“Returning” - Song done for Disquiet Junto #0244
The Disquiet Junto for Sept 1, 2016, was a re-mix challenge.
I’m generally not a fan of these; at times, for whatever reason, it felt more as a way to use the Junto to promote some label or artist rather than focus on the work of the Junto contributors. Personal preference, that’s all.
But the magic of the Junto is that it can get you to create something you might not otherwise because it’s prompting you do do things you might not consider. Such as doing a Netlabel remix.
The task was to take the first 20 seconds of three different tracks and use them to create an original piece of music.
I tend to think that such challenges come with some unspoken rules. Or perhaps loose guidelines. Given available technology it’s easy to take almost any sound and convert it into any other. It’s trivial to take a tiny audio slice, for example, and re-pitch it to provide a complete keyboard-mappable scale. This feels to me like cheating. It goes against what feels like an unstated ground-rule.
It’s much like the TV show “Chopped”. Contestants (usually professional chefs, though increasingly there’s some gimmick arranged to get amateur or celebrities) are given a basket of “mystery ingredients” which must be used in a meal.
The contestants are told they can use “a little or a lot” but if you’ve watched the show for any length of time you come to learn what’s expected. For one, you probably don’t want to use “a little”, unless it’s something really outré. The judges (themselves skilled chefs) expect to see some transformation of the secret ingredients (e.g. don’t use waffle mix to make waffles). At the same time, though, they want to be able to identify each ingredient in the final dish.
And so it is with a remix. Nowhere on the Junto pages do such rules exist, but part of the game for me is to invent part of the game for me. Remixes follow “Chopped” rules.
None of the source sounds jumped out for me as a strong candidate for the focus. I began by slicing the samples and trying to arrange the segments to provide some kind of rhythmic or “melodic” ground. Something to build on.
The slice-and-dice approach allowed for creating some discernible structure, but it felt like the material was getting lost. The judges would be hard pressed to recognize the basket ingredients.
Using longer samples was unappealing because they were, by and large, noise. Interesting noise, perhaps, but not what I wanted. They needed at the very least a different setting. So I decide to offset the largely random noisiness with a simple, obvious, beat and chord sequence.
I have, for quite some time, been interested in music that plays different layers or structures against each other. Many of the songs written with my late-70s band, Chinese Forehead, used a rock-steady beat, with a solid bass hook, then some chord changes and vocal line, with a final layer of typically noisy atonal guitar. I’ve continued this approach today with my solo releases.
With this structure in place I had the idea to make a song. With, words, and singing. A song song.
I thought, hey nobody on the Junto ever makes song songs.
First off, I cop to the fact that not only haven’t I listened to every Junto piece made, I haven’t even listened to every piece made in the Junto’s to which I’ve contributed. But I’ve listened to most of them, and I didn’t recall any sing-with-me songs.
Second, I’m wrong right this minute because this week someone submitted a song. But thirdly, it really doesn’t matter because of another secret ground rule: Made quick decisions and don’t over-think it. Related to this is another of my secret rules: Don’t spend too much time on any given Junto. I don’t mean that as a slight. It’s an operating procedure intended to generate results. To my mind the whole point of the Junto is to end up with some music, and ideally music you would not have otherwise made.
There’s the risk in quick decisions and immediate action that I’ll just follow old habits. There’s the risk in prolonged contemplation and reworking that I’ll never finish in time, or if I do the level of novel ideas won’t be that much higher anyway.
In practice I sort of split the difference. I try to get the first 90% done fairly quick. I then spend my time finessing the remaining 90%.
With a basic chord sequence in place I worked out a vocal line, and wrote some lyrics.
Do you think it's lack of confidence?
That keeps us on this side?
You say that we're near.
We nod to one another as we start to scheme again.
Is it better not to breath?
As we press against the fold.
You're holding me near.
When we return we'll the know secret of the strength of time.
The song has three parts. In intro, the verse, and the outro. The current title is “Returning”.
This was made using Renoise. The kick drum and the keyboards are from instrument samples. I did the singing. The remaining noises are from the three source tracks.
With a clear structure in place it became easier to use longer segments of the source material. “Zraerza” is the most harsh of the three; it’s primary use was as the main “instrumental” line of the outro, against the beat and chords.
“The Station and the Underclass” was used largely for the clacky sounds, but with some pitch shifting it helped fill in some background “chords”.
Segments of “Cloud Scissors” was used mainly for percussive/rhythmic backing.