When the only way forward is to can it – A New “Sunrise”

Sometimes, you can work at a composition until you have tried every trick and technique you know of, and it still doesn’t sound right. Something went wrong with the programming. Recently, Lex Fridman (computer scientist, artificial intelligence researcher, and research scientist at MIT) interviewed world famous, pioneering programmer and developer. John Carmack. Carmack said something interesting about the difficulties of writing programs:

…If it’s going to be something that’s going to live for years, and it’s going to have other people working on it, and it’s going to be deployed to millions of people, then you want to use all of these [analytical and testing] tools. You want to be told, no, you’ve screwed up here, here, and here. And that does require kind of an ego check about things, where you have to to be open to the fact that everything that you’re doing is just littered with flaws. It’s not that you occasionally have a bad day – whatever stream of code you output, there is going to be a statistical regularity of things that you just make mistakes on.”

John Carmack: Doom, Quake, VR, AGI, Programming, Video Games, and Rockets | Lex Fridman Podcast #309
Aug 4, 2022

His realistic and down-to-earth acceptance of the fact that when you create, you can and will do things wrong regularly, and repeatedly, was quite surprising to me. Also, that you need an ego check and humility. I can remember when I first started on WordPress and was trying my hand at writing the teensy-weensy bits of code for my posts and pages. Heavens, even the tiniest thing like a space or a bracket in the wrong place could screw up a whole page. Since then, I have learned to to use analytical tools to find my mistakes before they go public.

(B.T.W., if you’re interested in the convergence of music and technology, Fridman’s vlogs/podcasts are well worth watching – they’re always thought-provoking and his interviews are open-minded and exploratory.)

No handy tool to prevent bad taste

When it comes to music, however, I do not have access to all those handy tools. I may be able to technically fix the audio or .logicx files, but there is no tool that can analyze and fix my sense of aesthetics or my taste. And whenever I manage to actually finish a composition, I am usually so proud of myself that I don’t even think that it may be full of mistakes.

As a result, I have, in moments of hubris, let loose a song in public, only to realize some time later, that, frankly, my dear, it sucks (to misquote “Rhett Butler” being ungentlemanly to “Scarlett O’Hara” in Gone with the Wind).

I wish there was a magic program I could run on a Logic project that would tell me; nope, this is a bad idea. Sounds wrong. Bad mix of instruments. Poor arrangement. (If you know of such a program, drop me a comment.)

It was like that with the song “Sunrise, Sunset” on the “Thérmos” album. Even after the mixing and mastering, I could not fix or improve it (even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t have known what to change), so the only way forward was to scrap it. I wrote a new piece and called it “Before Sunrise”. “Before Sunrise” still has the core, romantic piano melody that was in “Sunrise, Sunset”, but it is far simpler, shorter, cleaner, and truer to the Trance or Melodic Techno forms which had been my aim.

I have replaced “Sunrise, Sunset” with “Before Sunrise” on the album, and though probably no one will notice or care, I will, and now that it’s been sorted out I feel very much better about it. R.I.P. “Sunrise, Sunset”.

“Before Sunrise”

I wanted to express the idea of a sunrise in a cloudless desert sky, with the light slowly spreading over the dunes. This was the result: a core romantic melody, which, like the colours of the sky, varies with every sunrise.

It can be described as “Modern Hausmusik”. In the liner notes to his 2015 album “Chambers”, musician, pianist and composer Chilly Gonzales (real name Jason Beck) uses the term “Hausmusik”:

“Hausmusik (not to be confused with the more modern ‘House Music’) was a style of music in the 18th and 19th centuries specifically composed for performance in people’s homes. Many famous composers such as Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms composed Hausmusik duets for voice and piano.”

In this composition, the grand piano leads, accompanied by synth keyboards and Turkish ouds. It  contains an echo of the opening notes from Schubert’s Notturno for Piano, Cello and Violin in E Flat, as a nod towards this particular form of composition: Modern Hausmusik — Chilly Gonzales style.

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