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Last Year This Year

August 19, 2009

Last year around this time, I invested in the Zoom H4

pretty sexy

Pretty sexy, I know.

The Zoom revolutionized  how I did business.  High quality recording suddenly became available, always. In the practice room at a friend’s house, the hardest part was remembering batteries.

I haven’t come up with the perfect system for keeping track of all the recordings, but I’m working at it. For the moment, I first plop all the recordings into folders according to date. As an idea develops, I put all the licks I think could fit (or copies of) in another folder named according to whatever random association makes sense at the time. I try to keep every iteration of the song in this folder. Like I said, it’s not complex, but it’s something.  If I come up with lyrics, I put a copy in the appropriate song folder as well.

Sometimes I notate the ideas I’m coming up with. I scan my sketches and put them in the song folders. I’ve been trying to find the balance between notation and remembering. I was brought up with the extreme that if your idea was a good one, you had to write it down, that’s what made it real. I still think there is a certain birth that happens when you can hold your abstract ideas. When you suddenly accumulate piles and piles of manuscript paper. But these days I have too many friends that finish whole albums with less than a page of notation. I play in a gamelan ensemble where we learn hours of music without any kind of conventional notation. Surely, perfect music notation is not the only answer.

Notation in its most general sense accomplishes two things: it allows other musicians to easily learn your pieces (but is not the only way to this), and it takes your abstract idea and turns it into an object.

I took Evan Ziporyn‘s Intro to Music Composition class the fall semester of my Sophomore year. He pushed us to invent our own notation (and this wasn’t to show how hard coming up with music notation is or how perfect conventional Western music notation is), it was so that we could form our own objects that made sense to Us.

Our first ‘good’ compositions were studies in Musique Concrete.  With Musique Concrete you record ‘found’ sounds–your car door slamming, the birds outside your window, a truck passing by– and assemble a piece. Evan also allowed us to use elementary electronic music techniques such as pitch shifting, copy/cut/paste, quantization (e.g. assembling a pentatonic scale by pitch shifting a sample), etc. When we discussed why this project yielded good results we decided that people were starting to treat their musical ideas as objects (because they had to), where as that’s not normally apparent in other techniques of music composition, least of all standard notation.

So when I say that I ‘sketch’ my musical ideas in addition to keeping mass amounts of recordings, it’s so that I can free up my mind a little and split a piece into its different objects. With notation you can more easily start from a specific point and work it out in detail. You don’t have to keep the whole picture in your head at all times. The point is to free up memory. To work like an engineer and black-box away some parts so that you can focus on others. You need to be able to do One Thing at a Time.

This leads into this year’s innovation. Last year was the zoom H4. This year I hope to come up with a low-tech/easily transportable way of making multi-track recordings to listen to in real time. I want to be able to record one idea, and while it’s playing back (ideally in some sort of loop), be able to add another layer, on another track so that later I can have just the first one if I decide to trash the second. So there should be some level of modularity in terms of how I’m actually storing all the data. I think my zoom might have such capabilites, I’m not sure if my computer is powerful to pull it off alone. Anyway, I haven’t completely figured out the tech side of it, but I’ll update the ol’ blog as this project develops.


At the moment live multi-track-recording-what-have-you is in vogue with the avant-garde classical musicians such as Zoe Keating.
She has crazy hair.

Zoe Keating in the Nevada Desert

Zoe Keating in the Nevada Desert

a set-up more portable than this..

hmm, not so portable unfortunately

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2009 9:22 am


    how do i add you to my FRIENDS LIST??


  2. August 24, 2009 9:23 am

    my comment got all messed up

  3. January 21, 2010 4:31 pm

    My friend matt used to use two tape decks and record a whole pop song by playing back what he had on one deck (eg drums and bass) and recording the playback and a new part on the second, then swap tapes.h

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