Try and Fail

Posted by on Oct 10, 2014 in Song Analysis | No Comments

A new track for you, and I thought I might as well talk a little bit how it came to be.  But of course, first things first…

vt100 – Try and Fail

This song was three or so years in the making.  Three years ago I was still getting my feet wet, my main focus was on drum programming.  Working with Logic and Battery, much time was spent bettering my ability to use one-shot samples to make grooving dynamic drum riffs.  Now adays I wouldn’t normally put this much effort into programming drums (trying different techniques) but there’s value in what I learned.  Making the drum loop, here are some things I did:

  • Velocity modulate filters, volume, and sample tails (release or sample end time, depending on my mood)
  • Program drums to a grid and apply mpc templates to replicate the swing
  • Delays to help things not feel so rigid

When I was programming the drums I was actually experimenting with the replication of a fairly specific snare techniuque; the flam.  What’s a flam?  I’m glad you asked – its effectively when you hit your snare with two sticks that land at slightly separate times.  Its an accent.  You can google it if you’d like to know more.  Replay the song, you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

I wrote the primary couple of drum loops in the song and then moved to synth work.  The drum loop reminded me a lot of my old band and at the time I was in a dark space.  Two things resulted from this:

  1. Some really weird evil circus sounding shit
  2. I wanted a big in your face sound

Another thing I was really experimenting with at the time was how I might use the pitch wheel in the track.  The only thing that ended up surviving from the two notes above was that big pitch shifty bass.  Its the thing that, I hope anyway, slaps you in the face.  I call it a chorus.

I didn’t have the skills to finish the song.  I just had this weird clown riff followed by this dark dying bass sound.  The song was shelved.  I really liked it though, so I didn’t throw it out.  Periodically I would go through old project folders and see what I wanted to say.  All I needed was an idea I thought could be something some day.  I’ve still got a plethora of these ideas laying around.  Eventually, as you might have guessed, the time came up where I was inspired again; this was 3 years later.

Yea, I’ve advanced somewhat.  I really want this riff in a song for my album.  Goals enough, so I picked it up to work on again.  Flam (the working title) was one of five songs I had shelved for a long time that I desperately wanted to finish.  Now I’ve got more experience under my belt, surely I can wrap this up.

The first thing that happened was me trying to see what I liked from the old group of ideas.  The drum line, the big bass thing, but the rest… I struggled with the rest.  After a couple nights of getting no where, time to throw stuff out.   I find that making the decision to lose something helps unhinge me. Threw stuff out I did.  I decided I wanted to play with a couple of techniques/sounds in this track that I’ve been toying with recently:

  • I’m really into side chaining gates with kicks right now.  The first track I really did this on was Someone ran down the road screaming.  The second, very recently, was The C is Silent
  • I recently upgraded to Blue2 – it just happens to have some choir sounds that I fucking love.  I also used them on The C is Silent.
  • Heavy use of automation to make single instruments into multiple instruments, as well as add dynamics to the song.  A technique I attribute to trance, but I wanted to apply it in a more rock context.  The idea here is, think about guitars.  We often hear them clean and then a chorus kicks in and they are distorted.  Its a technique of applying contrast through effects.  I wanted to do that here.
  • At least one organic sound in the song.  This is a ‘rule of thumb’ i’m trying to get into the habit of.  I find it just adds a certain depth to the tracks.  At least one, but more than one is okay.  In this case I went with strings, as I love strings.  These come from LASS.  For the record, I totally stole this idea from Virtual Boy (i think it was them anyways, there was a video of their studio where they say this).
  • I wanted this song to have some complexity.  The C is Silent was very linear imho, I wanted different parts, and bunch of them.

Keeping the so called chorus piece in place, I toyed and played with all the ideas above.  I ended up applying the choir controlled via side chained gate, and heavily affected, some fx on the violins, and a simple synth riff and added it to the main.  Then, I took those sounds and attempted to write some new loops.

I thought I’d pull the effects way down, to provide some contrast versus the big heavy riff.  With the synth sound (the one you hear in the beginning), I wrote a melody.  It was long and had a lot of notes in it with little breathing room.  I then wrote a violin melody as counter point.  I made the chords of the choir part to harmonize with the two.

This yielded two 8 bar blocks for the song.  One was melodically based, and the other was more of a build up and used more of the effects and less of the melody.  I’ll point them out in the structure in a bit.  The next thing I wanted was to be able to bring the song down a bit – create a bridge.  I started by writing a new choir chord progression, trying to play nice with the rules of bach’s chorale style.  I thought it might go dubby at first, I started writing a bass line, played with a lot of sounds.

The bridge was sucking hardcore.  I burned about a week on it.  I decided to work on something else.  I needed an intro too.  Not that I fully remember how this all worked out, I took that synth melody.  You know, the one with a lot of notes?  It was too busy.  I literally cut out half of it.  All of a sudden I was left with a melody for the intro that I was super in love with.

This ended up inspiring the rest of the song.  The choir bridge chords were pulled into the intro, but shifted an octave down, and the effects removed.  The melody moved to the bridge.  I more or less removed the synth melody from other parts of the song, and decided to let the strings carry the main melody.  Since the strings and the synth were written to conform to a theme (you’ll hear it), it ended up working very well and provided a lot of variation.

At this point I’m left with a second ‘verse’ that sounds way too similar to the first.  I adjusted a lot of the effects and added a couple layers.  I still wanted more difference.  I thought about the violins as though they were a singer.  A singer is going to sing similar sounding, but different words on the second verse of the song.  Applying my theme to the second verse, I wrote a new but relatable melody.

And that is that, minus you know.. a bunch of other stuff.

Structure etc

Here’s the structure of the song.  Each section is 8 bars, well, sort of.

I – V1 – P1 – C1 – V2 – P2 – C2 – B – C3 – O

It sort of mimics a verse-chorus pop/rock structure.  There are some differences here.  The P I used to mean ‘prechorus’ – its that build up part.  Its 8 bars long.  Pre-choruses are usually a couple of bars, not a whole big section.  Perhaps music theory people have a better word for this.

Each chorus is actually 9 bars.  There’s a 1 bar 4 count that leads into each one.  This was to create a bigger impact when the bass hit.  The outro is a couple of bars.

The song is actually 145 bpm as far as Logic is concerned.  Its amazing how programming of the instruments makes your bpm more or less irrelevant.

The Key is Bm.. I think.  I don’t remember.  But the tonic is definitnely a B and I never write in major keys.  It’s probably an offshoot melodic minor or something.  I’m too lazy to look it up.

Concept

This song actually relates to a larger concept project I’m working on.  In the description you might notice I talk about the accident.  I’m telling a story and this track is part of it.  Here’s the accident, in case you forgot about it:

 

Dedication

The completion of this track was, unfortunately, inspired by some very tragic events.  They happened as I was in the middle of my resurgence on it.  The music helped me put some feelings into reality and very much affected the tone I took the song.  There’s something about the hope of an attempt, and how crushing those failures can be.  I wanted this song to reflect that.

This song is dedicated to my dear friend, we call him Tom.