Eclectro

It’s 20th June, which means two things for me: first, it’s release day for Manipulant’s Eclectro album. It is also Day 20 of the Tune-A-Day June challenge, so once I’ve written a tune today, I’m 2/3rds of the way through.

Tune-A-Day

I am quite surprised to still be going with the challenge. Knowing that there are a bunch of people waiting for the next track has helped enormously!  The Tune-A-Day 2017 playlist is currently on Soundcloud. I’m going to run out of space on Soundcloud before I finish the challenge, though, so I’m going to need to do a bit of reorganising of some of my older tracks, starting with removing the ones that I didn’t make public.

Eclectro

Late last night, Manipulant, aka David Speakman, got in touch to let me know that Eclectro was already ‘live’ in Japan, and that it would be available on Amazon and iTunes at the stroke of midnight.  Exciting stuff for me, as I’m on the album’s lead track, Run.

Keeps Me Alive reviewed the album along with a great interview with Manipulant, which you can read here.

As well as me singing, the album features contributions from astrophysicist Dr Fiorella Terenzi, who made an album in 1991 called Music from the Galaxies. The music on that album consists of the radio-wave signals from planets and stars and sounds like an eerie sci-fi movie. Who knew that space would already have the best sounds for its own film sound effects?

 

 

Tune A Day June 2017 Update

I thought I’d write a quick update for you on Tune A Day progress (etc). It’s already Day 11 of the challenge, more than a third of the way through, and amazingly I am still going. You can hear the tunes so far via the playlist, above.

I feel more confident of making it to the end of the second week now. That is usually when it suddenly starts to feel like a total uphill struggle, from past years’ experience. This time around, I was quite rusty to begin with, so I had some days in the first week where I really didn’t feel like writing. Added to that, there was the distraction of a UK General Election on Day 8. I normally follow election results online or on the radio overnight, as they come in, so I worked late, when I was already tired, and then caught up on what had been happening in the news whilst I’d been concentrating on writing Tension. (In case you’re wondering the tune was a deliberate reflection of the feeling of being on tenterhooks that I’d had all day.)  With the results going the way they did, with no-one winning outright, I didn’t get to sleep until a little after 6am and the late night messed up my body-clock, which didn’t help me with the next day’s task.  The election has provided some inspiration towards making the tunes as well as being a hindrance, so it balances out.

Last year, someone stuck a referendum on Brexit in the middle of June, but it didn’t affect the Tune-A-Day June challenge because I’d, ahem, given up by then (gasp!), having decided I wanted to write more songs with lyrics. I was finding I was just rushing to write *something* to meet the targets and not making real progress. This time around I’ve only written one song with lyrics so far, but one of the earlier tunes, Day 6, keeps suggesting odd fragments of lyrics to me. I kind of know what it’s about, but haven’t got the words yet. Because I was so rusty, writing instrumentals is good for me, even if I don’t manage to write many songs.

I’m not 100% happy with everything that I’ve made, of course. There hasn’t been time to mix most of the tunes properly, and there are loads of things I would want to change if I had longer to work them out more. But I’m very pleased to have lasted longer than the first week, and I’m delighted with having made so much new music in so little time after a long hiatus.

Looking at the progress so far, I would want to develop at least some of the tunes further. Reviewing the tunes also showed up various really annoying things I hadn’t picked up on earlier, but that’s pretty normal – you always need to take a break and listen again, and that’s not possible with the Tune A Day timescales.

 

Tune-A-Day-June 2017

Quite possibly against my better judgement, I’ve decided to have another go at the Tune-A-Day-June challenge this year. I don’t honestly expect at this point that I will last above a week, as I have just recovered from a nasty cold and am still getting tired more quickly than normal. But I might just surprise myself and get beyond a fortnight.

The Tune-A-Day-June challenge is basically exactly what it sounds like – the idea is to write a new tune every day throughout the month, publishing the better ones on Soundcloud. My first year at this challenge was a couple of years ago, when my friend Max mentioned it, and I decided to join in. I lasted almost the whole month, with a bit of cheating on a few days where I made two tunes to catch up for the odd lost day. Last year, I managed to keep going for about a fortnight, if I remember right.

The challenge tends to start off OK then begins to feel more and more like an endurance test. I actually did a couple of warm up writing exercises this year, ahead of June, because I was feeling a bit rusty, having spent a lot of time trying to promote my work and not so much time writing of late.

There seems to be a lot of psychology involved, as during the challenge, almost everything you make feels like it is below par, because of the rush to complete something each and every day and the difficulty of maintaining creativity over a sustained period – discipline not really being creativity’s most obvious friend. I don’t have the time to produce more than a working demo of each track – sometimes, I don’t even get that far. It can feel unsatisfying to not reach a finished arrangement or mix.

But, looking back over what I’ve produced during June in the last couple of years, it has been a very useful exercise and pushed me out of my comfort zone. With hindsight, it has given at least the beginnings of several of my album tracks and some that will very likely be included on future albums, so it has been incredibly worthwhile, even if it has felt rather painful at the time. Several of the tracks I made last year have received quite a promising reception on Soundcloud. The most surprising response being to Toil, which I posted rather reluctantly at the time, feeling it wasn’t really good enough to upload.

So, on the basis that it will be good for me, I’ll likely be driving myself a little bit crazy over the next few weeks as I scramble to meet the daily deadline, probably stretching it into the wee small hours before I go to sleep. The first tune of the month, Dystopia, is now up on Soundcloud…. more to come!

Niagara & Album Progress

BILD0818.JPG

Fountain in Lincoln Arboretum. (I’ve never been to Niagara Falls, so have no photos of it that I own the copyright for).

Earlier this week, battling a migraine, I tried to take stock of what material I have for Albums 2 & 3 and get myself a bit more organised towards getting these both out of the door.

Album 2 is a ‘fake filmscore’ based on a book that is quite well known in the UK. It needs another track mixing then all tracks mastering, one of the trickier parts of the process for me, that could delay its release. It’s looking like it will be 35 minutes long, unless I have some last-minute inspiration for a further track or add any bonus items. (Either one of those scenarios could happen at this stage – I’m planning to get a significant portion of Album 3 ready before I release Album 2.)

There’s already quite a lot of potential material for Album 3, but the styles are rather mixed, so I could need to prune it back drastically to make it a coherent body of work, and I may, therefore, need to write some more new tunes to make it hold together better. There is a huge amount of work that still needs doing on most of the tracks for Album 3: many are in just the early stages of production and some are currently just a loop of an idea.

When the migraine had subsided, I finalised the lyrics & I put down guide vocals for another new song Thieving Autumn^. This song has been in the writing stage since about September last year. I was really pleased with how the vocals went and may even use them as the final vocals with a few tweaks, if I’m not satisfied with how a ‘proper’ recording goes using a condenser mic.

I’ve been arranging a new song that I’m calling ‘Niagara’ this afternoon, and recording some vocals – it has gone from being just a snippet with the main ideas in to a full demo. It’s not easy to sing this one in tune all the way through (I have failed thus far) so I’ll need to practice it a lot more to get the required level of pitch control in the parts that are going wrong.

I also realised today that I have another couple of songs I forgot to include on my list of potential tracks for Album 3. Ooops! With the work on Niagara today, that brings the total duration of the demo tracks to 1hr . It’s starting to look like I could end up with more than an album’s worth of material. There seem to be a couple of different overall genres which don’t necessarily complement each other. Basically, it’s 70s influence and indie-folk-electronica versus 80s synthwave and its progeny. It’s not clear how it will pan out though (no pun intended) as the draft playlist I created doesn’t clash as violently as it threatened.

^Thieving Autumn was provided as an instrumental exclusive with last month’s email news.  If you’re not yet on the email list, sign up so you don’t miss out! I only send one email out around every month or so. With definite emphasis on the ‘or so’.

Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night

Digital StillCameraA couple of mornings in the last week, I have had the privilege of hearing the dawn chorus start, and listening to the incredible singing of our local blackbird. (I haven’t actually checked it is definitely a blackbird, as I’ve been listening from the comfort of my bed, but I’m fairly sure…)

It all starts about 6am when the birds in the nearby city centre park start up, and then quickly spreads to the back gardens of our street and the next.

The song has repetition, variations and a call and response like structure, as if he is competing with a rival that is too far away for me to hear from indoors. Or pausing for breath. The song’s structure starts with a simple repeated motif, with the variations becoming more and more complex, his virtuoso performance sounding almost effortless. But singing with his whole being.

And this particular bird has an intonation like the Swedish chef from the Muppets through certain sections of his song. Really, no kidding.

Failures and Successes

So, it’s been a few weeks since I posted here. I was trying to throw myself into Tune A Day June, but my efforts basically fell apart after about 11 days because I was super-tired at the end of the college year, and then needed to focus my efforts to prepare for the end of year gig on 1st July at one of the local pubs*, which is great at supporting the arts and especially music.

I was finding that because I was tired, it wasn’t a great time to be trying to write music, and I was not finding the deeper creative streak I wanted to reach.  What I really wanted to achieve was to write some more songs with lyrics, as I’ve focussed a lot on instrumental music during this year. But I was finding that in order to meet the requirement to make something every day for Tune A Day, I was going for the default option of writing a tune without lyrics, rather than approaching writing from the song’s meaning, taken from words. It wasn’t working and it was actually demotivating to be ‘failing’ like this. After taking some time out from forcing creativity, I’ve written some meaningful lyrics that I want to make use of at a later stage. It took a while before I started to find some natural creativity again, as I was beating myself up a bit (not literally, don’t worry!) for not being more productive, even when I had stopped pushing myself to make something. Stopping and just thinking about life and – critically – slowing down enough to observe have helped me find motivation.

The other important thing that I’ve started to do during this time – apart from helping my Dad out with some chores – is to learn more about how Ableton Live Lite works, after having had a brief introduction earlier in the year to Ableton at college and stewing on thoughts of how I might use Live Lite, its cut down version, for a while. This program should be very useful for my live performances, so I have also begun to transfer the songs that I played on 1st July into this new format so I can start to rehearse for a gig in September that I’ve been asked to do. (This gig request came from a friend who has persistently encouraged me to start doing Stoneygate gigs… and who helps organise a regular electronic music event.*)  Working in Ableton Live Lite looks like it could be more flexible and better suited to my music than working on the college’s Maschine unit I borrowed for the 1st July (at least in the way I was using it), and it looks like I’ll be able to make my live performances sound more similar to the recorded versions of my tracks with how I have started to work.

*If you would like details of future Stoneygate performances, so you can attend, and other significant news, please join my mailing list.

Day 10 – Courage

A third of the way through the challenge already!

I wrote a couple of tunes yesterday, but wasn’t happy with either. One just didn’t seem to have much of a life, and the other one was starting to come out a bit on the similar side to something famous that I would need to check it against. I decided to leave both on the computer.

Today, I seem to have had a little more inspiration, and have produced a demo called courage. Maybe it would work for an action scene or something like that.