Archive for the Music Making Category

Roll Your Own Artist Residency

Posted in Creativity, Life Hacks, Music Making, Scarehouse, Sound Design with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2013 by deliriumdog

I’m spending this week at The Scarehouse to focus on music, sound, video, and immersive environments. Sure, in this networked world, I could pretty much just phone it all in from my home in Baltimore, but there is a lot to be gained from being away from home and its many distractions to focus in on just one thing. Even though I’ve arranged my work week so I can be home a full three days every week, there are still many shiny things competing for my attention. Housework. Errands. PS3. Skyrim (yes, I just started playing it a couple weeks ago). Drinks with friends. I have no idea how those of you with kids in the mix get anything done at all!

In the middle of my DIY artist residency at #Scarehouse. #music #sound #immersion #haunted

A post shared by Glenn Ricci (@deliriumdog) on


Photo: My little setup this week at ScareHouse.

In all that, I may at most get a few hours a week for the sort of “deep dive” that I require to create something of quality. Also, while my wife provides a great sounding board for ideas, it’s good to get feedback from others and give her ears a break. What I desperately needed was a significant chunk of time removed from my usual orbit to immerse myself in sound and the flow of creative process.

This all may seem obvious, but how often do we really do it? Take a week off just for our art!? Can’t we squeeze it in between all the other things? Sure, but we do that because we have to, not because it’s optimal. Far from it. 

This is roughly the third time I’ve done this and it’s always resulted in something worthwhile. I may not have ended up with single complete product, but I usually end up with a lot of little ideas that I can pick up later during less inspired moments and work to the finish. When I did this in 2010, I ended up with half the ideas and a lot of video footage for the FEVER BRAIN BATTERY album. This time, I’m chopping up and remixing recordings from the 1920’s, marrying them with new beats and sounds, and seeing what happens. It loosely relates to new (and currently secret) projects happening at The Scarehouse, so some of the output will end up there. As I’m working, I occasionally take off my headphones, crank up the monitors, and see how people react. Instant feedback! I’ve also been walking around the haunt, eyeing up the new spaces and getting a sense of what might play well in there. The ScareHouse set designers are pretty brilliant, so I’m not wanting for inspiration.

Okay, so you may not have access to a large haunted attraction–and even if you did, it might not be your ideal site for an artist residency. But try this: close your eyes and picture what, for you, would be the ideal mobile creative work environment. Decide what your most essential tools are for making your art, and picture them in this space. Maybe your tools are so large that you need a special studio, in which case your options are pretty well narrowed down for you. But maybe you have a friend or relative in another state with a really cool basement or back porch. And maybe they work all day and don’t mind giving you the run of the place. Or maybe they’re around just enough to check in and give you feedback. That doesn’t sound ideal? Scrap that plan and start over. Maybe you need to put aside the time and money to go to an actual workshop/retreat with an instructor and other students to inspire you. But I believe that it’s possible to create an atmosphere from whatever is at hand and whomever you know. (If you’re a creative person who does not know any creative friends, you definitely need to find some new friends!) Once you’re done visualizing your ideal temporary work space, surrounded by the right people (or no people at all) think about where and how to make that happen.

It’s not going to happen on its own. While I’m sure they’re happy to have me at ScareHouse, I invited myself for the week. They no longer think it strange that I may want to show up, occupy a large table with my stuff and pace around listening, tweaking, taking photos, shooting video, staring out the window, and asking all sorts of random questions. Whatever it is you need to do to create–you want that to be totally normal behavior during your retreat.

It’s also important to have some goals. And it’s just as important that you are able to abandon those goals if better, more urgent ones, come along. I have a long list of goals, some of which cannot be finished in a week. As long as I’ve made progress on any of them, and maybe even achieved one of them, then I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something. Usually it’s the new, surprising opportunities that come along during the retreat that you end up being glad for.

Do not expect everything to work out beautifully during your first DIY residency. In 2010, the space I chose for my impromptu “studio” turned out be less than optimal. I also brought way too much stuff, which bogged me down and made me feel sad that I was not using it all. Even still, I was able to readjust and lots of good things came out of that week. When I came home, I had a new perspective on how to improve my home studio as well. The work I started that week definitely would not have existed if I had not thrown myself into that new environment.

Even if the work you create ends up getting scrapped, it’s not so much about the product. It’s about getting the opportunity to focus on something you love doing and fanning the creative embers. That is never a bad thing.

One last tip: be careful about reentry. Returning to the day-to-day grind after being so unfettered can be downright painful. Be nice to yourself and others, and understand that whatever you’re doing is necessary so that you can eventually return to your creative space.  

I’m curious: have any of you done this? Let me know in comments or elsewhere on the social webs (see below) how you have made time and space to make your art.

Follow Glenn Ricci / Delirium Dog on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Sound Design Course on Coursera

Posted in Music, Music Making, Sound Design with tags , , , , , on March 1, 2013 by deliriumdog

Oh hi. I haven’t posted here in a while, but I won’t dwell upon it or riddle this page with apologies. I’ve been plenty busy elsewhere on the internets. I definitely need to learn that blogging is not the same as writing, say, an essay for a literary journal. I just need to pick a topic and go without over-thinking it.

So here goes.

I’d like to sing the praises of Coursera. It’s a completely free portal through which you can sign up and take college-level courses, tests and all. You get a certificate upon completion, but no college credit. These days, I’d rather just have the knowledge anyway.

A friend of mine talked me into taking a course on Sound Design and I initially resisted. My resistance was manifold. I felt like I was “too cool for school” at this point and have been engaged in completely self-directed learning for many years. Then there was the embarrassment of saying I was taking a course in something that I’ve already achieved some level of expertise and success in. Would I be bored?

And then there’s the fact that I hate tests. I’ve never enjoyed testing, but now that I’ve been away from them for a while, they seem increasingly antiquated. I’m talking about traditional tests (which are still 99% of them), which are all text and have you answer multiple choice or true/false questions. They are as much about linguistic trickery and mental regurgitation as they are about testing knowledge of a subject. If you’re good at language games, you’d be good at testing no matter what the subject, even if your functional knowledge is essentially zero. If you have perfect memory, you also should also do well. But shouldn’t tests in any subject do more than test memory and linguistic ability?

I’m not calling for radical, unimagined change. Certainly, in this day and age, someone can design test questions that combine sound and visuals (and maybe even some interactivity) to probe one’s true knowledge of a subject like Sound Design. Sure, it would take more effort to create than a written test, but it would also approximate an accurate assessment of knowledge. Do I sound bitter? Being dyslexic, I often do look back at the many years I was subjected to the Testing Industrial Complex and think about how much wasted time that was.

Okay, end rant. Where was I? Coursera. The course I took does not fix any of my issues about testing. It uses a very traditional test format. But the other aspects of the course were fabulous. I found it enriching despite the fact that I already knew a good deal of the material because it was organized so well. Steve Everett, the professor, walked us through the major aspects of sound and drew connections directly to modern music technology we can use right now. I did learn some new tidbits along the way, and I find it never hurts to go back over the basics. Having the fundamentals explained to you in a different way than you initially learned them can help you make new connections and a deeper understanding. It can also get you excited about a subject all over again. On those counts, the course was a total success for me. Especially when it comes to synthesizers–I’m using them with a new confidence and zeal. Thanks, Professor Everett!

Another thing I’m reminded about college-level courses is that they do, in fact, require work. If I was taking this course with little background (as I will with most other courses) I’m sure it would have not seemed at all simple or easy to learn all the concepts. I will have have to set aside some quality time if I expect to get the most out of the Game Theory course I’m eyeing up.

————————

Follow Glenn Ricci / Delirium Dog on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

70 West by Lunatic Dog

Posted in Delirium Dog, Music, Music Making on August 5, 2012 by deliriumdog

Just a few weeks before I jumped down the rabbit hole that became Delirium Dog, I released an album under the name Lunatic Dog called “70W.” I quickly became too busy with Delirium Dog to promote what was my first fully solo album. It took me nearly a year to record, mix, and master, so by the time it was out I was already ready to move on. (I suspect many artists feel this way about their records.) I willingly dove into Delirium Dog, initially as a small side project from Lunatic Dog, but DD’s music quickly became more popular and overshadowed its predecessor, and here we are.

If you only know my work from the driving industrial edge of Delirium Dog, then you may be surprised. Those who know me personally–and how I listen to just about everything–probably won’t be.

I recently listened to the album for the first time in a long while and realized that I still liked it. I think it still sounds pretty fresh, even if the eclectic mix of songs hang together only loosely. I was still discovering electronic sounds at the time, and still had one foot solidly in my band work. So you’ll hear jangly guitars up against noisy synths.

Thematically, it’s a road trip album inspired by a number of cross-country trips I made, mostly to Burning Man. I’ve always loved road trip movies and felt that a road trip album was a natural thing for me to take on. That sort of justifies the different sounds you hear–the journey from rock to electronica to country and back. The final track, “Cotton Mouth,” is my favorite and somehow manages to meld all those genres.

Please have a listen and let me know what you think. If you’ve never heard it, it’s a new release to you! Right now, you can buy the download for a mere $2.99.

——————————–

Follow Delirium Dog on Twitter and Facebook.

‘Tis the Season to be Creepy

Posted in Music, Music Making, Scarehouse with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2012 by deliriumdog

Please make sure that no children are in viewing range or earshot of the video below.

This was a fun project for me because it was driven by the music, which means I was involved early in the process. The concept for this new ScareHouse trailer was that we’d have a creepy chorus (made up of ScareHouse regulars) sing a twisted version of a classic holiday tune followed by your favorite clown, Creepo, in a Santa suit. Creepo is a pretty frightening dude no matter what, but the Santa suit raises it to a new, inexplicable level.

I knew right away that keeping it simple (good advice that I often ignore) was clearly the best way to go. Anything getting in the way of the fact that they are singing “Deck The Halls” with different lyrics could only hurt the message. I also knew that the chorus would have to learn and perform the music in a very short period of time–like thirty minutes while they were being costumed. So I stuck with a simple piano arrangement and two-ish part harmonies with the basses and sopranos branching out to hit a couple notes in their specific ranges.

The lyrics, while few, did not come easy. Five of us bouncing emails around finally arrived at two rhymed couplets that told the story, fit the melody, and also rhymed.

It had to all be “musically correct,” which is to say that I needed to put it down in actual notation that a music reader would understand. Years of using the far-superior piano roll method of composition has made regular notation seem alien to me. Those little black dots now feel like a quaint and arcane way of doing things, but it all came back to me pretty quickly. Logic Pro made it easy to create and print out some nice readable sheet music for the chorus–one reason I still compose in Logic rather than Live.

During the video shoot, the chorus lip-synced to a scratch track sung by my wife and I. There were many takes from many camera angles, so the chorus had a chance to mouth the words over and over. Afterwards, we recorded them in two’s singing over the scratch tracks. The voices of my wife and I were mixed in with the eight chorus members and just a wee bit of editing in post was needed to clarify some of the diction.

I haven’t noticed yet anyone getting angry about this form of blasphemy, but “Deck The Halls” is a pretty secular tune to begin with. Maybe that will come once we mutate a more sacred song.

As @ScareHouseScott recently tweeted, “I wonder if this will still be funny when I’m in hell.”

—————–

Follow DD on Twitter and Facebook.

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.

%d bloggers like this: