Another day with the mobile rig, but I was feeling a little more confident with the setup, and had a more time than the night before. As a result, I ended up experimenting a bit with Reason’s granular synthesis module. They’ve added a decent amount of functionality to the most recent upgrade. I don’t know if that had anything to do with the change of ownership or management at Propellerhead, but the surprise was a pleasant one.
While browsing sounds, I came across a few presets that I know I’ve heard on various lounge and chill albums that I own, which makes me a lot less hesitant to use them in my own work. I’ve never been a preset purist – I use presets all the time – but when even these very identifiable sounds are being used on major label releases, it takes some of the internal stigma away for me.
- He's So Hot Right Now Ray Toler 2:46
This track started with the granular pad sound and the beat. After grooving along and trying various sounds, I came back to the original one. The sub-bass was next, followed by the broken lead synth that appears in the second half.
I’ve become more and more enamored with broken, dirty, and non-harmonious sounds over the last couple of years. Part of this may be my increasing (over)reliance on randomness as a compositional and sound design tool, but I’ve always felt more of an affinity for putting things together in new and interesting ways than in the pursuit of a new, original perfection.
The danger, of course, is in determining where the difference is between loose and sloppy. For the longest time, I refused to quantize any parts, thinking that it somehow made it more “real.” I had played things in by hand, so they should sound like it, right?
Well, that’s not always the case. “Groove” definitely comes from imperfections, but there are other times when having everything grid-locked to the microsecond makes a huge difference. This track has a bit of a swing to it, but that’s coming from the loops, not from my playing.
But where’s the line for these glitchy sounds? I think the early granular pad has a lot of nice interest, and it never becomes off-putting. The second-half lead is in a grey zone for me. I like that it’s warbling in and out of tune, but does that become a signature sound or is it just distracting? It will probably take several listens before I either decide that I don’t like it or that it’s fine just the way it is.
Once again, I’m putting this one in the sketch category, although I have admittedly heard plenty of tracks on the previously mentioned lounge and chill albums that aren’t fundamentally more involved than this one. The main difference is a little more polish, small edits and variances here and there. It was while considering this that I decided to add the gated pad in the second half along with the lead synth in the first. A few delays and effects here and there, and we’ll call it done.
This track is a good example of when I’m not sure whether what I’ve done is amateur, hackish, or good. I like listening to it, I’ve used a couple of my standard tricks, and… it’s fine. But I’m never sure what to do with these. Put together another 8 or 9 of them and release an album? Keep them in my private collection?
It’s also a good example of why I sometimes undervalue my work. I feel like it was almost too easy to make this, and without the effort or feeling like I made a heroic compositional effort, it’s easy to not appreciate that it’s better than I think it is.
This is a stupid mindset, though, and I realize it. It may not feel like a lot of work to me, but that’s because I’ve done a lot of these types of tracks. I’ve been putting in the work for years, and that’s why it doesn’t feel like it now. I only realize this, though, when I play it for someone who’s just starting out with production work or just likes music, and they ask questions about how I came up with certain things. They seem second nature to me now, but they weren’t always that way.
The mini-keys were a little more tolerable this time, but I discovered two additional things that I rely on a lot that are missing with this current setup. First is a sustain pedal. This isn’t really the worst thing to do without, especially for this style of music. If I were doing a piano piece or something with a lot more finesse, that would be different, but it’s easy enough to hold notes or edit them after the fact.
A far bigger omission are the pitch and mod wheels that I have on nearly every keyboard I own. The irony is that the Novation LaunchKey Mini has more controller sources on it that I typically use, but no pitch or mod wheel. I found myself reaching for them pretty frequently, so I think I would look for a different controller if I were building a long-term traveling rig.
The benefit of the LaunchKey Mini it’s that it really is tiny. It would be feasible to use it in a pinch on a plane, even in a coach class middle seat. That’s obviously not optimal, but it could be done. I cannot say the same for my earlier rig that used the Novation X-Station 25, even though that was a far superior input device in every other respect. If I had to choose between one or the other, I’d go with the X-25 – it still fits in the backpack, and unless I’m traveling overseas, I’m unlikely to do a ton of compositional work on a plane. (And if I am traveling overseas, I’ll be doing everything I can to be in a business class seat anyway.)
This entire month, I’ve been trying to minimize my reliance on instrumental electronic, but these last two tracks have been fun. They’d definitely fit well with The Old Zerp and Flerp and other tracks that I haven’t gone past sketch stage with.
Last year, I did most of the leg work and setup for a third musical persona or band. It might be that this wouldn’t be a bad genre to try and run with under that identity. I have some ideas for vocals to add to a few of them, so doing something in the dance/EDM/big beat area would be something I think I’d enjoy.
- All instruments: Propellerhead Reason
Next up: Not a Minute to Spare