Well now, wanna get up and dance?
I took the online Masterclass of Trance Guru, Armin van Buuren, called Armin van Buuren Teaches Dance Music. I admit, until then, Dance, Trance and the mindless head-bopping, weaving and shaking that happens with clubbing had just totally passed me by.
Yes, until he explained, very logically, how and why Trance and Dance music are what they are, and then showed exactly how he goes about producing a song like that. Do not smirk, but I had not known there was a thing like a “drop”. Now I do.
Van Buuren is dryly witty and speaks beautifully, not a swearword to be heard, nor any hesitations. He knows his stuff. (It helps that he is drop-dead handsome.) Sometimes, a tiny ghost of his Dutch mother tongue comes through, which I love.
He recorded the lessons in his very state-of-the-art studio, with his producing partner, Benno de Goeij, and a vocalist, Josh Cumbee. What stuck me most, is that after all this time, he still works on Logic, and says that he still has not exhausted all the features of the software. Same here. Every day I find out something new it can do.
But the most important lesson learned was that the Verse part of a composition has to have a decent melody. It had to be something. A Dance track cannot just be beats. So he twiddled on the studio keyboard and recorded it and there it was – an actual melody. Then, after many many hours, a song.
So, I thought to myself, “Myself, – how about it, wanna try this?” (Since he had conveniently provided a Dance/Trance Logic template for his students to practice on.)
I said, “Yeah, OK. Let’s see where it goes.” Opened template in Logic. Started noodling.
This is where it went: an album with 7 tracks, one is a complete Sonata (combining the form and structures of Trance music and Sonatas), which 19 minutes long, and the total album is 45 minutes. I think (!) that Armin van Buuren’s student (me) benefited from the course and successfully completed her project work. Ha!
The new album, thanks to Armin van Buuren’s inspiration, is called “Armin2016” – 2016 because the Logic template dates from 2016. But it does not matter: like many forms of classical music, Dance basically has not changed and does not change. It’s got certain parts and that’s that. The tracks are still being mixed and mastered, but the first one has come back and I am very pleased with it.
I found it interesting that it is actually quite difficult to use Beats correctly in a Dance track. Your timing has to be absolutely perfect to the millisecond. And then you have to be very, very careful about how many instruments you layer in there.
The song is named for Mesomedes of Crete. He was the earliest known music performer, composer and lyricist of Roman Greece, in the 2nd century AD. Unlike other musicians, he wrote down the scores for his music using an early form of notation, and three of those scores have survived. His best known work is “Hymn to the Sun”. He was a professional performer on the cithara, an Ancient Greek stringed instrument which is a type of lute or lyre.
I listened to the recreations of his music, played on instruments similar to the ones of that time. Obviously very simple, up and down the scale, in a minor key. Not many notes, since the instruments had limitations.
But even after all these centuries, they are very appealing.
I was amazed that this music was made so very long ago.
Afterwards, I got a simple melody in my head, sat down, wrote it in an hour. It’s as simple, with as few variations, as Mesomedes’ music is.
Spent another few hours polishing it up and arranging it. Then worked it into the proper Trance form.
It was no sweat, as though it was meant to be.
The Trance form was an obvious choice for this composition, because Mesomedes’ music was meant for religious ceremonies, to be sung as praise to the gods during religious processions and ceremonies. (As most music was then and in the centuries after that.) They have an element of mysticism in them. But they are also measured, and steady on the beat, and have a somber tone. I suppose his music was like the Ancient Grecian equivalent of Gregorian Chant.
The cithara that was probably used to play the music of Mesomedes, sounds to me like a cross between a harpsichord and a guitar. Cithara – apparently that’s where the word “guitar” comes from. So the melody is played on a twangy-sounding Electric Piano, which is, I think, compatible.
Percussion: Big on the 4/4 kick drums.
Synthesizer Bass: Ticking away as regular as clockwork.
Beats for the Breakdown and the Drop: Textbook as prescribed in Van Buuren’s masterclass. But I ended up not using any of his plugins or instruments because he tells you that you’ve got to do your own thing and create your own…well, EVERYTHING, when you compose music.