I’m working on a song in a driving 6/8 time. The bass line is based on one of my etudes, but I didn’t want it to sound like a horn player playing the bass part. In order to give it a more mechanical and perhaps even angry feel, I decided to take a new approach. In order to explain what I did, a little background is necessary.
My software operates in two different worlds: audio and midi. Although all sounds that go into the computer have to be translated into the digital realm, the audio world is the world of true playback. The midi world is the realm of computer-controlled rhythm. Example: record a musical phrase in the audio world, and it will be played back as is, as if you had recorded it onto an old fashioned cassette. You can mess around with it, but it exists as a unit. OK, now record another sound, say a door slamming. You can then place that sound into midi, and set it to play evenly every beat, so that the door is slamming over and over again. Ableton, the software I’m using, lets you move audio sounds (like the door slam) into midi quite easily.
Next piece of background: Ableton comes with many prerecorded drum sounds, but you can also build your own. You could, for example, hit a snare drum and record the sound. You can then drag that sound into your midi drum kit, which is basically like a huge piece of graph paper in which you can drag one sound into each empty box.
But you don’t have to put drum sounds in the boxes – you can put any sound you want.
So, long story long, I put each note of my bass line into a midi drum setup. I then added a version of each note one octave lower (the computer does this at the push of a button; these were now seriously low notes) and put each of those low notes into the drum kit. I then built my midi bass line in the rhythm I wanted – to do this, you set up a time grid, and you tell the computer what note should sound when. I had my bass line, which included the notes I had started with and their octave-down versions. Then, I built a drum beat to go with it using my “found sounds” drum set. The result is quite menacing, and just what I wanted!
The moral of the story: you’re never too old to learn a new trick.