006 Making My Own Music – Late Day Storm

Making My Own MusicIn this episode, I talk about my new age piece “Late Day Storm” composed in May 2012. I also talk new age music and the Tangerine Dream piece “Exit.”

New Age Music is used for relaxation and other types of stress relief. It can be played during yoga, mediation, labyrinth walking, Tai Chi, massage, and so on. It can be acoustic or electric. Acoustic new age music usually uses acoustic guitar, flute, or piano. Electronic new age music usually uses mostly synthesizers.

Tangerine Dream is a great new age artist that formed in 1967. They have released over 100 albums, including over 30 movie soundtracks including Risky Business and Firestarter from the early 1980s.

I did 2 things to prepare from composing another new age piece. I spent a couple of weeks listening to a lot of new age music, especially Tangerine Dream. I found a song from 1981 called “Exit” that I really liked. (You can hear the complete song here.) In particular it was a version that was re-released in 1994 in a box set called Tangents.

On Exit, I like the tempo (about 87 beats per minute), and the chord progression. It starts with Bb minor and Cb major 7th. I like the way this sounds with the Bb note that can sound through both chords. When the song gets going, there are 3 different lead instruments that play melodies at the same time: a pan flute, a voices sound, and a synth lead with bell sounds.

The other thing I did before started composing was took an inventory of all the sounds, or “patches” on my Yamaha YPG-235. There are about 400 of them altogether. I didn’t listen much to the strings, woodwinds, or brass–I know what they sound like and didn’t want them on this piece. I listened mostly to the pan flute-like sounds, synth leads, and sound effects.

I composed Late Day Storm in 4 days in May 2012. I spent about 9 1/2 hours altogether over the course of 4 days.

The chord progression is 8 measures long and repeats 11 times through the song. The progression is:

  • Dm Gm Dm Gm Ab maj7 Eb maj7 Ab maj7 Eb maj7

There are 13 parts altogether, and they are on 15 tracks because I doubled two of the parts. I played and talked about the different patches / sounds on the piece:

  • the bass part was on poly synth pad
  • the mid-range chords were on Fargo (with a double on poly synth pad)
  • the floor toms, bass drum, and 2 cymbal crashes (4 tracks) came from 2 different drum kits
  • the first melody is played on pan flute
  • the second melody is played on blown bottle (also sounds like a pan flute)
  • the “main theme: is played on Xenon pad
  • in the middle of the song I use a sound called “popcorn”
  • I have 3 sound effects tracks for rain, wind, and thunder

I record this using MIDI, the same process I talked about on episode 5, Sleepy. Each part is played on the keyboard synthesizer while I am listening to the previous parts. The computer records the parts in MIDI – digital information that says what note is played, when, for how long, and how loud. If the performance was not “perfect” I can edit the MIDI to change which note, or the rhythm or the dynamics.

When the part is good, I then record the audio (exactly how the part sounds in the correct type of instrument) on to the computer:

  • I “solo” one part at a time, and have the computer perform the part on the keyboard synthesizer
  • At the same time, I record the audio on to the computer

When I have the audio for all the parts, I can play, mix, and effect the whole piece without needing the keyboard synthesizer anymore.

Over the course of the few days I was working on this, I made a rough mix at the end of the day that I listened to overnight. I decided which parts I wanted louder, which I wanted softer, and which parts, if any, to change some notes on.

I put effects on some of the audio tracks. I added reverb on the drum toms, the popcorn, and thunder. I faded in and faded out on rain and wind. I also faded all of the drum sounds near the end before the piece ended.

On the popcorn sound, I also used “automation.” (I had never used this before.) I was playing the piece back, and moved the “pan” slider from the left channel to the right channel, and Cubase recorded my movements, so it could play it back after that.

I finished by making my final mix, and then adding the fade to the very end.

There’s a lot of things in recording I haven’t done much with: compression and EQ. As I read more on the TweakHeadz Lab site I’ll try these out.

I would like to continue to compose new age pieces. I’m going to listen to the patches on some new synthesizers and see if I find sounds I really like. I may be able to compose a New Age piece, and then record my sax over it like I did with Rue’s Whistle. Tangerine Dream started using some sax parts in the 1980s, and they have a sax player in the group now. I am going to see them live in NYC on July 7th which should be interesting.

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