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Stuff and not stuff

I’ve been stuck in a creative limbo since the death of my wife a few years ago.

A big part of it is that so much of my sense of self was based on my relationship with her. So much of the joy of making art of any kind came from sharing it with her. She didn’t always care for what I made, often referring to my music as “scratchy guitar” (a term I came to embrace). But when she died there was, unsurprisingly, this great void.

Avoiding the shallow end of the pool …

Another part of my lack of output is the desire to not repeat (much) of what I’ve already done. The creation of Small Guitar Pieces was the result of a one-off thing I did for Disquiet Junto. I forget which one, but it got me to play around with small samples I made of, well, a small guitar. I set a rule for myself that, other than my voice, all sounds for the album had to come from my 3/4 Taylor acoustic. I allowed for manipulations, such as speed and pitch changes or filtering with comb or ring mod devices. I liked the sound, the musical space, and wrote a number of tracks. Some seemed to invite vocals, so I added that too.

Not every piece I made got on the album. There came a point where new pieces sounded too much like previous pieces. Of course, given the general approach they all sort of have a similar sound, but I was hoping each one took some distinct path.

I really liked the techniques and tools I employed to make that album, and could easily crank out more of the same, but that holds no interest for me.

Same thing for Dance Noise . I had a sort of mental framework that guided the pieces, but after a while I felt that I was making things by rote. Again, I love the sound of that album and could make more of it, but why?

I will steal from myself, though

OTOH, the approach to American Electronic is something I may revisit. For that album I decided that all the source sounds would come from hardware synths. (I may have fudged some kick drums, though.) Along the way I was wondering if there was any sort of organizing theme, and decided that the first letters of titles should spell the album title. That meant I needed 18 tracks, and at about 10 tracks in I was wondering how I was going to flesh this out.

I then had this idea: What if I created new pieces based on samples from existing pieces? I decided I would have 12 “original” tracks, and six more, where each of those six were made from samples taken from unique pairs of originals. If you look at the song titles, you’ll see that some titles are in parentheses. These are the tracks composed only of samples from two other songs on the album.

To do this I set up the pairings and went through the rendered .wav files of each track, looking to find interesting loopable segments to sample. Most of the samples are fairly short.

I wanted each new track to have a different BPM from the originals; doing that in Reaper while creating samples was easy, but after too much time manually pitch shifting I wrote a small Ruby script to use sox and churn out an abundance of pitch shifted sample versions.

I ended up with so many modified samples that there was no practical way I could listen to each and decide if it was quite what I wanted. Naturally, I wrote another script to randomly select some manageable number, and then I dumped them into Renoise. These then became the raw materials for the new track. I think there were a few times when I was just dissatisfied with the random sample set and I went to find replacements, but mostly I tried to work with what came out of the process.

That’s a technique I may explore again. Maybe take samples from all the existing “unpromising” Renoise stuff I have and see if they can be alchemized into something new and better.

Spelunking in the old files while wading into the deep end

I’ve been going through older pieces, things that never really found a home. A number of these have been added to Loosies. There may be more added in the future if I again stumble across something I think is worth a listen.

I’ve also been making ringtones and alarms for my phone. I’ve gotten tired of the stock offerings so I put together a few new ones. If I keep this up I will release those on an album as well.

A reason I should keep this up is that it gets me over my inertia. Time and again I’ve found that if I can just make myself get started on some music (or drawings, or sculptures) I have a decent chance of producing something I like. Sometimes I don’t like until it has been put aside and I revisit it later (like the tracks on Loosies). Sometimes I never like it; I have way too many Renoise projects that are just baffling, really just unlistenable. :)

But I think everyone who makes art knows this: You need to make a lot of stuff, and a lot of that stuff will be bad, but some of it will be good, and that’s just how it works. Waiting for “inspiration” is a losing game.

I’m still sort of floating around trying to find something new, an approach to songs (loosely defined) that will take me down an unfamiliar path. I’d like to devise a way to make music I could perform live, but also I think that idea is keeping me from making interesting stuff now.

In 2020 I started writing pieces that addressed grief and love and loss, but getting the words right has been challenging (though some of the music is good). Much of it felt clunky when I went back to it a few months later. I will produce something along those lines, but it’s not helping when I try to force it. I’ve been keeping notes as ideas come to me, and one day it will all come together.

My Music


American Electronic

Small Guitar Pieces

Maximum R&D

Love me on Tidal!!111!

Neurogami: Dance Noise

Neurogami: Maximum R&D