than just a concept–it was our true state of mind. I was working a new high-energy piece that strings together dozens of variations of the Amen Break with sound effects, rhythmic bird chirps, deep bass hooks, and other bits of randomness. (You may not realize it, but the Amen Break is etched into your sonic memory in a way that forces you to want to dance.) Thinking that closing time must be just a few minutes away, I must have kept that going for 45 minutes–adding different effects to extend the sounds and slowly boosting the beats per minute to keep people from falling asleep. I searched my hard drive for more sounds to throw in, but I’ve kept the performance computer lean. Too lean, apparently. Next weekend, I’ll be better prepared.

A Strange Show in a Stranger Venue

Posted in Creativity, Music, Music Making, Performance, Scarehouse on September 26, 2011 by deliriumdog

In just four days Delirium Dog will perform it’s first live show. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, will hear some part of it. Maybe a few minutes each. About a dozen folks will hear the whole thing several times (lucky them!).

Certainly I’ve played to smaller audiences, but never a stranger one in a stranger venue. We (Ursula and I) will be in a “DJ booth” about eight feet off the ground inside the ScareHouse’s Delirium 3-D haunt. Guests will be handed 3-D Glasses upon entering this neon world in which every flat surface leaps at you with whimsical imagery. The sets and cast members create the atmosphere of a cartoonish rave inside the whacked-out mind of Delirium, who is there to meet you at the end of the haunt with her new friend, Cupcake.

The "DJ Booth" looks down upon the visitors of Delirium 3-D. Photo by Rachelle Gasparich.

And then there’s music. Loud, pulsating music. On nights we are not performing there’s an eclectic mix of pop, rock, electronica, and novelty songs (including some Delirium Dog) that are all dance or groove oriented in some way. But for six special nights (Sept 30th, Oct. 1st, and Oct. 6th-9th) we will be performing Delirium Dog songs (and some Delirium-ified covers) completely live.

Although I will be triggering a lot of pre-recorded loops and samples, I have it set up in such a way that things will never come out the same way twice. In fact, I expect the longer we perform, the more I will be mutating the songs to the point that they are barely recognizable. I can remix the songs as we go and add all sorts of wacky effects on the fly. Both Ursula and I will be singing live, of course.

The new "DJ Booth" performance area. Computer running Ableton Live, mixer, Launchpad, vocal processor & microphone. Photo by Rachelle Gasparich .

Obviously, these shows will not be seen or heard as one does a typical concert. Instead, the guests of Delirium 3-D will experience a few intense minutes of sound and visuals and catch a glance of us if they look up at the right time. Maybe you’ll hear us playing one of our popular favorites or maybe we’ll be riffing away on some strange combination of sounds and beats. We’d love for you to be able to stay a while, but alas, at the end you surrendor your 3-D glasses and go on to be accosted by zombies in the next haunt. (Does that make me an opening act for a horde of zombies?!)

DD in Tunnel

The music sounds great in the spinning tunnel.

This is all a grand experiment. I figure that after 6 nights for about 5 hours / night, we’ll be pretty good at performing this music. After that, who knows where we’ll show up. Finding a venue that is more suitable for an audience to watch and listen to us perform a whole set should not be hard. But finding a venue more suitable for our first performance would be impossible. Delirium Dog was first born in this wacky place, and it only makes sense that we make our live debut there.

The Big Move to Live

Posted in Creativity, Music Making, Performance on August 29, 2011 by deliriumdog

Some blogs die out because of the writer’s waning interest in a subject, but I can assure you, dearest reader, that I’m still here and quite engaged. So engaged, in fact, that I’ve little time to write more than a blurb.

I’ve been spending most of every waking hour on this fun, yet highly laborious project of moving all my Delirium Dog material from Logic Pro to Ableton Live. Why? Because Ursula and I will be performing the music live at The ScareHouse for six nights (Sept. 30, Oct. 1st, and Oct. 6th-9th).

I committed to this months ago because I knew it would force me to make this big push and solve a lot of technical issues that have been bugging me. I’ve been making all this music without much of a plan for performing it. Figuring out the best way to do that has been bending my brain a bit.

I’m still new to Ableton Live and the more I learn how it works the more I’m enjoying it. It’s brilliant software, really, and lends itself well to what I’m trying to do. The only question right now is: can I become enough of an expert in a month to really make the thing sing? Probably. I know it will at least sound as good and more interesting than just pressing play on the iPod. I have several songs already converted over to Live and can verify that much.

Ursula and I will be singing live (for the 20% or so tunes that require it), which will help give things a live feel. I’ll be mixing and arranging things on the fly. I haven’t decided if I will be playing any live instruments, beyond a little keyboard (I mean physically little). I’m trying to keep this simple and that would introduce a whole other set of issues. I lieu of that, I’m working on ways to make the music variable and different each time it’s performed.

The music will be mostly heard by guests waiting in line at The ScareHouse and for the few minutes that they are walking through the Delirium 3-D attraction. At least it will be loud. On the second weekend (when hopefully all the kinks have been worked out) we may stream the performance onto this very internet you are now using. Watch my Facebook or Twitter feed for updates on that.

The only folks likely to hear the whole performance are the cast members performing in Delirium 3-D. They will be our fully captive audience. For five hours a night. For that reason alone, I want the music to be engaging, ever-changing, and fleshed out enough to fill 3-5 hours with little repetition. No problem!

Did I mention that it takes about three hours per song just to export the clips from Logic and then another hour or so to assemble them into Live? Ok, then, back to it…

The Last Album?

Posted in Creativity, Digital Culture, Music Industry, Music Making with tags , on July 25, 2011 by deliriumdog

I think it was a couple albums ago that Radiohead announced they would no longer release albums. A couple albums ago I think I said the same thing. And yet here we are at it again, releasing music in a form that has supposedly outlived its usefulness. People can now very easily purchase songs willy-nilly and barely have the time and concentration span to listen to them, so why drop an hour of music out there all at once?

Lots of reasons. Many of them are technical. You gear up to create and record music and, while in that mode, it makes more sense to make a batch rather than a one-off. This made more sense in the big studio era, but even working in a home studio as I do, you have things configured a certain way when you’re really cranking out the music.

Then there’s the fact that musical distribution still strongly favors the album. There are many aspects to this, but I will save them for another post because I’d like to focus on the most important reason for albums to exist.

I have always loved albums and still believe in them as an art form. I grew up listening to music as sets of songs recorded and conceived together and sequenced in a (hopefully) thoughtful way. An album of songs creates a larger artwork that a single song alone cannot achieve. (Maybe that is the definition of a music album! My definition, anyway.)

Any album worth its salt is more than just a bunch of songs thrown together.  Good albums are rooms, houses, fields, clubs, rivers, or streams. Dank basements or sterile hotel rooms. These are places your sonic mind can inhabit, spend some time there, and return there when needed. The songs speak to each other, bounce off one another, and meld together in our minds. Good albums create a cloud of images, impressions, ideas and emotions that we carry in our memory. Our favorite albums are like close friends with which we sustain long-term relationships with all the ups and downs that go with them.

Songs are poems, albums are short stories or novellas. Having typically been recorded together over a focused period of time, an album of songs are the result of intense artistic obsession. Without that obsession, the album probably would have not been finished. We all try to act like it was an effortless process, but finishing a whole set of songs requires a sustained push through all the creative ups and downs that occur during any big project. For many musicians, an album is the largest kind of project they will ever take on. It’s a big mountain to climb, and it’s not for wimps.

I know there are a lot of people who just want to get that one song that they know and like and never think twice about it as a part of a larger work. But should we trust the future of the music industry to those people alone? Frankly, I’ve always thought of such people as strange. Ok, not strange (there are the vast majority as far as I can tell) but it is a mindset I simply cannot understand. Yes, I’ve often enjoyed listening to singles–but I am always, always curious about the artist’s larger body of work. Was that one great song a fluke, or are they frequently just as brilliant? Does the song define their style, or was it just a little digression or stylistic experiment? I must know these things when I hear a song I like.

Yes, I’m a musician and as one obsessed with music and sound from a very young age, am prone to thinking about music this way. But I also know a lot of non-musicians who have a similarly active relationship with their music collection. (And bless them because without them it would be just us musicians patting each other on the back.) It’s a given that real music fans look at their collection as a series of albums. How can you think of it any other way?

Having just finished an album that I’m finally releasing into the world, I sure hope it isn’t my last. And I hope that the art of the album is with us for a long time to come.

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