Caconym

It’s been a tradition for Song-A-Day participants to hold some sort of get-together wrap party. In recent years, this became a virtual event because more and more participants weren’t in the San Francisco / Oakland area. Typically, this happens a week or two into March, but this year it was held earlier today.

On the one hand, it’s nice to talk to everyone while things are still kind of fresh, but at the same time, I hadn’t even written my final track yet, so it was a little strange. After everyone went off to their normal lives (such as they are these days), I took a short break before writing.

They’ll keep calling, and calling…

Well, it was supposed to be a short break. I walked the dog. I puttered around in the yard a bit. I made a sandwich. I watched a movie. Ok, FINE! I’ll go. I’ll go. I’ll go.

Of course, as I sat down in the studio, I realized that technically, I was already finished. I had already posted 29 tracks (two covers along with the naked mix of Jigsawz). By the rules of the game, I was finished. But we all know I wasn’t really finished.

Spurring me on, when I loaded up the Song-A-Day site to see if there were any new comments, the total track count for the month was 697. That’s already a record in the history of the challenge, but it’s sooooooo close to 700. It looked to me like most people who were going to post had done so already – I’ve been one of the last people to post every day this month – and I started thinking about whether or not it was really feasible for me to write three tracks before going to bed.

For about 15 minutes, I seriously contemplated knocking out parts III – V of the Seeker series I started in 2017. I’ve always wanted to get those going again, but there were a couple of problems:

  • The source tracks for parts I and II were lost in the great drive crash of ’18
  • These are relatively complicated tracks from a production and composition standpoint
  • Each of these tracks are supposed to be about ten minutes long

I decided that record or no record, there was no way I was going to write thirty minutes of complicated space music before losing consciousness some time around 3am. So I decided to just write my track and leave that 700 bar as a stretch goal for another year.

  1. Caconym Ray Toler 4:00

At this point, I had to shift gears, but didn’t know what to shift to. I played with some sounds and made a couple of false starts, then found the first thread of what would become this track. It honestly surprised me, because I was anticipating something similar to Baryphonic from yesterday, but all of a sudden I heard much more going on, and much faster.

One thing that makes this track unique for me is that I played the initial chords and arpeggios without counting things out or pre-planning sections. If I was enjoying a chord, I held it. When it was time to change it, I changed it. This would complicate things for me a bit later, but I enjoyed the freedom of the approach.

I was having fun playing with some of the more radical randomizations and distortions in the main arp pattern, but it made the whole thing much less musical. In an earlier entry, I noted my use of parallel compression on the drums, where I have the main drums playing, but bring in a compressed mix of the drums at a lower level to make things sound more full. So here I started wondering if I could apply the concept of parallel compression, but instead using the exact same arp, but with the more radical sounds and gently bring them up so that they were barely audible but not overbearing. I was happy with the results and left them in.

For most of the writing, it was just chords and arpeggios dancing around each other, then I added the main drum beat. The kick drum on that one is a fairly standard 808-style analog kick drum, but I heard something much crisper along with it in my head. One frustrating thing is knowing the specific kind of loop you want, but having no easy way to figure out which of the 6,000 loops you have are the right one. I was fortunate in that I only had to hunt for four or five minutes before I found exactly the kick I wanted, and it was in a pattern that was a really nice syncopation against the other kick drum to boot!

At this point, the drums were begging for a sub bass to anchor things. I tried some “pure” subs, which are normally plain or relatively unaffected sine waves, but none of those were working – they were just screwing up the mix levels (bass waves have enormous amounts of energy!) without really being all that audible or useful. I soon found the one you hear, however, and kept moving.

This is where my free-spirit playing earlier came back to bite me – I had no idea what chords were being played, where they went, when they would change… so I either cheated or used technology depending on how you feel about such things: I opened up the MIDI track for the chord driving the main arp, copied the root notes from each chord, and pasted them into a new track. Voilà!

At this point, I tried a little trick that I think worked out pretty nicely. Just as I wasn’t able to follow along with the chord changes, the listener couldn’t really do so either. There was nothing to hold onto from a structure standpoint, and the emotional content was flat as a result. On this particular bass patch, moving the mod wheel opened up the filter a bit, which makes the sound brighter. So about one to two measures before a chord change, I’d sweep up the mod wheel, which creates a nice crescendo and cue that something’s about to change. Problem solved.

Sub-bass MIDI recording. Notes are on top, the filter mod controls on bottom.

The final touch was to add the big bass drop that happens in the middle of the song. Everything seemed to be more or less complete, and I rendered all the tracks into audio, did some minor effects tweaking (it didn’t really need much at all) and got ready to do the final bits of mixing and grunt work before printing the final mix.

But first, a quick check of the Song-A-Day site again. 699 tracks!! I might actually be able to claim track #700!!!!! That would be a pretty cool way to end the month. I did all of the final stuff, tried to figure out a name, then posted my song.

701.

I think I missed 700 by about 30 seconds. Ah well. Now, in my heart, I know that the naked mix of Jigsawz doesn’t really count as a track, at least not for me, but would I be so petty as to delete it so that my track would becoe 700. As it turns out, I would not be so petty. Maybe I’ll be an adult some day. [Note from the future: I did end up deleting that extra Jigsawz mix, but only after another track had been posted. I don’t want to artificially inflate my tracks posted.]

In spite of the disappointment of losing out on the race to 700, I’m surprisingly happy with this track. I like the rhythms, it moves around, I can find lots of interesting things in it, and it sounds pretty good. Stick a fork in it.

So there we are. We’ve reached the end for another year. I hope you’ve enjoyed these accounts; I get a lot out of writing them. They help organize my thoughts and ideas about how I work and what I can do to continue improving my writing and production. I’ll be writing one final wrap-up entry with a summary look back at the entire month.

Colophon

  • Drums: Stylus RMX
  • Synths: Omnisphere, Cycles
  • Effects: Output Portal, MOTU Masterworks FET-76, Valhalla Delay
  • Mastering: Ozone 9

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