Inventory is the cardinal sin of the Lean philosophy, as it brings with it all its other ugly buddies (transport, movement, waiting, overproduction, overprocessing, defects and underutilizing skills).
In the material world, mentioning "Inventory" will generate an image of an enormous warehouse, painstakingly maintained, expensively rented... In the case of incontinent composers like me, it is more like an enormous computer folder, full of subfolders with .wavs, .oggs, .mp3s, .docs and what have you... Plus this other "warehouse", harder to pinpoint because it only shows intermittently, that lives in your brain and in your guts.
It is this second inventory that is the hardest to manage. What makes it particularly so is the fact that it is alive; the moment any of those proto-songs receive any "air time" from my brain, they change, they mutate. It's like a collection of uncaged animals, feeding on what they have around (sometimes other animals), and evolving in unexpected shapes. And they don't stay still.
So I sometimes run into this peculiar situation: I'm filling the gaps of a song I want to take to production, it consolidates, it pumps, I'm happy of how everything is coming along, and then, in one of my sessions, I realize: this or that part is a plagiarism. A plagiarism of another of my songs, ANOTHER SONG THAT I HAVEN'T EVEN RELEASED YET.
So nobody would ever notice. Heck, perhaps, even when both songs were released, nobody would ever know or care either. But here, with me being the author, someone with skin in the game, there's a different matter at stake: self preservation.
What happens next is often disagreeable and frustrating (especially when it's taken me long to discover the self-plagiarism an the song was already very mature in my view), but whenever I run into one of these issues, I stop and take the time to dismantle and change the song. Sometimes it takes forever (and time after time, ah the frustration, the new stuff I try ends up turning out to be a covert variation of what I already had; I guess there was a neural path already created and you tend to glide through it again). But the way I see it, not doing so, skipping the fact, is a dangerous form of laziness, bad maintenance of your own creativity. If the song that I'm making does not surprise myself, why bother? Playing it would become "homework" for me. I prefer to take my time, although sometimes the process bores me like hell, feels unnatural, etc...
Sometimes all that was needed was a variation in some sense; we all know records or books that have "siamese" songs or stories, and we love both. All is good as long as such similarity is intentional, some kind of lateral exploration the author considered worthwhile to pursuit. The problem is when the only intention behind is "let's get this over with". There are musicians, there are albums that are like that, and it's not beautiful.
And again from the point of view of the inner realm, I think letting go like that is a dangerous path to follow. Just like body articulations become stiffer with years and you have to be vigilant of it and maybe take additional measures, there is a counterpart in the mental realm. For the mature artist, as the heap of his production grows, it becomes easier and easier to just go for what you know, just chop pieces of things you've already done and assemble them in a different order, like Lego bricks.
I'm not saying that this kind of creations completely lack value sometimes; as a listener, I can still play and enjoy some of those albums (particularly, if the original pieces had great quality, there are always interesting and moving things to find in the derivative works). But as a creator, I don't want to follow that road. I prefer to become a slower composer, taking as long as it takes till the song is done, but when it finally is, being sure that it is "its own little ride" in some way. Life has too much homework already.
Probably, if the animals didn't spend so much time captive in the warehouse (years sometimes), they wouldn't get so impatient, and wouldn't have so much time to bite and hump each other... And that, kids, is another reason why inventory is bad, and it's imperative that I increase my productive capability :)
I stumbled upon this song by a strange chain of coincidences. I started to listen. It opens with a simple hard rock structure, the kind of song that a beginners' band can easily cover.
Then the first changes of rhythm patters arrive, and, as you get more and more interested, you think to yourself "OK, I still know what they're doing. I got this".
And then there comes some technical stuff that makes Meshuggah look simple. Blown down on the floor, with the proverbial cartoon birds chirping around your head, you wonder what just happened, as the song innocently returns one more time to "easy listening" mode. OMG...
Sometimes random albums find their way into my hard drive, and one of them was Enigma's "MCMXC".
Yes, my friends; in my teen ages, before rock and roll slapped me in the face for good, I was a synthesizer greatest geek. I swore by the names of Jean Michel Jarre, Pet Shop Boys, Guru Josh and other heroes of the day.
In fact that's the period when I consolidated my first knowledge of harmony, melody, etc... I remember, for a period of my life, my secret pleasure was playing a keyboard in bed, in the dark, just fooling around, like a kid with a toy. I recorded 30-45 minutes worth of it on a cassette, and then relistened to it with joy and amazement, and always learned a lot. (This strategy may sound a bit like the typical narcissistic teenager -the musical equivalent of a selfie-, but there's a difference: when you take picture after picture of yourself you don't actually "learn" anything from one to the next; however, in the musical process, or in any other creative process for that matter, you need that "second time" or diastole, to reflect, evaluate and figure out what will the next step be. It's like the painter taking two steps backwards to see the whole picture, after brushing his heart out on the canvas for half an hour; sometimes you feel as if you just woke up from a trance: "what I just did?")
A lot has happened in the 25 years gone by since those nightly sessions; but the teenager is still alive somewhere within me, and he still listens to this kind music now and then. My recent relistening of Enigma's most famous record made me reflect about what is it that attracted me to electronic music in the first place in that age of purity, and what is perhaps different in the genre nowadays. (Of course I'm going to generalize big time or this post would acquire book proportions...)
I think an element that made "MCMXC" such a huge success in its day is that there is a "spiritual" element to it. The mixture of an ancestral kind of music played by monks in the 9th century, and the monotonic dance style of the 20-21st, the male and female voices, all was made in a seamless manner, that in a way made you think of a "full circle"; doesn't our fast, repetitive time makes all of us in a way some kind of "monks" of some weird, ugly cult? It is an album that is full of life, death and desire.
Now take that final sentence and think how many Skrillexes of today's world could boast such a thing.
That's what has changed. Electronic music, in its origins, counterbalanced its inherent "synthetic" (meaning: "artificial") quality with a deliberately accentuated "human factor". Neo-romantics a la Depeche Mode or Soft Cell, with deep lyrics about depression, perversion, mockery... Or even extremists who acted as if they were trying to break the machine by spilling enough guts into it: Suicide, Joy Division...
As another example, take Kraftwerk, one of the originators of the genre; very clever German guys who not only built their own instruments, but even robots for their stage personas... In their case, the "geekery" factor, the awe of "look at this new synthesizer thing that has come out it is so great" was self assumed, and it always showed in a pinch of self irony and healthy humor in their excellent, catchy songs (Glorious example: "I'm the operator with my pocket calculator"...)
I don't listen to a lot of current stuff right now because it gives me an instant headache, but from what I've gathered, I'd say the humanity part is becoming more and more absent from the genre, leaving only the electronic part.
You have the guys who make "beats", self taught people who perhaps know a lot about computers but haven't really listened to any music or read a book in their life; isolated in their own self complacency, they haven't been influenced by anybody, haven't built a vocabulary, and therefore don't really have much original to say... And then there are the more mainstream pop songs, so overproduced and depleted of any real emotion, that they all sound to me like some kind of creepy mating ritual taking place in an operating room. The kind of music for people who don't really listen to music, but who like to speak of music as something they own, as a symbol of status: "I'll wear this earring, I'll play this song in the car..."
In both cases, "electronic" seems to have become sort of a cop-out that allows the creators to hide behind the fluff of machinery, obey a few stiff pre-set rules, and so generating a "product" without having to bother too much. The results of such premises are not very attractive to me, but of course to each their own. The good thing is that you can spot them very quickly. And of course, if you consider all the previous examples, things don't have to be this way forever...
Immersed as I am lately, whenever I get a free time slot for music, in mixing my songs, I've started to develop a growing interest in production values in other people's "babies". It will never be my natural "territory" (I still think the people who obsess with that stuff are either very empty inside or a bit nuts), and I don't think I'll ever be anywhere near that problem some people mention of listening music so "technically" that it spoils the fun. In my case "audio attention" is more like something I have to consciously "switch on", and the moment I forget, I slide quickly back into pure enjoyment (or a generic "meh" if the song is not my cup of tea).
(***Warning - malevolent joke ahead***. On that regard, I had this private joke about Dave Pensado's videos; one great thing about them is that there isn't ever any risk of you getting distracted from the audio lesson by the quality of the compositions (most of the time wimpy pompous pop, with downright embarrassing lyrics)... Ok, ok, maybe I'm just envious because Pensado has a career in music and I'm just a weirdo... :P ).
I was almost about not to write this post because it was originated by a resource I thought I had discovered in this Ultraphonix song, which, relistening now, I may have mistaken. But wherever you make a mistake, there is a teaching that can be shared, and besides, this post is an excuse as good as any to share this beautiful, serene ballad.
I thought Corey Glover's vocals used that trick of multilayering (recording several tracks of exactly the same voice melody, to make the vocals sound stronger), with the variation that, at the end of the sentences, the tracks diverged to do the vocal harmonies. After relistening, I think perhaps the layers in that final part still do unisons, and the harmonies come from added new tracks. I'm not sure. The bad thing is that perhaps I was wrong; the good one is that, therefore, this is something "original" that I can try in some of my songs in the future...
Getting out of audioland, I cannot help by mention what a great vocalist Glover is; I love not only the way he "delivers", but also the natural timbre of his voice (let's say not only he is a virtuoso, but he plays a Stradivarius), and his collected and elegant stage presence. I also love the pick-less guitar arpeggios of George Lynch in this song, which give it such a melancholic "mandolin" feel (Funny, btw, how in this video Lynch looks as if he was going through a bad hangover - sunglasses, keeping a low profile, staying very focused; maybe something done by design for the look of the video? Or maybe it's just that today I feel a bit naughty in the mental associations department...)
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it