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May 12, 2009

<< The Future Is Bright Indeed | The Story of a Life >>

X, Y, and F#

Here’s how St. Vincent wrote her new album:

Annie Clark, who does business as St. Vincent, wrote much of her new album, “Actor,” by drawing, not playing. Mainly a guitarist, Clark began the album in a French hotel room in December of 2007, using GarageBand software and a pair of headphones, “drawing notes one by one, until they sounded how they should sound.”

I am not a good musician, but for what it’s worth, I’ve always found the piano-roll grid of computer music apps a million times more intuitive than either music notation or (worse) music language — e.g. “Okay, give me a G-major!” My brain just doesn’t work that way.

I like this part best: “…until they sounded how they should sound.” You can have Ableton Live (and lots of other programs too) just loop through the sub-section you’re working on, again and again. You tweak it as it’s looping, adding and moving notes, listening to the differences. Nudging and scraping the sound like clay.

Posted May 12, 2009 at 6:52 | Comments (6) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted


The 'painting/drawing' analogy for music composition should be validated as a means to produce music. Much like Photoshop has opened the visual arts to non-Art Majors, Cubase and an Atari 1040ST opened the field to those without a degree in music composition.

Painting music however has personally been the most frustrating way to generate music. I can't imagine ever being a sample-based musician, but equally dislike sitting in front of a screen to compose and then humanise the output. Equally acknowledge that this currently is the only way to produce music which is unique and equally personal.

Consider the children of Cubase; moved to Logic, Logic Audio, et al. Nothing really has changed in this compositional space; the Grid still rules.

Having the tools to appropriately compose more quickly is the end game. Garageband samples non.

Posted by: aidee on May 13, 2009 at 05:12 AM

aidee -- I love this comment. "Equally acknowledge that this currently is the only way to produce music which is unique and equally personal." Well put. Thanks for chiming in.

The difficulty I have with composing in a looped environment is the primacy it assigns to rhythm over line. It's very hard to write music that develops over time or music that has a flexible tempo when you're writing in a 16-beat pattern. It's great for certain genres of music, in other words; perhaps even all of the modern genres. But for others, these tools just don't work.

Posted by: Matt on May 13, 2009 at 12:32 PM

Matt, you're right -- you can tell which genres of music these apps grew out of. 120 bpm, lock it in, loop.

BUT, that said, you should try out Live if you haven't. It gives you total control over pattern length and tempo changes, AND, it's uses a different paradigm than most of the other sequencers (Reason, FruityLoops, etc.) -- there's a whole view of the app that focuses on creating a stock of "musical ideas" and sort of mixing and matching them in real-time. That doesn't really articulate it clearly... you should check it out.

I like making songs from loops and keys in GarageBand, and I like to think I'm good at it -- not in an Annie Clark way, but in a "hey can I use that for my ringtone/podcast way." I've never tried Ableton.

Btw, I am deeply in love with Annie Clark. Not in an in-love-with-Annie Clark way, but in an in-love-with-Garageband way. "Save Me From What I Want" is my favorite song right now.

And I am digging "Black Rainbow" like nobody's business.

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