Saturday, August 4, 2012

Synthuzzah!

Since I quit the music business full-time and took the "day job", it's been hard to find enough time to work on projects to the point of completion, and I've had to get used to the idea that the nine hour studio session is a thing of the past with me.  I have to be selective about the projects I choose to pursue, and set a different standard for "productivity" when I'm in the Secret Underground Laboratory.  I've learned to feel a sense of accomplishment even from an hour or two spent just noodling, editing, or making a sketchy demo take that might be turned into a complete piece down the road a ways.  It's wrecked havoc with my outside collaborations, but I've had to be choosy there as well.  I still respect you guys and gals--I've just got to empty my own head first before I can be of any use elsewhere.  Sometimes it jes be's that way...

Fortunately, the latest Tool Factory Project effort, Synthuzzah! (currently available for download from CD Baby and soon to be available on iTunes, Amazon.com and elsewhere) has been well-suited to this "hunt and peck" approach to music production.  By using music scores crunched into MIDI files (look it up...), and driving hardware and software synthesizers with those MIDI tracks, most of the actual music production is devoted to "knob-twisting": synthesizer programming, editing, and modifying the MIDI files.  This last component was actually the most time-consuming part of the production, as the process of converting a score to MIDI is almost never precise, and, in many cases, it was necessary to edit dozens (in one case, hundreds...) of note start and end times, note velocities, and, occasionally, pitch errors.  That said, this was a true labor of love, as I had absolute control over timber, dynamics, and texture of the musical voices, the end result being as close to "exactly what I had in mind" as I've ever come.

So what about the music?  Synthuzzah! is a collection of Renaissance instrumental pieces by the likes of Holborne, Dowland, Morley, Gabrieli and others, all arranged to be played on synthesizers, in the spirit of "Switched on Bach" or "The Well-Tempered Synthesizer."  I found that the distinct voice-leading and counterpoint idioms of Renaissance ensemble music lends itself well to the various timbers and textures available from classic synthesizers, and it was a delightful experience to craft bass tones and tenor tones and soprano tones that moved and morphed with the music.  Here's an example:  Gabrieli Canzona 2.  I opted to avoid use of gimmicky filter sweeps and "bloop, blorp, bleep" noise textures on this album (though I dearly love those types of sounds!) mainly because I felt the music must take first priority over the synth sounds, and the synthesizers should be used to enhance the movement of the music rather than draw attention away from it. 

As an added bonus (and as a preview for a planned follow up album!), I have included a synthesizer trio arrangement of Mozart's Divertimento #2 in Bb Major for Basset Horn Trio.  Idiomatically and melodically, Divertimento 2 is a big departure from the other music on the recording, but it also lends itself well to electronic performance, and I'm looking forward to exploring this idiom further...

I have decided to release Synthuzzah! as a digital download (MP3) only, mostly to save money, but also to reduce the amount of plastic I'm using to get my music into the world.  I will be self-producing a limited number of hard-copy CD-R's of the disc, so if you want me to make you one, let me know.  They will be available at a release party, the date for which is to be announced later.  I have also opted not to release this album for streaming by services that do not charge per-stream to play, so Synthuzzah! will not be available on Spotify, LastFM, or MySpace.  I'll share my reasons for this at a later date. 

For now, please check out the sound samples on CD Baby (available at the following link: Synthuzzah! on CDBaby) and download a track or two (or the whole album!) while you're there!  I hope you like what you hear.

Happy listening!  BE EXCELLENT TO YOURSELVES!