What Bears Repeating, Part I

hors du troupeau — “music for strange elevators”

  1. down when I should have pressed up hors du troupeau 2:16
  2. piping in the cheer hors du troupeau 1:53
  3. another rainy day hors du troupeau 1:36
  4. the atrium lift hors du troupeau 1:20
  5. haven’t seen that technician in years hors du troupeau 1:48
  6. rising above the city hors du troupeau 1:20
  7. a strange elevator hors du troupeau 1:30
  8. interlude: up and up hors du troupeau 3:50
  9. ’tis the season hors du troupeau 2:28
  10. interlude: standing clear hors du troupeau 4:30
  11. shadows and memories hors du troupeau 1:52
  12. serious business hors du troupeau 1:52
  13. there is no thirteenth floor hors du troupeau 2:00
  14. sometimes the air feels thin hors du troupeau 1:36
  15. still stranger elevators hors du troupeau 2:30
  16. up when i should have pressed down hors du troupeau 2:16

project notes:

(December 11, 2021) — I’m obviously interested in the dynamics of large canvas / long-form audio composition. One way to explore those dynamics is through the extended development characteristic of generative processes. But I’ve also been struck by the real success of a number of projects that build music that feels long-form out of short, but relatively complex loops. Quite a number of the one-minute pieces in the Thesis Recurring app, for example, somehow really manage to avoid feeling repetitive.

In order to explore the possibilities more seriously — after some enlightening, but not terribly successful manipulations of material from my Wotja experiments — I decided to work with midi tracks generated in the Piano Motifs app. As the name suggests, the app generates short piano pieces, which can be tailored in various ways through the settings, and it can export midi files for the melody and accompaniment it concocts, as well as a pad file, suitable for arpeggiators, synth sounds, etc. The result is a simple, but generally well-matched set of midi patterns, which can then be arranged in various ways and voiced with whatever instruments are available.

I’ve been playing with the possibilities for a couple of days. I began by keeping the pianos, even as I recombined the midi tracks in various ways. That instrumentation kept the developing dynamics of the pieces easy to follow, until I was pretty happy with the results. And then I diversified the sounds.

As I worked on the tracks, I was really thinking of some particularly maddening, but amusingly glitchy “on-hold music” that I had suffered through over the last couple of years trying to deal with insurance issues — as well as the piped-in holiday mall sounds of my youth. My goal was something slightly less maddening — although I’m almost always open to more glitchy. The results so far have been surprisingly nice, if unconventional, and I’ve let them whirl away in the background while working with pleasure. There are a couple of the segments that I really want to spend the time with in order to get them into a more finished state.

A second batch of tracks was undertaken after I made the rash move of reading all the way through the Piano Motifs manual. Like the others, they have started as piano tracks, although they have then undergone considerably more substantial transformations. Unlike the others, the material for each segment has been limited to the three or four midi files for a single generated motif. The better-matched materials allow for more flexibility in the composition process with less risk of creating problems I can’t easily solve in the roughly two minutes I’m allowing myself for each segment.

I’ve made fairly heavy use of Spitfire Audio’s LABS in this second set of tracks. There is a lot of soundtrack ambience mixed in with their quirky instruments — and both are obviously easy ways to coax quite different sounds out of a fairly small amount of midi data.

— One of the more interesting sets of lessons coming out of this work is some knowledge of how various players handle looping. I feel safe saying that I still have quite a bit to learn.

(December 15, 2021) — I have completed eight loops in at least rough form. They vary from fairly straightforward instrumental tracks to compositions heavy on not strictly musical effects — but they are all, to my ear, surprisingly listenable. And with just a bit of tinkering it appears that they will work as tracks in a short album as well.

— Yesterday was a day filled with real-life responsibilities, but I shoehorned in a session getting familiar with Leafcutter John’s Forester 2022 software and started to cobble together some strange elevators using some samples from Free to Use Sounds. Lessons were learned. We’ll see what emerges from those two experiments. One possibility is a mix using some of the loops, some elevator ambience and some “live” processing. I’ve been looking at imagines of ruined, deserted shopping malls and skating rinks to put myself in the right mood to move forward.

— At the end of the day, Piano Motifs dished up a ditty in D# phrygian that is going to be a joy, I think, to play with. I may alter my practice a bit and produce two loops from this source material, one more conventionally musical and one considerably less, just because I’m so taken with it.

(December 17, 2021) — I have the sixteen loops prepared and have uploaded them the hors du troupeau project page. They are set to loop by default, although the built-in audio player stutters more than a little as it loops. The mixes posted there are stripped of any reverb and delay not built into the patches used.

There are a variety of approaches to the material represented. Particularly with the later tracks, I varied the length of the motifs generation considerably, so that there are compositions built both from very short and rather long melodies. In most of the later tracks I continued the process of “locking” the accompaniment, generating two melody-tracks and then forcing myself to make sense of the resulting chaos. I certainly didn’t use every motif I generated, or even every one that I exported to midi, but I didn’t admit defeat too often, once I had decided that I was interested in a melody or set of melodies. Some instruments are used on most of the tracks. I wanted to create some sense of cohesion, although I had to stop my revising process as it was starting to wash out some of the initial diversity of the experiments.

— I’ll probably let various tracks be my piped-in cheer for a day or two, but I’ve started to prepare for the second phase of the project — what bears repeating — which will involve more iterations of the loops, more effects and ultimately some sort of soundscape constructed from combining the elements.

(December 22, 2021) — I’ve migrated a slightly edited version of these project notes to (this) separate page, cleaned up the mp3s of the original sixteen loops a bit and am ready to share the ep, which clocks in at about 35 minutes. Tracks fade in and out in the mixes presented here. Some light effects have been added and a few tracks have been allowed to run a little longer than the loop, while others fade just before the loop-point. The first and last tracks, the two interludes and the two “strange elevator” tracks all play a bit fast and loose with the formula of the others — but had to undergo the same test of repeated looping while I was working at other tasks before I considered them done.

Thoughts on this phase of the mess: I have been working with the question of “what bears repeating” in all of the hors du troupeau experiments. Maybe the lesson of all of it is that, if you start with someone who gravitates toward drone music and owns his own shruti box, practically anything will fade into the background, provided it has a certain rhythm and the loop-point is smooth. It is certainly sometimes the case that tracks I am still fairly unsatisfied with still tend to make reasonably satisfying background music if I am sufficiently interested in the task at hand. But, as weird as some of the tracks that have made it to the ep obviously are, they’ve also proven listenable — at least for me — when given considerably more attention. And some of them are specifically arranged to be hard to entirely ignore.

I’m sharing the tracks here with a bit of a nod and wink. They are, among other things, uncharacteristically musical, even if that musicality is a bit mutated. Here, part of the point was to see what unlikely things would actually work in the context of the project. As I have started to work on the tracks for the second part of this project, what bears repeating, that phrase is doing extra work, since not everything that appears in this first batch of tracks warrants any further attention. But it has been a real pleasure to come back to some of the material generated and treat it as something other than potential elevator music.

It won’t be hard to recognize which of the tracks this first composition emerged from.

above the city (drinking in the view)

Anyway, I think that the tracks here are fun enough to share and hold together well enough that they bring no discredit to the venerable Libertatia Laboratories name. And I think that the next set of tracks, which will, despite all my natural tendencies and misgivings, err even farther into the realm of musicality, will probably be even more fun.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2625 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.