1. ‘Pulse Two (remix)’ analysis

For this first exercise I chose Pulse Two. Of Daniel’s six album tracks, I quite enjoyed this one for various musical reasons, but also the closer I looked, the more it seemed to challenge in terms of its internal structure. Here this piece is provided in its original form:

I wondered if I could create a coherent and convincing multi-track /multi-instrument arrangement from this particular seed, and in so doing, test and hopefully extend on my earlier research. To so, I firstly imported the audio file into the DAW application Apple Logic Pro. This choice of software platform was based on my earlier familiarity with using it for the purposes of analysis by operating the DAW to ‘learn’ the musical aspects of material by applying its various tools of beat-mapping, time signature entry, pitch detection and so on (Draper, 2012). Over time, the shape of this analysis evolved to what is shown in Figure 1:

The upper ‘Marker’ track indicates an arbitrary arrangement of the piece in terms of possible ‘introduction’ sections, A, B and C and so on2. The lower waveform track ‘Didj 1’ has been divided along these same section lines to make for trial rearrangements of the sections. The second ‘Signature’ track indicates some of my ideas for how this might be interpreted in the DAW, but of course is merely one interpretation of how the live didj playing might be understood in these terms (this would come to change in later iterations). The final ‘Outro 1 /2’ sections were of particular interest to me in terms of their changing rhythmical qualities. And finally, the ‘Tempo’ track which took the most work in terms of manually working through the piece so that the DAW bar lines and tempo map lined up with the live performance. This now meant that the overall structure could be freely manipulated and added to in a DAW environment that now ‘understood’ the piece a little more. Further, this approach also adds a considerable depth of ‘mind mapping’ (Ibid) in that such technical analysis deeply programs one understanding of how the piece works musically3.

Given the rather engaging rhythmical aspects of the piece, my next inclination was to begin to add percussive accompaniment and drum kit. To this end, I next invited Brisbane-based drummer and long time collaborator Bob Peele to contribute, and the entire Logic Pro session as shown in Figure 1 above was ‘cloud-shared’ via our established arrangements. He also owned and operated this particular DAW, and the mapping and ‘smarts’ were available to him (vs. a simple sound file). Because of our various other working commitments however, it took another week or so before I’d received a musical response and I the meantime, the arrangement for Pulse Two had moved on a little4, as shown in Figure 2:

Here I then spun off another ‘save as’ version (Collins, 2007) to investigate further. In terms of the ‘vertical domain’ (Draper & Emmerson, 2011) I wanted to more deeply understand aspects of syncopation and how these could best work, and/or how various timbres might sit against the rather dominate sound characteristics of the didj. In addition, by easily selecting various sounds provided in the Apple Loops library for Logic Pro, these were variously trailed along the ‘horizontal’ time axis (Ibid), these rhythmical elements serving to experiment with how the present arrangement might be manipulated further5. At this point, I also sent off a mix to UK keyboardist and composer Frank Millward to see what his reaction might be in terms of suggesting harmonic content though performance.

Pulse Two was subsequently exported to the Avid ProTools DAW via Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF) with the addition of a single MIDI track to provide relevant meta data including markers, tempo and time signature changes (see last track, ‘Guide 10’ in Figure 2 above). Now that the mapping work had been done, I felt somewhat relieved that I might continue on with the piece in a more reliable and professional audio workspace. The arrangement for Pulse Two grew a little, now with just a little extension of the introduction (see Figure 3, below) and hopes for more reworking here. However, the editing errors introduced by Logic Pro proved to be unworkable where small gaps and timing inconsistencies crept in whenever major arrangement changes were attempted, exacerbated by the many tempo fluctuations9.

Musicking to the rescue to divert me from these technical naggings, a lovely drum track came back from Bob Peele. However, given that there now was quite a gap in the development of the piece in this Pro Tools version 3, vs. what I had sent him in the original mapped, solo didj version 1 from Logic Pro, this presented some interesting musical challenges. He had presented a rather unexpected, sparse electronic drum recording which had been effected by tape delays – echos in time to reference the original didj track and some of its similar digital signal processing (DSP). Somewhat to my surprise, this didn’t prove to be too much of a deterrent technically, given the rigorous application of naming conventions, ‘save-as’ and back-up states. I loaded his drum recording into the original version 1 that had been sent, then to understand and get a good feel for how this worked and what he was trying to say in response to Daniel’s original piece. The same drum track was then imported into the later version 3, correctly located in time and /or parts extended to compensate for the longer arrangement, and finally, some of my own percussion and drum parts revised and moved out of the way to interact with the new kit recording.

Now with some critical mass for the overall horizontal form (and which would remain unchanged from the final version), I began to add some acoustic guitar parts and a simple ‘clean 5ths’ electric guitar melody that seemed to sit well as a foil to Daniel’s underscore10. The harmonic structure and the ‘vertical’ axis was beginning to take a little more shape. Here I also wondered what had become of Frank Millward’s invitation to contribute keyboard parts, but pushed ahead. No sooner was this done, then the next morning an email from Frank with synthesiser recording attached. Again, a replication of the similar asynchronous issue with the drums, but in this case there were not only horizontal considerations (relatively easy to remedy with a little cutting and pasting along the timeline), but also harmonic clashes. His choral structures didn’t necessarily add up with my newer guitar parts, however, I did enjoy the evocative, pad-like sounds he provided and so I set to work in trialling another few variations of the arrangement. In all, I substantially revised my parts to accommodate his voicings, but which were also moved around to form the backbone of the final ‘song’ arrangement: Intro, A, B and C sections etc., as shown in the Figure below:

Now given some commitment to the arrangement for the piece, I began to record electric guitar parts, melodies and supporting harmony (also shown in Figure 3, above).

As a final thought after having played the guitar alongside a little more, the ending was extended as the ‘Tag’ (see Figure 3, below) thus lengthening the piece from its original 2:12 running time to now 3:30. I felt this enhanced arrangement provided greater overall symmetry, as well as more room to explore in terms of the guitar playing. However, this exact decision was partially governed by the fact that more complex rearrangements were problematic given the earlier Logic Pro ancestry – it was in fact more expedient to simply add material to the beginning or end of the piece11.

Synopsis and self-review (1):

Here I began and removed several iterations of a somewhat traditional musical analysis of the work, for example, in how different parts respond to each other, their musical reference points or allusions, or the idea of using score notional extracts, etc. In sum however, I believe this would seem inappropriate to the proposed direction of this exposition and I now let the recording speak for itself, for better or for worse.

Such over-arching concerns carried me forward and ‘sideways’, given the work in parallel with other collaborators and music not included here. It is in one of these sideways moves that I found revealing developments and new habits. On reflection, this perhaps was subconsciously set-up for such a purpose – to explore options further, to re-examine the work of the Pulse Two (remix) a little more deeply. I called this Go Fish.

Extract 1: Pulse Two [2:12] performed, recorded and produced by Daniel Bartos (2012).

Figure 1: Analysing and mapping Pulse Two in Logic Pro.

Figure 2: Adding percussive loops and rhythms to Pulse Two in Logic Pro.

Extract 2: Pulse Two [2:16] with added rhythm bed and Apple Loops experiments.

This stage of the work also proved to be a significant stepping stone in terms of the research premise for this exposition. Aside notes on this as follows:

  • Simply, I found that (like many times before) Logic Pro ‘ran out of steam’. While formerly an intuitive device that receded into the background in terms of the work outlined above, now it began to change shape and come to the fore as a ‘technical object’, and a problematic one at that. While Logic Pro provides a wonderful entry point for musicians and composers with its well-crafted tools for working with traditional musical values (including one of the best notational scoring engines available) – however, as a professional recording studio resource, it begins to loose competence, and/or requires attempts to re-search the manuals /web-sites as to why it would not appear to function in ways that might be expected. Logic Pro here becomes an interruption, a hindrance, and importantly, now the creative flow is paused while one attempts to resolve matters.
  • In Pulse Two, Logic Pro and I begin to have problems with re-arranging, cutting, pasting, inserting (irrespective of how much consultation with the manual). Tempo maps are sometimes included in the cut and paste, sometimes not. Similarly for time signatures and other arrangement features where small errors in earlier mapping often lead to much larger inconsistencies when arranging, repeating and duplicating audio events6. Results are often inconsistent and it would appear that no end of trials or attention to skills necessarily improves the situation (also documented by other users). Additionally and centrally, the more complex the work becomes, the larger the demands on the ‘native’ computing horse-power, the more the sound quality begins to deteriorate7.
  • One of the most respected professional DAW platforms is that of Avid ProTools, its use almost universal for professional music-making in the US in particular. I own this as well and indeed is my preference much work in past years. However, to this point I had been extremely reserved about its use in such project as the one described here, i) because of a general perception that its tools were not appropriate or well developed enough for this kind of musical analysis and mapping, or ii) that perhaps I had never worked hard enough to learn just how to use Pro Tools for these kinds of purposes. Whichever the case, my modus operandi to date was to use both Logic Pro and Pro Tools together, by usilising the strengths of both8 – Logic for this kind of preparatory work, then to export to Pro Tools for on-going and final production. This does tend to be one-directional though, and much harder to re-import back into Logic Pro by any kind of fluid means.

Figure 3: Additional drums, keyboards and guitars for Pulse Two (remix) in Pro Tools.

This last component of the process brings considerations worth framing here because of their on-going development across the lineage of the three works:

  • From a collection of 12 well-loved and intimately understood guitars, I chose my cream Jeff Beck Stratocaster for this piece. All of my guitars have had rather intense technical modifications, tweaks, and adjustments by myself over the years and from this perspective – they were most certainly understood as ‘technical objects’. Technologies made of wood, strings, electronics and various hardware attachments, but where the finessing of the sum of the parts makes for so much more in their whole – as a musical instrument and at best, an open channel for the friction-free communication of musical ideas (Draper, 2010a). This guitar was subsequently not chosen because of its technical attributes, but rather because of strong memories of earlier music, the ‘talking’ sounds it can produce by playing with the fingers (vs. the plectrum), the use of the vibrato arm, and the association of how this instrument ‘speaks’ under extreme distortion and in how this would seem responsive to communicating with the similar musical attributes I found in the didj.
  • I also imagined artistic outcomes based on assumed old habits for recording though guitar amplifiers, guitar FX pedal board and microphones. That is, the accoutrements of live or external recording studio performances and the association of these earlier emotions with the new didj piece here and now. I recorded this accordingly, but in hindsight, guitar amplifier volume levels were not especially appropriate to home studio recording, the family and the neighbours. On further reflection, I was avoiding the use of some excellent, but less well understood technology (for me) in the use of ‘Direct Inject’ (Dis) and headphones, or at least monitoring through studio speakers at a non-intrusive sound level. Here then I was working with old conceptions of ‘epistemic things’ and wanting to keep them that way in a desire to smooth the overall creative process and especially in terms of the improvisation demanded in these electric guitar recordings. However, as the piece worked its way to conclusion, it became clearer that this ‘automatic’ approach didn’t actually produce the desired effect, the associations I had in my head.

Figure 4: Pulse Two (remix) final arrangement in Pro Tools.

Track 1: Pulse Two (remix) final mix [3:30].

What I see as more pertinent here then is a summary of just what dissatisfaction occurs for me, what is outstanding, and in how I subsequently aim to respond to this, as follows:

  • Periods of improvisation, creativity, or what I understand as ‘flow states’ (Csíkszentmihályi, 1996) are not as extended or as regular as I would aspire for them to be. While the final work may appear to represent some achievements in this respect, ‘behind the scenes’ there remained a great deal of re-focusing ‘a different part of the brain’ on technical issues, for example: dealing with the DAW limitations, being aware of noise level and/or quality of sound and performance, lack of familiarity with certain technical objects that I did my best to ignore in pursuit of ‘pushing though’ to some self-imposed deadline or outcome.
  • More specifically:
  • how to improve my guitar playing and overall sound production;
  • how to better the annoyances of the software not doing what I want or expect from it;
  • how to better incorporate the freedom of live performance with the confines of a bedroom-based home studio;
  • and/or, if the association with an earlier research project (Draper, 2012) might need a re-think, or to move on and further leverage those ideas with new applications?
  • how to better manage this seemingly constant flux between ‘epistemic things’ and ‘technical objects’, where in this artist’s studio, a lack of respect for the latter may stop everything.

3. Here I believe it useful to identify that I understand this particular use of the Logic Pro DAW as an ‘epistemic thing’ (Borgdorff, 2012). My earlier extensive work with this technology had made me confortable with the process, intuitive, fluid and improvisational even – where I only thought about the music itself and what it might mean to me, with no regard to ‘operating’ or investigating the use of the DAW as a ‘technical object’ (Ibid). This is in contrast to later processes where such matters shift dramatically.

2. Here and throughout I provide DAW sound file arrangements as scores to indicate the developing process. This form of notation is common in the sound production disciplines, while being better indicative of the actual performances vs. the use of traditional musical notation scores. While notational score might have been provided as yet another visual representation of time-based works in sound, it would serve little purpose in this particular exposition.

10. A later version can be heard in Extract 3, the foundation and beginnings of the Go Fish piece.

9. And so I held that thought. This matter directly led to further exploration and the partial resolution of such problems in the subsequent creation of two new works, Go Fish and Over the Reef (Transfuser remix).

8. Logic Pro is based on a MIDI platform developed by Gerhard Lengling and Chris Young in Germany for the Atari computer in the late 1980s and later sold to US Apple Inc. Its underlying premise was the solo musician, sequencing, arranging and score for works that incorporated synthesisers, samplers and other externally-hosted sound devices. Audio recording was added much later. ProTools began its life via US Digidesign around the same time, but based solely on audio recording and production for the Apple Mac and professional recording studios. MIDI, synthesizers and score were added later when it was sold to Avid. Two different lineages that would appear to converge now in the contemporary music-making world, but which in fact still differ at their core.

6. At a very close read, many of these small errors are present in the final Pulse Two (remix) carried over and struggled with in the work itself, but this problem solving also leading to new works in the following two pieces.

7. This topic is the feature of much discussion in the professional record production community, ‘In-the-Box’ (ITB) vs. ‘Out-of-the-Box’ (OTB) mixing, the use of ‘plug-ins’, CPU native processing vs. hardware, etc. Less expensive computer-hosted systems provide less quality than professional combinations of hardware and software. ‘You get what you pay for’.

5. This thinking comes from the Remixing Modernism project (2010) where I produced a double CD set as two interpretations of the same works, one as the ‘horizontal album’ (traditional editing and production across the time axis), the other as the ‘vertical album’ (with much obvious sonic re-mixing and interpretation down the vertical ‘score’ axis).

11. Such expediency being not at all unusual in the hidden rooms of recording studios, in my experience.

4. This was to become a common occurrence, indeed modus operandi for the managing of such asynchronous exchanges with both local musicians and those abroad. Rather than wait for a response and perhaps lose the creative flow in my own space, I kept moving. In many ways though, the ‘out of sync’ inputs and outputs influenced the projects in useful ways to challenge one’s thinking, re-set performance and improvisation skills and so on. Rather then be viewed as an obstacle, as the projects developed I came to embrace the out-of-sync prompts more and more.