Percussion Choir: The Rest of the Story

Ok, so last week I tantalized you with the first two sections of “In C” on mostly percussion sounds. Now I am playing with the middle section of the piece, which runs from Pattern 20 to 34. I am enjoying the variety of sounds and textures these Ableton instruments provide along with the artifacts they create. I am using artifacts to mean “extra sounds” such as the drum roll or the record scratch. All sounds are triggered at the moments designated in the written music, however, some of the sounds that are triggered carry over where some might say they should not be. I like this extra layer of active sound the artifacts lend to this piece. It feels a bit like excavating something, uncovering a hidden layer that this particular instrument in this exact moment discovered. This many-layered quality of “In C” allows it to be such a chameleon and shape-shifter. A new song emerges moment to moment in the playing.

And as I play and listen to the new song, I am making more orchestration decisions. For example, This recording starts on Pattern 21 instead of 20. I decided to do this because I like a sparse beginning for this section and 20 is a busy 8th note pattern. Also, I am paying close attention to what patterns the bass plays and when. The bass can drive the overall feel of the piece in a different direction really quickly, so I am being selective about the patterns the bass plays. Actually, this is true of all three melodic instruments-the bass, the woodwind and the vibraphone. The more I play with this group of voices, the more I am finding a balance of three strong melodic nstruments and all the big percussion sounds from the beatbox, the Irish toms, the pops and zings of Indian drums. I want to pay more attention to using these varied timbres and patterns to both create amazing moments and move the music along.

Another factor in how this recording moves through these patterns is the use of the Akai APC control surface, pictured here:


The surface allows me to trigger multiple clips at once and to bring things forward and back in the mix easily. I am toying with the idea that I should keep my voices for “In C” to eight and create multiple ensembles to play through the piece. I would have a lot more control of the sound I am bringing when playing the piece with others. Eight voices total for each Ableton ensemble and each ensemble will bring a different sensibility to the piece. Each ensemble could target different sound spectrum frequencies.

So I stripped down the original 15 voices to a group of eight. Since the woodwinds and vibraphone melodically dominate the percussion ensemble, I removed them from this version. I was left with a lot of high shiny sounds. The grunge bass was too buzzy for this group so I switched it out for a bass guitar. This adds a bit of bottom to the sound. The tinny sound of this group of voices made me call it The Music Box Ensemble. With this name in mind, I may go back and make it more music box sounding. I will play more with this ensemble next week.

This morning I was up early and working with the percussion choir. I realized that the woodwind takes up a lot of sonic space and is difficult to blend with the other instruments. It was chosen for those reasons and now I see that simply dropping that voice out or keeping it low in the mix at times would allow the percussion voices more of an arena. This is an exciting discovery! Also, the first drum track has some loud, driving riffs where there are consecutive 16th notes. I want to use these sparsely, so I may cut some of those phrases out of that track. Again, I find myself making orchestration decisions.

Another milestone this morning – I played through the entire piece using the Percussion Choir. I moved at a pretty good clip and finished up in about 30 minutes. This was where I discovered the loud aggressive drum and the sonic overwhelm of the woodwinds. Then after brunch and a walk, I went back in the studio and played through from Pattern 20 to the end of the piece. Then I did it again and this time recorded it. I took the woodwinds out in places to let the percussive elements cut through. Before starting, I went through and eliminated some of the more obnoxious driving drum parts.

I have continued to work the voices in the Percussion Choir to create improved presence and balance. I have spent many hours reviewing and refining these voices. I wanted to make a short recording of Pattern 20 through the end of the piece-Pattern 53. I was using the Akai APC control surface, and did not realize that the frame had cut out the final pattern. Cripes! Then I started laughing cause Patterns 52 and 53 are interchangable once they get going. So, in a way, it did not matter. Plus, the recording wasn’t short! Ha!

Anyway, this recording contains a lot of wonderful moments: hypnotic grooves, suspense, shifting pulses and melodies, poly-rhythms. While this is not exactly the sound I want for the percussion choir, it is pretty close.

I feel this as a turning point in my approach to this piece. I have shifted from the idea of one big Ableton orchestra to multiple 6 to 8 voice ensembles. Each of these ensembles will bring a different sound to “In C.” Since each ensemble will be a different Ableton project set, they will not play together.

This is gonna be FUN!!!!

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