Good health hasn't been with me for the last couple of days, nothing serious just an annoying stomach bug that doesn't allow me retain food. Soon be gone. The worst has past but it has left me feeling totally wiped out and very restless, so I thought I would fire up my Studio Drive and have a tinker with a track from "Soundtrack For City Living" that has the title of "Beauty In Decay".
Now, we musos get our inspiration from all manner of places, things, people, emotions etc etc etc, and for this track, my inspiration is most definitely my Urban Explorer alter ego.
When I'm wandering through those broken empty shells, I'm often in awe at the exquisite undertones of beauty that decay creates. Some of you may think that mould and damp is what it is, something nasty, smelly and having no place in the home. But, when real natural urban decay sets in, wonderous arrays of colour and form can result. Also, when a building starts to crumble, and inevitably the windows and doors fall in, this is usually followed by a developer or local authority coming in and boarding everything up. The notion is obviously to keep the weather out as well as vandals and probably Urban Explorers. But sometimes, that too can create something wonderful. More often than not, the boarding submerges the interior into total darkness, but get a bright sunlit early morning/late afternoon, something incredible can happen. If the sun is bright enough, shards of light can cut through the darkness creating beams of brilliant white light, thanks to the interior dust that can hang in the air and this in return can really amplify the intensity of colour captured within the light. My most perfect example of this is the entrance to the Harford Hills chalk mine, where this happened. I've seen it in other buildings with similar effect, notably St. Andrews House in Norwich.
The other thing that can really get to you (in a good way I would hasten to add!!!) is the emptiness, particularly when you are in a building that has known a lot of activity. I first felt this when I explored the derelict St. Andrews House asylum and more recently with the abandoned wing of the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in the centre of Norwich. The latter was more intense on that one because I was totally alone for that explore. Walking through the darkness with very little or no light other than your torch(es) can really bring home the sense of isolation and loneliness of the property, even though it may be in a busy city centre. Each sound you hear so much more clearly because your senses awareness levels are raised, The slightest rustle of a tarpaulin, the flutter of a pidgeon, the drip of rain water seeping through a decaying roof, all of these things take on a new and alternative reality type of sonic dimension.
And it's these very emotions and experiences that I am trying to bring forward with the track "Beauty In Decay" - a lonely echoing piano, a haunting soprano voice, shifting filtered pads, distant strings, crunchy glitchy rhythms and fractured drifitng arpeggios and sequences all come together to give the ambience of a building succumbing to time and weather.
Once again I've been using the rather fabulous VP330 sample pack from Hollow Sun, the choral pad sit perfectly at the back of the track, as well as providing some more forward sounding pads with a bit of processing, notable flanging and a cool filter bank called Flexfilterbank2 from a developer called Wok - yet another free piece of software that's got a great sound and is easily automated using MIDI.
Other so-called "budget" effects that I've been using on this track (some of which are from a freeware company) come from Variety Of Sound and Minimal System Instruments. I don't want to sound like a salesman here, but I have to say that these companies are doing some seriously great products for little or no price.
From Variety Of Sound, I'm using their NastyDLA delay unit and NastyVCS virtual console strip. The NastyDLA delay unit is based once again on vintage gear therefore it gives that certain warmth and slight colouration needed to take off the clean digital sparkle, another unit that is controllable through MIDI and as well as being packed with features, sounds a-ma-zing. Did I mention it was free? The NastyVCS is a compression unit that has everything needed to help shape channels dynamics and tone. It beautifully controls the dynamics on my piano, keeping everything nice and even as well as bringing out some of the lesser heard sounds that lie behind the delays etc. Oh yeah, it's also free.
From Minimal System Instruments, I'm using their Airwalker Reverb and Moogi Analogue Filter. The Airwalker Reverb has a certain vintage analogue quality that is perfect for pianos and is so damn easy to use. With regard to price, easily the best £5 I've ever paid out in terms of value for money. The Moogi Analogue Filter works nicely alongside the Wok product and is a terrific little analog-sounding VCF emulation. It does exactly what it says on the box, a sumptuous sounding analog filter that even has the little unpredictable idiosyncrasies associated with vintage gear.
I guess the point of talking about these products is to high-light the fact that there is a lot of high quality products for little or no cost available to the fiscally challenged muso (of which I am definitely in the category of - lol!!!), and with imagination and time spent learning how these little beauties work, good things can be coaxed out of them. You often find as well with the smaller developer that the support is kind of great. Quite important when you're either beginning or need that little bit of advice on what does what and don't want to wait for the mechanisms of a larger company to turn themselves around.
In terms of "Beauty In Decay", these units have helped to shape a lonely sounding piano which has a distant, almost crackly vinyl ambience to it, a choral pad that sits behind everything nicely gluing the various track frequencies together to give body and warmth, the same choral pad on another track is fed through filter banks that are then automated to give movement as well as a high-end sparkle/shimmer which to me, represents the dusty motion within shards of sunlight breaking through cracks and windows. As with all things, it's all very well "talking the talk", but it's the finished product will be the proof and hopefully my ramblings will give some insight into the way I created the piece as well as inspirations behind it.