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.

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.


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. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Whomp Whomp Whomp Whomp


Just, why?

That's the question that's been on my mind for the past few days. I've been listening to a lot of dubstep at home and I'm struggling to figure out why I'm enjoying it so much. Because, for all intents and purposes, I should fucking hate it. Compositionally, dubstep is banal and incredibly amateur, with musical ideas that go absolutely nowhere. Texturally, its all the same. Bass, bass, sub bass, some sort of chimey synth, half time drumkit. Formwise, it follows the ebb and flow that's been beaten into the ground by every electronica artist since the 90s.

And yet, when that bass drops in with a bang and everything gets thrown to 11, I can't help but get up and get low. Is it a subconscious trigger in us all that's thrown by a pulsating LFO? The consumption of mass amounts of mind-altering substances before throwing on some Bassnectar? Or is it more primal, the desire in everyone to just get up and RAGE? I hadn't even heard of modern dubstep before the start of last semester, and it suddenly exploded everywhere. I'd listened to Burial before, sure, who are fantastic, but there's no way they'd fit in with the rest of today's dubstep artists.

Hell, look at the first 2 pages of comments, where everyone's up in arms over what Burial are. They've been rendered obsolete by many in today's technologically-driven electronic music climate. Which is a damn shame, because Burial are gripping and have a wonderful color palate they utilize to its maximum potential. "Untrue" made the list of the top 100 most important albums of the decade on a website I trust for unbiased music reviews.

And then, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have Skrillex, who are commercial, loud, grating, irritating, yet oddly endearing. And people eat this shit up.

I suppose, in short, I really DON'T know why I like dubstep. But I do. Dubstep is fulfilling the roles that trance had in the early 2000s, 80s music had in its time period, disco in the 70s, and so on and so forth: its solely party music. You go out and dance to it. And occasionally dress up as Santa, cover yourself in coal and get low.

Just make sure you've had a few Jack and Cokes before you get out there. Trust me. It makes dubstep so much better.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Look at Jean. Look at Noah. Do Not Look at Bob. Bob Does Not Exist.

UPDATE: Stills were finally sent to me. All pictures by Mattson Tomlin. Thanks, Mattson!

This was going to go up earlier, but 2 things got in the way: I didn't receive stills (not that I expected to; the guy who was supposed to get them to me is still involved in a 3 day shoot for a movie I'll detail below) and I got caught up in writing a cover version of something. I can't tell you what. You'll have to come to my junior recital to see it. Let's just say it's definitely pop, and probably fairly easy to guess if you know me at all. But it will be wonderful.

As for the title of today's post: Sunday saw a friend and I involved in the shooting of The Gallery, a film currently in production by Kevin Henthorn, a junior film major at SUNY Purchase. He was looking for extras to mill around a gallery and generally look arty and such. Considering I haven't left home much this break (or left my room, for that matter), I jumped at the opportunity. Waking up at 8 was a bit difficult, but nonetheless we made it on time.

I learned something that day. I never, ever, ever want to direct a movie. Not in a thousand years. From 9:30  onwards, Kevin was working nonstop, not only with setting up for shots, directing a movie, giving directions to actors and actresses and what-have-you that goes into making a 20 minute film, but also keeping a cast of roughly 15 people happy throughout the day. We were let go at 6 PM, and Kevin and his crew were still going strong and would continue to be for the next 2 or 3 hours. Not only that, he did it all again today, and I believe they have one more day of shooting booked for tomorrow.

So, to Kevin, and directors everywhere: I fucking salute you.

As for the shoot itself, it wasn't without its share of golden moments. One scene required us to rush a French art director as he entered the space and fawn over him. Yours truly received something referred to as "Le Fist", which was a fist bump. This was after the character insulted all of us in French, something we were told to ignore, as we were just SO STAR-STRUCK by this man. His fake mustache kept falling off his face throughout the day and became a point of great ridicule.

Poor Bob. Bob was the art gallery director of the movie, and he kept getting the shaft when it came to his role. One scene had him trying to sell me and a couple of other extras a pair of upside down blue legs stuck into a base of concrete. We were told to say no. Bob was nonetheless persistent, trying for nearly 10 minutes to sell us what we affectionately termed "The Legs of the Queen of Avatar." Sadly it wasn't molded in the places that counted, a fact that the lead actress was none too pleased about when it was brought up in conversation. Hey, being on set for 5 or 6 hours straight eventually strips away your filters.

Here's a few more from the shoot:

The lead actor. I'm not sure what his real name is, but he plays Noah, the struggling artist portrayed in the film.

Darcie Wilder, another SUNY film junior. She was booming the shoot and keeping us all entertained with a gif of a dancing Pooh-Bear somebody had sent her. 

The camera was operated by Shane Sheehy, yet ANOTHER SUNY film junior. He was apparently a big fan of my disdainful head shaking I was required to do for a scene, and kept asking me to do it for the rest of the day.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Alice Unraveled

First things first: I caught a show by a fellow Studio Comp classmate of mine named Kelsey Byrne last night. She never ceases to amaze me; fantastic voice, fantastic compositions, and hearing her perform live with added musicians was awesome. If you don't know what the fuck this girl is about, enlighten yourself. Seriously great.

Now, for some reason I decide to keep taking on projects for next semester, even though I have an absurd amount to do already. In addition to at least 2 movies to score, 2 albums to release and a junior recital to plan (still need to touch base with all my string players and actually write out parts for them), I've taken on the task of orchestrating a musical.

If we want to get technical, it's not the first musical I've orchestrated. But as you well know, Cheap Shots is what it is...

Anyways, the musical I'm working on next semester is entitled "Alice Unraveled", and was written by one Kelly Izzo, another classmate of mine. Kelly is, in a word, astounding. She never stops working... as long as I've known her, she's consistently written at least a song a day, every day, for the past 2 and a half years, and all of them are quality. We had our first collaboration this year on a song for a movie my friend did, which hopefully will get recorded next semester, but this is an incredibly serious project for us. "Alice Unraveled" premiered last year at Kelly's high school, albeit in a musically stripped down form, and the goal this time around is to turn it into a full fledged musical, complete with stage directions and orchestrations.

It's an entirely unorthodox musical in both composition and theme (the musical centers around the sexual assault of a girl, and her school's refusal to believe that it happened), and will most likely call for a wide variety of colors in orchestration. Though I haven't heard too terribly much of the music from it yet, what I have heard definitely calls for (of course), strings, but also heavily effected percussion. I'm formulating ideas as I type this and will definitely share with you all when I have them.

Here's a clip from the title track of the musical, complete with pictures from its first run:

Here's Kelly's blog. Her musical thoughts AND gluten and lactose-free recipes! The girl does miracles for cooking for herself using only a blender and a microwave.

Finally, I'm shopping around for whiny pop-punk singers who can be autotuned to all hell for a one off song I wrote. Shoot me a message if you're interested.

Keep on reading.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Reel, Now Online For All

Soundcloud seems... I don't know, more professional than Bandcamp? Maybe it's the ability to watch your song's waveform as the site plays through it, or maybe it's the fact that you can't customize it, but it seems that being able to send potential clients a Soundcloud link is more professional than sending them a Bandcamp one.

So, for all of you wonderful readers, I've made my current reel available on Soundcloud for you to listen to. It pulls from my extensive back-library of scores and compositions I've completed of an orchestral nature, and I'm very proud of all of the clips on here.

Clip 1 is something I did right around the time when I got my EastWest sample libraries. I was thinking about titling the complete work "March to the War Drum", but never got around to completing it. Regardless, I still think this is one of my favorite things I've composed.

Clip 2 comes courtesy of "Pizza", a short 3 minute animated film I scored for one Emily Tomasik, a film student at Purchase. Emily and I have collaborated on a couple of movies, and she's great, especially when dealing with animation. The clip was the original intro music, which Emily wanted scaled down to the piece that appears in the movie. Watch Pizza at this link, and after you do, watch some of her other movies. My favorite? Little Turtle, Big City.

Clip 3 is a piece John Morgan had me write for his re-interpretation of Herbert West: Reanimator, entitled "From The Dark", in which he was only allowed to use one continuous shot. Additionally, it was one of the first times I used the samples I use now for film work, and I love the vibe we got together.

4 is from "Tront's Quest", currently still in post-production and directed by Lawrence O'Neil, a film teacher at SUNY Purchase. Tront was my first paying film gig, and this music is from a scene where the main character is extremely distraught after he learns his Dungeons and Dragons character turns gay after being horrifically (and comically) raped by a dragon. Definitely one of the funniest movies I've scored; I'll post it when it's done.

The next I sent into Atari as part of a 3 piece reel in the hopes that I would get a scoring gig for one of their trailers. Sadly I didn't get the gig, but the piece is badass. Additionally, that was the first thing I wrote with EastWest. Go me.

Cymbal roll denotes cue 6, also from "Tront's Quest". This is the music I wrote for the big montage scene; the clip from it that you're hearing is for the dwarf who loves to smite things and kill them with his battle axe.

After that we have the latest thing I've written. I'm not sure what to call it yet, as it's still a work in progress, but it takes its inspiration from the "Pairbond" theme of Bioshock 2. I'm looking to expand on it. Either that or keep it short, write a better melody and set it up as part of a 10 track reel I can send to potential employers.

Finally, the reel closes with the end of a score I'm constantly tweaking for a Halo trailer. I'm still looking for someone to do foley work for it since I had to rip all of the audio out of it. Any takers? This music occurs when the main character flies off into the sky in a helicopter, only to see a giant column of light shoot out of the ground. Once that's completed, it'll definitely be on the internet somewhere.

If you missed it at the top of the post, here's the link again.

Hope you enjoy.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hide, Seek, Refrain

I started this post with every intention of bringing you all music I've created. Then I realized that uploading things to Soundcloud at 2 AM isn't the greatest idea in the world. It's like buying concert tickets while drunk; seems like the greatest idea ever at the time, but you end up going to see a poor performance of a band you used to love with some awful openers. Personal experience, of course. I'll never look at Edguy the same again.

But I digress.

In my mental exhaustion from fine-tuning projects for the past 2 hours, not to mention the huge chunk of time I put in being my brother's score copyist (a 14 year old composing modern sounding classical music for string orchestra and piano? My family's completely fucking nuts), I sit here listening to Imogen Heap. It's brought up a memory of a conversation my friend started with me completely out of the blue one day, where he asked if I had ever been moved to tears, or close to it, by a piece of music. Eerily enough, it had happened the day he asked me, while listening to Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain by Mono and World's End Girlfriend. Why I chose to listen to that particular album on such a shitty day is beyond me; it truly defines and explores the term "beauty in desolation". I could go on for hours about Palmless Prayer, but that's neither here nor there.

What does this have to do with anything? Maybe it's the exhaustion I'm feeling, but sitting here listening to Imogen Heap made me realize how... manufactured everything sounds today. I've been so involved in the mathematical, calculated formulas of writing a pop song lately that I've missed the raw feeling of music. Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, what fucking have you, I've been listening to them all for a while now, mimicking styles and lines and song structures. Not to say I don't like those artists at all, but they're all so EMOTIONLESS. It's all about the pounding drumbeats and hooks. There's no soul in the vast majority of today's pop music.

But maybe that's what makes Palmless Prayer so fucking moving. Maybe that's what can cause my former roommate to not say a single word the first time we listened to "Hide and Seek"by Imogen. The dancefloor rhythms of today must exhaust our ears and minds, making something so simple as a woman with her vocoder become a masterpiece of subtlety, evocation and composition.

I ask you. Find something musical that moves you. It's a feeling too few of us experience.

Thanks for listening.