Year 7

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How To Make A Seven Minute Film In Only Eight Years

Year 7
Camberwell, 2004-05

By now I had amassed a substantial collection of rejected music, and this only made me more determined to create the perfect theme.  The more tunes I made, the greater the pressure became to top all of them, and justify the time spent. Anything that sounded good while composing it inevitably sounded bad the next day. I would frequently come up with something that sounded reasonable, and after transposing it a semitone would find it sounded better. The following day it sounded wrong. 

More hits from the recycle bin.  At least I was starting to get a handle on orchestration now.

I couldn't explain the reason for this musical paralysis, but it didn't help that the construction of each idea with all its instruments and articulations was such a complex, laborious procedure that the idea would fade before it had a chance to be translated into physical form. Or that the narrative changed pace so rapidly, and was of a length that made memorable, reoccuring melody a difficult proposition. The inspiration was there, the motivation was there, but for whatever reason, the music wasn't coming out easily and so I had to resort to brute force.

The first thirty seconds of score, displayed here as MIDI tracks; one for each of the 48 instruments and articulations.

The same thirty seconds displayed as notes (many of which are hidden underneath other notes).
I exhaustively analysed soundtracks to find out what made them tick. I tried arranging the best of what I already had, rearranging it, playing it backwards, pulling its insides out and stomping on them then stuffing them back into its rotting carcass.  All the while I continued to generate more and more new ideas that I thought were "the one", only to realise my mistake the following day.

I never doubted that I would finish the project, but I had the feeling others weren't so sure now. I was concerned however that the music was never going to stack up to my expectations, and that the film itself was becoming obsolete. Technology had advanced in the past six or seven years and animation standards were picking up. I didn't know what was going to happen with this thing when I had finished it, all I knew was that it had to be finished and it couldn't be rushed.

After yet another re-evaluation of my "best of" collection I settled on one or two standouts, and carefully strung them together with some new material and ran with it before it shrivelled and ended up in the rejects folder. After arranging it with some other earlier concepts into a complete score, I played back the results and, as usual, it sounded lame. I let it set to fester for a while, and on repeat listening it wasn't too bad. Several substitutions, revisions and new ideas later and I had something that I considered "moderately acceptable".  I made a mental note to not attempt such a silly thing again. The next task was to edit out all the bad notes and timings and re-record all the parts properly, ready for final mix.

Left: the 187 track sound effects project in its entirety.  Above: closeup.  The horizontal bars are audio files, the blue and green lines with the dots on them are volume and pan.

During all this time, I had collected hundreds, if not thousands, of recordings of buses, animals, trees, vegetables, logs and cans of spaghetti, and spent a great deal of time trying to get them to sound good via all manner of editing and digital manipulation. I had recorded nearly every thunderstorm for the past eight years, and I had scoured dozens of neighbourhoods in search of a suitably aggrivated dog. I stood in the rain for hours waiting for the right bus to drive by. I almost destroyed my microphone with a disposable glove and a bucket of water.

This thunder clap example is actually a combination of at least 6 different recordings chopped up, filtered, mixed and otherwise mutilated.  Recording storms was particularly challenging in that not only was it near impossible to capture good clean thunder without having to compete with rain, wind, dogs, birds or car alarms, its unpredictable loudness made it difficult to anticipate a recording level before the event occurred.  Too high would result in distortion; too low and any background noise would be amplified when bringing the level back up to normal afterwards.  Inevitably a large percentage of the recordings were unusable, so it was a matter of mixing and matching the best bits until I had something that worked.

I also learned that,
during a storm, it is a good idea to run your recording equipment on batteries instead of from a power outlet....

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