The final push. Six songs left. Will it be uphill or downhill? If today’s track is any indication, maybe neither. The production break doing the covers was a nice mini-reset, and I’m feeling halfway between “write things for me to listen to” and the experimental day trips that started a couple of days ago. Constructive Interference is exactly in that halfway point. It’s part normal electronic thingy, and part production experiment.
My primary digital audio workstation (DAW) is MOTU Digital Performer (DP). I’ve been using it since the late 90s and, while I’ve made attempts at many of the other major products, I always returned to DP. It’s not the most popular, but it’s been around since the beginning of MIDI and is still a favorite of professional media composers. Not only is it an insanely good production environment, it’s a rock solid playback platform. If you’ve seen any AAA stadium/arena tour in the last 20+ years (Janet Jackson, Madonna, Mariah Carey, U2), there’s a very good chance that DP was driving the show.
- Constructive Interference Ray Toler 4:00
The only other piece of software I’ve used for music production with any regularity is Propellerheads Reason. I bought that when it launched, just a year or two after I had moved to DP. Designed primarily to be a relatively complete but mostly isolated virtual rack and production environment, it was my vacation home. A place I loved to visit, but couldn’t live in all the time. It’s lightweight, has always run on a laptop without issue, and is both fast and fun to work in.
Reason was always where I headed when I was away from my studio on a road trip, or when I wanted to shake up my creative process by changing up my environment. To throw yet another metaphor out, it’s like leaving my professional art studio and going out to the shed where I have fewer colors of paint and a fraction of my specialty brushes, but where I’m also not afraid of going all Jackson Pollock on things.
I can almost always tell when I’ve written something in Reason. I just have this… sound that isn’t my normal thing. Not the instruments themselves, but my writing, arranging, and mixing are just slightly different. Two examples of Reason tracks I’ve done for Song-A-Day are What Is This, a Keyboard for Ants? and He’s So Hot Right Now from 2019.
Today’s song sounds like a Reason song to me, but isn’t. My approach was my normal DP approach, I’m using heavy-hitter virtual instruments like Omnisphere and Spire, but there’s just this vibe about it that screams Reason to me. Maybe I’m just in the same mental state that normally makes me choose Reason. Maybe it’s just a less complicated track overall; Reason forces me to simplify, both because it’s not as deep and because I’m not as familiar with it.
I’m not feeling like I’m in a rut (unless being frustrated by a lack of ideas counts as a rut), but I’m in a more experimental mood and feeling slightly less pressured to make a track to entertain anyone but me.
Composition and production happened more or less in tandem. In a slight departure for me, I didn’t do any major arranging in MIDI, instead working at breakneck speed: find a sound, play a line (or play the length of the song), record a full-length track of it, and move to the next one. Normally I’m much more of a conservationist and don’t record audio if there’s not going to be any audio.
The only exceptions were the shakers, which I recorded for four measures and then looped in audio, and the lead bell sound, which would have only had silence for half of the song. This screen shot of the mix makes it easy to see where things are coming in and out. Wherever the black lines are at the bottom of their lanes, the audio for that channel won’t be heard.
To give you an idea of the size of those files, the full-length tracks are about 70 megs each, the solo about 30 megs, and each of the four-bar shaker loops only six megs. The total size of the audio is a bit over 460 megs – certainly not a massive amount of disk space used – but this is a simple song with relatively few tracks. On a larger arrangement, it’s easy to get into multiple gigabytes. [Note from the future: at the end of the month, the total size of my Song-A-Day 2021 directory is 25 gigs.]
I was very manual in my approach to this mix. I first had the full mix playing to set the maximum levels things should ever get to, then started pulling volume out to bring things in and out over the course of the track. I did use a curve instead of just setting points on the lowest arpeggio track, but it’s fairly subtle.
Two themes from earlier in the month return: random weirdness and broken sounds. The first arp that fades in goes out of tune every now and then, or distorts mildly, while the lead sound is samples of various metal things, and they’re further processed to have a metallic ring to them. Every now and then they “break” and you’ll hear a prang or a buzz… it’s just a little bit to keep everything from sounding overly perfect and brings a bit of variety. In fact, most of the “experimental” aspect of this track is from within the sounds themselves instead of in the mix process. They all have something going on, though it might be fairly subtle.
I’ve heard this track many times on various chill-out albums I have. It’s mostly background music for me. While it isn’t as intellectually interesting as some of my more Eno-style ambient, it’s enjoyable and great stuff to have playing in the background while you hang out with friends on the back patio.
- Shakers: Stylus RMX
- Bass: Reveal Sound Spire
- Sweep Pad: u-he Podolski
- Chill Chord: Arturia Pigments
- Arp: Cycles
- Machine Arp: Omnisphere
- Lead: Native Instruments Kinetic Metal