Expanding My Recording and Performance Techniques

These next four tracks were from my Berklee Online Winter Semester, Weeks 10, 11, and 12 in Compositional Voice Development in Film Scoring.

Process an Audio File is a culmination of three different exercises from Week 10. The first on was to “write a short musical idea and record it with an acoustic instrument.” I used my guitar since it’s the only acoustic instrument I have (other than some hand drums and small percussion), and it uses dropped-D tuning, and power chords. The next exercise was to “write a short musical idea and record it with a software instrument.” I created a bassline to my guitar piece from the previous exercise using different instances of Substance by Output. The final piece was the third exercise to “creative a musical idea by processing an existing audio file.” I combined the guitar part and the bassline then I destroyed the guitar part with heavy metal distortion from Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 6, then I used EQ to take the top off to make it a little less grating, and added some compression.

Recording Techniques was the end-of-the-week assignment for Week 10 to “write a one-minute (or longer) piece using a recording technique that you typically don’t use.” This was a tricky one for me because since 2014 I’ve been investing time and money in sample libraries, and learning how to use them in order to produce a “Big Hollywood Sound”. As a result, I don’t have the equipment to do professional level recording. Having said that, in the end, I was pretty happy with the result, so I’m glad I did some live recording. I recorded myself playing my acoustic guitar and matched Logic’s tempo to what I played (I didn’t use a click track when recording). I recorded low sampled strings, playing the root of the chords, then recorded a melody in the high strings on a separate track. I did my standard reverb setup and I was about to mix the track down when I remembered that we also talked about processing this lesson, so I added some flange to the guitar during the B section to provide more contrast.

Performance Techniques was the end-of-the-week assignment for Week 11 to “write a one-minute (or longer) piece using a performance technique that you have not used previously.” Since guitar is the only instrument I have to perform extended techniques on, I decided that instead of writing it as a solo, I would record multiple tracks as if it was a “guitar orchestra”. This way I could layer different techniques on multiple parts. I assigned each part a specific string and panned them from left to right (High E, B, G, D, A, low E). While not everything is an extended technique, I approached the whole piece from an aleatoric perspective. For the first section, since the open strings are E Minor Pentatonic, I had the strings enter in the order of the ascending scale (E, G, A, B, D, E) performing a slurred tremolo (just with the left hand, not the pick after the initial note) to the next note up. In the next section, I wanted to gradually introduce some dissonance, so I used the most dissonant note in between the two that were being tremoloed on each string. To provide further contrast, I used a picked tremolo, and used a technique where if you pick the string an octave above the note (if you are fingering a note at the 1st fret, pick the string at the 13th fret), it alters the sound. The rate of these new notes (all belonging to a Bb Minor Pentatonic scale) interrupting the original tremolos increases until it is only the Bb Minor Pentatonic notes. This initial climax on the “dominant function” chord ends the first section, and the next section starts with a subito pp. The new figure here is fingering 0 1 2 3 4 “As Fast As Possible” slurred on all the strings. All of these chromatic notes fill in the notes in between the open strings, so it creates a subtle full chromatic cluster. Then, there is another A.F.A.P. figure, except the two notes from the tremolo at the beginning are left out (on the E string, the tremolo at the beginning was E to G, so this figure uses the notes F, F#, G#, etc.), and the notes are picked instead. Then this 3-note pattern starts to glissando up the neck, and at about the 6th fret 3 things happen: (1) the pattern changes to fingering three chromatic notes (1, 2, 3), (2) there is a crescendo, and (3) there is a gradual change from ordinary picking position over the sound hole to sul ponticello. When the glissando arrives at the 9th, 10th, and 11th fret, then there is a two-note picked tremolo between the notes in the Bb Minor Pentatonic scale below the 12th fret and above the 12th fret (from the 10th or 11th fret to the 13th or 14th fret, depending on the string). This resolves to all the strings playing their first overtone, natural harmonic at the 12th fret. It was interesting how much more complex the guitar sounds when the strings are used individually, as opposed to using all six strings to play one chord strummed with a unison rhythm, or just playing a melody.

Incorporating Feedback was an exercise from week 12 to “write a piece of music based on feedback given to you by your course instructor… on your assignment posted in lesson 10. For this activity, incorporate the feedback into a revised version of your piece.” Here is the feedback I received from my professor, as a fictional client: “I like it.  Can we make it bigger?  Add in some drums or something?  The guitar reminds me of this rock band I saw once.  But I miss the rest of the band.” The original version (Recording Techniques) was for acoustic guitar and strings (acoustic guitar was clean, except for the the B section which had flange/phaser on it). I added a bass guitar and drum set to make it a rock band. I also added some distortion to my acoustic guitar. I also panned the strings a little bit more to the left and right to get them out of the way of the band. Finally, I turned up the reverb a little more to put them in a bigger space.

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