Panspermia

I has previously heard the idea that life on earth may have originated by some organic goo being deposited on our humble little planet by a meteor or comet. Recently I found a youTube video that explained that while indeed speculative, the theory is given the perfect name: “Panspermia.”

It’s one thing to write a song simply about a speculative theory, but that could come across as a high school essay or research paper. To be a good song, I’d have to inject my own commentary or reaction to it. I did this in a Facebook post, positing that every living thing in the universe is united by the same goo, and that makes us all Gooians.

Panspermia post

 

A short while later, I jotted down the lyrics for the chorus. A few months later, I conducted additional research online to generate keywords, making sure I captured proper terms, scientifically speaking. I also happened to attend a public lecture at the University of Toronto on the topic of Planetary Habitation on the day I finished the lyrics. At the lecture’s reception, I approached the speaker, Dr. John E. Moores, Assistant Professor of Space Engineering at York University, who agreed to review my lyrics for any scientific faux-pas. He followed through, and suggested only one minor change, which I took. Dr. Moores also introduced me to the “nerdcore” genre.

I wrote the music bed (using only piano) and melody in one day. The verse melody suggested lines of lyric that lasted a little more than two measures of 4/4 time. So, I introduced a two-measure loop for the verse that was made up of one 4/4 measure and one 5/4 measure. This introduced a very quirky and offbeat rhythm to the song. I then proceeded to layer on the bass sound, the synth pads, and other sounds to fill in the music bed. The original piano track was archived.

I presented the song at the monthly Songwriter’s Cafe Meetup Group, and it was generally liked. One group member commented how the song is a good, clear, explanation of the theory, and has educational value. Many people in the group felt that the 4/4 + 5/4 pattern was too jarring for no particularly good reason. So I revisited the pattern and tried out a 4/4 + 6/4 pattern, which was still a little offbeat, but easier to digest due to its symmetry. I decided it did in fact work better for the song.

The song also placed in the top 10 in an online, informal song writing contest!

Here’s the final song with the lyrics. I hope you enjoy and maybe learn something!

I came from very far away
An astronomical journey
Propagated on the meteor express
An answer to a great mystery

I lay dormant for eons
A gourmet primordial soup
Along came amino acids
And a dash of magical woo

We are the goo
That makes up me and you
And everything at the zoo
Panspermia

I’m one with all the people
Animals in this place
Don’t forget about the plants
And all the stuff in outer space

It’s true we are so special
We won the cosmic lottery
Jackpots are still floating out there
Beyond all we can see

We are the goo
That makes up me and you
And everything at the zoo
Panspermia

Yeah
Gooinas unite
In a cold dark night
Evolve ‘n take flight
To survive

Gooians unite
Despite our plight
We all just might
Find a place to survive

Gooians unite
Chances slight
Water and light
Carbon bite

Gooians unite
At the speed of light
Black and white
It’ll be alright

We are the goo
That makes up me and you
And everything at the zoo
Panspermia

Game of Thrones Theme cover

After hearing the fascinating podcast Song Exploder, where a song is deconstructed and examined into its separate parts, I stumbled upon an episode featuring composer Ramin Djawadi and a breakdown of the Game of Thrones theme music.  Hearing and learning the individual parts prompted me to arrange my own cover version, similar to the original in its groove, but with electric guitar and synth strings as points of departure.  I also ended up discovering several other great versions of the theme on Soundcloud, my favourites including industrial, prog rock, and smooth jazz versions.

Check out my version here:

Song Talk Radio appearance

On November 24, once again I appeared on Song Talk Radio as the featured guest.  I spoke with Bruce and Phil about three of my latest songs, and in a special twist, Sonja Seiler joined us as co-host and co-writer of one of the songs.  We talked about collaboration, anthropomorphism, and whether or not I could pull off writing a love song for my wife.  Check out the complete episode, including the songs, here:

Collaboration with Dokter Nomi – Love is a Virus

Dokter Nomi, dance-pop music virtuoso approached me several months ago with a collaboration offer for his song Love is a Virus. He had the vocal track already recorded and had a couple of bed tracks already completed by other producers. This is the way he typically works, since he doesn’t play any instruments. He comes up with great lyrics and a melody and then collaborates with a producer to create the music.

I started with only piano to compose the chord structure.  Once I had a chord pattern I was happy with, I then layered on bass, drums, and synths to complete the track. The piano was no longer a part of the song, but it served as a template to structure the other instruments. We presented it at a Songwriter’s Cafe Meetup, and I made several more tweaks afterwards, mostly with tightening up the arrangement.

Nomi joined us on Song Talk Radio to talk about this song and two others. Check out the tune:

Destiny Train

For a few months last winter, I was stuck having to take the regional “GO” transit to get to work.  I found it strange that so much of my schedule was now much more dictated by train schedules, and the associated stress of getting to the station on time, and frequent delays.

At the time, I was also taking an online course on songwriting taught by Pat Pattison of Berkeley College of Music. Through the course, I used the title “Destiny Train” for a couple of songwriting exercises. In the end, I found the songs resulting from the assignments to be overtly academic – to me, they sounded like songwriting exercises.

So I started again fresh, once again looking to Trent Reznor’s song Head Like a Hole for the structure and rhyme scheme, resulting in a song that sounds less clinical and more emotional, at least in my opinion.

Download the full album for free.

I’m waiting here for a sign
I’m waiting here for a very long time
I’m waiting here for my ride
I’m waiting for you to lie

My patience is wearing thin
My blood is boiling from within

My destiny train
Waiting in vain
Left in the cold
No one to hold

My destiny train
What a shame
It’s not my fault
Time can’t be bought

I’m running now after you
I’m running ‘till I pull through
I’m running against the clock
I’m running though I’d rather walk

My patience is at its end
For my seat I must contend

I guess that’s what I get
For all my eggs in one basket
But the way things are going
I may not last through it

I’m waiting for you to move
I’m waiting for you to prove
I’m waiting to get on track
I’m wishing for my life back

My patience is wearing thin
My blood is boiling from within

And for reference, here are the two versions I wrote for the Songwriting course assignments:

Cyberpunk

I wanted to write a song about society’s obsession with gadgets and technology. This is not a new idea, I realized.  A good lyric writing trick for me is to adopt the point of view of a made up character. That gives me the freedom to be silly and quirky, while at the same time being more specific than “seems like everyone is obsessed with gadgets and technology.” Creating a character makes it easier to be biased, and that makes for a more interesting lyric, in my opinion.

The structure is a play on the title Cyberpunk, in that there is a synth-driven “cyber” section, and a faster, guitar-driven “punk” section. A song with a tempo change and such a radical shift in tone and attitude didn’t really need a bridge section, so I left it with two verses and two choruses. Enjoy!

Download the full album for free.

Your profile pic a tiny abstraction
Instagram filtered grainy attraction
Honey are you lookin’ for some action?
Stoke my ego need some validation

Stalk my friends they don’t see it comin’
Go all week never talk to no one
Got my hi-speed DSL modem
I’m a cyberpunk hacker ninja-wan

And I will

Tweet about it
Hundred forty letters that’s fine
Post about it
If you like it and share it I’ll shine
Text about it
As my bride comes down the aisle
Talk about it?
Don’t bother it’s a waste of time!

Have a date she has new Samsung
Textin’ ‘cross the table it is fun
Is there an app called “i-condom”?
If not I think this date is done

Back online I’m a superhero
Shootin’ zombies post-apocalypto
New high score beat out coolguy-nine-oh
Time to gloat me all alone

But I will….

Fiduciary Responsibility

I don’t write much dance music, but having recently downloaded a bunch of sampled 80’s synth sounds, I had to give it a go. I wrote the music and beat in one evening, but being an instrumental piece I couldn’t easily come up with a title. By the next morning, I pondered and came up with the title “Fiduciary Responsibility.”

I knew the middle section of the song needed a melody or some kind of leading line. I looked online for definitions of fiduciary responsibility and found a great except from a Canadian Accountants Association document. A little bit of quick editing and I had a narration to fit the song.

So while you can dance to this, you just might learn something as well. Enjoy!

Download the full album for free.

Evolution of my home recording studio

I recently purchased a new audio interface for my studio, after the mic inputs on my old one starting giving me static or no signal at all. I thought it would be interesting for others to see how I went about making the choice of which interface to buy, within the framework of the evolution of my studio.

So, even though I starting making MIDI-based instrumental music on my computer back in 1988 on a Commodore Amiga 2000, I didn’t really get into audio recording until around 2002 on my first Windows-based PC. One of the first purchases to be made was an audio interface.  At the time, I had a Roland D70 synthesizer, a drum machine, and (potentially) a microphone. I knew that I only needed to be able to record one track a time into the software on my PC. The first thing I learned was the difference between consumer-level “audio cards” (e.g. Soundblaster) vs. professional interfaces.  Primarily, the professional ones allow you to more effectively record audio while playing back audio at the same time. This is essential for any multi-tracking studio.

I opted for an M-Audio 24/96 interface, which was really just a PCI card with 2 RCA inputs, 2 RCA outputs, and MIDI in and out jacks. I fronted the interface with a 12-channel Behringer mixer with an Alt-bus (or submix bus). This allowed me to send only the keyboard, or only the mic signal, for example, into the M-Audio to be recorded on the computer, while still using the mixer to listen to playback from the computer and my keyboard.

Understanding this flow of signals, both MIDI and audio, was essential to making the purchasing decisions. Suffice to say, I figured out exactly how I was going to connect everything before ever laying down a dime. (Incidentally, this process also allowed me to know and purchase only the cables I needed.)

Over the next few years, I slowly expanded my studio to include monitors (speakers) and a couple of guitars. The extra inputs on the mixer made it easy to patch any of these extras in and use the alt-bus to send each one to be recorded on the PC.

The home studio, circa 2006
The home studio, circa 2006

Of course, as with most budget-gear, the Behringer mixer started crackling and hissing with static after a few years of use. At this point, I figured a multi-input interface would be a good idea. This would allow me to eliminate the hardware mixer entirely, thereby simplifying gain staging and improving signal path quality. I opted for an E-MU 1820 in 2007, which had a digital PCI card and a “break-out box” with 2 mic inputs and a few analogue inputs. Of course, it also had MIDI I/O.

By this time, I had sold off the old Roland D70 synth and got a CME U7 keyboard controller and a Roland JV-1010 sound module on eBay. This, together with the plethora of virtual synthesizers on the computer made my old Roland seem very quaint and limiting. I also gave up on the guitars (instead investing in killer guitar software).The EMU interface served me very well for several years. I attached the Roland JV-1010 and another drum synth to the other inputs. Theoretically, I could record up to 8 tracks at once, but the opportunity to do so never came up.The one limitation with the EMU was the lack of a dedicated output knob. I ended up picking up a Mackie 402-VLZ3 mixer which was used as a glorified volume control and mute button for my monitors, and in a pinch, I could also use its mic inputs if I needed.

Finally on to my latest setup. On July, I purchased a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 interface. While my old EMU allowed me to record up to 8 tracks at one, the Focusrite only allows 2. I figure if I hadn’t needed more than 2 inputs in the last few years, chances are I’m never going to. It has a dedicated volume knob, so I no longer need the Mackie mixer. However, my Roland JV-1010 has nothing to plug into (previously it plugged into line inputs on the EMU). This is not such a big loss, as I haven’t used the Roland in several months, since software synthesizers and samples are getting better and better.

The Focusrite is wonderfully simple. The only driver interface is to set the latency buffer. No software mixer panel, no built-in effects suite, just pure input and output. I picked the 2i4 model over the 2i2 model to have the variable control over the input vs. playback monitoring, and I thought I could use the extra outputs to feed into my Mackie, but didn’t end up using them. Plus I prefer to have real, old-school MIDI connections rather than USB for my keyboard.I did also check out the Presonus 44VSL interface, which has 4 mic inputs, for a possible future when I might actually need to record more than 2 tracks at once. The Presonus was more costly, but quality-wise felt and sounded about the same as the Focusrite. However, I was unable to get the latency for software synths to work – it was quite bad, in fact. I chose to shop at Long & McQuade, who offer a 30-day no-questions-asked return policy, so the Presonus went back and I kept the Focusrite.

So I think the take-away message here is to really examine your needs, do your research, and make informed purchases. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get good quality sound. If there’s one truth to the evolution of my studio, it’s this: the longer I do this, the simpler my system becomes – in other words, fewer parts. Part of this is the fact that newer computers can handle more of the workload, so your outboard gear can be pretty minimal, but part of it is also understanding signal flow and boiling your setup down to the essentials.

The studio earlier in 2013
The studio earlier in 2013