Pastiche. Nearly every time I’ve heard that word used in conversation or read it in an article, it’s used at least partially as a pejorative. It’s a French word, which came from the Italian pasticcio, which came from the Latin pasta. Which means “paste.” (Which makes the Italian pasta interesting, because the dough for pasta is essentially paste – just wheat flour and water – before being shaped and cooked).
But in this sense, it’s paste as in “copy and paste,” which is apparently not a positive trait in music or art. Or is it? Where is the line between “being influenced by” and “copy?” Is LCD Soundsystem a band that was been strongly influenced by other bands, or are they just ripping off Talking Heads? Is Michael Bublé just a warmed over Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick, Jr. casserole? Like most art, people decide that they know it when they hear it.
- Dagian Ray Toler 4:45
The track Tyrell’s Balcony from my first album is absolutely a pastiche. I wrote it in response to a person asking in an online forum if anyone had written in the style of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack. I’ve been told that it was so close that people thought it could easily have been a lost piece from those sessions. I wrote it more to exercise those production techniques and learn more about how Vangelis wrote, but I’m definitely copping his style.
Which brings us to Dagian. This started off as a Philip Glass or Steve Reich minimalist pastiche. Glass apparently dislikes the term “minimalism” (many of these works, though repetitive, are anything but minimal) and I do prefer the current descriptor: systems music. In the end, I don’t feel like it ended up anywhere near pastiche territory, though it is definitely influenced by systems composers. And for the record, I’ve decided that a pastiche isn’t inherently a bad or lesser piece of music. It’s more about how and where it’s used, I suppose.
I have three sample libraries that lend themselves very nicely to writing systems music, but I’ve never been able to make it all work well. In the first place, they are massively demanding from a computational standpoint. This makes working difficult because the computer can’t keep up and the result is stuttering, crackly, and frustrating, at least while writing it.
One of the advantages of composing with a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), though, is that you can tell the computer to render audio files, even if it can’t play them back in realtime. This is how I’ve had to work with these libraries, but it requires me to make some choices and commit to them, which makes it more time consuming if I want to change things later. I write music in much the same way I write words – I’m constantly going back over things, refining, changing, shifting focus… there’s no first, second, third draft… it’s just a single draft that’s in constant flux until I publish.
Part of the problem is that systems music can get boring if there’s nothing happening other than the main pulse. Reich’s Music for Eighteen Musicians changes chords every so often, and the performers are instructed to make minor improvisations within what’s written. The analog for me in computer-based composition is randomization. I have to work out the rules (because computers are dumb), but once I do, I can tell the instrument to make subtle (or not so subtle) improvisations by using chance.
In this piece, the main chord never changes, in part because I had to commit that first part you hear to audio and didn’t want to go back and edit the way I might normally. The randomization in that patch is happening in a two primary ways – pitch and panning. You’ll hear some parts, especially the flutes, hitting higher or louder notes from time to time, and these are always in either fifths or octaves. In the more synthy ostinato that fades in starting around 15 seconds in, the variety comes not from randomization, but from moving it around in the stereo field. Sometimes it’s on the right, sometimes on the left, always wandering around the stage. I’ve also added an echo to that part, which provides it with a little more rhythmic interest.
Randomization and chance is not a new concept in composition. Before computers, I remember seeing “music dice” that helped composers determine chord changes and melody. I’ve never felt like this is cheating, especially when I’m more interested in the overall emotional content than the specific notes, as long as the notes are within the ruleset for that piece.
As I added the other elements, the guitarish chord that dances around the main ostinatos, the slidey melody line, the decorative tinkly bits, pixie dust, and swooshes, I started getting a visual image in my head. I have something like synesthesia, though my experience is different from what most people describe. I don’t “see” a color in response to music like many do, but the music is a color. Or inspires a color.
But in this case, it wasn’t synesthesia, but visualization. I was seeing very specific imagery. I won’t describe them here, because the piece may do the same for you, and I wouldn’t want to unduly influence whatever that is (if this post hasn’t done that already). My images, however, are uplifting, hopeful, and positive. I hope it’s the same for you.
- Woodwinds: Cycles
- All other instruments: Omnisphere
- Effects: Valhalla Delay
- Mastering: Ozone 9
Image Credit: Rutha Copley