Saturday, May 10, 2008

Short prog piece from the composers archive

Back in 1979 I was a freshman music major at Belmont University here in Nashville. One of the scariest things was Freshman Composition class, where everyone had to write music (actually write it down, this was long before music technology became mainstream) and present it to the class. Those of us that had in "instrument" in our major (my major was "Commercial Music - Piano") had to also perform the pieces for the class, and we were graded on the composition and also the performance. It was pretty scary for me.

Up until this point in life, I had written only some pop music. Really just a few ballads and a couple of rock tunes. I had never actually tried to write a "serious" piece of music, though confident teen that I was, I was pretty sure I could if I tried. Well, now I had no choice...I had to. And it had to be at least 18 measures long!

I was heavily into Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes, Genesis and Gentle Giant at this time, so of course most of the things I heard in my head I could not only NOT play, but I could NOT begin to write them out in musical notation....I just didn't have the skills yet. But I was acquiring them, or at least trying to. The first piece I wrote I called "Passage" and it was slow and creepy, lots of open fourths with a left-hand ostinato figure...looking back it sounds a bit like the opening theme for Keith Emerson's soundtrack to the Italian horror film Inferno. It went over quite well and I got a solid A.

For the 2nd piece, I envisioned that I would write something vaguely similar and start a "suite" or pieces meant to be played as a whole. The 2nd piece was to start in the same key (sort of an A minor 7 with sus 4) but be in a rapid rollicking 6/8 as opposed the slow and stately 4/4 of the first piece, and also make use of much more "angularity" in the musical passages. In my head I was hearing driving drums and bass, searing Moog synthesizers and blasting Hammond organ, and crashing CP-80 electric piano, not unlike something Eddie Jobson's band UK would have played (without Allan Holdsworth's guitar noodling of course, God bless him and his wonderful tone).

But of course all I had to work with when performing it for the class was the humble piano. I explained to the class that this piece was a bit of a continuation from my last one and got the teachers permission to perform "Passage" first, followed by the 2nd one (the piece this blog is about) which I called "Intermezzo". Though I performed Passage well, I didn't do a stellar job on Intermezzo and I don't think most of the class "got it". At all. Wickedly muted response. I knew at that point that I had accomplished my goal and written something progressive enough to not appeal to the masses. Success! And I got a A-.

Fast forward to 2008. My friend Jimbo has just turned me on to a very cool piece of software (which of course I rushed out and bought for myself) called "EZ Drummer". Though the name is silly and makes it sound like a toy, it is not. It is one very serious compositional tool. It comes with very high-quality drum sounds, an awesome interface that is intuitive, and a boatload of MIDI drum loops. You can drag-and-drop loops into Sonar, stringing patterns and fills together into your drum track, then edit them and add stuff in Sonar. Very powerful. It took me about 10 minutes to put together the drum track for would have taken me HOURS had I been programming it by hand like I used to do, and I doubt I ever could have programmed a drum performance this convincing. You would never guess that a "drum machine" came anywhere near this track!

I used the "Drumkit from Hell" expansion sounds for this track. Look at this GUI! Need I say more. Wicked.

Then I spent the better part of 4 hours on the keyboard parts. CP-80 and Clavinet from East West Colossus, synth bass from Native Instruments FM8, Organ from their B4II, Minimoog and Roland Jupiter 8 synth emulations from Arturia's Analog Factory. Amazing that it took 4 hours considering the piece is only 1:14 in length! Then again, these are some of the more difficult keyboard passages you are likely to hear on this blog.

Maybe next month I'll finish up my reworked version of Passage so you can hear the prelude to this one, Intermezzo. Oh, I should also point out that even though the original composition was in 6/8 (and I have recorded it that way in the past) I chose to convert the composition to 4/4 for this go-round, mostly because I found a very infectious groove in EZD that I thought "fit". But, I should add that not one single note of the composition was changed, only the timing.

Click the play button below to here Intermezzo:

Here is a direct link to MP3 for non-shockwave users

Featured Instruments:

Toontrack's EZDrummer, "Drumkit from Hell" expansion

Arturia's Analog Factory

1 comment:

Jimbo Hagey said...

gotta love dfh!
the gui is incredable, & the sounds are as described.
Great piece. needs guitar...
jimbo (guitar player)