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Balancing Melody and Timbre in Electronic Music


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21 minutes ago, Berk said:

I think I read somewhere on Wikipedia that there are rumours/theories that the singers in gregorian chant music listened to the overtones caused by the combination of the notes they were singing and the reverb in the cathedral, and that they based they're next notes/melody on that. 

yeah i've heard this! apparently they interpreted it as the voice of God, because it didn't seem to be coming from any one individual in the choir.

Pretty much the same thing happens whenever I'm working on a track - it starts to get good the moment that I stop hearing the individual parts, and start hearing the "haze" which exists in the dynamic interaction between the parts. From that point on the rest of the track is easy - you've got the vibe established, it's just a matter of paying attention to which additions or subtractions strengthen that vibe.

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5 hours ago, Himelstein said:

One of my best friends disagrees with me on this and looks at this more like “something is only worth doing if it’s the best” and I am confident in music that I consider my best. His view, in my mind, causes creative blocks. It doesn’t allow for creative growth, and it normally results in people working on a track for a long time and never finishing it or growing to hate it.

It's a really interesting discussion in general, but I'd say you're both right (and both wrong). The truth of it is - and I'm aware this is probably a fairly obvious point - that different approaches work for different people. Some people use their creativity as a focus to ensure everything they do is perfect, and others have a less controlled approach that demands they're constantly coming up with new ideas and perspectives, and their focus comes in the form of being able to filter out the best stuff at the end.

It's most obvious in the two most famous '70s electronic groups from Germany: Kraftwerk have said that they have basically no outtakes from their albums, because they pretty much spent all their time refining the handful of pieces they did write. On the opposite end, Tangerine Dream's output was - and still is - ludicrous, with an album or two every year, and large numbers of completely original improvised concerts every year. It kind of works: Kraftwerk's music is quite rigid, and a bit formal and regimented and the 'everything done to perfection' thing works with their style; TD were always more exploratory and psychedelic and generally a lot looser, so the improvisational 'see what fits' feel works for them. You've always got to work with what suits your creativity best.

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2 hours ago, purlieu said:

It's most obvious in the two most famous '70s electronic groups from Germany: Kraftwerk have said that they have basically no outtakes from their albums, because they pretty much spent all their time refining the handful of pieces they did write. On the opposite end, Tangerine Dream's output was - and still is - ludicrous, with an album or two every year, and large numbers of completely original improvised concerts every year. It kind of works: Kraftwerk's music is quite rigid, and a bit formal and regimented and the 'everything done to perfection' thing works with their style; TD were always more exploratory and psychedelic and generally a lot looser, so the improvisational 'see what fits' feel works for them. You've always got to work with what suits your creativity best.

It's kind of interesting how Boards of Canada might seem more like Kraftwerk on first impression: they have few albums and the albums are all very refined. However, based on old interviews with Boards of Canada, their creative process is actually more like Tangerine Dream's (involving a lot of loose jamming and tons of outtakes). They just have a very tight filter for deciding what ends up on an album.

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i've been listening to your short loop, here's my 2 cents:

on the production side, the dynamics are virtually non-existent. as a result, every single element is competing for the listener's attention. 

the choice of instruments seems unfortunate: 808-ish drums + wobble bass + piano + trumpet + pads + arpeggiated thingy - half of these being drowned in reverb at that. i mean why not, but it just doesn't work here imo. the reverb on the wobble bass only makes it muddy as fuck. the piano has no room to breathe, when it should be the main focus here as it provides the melody.

the rhythm is super rigid, the emphasis being put on the 1 and 3 beats (if i'm not mistaken), the total absence of dynamics (this time as a rhythmic problem), the piano mostly emphasizing 4th and 8th notes, the hi-hat constantly playing 8th notes, the arpeggiated thingy emphasizing 16th notes, the tempo being too slow for the beat to groove, the absence of rhythmic variation - i'm sorry but this doesn't groove at all. 

and lastly, no offense but the harmony is very poor. it's extremely static. we're in A minor, and A minor is played for 6 bars (if i count correctly) while G major is played for the last 2 bars. not the most exciting chord progression i've heard in my life tbh. shame you didn't add extensions to these chords, to spice things up a bit. the piano basically spells A minor for the 6 bars in A minor, and G major for the last 2 bars. the melodic phrase that's played by the trumped would be the most memorable thing in this loop if it was a little less hidden in the mix. 

i'm sorry if this sounds harsh. not trying to be a cunt here. 

maybe try using less reverb, play chord progressions with more than 2 chords, use extended chords, try bolder melodies, increase the dynamic range, bring out certain elements, make room for things, try creating contrast, try a little rhythmic variation, focus on groove, try writing off-grid for a bit, see what you can do with fewer elements, etc. 

Edited by brian trageskin
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3 hours ago, brian trageskin said:

i've been listening to your short loop, here's my 2 cents:

on the production side, the dynamics are virtually non-existent. as a result, every single element is competing for the listener's attention. 

the choice of instruments seems unfortunate: 808-ish drums + wobble bass + piano + trumpet + pads + arpeggiated thingy - half of these being drowned in reverb at that. i mean why not, but it just doesn't work here imo. the reverb on the wobble bass only makes it muddy as fuck. the piano has no room to breathe, when it should be the main focus here as it provides the melody.

the rhythm is super rigid, the emphasis being put on the 1 and 3 beats (if i'm not mistaken), the total absence of dynamics (this time as a rhythmic problem), the piano mostly emphasizing 4th and 8th notes, the hi-hat constantly playing 8th notes, the arpeggiated thingy emphasizing 16th notes, the tempo being too slow for the beat to groove, the absence of rhythmic variation - i'm sorry but this doesn't groove at all. 

and lastly, no offense but the harmony is very poor. it's extremely static. we're in A minor, and A minor is played for 6 bars (if i count correctly) while G major is played for the last 2 bars. not the most exciting chord progression i've heard in my life tbh. shame you didn't add extensions to these chords, to spice things up a bit. the piano basically spells A minor for the 6 bars in A minor, and G major for the last 2 bars. the melodic phrase that's played by the trumped would be the most memorable thing in this loop if it was a little less hidden in the mix. 

 

Lol yeah, eassae, why don’t you just kill yourself?! Kek

Just kddn! But brian called trageskin gave a very good advise imo

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8 hours ago, brian trageskin said:

i've been listening to your short loop, here's my 2 cents:

on the production side, the dynamics are virtually non-existent. as a result, every single element is competing for the listener's attention. 

the choice of instruments seems unfortunate: 808-ish drums + wobble bass + piano + trumpet + pads + arpeggiated thingy - half of these being drowned in reverb at that. i mean why not, but it just doesn't work here imo. the reverb on the wobble bass only makes it muddy as fuck. the piano has no room to breathe, when it should be the main focus here as it provides the melody.

the rhythm is super rigid, the emphasis being put on the 1 and 3 beats (if i'm not mistaken), the total absence of dynamics (this time as a rhythmic problem), the piano mostly emphasizing 4th and 8th notes, the hi-hat constantly playing 8th notes, the arpeggiated thingy emphasizing 16th notes, the tempo being too slow for the beat to groove, the absence of rhythmic variation - i'm sorry but this doesn't groove at all. 

and lastly, no offense but the harmony is very poor. it's extremely static. we're in A minor, and A minor is played for 6 bars (if i count correctly) while G major is played for the last 2 bars. not the most exciting chord progression i've heard in my life tbh. shame you didn't add extensions to these chords, to spice things up a bit. the piano basically spells A minor for the 6 bars in A minor, and G major for the last 2 bars. the melodic phrase that's played by the trumped would be the most memorable thing in this loop if it was a little less hidden in the mix. 

i'm sorry if this sounds harsh. not trying to be a cunt here. 

maybe try using less reverb, play chord progressions with more than 2 chords, use extended chords, try bolder melodies, increase the dynamic range, bring out certain elements, make room for things, try creating contrast, try a little rhythmic variation, focus on groove, try writing off-grid for a bit, see what you can do with fewer elements, etc. 

Don't apologize for being harsh, I went to art school, so I can take it:)

Everything above is fair, but some of it comes from the writing process I use. I cram everything I can into 4 to 16 bars before I start arranging. Like I mentioned before, that may not be serving me, so I'm considering it.

I started with 8 chords, and was moving them all up and down the keys, but it seemed like a mess, so I kept paring down. I did rewrite it again yesterday, so I'm still working on it. This was my original dilemma. Wondering why I was even bothering with melody anymore.

The reverb on the wobble bass is actually the dry signal being sent to a vocoder with a pad like sound. Definitely sounds like shit here, but hopefully it will sound decent in the arrangement.

The reverb thing is definitely something I'm working on. I've set up three for far, medium, and close. They're all getting some, if not a lot, of signal in this little snippet, so yeah, right now there's definitely too much.

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This is a great thread and I don't have much to contribute beyond what people have already said.

I agree to focus on the part of the melody you like, and try to remove any notes that don't need to be there. This also leaves a lot more room for counter point, which I don't think you need to study, but is something that my ears tend to enjoy. If I can stack 2+ melodies ontop of eachother and they sound good to me I am happy. I'm convinced this is what happens to people like me who have too many monosynths.

I have a buddy with the opposite approach. He tries to make music with no notes or as little notes as possible. This is also equally fun and challenging.

I'm glad to hear people have similar production techniques and problems that I have.

 

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a good example of this is how pianists (good pianists), when they play chord progressions, will control the dynamics of each voice, that is to say of each melodic line, in order to bring out certain lines

Simple little arpeggiated tune, but I thought it was a nice illustration of good use of dynamics for a single instrument.

 

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 @brian trageskin i like reading your posts on stuff like this. i've never really moved beyond an intuitive understanding of music despite spending many thousands of hours making it, so it's always cool to me to see it presented from a totally different//more theoretically-grounded perspective

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OCD kicking in: i've just noticed this in my previous post and i'd rather die than let it go:

23 hours ago, brian trageskin said:

the piano basically spells out A minor for the 6 bars in A minor, and G major for the last 2 bars.

i didn't mean to add "in A minor", this was a careless mistake (it was very late in the evening, or very early in the morning to be precise). "the piano basically spells out A minor for the 6 bars in A minor, and G major for the last 2 bars" implies that the tune modulates to G major after 6 bars, which isn't the case, as we're still in A minor when G major is played, G major being the bVII chord in the context of A minor.

what i actually meant to say is the piano spells out A minor the whole time that the pad plays A minor, that is to say for 6 bars, then it spells G major. what i didn't notice though is that in fact, the pad plays A minor until the very end. so what i should have said instead is simply the piano spells out A minor for 6 bars, then G major for 2. not that anyone gives a shit though lol. 

also, a few things i forgot to mention, very quickly:

as a reminder, the bass mainly plays 2 roles in a tune (in the vast majority of cases): it emphasizes certain beats, which determines how the tune grooves, and it's a crucial part of the harmony. your loop doesn't make good use of the bass as the bass in it doesn't contribute to the groove at all, it feels completely disconnected from the beat, and all it does is repeating "hey, this is A minor", just in case we needed to be reminded of that lol

also, the way that the trumpet lick comes out of the blue and disrupts the melody on the piano is uncalled for, and symptomatic of the fact that you didn't know quite what you were trying to achieve there. had the piano been mixed way quieter, this could have worked. 

and come to think of it, the single worst artistic choice you made is that pad imo: it's not necessary to the harmony, as the piano is here to spell out A minor, it takes a whole lot of room for no reason, and the fact that it's in sync with the bass is distracting and serves no purpose. it's really just a pure parasitic element. and the last thing you want is for a distracting element to get in the way of your musical message.  

i believe your job as a musician is to know what you want to express artistically, and to find appropriate ways to express these ideas (within the limits of your competence and budget obviously). i guess the thing i respect the most about someone like david lynch for example, is how committed to his vision he is. 

anyway i hope this is useful, even if only a little bit.

 

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On 4/7/2021 at 5:07 PM, Himelstein said:

My best work has been done sandwiched in between other stuff. Trying to write music everyday, and every time someone came over to my house, etc., but still trying to get the perfect track made. Most of the best tracks we made were done in one night. Retrospectively looking at old music that we’ve written, I personally see it as good thing that we made so much and threw caution to the wind. If we wrote 100-200 tracks a year (which we did between 2003-2009) and 10 percent were good, that’s pretty cool with me. But I think our “good” percentage was higher.

Completely agree on this, happens every time! Get fed up with a track i've been working on for weeks, mess around on another one that i don't really like for an hour, end up writing something better than the one i was working on for weeks. I always wonder though whether it's actually better or whether you've written something so quickly and without much thought that you perceive it as something not written by you if you know what i mean, hence not listening to it with such a critical ear and thus removing your ego from the equation. 

Although this is straying from the topic of this thread, there's a great video of John Cleese talking about creativity and i think he has a pretty good way of explaining what's at work when you have these moments you mentioned Himelstein. Worth a watch as it's completely applicable to making music. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb5oIIPO62g

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Short thoughts on the subject :

Harmonic complexity in sounds -> sparser chords, this is an inverse relationship.. Except for piano which is pretty rich and likes big chords!

A big chord usually likes another big chord to follow

Tracks need room to breathe and grow 

The best inspiration usually comes from music diametrically opposed to the kind you're writing!

I love dim chords! They're so deep and underappreciated. This loop is basically all dim chords except for a m7 (I think)

https://www.vocaroo.com/1nT7o94KNaWH

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7 hours ago, chim said:

The best inspiration usually comes from music diametrically opposed to the kind you're writing!

I really like this idea.

I can't remember if all were dim chords in the version I previously posted, but they were definitely there.

Here is the final version:

 

Edited by eassae
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26 minutes ago, eassae said:

I really like this idea.

I can't remember if all were dim chords in this version, but there were definitely there.

Here is the final version:

 

Sounds awesome

It kinda reminds me if that medeski Martin and wood “end of the world party” but only in the selected tones and somewhat style, it really doesn’t sound like it. 

Edited by Himelstein
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