How’s everybody doing? I know most people enjoy the summer, but by about this time every year I’m ready for some cool air rushing past my face as I bike around the local trails.
The semester has started for my audio class at Cincinnati State, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk to real-life human beings. I love my job, but sometimes working in “the cave” can get lonely (-: . I teach Audio Editing and Mixing, and try to take students (some of whom have never seen a hardware mixing board) through the recording, processing and mixing of audio in Pro Tools. I’ve been using Pro Tools since before it was Pro Tools, so I enjoy talking about the ins and outs of the software, and- more importantly- the thought process of creating a world of sound, from scratch.
I was introducing myself to the class and telling them what I do and mentioned Crowfall, and one of my students exclaimed that he had funded it on Kickstarter! He didn’t know that I was writing the score at the time, so it was a cool random connection that one doesn’t always get on social media.
What’s up with me? Glad you asked. Nothing I can talk about yet. (-: I just finished a piece for a project that will probably hit the streets pretty soon. (Checks website for project… nope not announced yet.) This piece will actually announce a new project that I’m just getting started on, so it kinda sets the tone for my next couple months. This track turned out really well and even has me singing on it! Occasionally I get the chance to set up my mic and make a lot of noise that scares the cat and I always enjoy it (singing that is- not scaring the cat… well sometimes. I wanted the sound of a men’s choir, so I created six audio tracks and sang the parts six times. Sometimes when I’m simulating a chorus like that, I’ll create different personalities for each voice in my head to make each part sound a little different. “This guy is a little angry and sings aggressively,” I’ll think to myself. Or: “This guy is trying to stand out from the pack and sings a little more nasally.” The slightly different voices helps six tracks of me sound more like a group of individuals.
I’ve probably mentioned it before, but a piece really livens up with voices in it. As humans we’re so attuned to speech that any time words are being spoken, you sort of can’t help hearing it and knowing that a human created it. This can be a double-edged sword in my world, as the music is not the most important part of any multimedia project. You’re trying to compliment all the other stuff going on without distracting from it, so the style and mix become very important. A lot of time, simple “ahh” and “ohh” vowels can bring the warmth and humanness to a piece without being distracting. Additionally, I find music without lyrics to be compelling because the listener assigns their own “meaning” to the piece, and therefore it might mean more to him or her. If a singer is singing, “I’m so happy because I left you” then the listener equates the music to that message. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with this, as many times you WANT a tune to express a particular meaning, but in writing music that accompanies other media (games, TV, film, theater) you want the other stuff to provide context and the music to contribute a more general sense of the emotions involved.
In this project I wanted the lyrics to be in a (specific) different language than my own, which lets you feel the human emotion, but the specific message is still undefined to anyone who doesn’t speak that language. I’ve been working with a translator to make sure the text is correct and it’s been a really cool learning experience. Here in North America, English is obviously the standard language, and I’ve studied some Romance languages, but languages from other parts of the world can have you questioning if you know how to communicate at all! Sounds that don’t exist in English, sentence structure that doesn’t conform to how we’d phrase things, words you might think are universal but do not translate… it’s like discovering a musical instrument that makes amazing sounds but is challenging to play… which can be really rewarding. Plus, having a serious discussion with someone about the language a fictional culture of people speak in a world that doesn’t really exist is a pretty cool luxury!
I hear a lot of people say that they can’t sing. I suppose it’s true that some people have a better ear than others, but in my experience it’s mostly due to a lack of just doing it (to paraphrase Nike.) In cultures where singing is a part of daily life, you get some pretty awesome music. I once attended a theatrical presentation of singers and dancers from Zimbabwe, who were predictably amazing. As a finale, they tried to get the audience to sing a pretty simple three part harmony, sharing what they do every day- and eventually gave up. I was kinda embarrassed of my culture that day.
For my part, I’ve been the musical director of a number of musical theater productions, and often had to coach the onstage vocalists in how to sing, which in many instances means actually singing yourself. I don’t have the best voice in the world, and have to pay attention to pitch in certain ranges, but the act of just singing – not caring (so much) what you sound like – teaches you all about doing it. You can record it, listen back, make adjustments, and record it again.
Hearing your own voice recorded and played back is scary: once again the voice is such a powerful human expression that you feel like you’re baring your soul for all to see. But if you care at all about expressing yourself you have to get over that stage fright and throw away the worry that all the haters are going to hate. Singing six tracks of choir vocals taught me how to sing it right- what worked and what didn’t- and my voice(s) will be heard by potentially millions of people. Is it perfect? Nope, and that’s what makes it sound human.