De Gustibus

Sometimes I write fiction, and sometimes I compose and record music. They’re very different activities, but I enjoy them both. While I’m not a stellar artist in either area, I have a basic level of competence in both.

Here’s where it gets a tiny bit puzzling.

This week I posted on Facebook a photo displaying the covers of my two new books. More than 30 people Liked the photo, and a couple of them said they plan to buy one of the books. This is important to me, because I need a bit of support to stay on an even keel. (I mean, who doesn’t?)

Last week I posted a link to a video of one of my pieces of music. I got NO responses from my FB friends. Not a single Like or comment. A few days later, thinking maybe the video was a problem, I posted a link to a different tune as mp3 audio. Again, not a single response of any kind.

I’m not trying to shame my Facebook friends, nor am I hoping they’ll offer excuses! They’re very nice people, and in many cases they’re undoubtedly too busy to sit quietly and listen for five minutes. Reacting to a photo takes no time at all. But since many of them are musicians, the difference is rather mystifying.

One possibility is that people are Facebooking on their phones. Unless you plug in your earbuds, the phone audio is going to be crappy. Another possibility is that for some opaque algorithmic reason Facebook is failing to poke my music posts into people’s feeds. I regard that as less likely. Or it could be that my mixes sound good on my own studio monitors but suck on most other audio systems. Again, not very likely, but possible.

In any event, here we are. I like doing music. Lately I’ve been doing some music. So as you scroll down you’ll find audio links to five new pieces. Not because anybody cares, but because I did this creative work, damn it, so I’m going to show it off!

Let’s start with “Human Maneuvers.” I was having a discussion with Drew Schlesinger about the Casio CZ-101, which was an important synthesizer for a year or two in the mid-1980s. I happen to have a plug-in called Virtual CZ that does a fine job of emulating the long-lost CZ-101, so I loaded it up and my fingers landed on a sort of bass riff. The tone repeats on the 8th-note, but that happens because I’m holding down the key. The envelope loop (for those who understand such things) is not syncable, so the tempo is baked into the preset, but it’s a good tempo.

This initial idea grew, over the course of a few days, into my own slightly twisted take on ’80s synth pop, hence the title. Maybe I ought to have spelled it “Manoeuvres.” I no longer write lyrics, so you’ll have to imagine that the lead line is being sung.

Next up is “French Nails.” This is closer to my natural style, especially the rather slippery harmonic movement and the 5/4 time signature. here again, the tune started with me throwing my fingers at the keyboard and finding something, in this case the figure in 3rds that provides the opening melody.

I’ve been thinking I might do a whole set of pieces inspired by Tarot cards. The argument against this idea is that Tarot enthusiasts almost certainly prefer acoustic music. Hey, I like acoustic music too! Would you like to bring your guitar, flute, or conga drums over to my house and sit here 16 hours a day every day for a few months in case I have a part I’d like you to record? No? Okay, then — what you get is going to be electronic, but don’t say I didn’t make the offer.

Anyway, here’s “The High Priestess.” The two pillars in the image on the card inspired the opening chord progression. Also, the fact that there are 22 cards in the Higher Arcana is going to lead to several of the Tarot pieces using an 11/8 time signature (because two bars of eleven 8th-notes each make a 22-beat pattern). Alternating between 7/4 and 11/8, as I did here, is maybe a bit odd, but everything I do is a bit odd.

A new synth in my grotesquely rotund software collection is the Cherry Audio Eight Voice. It’s a rather faithful recreation of the Oberheim Eight-Voice, another of those vintage synths from the ’80s. The Eight Voice prompted the riff that led to “Satanic Transfer.” The title is a reference to the Medieval music theory idea of the diabolus in musica, the supposedly satanic augmented 4th interval. You’ll hear it at one spot in the middle of this piece. Also audible is a new plug-in called the Mutation Collider, which produced the thoroughly mangled drum break you’ll hear a couple of times. That’s four different drum loops; Mutation Collider is morphing among them in a synchronized way.

To wrap things up, here’s “Looking Back.” This piece is a bit unusual for me in that it’s harmonically very stable — no modulations or weird chords. Also, it’s in shuffle time. Getting the rhythms to line up nicely was a bit of a slog. The inspiration here was the four-bar electric piano riff that shows up about one minute into the piece.

All of these pieces were done in Reason, with the aid of more than a few 3rd-party plug-ins. Reason is not perfect, but it’s awfully good.

Oh, and because Facebook leaves blog links blank if there’s no graphic, here’s a nice snapshot of the composer. This may or may not explain anything….

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2 Responses to De Gustibus

  1. George Oliver says:

    Jim I wasn’t going to say anything, but since it seems like feedback might be useful for you I will. I think your own words say it best,

    “]it’s] maybe a bit odd, but everything I do is a bit odd.”

    Many times when people don’t comment on something it’s because they don’t want to say anything that isn’t 100% positive, unless they’re specifically in a workshop/critique group, but you probably have a lot more experience with that than me. Anyway to my (musically uneducated) ears your music is many times REALLY odd. I would say 90% of that comes from my rather conventional musical background and taste and it, obviously, is not your fault.

    Of course I could be totally off-base and maybe all your FB friends are experimental avant-garde musicians. But maybe not.

    On the flip side I’ve been reading your blog for a while and many times I’ve learned something useful from your synth and computer music posts. Recently I’ve gotten more into electronic music (hanging out at electro-music) and this background has been helpful. I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you like the things you do not everyone is going to like it too, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t getting value from your work.

    • midiguru says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply, George. To be honest, I can’t comprehend how anybody would think this music is odd. It all seems perfectly normal and mainstream to me! I recall Randy Newman saying something similar about his songwriting. His songs are, in many cases, very strange, but he said he was just trying to write mainstream pop songs.

      No big deal. I enjoy what I’m doing, and that’s what’s important.

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