Writing Music with Simple Sounds

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wuff_miggler
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Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by wuff_miggler »

I've been reading a really great book recently MUSIC MAKING: Creative Strategies for Electronic Musicians.
https://makingmusic.ableton.com/

Such an amazing book which i highly recommend to anyone who feels they are in a production rut.
One of the tips within i wanted to open up for discussion, maybe to get help on its implementation i guess?

The problem goes as follows:

You have a melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic
idea in your head. But when you sit down
at your DAW to try to capture it, you usually
begin by trying to find or create the right
sounds to match the idea. And somewhere
along the way, the idea itself gets lost


The solution goes as follows:
Instead of starting by trying to find the perfect sounds, try starting
with the simplest sounds you can find. General MIDI or other “generic”
presets are good for this exercise.

Although generic electronic sounds work well for this, an even better
solution is to write using an acoustic instrument like a guitar or piano
(if you play one). Acoustic instruments serve dual purposes here. As
with General MIDI sounds, they help to get you out of sound-design
thinking so you can focus on the music. But they also help you get out
of DAW thinking entirely. By removing the computer from the picture for
a while, we’re more likely to avoid distraction and really force ourselves
to write with our ears instead of our eyes.


I've heard many people talk about this, from traditional composers working with a piano to sketch out the sound of an entire symphony , to electronic musicians writing music with just an acoustic guitar. How useful is such a technique when working with genres that can be more "timbrally" oriented than "melodically" oriented. Im refering to dnb, some minimal types of dubstep, minimal techno and so on, where the very genre relies on filter workouts for example. Or rather where the very sounds themselves, processed in a particular way MAKE the song. Is a technique like this still helpful in these scenarios?
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KSS
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by KSS »

Voice is an always available timbrally diverse 'analog' source. You dont need to be a singer. Press record and start singing. This is a rough draft to capture the moment or idea.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by wuff_miggler »

^ i like that. i've thought about it before. but for whatever reason the idea of beatboxing crazy electronic sounds makes me laugh and cringe. Im promising myself to give this a go today in ernest :-) Thanks for the push KSS.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by Technologear? »

Hey Wuff, I do what KSS suggested too. I have really lame voice memos in my phone of me making techno sequences like a 7yo with his first tape recorder. What's also interesting is that no matter how bad your voice performance is, you'll recall what you had in your head when you listen back.

I also use the 'simple device to create' strategy. I use a digital piano with only 6 classics in it (like Rhodes), and an old Casio keyboard with 12 cheesy tones. If whatever I create sounds good using that cheese fest, then I'm well positioned to pursue the track ideas with better sounds.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by naturligfunktion »

The guitar is great to sketch out harmonic ideas, melodies and rhythmic patterns. I find it great to also work on smooth voice leadings between chords. It makes me think in a different way, and it is so easy to try out different ideas.

I record a lot on the phone and I always have a note book to write things down. Later I can use those ideas, and develop them into fuller arrangements. That would be the time to ponder timbre and sound

I suppose this applies to any instrument.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by SkyWriter »

KSS wrote: Wed Jan 12, 2022 4:54 pm Voice is an always available timbrally diverse 'analog' source. You dont need to be a singer. Press record and start singing. This is a rough draft to capture the moment or idea.
I do this too, although there's no recording involved. if I can't sing it, I can't play it. and if I don't have the notes down, the 'sound design' is premature.

I used to save little bits and piece of ideas on tape and go over them for ideas when I had none.

now I just sit and work it out based on what's in my head - not like there's anything better to do!

sometimes I just play without thinking about it - let my fingers find a progression - when I hear something I like, I work on that. important not to let muscle memory take over though; too many musical ruts ended there.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by wuff_miggler »

^ FL studio has a neat function to use the typing keyboard as a midi keyboard for teh DAW, BUT with a twist,
they recently added a drop down to change it from chromatic, to different scales/modes of major scales...as well as :

*change the octave
*change the root key the scales are based
*do combos where there are single notes, and some simple chords.

It's pretty amazing for someone like me...who always writes in C minor lol.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by mat1 »

I like the basic idea of this but I find it easier to work with sounds that are already in my "palette" so the vibe is already there.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by Scories »

I get the point, but It's not always easy to export a sequence from a sound to another; a very specific timbre might inspire you a very specific melodic line that might solund flat with any other timbre.

The last part of the quote reminds me of an Autechre interview on which they said that they turn off the computer screen when listening to their mixes so the visual aspect of the curves of the mixes, volumes and fades does not take over the music itself.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by Ears »

The demo for Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough is a great example of this. The song grooves even played on pop bottles and a cheap organ.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by SkyWriter »

love ^^^ that tune.

the guitar is so funky.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by naturligfunktion »

Ears wrote: Fri Jan 14, 2022 9:54 am The demo for Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough is a great example of this. The song grooves even played on pop bottles and a cheap organ.
Wow!

Still funky as hell! Thanks for sharing mate
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by wuff_miggler »

mat1 wrote: Fri Jan 14, 2022 9:14 am I like the basic idea of this but I find it easier to work with sounds that are already in my "palette" so the vibe is already there.
speaking of palette...

separating sound design tasks from "writing" tasks has been a fantastic boon to my productitivity. I'm not sure HOW i ever did this, but...every time i used to fire up my DAW i'd go from "looking for samples", "designing synth patches" to "writing and arranging" in the same sitting. No wonder i kept feeling i was loosing steam.

One thing somewhat related to this topic is something i think i started another thread about - just 'playing', i did some sound design sessions the other day (long recordings doodling, and fishing for pockets where my patches freak out...very successfully). closed that down, opened up in a fresh new session and just found a cool loop within that recording, tapped tempo to get the session bpm....then started wrecklessly throwing sounds on the timeline. I was pretty blown away by how something so low effort sounded 1000% more inspired/creative/unhinged than anything i spent hours agonising over.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by Boneoh »

wuff_miggler wrote: Wed Jan 12, 2022 4:47 pm ...

The solution goes as follows:
Instead of starting by trying to find the perfect sounds, try starting
with the simplest sounds you can find. General MIDI or other “generic”
presets are good for this exercise.


Yes! Works for me!

I usually start work on a new track using just a VCO and VCA until I can get to a critical mass. Then alternate between adding filters + effects and fine tuning the melody, rhythm, etc. until I'm happy.

Or occasionally give up and move on.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by nuromantix »

Like everything, it just depends, doesn't it? If you want to work out some chords or a melody, a piano is a great tool. If you want to make a rinsing jungle tune there's not much point in delaying going to the sounds you are gonna use. I do find some of my favourite tracks are ones where I didnt have a chance to go to the studio so I had to just remember the notes and chords on my head for a few days or weeks. But then I really like notes and Harmony etc
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by p@@@nts »

wuff_miggler wrote: Fri Jan 14, 2022 7:24 pm
mat1 wrote: Fri Jan 14, 2022 9:14 am I like the basic idea of this but I find it easier to work with sounds that are already in my "palette" so the vibe is already there.
speaking of palette...

separating sound design tasks from "writing" tasks has been a fantastic boon to my productitivity. I'm not sure HOW i ever did this, but...every time i used to fire up my DAW i'd go from "looking for samples", "designing synth patches" to "writing and arranging" in the same sitting. No wonder i kept feeling i was loosing steam.

One thing somewhat related to this topic is something i think i started another thread about - just 'playing', i did some sound design sessions the other day (long recordings doodling, and fishing for pockets where my patches freak out...very successfully). closed that down, opened up in a fresh new session and just found a cool loop within that recording, tapped tempo to get the session bpm....then started wrecklessly throwing sounds on the timeline. I was pretty blown away by how something so low effort sounded 1000% more inspired/creative/unhinged than anything i spent hours agonising over.
That settles it- I've been meaning to do both of these things for years- and I too feel like I lose steam _aaallll_ the time. I really appreciate this thread!
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by Synthacon »

Look at Vince Clarke... writes all on guitar/piano and then uses his huge collection of gear. He seems to have a suitably long career to tell me he might be on to something 🤔
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by Katherine Alicia »

Quite a few of my tracks started off as plain sine waves being sequenced, the funny part is that for some tracks I`v left a few parts as sine waves because they fit quite nicely.
For everything else I`m either at my piano working stuff out or using a basic patch on my Reface CS, both will have a pencil and notepad nearby.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by Gringo Starr »

I rarely hear something in my head that turns into a new song. Usually I’ll have a guitar part or piano part and then throughout the day I’ll hear other parts I can add to what already exists. For me it all starts with noodling around on a guitar or piano. I guess if my songs started in my head then finding the simplest sound to start the recording/developing process would definitely be ideal. Makes sense.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by wuff_miggler »

the more this thread goes on - the more (as per nuromantix post) i'm pretty sure the "simple sounds" method works best for sounds that are easily replaceable. Ie. drums, acoustic instruments and so on.

As with everything - "it depends" were some very wise words.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by Ashley Pomeroy »

Interesting topic. It depends on the material. If I'm writing melodic music I treat it as a film script or musical score. I want to make sure that the tune is solid before I add any production, so I record the whole thing with EXS24's default grand piano fed through a delay. My philosophy is that if it sounds good played as a simple piano tune it'll probably sound good with angel trumpets and devil trombones. Furthermore there's a Folk Songs of the American West quality to it, e.g. perhaps one day someone else will record a version of my tune, and they might want to know the notes.

Then I split the tune into individual parts that I record separately. This is a very simple example done deliberately in the style of Brian Eno's Music for Films. It's obviously just a simple chord progression arranged for M-Tron, Odyssey, a Meris Hedra, and Supermassive. Arranging a tune is an art in itself and can drastically alter everything. I remember a clip on Youtube of Billie Currie playing "Fade to Grey" as a piano piece... and when I say Billy Currie I mean Christopher Payne, a different man entirely:


A similar man, cut from the same cloth. But a different man. It also raises the obvious problem that it's tempting with piano music to add lots and lots of notes, Philip Glass-style, instead of held chords. This is as problem because that kind of thing is annoying to turn back into held chords.

Conversely the score-then-record model wouldn't work at all for groove-based, performance-based sequencer-driven music, unless you think of the score as a framework, or a suggestion, as with classical jazz music. e.g. "this piece is moderately fast, in Dorian, now follow my lead". Another factor is that the sound of the music is as important as the notes. This excellent song by Solar Fields, "Air Song (3am Version)" would require a lot of work to sound good with a piano because it only has a handful of notes. I picked that because it's not totally ambient - there's melody - but the soundscape lifts it. There's something about the deeee, doo-dee-doo bassline in the last half that's affecting even though it's just deeee, doo-dee-doo.

In that case I take an iterative approach, recording the parts and tweaking them as necessary. I often wonder if people like Solar Fields have a vision of how the music is suppose to sound in their head - "this bit will have a lonely-sounding bleep noise" - or if they assemble a bunch of production tricks they have learned, or if they pick a sound at random and tweak it until it pleases them. Perhaps we all have a different approach.
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Re: Writing Music with Simple Sounds

Post by wuff_miggler »

this topic is really making me think. One thing that is clear to me is that despite weather the producer has a vision for exactly how songs are going to sound, their taste is the guiding compass throughout the entire process.

i have been working out a granular plugin with a 2 minute simple synth recording. and i've been doing it over 1 bar loop of my own sound design.
It's pretty incredible how you can forget that its a 1 bar loop of drums when the synth work gets above a certain level of engaging.
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