I love Deadmau5. I think it was his Masterclass that was the final tipping point to get me to sign up for classes this fall.

I want part of my LOT300W to include some EDM-inspired parts. I was wondering, well, how did Deadmau5 do it? What is the pattern of kick drum and snare, etc. I found this video

…which was amazingly well done. The graphics were funny and vivid, and it was packed with information. I let out a holler of delight when I found out that Joel used Strobe2 (my latest softsynth purchase). Also hilarious — Joel’s source of handclap sounds. He smacks himself on the ass with a microphone.

I did find all the terminology used to describe EDM very confusing and complex. I’d like to get the taxonomy straight. I would benefit from taking notes on this vid and listening to a few more.

Meanwhile I stumbled on this

…an orchestral mix.

and this…

“If you want me to stay

I need you to know

You can never ever leave me alone”

I love how the singer repeats the words with different inflections, bringing out different shades of meaning each time. The repetition reminds me of a prayer. The lyrics were heartrending to me because I know someone who just came out of a dysfunctional relationship where one partner was destructively dependent on the other. The lyrics are a cry from the heart — “don’t abandon me” — but is this a healthy state of mind? Or a form of obsession? I know that different species can live in symbiotic relationships and in fact that is the only way they can thrive (ex coral and algae). But what about humans? Is it bad (harmful, hurtful) for us to be dependent on each other? To want (demand?) fidelity and wholeheartedness from your partner? I’m not sure — because lately I’ve seen it go horribly wrong. When I hear this vocalist’s plea, I don’t know whether to empathize… or to recommend a good therapist.

I remember times when I was dependent on another’s deep focus and engagement, and how anguished I was when these times of connection ended. I can relate to these lyrics.

In this song the rhythm moves along, like a car down a highway or the minute hand of a clock, or a heartbeat, marking off the passage of time. Floating over that unchanging rhythm is a human voice, hesitant, changeable, at times anguished and at times angry. It is a compelling combination.

I remember talking to one of my profs last semester — I mentioned New Age music and she gave a look of mild disgust. She asked — why listen to something so boring and repetitive when there is music that is so much more varied and expressive?

Because for me, the repetition is…meditative? Like a form of transportation (worm hole, time warp) into a different mindset? The format is familiar and so my mind goes down familiar paths — I remember other times I have lived / worked to this music — ex. painting the aviary while listening to “I Remember” and wondering about how a friend was doing at that moment in time. The music is a familiar companion, a mood-altering substance, a way of centering. “I remember who I was the last time I listened to this”. Usually working and moving, sometimes even dancing.

I remember “house sitting” a beautiful, near-empty house (the owners were in the process of moving their things out to sell it). I had my boom box with me, and was playing this mix from Paul van Dyk. The sound echoed, and the hardwood floors made the open plan rooms like a dance studio. I had the lights out and danced, looking out the sliding glass doors into the dark, with distant lights from neighbors’ houses shining through the trees. This feeds a part of me, the wordless part that exists in the present. It gets me out of the hamster-wheel of my usual thoughts.





Good questions!

I talked to a friend last night whom I hadn’t seen for about 6 months. She was excited for me and wanted to know all about my experiences at school.
“I LOVE it but I keep running myself into the ground. Up til 2, then up at 7 — then taking a nap if I can when I get home.

Friend — “What would you like to do differently? What would your day look like?”

Me — “Oh, spend about 4 hrs on music a day. 2 hrs on textbook stuff, one hour voice, one hour piano, and a massive binge once a week.”

Friend — “When would these 4 hrs happen?”

Me — “After dinner. Like 7 to 11 or 12.”

Friend — “What’s stopping you from doing that?”

Me — “I mess around on Twitter til about 10 pm”

Friend — “Why?”

Me — “Well, I love to know the latest memes and news. But basically I’m too groggy to work yet, because I had a nap.”

She gave me a significant look.

That evening 7:00 came. Ugh, I don’t want to work yet. So I hung out on Twitter, then watched the latest videos by Adam Neely and Sideways and Vox. Finally around midnight I started to perk up, and did the dishes (while listening to educational videos) because we are starting to get a mouse problem again and the best way to fight them is to get rid of mouse snacks in the kitchen.

Why didn’t I do homework?

Hmm…Well, I was just sort of burned out by the day; I didn’t want to deal with schoolwork yet. I wanted to rinse out my brain with something different. Adam Neely talks about taking a break from music everyday — ex. he doesn’t listen to music while driving, he puts on NPR — because otherwise he gets burned out on it.

I think my friend asked some great questions. I hope over Christmas break I can break my cycle of late night creative / work binges and then afternoon grogginess. It would be wonderful to put in 4 hrs a day of music, just for practice

Also I sure need practice with 4-part writing, because I suck at it. Whatever choices I make for the 2 inner voices, they are inevitably wrong (when we go over them in class). Even when I try to psych myself out and pick the opposite of what I think the answer is, my answer is still wrong.

How can I have aspirations of being a composer, and fail at 4-part writing?!?! It’s actually kind of interesting. I hope some sort of miracle occurs between now and the final because otherwise I will bomb it. We’re not talking Penderecki’s Threnody bomb it, more like Dark Souls “…YOU DIED”.

Current snapshot of goals

While talking to Mentor # 1 yesterday I had an opportunity to describe the composition project I would like to work on this year.

  • A suite of compositions
  • Inspired by the moods / virtual environments of a video game
  • The game is called “No Man’s Sky” and is a planet exploration game
  • In the original version of the game, the player is a solitary space traveler
  • Recently the game was updated to include multiple players
  • …which meant that the previous universe was re-written (destroyed)
  • I now have a limited amount of footage to draw from
  • This puts helpful limits on the project.
  • Create 12 themes expressing different kinds of planets and situations
  • ex. dangerous planet, beautiful planet, travel theme, farewell theme
  • Use these themes (motifs) as a basis for compositions
  • Compositions to include examples of things I’m learning about
  • such as monophony, polyphony, chamber group, orchestra
  • Write the manuscript notation of each composition (in Finale)
  • Record  and mix each composition using electronic instruments
  • Also record in “stem” form (keeping individual tracks separate)
  • This is a technique for video game soundtracks and film scores
  • NEXT year, record live instruments and voices?

Thoughts on Sight reading

I just watched this video and was inspired! Margaret Fabrizio talks about how there is a difference between “decoding” and “reading”. She acted out what it was like to be a first grade student trying to read A Tale of Two Cities. “, be, best of tims, tim-es, times”. This brought back memories of what it was like when I took organ lessons in junior high and high school. The organ came with a box of graded sheet music that started with Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and continued through folk songs and popular music. After teaching chords in the left hand in a standard position and teaching the pedals for the bass notes, it went on to have the chord symbols written over the melody staff. I stopped reading the left hand and depended on the chord symbols. I still suffered through decoding the right hand, but after stumbling through the melody several times I would have it memorized and after that could play it by ear. I can still remember bumbling my way through some of these old songs and suddenly my parents would figure out what I was trying to play and would start singing. One time it was  “Casey would waltz with a strawberry blond”…

…except that my dad changed the lyrics to “Casey was hit with a bucket of sh–” (Mom interrupts “Larry! Larry!!”)…”and the band played on”.

When I reached highschool my mom found a new organ teacher, a young woman just out of college. She was very theoretical and taught me to play from fake books — how to do blocked chords and a walking bassline. She also finally figured out that I couldn’t really read! We agreed that I would also work on some very simple music along with arranging tunes from the fake books. I made some progress and have many good memories of working with her. She invited me to Wanamaker’s department store to see the famous organ there (the young man who was her boyfriend at the time was the organist, and he chatted with her while the music roared away, both hands and feet flying). She also invited me to her house. One whole room of the house was built around a pipe organ. She let me try it out. While I was playing, a key got stuck, so we went into the back room where many of the pipes and gadgetry was. It was a small Vox Humana pipe going “neeeeeeee”.

I stopped taking lessons my senior year. I wish I had kept going! But I was wrapped up in playing Cat Stevens on the guitar, and also taking calculus and physics. I was also in the choir. Choir was amazing (we learned the Faure Requiem and Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms) but again that was by memorization.

I did not take part in any form of music during the intervening years. I didn’t get back to music until I had turned 30 and was an undergraduate (in entomology!). My husband (a graduate student at the time) had the urge to have something piano-like in the house and we got our first synthesizer. I was frustrated with my inability to play from sheet music, and my husband, a computer guy, suggested that there was probably software that would help. We did not find software that helped with sight reading, but we did find software that would let you play music into the computer and then edit it, the way you could edit an essay in Word. The notes took the form of little rectangles of varying lengths, arranged with high notes at the top and low notes at the bottom — like the roll from a player piano. This is called sequencing software. With the help of the sequencing software I found that I could compose by ear. This was a life-changing discovery. When I was supposed to be working on my senior year classes I also created a little album of music (recording it on cassette tapes), drew album art and gave copies to all my friends.

When we moved to Maryland I joined a church and have been a member of the choir there for about 15 years. Our choir director is the sort of person who encourages you to stretch out of your comfort zone. She makes this possible by creating a supportive environment — building a sense of trust among the choir members. It’s OK to make mistakes. I have often had the experience of being the only alto at rehearsal and having to sight read new music . And it’s totally OK.

Now I am in my 60s and I have an opportunity to devote a lot of time to music. As someone who’s been musically…illiterate? for many years, I’m excited to see what progress I can make!

I would be thrilled to someday be able to play something like this!

Mixed feelings

I’m beginning to have mixed feelings about taking “composition” for credit. If I understand right, Dr. Composition hasn’t been in charge of an independent study student before, and doesn’t know if he has time for me in his schedule. I don’t want to put him on the spot. Better to work on my own, and meanwhile scope out the environment this fall semester, see if there’s any faculty who are willing / able to help me.

The areas I will need help are

1) someone who will note that I did, indeed, submit X amount of work this week and

2) someone who can help me write things out in standard notation. I get so far on my own and then get stuck.

3) Critiques of the compositions (“Hey, you might want to think twice about putting parallel 5ths in the baseline”) would be great, too.


By Donovan Govan. – Image taken by me using a Canon PowerShot G3 (reference 7877)., CC BY-SA 3.0,