Saturday, July 23, 2016

Soundation: Mom's Dance Party

This week, we began working with the internet mixing studio  Soundation. This was my first time using anything like this, and it was interesting, fun, and frustrating, all at the same time!

At the beginning, I was a total novice and was a little overwhelmed by all the possibilities, spending a lot of time listening to each sample and comparing different tracks. I watched all the videos, which helped me to get started, and made a few false starts before finally coming up with ideas and a direction that I liked. As a classical clarinetist, I have always felt unprepared when it comes to electronic music and even the use of amps in my jazz band, so this was not a place I felt comfortable. I still feel that despite watching all the videos, I don't fully understand the FX, equalizer, delay, etc. and all the buttons and knobs, but with more practice and a bit more research, I could learn a lot more about them. I wonder also if having access to a better speaker system would make some of the tools easier to differentiate.

I began my composition without a clear idea in mind, except that I have really been enjoying spending warm summer nights with drinks on our deck with friends, and somehow wanted to reflect this. What I've put together is a bit more dance party like, so I gave it that title and can imagine driving around taking my daughters around town to their various activities and jamming out to this type of music.
My eldest daughter was excited when I told her I could download it and we could listen to it in the car.

Musically, I wanted to mix the types of music I really enjoy listening to, including New Wave, Funk, and World genres. I got a great compliment from my husband when he said parts reminded him of Depeche Mode and Morrissey, and I hoped the funky guitar licks gave a hint of Prince as well. I wanted my piece to start with light orchestration, setting up the beat before introducing the various instruments and sounds. I added a MIDI flute melodic clip that I wrote, and it was tough to get it to fit with the rhythm I had laid down, so this took a little finagling. I originally had tried to add a vocal track, but the free account won’t allow you to save this, so I had to abandon it, and ultimately used the material for the flute track. When working on it, though, I saw how difficult it is to keep your rhythm consistent without being able to hear it. I used my smart phone’s metronome on a very quiet volume in my ear to help me stay on beat, because leaving the sound up on the other tracks caused my computer’s microphone to pick up double the sound and made it very messy. It was a real learning experience!

At the end, I struggled to find a way to end the piece without the ubiquitous (and to me, annoying) decrease of the volume knob. The final orchestral chords were clipped, repeated, and then altered so they faded to nothing after all the rhythmic activity was finished.  

In the creation of the flute track, I found the use of their system to be doable but a little frustrating for a trained reader of music. I wish there was an option to insert music as a notated track, and then move, stretch and shrink notes like the MIDI entry allowed you to. This would save people like me time in trying to figure it out, and may allow import and manipulation of files from elsewhere as well.
This is a great program for students to get started with sound production and mixing, and would be a wonderful way to give them creative options for composition. I am going to share this with our 6, 7 and 8th grade general music teachers, and may include it in my own plans for this year. Having a former student who works in the recording industry doing exactly this type of music production, it’s fascinating to see how his new tools allow him to create music. I am interested in possibly working on a project with my band students, if we can get an account that allows recording, so they could integrate the computer based music along with their own sound production. I really think they would enjoy this more than the pencil and paper composition they’ve done in the past, and would enjoy sharing their music with each other and even with their parents at a concert.

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