I’m not entirely sure how to approach entries for 2020. With only two songs written for Song-A-Day, and the circumstances surrounding the reasons why, it seems impossible to take my normal approach of not discussing meaning or direct inspiration. In fact, it might be wrong to do so this time around.
What you’re reading is actually the second time I’ve written this entry. I had provided a more detailed account of everything that went on prior to leading up to the day I wrote this, but that level of detail is less relevant than it would seem. I’ll sum it up with one of the most poignant quotes I’ve ever read:
If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know exactly how it feels. And if you have not, then you cannot possibly imagine it.–Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning
When we first planned our trip to Texas, I knew that I’d be away from my studio for at least the first week of Song-A-Day, so I had prepped a mobile setup on my laptop which included my most used software, a full-size USB keyboard, a smallish, but still playable 25-key MIDI controller, and a microphone. In past years, I’ve had to resort to writing in Propellerheads Reason, but this year I really wanted to make a serious attempt at using Digital Performer.
- Václava Ray Toler 3:28
In addition to my normal effects and instrument plugins, I had an external drive with all of my recently acquired orchestral sample libraries. I wasn’t sure how usable they would be, but I was going to at least make the attempt.
Every family deals with death and grief in its own way. When I sat down to write this, my father-in-law had been dead for not much more than twelve hours. My wife, her mother, her sisters and their husbands, along with various nieces and nephews were in and out of the house all day, engaged in the normal flurry of activity that follows such an event. I was mostly just trying to stay out of the way, while remaining accessible if anyone needed help with anything.
I’m not sure I was actually intending to write anything, and am fairly certain that I wasn’t sitting down to write my Song-A-Day entry for the day, but this piece appeared quickly and swiftly. My concept was to move from noise to beauty; from chaos to order. Not so much an interpretation of any kind of transmutation or ascension, but just the change from the noise of life to the quiet of whatever it is that follows. I had done something similar when my grandmother passed away near the end of Song-A-Day 2017, but that one had more… not anger, but something related to it. I imagine I’ll explain that one more fully when I get to writing the entry for that day. Then again, perhaps not.
In any case, the emotion this time was different, which is obvious when you listen. In this piece, the noise is part of the music, not something fighting it. As it gradually disappears, the various string parts come in, each with their own voice, their own story, but each supporting the complete arc.
I approached the arrangement in a similar way to the way I write for string quartet, even though these were full-size sections. The focus shifts from section to section as each steps forward, then back into the ensemble. Except, perhaps, for the poor basses who are still essential as the foundation on which everything else depends.
The technical aspect of the performances is a bit rough, in part because this was one of the very first things I’d ever done with these libraries and had only seen videos with recommended approaches. It’s also rough because I was working on a small keyboard with short-throw faders. While I could certainly do better with it now (and likely will if I ever prep it for a formal release), it’s not something I’m ashamed of, especially for an early attempt, made while sitting at a card table in a living room with people in various stages of grief constantly in motion around me.
In a way, this piece reflects exactly that moment, though it wasn’t a conscious choice. The noise of life going on was gradually replaced by the serenity of the music. I would lose myself in the headphones, and that helped me recharge for whatever the next bit of life needed me to do.
- Noise: Omnisphere
- Strings: Spitfire Chamber Strings
- Mastering: Ozone 9
- Controller: Novation X-Station 25