Research Note 003

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Podcasting with Scott Morgan of Loscil

I woke up this morning feeling good about last night’s experiment. While watching my daughter’s soccer practise I recorded a conversation with Scott Morgan (aka Loscil). We’re considering creating a podcast about creating music and instruments and thought we could start by making a pilot of our podcast. I’ll edit the conversation down we’ll discuss publishing it at the further date. For now I’d like to know if the topics we talked about are something you’d like to know more about.

The banter was lively, moving from discussing themes for the podcast like:

  • What constitutes an musical instrument and how important is its tangibility. This subject is core to the workshops that I’ve been facilitating in various locations over the past few months. The Sonic Interactions workshop is about creating new sound interfaces using existing instruments like ukuleles, drums and thumb-pianos along with open source tools like RaspberryPi, PureData. I’ve been documenting the workshops at
  • “artificial nostalgia”, how are kids nostalgic for vinyl records when they didn’t even grow up with them? I’m sure we’ll expand on this topic and it’s something I’ve been curious about.
  • Skeuomorphism in music & instruments. Skeuomorphism is a common Interaction Design term to describe when an interface mimics the physical attributes of a its real-world counterpart. A good example is how early digital books had the top right corner of each screen. It is useful as an affordance for people unfamiliar with digital books but limiting if you’d rather have an endless scrolling read. Here are some examples:
The once-ubiquitous “page curl”

Is the Page Curl of a digital book an affordance or an useless ornamentation from a time when users needed a visual cue to explain the metaphor of a book?

Fetishizing shiny stereo components
Wood paneling is a new trend in digital synths

Skeuomorphism is a contentious topic in the Interaction Design industry and worth thinking about.

Preproduction by Michael Beinhorn

Today I also listened to an interesting podcast by TapeOp with an interview with Michael Beinhorn, the producer of Herbie Hancock’s Future Shock album (featuring Rockit) and Soundgarden’s seminal album Superunknown. The interview centred around the importance of preproduction, detailing the lack of proper preparation that most artists experience before going into a studio to record an album. It was fascinating to hear how Beinhorn pushed Chris Cornell to work harder and break through his stagnated song writing. Cornell was limiting his imagination to what he thought the band Soundgarden’s style was.

I’m thinking a lot about preproduction these days as I write new songs and dig through my archive to weed out the best compositions to focus on recording. It makes me think that I’d like to have someone to use as a sounding board much like how Michael Beinhorn vetted Soundgarden’s song sketches and only the best were tunes that they collaboratively arranged and structured.

Arranging music

I’ve always been fascinated with the art of music arrangement, from the early days of playing in a band and figuring out the length of sections, introductions, middle sections and bridges to endings. In university I learned about how to write for larger ensembles and various instruments, learning about harmonic support of melodies in Jazz like you might hear in Count Basie or Gil Evans.

This reminded me of an earlier conversation with my friend, Richard Freeman, who happens to be an immensely talented jazz piano player. Over drinks a few nights ago I was talking about how I’m in the early stage of writing music and he interjected with the comment to make sure they’re well arranged. At first I agreed that yes, arranging is important but he insisted that it was at least as important as the song writing. That didn’t sit well with me. I believe it’s crucial to focus at first on writing a great song: melody (possibly lyrics) chords and rhythm. Personally, if I start working on arrangement, instrumentation and structure a may get distracted and shift my attention to the sonic details. I just didn’t seem right but then again I’ve written plenty of song by being inspired by a specific sound I’m getting on a guitar going through some combination of pedals. Maybe I should try going back and forth between arranging and composing and see what that yields.

How do you write music? Melody first? drum pattern first?

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