Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Word is Worth a Thousand Notes

Work has been continuously chugging along on Alice Unraveled for the past week or so. It appears I found my muse in an in-progress cover of "Cannibal" by Ke$ha. Sometimes all it takes is the realization that you had the first chord of the chorus confused to spark ALL of your work to completion. The latest arrangement brought to the party borrows heavily from Phil Spector produced groups, namely The Rhonettes and is my take on that 60s girl-pop sound. It's somewhat hard to convey with my sample set, but hopefully the idea gets across well. James Perrella was kind enough to quick-mix it, and it's not indicative of his actual mixing prowess at all. But he's a much better mixer than I, so even a couple of hours put into it equals days of me trying to mix it. Lots of problems with this rendition, but hey, it's a first draft. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
Who Are You? by Michael Hart

And as always, pimp my music out!

Really, though, I wanted to share an insight with you that happened upon me just last night. All throughout my life, and musical career, I never put much value into lyrics. If they were good or bad, sure, I'd take notice and be able to determine if they were good or bad. But it wouldn't affect my interest in the song at all. It's played a small part in how my music has turned out (hey, there's no lyrics in film scores; I'm an awful lyricist), and when asked to do arrangements I'd keep them in mind but ultimately not pay too terribly much attention to them.

Kelly Izzo and I hit a few mishaps during this whole process of arranging for Alice Unraveled, where she approaches things from a very simple, very minimalist point of view and I... well, do not. I love my bombast. I was re-listening to the demo tracks last night to try and get arrangement ideas and I hit the title track of the musical. Which, if you haven't heard it, is absolutely phenomenal. So I was listening, blah de blah, it finished, I had an idea when something changed. Something resonated in my head.

"Something was lost, when I couldn't see/with the lights turned off".

I don't know why it struck such a chord, but I listened to the song again. And really listened to the words this time. By the end of the song I was shaking. It finally all fell into perspective; here's a musical about a girl who's thrown into an awful situation by herself and lays her heart out for the whole world to see, only to have no one care. It was an incredibly moving moment.

Again I go back to this point I've made before, but this time with a new perspective: for all of our mass produced, synthesized, hugely arranged pop, electronica, anything with a club kick... does it matter what they say? Hell, even singer-songwriters do it too, drowning the message in washes of guitar layers and strings. Far too many are concerned with a pristine sounding record, how loud it gets, how deep the bass is, whether or not it'll move a million units.

Valid points? Sure.

The only points? Fuck that.

Sometimes it only takes a girl with a guitar, recording into a Macbook camera mic, to make you realize how vulnerable you really are.

I'm still in awe.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Really, All You Need Is Björk

It starts with a link.

http://disconaivete.com/post/6899643048


And ends with you listening to it.

Really, I have nothing more to say other than forget Volta, forget that weird thing she did with Thom Yorke, forget that weirder thing she did with Dirty Projectors (though that wasn't as bad). This is the Björk we know and love.

Just listen, fuckers.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Time Travel (Not The Fun Kind)

Last night I had the realization that I own a lot of CDs. They're currently overflowing from my meager CD rack. From the beginning of middle school till around the first or second semester of college, I bought CDs on a fairly consistent basis, around 1 every two weeks if I could afford it. Looking back, I have no idea how I DID afford it, but I somehow ended up with a huge collection of them.

Upon closer inspection, there were quite a few that I hadn't listened to since middle school. Not remembering what they sounded like, I spent last night and the most of today reliving middle school. Musically, at least. I don't think anyone in their right mind has fond memories of middle school; I certainly didn't. The only kids who were less popular than me were the ones that had mental breakdowns during class, or... well, that was about it.

But music. I liked a LOT of shitty music during high school. Lots of rap-rock/metal, nü-metal and alt-rock. Here's a short sampling of what I've been revisiting:

Crazy Town - Darkhorse
I think there were two categories of angsty white preteens in my high school: those who listened to rap, and those who listened to nü-metal. Me being in the latter category, I was of course in love with Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory. Apparently a lot of bands were as well, because the amount of CDs trying to be Hybrid Theory I found was astonishing. This was one of them. Crazy Town were most famous for that awful piece of trash "Butterfly". You know. "Come my lady, come come my lady" blah de fucking BLAH. There's really no redeeming qualities in this CD too; it's bland, boring rap/rock with awful lyrics, awful vocal performances and uninspired songwriting. It was mildly aggressive and had curses on it though, which 12 year old Mike latched onto immediately (the edited version, at least; Mommy didn't want me listening to so called "explicit" music). NEXT.

Greenwheel - Soma Holiday
My father bought this for me on one of his trips to Japan, I think. Nobody I've talked to has heard a single thing about this band; Wikipedia says this was their only album and they toured with bands like Injected and Hoobastank and all those other bad post-grunge alt rocky bands that tried to be Bush but had no charisma or songwriting skill. In all fairness to Greenwheel, this album isn't BAD. It's just incredibly generic. It legitimately sounds like a bunch of Bush B-sides. Given as how I hadn't heard of Bush when I was this age, though, this was the next best thing.

Aerosmith - Just Push Play
I fully expected this to be one of the worst of the lot I listened to, but honestly, there's some absolutely INCREDIBLE material on here. Mainly, I still can't get over how awesome the opener "Beyond Beautiful" is. Yeah, it's got sitar in there trying to make it all "exotic" and shit, but it's incredibly out there for a classic rock band, not least the one that wrote "Dream On". Productionwise, this album slays too. Thick and beefy yet still pristinely clear guitars abound everywhere. There's a whole lot of filler, but the first three tracks are all sweet, most importantly "Beyond Beautiful". Damn.

System Of A Down
I still listen to SOAD, but these two albums fell by the wayside once I hit high school. The self-titled suffers from rather muddy production and Steal This Album! suffers from filler syndrome again, but they're both great and ended up back in listening rotation. The self titled in particular has some great, great songwriting. It's angsty and heavy enough for preteens, but the writing is so spastically great that any shortcomings get overlooked.

3rd Strike - Lost Angel
The minute I popped this one in, overwhelming waves of nostalgia rolled over me. It was like I was back in middle school, but with the added wisdom that I have now. I'm listening to it now actually, as I type this, and the jury's out. Vocals suck. Plain and simple. Songwriting's nothing special, but there's some awesome guitar licks and plenty of crunch. Actually, a LOT of crunch. Maybe that's why I liked it so much and never really realized it.

And then there's the honorable mentions, which I've either not listened to yet, still listen to or don't give two shits about in any conceivable manner. Maybe I'll do another one of these posts in the coming future.

Default - The Fallout
The Buzzhorn - Disconnected
Course Of Nature - Superkala
Mad At Gravity - Resonance
The Used - The Used
And plenty of things from Disturbed, Creed, Korn, Slipknot, Seether... holy shit the list goes on. I'm definitely doing another of these posts.

As for now, I'm gonna go back under into nostalgia and laugh at my preteen self. Also, Deconstruction and Ghost by The Devin Townsend Project come out today (being Tuesday, at this point). Pick them up. I've yet to hear Ghost, but Deconstruction  quite possibly eclipses Scurrilous as most over the top absurdly awesome metal album to come out this year.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Two Opposite Extremes

I've slumped. It happens to the best of us.

Summer's been an interesting period for me musically so far; I haven't really had the motivation to do much of anything, to be perfectly honest. The feeling of un-inspiration, if you will, hits every musician from time to time, and I've found myself... well, not being able to write. Which is hard, considering there's still deadlines for this musical. Luckily, a few things I've been listening to recently may have sparked my creative juices again.

The first being something I don't usually enjoy: SHOW TUNES!


Longtime buddy ol' friend and collaborator Andrew Fox has been working a show recently titled The Best Is Yet To Come: The Music of Cy Coleman. I called him up to shoot the shit, and he mentioned the show and offered me a comp ticket. Not being one to turn down free things that are offered to me (hey, I'm a fuckin' composer; my entire life is based on handouts) and not having anything else to do, I agreed.

Let me tell you: I'm not a big fan of Broadway songs, but I'll be damned if the band wasn't the tightest I've heard in a long time. Through 85 minutes of nonstop music they didn't drop a note, the sound was incredible and filled the entire tiny theater, and they served to liven up all the music to a degree where it was almost like being back in Coleman's times, albeit with many more microphones. The singers all performed admirably too, with my favorite being Lillias White (she was the crowd favorite too, singing about being a prostitute and ripping off her wig halfway through the show), but hats off to the band and Billy Stritch's arrangements. Wonderful.


The other is something completely different. One of my favorite bands, Unexpect, released their latest album at the end of May and it's currently been in heavy rotation in my car. Fables of the Sleepless Empire is equal parts heavy, technical, bizarre, unexpected (forgive the pun) and really hammers home the fact that the band is made up of French Canadians.


Whereas previous album In a Flesh Aquarium was as about as oddball as an album could get, Fables seems to be the natural progression of the band's sound. Off kilter rhythms and melodies still abound, as well as hairpin changes, but it's a much more focused effort. As opposed to being weird for weird's sake, the album's bizarre nature serves a purpose to the songwriting, and even if the album drags in its last moments, the beginning is more than worth the price of admission. The first two tracks in particular are some of the best in the band's catalog, with opener "Unsolved Ideas of a Distorted Guest" being my far and away favorite. It opens with bowed cymbals and those giant metal MREEEEOOOWWWWSSSS that horror composers love so much before launching into an absolutely incredible 9 string bass slap part.  And then proceeds to go all over the place. But it never loses focus even for a second, which in and of itself is astounding considering how many fucking ideas are being thrown around.






Honestly, just go buy the album. Considering you can get it digital for 9 dollars Canadian, it's a steal. Me, I prefer albums I really like in CD form (I'm an old fogey like that), but to each his own.

Coming soon: more musical work (hopefully) and a 3 song pop/punk EP being written with Mark Wudtke of The Bearing. That one might be entertaining.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bor(ing)n This Way

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year, it's impossible not to have heard all the hype surrounding Lady Gaga's new album. The woman's a genius. Her extra-musical activities have served to solidify that, no matter how her album sounds, it would be the next biggest thing since... well, her last album. Between her last effort The Fame Monster and her newest album, she's become the champion of the misunderstood, the bullied, the underdog. The majority of the gay community regards her as some sort of leather clad Jesus with the rallying cry "Be yourself!" With over 10 million followers on Twitter and 35 million hanging on her every word on Facebook, the album was destined to be a resounding success saleswise, especially considering the concept of the album is nearly dead. Projected album sales for the week were expected to break 800,000; I'll get a finite number once those details are released.


Good for her. There's only one problem though:

The album FUCKING SUCKS.

Pardon the language, but seriously. There's absolutely no redeeming qualities on here whatsoever. It's a damn shame too, since The Fame Monster was not only her best output, but one of the best pop albums released in the past 10 years. She kept her trademark weirdness and refusal to adhere to societal norms, but backed it up with music that actually had some SERIOUSLY incredible writing. Listen to "Bad Romance" or "Telephone" again and don't tell me that they're not still stuck in your head days later. They were catchy, memorable, incredibly dancy and helped propel her into the upper echelon of pop stars who weren't only popular, but GOOD too. Which is a rarity in today's day and age.

Born This Way trades in all aspects of good writing for a collection of 17 insipid, bland, generic fist pumping anthems solely written for Gaga's "little monsters". And I'm sure all of them, in their "misunderstood" lives, will find this album the greatest ever written and will sing its praises until the day they die. Or the day they grow up, at least. As for the rest of us, her more casual fans, we've been thrown to the wayside. The album sounds great, no doubt about it; the production is fat, the beats pounding and driving, the synths huge, larger than life and Gaga's voice right in front of it all.

The writing, however? Entirely unmemorable. The only tune that holds any weight as a contender for a legitimate song is second single "Judas", largely due in part to the fact it's a near carbon copy of Bad Romance with slightly dirtier synths.

Listen to this:


And then try to convince me it's not a sped up, grittier version of this:


Other tracks on the album try to replicate former successes as well. "Americano" tries and fails far too hard to be "Alejandro", leaving the listener with one of the worst tracks on the album, first single "Born This Way" has been proven time and time again to be ripped off from Madonna's "Express Yourself" and "You And I" is a poor man's version of "Speechless". The biggest problem is nothing has any personality to it. While The Fame Monster was still very much a dance-pop album, you could tell serious effort was put into making the songs stand out, if only a little bit, from the rest of the trite on the radio. Born This Way has all those 4 on the floor kicks and side chained off beat synthesizer work that's been oh so prevalent the past 2 years. It sounds like everything else.


"Hair" succeeds as a mindless dance song with a halfway catchy chorus hook and an admittedly awesome sounding second verse, even if it contains an absolutely awful intro and far too much 80s saxophone for its own good. "Government Hooker" and "Schiebe", if combined into one song, would be the best on the album; both have an underlying industrial vibe that I may be biased towards and rather amusing premises. That's what... 3 total songs that have only a little appeal? Out of seventeen?

Unacceptable.

Next time, Gaga, PLEASE remember that there's more than just the sad, misunderstood fucks out there. Us normal folk like to listen to you to. Or did, at any rate. And if you're going to take cues from the 80s, at least pull them from good artists.



I rest my case.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

And We Return

It seems I'm always apologizing for not posting enough. The past three weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, let me tell you... scoring three movies in as many weeks, if not less, takes its toll on the psyche. And then there's the fun of moving an entire apartment's worth of stuff home. Maybe I should've been an accountant. There's a lot less shit to lug around.

But this year brought some of the best memories related to composing that I've had so far. And even though I complain incessantly about everything I work on (which finally got me into trouble with a client; I should watch myself), everything I've done this year has been an absolute pleasure to do. I'm incredibly proud of the three movies I've scored, I finally got Salvation Denied to play some legitimate gigs, I started working on a musical, and I'd like to think I've grown leaps and bounds as a composer.

A lot of that growth I owe to you all. So thank you. I'm constantly bouncing ideas off of people, refining things here and there and all of the feedback I receive I genuinely take to heart. Not to mention, everything that's happened this year has had a profound impact on my life and finally let me write how I felt.

From the bottom of my heart, to everyone who's ever listened, critiqued, aided and abetted or hated my music; you guys help make me who I am. A thousand thanks.

Goals this summer: MUSICAL. Finally upgrading my computer. Aaaaaaand I think I may invest in some DJ gear and learn how to do it. So if y'all need a DJ for a party next year, hit me up.

I leave you with footage of my recital (yeah, I know, it was way back in March), finally on Youtube.

See you fairly soon. Now that I have much more free time, I can blog more.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

No Shit, I Score Movies (Now With Examples!)

I think it's finally time to let you all in on what I've been working on the past 3 or 4 weeks, and will continue to work on until my fingers and ears fall off.

A quick recap:

Merry Christmas, Eve

"Merry Christmas, Eve" Trailer from Alyssa Codamon on Vimeo.
A slice of life piece about 3 twentysomethings out of college, living their lives to the best of their abilities. The director, Alyssa, wanted something very similar to an M83 song that I'm forgetting the name of at the moment for the title sequence: big, wide, slow, dreamy synthesizers. This cue's still very much a baby and will probably get fleshed out much more once I receive a final cut of the film, but the general idea is there.
Merry Christmas, Eve (Title Sequence) by Michael Hart

Welcome To Willard

Welcome To Willard is a documentary about a mental institution and the patients it had. While the beginning and end of the film are documentary styled, with an interview with a living patient from the institution, the majority of the film is about 3 patients in the facility and their experiences. Told through voiceovers, its quite dark, really, but still wonderful. This was an early build of the music I had over the opening sequence of the film, which Nicole liked, but not in its state as it appears here. Perhaps this version will appear over the credits.
Welcome To Willard Opening by Michael Hart

And for something completely different, this is a cue I did for our fake movie for my film scoring class. My teacher wanted something sort of "elevator music" esque. Cheesy, happy, bubbly, all that shit.

I said fuck it, and produced this:
A Recipe For Tastelessness by Michael Hart
Needless to say, my teacher was shocked. But in a good way!

And now, back to work. I can't wait for next Wednesday. Everything will be done by then.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

And All That Jazz (Not Really)

Busy.

Busy busy busy.

But hey, Salvation Denied is playing a show in Manhattan on Saturday!

To elaborate a bit:

Downtown Cabaret is a concert put on by a collaborative effort between many of the arts programs here at SUNY Purchase. My program (Studio Composition... but if you read this blog, that should be beaten into your head by now) has the biggest stake in the show; we have performances from 8 to around midnight, usually. There's a TON of fantastic performers playing, including longtime collaborator Kelly Izzo, my good friend Leila, my new favorite Purchase band The Bearing (who my housemate has been mixing for the past month, and who've been stuck in my head since then) and too many others to list.

We perform at 9:30 PM Saturday night. Should have a 25 minute set, give or take; Downtown Cab is still finalizing all of the scheduling issues. For complete schedules Friday and Saturday, click here and here, respectively.

Forgive if updates are a bit spotty for the next couple of weeks. I'm in the thick of film scoring now. Receiver,  Merry Christmas Eve, and the newest project I just got, Welcome To Willard, directed by Nicole Favale, will be occupying every waking hour from here until the first or second week in May. I'm incredibly pleased to be working with such talented directors; I like to complain about my work sometimes, but these three in particular are a blast. I'll have audio very soon.

You know what? Fuck it. I'm closing this blog post with The Bearing's newest single, lest you're too lazy to click on the link above. I hope you enjoy it (though they don't want to admit it, I totally helped mix it a little bit. Boosting guitars is my idea. But this time it WORKED)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Got $leazy, Swore, and Shook

Apologies for this not being posted earlier. Life likes to intervene in my blogging schedule. You know how it goes: somebody hands you a movie, and the next thing you know it's 5 days later and you haven't moved in roughly as much time from your keyboard. Though I'm happy to say, Merry Christmas Eve is coming along quite smoothly. I'll have themes for y'all next blog post.

Today's post, though, is all about live shows, of which there have been many this past week (fuck yeah, absurd sentence structure).

First, for those of you who don't attend Purchase, Culture Shock was this weekend. Culture Shock is our annual 2 day music festival, usually showcasing a wide variety of different acts. Key word being "usually". This year's festival drew a lot of criticism for its lack of diversity, which I wholeheartedly agree with. The vast majority of the bands fell into either the "let's all smoke weed and be happy with lots of clean delayed guitar tones and clean delayed vocals" indie category or the "WE'RE LOUD AND ABRASIVE BUT NOT SLOPPY, IT'S A VIBE THING" indie category.

Not that I have a problem with indie music. It has to be done right though. See Sufjan Stevens, or Stereolab.

One band stuck out this festival though. I'd had the pleasure of seeing them once before, and they never cease to be awesome. Enter Swear And Shake.

A quartet comprised of bass, drums, electric and acoustic guitar and male/female vocal interplay, the group writes wonderful singer songwriter-esque music, but without all of the pitfalls the genre encounters. Vocalists Kari Spieler and Adam McHeffey intertwine with a mastery of those twice their age and experience, the arrangements are well thought out without ever being overwhelming, and the group isn't afraid to drop bars at (pardon) the drop of a hat. Recommended listening? "Johnnie". Or anything off of their recently released EP, honestly.

Last Wednesday saw me finally going to see Ke$ha live. And let me tell you.

IT. WAS. INCREDIBLE.

I think part of the reason I enjoyed myself so much was, much as I love Ke$ha, I was expecting it to suck. Let's be real for a minute; the girl has so much polish on her recordings, would you honestly expect her to be able to replicate it all live?

The funny thing is she CAN. And did. The show got off to a REALLY shaky start with Sleazy. The mix was off, the vocal performance terrible and the dancing stilted and awkward. Once she hit her stride, though,  the girl could do no wrong in my eyes. The biggest shocker? Almost all of the show was live. Drums, synths, guitar, backing vocals, all were handled masterfully by her backing band. Apparently Ke$ha is a much more talented musician than most people give her credit for as well. Throughout the set she played guitar, synthesizer, drums on occasion... and even theremin.

Fucking THEREMIN. Let that sink in.

Highlights of the show:
- This is how it started. Those glasses were awesome. It's a shame Sleazy wasn't better.

- Right before "Grow A Pear" she asked the audience, "Now... what man wants to be abused onstage by me?" Of course, the crowd went wild. She deliberated for a while before pulling up a young gay man dressed to the nines. Cheetah print top, boyshorts, ripped leggings, heels, glitter everywhere, you name it. He broke down and started sobbing onstage, he was so happy.

Then, of course, he got saran wrapped to a chair and beat in the face with a giant stuffed penis. So classy.

- The whole stage setup and presentation was awesome. Her roadies built up the stage so that everyone got their own section to screw around in, the lighting design was awesome, and all of the costumes looked like they were ripped out of rejected Combichrist designs.

- Of course, the setlist. All of her hits, plus a couple of songs that were made a LOT better by a live band. "Dinosaur" sucks. But was really cool live.

So, if you get a chance to go see her in a standing room venue, DO IT. Definitely worth the thousands of shrieking preteens and their disgruntled parents.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Madness Is Quiet

Not 5 minutes before I started writing this blog post, I was made aware of some very upsetting news. One of my favorite live bands, RX Bandits, just announced that their upcoming summer tour would be their last. If you aren't aware of who RX Bandits are, you're doing yourself an incredible disservice. The Bandits started off as your run of the mill ska band, but gradually warped into something rather unclassifiable. Equal parts rock, psychedelic, progressive, reggae and a whole host of other genres mashed together in one large melting pot, the group has a habit of recording all of their albums live, with a minimal amount of overdubs. Which, if you haven't done before, takes an extreme degree of talent to pull off at the level that they can.























I've seen them at least once every year since my sophomore or junior year of high school (it's been a while) and they're by far one of the best live shows I've seen. High energy, the entire crowd sings along, and the band never stops for a second. It's sad to see them go, but I'm sure their final string of shows will be among the best.



Onto happier news:

Kelly and I recently completed another rough arrangement from Alice Unraveled, entitled "Rose Petals". In the musical, it details the main character coming home from the party where she was just assaulted, and her slow descent into madness and Wonderland as she attempts to cope with what just happened. It's dark, yet oddly beautiful and poignant.

Kelly's original scratch track was in E minor and much slower than it is here. I decided to speed it up a bit, roughly 15 bpm, and changed the key to F minor. F minor is much darker sounding, contributing to the vibe we were going for. The BPM change happened in order to provide more variety to the arrangement; the original repeated the same arpeggiating pattern over and over, whereas the new alternates between quarter note and 8th note grids.

Laryngitis while recording a scratch vocal track was an issue for Kelly, but she still managed to turn in quite a beautiful performance. We left her voice bone dry, in some contrast to the rest of the arrangement, and it sits wonderfully in the scope of the mix: right in front of your eyes and backed by a harp, string trio and an assortment of electronic noises and drum hits.

The arrangement's still not finalized yet; the end in particular needs some work, when the electronic elements kick in full force, and the large drum hits we agreed on are far too big for the scope of the song. However, I think it's a pretty good representation of the final product, and I can't wait until we can put together an ensemble and hear how it sounds on all live instruments.

Rose Petals by Michael Hart

The rest of my week is taken up by scoring Merry Christmas Eve, of which I just received a rough cut. It's a monster at the moment with a 45 minute runtime, but Alyssa's going to be trimming, trimming, trimming over the next week or two. I have some great ideas for the score already, some involving my favorite 30 second decay reverb patch. AMBIENCE.

I'll update you all again at some point this week; it contains our school's biggest festival of the year, Culture Shock, and Ke$ha live in concert for me tomorrow. I'm incredibly excited.

Friday, April 1, 2011

This Place About To...

It's Friday, Friday!



Boy, THAT sure lasted a while, didn't it? Though I'm amazed it somehow managed to get over 72 million views. Even still, looks like her 15 minutes of fame are up.

No, today, with my drink in my hand and in my stomach, I figured I'd pay tribute to Ke$ha's newest outputs: her video for "Blow", which apparently released much earlier than I expected, and her latest album, a remix jaunt entitled I Am The Dance Commander + I Command You To Dance: The Remix Album.



"Blow" was far and away my favorite song off of Cannibal, and I totally called it to be the next single. Go me.  As for the video... Miss Ke$ha seems to be taking a page out of Lady Gaga's playbook. Unicorn heads on human forms? Subtle romantic cues? Absurdist lines such as "edible lactose gold"? All here. However, while Gaga has a flair for being able to take something out of the ordinary and run with it, Ke$ha falls flat. Too much of the video is focused on her, as opposed to her surroundings. Yes, it's a pop video, she's the star, yada yada yada... but look at the video for "Bad Romance" (if you don't check the links, its up there). The focus is on the pop star, but it's done in such a way that you notice the surroundings, and you notice how bizarre the whole thing is. The appeal is enhanced tenfold.

Ke$ha, on the other hand, spends too much time prancing around backlit trying to act all sexylike. We get the schtick already. By the time we hit the climax of the video, where Ke$ha and her male counterpart, so lovingly referred to as "James Vanderdouche", start fighting each other with guns that shoot rainbow bullets, injuring/slaughtering many of the unicorn/human hybrids frequenting the establishment, its too little too late. Interest has been lost. Though the end is kind of incredible in a psychotic kind of way, the rest of the video pales in comparison.

Song's great though. Awesome beat, catchy as hell melody, good use of pop form... it's an obvious single.

As for the remix album?






























Forgettable.

Except for the "Blow" remix. Listen to that.

Now, off to a grunge thesis. Enjoy your FRIIIIDAAAAYYYY.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bye Bye Birdie... Hello, Sanity

Thankfully, the middle school production of Bye Bye Birdie ended Sunday, netting me an extra 400 dollars. AND A ROSE!


Happiness not included

Nah, I feel like I come down too hard on musicals. As much as I rag on it every year, it is a legitimately fun experience. The band's usually quite adept, and more often than not the kids are hysterical. Dumbing down musicals to be appropriate for middle school often results in some incredibly stupid, incredibly funny substitutions. Like "orgy" being pronounced "oar-ghee". Or Coke (the drink, not the drug) being substituted for beer. Exciting.

It went off without a hitch. There were a few mishaps here and there, the most egregious one being an accidental curtain open during a scene in front of the curtain. The main characters are all interacting in front of the curtain while stage crew sets up the next scene behind it. But whoever was manning the curtain accidentally opened it after the scene was set, BEFORE the scene in front of it was finished. Trying to get 50+ middle schoolers to stay still for at least 3 minutes, if not more, is a terrifying prospect. Though I must say, they handled it pretty well.

I wish I could've taken my own pictures, but the whole dealing with underage kids and consent forms and such didn't allow me to. It's much easier to grab pictures from local publications as opposed to taking my own, and God forbid having a touchy Clarkstown parent wind up on this blog somehow and get me in serious trouble. Clarkstown (my town) is very big on the whole child safety thing, often to the detriment of those who just want some photo evidence for our blogs.

But I digress. Thanks to New City Patch, I can post pictures!

The 2 leads. I wish I knew their real life names, but both were actually very good at what they did. The girl in particular had quite a good voice for being in middle school, and they played off of each other well.


The namesake of the musical, Conrad Birdie and his harem of jailbait. Which gets alluded to in the script. Hysterical. His clothing never ceased to produce laughter.


The "twin" sisters of the family in the musical, the Macafees. Only on performance night did I realize they weren't actually twins in real life.





More of Birdie and his number one fan, Ursula. Who, I have to say, nearly blew out my eardrums. When you have 50 middle school girls on stage, screaming like they're at a Justin Bieber concert, and you're only 5 feet away from them, it's fucking painful.

Bows. Oh, the bows. We ran the bows music for the first time ever opening night. My God. That was a feat in and of itself, especially considering we had to continually loop it since there were so many kids who needed to get on stage. Second night we played a completely different song for the bows, and the final performance we made changes yet again. I don't think we ever really settled on the right choice, but it worked regardless.




And so ends another round of musical. Next up this week: MORE musical. Kelly Izzo's, that is. I should have a new arrangement up for you all at some point in the coming days.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Merry Christmas Eve

Sadly, it's not ACTUALLY Christmas Eve. If it was, I wouldn't be able to type because every part of my body would be stuffed with delicious, delicious food and cookies. No, Merry Christmas Eve is actually the title of a brand new movie I was tasked to score.

Written and directed by SUNY Purchase film major Alyssa Codamon, Merry Christmas Eve tells the story of three young post-college adults, living together in the same house and doing what recent college graduates do best: dicking around. Though I haven't gotten a rough cut of the film yet, Alyssa was kind enough to show me a couple of scenes to get a feel for what I'd be scoring, and it's definitely something that's worth watching. It's a rather poignant piece, but not without its fair share of laughter. It's very... human, shall we say.

As for scoring approach? I hate to bring it up again, but Reznor/Ross and The Social Network are the main influences I'm drawing from throughout this process. It's the atmosphere, man. Alyssa wanted something that undercut the dialogue and boosted the emotions of the scenes while moving them along, and that score is one of the best examples of recent scoring that does such a thing. I'm also thinking I finally get to use a guitar in a score that's NOT for a Caleb Foss film. By which I mean, some sort of actual enhancement value as opposed to awful heavy metal while actors vomit on each other.



Hopefully I'll have a cut of Alyssa's film post spring break, upon which I'll lock myself in my room and not see the sun for a good month or so. Film majors have a habit of giving me everything all at once, at the same time, with only a maximum of 2 weeks to do everything. Stressful to the max, yes, but I've found I work much better under pressure. Forcing scores out, oddly enough, makes them better.

For now, watch the trailer. It's PRETTY. And bright. Good for me and my colorblindness.


"Merry Christmas, Eve" Trailer from Alyssa Codamon on Vimeo.

As for my spring break? Work, work, work. I'm currently playing guitar for a middle school production of Bye Bye Birdie. Let me tell you, watching a hundred middle schoolers put on a production of ANY musical is a terrifying experience. It pays well, though, and the changes they have to make in order for it to be appropriate for a middle school are really funny. I'm bringing my camera tonight for the first performance, so I'll have pictures of that tomorrow.

That's done on Sunday, upon which I have to continue orchestrating Alice Unraveled, since I won't have time after break because of the sheer volume of movies that will be thrust upon me.

I'll sleep when I'm dead, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Alice, Slowly Unraveling

I told y'all I'd be back this week.

Before I get into my blog post, though, have you witnessed "Friday" by Rebecca Black yet? I'm sure it's been beaten to death in the past 5 or so days, but in case you didn't know, the video's a production of the Ark Music Factory, which as far as I can tell is solely designed to separate extremely rich parents from their money in the hopes that their young daughter will become a pop star.

Good. Fucking. Luck.



Now, onto music that really matters.

In my previous post, I detailed an arrangement of Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" that Kelly Izzo and I did recently, and I thought I'd share it with you all. It's... an interesting treatment, to say the least. Thankfully Kelly liked it, and was even keen on the idea of translating the color palette used in the arrangement to her upcoming musical I'm orchestrating, Alice Unraveled.

Love For Sale Arrangement by Michael Hart

But in ADDITION to that, she gave me the OK to post a scratch arrangement of the opening song I did. The song's called "Space And Time", and admittedly, this was the throwaway arrangement. Our independent study teacher who's working closely with us on the project asked me to create two arrangements for the song. The first I worked my heart out on, crafting a guitar driven arrangement with string quartet (actually, more like string orchestra... I love my big string patches, ok?), tubular bells, distorted drums, the whole nine yards. It was big, it was bombastic, I thought it worked really well as an opener to a musical.

The day before I have to present the arrangement comes, and I realize that I still had the entire other one to do. I had spent much more time crafting the first arrangement, I completely forgot about the second! In my haste, I decided to go an entirely different route. Removing the guitars entirely, I decided to make the piece spacious, with a small palette of instruments. Held synth chords, a lead reminiscent of a clarinet, glockenspiel, and eventually bass synth, drums and an extra synth pad painted a picture DRASTICALLY different than my first arrangement.

Of course, my teacher and Kelly liked the second one better. And after listening through again, I'm inclined to agree. It's still very much a work in progress; the glockenspiel gets painful and piercing at points, and the wedge form of the arrangement clashed with Kelly's original interpretation of the song. She thinks the ending is still too big. Personally, I like it, but I agree in the context of the musical it's entirely wrong. We're going back to the drawing board relatively soon to finish this up and dig into the rest of the musical, so I'll have updates as they come.

Space And Time by Michael Hart

I also have details about a new movie I've been tasked to score. At least, I think I have. More on that in the coming weeks.

Enjoy FREE MUSIC!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Music I've Been Listening to Recently: A Study in Eclecticism

I'm sorry that it's been over a week since I've posted here. I wanted to have an enormous post with tons and tons of pictures and video and everything from my recital, but none of my visual people have gotten anything to me yet. In time, dear readers, in time. I'm going to hound them all this week. As for everyone who came to watch it... from the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much. It went off incredibly well, you were all dancing like it was keeping you alive, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences thus far that I've done. You guys (and gals) fucking rock.

As for this past week and a half? There's been a few releases kicking around that I've been enjoying, the main one being Protest The Hero's new album, Scurrilous.


Yes, it sounds like the unholy bastard child that would be created if Queen, Yngwie Malmsteen and a prog-metal demon could somehow procreate with each other all at once, but fuck if it doesn't SHRED. The album's entirely over the top in delivery and composition, and there's roughly zero subtlety to be found here. It never seems self-indulgent though. Pretentious, maybe, if you don't get the band's sense of humor. For me, at least, it sounds like a band displaying a big middle finger to everyone who's ever had anything negative to say about their sound, which is essentially what they did on this album; they took all the elements that people said they didn't like and did them tenfold. Nary a second goes by without some lead line noodling around in the left ear, time changes and off-kilter riffs abound, and the vocal delivery is the epitome of balls out, cock flapping in the breeze bombastic-ness; and yet, it all comes together in a cohesive, entirely enjoyable package. Detractors of this band decry this album because there's almost no screaming on it; fuck them. This album doesn't need it. For standout tracks, check out "Hair-Trigger", "Tandem", "Tapestry" and for the hilarity of it all, "Sex Tapes", which includes one of my new favorite lyrical lines: "The Jonas generation's got rings wrapped round their dicks". Nobody said they didn't have a sense of humor.


Exhibit A: Sense of humor.


On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Avril Lavigne's new album Goodbye Lullaby released on March 2nd and immediately started fights between those who miss her woe-is-me so called "introspective, healing" songwriting and those who, yknow, AREN'T stuck in the early 2000s when it was ok to wear a tie over scene clothing.

Ok, maybe it's the grumpy music major in me, or the brainwashing our program does to make us think that Ke$ha is a legitimate artist, but Avril's lead single "What The Hell" is fucking great. I mean, sure, it's a little bit asinine in terms of lyrical content and it's as subtle as that scene from Inception where a train comes barreling down the road from nowhere (non-subtle seems to be a theme of this post). However, the hooks are catchy as all hell, the backing track is impossible to NOT bop your head along to and it arcs and flows like every other pop song, but still works. It's refreshing to hear a pop tune that's not done entirely out of a synthesizer for once.

Then there's the rest of the album. Our old friend I-V-vi-IV shows up in OVER HALF of the compositions (for those of you who don't speak composer, these lads do a good job of describing it) and there's generally nothing that sticks out as a good song. "Smile" perhaps has a bit of saving grace, but that could be more in part of Max Martin's writing contribution than anything else. Actually, scratch that, "Smile" is awesome. The rest? Nothing sticks out at all. "Push" tries too hard to be Alanis Morissette and once we get past "I Love You" (again saved somewhat by Martin) the album blends together with that damn chord progression and arrangements that don't do enough to distinguish one tune from another. Avril dropped the ball again, it seems. Damn shame. If the rest of the album was like "What The Hell" we could've had a more angsty Kelly Clarkson on our hands, which is never a bad thing.

Finally, Sunday night saw Deerhoof playing at SUNY Purchase, which was actually the first show Purchase put on I was able to attend that I was actually excited about (still pissed I missed Caspian), save for perhaps seeing Des Ark the previous Sunday. Deerhoof was fun, if incredibly inconsistent with songs that they played, but their support band was phenomenal.

They're called Buke And Gass, and they blew me away. With only 2 members and a whole lot of octave pedals, they crafted a wonderful set that, while still steeped in indie traditions, broke the mold a bit and actually had some interesting compositions to be heard. I'm currently making my way through my first listen of their debut album, Riposte, and it's great. Definitely pick it up. I was very happy that they turned out to be a great live time, after Thursday's disappointment with the Dropkick Murphys.

Not that I don't still enjoy them, they put on a great live show... but maybe 3 times in 3 years is enough for a while.

Since I've been silent for too long, I promise to post at least once more this week, probably on Wednesday. Perhaps twice if I have enough to say and get my recital footage and pictures. I'll have more new compositions for you too! Kelly Izzo and I were tasked to do a version of Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" that I'm sure you'll all be interested in hearing. I'll put it this way: we weren't allowed to listen to it, and she sent me just a vocal melody. No chords, no harmonic information, not even to click. It's coming out incredibly weird... imagine Cole Porter reimagined as Shadows Of The Sun era Ulver.



Happy reading.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ladies, Gentleman... Welcome To The End Of The World

It's really happening today.

Waking up from an awful dream about your recital going wrong THE DAY of your recital isn't the best way to start the day. That, and the fact I woke up an hour before I slated my alarm to go off. And went to bed quite late. I'm running on pure adrenaline right now... I don't think I've been this wired in my entire life.

It's weird to see something you've been planning nonstop since the beginning of the semester finally come to fruition. I couldn't have done it without a ton of help from many people. My neighbors, for painting me an awesome abstract mural, Rachel for the posters, people helped me book tech, book rooms, get INTO rehearsal rooms, move gear...

You never really know how much work goes into one of these until you take a step back and really take a look at the scope of the project. This must be why acceptance speeches always leave out crucial people. There's so many who are important.

Like right now. Most importantly, I left out my ensemble, who've put up with me for the past month trying to schedule rehearsals and delivering music late and changing times to rehearse 3 or 4 times before they happen. Through it all, they just keep on playing, and keep on dancing. It makes me proud to not only call them wonderful musicians, but great friends as well. Thank you guys so much.

As for me? I'm going to sit here and freak out for a while until I can go get a sandwich.

See you all at 8.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Posters and Oscars

I haven't felt this good in months. It's incredible what circumstances can do to change your mood. It's as simple as seeing the sun after a weekend of rain, or getting one of the most awesome posters I've ever seen from the immensely talented Rachel Edelman. I told her to go free with this one, and had no idea what I was going to get. I had even less of an idea when I opened her email with the first draft of the poster, and received only this message inside:

"It's made out of INTESTINES."

Lo and fucking behold, it is.


But enough about my exploits. THE OSCARS JUST OCCURRED.

Sunday's ceremony was rife with boring banter between co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco, some truly bizarre presenters and the first ever dropping of the F-bomb in Oscar history (from a PURCHASE alum, no less. Represent). For me, the most intriguing award of the night has always been the "Best Original Score" award; while still bogged down in Academy bureaucracy bullshit, the category gives composers who worked their hearts out on less than stellar movies a chance at recognition. Last year's award went to composer Michael Giacchino for "Up", which, in my humble opinion, was one of the only things the Academy's gotten right in the past 5 years. Giacchino's score plays with rousing, uplifting themes orchestrated throughout various ensembles, maintaining a sense of childlike whimsey and wonder while still portraying a depth of character and being incredibly mature at the same time.

This year's winner? Nine Inch Nails and his producer.


Surprised? I'll admit, I was too. At the same time, though, it seemed entirely expected. "The Social Network" really only had competition from "Inception" this year. Alexandre Desplat's score for "The King's Speech" was too tame, too safe, much too much like his soundtrack for "The Queen", a former Oscar contender. "127 Hours" I have admittedly not heard, but it seemed like the movie was thrown on the ballot simply for the sake of having another movie nominated for Best Picture. Nobody expected it to win anything. As for John Powell's "How To Train Your Dragon"? Dreamworks movie. If it isn't Pixar, the Academy usually doesn't care.

Which really left the score battle between an absolute heavyweight and a couple of newbies to scoring movies. Hans Zimmer left us with one of the most iconic scores of last year with his work on "Inception"; you couldn't walk anywhere without hearing people shout BRAAAAAHHHHHMMMMMM in imitation of the film's french horn blasts. He created a rousing score that served to make Christopher Nolan's high concept and higher budget as intense as it could possibly become and redefined what the term "bombastic" could mean. Hell, it even has its own button.




















Then we have "The Social Network", a score that couldn't be more different than "Inception" if it was recorded entirely on ukulele. Trent Reznor and producer Atticus Ross composed what amounts to a whole lot of electronic mood music. Without the context of the movie, the music is somewhat banal and repetitive, following a very familiar ebb-flow pattern and employing the same couple of approaches to each track: lets drench everybody in reverb and throw in some distorted synths for TENSION. And piano for RELEASE. And oh, we have these brooding dark synths for... well, BROODING MOMENTS. Honestly, did you expect anything else from a man who was responsible for, "I want to fuck you like an animal"?



But put the score in the context of "The Social Network"... ah. NOW I understand it. In the movie's portrayal of betrayal, greed, fame and misfortune, the score ceases to become melodramatic and boring; instead, it becomes gripping, evocative, and ultimately the only thing that could've worked in the context of the movie. Reznor and Ross's score succeeds in the way that it is TRULY movie music, composed with the exact vibe of the picture in question. Ultimately, that's why "The Social Network" deserved to win. As music... whatever. As FILM music: nearly flawless.


In closing, as for the original songs? FUCK Randy Newman. You Got A Friend In Me was great... FIFTEEN YEARS AGO. Talk about over the hill songwriters.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

6 Days To Glory

6 days.

6 days until my recital.

I think the only reason I'm not freaking out as I type this is because I have nothing major to do today. The past week was incredible with how much time I spent at my computer working on my recital. I barely slept all week, had rehearsals, meetings with designers, somehow managed to transport a canvas home from the store in a convertible that wouldn't fit it (we put the roof down and drove the entire way home while it was snowing with me buried under it in the back) and composed a bunch of new pieces. All in the span of 5 days.

I have faith, though. The ensemble is coming together wonderfully, everybody is understanding with my insane scheduling and they're a fantastic bunch of musicians. Expect a bunch of surprises... one you may know about already because I enjoy talking about it, but the other we're playing incredibly close to the chest. So just you wait.

As a treat, since I said I would post music more often, I found the audio file for the music we're using as an intro. Sometimes composing movie scores that ultimately never end up getting used is a good thing. The music was from the big climax moment of the movie, involving a large bat man (not THE Batman), a little boy and a whole lot of cannibalism. I took another look at it, fleshed it out, made it MORE bombastic... and here you have it. It's still untitled, since I hate titles, but it's suitably epic for an epic show.

Recital Intro by Michael Hart

Keep your eyes peeled. In the next couple of days I should have prints of my recital poster that I'll share with you all.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cold Weather? Montauk Video!

In SOMEWHAT keeping up with my theme of posting music that's been sitting on my computer for a long time that nobody's ever heard before, I happened upon a short score for a video produced by a friend of mine. Christor Lukasiewicz is quite possibly one of the most talented photographers I've met; my apartment has pictures of his hanging all over and he's responsible for the lovely gasmask photograph that adorns my profile. Sometimes it's wonderful to have a semipro photographer as one of your best friends. The perks are endless.















This may or may not be one of those perks.

Anyways. Enough rambling.

Back in October or November, Christor contacted me with a short clip he had shot and edited that he wanted original music to. Being the kind gentleman that I am, I agreed immediately. And sat on the clip for about a month or two. I'd say I was busy, but who the fuck am I kidding, last semester was taken up by a WHOLE lot of Mass Effect 2 and dicking around.

When I finally got around to looking at the video, I found his temp track to be a little bit... intense, shall we say, for the visual onscreen. I notified him of this, and he agreed somewhat. The feel was there, he said, but  I was allowed to experiment how I pleased. The score came together incredibly quickly; it was much more song form based than I'm usually contracted to do, but there were certain cuts that I had to hit as well. A bit of a challenge, but luckily I have this uncanny ability to find the perfect tempos that line up with cuts. Simple 4 chord pattern on a nice distorted Rhodes sim, filter drums, bass, and super delayed surfy guitar swells, and we have a tune. Oh, and harp harmonics. Quite possibly my favorite patch in EastWest; it gives me a piano-like sound, but with a much more dreamy quality to it.

I shipped it back to him, he liked it, and now it's on Vimeo. There's another one in the works, of him playing with his water housing backed by an original song I wrote with Kelly Izzo, but that one may have stalled, since I learned I don't get tracking for free anymore. Boo me.

Now. The real test. Lets see if these embeds work.


weekend in Montauk 2010 from Christor Lukasiewicz on Vimeo.

SUCCESS.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Remixed And Loving It

Apologies for not sticking to the "song a day" mantra I set out to do last week. Living the life of a full time student and composer doesn't leave me with very much free time; none at all, to be exact. This weekend was exceptionally hectic, between rehearsals with the Salvation Denied ensemble (it sounds so much more badass when I say it like that), beginning the production of arrangements for Alice Unraveled, and realizing that the Amanda Palmer remix was due a lot earlier than I expected.

It's a great feeling, opening the contest page on Saturday and realizing that the song has to be submitted by Monday. Panic set in, I didn't leave my room for a good 5 or 6 hours at a time, and through the sheer power of will and the magic of copy/paste, the remix was completed. Mixing occurred the following day, on Monday, thanks to my housemate and longtime friend and collaborator James Perrella, to give it that extra grit, drive and side chain compression, and I submitted with a little over 2 hours until the completion of the contest. Whew. I work best under pressure.


The remix is an amalgamation of Paul Van Dyk esque trance, Salvation Denied's own eccentric brand of electronica and my first foray into dubstep. Dubstepping bass sounds was one of the most exciting parts of this project, as I had never done it before. Running into problems with getting my LFOs to work (which is how most dubstep musicians get that WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP that's so prevalent in the genre), I devised a simple workaround: FILTER PLUGIN. It's not the smoothest, but it gets the idea across and works wonderfully.

James provided me with additional amusement with his frustration at mixing in Logic. It's somewhat of an oxymoron; Logic is completely illogical with the way its set up. I don't think I've heard the phrase "piece of shit" used more times than in that hour of mixing. Quite humorous, to say the least.

Download It Here. Additionally, if you want to check out any of the other submissions, click here. There's quite a few of them, some of which are incredibly good, some of which are... not so good, shall we say. But then again, I'm a cranky music major.

As for Alice Unraveled, I'll have to talk to Kelly, but I'm sure she won't be opposed to posting some scratch arrangements that we did up on here.

Also, thanks a bunch for reading. I've noticed I've been getting hits every day. From who, I'm not sure (I have to find the little widget that shows me where my readers are coming from), but it means a lot that you care about my ramblings and music. I promise I'll bring you goodies from the archives of music on my computer soon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fuckin' America

Since my last post was rather heavy handed emotionally, I figured that this week we could do something a little more lighthearted. I'm going to take a page from a longtime collaborator, friend, and musician of (I grudgingly admit) much ability, Andrew Fox. His blog, The Foxy Music, was set up so that he could share his back catalog of music with everyone. For the past month and a half, Andrew has been steadily releasing  a large amount of music, whether they be one offs, incredibly stupid/funny covers, demos, scratches, whatfuckinghaveyou, and it's a great way to connect with the artist.

Time to steal said concept.

I've learned that, as composers, what do we do to blow off steam? Besides drink ourselves into oblivion, we record really, REALLY stupid shit. I think it's time that this stupid shit gets shared with the world. Unfortunately, unlike Andrew I can't take requests for things because my workload is incredibly massive at the moment, not to mention that I'm still taking on projects, but I figured it takes maybe 10 minutes to upload a song to share. Why not do it?

Today's gem comes from first semester of sophomore year. Still in the thick of getting rid of Gen Ed requirements, I signed up for an American History class that one of our music professors taught, mainly because I knew that I could slack off and still get an A. Sue me. I had a lot of movies to score that year.

Anyway, at the end of the semester we were required to do something creative, whether it be paint a painting, bake something, music, visual, movie, yada fucking yada... so long as it showed our passions. I decided to team up with Leila Hegazy and Mara Dominowski, two fellow Studio Comp majors and longtime friends of mine. What happens when you get three overworked musicians in a room together to write?

Incredible awful music.

The music for this track was written in a day, the lyrics that night, we did basic vocal tracking the next day for like an hour (2 to 3 takes max) and the entire project was wrapped in less than 2 days. Caleb Foss signed on to do visuals, which I sadly don't have, and we presented to the class. Rather, Mara and Caleb did, since both Leila and I went home.

Supposedly it was a hit. Why, I don't know.

The best part of this whole experience? Vocal tracking. We first ran into problems when I couldn't get enough sound out of the microphone unless the girls got really close to it. Me, in my ever so perverted wisdom, devised this solution: pretend like you're giving the mic a blowjob. Mara got incredibly offended at me, of course, but Leila just shrugged it off and went for it. Not literally, of course, but you get the idea.

Getting the girls properly autotuned was somewhat of an issue too. They're both incredible singers. Like, seriously good. Why they wanted to be autotuned was beyond me. The autotune wasn't catching their voices because they were too on pitch for it to be jumpy, so they decided to riff the hell out of EVERY SINGLE VOCAL LINE that they sang. Which they seemed to enjoy immensely, being from Staten Island and all.

So, at the end of the day, you get what you see below.

America The Bastardized

It'll be up for download for the duration of this little releaseage I'm doing. After that, this fucker's comin' DOWN. Can't have it on my professional Soundcloud.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Longing

Hello all.

I've had a rather turbulent past week and a half. Those of you who need to know why probably already do.

During that time, I sat down as a composer and did something I've never actually done before: let my feelings take control of what I write.

As a film scorer, I'm constantly tasked to create mood and emotion for various setpieces. I've gotten quite good at manufacturing what I think to be pretty believable representations of the gamut of emotions, from sad to happy to anger to intensity, what have you. Never have I attempted to let my own experiences dictate what flows into my compositions. It's so very... singer songwriter of me, I suppose you could say.

The entire experience has been incredibly cathartic, and I can finally bring myself to cope with what happened over this past week and a half. I have no regrets at all about what happened, and genuinely believe it can help me move on with my life.

One last thing: there's a bunch of different ways the title for this piece could've gone. Originally I was tempted to title it something incredibly melodramatic, like "Loving, Losing" or "Requiem For A Lost Love" or something equally at home in the discography of HIM or Aiden or any of those other fucking awful teen angst bands. As I sat back from finishing the last notes, the title hit me.

It's been the driving emotion behind the whole experience, and no matter what it will always be in the back of my mind.

Longing.

http://soundcloud.com/michael-hart-1/longing

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Please... No More Charts

I hate writing charts. There, I said it. I guess it's the curse of being a composer who works primarily in a DAW (Digital audio workstation. My preference? Logic) but when I compose, I do it through playing music in, as opposed to writing it out. Writing charts is entirely tedious to me. I understand the need for charts, and I've noticed that every so often seeing notes in a score form on a page helps me make more intelligent harmony choices... but translating already composed music to score form is so goddamn boring.

I bring this up because for the past 2 days I've been frantically writing charts out for the Salvation Denied live ensemble. With less than a month to go before my recital, it's been a whirlwind of activity here, with coordinating rehearsals, sending out charts, sending out music, and ordering pants for my costume. Thank God my chili's lasted me for over a week; I barely have time to cook.

Anyways, if you want to see a brief snippet of how I write, here's the first 2 pages of a song we're performing. Not a full score by any means, but these are the parts I pulled out for second synth and solo violin.



Obviously the score's missing a lot of information. These are just the individual parts my players are performing; the rest is going to be playback through my computer. I don't have enough money to buy things to trigger parts live, sadly.

Another realization I came to while writing these parts: my individual parts are really simple. Layer 5 or 6 of them together, though, and you get something that becomes epic and complex. Missing from the score right now are the staccato violas, drumkit, and low low low low low bass pad. Like, almost inaudible deep. Awesome.

Next on the agenda: booking a space to practice, working with Rachel Edelman on poster design, and beginning the orchestration of Alice. Gonna be a busy month.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Back To School, Back To Work

I've finally returned to SUNY Purchase. Not even going to lie, the move kicked my ass. Moving 2 8 inch monitors and enough guitars and assorted guitar related things to fuel 2 pop/punk bands (not to mention whatever else normal college students bring back and forth) has definitely taken a toll on my energy level. That, and I've been running around with housemates attempting to make our apartment pretty. When we're not shoveling out cars, that is.

But have no fear, music will come soon! I finally had a chance a couple of days ago to sit down with American Love, a movie that director Andy Cahill gave me, to start scoring it. American Love deals with a news reporter who happens across a prostitution ring that goes much deeper than it seems. I'll post score snippets up once they get more finalized; the score's taking a much more minimalist approach than I expected it to, but I feel it works a lot better that way. All you really need is a synth drone and drum hits to bring out tension in a scene.

Also, at long last, I have a date set for my junior recital. Friday March 4th I'll be performing with my industrial duo, Salvation Denied. I'm putting together the setlist now, and it's going to be almost an hour of music, if not more. Thankfully, I've managed to draft other members to our ensemble; it now consists of 2 synth players, war drums, solo violin and Caleb (he is his own instrument). Putting together this recital has been consuming a ridiculous amount of my time the past 2 weeks, so hopefully it all comes together really well. As well as a Salvation Denied show can, anyways.

Fleshtoy.
This may still be the old version. But you get the idea.

I'll post more now that I'm settled in, don't you worry. Work's going to start coming in like a flash flood in the next couple of weeks, so there will be no shortage of music to show you all.

Cheers.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Pursuit of the Perfect Album

Before I explore what today's title means, I'll let you in on my latest venture. A friend of mine was nagging me to start listening to the Dresden Dolls, and I was wondering why I hadn't before. I love Amanda Palmer's solo work, so naturally, the Dresden Dolls clicked immediately. I've been enjoying them for the past few days. Regardless, perusing around their respective webpages, I noticed that Amanda Palmer had a new album coming out this year, and had just released the first single from it a couple of days ago, called "Map Of Tasmania". Then I discovered the remix contest.


Apparently, Amanda Palmer is running a remix contest for her new single, where the winner gets a thousand bucks, a spot on her upcoming remix EP and the chance to collaborate with her on a song. Naturally, I jumped on it, so expect a remix of the song in a few weeks. I may make it a Salvation Denied venture; Caleb's voice wouldn't sound out of place at all in the context of the song. If anybody else wants to give it a shot, here's the link. It does a better job of explaining the rules than I can.

Now that that's taken care of. In pursuit of the perfect album.

A friend and longtime collaborator (the same one who wanted me to listen to the Dresden Dolls, interestingly enough) and I were talking on a car ride about our favorite albums, the conversation having been spurred by playing "Vespertine"by Björk. He was saying that he thought the album was among his top three favorite albums, and I was inclined to agree.

Then I wondered, why?

I realized it was because I didn't have any problems with the album. Which is incredibly rare these days, after being put through 2 and a half years of analyzing every single detail ever in music. I then went back and looked through what I found to be some of my favorite albums, and realized that a large portion of them I could listen to un-objectively, simply because I had no faults with them. Though the list is small, each of these albums has had a huge impact in my life, and are as close to perfect as I can ascertain. In alphabetical order (because iTunes likes to do it like that), they are:

After Forever - After Forever
Another of those holdouts from my heavy metal listening days, the minute I put this album on I realized that I would love it. After Forever plays the best female fronted Dutch symphonic metal I've heard. And I hate how metal genres are that specific. Not the point. The band finally hit that sweet spot between bombastic orchestral composition, pounding heavy metal and powerful vocal performances, turning in quite possibly the best modern heavy metal album I've heard. Ever. The use of a full orchestra isn't a crutch for bad songwriting to rest on, as it is in so many other heavy metal bands. Rather, the interplay between orchestra and band is symbiotic, each playing off the other and weaving together to create an album for the ages.

The vocals, however, provided by Floor Jansen, are what really ties the whole package together. Floor's voice is utterly captivating, even if it's of the balls out smacks you in the face variety. Extremely powerful and well trained, she makes the music her own and lets it absolutely rip. Just listen.

Björk - Vespertine
Björk's fourth album, and ultimately best, what makes Vespertine so incredible? If ever an album could be described as a winter album, this would be the seminal example of one. It's cold, yet strangely inviting, making use of multiple bell patches, strings, choir, harp, synth pads and the wonderful voice of the artist in question. It's all at once barren, sparse, subdued, emotional and wonderfully lush. Björk tones down her insanity that made tracks like "It's Oh So Quiet" such a riot to listen to, and turns in the most introspective and vulnerable performance of her career. She cries out, just looking for someone to spend the night with her, and ultimately finds someone who stays for a while. We never get the big beats of "Army Of Me" or the anger of "Alarm Call"; at its core, "Vespertine" is an album about the fragility of human love, a subject that all of us can relate to. "Pagan Poetry" especially sells the album in a big way. Once Björk hits those high notes in the chorus, its all over. If you were to listen to only one album on this list, make it this one. Its that good.

Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid
I've already detailed why this album is so awesome in my Top Ten Albums Of 2010 list, but while Trophy Scars beat this out in terms of initial impact, "The ArchAndroid" has ultimately proved to be one of the best albums I've ever listened to, simply because of its grandiose ideas and how well they succeed.  A quick recap: a smorgasbord of ideas that should have no business working that do in a big way, masterfully crafted song structures and pacings, and Janelle's voice. Oh my God, her voice. 

TIE: Mono - You Are There / Mono and World's End Girlfriend - Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain

Quite possibly, these two albums bring real backing to the phrase "beauty in desolation", but they go about it different ways. "You Are There" is the loud one, with the swells that one would come to expect from any post rock band, but done so masterfully that one would wonder if any other post rock band really matters. Take the opener, "The Flames Beyond The Cold Mountain". It opens with trem picked clean guitars and cymbal swells, both post rock staples, but the emotion present in the composition is second to none. The song gradually builds and builds to its breaking point, where everything boils over in a wall of distortion and pounding drums, and the listener is left in the breach, struggling to find a hand-hold lest they get swept away on a torrent of despair. And that's all in the first track. 

"Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain" takes a much sparser, yet no less effective approach. Relying on mainly strings to provide its emotional impact, its quite possibly one of the saddest, most gripping albums I've heard. The album flows together so well its not so much an album, but one extended composition, lasting nearly 75 minutes, and it doesn't let go for a second. There are its moments of loud intensity, sure, but its an exercise in restraint and layering to provide its impact. And with that, it succeeds where no other album has come close.

Peccatum - Lost In Reverie
This album is quite an impressive feat from a man who's other job was involved with burning churches throughout Norway in the 90s. Peccatum is one of the now defunct side projects from Ihsahn, who used to front the black metal band Emperor, one of the best bands to come out of the scene. And while "Lost In Reverie" still has its share of black metal moments, the majority of the album is taken up by atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. Listen to the opening track in a dark room alone by yourself and don't tell me you're not freaked the fuck out. "Lost In Reverie" is great because I have yet to find something that sounds like it, and the compositions included on it are wonderful. From the pseudo-breaks, glitch and fretless bass of "In The Bodiless Heart" to the all out assault of "Black Star", the album weaves its way through a multitude of genres, all while pulling off an impressive display of consistency. Definitely listen. But be prepared to be freaked out.

That's all for today. Perhaps tomorrow I'll post up pages from the charts I'm currently writing for my junior recital ensemble.