Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Music Experiment Highly Successful:)

On this past Monday night, I discovered a video podcast entitled "The Weakest Beat" on What made this discovery so cool is that I got it to work via Tivo first. I did not run across the show on the web.

On the show that lasts probably no more than 10 minutes, a music producer is shown a photograph and given two (2) hours to produce a song that matches the photo.

The host then talks to the producer about what they saw within the photo and how they were inspired to produce the song.

Two hours is clearly not a lot of time for most music perfectionists but one major benefit that the reduced time frame does provide is a single-minded focus and clarity that most music producers (including myself) pray for.

Being that the show appeared to be produced in or around Oakland, California and not with national correspondents, it dawned on me to try my hand at using visual photographs for musical inspiration since we were traveling out of state to Latta, SC for Thanksgiving and I knew that my musical productivity was being restricted home in Atlanta for some reason (probably due to our routines with school drop-offs and pick ups which provides a narrow window of opportunity as well).

So I took my Black Macbook, M-Audio Trigger Finger, and M-Audio Oxygen v2 25-key USB midi controller along for the ride. My Macbook was going regardless:)

I thought that I had all that would be needed but Murphy's Law kicked in within the perfect storm to limit my experiment.

My initial goal was to produce 15 songs over the 3 day period but had to settle for less when the dial up access kept the photos on Flickr from being fully viewable in a timely fashion. 5 songs per day would have been doable but after getting stumped at the entire process of getting online (this was not my first time using my Macbook with dial up at the same house either), I gave up and worked instead from a thumbnail photo of Chicago taken by a Twitter friend during her recent visit there while she was driving. Having traveled to Chicago in 1996, I knew how the vibe should feel and worked from there.

The song created is a medium to slow tempo hip hop jazzy ditty named "Windy City". At 95 BPM (beats per minute), I used only the instruments within Logic Express 8 without any loops or preset tracks.

During the 4.5 hours of travel time from Mableton, GA to Latta, SC, I listened to XM Radio. Using what I heard as a class in structure and music theory and as a result of my musical growth, I wanted to simplify my music composition style versus having too many parts within my songs. But I wanted to use point and counterpoint equally well for balance and creativity.

Chicago has a sophisticated vibe within everything except for my Chicago Bears this year. Other than kick off returns, it is a rebuilding year:) So the groove had to have a sense of style, class, and a clever nuance of elitism.

Near the end of producing the various tracks, I ran across an instrument entitled Atmospheric and lo and behold, it sounds just like the wind while soaring in a plane. This sound was the icing needed.

Upon playing the song for my family, they did not know what the sound was supposed to be and heard it as noise instead. So I lowered the volume on this track of the wind and the song fell into the pocket nicely.

The pizzicato on the violins and a spacey delay on a piano team up to square off against an electric guitar for anyone needing a rock star experience:)

Then while moving a section to a different place within the song, I moved it to the wrong instrument which played it as an instrument I am getting a huge mental block on the name now but it is like an octave curtain of small wind chimes.

The pattern can be heard near the end of the song and I learned that musical mistakes can sound better than intentional thoughts at times, so I flowed with my mistake and accepted it as divine intervention:)

I believe that "Windy City" was initially created on either Tuesday evening and fully completed by Wednesday afternoon.

I tried again on Wednesday to get my connectivity issues behind me and they remained. But I saved the thumbnails to my hard drive and proceeded to create more music.

One thought that is coming to my mind now is that the second photographer actually lives in Chicago and I totally love her photos of food and believe that she can seriously cook. I have never seen food photograph so well:)

While scanning through her photos, I ran across a photo of a cat on a bed with its belly exposed. We have similar photos of our pets, but this photo clearly had a cat that was not startled or surprised in any way.

A favorite song of mine entitled "Don't Disturb This Groove" by The System popped in my head as what the cat was saying to the photographer. I had the necessary vibe as a result and started with a simple piano part to say the words of the title.

More pizzicato violins were thrown in and I think that the same instrumentation set up was used from the previous song.

I found a nice snare-hand clap combo to match with a kick drum and stumbled on a sensual, minimalistic vibe that producers Tim & Bob created for singers Brian McKnight, Deitrick Haddon, and Joe separately.

A simple, descending chord progression quickly fell into my hands and the song took a cohesive life of its own. The bass line was kept to a bare minimum as well.

Somehow the song was missing a lower end anchor and I played the same progression on an electric piano as was played on strings. Then a nice and airy choir vocal instrument was added to play off the chord progression.

After adding an acoustic guitar to pull on the heartstrings and reducing the number of time a motif was played on alto sax, a gentle breeze of a vibe was created.

The final result is a track entitled "This Groove Is Mine" which has a vibe that I felt when I traveled earlier this year to Jersey City and stayed at the Hyatt Riverside which was my first experience with the Hyatt chain. The best keyword that describes my experience is PLUSH.

The groove is so plush that you can consume it either alone or with a loved one:)

The track alone has a chilled groove that says upscale in every way and the track would make a nice musical presentation within a commercial expressing an upscale and sophisticated lifestyle.

The hotel was playing similar music within the atrium and dining area. With the view of Manhattan and Hudson River, I remember being in the city of my birth (Jersey City) near Wall Street and feeling that I made it career wise. "This Groove Is Mine" is going to be an affirmation to myself musically as I write these words. No matter what happens or what others may say, you need to feel a vibe that lets you know that everything is going to be alright and you can make it with or without those who feel they hold the keys to your destiny.

You are not defined by what you do as much as you are defined by what you believe. The amazing thing is that a photo of a cat on a bed drove this point home to me on another level:)

The third song is one that I view as largely experimental, funky, and avant garde at the same time just as much as it is hip hop with a retro feel to something that Afrika Bambaataa might do as a collaboration with Mannie Fresh:)

I found a photo of a young lady walking out of a darkened tunnel and the sunlight was hitting her face for the first time. The photographer is one of my Flickr contacts, so his photos already had caught my eyes before.

Other than a Jam Master jay scratching loop and a loop with a wicked double-time hi-hat, the song is all me. The first discovery was the spacey, delayed bass which is the foundation for the song.

The name of the song is entitled "Step Into The Light" and is the fastest song at 106 BPM that was created during this period.

As a minister who performs gospel hip hop, this fishnet (what I call my songs) is going to be a life changer. The meaning is for the listener to give their life to Christ if they have not done so already. With the funky beat that is irresistible to dancing, everyone is going to celebrate.

I actually hear this song being performed by Kirk Franklin's choir with yours truly getting a short 8 or 16 bars to spit a verse. The song may not be considered a full blown hip hop track due to the verses not being 16 bars in length on the original song as it stands now. But it could be lengthened for that type of rapper.

But it is a party song no doubt that even a marching band may play in the stands.

I could not tell the ethnicity of the lady within the photo, but I found an Indian and Middle Eastern tabla percussion kit that I feverishly twerked as a mad genius:) Yeah, I said it. Your Brother got down thanks to God indeed!!!

Even though I had the Trigger Finger available, I played the tabla part on the 25-key Oxygen2 midi controller with only 2 keys on the keyboard. I think of each instrumental part as one who would actually play the instrument in order to not do anything too crazy or unrealistic.

The bass line leads one out of darkness while there is a clavinet part that sounds like a lead guitar to provide the title motif throughout the verses.

"Step Into The Light" has a couple of breakdowns thrown in for added surprise and to build intensity. I just heard a tom tom roll I added to not leave the percussion too dry.

The thought has just hit me to add the photos used to this blog even though I may just link the photos to the song titles. As soon as I get the MP3s created, I will upload them to my Seed Of Life Records' page on MySpace.

Finally, I created a new group on Flickr entitled FlickrBeats to see and hear others use the same process to create music. It may even inspire someone to shoot photographs for the purpose of inspiring music. The double helix effect should work wonders and create bridges musically, culturally, and internationally.

If the process of creating FlickrBeats inspires you, then join the group and get in where you fit in!

I truly enjoyed the experience although I did not handcuff myself to 2 hours for each song!

Thanks goes out to "The Weakest Beat" for your fine example! A special thanks goes out to the 3 photographers that shared their vision that expanded my musical vision!


No comments: