Monthly archives: April, 2015

Tales from the iOS Music Coal Face – the curse of TTDS

That was a weird 48 hours creatively, Wednesday night coming back from work I was noodling around with seekbeats then CubeSynth. Just messing about with no agenda, getting to know the apps better.  Nothing was really working for me but I had recorded the output from each experiment as I often do.

Thursday morning I was playing about with SoundScaper and stumpled upon a repeating pattern that I thought was quite cool so I recorded that, and then for an experiment I trimmed out a section and dumped it into Loopy so I could  timestretch it to a tempo (111 bpm) which had been my experimental BPM of choice the previous evening. The result was so-so, so I dumped it and then stumbled upon my stems from the previous evening. I combined them in Loopy and liked the result, put my Soundscaper snippet in and thought I had struck gold. “THIS IS AWESOME” thought I, nodding my head like a halfwit and messing about with the levels. Then I arrived at my destination.

Fast forward to the commute home yesterday. I was keen to get back to this nascent masterpiece. I put in my earbuds, opened Loopy, hit play and…. what the fuck?? Apparently I had been completely tone deaf earlier in the day, not only did the SoundScaper stem not ‘go’ rhythmically but was completely off key, by something like two and a quarter tones, not even by a recognizable interval. It was horrible. I muted the soundscaper part and the drum part and the CubeSynth sequence were …. OK together, but also rhythmically questionable in some parts and really not working well.

Doc 24 Apr 2015 11_28

I was gutted.

This has happened a few times recently. I think it is because of the background noise, or ear fatigue, but there are definitely times when my ears completely fail to tell between cacophony and harmony.

This also happens with beats too – but is more understandable then. I tend to build up blocks of overlapping rhythms, this is like boiling a frog – because I build things up gradually your brain can get with each part as they build up, you get with the groove, a new rhythm is added, you get with that too, a new part is added. This is how I create stuff and how I like my music. That is all well and good but if you fire up loopy with ALL the parts playing, from ‘cold’, without getting into each part first, the effect can be a “Jesus christ what is this noise” moment, some of my grooves require a bit of foreplay before you go for the whole thing!

It does freak me out a bit that I can be completely tone deaf for periods of time though…

Anyway – after the “tone-deaf bastard” incident I had a very unproductive journey home, but later in the 20 minutes before I went to sleep I wrote a groovy little Synth Pop song, but I don’t really do synth pop, and neither do any of my … er… collaborators, so I shelved that. This morning I did a darkish moody downtempo thing on the train ride in that I think is excellent. I am dreading what it will sound like when I listen to it tonight…

Commuting – the golden hour

Commuting  – for many people commuting is a misery, a chore, a waste of time… I used to thinks so, and then I had kids:


(comic above from Rugrets – see bottom, right hand bar)

But nowdays commuting is where I do almost all of my music making.

What is special about commuting that makes it my perfect music production environment?
I often credit iOS music with making it possible for me to fit music creation into my otherwise fully packed schedule. Before iPad I just didn’t have time to make music, after iPad the time I spent traveling to and from work could be used and suddenly I had a chunk of “music production time” in my day.
But perhaps I had this the wrong way round. Maybe it isn’t that mobile music enabled me to use otherwise dead time for music, but rather mobile music enabled me to  utilize the most fecund and fertile music time in the world.

If the issue was merely one of time then surely when I get a stretch of time I should be able to fill it with music, but this is not the case. I often find that time, when I have it, is not musically productive at all. I might sit down with the intention of banging out some really awesome tunes, and end up messing about with Facebook, looking at porn, shopping for stuff I don’t need, and otherwise procrastinating.

This is not the case when I am on the bus or the train: I have just 30-45 minutes available, background noise, no midi input devices, cramped space, movement that makes pressing the right key difficult. But I find the tunes just flow (well, usually), that I have idea after idea, that I get tracks arranged and finished and mastered.

Maybe it is the relative lack of distraction, I have a mobile phone, and mobile data, but the availability of the interweb is limited. Kids, colleagues and spouses are not demanding help or attention… as much as usual anyway… Maybe it is the lack of alternative obligations –  this is an environment where I can plug in headphones and shut out the world without any hint of guilt, there is nothing else I could or should be doing at that moment. People on the bus will not mind that I cannot hear them and am not interacting, in fact an autistic lack of interaction is expected.

It can’t be just those things though, lack of distraction and lack of alternative obligations, because if so long-haul plane journeys would be the holy grail of music making, a 24 hour bus ride in business class with free alcohol being served! But sadly not, for whatever reason I  find making music on a plane really difficult and I am seldom happy with the outcome. Maybe the time limit is an important factor too. I only have 40 minutes – make them count. Don’t ponce about trying to get that part just right – run with it and see how it turns out.

FAWM certainly works in a similar way – no time for farting about – get it out there, create at speed.

It is not a revelation that constraints make for creativity. I have always known this. Commuting seems to provide the perfect storm of opportunity and constraint, making for a little capsule of creative golden time.

Love your commute!