I have spent many hours in the procedurally generated universe of No Man’s Sky. I’ve spent so much time there it’s almost like having spent a month traveling around the US. Like seriously, I’ve logged more than 300 hrs. Kinda scary when you think about it. I’ve filled a terabyte of space on my disk drive with screen capture videos.
About 6 months ago there was a major update. When this happened there were many improvements. However, the update re-wrote the entire universe. My home planet was burned to a cinder; Dawnseas no longer has an ocean, Etienne Rouge is no longer red. Only a few of the planets that I had discovered, named and loved have remained as before. I’m embarrassed to admit, I cried when I saw what had happened to my home world. It’s only pixels. But…I will never be able to go there again!
As of July 24, 2018 there will be a huge update. Rumor has it that there will be a form of multiplayer and even PvP. But I’m pretty sure that the universe will be rewritten from scratch. That means I have only a short while to record footage of my favorite planets.
It also means that when that universe is gone, it is gone. That chapter of the story will close. I will have a finite amount of video footage to draw from. This puts limitations on the project (a good thing) and also gives it an overarching emotional theme. Goodbye Dawnseas, Rosperigosa, Neochadwickia. Goodbye Naguxoisanorca.
OK, so if I’m going to do an independent project totally on my own, I can take it in the exact direction I want rather than trying to meet someone else’s standards. Which is kind of a shame, because trying to meet standards & goals outside of my comfort zone could be a really good thing.
The main thing I’m interested in now is music for video games and for other virtual environments (ex. background music for a virtual tour of an architectural building still in the planning phase). One of the different things about this kind of composition is the use of “stems”. You submit not only the finished piece but also its building blocks (the bass line, the melody line, the weird sci-fi sound effects line) which can be used by the game designer at will — like toppings on a pizza. Here layer parts one, two and three; here just one, here pile them all on.
In game design this is important because the software can be programmed to react to what the player is doing and increase the intensity of the music by using more of the stems layered together. (“Player approaches monster, is attacked and retreats; cue ‘Run Like Hell’ theme”.)
I have been working on my own, posting videos on Youtube. Eight of the videos take place in the planet exploration game of “No Man’s Sky”. It would be a great project to write some additional music to capture the mood of these planetary environments, and also take the compositions I’ve already written and work with them; break them down into stems, put them in official music notation. This will be a lot of work because when I mixed the songs last year I blended all the parts — I don’t have the individual stems anymore! I’ll have to re-create them. Also, I dread working with Finale. I have done it but believe me I would much rather eat kale. Raw kale. Tough raw kale. Kale doesn’t make me beat my head on the desk.
Another project I’ve started (but haven’t posted any examples of yet) are videos that take place in the medieval fantasy world of “Dark Souls”. For these I would like to use music from the repertoire but arranged for synth (by synth I mean any electronic reproduction of instrument sounds, including the realistic samples used in Garritan Instant Orchestra). One song is based on a MIDI file of Machaut’s “Rose, Liz, Printemps, Verdure”. I used a different instrument for each voice part and used dynamics to bring one instrument to the foreground, then take it back and bring another forward. This comes under “arrangement” rather than “composition” but it’s also something I want to learn about.
So here we go.
Take notes on Emily Reese’s “Top Score” series. React to them.
COMPOSE more music — for the sci-fi world of No Man’s Sky
Take already composed music and make stems and scores
ARRANGE music for the fantasy world of Dark Souls
Read Winifred Phillip’s book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music
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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=118178
One of my goals for this fall is to go through Emily Reese’s series of interviews with composers, and take notes on each episode. The other night I listened again to one of my favorites, her interview with Lisbeth Scott. Lisbeth started out as a classical pianist but changed direction, branching out into singing and composing. Here she is as vocalist in the soundtrack for the game “Journey”.
In the interview she talks about how this music came about. The composer, Austin Wintory, had specific ideas about what he wanted the score to be like, but he had known Lisbeth from previous work and wanted to use her particular voice as an instrument. Part of the composing process included Wintory bringing instrumental tracks to the studio and having Lisbeth improvise vocalizations over them. [Check — was she improvising or trying out what he suggested?]. As her career continued, Lisbeth began to focus more on her own compositions. In the interview Emily Reese asked her “How did the transition happen?” Lisbeth replied “Did you ever get the feeling that you’re going to throw up and there’s nothing you can do to stop it?” They both laughed uproariously for a few minutes (one of my favorite thing about this interview is the great chemistry between Emily and Lisbeth) and Lisbeth continued to say that there is something there that just has to come out.
When I think of my own composing, it’s not because there’s something inside that needs to come out. It’s more of an urge to build. One of my favorite parts of keeping an aviary is designing different kinds of environments and enclosures for the birds. Species A and Species B both want a lot of room to fly but you can’t put them together because B would bite A’s toes. Species C gets along with A but A would steal C’s food. How to arrange the compartments? One section I invented is a miniature greenhouse jerryrigged from 2 x 2s and shed kit brackets. It’s like building with Legos, but with added constraints. You don’t usually have to worry about Legos biting each other’s toes.
I also enjoy creating worlds in Minecraft. I built this cube-planet in honor of a friend’s birthday. The over-all design was made using software called “World Painter”, and repetitive structures were built with “MC Edit”, but the rest of the work was built block by block.
Unlike Lisbeth Scott, with her overwhelming urge to express something from deep within, most of my composing is about …building. I want to build a sound environment that feels…edgy and dangerous? austere but beautiful? cheerful? awe-inspiring?
I want to build worlds. Places, moods you can travel to.
I’m picturing my upcoming music classes as a visit to the hardware store. Look! A mitre saw! A tile cutter! Stacks and stacks of 2 x 4s!
By Per Erik Strandberg sv:User:PER9000 – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=830530
Dr. Robert Greenberg says (quoting another author) that the definition of music is “sound in time”. According to that definition, music would include what we normally think of as music both instrumental and vocal; also speech, bird song, aleatoric sound environments, traffic noises, heartbeat and breathing, and sounds created by software (artificial intelligence).
Does John Cage’s 4’33” fit the definition? It has time but not sound — unless you count the expectation of sound, or the environmental sounds that happen during the piano’s silence.
I think there is a gradation of purposeful creation, of intent, in these examples. A possible name for this might be “intentional music”. Artificial Intelligence algorithms generate patterned sounds. Are they intentional? Partly — the software was originally created by a human. In a sense the software is a tool or even an electronic instrument. I have a Korg Karma keyboard which has a “Karma Engine”, basically a Band-in-a-Box with some intelligent randomness built in. Someone designed this as an instrument, which (with practice and exploration) I can learn to use. As I choose the arpeggiations and sound patches more insightfully, my music becomes more intentional and meaningful.
Deadmau5 in his Masterclass talks about creating sounds with his analogue synthesizers. He changes the timbre, attack and decay of the notes. Some of his music seems random or repetitive, but the sound quality itself was created purposefully.
Aleatoric sound environments can be created intentionally and may be used to create a mood.
Traffic noises are statistical variations of sound in time. If you took the variations in amount of sound, and then sped it up so that one day’s rhythms took up a few seconds, you would wind up with something that sounded more music-like. In this way, selecting the information and speeding it up / slowing it down / amplifying it adds intention.
Breathing, heartbeat, and footsteps seem like random sounds but they are influenced by the state of the body making them. Because they are so connected to emotions they can be used purposefully to create moods.
And, my favorite example of all, bird song. My family has been keeping an aviary of birds and raising chicks by hand for many years. Is bird song purposeful? Some bird vocalizations are automatic and instinctive. If someone jumped out at you in a dark room you would probably make a sound automatically. In the same way if you startle a bird it will alarm call, and if you grab it suddenly it will “scream”. These sounds seem automatic. Bird song, however, seems intentional. Most young birds go through a stage of “babbling” during which their song is unformed and random. Then gradually over several weeks they will “decide” on what their song will be. Some birds (ex. song sparrows) develop a repertoire of several songs. Other species (such as mockingbirds, catbirds and the brown thrasher) mimic other birds and arrange the “quoted” songs in their own way. And finally, some birds (ex. starlings, budgies) take mimicked bits and warp them, transform them. I need to research this more, but I’m remembering that there is an evolutionary inclination to evolve more complex songs because the female birds give preference to the males with varied songs.
Sound in time…
So — according to Dr. Robert Greenberg, composing music is simply making sounds in time. However, the way I’m thinking of it, there is a gradation of intentionality, of purpose. Am I just making sounds with my voice or my instrument to see what sounds it can make? Noodling, improvising? Improvising in the context of a group performance? Arranging bits very carefully in hope of expressing emotion?
What I would like to do is learn more about music theory and about composition in general so that my “sounds in time” become more intentional and expressive.
But for now, as a composer, it’s good to just make lots of sounds and pay attention to them.
Here is the Korg Karma featuring its intelligent arpeggiator, the “Karma Engine”
And — I had lost touch with Mike Rugnetta’s work several years ago. I’m excited to discover that he has continued his podcast series, called “Reasonably Sound”. One of the old episodes, called “The Drop”, turned me on to EDM and Paul van Dyk. Now I’m listening to Deadmau5, so that podcast made a big impression!
So, I’m signed up at HCC for music classes!!! Currently these are just a few of the worries burbling through my mind.
What do I wear?
How oh how will I ever be able to drive there so early in the morning?!
Will the textbook that I ordered ever show up?
Do I have to chase the f-ing thing down?
Will Dr. Composition accept me as a student?
I will have to meet with Dr. Voice to be assigned a teacher, oh dear oh dear
I suggested to Dr. Composition that I could treat this as an independent study and submit lessons as blog entries and/or Youtube videos. I made a list of possible projects. Clearly this list could occupy me for the next 5 years. I always aim too high and then feel disappointed. I can already feel the burn of shame! Well, I figured, try to work on this list over the summer and see how long each type of exercise takes. Do a trial run and see how much I can accomplish in a week.
Meanwhile, Dr. Head-of-Department says I should work on my bass clef skills over the summer.
And for my own edification, I should start singing again — warm-ups, breath exercises, just getting used to the sound of my own voice!
Here is my massive 5-year list
Go through the episodes of the podcast “Top Score” and write a brief summary of each; start with introduction. “This podcast series started out as a weekly feature on NPR… “
Go through the episodes of Hans Zimmer’s masterclass. Write a summary of the whole thing
Go through the episodes of Deadmau5’s masterclass. Write a summary
Other interviews with composers. Eric Whitacre? Our Lutheran guy?
Book on Bach My Only Comfort
Take music which I composed for my playlist of 8 No Man’s Sky videos, and write it out in music notation
Analyze music which we did in choir last year. ex. “Eternal Light”
Create new music and present it in Youtube video form. Perhaps one every 2 weeks?
Write a personal essay on music composition (what, why, how)
Take composition “A Cantata for Lent” and re-enter it into Finale
I need to think about what might be a good “end of semester” project. Collecting all the songs for the No Man’s Sky videos, improving them, printing out the music in Finale?