Jeff's online journal, ramblings, whatever.

Archive for November, 2009

52 Weeks – Week 8 – Dun dun dun!

Explanation of the 52 Weeks Project

Today’s piece of music is:

Dun dun dun!

A funny thing happened after high school. During most of my high school career I had written for two basic formats: SaXon Geat, and Travels. Consequently, I had a good amount of experience writing for both a pit orchestra and a ska band minus guitar (yeah, yeah, I know). Now, all of the SaXon Geat stuff I’d done hadn’t been under a deadline or under any pressure or even really for a client (since none of my songs actually got performed by the band anyway). However, both Travels and the stuff I wrote for assignments during my first year of college were obviously under more constraints, both in terms of creativity and time. So somehow, whenever I wrote anything that wasn’t for a specific purpose (to blow off steam, to explore musical ideas, etc.) I defaulted to writing another SaXon Geat-type song, i.e. writing for a rhythm section (bass, drums, keyboard), and a brass section (trumpet, trombone, tenor and alto sax), even though the band itself had long since been disbanded.

“Dun dun dun!” was one such piece. It never really had an official title, and was just something I wrote for no particular reason during the summer of 2001. While not a particularly inspired piece, it still possessed a fair amount of energy driving it, even in this early MIDI incarnation. The bass was a better sample than usual, it had a synth lead, and some strings were used for a pad (which is something I actually do a lot, I’ve noticed; even in my most recent work.) The sounds had a certain fluidity that built upon each other and created a smooth, driving, groove experience. All except the brass sounds. Since I still always wrote a part for the brass, we’ve got one here, accenting the off-beats of beats three and four. However, since the brass sounds I had at the time were atrocious, they seem to interrupt the flow the music is trying to create rather than add to it. The result is a potentially awesome sound ruined by this “eeh-eeh” every measure. Hopefully, I learned my lesson. If memory serves, this was the very last piece I wrote with that instrumentation thrown in there as a throwback to SaXon Geat days. All the songs I’ve written since then that have a brass section have had one because I wanted that type of sound in the piece, not simply because they were there by default, and I think it’s improved my compositional techniques.

The piece is still fun to listen to, despite the horrible brass sounds (and the fact that it’s basically just a 50-second loop).

Coming up next week: “New,” yet another untitled SaXon Geat-esque work!


52 Weeks – Week 7 – Phrustration

Explanation of the 52 Weeks Project

Today’s piece of music is:


Of all the more “serious” pieces I’ve written, this is definitely one of my top three or so. “Phrustration” was originally written for my final project in a music theory class, proving that I could write a modal piece: in this case, the Phrygian mode. It was just a piano piece, with a person saying, “Frustration!” every so often and screaming and breaking glass near the end. Phrygian mode + Frustration = Phrustration! I originally planned to do it with Casey coming in and breaking a bottle, but he bailed on me literally in the last minute, causing me to grab some random girl from the class to do it instead (with no bottle break), which didn’t work nearly as well, but whatever; I passed the class.

A year and a half or so later, I brought this piece back and orchestrated it to present at my junior recital. It was the first real project I worked on using Logic Pro, the program I’ve used nearly exclusively since then. For the recital I once again brought Casey back (this time he showed up, too!), and we worked out a whole routine where he was sitting at home trying to do homework or something, but increasingly frustrating things started happening: he broke his pencil, he spilled his drink all over his homework, he couldn’t find anything to watch on TV, he got his foot stuck in the wastebasket, he asked a girl out on the phone only to find out she got married, etc. etc. Near the end he was supposed to smash a picture frame against the desk and scream. Now, I had dubbed in the glass breaking sound on the track and taken out the glass from the frame to make sure Casey didn’t injure anything in the auditorium. However, he replaced the glass before the number and actually smashed it against the desk sending glass flying everywhere. Now, keep in mind that this was in the Maeser building on BYU campus, and the first row of audience members is maybe three feet away. Luckily nobody was hurt, but it kind of brought everyone out of the moment when suddenly they have to fear for their safety. And for the rest of the night Casey was trying to clean it up while I continued with the recital. So, in short, both times I’ve performed this in front of an audience it really has been frustrating.

In any case, I love the Phrygian mode. It’s extremely dark, the second darkest of all the church modes, but it’s not so dark as to lose a sense of finality, as the darkest mode, the Locrian, does. The Locrian mode may imply a sense of loss, spiraling into madness and uncertainty, a despair so deep that it is not understandable. The Phrygian, in contrast, portrays the same level of despair, but without any of the madness. It is a final hopeless loss, one that can be understood but from which there is no escape. The lowered second (which is the difference between the Phrygian mode and the plain ol’ minor key)is what really drives the despair home. In a minor key there can be victory: a villainous victory, but a victory nonetheless. But in the Phrygian mode there can be no victory, not for the protagonist anyway. The opposing forces have overcome him, and he is aware of it all, but unable to surmount any of it. In a way that makes this piece and the one I just wrote last week sort of companion pieces if you will. In this one he is driven to the depths, but in the other he finds redemption and can soar once again.

It was also with this piece that I learned a lot of tricks I hadn’t quite been able to master to make my pieces sound more realistic, especially with the cymbal rolls, orchestral swells, glockenspiel, and harp glissandos. I’m still working on the brass, but I think the rest of it sounds real enough that people don’t automatically say, “That sounds like a video game!”

Interestingly enough, this piece was featured on my last 52 weeks project as well (the one that only lasted four weeks).

Coming up next week: “Dun dun dun!” (And no, that’s not just a dramatic introduction of next week’s piece; it’s the actual name.)

Into the ether

All right, I’m sick of this. I’ve been doing these “52 weeks” posts for, what, seven weeks now, and not a single comment. Not. One. I already know these songs, people! I’m not doing this for myself! I want to get feedback! But since nobody’s said a word, I’m going to assume that either 1) people have stopped reading this blog, and it’s like the old Angelfire days again, where I can post personal things without fear of repercussion, or 2) nobody besides myself actually cares about my music. And I don’t mean in the “I care about you, Jeff, so I care about the things that you do” way, but in the “I am actively involved in the consumption of the product you produce” way. You see the difference? One shows a love (or obligation) toward the person, one shows an acceptance of the music itself. And only the second one will help me believe that I can make a living doing this. Since I’ve gotten no feedback, though, I guess I can’t. Because nobody cares about it. Let me reiterate: I’m not saying nobody cares about me, but that nobody cares about my music. At least not enough to add one little comment in nearly two months’ worth of posts on the subject, which, let’s face it, takes a minimal amount of effort.

This especially hurt with the piece I posted last Tuesday. I may not have entirely conveyed it, but that piece was my favorite I’ve done all year, and a true expression of the essence of what I’m trying to convey to the world through my music. Well, if the world doesn’t give a damn about the song that best expresses who I am, what does that say about me? If the song that means the most to me doesn’t even arouse a single person to make the smallest of comments, even when I post it on my Facebook page too, then what the hell am I doing here? Obviously I’m incapable of touching the chords of other people’s hearts, no matter how hard I try. And that’s the reason I got into music in the first place. And that just reiterates a point I’ve tried to make several times, with varying amounts of success: that I’m a different breed of person, and so hard to understand sometimes that most people have just given up trying, which is a major factor why I’m 27 and still single and haven’t been able to hold onto a girlfriend for more than a month.

Now, I fully expect to get a few, “No, it’s OK, Jeff, I still think you’re awesome” comments on this post. If I’m lucky a few of you may go back to those earlier posts and comment “Sounds good!” But I don’t need anyone’s pity. I don’t need this to be like when I was in elementary school with no friends and one day I burst into tears in front of the whole class and during the next recess a few people thought it was their duty to be nice to me, a duty which, once fulfilled for a recess, left me in the same place: friendless. If you’re not going to be sincere, I don’t need it. All the “You’re a good guy” comments would seem hollow. Actions speak louder than words. But if you are going to be sincere; if you are willing to take the time to listen to what I’ve got to say through what I write, and most importantly, stick with it because you like the music (or alternatively, you don’t like it and are willing to tell me why, which would be even more important), then I’ll keep making those posts. Otherwise I’m done posting music here. This blog will just become somewhere that I post funny Youtube videos once every six months or so. But that’s OK; it won’t be a big loss. One can’t disappoint an audience that doesn’t exist. (And hey, if the reason I’ve got no comments is actually that nobody’s reading this blog anymore anyway, then nobody will read this rant and nobody will feel guilty! It’s a win-win!)

Factor X

For years I’ve been looking for the “it” factor when it comes to music. The one unidentifiable attribute that separates music that I fall in love with from music that I like. That separates the music with a good beat, catchy lyrics (if it’s a song), interesting orchestration, or whatever, from music in which you can take solace and forget yourself. Music you can wrap up in, like a blanket on a snowy night, and just let flow through you.

Several attributes have sprung to mind at different times. Some I’ve outlined in earlier posts. Whatever it is, I still haven’t been able to codify it yet. I’ve got a “Contemplative” playlist, consisting of nearly 1,500 songs (out of the 13,729 that I have on my hard drive) that somehow reach my heart in this way, and it’s as diverse of a list of music as you can get, ranging from predictable choices like arranged hymns and “The Luckiest” by Ben Folds, to less predictable, but understandable (if you know me), choices, like remixes of tunes from Chrono Trigger or the theme from Superman, to completely random picks like Weird Al’s “Hardware Store” or Homestar Runner singing “Todaybor Day is Labor Day.” All of these songs, to varying degrees, possess this “Factor X.”

I’ve tried to emulate it in certain songs I’ve written. Some of them I’ve tried and tried but they never quite clicked (such as “House of Saints” or “Cavernous Triumph”), others I’ve gotten pretty close (like “Lightning” or “Phrustration”), but even those two aren’t quite there yet (“Lightning” gets awfully busy at times, while “Phrustration” is too much of a downer).

Speaking of feeling down, I’ve been rather depressed lately for various reasons, the biggest being yet another birthday spent as an undergrad, so yesterday I took an afternoon off and poured out my soul in the best way I know how: into music. Spending an afternoon and a good chunk of the evening working on this resulted in the closest I’ve ever gotten to encapsulating perfectly that “Factor X.” And so, in lieu of a “52 Weeks” post this week, I’d like to share it with you. I don’t have lyrics for it yet, but I may never have lyrics for it. I’ll leave the interpretation of the music up to the listener, where it’s sure to be more personally affecting.

Here it is.

What do you think? Does it possess that factor for you?

52 Weeks – Week 6 – Ode to Spot

Explanation of the 52 Weeks Project

Vic and Spot

Today’s piece of music is:

Ode to Spot

Felis Catus is your taxonomic nomenclature.
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses
contribute to your hunting skills, and natural defenses.
I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations,
a singular development of cat communications
that obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
for a rhythmic stroking of your fur, to demonstrate affection.
A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents;
you would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilized to aide in locomotion,
it often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.
O Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array.
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend,
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.

Written by Data for his pet cat Spot (actually written by Brannon Braga for the ST:TNG episode “Schisms”), the Ode to Spot is one of the more memorable little pieces of Star Trek that fans enjoy. To quote the whole thing is a true sign of Trekkieness. But to set the whole thing to music — well! It just needed to happen! So, for my junior recital, I did just that, and sang it with three myselves (if that’s a word) three times. How, you may ask? Let this recording from my actual junior recital tell you (part 1/part 2).

Jaff, Joff, and Juff were drawings of myself on the chalkboard made by Johnathan Whiting, and at the end I erased their mouths, so that no more villainous characters could make me sing it again. This was one of the funnest parts of my recital, and although the song itself is nothing groundbreaking, it’s still a fun little tune set to a very memorable set of lyrics (memorable not in anybody’s ability to actually remember the words, but just remember that they heard something so ludicrous). This was also before I learned how to pronounce “hedonistic,” apparently.

Coming up next week: Phrustration!

The Worf Effect

And now for something completely different: Worf getting beat up. A lot.

52 Weeks – Week 5 – I’ve Got Rhythm

Explanation of the 52 Weeks Project


Today’s piece of music is:

I’ve Got Rhythm

Pimp Lando is a series made by Casey Wayman, Billy Grant, and myself from 1998 until, well, we’re still going on it (we’re working on the tenth later this month). The seventh installment was made shortly after our respective missions, about four years after the sixth was finished, so we knew we needed to pick up the series with a bang. So we decided to make it a musical! Instead of writing original songs, however, we just rewrote lyrics from songs from famous musicals, particularly The Phantom of the Opera. This particular ditty closes out the show, where the story’s been wrapped up, Lando’s got the girl (who he loses in the epilogue), and everyone joins in a song-and-dance number. It makes a bit more sense after viewing the episode in its entirety, but not much.

I’m working on fixing Pimp Lando 7 in order to upload a video of the whole thing (there are a lot of timing issues to fix), but for now, I’ve at least got a video of this song up:

Coming up next week: Ode to Spot!

(Oddly enough, flickr gave me no response to the search term “Pimp Lando Rhythm” so I just got a screenshot from the episode.)