©2022 Michael Raven
Well, mostly, anyway.
As I’ve mentioned several times in the past few months, I have been working on a collaborative piece with Cherie and O’Wisp: Cherie wrote the post-apoc short story and recorded a reading of it as a 5-episode piece and is rendering it into video including art from O’Wisp. I was tasked with adding background music (BGM) and sound effects and then reengineering it so it was as clean as possible.
Full disclosure: I’ve never done anything quite on this scale or scope (aside from adding BGM to a few poetry pieces, which is nowhere near the scale of this).
Well, I finally finished the final episode (technically, the fourth of five, but that’s quibbling) last night — well, a final draft; I want to give it another gander with fresh ears before I consider the mix final.
I struggled with this episode…
While I didn’t lack for creativity, nothing I came up with seemed to fit until I stumbled upon a bit of trip-trance while wondering if I just needed some new synth sounds. The artist had used a Persian scale for their song, and it reminded me a bit of what I liked about the Sisterhood album, Gift. Ignoring the motivation behind recording that album for now (which go into the realm of the artist just being a jackass), I dipped into that feeling for the final episode (learning about the Persian musical scale in the process), as the story takes place in a desert wasteland. I came up with a riff on the keys that I liked and backfilled it with a bassy drone and mocked up a very drum-machined sequence (circa early-to-middle 80s), layered in some sound effects and some incidental synth guitar with the same flavor as what I had been using for the other episodes (a shoegazer-ambient sound). And then cleaned up Cherie’s spoken track, which was easier this time than other episodes.
In initial recordings, Cherie had spoken directly into her electronic device, which made for a great signal — except there was clipping (pegging the needle) and popping (p’s and b’s and t’s that “pop”), so I had asked her to read away from the microphone a bit. Well, then that picked up some ambient noise, or “ess”/”hiss”, which could be engineered out, but took some effort to avoid having her voice dip out when she spoke softly. This episode’s original recording has so much hiss that I couldn’t get it to engineer out. So I asked for a new recording, which she must have done closer to the microphone because it didn’t require any de-essing (with careful cropping and level adjustments instead). And, with the new Focusrite interface, the sound was crisper thanks to better processing.
In ways, it is perhaps the most complex episode I created for the project, although not as a composition. It has more layers and things going on than most of the other episodes. I’m happy, but the one thing I learned quickly with doing BGM is that you really need to keep melodies simple so that you don’t detract from the speaker. And yet, you want to be heard as a musician…
I think if I were to rank the episodes I’ve done in terms of how much I liked the end result (from most to least), I think it would be:
- Episode 5 (influenced by mid-80s power synth)
- Episode 3 (influenced by late-80s industrial)
- Episode 4 (influenced as noted above)
- Episode 2 (influenced by early-90s ambient)
- Episode 1 (influenced by early-90s ambient)
The result, when you mix the music, art, video and spoken word, is a a bit of like a visual graphic novel. I think we’ll see the first episode trickle out in the next week or two. At that point, I’ll link or upload it here.
Needless to say, however, I am glad that this is largely off my plate. I hate being the bottleneck and, as I mentioned before, each episode takes me about 10-20 hours to engineer, write and clean up, so everyone was most definitely waiting on me to finish up so they could do things on their end. Hopefully, it meets everyone’s expectations when they listen/watch/see it later…
For now, though? No more BGM for such lengthy things (this will end up being around 35 minutes total, I think). I’ll stick to BGM for poetry, or just general music when I can explore some new tricks I taught myself with this project.