A Plain New Day background
607 Nov 5th, 2018 28 Never
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- First, the backstory. Shortly before the start of this academic year, my housemate was leaving for a world trip. He wouldn't be back in a while, so we had found a date to say goodbye. After we went out for dinner, I let him hear my then just released composition: Concrete Inspiration. He found it interesting, but missed the story. I just made whatever sounded nice, and didn't have anything in mind it should be about. I don't mind this, as I think music doesn't necessarily need a story. I think most Amiga and Atari demo tunes don't have one, but are made just to sound cool. However, I thought it might certainly add something! I then got the idea of making a series of MaxYMiser tunes based on video game environments. I have done two before: Back to Nature and Cave of Wonders. I made these for a game Haiko was making back then and still enjoy listening to them from time to time. For these I used a lot of recorded samples. I wanted to use environmental samples for this project too! It would be a lot more difficult, though, as the Atari wasn't made to play PCM samples. Nevertheless, MaxYMiser's got quite some support for it.
- I started out by looking for uncopyrighted bird sounds I could use. It was a bit of a challenge, but I did find some! Two of these are from the same clip, and the third is a different bird. I could have gotten a few more, but I thought three would be enough, and easier to work with. In the end, some people find that the birds get annoying after a while, but I still quite like them. :) After feedback from my mother I tried making the birds be in sync with the music more, and that improved it. I also used the samples in creative ways a couple of times. ;)
- At first I had an issue with the bird samples: when one played, a 'pbt!' sound would sound at the start. :P I tried to get rid of it by mastering the samples differently in Audacity, but to no avail. I then e-mailed gwEm, and he helped me out: I could edit the starting place of the sample in MaxYMiser itself. That worked, I could cut off the 'pbt'. :)
- Finding a good djembé sound wasn't as easy as expected, but not too hard either. When I had one, I decided to play it on 3 fixed frequencies, and play around with that. If you pay attention to the rhythms, you'll notice that not a single djembé pattern repeats throughout the song! I thought it would be more realistic if I kept making up new rhythms, to resemble improvisation. At the very end, when I had already listened to the tune on my physical Atari, I decided to increase the volume of the djembé sample a bit, as even if I'd pay attention it would be hard to hear it, during most parts of the song. Now you certainly can, but it's not so loud that it distracts from the melody.
- The main structure of the song is inspired by the theme. So yes: the 'story' was very helpful here! It starts out as 'a plain new day', with the pad starting out on its own and then doing some harmonies. Then, however, the fun gets going: this plain is almost as lively as a jungle! For the main melody, I wanted to make use of something I had heard about in a video by 8-bit Music Theory: a repeated phrase getting shorter. To make up the phrase itself, I used my piano, and found out this fun and flexible melody. I made some variations, and tried the idea of making notes glide down instead of holding straight: this makes the song sound a bit goofy, but playful, and that fits the vibe I wanted to create.
- When I had first made the repeating phrase getting shorter thing I thought it sounded a bit strange. However, when I had forgot about the original phrase a little, and listened to it again, it actually sounded quite natural! When I let my new housemate (the other's younger brother) hear it, he didn't even notice the technique until I pointed it out, and even then it sounded so natural that he didn't quite grasp it (I'd probably need to note (hah) it down).
- After this, I wanted a bridge, but only the djembé rhythm came naturally. At this point I paused work on the tune, and got busy with university. When I picked it up again I analysed the existing bass and second channel patterns to make up something new in the same spirit. I also decided to make a new bass sound, to set it apart more. This utilises the buzzer, which meant I could not lower its volume. Because it was too obtrusive otherwise I made it a very short stab, and I think that works out. I made something up for the third channel, as I didn't want to have a lead melody here. However, what I came up with was too dark for my theme, and this is when the story helped me for the second time. I considered the theme of a bright grassland with birds and got the idea of a high-pitched sustained arpeggio. It turned out to be a very good addition! Another thing I struggled with was making the tune sound happy, while still having a bit of tension: I wanted some of those B's in there at the end of the first half, before resolving.
- After the short bridge I decided to throw the entire melody in again, because I thought it fit, and repetition is good. I think that, especially for video game music, I tend to make too little use of repetition. I kept channel 2 the same as well, but decided to mix up the bass. I think the bass melody isn't quite as good as the first time, but it's interesting, and it's cute that it is the only YM channel that dares to try something different.
- After this repeat, I decided to round off the song by going back to the slow speed used at the start. I got the idea to use chords, and sure enough, they worked great with the instrument I'd made. I have fairly little knowledge of or experience with chords, but I could make up these simple ones. ;) I actually made the last four first, and then decided that should be the very end, and made the four just before that, that resolve back to the start instead of to the end. I'm really happy with how this sounds. :)
- Because this is intended to be a video game tune, it was important to me that it looped well. I think it does. The only thing I'm unsure about is that at the end the first bird sample is played twice, which is the case at the start as well, making it be played four times in a row. However, I also thought it was nice to end in this way, and certainly to start in this way. So hopefully it's fine. :)
- Lastly: the drawing. I've written enough, and the music is always the focus, so I'll keep this short. ;) My brother Folk helped me a little at the start, but I did most of it on my own. When I was done, I had a nice scene, but a lot of emptyness in the middle, which didn't look nice. I realised that I should put a bird there. However, I didn't think I could draw a bird. But my cousin Skimuilo was over, and I decided that we should try together, if we could find a nice example of a bird on Google. We did! I did the drawing, of course, but he helped in several ways: he gave suggestions, he corrected small mistakes and, most importantly, he motivated me to keep going. If he wouldn't have been with me I probably would have given up after the head, as I thought the body would be too difficult. :P But didn't it turn out great? :D
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