Do you ever listen to the sounds around you? I mean, really listen? For example, when someone speaks, “replay” their last few words back in your mind. Do you hear a melody?
Do you ever listen to the hum of a refrigerator and try to match the musical pitch? Have you then tried to harmonize with that hum?
Drips of water, distant cars, birdsong, dropped cutlery, general background ambience even – there’s music everywhere, or at least, the basis of music.
In my last blog I explained that I found sound as important as the music itself. Perhaps even more important. I’ve been experimenting with sound for as long as I have been writing music and quite often when I’m out and about I carry means to record what hear. Once I get home, I import the recordings onto my computer where, if the recording is selected, I’ll use in one of my musical compositions. The usage can be simple or complex. It kind of depends on what “vibe” I’m in.
Simple uses include perhaps a recording of early morning birdsong placed gently under a chilled out piece. It sometimes gives a track a certain evocative “old National Geographic nature documentary” kind of feel. I’m sure you know what I mean. Public places like airport terminals, railway stations, libraries, shopping malls, are great to record in also. I love the general blur of lots of different voices, squeaky shoes on polished floors, distorted messages on the public address systems. Again, underneath my music, these give another kind of ambience like when you sit down in a busy place and watch the world go by. To me it’s like a frozen moment in time.
There is of course the more experimental side to using these recordings. Now this can be really fun, and interesting to me and a lot of cool “discoveries” have been made through experimenting with snippets of sound.
Recently I used a recording of my cat meowing in a piece. Well, I didn’t just place it in a track, I first pitched it down so that he sounded deeper, I added a little reverb to give a more spacious sound, and then tweaked the recording here and there a little more until I realised I had what a prehistoric dinosaur might have sounded like! “Hey Batty!” (that’s my cat’s name), “You’re a diplodocus!”.
I was clearing out the kitchen last October when I dropped a few items of cutlery by accident onto the floor. Nice sound, so I got my “Zoom digital recorder” from upstairs in the studio, took it into the kitchen, and recreated that “accident” many times, with different amounts of knives, forks, spoons. I dropped them from near the ceiling and from barely above the floor, I put down different thicknesses of towels to dampen the sound. Anything to get out of actually cleaning the kitchen! Again I experimented with pitch, harmonics, ambience of the recordings and came up with some great industrial, but other worldly sounds – like huge steampunk trains clunking and clanking over points on the railway track. (Incidentally I once recorded a REAL train going over points, looped the recording, and sped it up considerably until it sounded like a kind of rhythmic rain!)
Currently I’m working on a piece of music in which I’m using a looped snippet of a recording from a table tennis match as the background rhythm. It gives a slight clumsiness to the track but in an oddly endearing way (read my previous blog about how imperfections can give an “honesty” to a piece of music.)
I love listening to the world around me. The sounds I hear IS music, and on a deeper, (kind of) spiritual level, it makes me feel connected to my environment. I feel more aware when I’m listening. It’s like my surroundings are playing a gig for me to enjoy and be inspired by, and if I really enjoy what I hear, I’ll record that “gig” and perhaps jam with it later.
*While I’ve been writing this blog on my computer I’ve been made aware of the great sounds that my computer keyboard makes while I type. I guess that’s a track for the future!