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How to create electronic music?


jrcorp

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I'm a guitarist who dabbles in bass and keys, and I also like playing around with Fruity Loops - just happens to be what I'm familiar with. I love most if not all genres of music, including electronic stuff. I know that's a very vague way of putting it... I've made a lot of amateurish beats and simple techno-type songs using FL either alone or with a friend. I've used VST's, drum samples, and cut up song samples to put together beats or tunes. Recording instruments and incorporating them has been a goal, but I haven't been able to get it down right.

 

I would love to make some interesting electronic music in maybe a drum and bass or IDM style. From listening to some stuff I enjoy, it seems like for some artists there is a simple mix of either VST's, instruments, or samples with a much more complicated beat. I'm not concerned about much other than the drum aspect. Coming up with a tune shouldn't be too hard, but those beats get ridiculous, especally in weird time signatures.

 

Do you have any suggestions on how to get started, what software to try, etc.? I'm thinking of aspiring to artists like Aphex Twin, Venetian Snares, Squarepusher, or Amon Tobin. A much more simple start would be cool.

 

Also, is there a section of the forum for electronic stuff or beats? Wasn't sure where to ask this.

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FLStudio probably has the most users working in the style you describe. I don't think there is a lot of traffic in the electronic music forums here.

 

After you register your copy of FLStudio, try the Image-Line forums - http://forum.image-line.com/

For electronic music and free softsynths the KVR forums are the most helpful - http://www.kvraudio.com/forum/

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A Aphex Twin used a lot of Kyma and supatrigga, if I recall correctly. And many other electronic musicians like Autechre and Matmos use MAX/MSP (among many other things). Flying Lotus uses Monome with Ableton among many other things. Plugins like Glitch, Mad Shifta, and Bouncy are well worth looking into.

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In terms of writing, you need to start thinking in terms of loops and repeated sections. I think learning to sample is not a bad idea, so you learn how to build an entire song around a couple of sampled bars. Also, lot of these people started out with much simpler, less ambitious works before they moved onto finding their more gaudy styles. So remember that. I think Ableton Live is a good program to learn.

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Thank you, sir. I do okay with beats, though I'm not as good with the drums as my friend. I was making progress with sampling though. I think what's tough for me is coming up with enough sections to make a piece of some length that isn't too repetitive.

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There were some interesting tips that Steve Albini had about drum machine programming on his forum. One of his most interesting suggestions was that when he programmed his TR-606 for Big Black, which isn't exactly the kind of music you're thinking of, he would often program in odd sections. For instance, instead of programming loops in terms of two or four measures, he'd often make loops of three or five measures, and then kind of loop them that way so that the fills and stuff would be less predictable. It's really not a bad idea.

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That's a great idea to change it up, but I would be afraid of making it too random that way. So I guess a compromise would be good. That makes me think of jazz drummers for some reason. I just need to practice my drum programming. Thanks again.

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I think one mistake is to stack ideas on top of each other instead of using solid ideas that work on their own... and stacked. A lot of guys digging into electronica for the first time just start throwing stuff on top of each other, It sounds kinda cool but then... where do you go from there?

 

So the idea of building and exploring different elements in different combinations and in different lengths is really where it gets interesting and more akin to traditional composing.

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Awesome tip. I think I was starting to go out of my personal box with making up stuff in FL. When I first started, it would be a chord track, bass track, melody track, maybe a harmony track... I had the same sort of template for almost every song. After awhile, I was beginning to try different things. The same goes for harmonies and chord progressions too... my buddy is into rap and wants his stuff to sound dark, so I ended up with a lot of songs that have the same minor progressions. Lately I was trying to use different sounds like augmented chords and modes instead of natural scales. But thinking in terms of using pieces that work alone, together, and in different combinations should be a nice challenge. I would like to think that I was doing a decent job of it before; I would either have different sections with new progressions and transitions in between, or use tracks that did work in different ways with each other. But there's definitely room to improve.

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What I like most about electronic music is that it takes traditional sound sources and compositional forms and warps it beyond recognition - like taking a chaotic mess of random found sounds and spliced up samples and throwing them in a caustic sea of 1s and 0s. Then again, I do have a strong penchant for the glitchy and noisy. I'd suggest making a straight forward song or composition and start slicing, dicing, bitcrushing, random sample triggering, and introducing all types of chaos until the whole thing until it barely makes sense anymore.

 

Loops aren't in themselves bad. Depending on how you treat them they can even be beautiful (see William Basinski) or dark or aggressive (see Madlib). Either way there's infinite ways you can flip a loops and samples. It just takes some vision.

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Loops aren't in themselves bad. Depending on how you treat them they can even beautiful (see William Basinski) or dark or aggressive (see Madlib). Either way there's infinite ways you can flip a loops and samples. It just takes some vision.

I can't help but wonder if you saw my long riff that was up for 20 minutes or so before I thought better and deleted it, since I sort of got stuck complaining about how disappointed I am by the lack of electronic music progress, which I sort of focused a bit on lazy use of looping technologies.

 

Actually, I couldn't agree more about the truly creative use of samples and looping. In the 80s, I was obsessed with loops,* which I did using tape and my old tape based Echoplex. I was delighted when I finally got some proper sampling technology around 1992 or '93 in the form of an AWE32 soundcard that I populated with 4 MB of RAM that I used with the old Vienna SoundFont construction tool.

 

I just get stuck in this cranky old man thing about the last decade or so of electronica. That's why I ended up deleting that thread. Even I can only stand to hear myself yell, "Hey you kids get off my lawn," so many times. ;)

 

*In fact, I set up my very first 'Eno loop' using two tape recorders to form a long loop back in 1963 -- but my tape recorders weren't nearly as nice as the big Revoxes that Eno and Fripp used (and that Fripp actually went on a one man tour with them back around 1980; saw him do a lecture at the old Tower Records on the Sunset Strip during the tour). Heck, for that matter, I had my own one man echo loop live act from '91 'til around the end of the decade (although I used live, freely played synth instead of guitar). Loops have been a big part of my life, even if I do think they were lazily abused in the late 90s and first half of this decade.

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I can't help but wonder if you saw my long riff that was up for 20 minutes or so before I thought better and deleted it, since I sort of got stuck complaining about how disappointed I am by the lack of electronic music progress, which I sort of focused a bit on lazy use of looping technologies.


Actually, I couldn't agree more about the truly creative use of samples and looping. In the 80s, I was obsessed with loops, which I did using tape and my old tape based Echoplex. I was delighted when I finally got some proper sampling technology around 1992 or '93 in the form of an AWE32 soundcard that I populated with 4 MB of RAM that I used with the old Vienna SoundFont construction tool.


I just get stuck in this cranky old man thing about the last decade or so of electronica. That's why I ended up deleting that thread. Even I can only stand to hear myself yell, "Hey you kids get off my lawn," so many times.
;)

 

I did see the rant and it got me thinking about the course of electronic music's evolution (or lack thereof) and how it reached it's nadir with Music has the Right to Children. I apologize profusely if you're a Boards of Canada fan, but that album came to symbolize all I disliked about electronic music at the time. It was boring, pretentious. I always liked Autechre, Mouse on Mars and Oval, but didn't follow the scene as a whole. Recently I started really digging Flying Lotus and the whole Brainfeeder crew/LA beat scene type of music. it was a welcome change from the staid electronic music conventions I was used to hearing over the years. These guys along with artists like Prefuse 73, Luke Vibert and Akufen have redeemed electronic music for me.

 

EDIT: You know, Fripp is actually my favorite musicians - and speaking of Fripp and electronic music, are you familiar with the little known project FFWD? It's him and ambient dub group The Orb. I thought it was pretty cool, though I tend to prefer his project with Steve Roach. David Torn is also someone who does some awesome things with digital loops and electronics (see Prezens). As well as Christian Fennesz (see everything).

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I did see the rant and it got me thinking about the course of electronic music's evolution (or lack thereof) and how it reached it's nadir with
Music has the Right to Children
. I apologize profusely if you're a Boards of Canada fan, but that album came to symbolize all I disliked about electronic music at the time. It was boring, pretentious. I always liked Autechre, Mouse on Mars and Oval, but didn't follow the scene as a whole. Recently I started really digging Flying Lotus and the whole Brainfeeder crew/LA beat scene type of music. it was a welcome change from the staid electronic music conventions I was used to hearing over the years. These guys along with artists like Prefuse 73, Luke Vibert and Akufen have redeemed electronic music for me.


EDIT: You know, Fripp is actually my favorite musicians - and speaking of Fripp and electronic music, are you familiar with the little known project FFWD? It's him and ambient dub group The Orb. I thought it was pretty cool, though I tend to prefer his project with Steve Roach. David Torn is also someone who does some awesome things with digital loops and electronics (see Prezens). As well as Christian Fennesz (see everything).

Now, see, this is great because I'd forgotten that I wanted to look up FFWD and I didn't even know about a Fripp/Roach project.

 

 

Speaking of loops, I dug up the first thing I did in ACID -- using a set of randomly selected sample loops and sounds -- in March 2000, which I think I mentioned in my now disappeared rant.

 

The piece lasts 1:09 seconds -- but it only took 41 seconds to create* -- which was done while it was playing the first time, by 'painting' ahead of the ACID play cursor.

 

In ACID, while you can record conventional audio tracks, you 'paint' the looped parts where you want them by dragging the mouse while clicking through the timeline. You can quantize to bar lines -- but where's the fun in that? Since the samples and loops were randomly selected, I was hearing it all for the first time as it was created. More or less. Obviously I was always a little ahead of the cursor, so I was hearing the parts a few seconds after I painted them in.

 

Also, I didn't move linearly. I just clicked the cursor as I made big, swooping curlicues of mouse movement across the tracks as the cursor marched toward where I was working, playing what I had just finished as it moved

 

*I'm not counting the time it took to load the samples.

 

Pardon the slide show... I just dumped a bunch of snapshots in...

 

[video=youtube;Ko2PlBbdHKw]

 

 

 

[EDITED, 2011-07-20]

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Cool discussion. Clifton, I appreciate the ideas on how to make up some electronic stuff from a different angle. I like stuff that sounds chaotic to a degree - I like the drill and bass rhythms, super sped up and very glitchy and syncopated. A few of the names I mentioned earlier create this type of music. But I don't like music that sounds too noisy or random beyond making sense in a way. Unfortunately, my being very logical tends to limit my horizons in ways like this. But I'll try the idea, definitely. I have yet to fully dive in to tweaking samples and using the smallest bits to make something entirely new.

 

Blue, thanks for the history. It's cool to hear about the progression of electronic music through the eyes of someone who participated. I should try listening to some of the artists mentioned. I agree that there's been some very poor electronic stuff created, though I'm not sure I know that period of music well enough to understand. I heard your piece, pretty cool for how quickly it was made.

 

I like Boards of Canada. They're not close to a favorite of mine, but I try to appreciate what people do. I think of myself as pretty critical sometimes, but forumites here seem to have me beat!

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Check out the Fripp and Eno No Pussyfooting stuff. It's really pretty amazing. My bedroom experiments when I was 12 (and didn't play music so couldn't exploit) notwithstanding, that Fripp and Eno stuff was probably the 'popular' foundation of the modern live looper movement.

 

I think I mentioned above that I saw Fripp in a lecture performance in 1980 or so. In 1986 I was in Amsterdam for a while (can't remember quite how long :eek: ) and hung for some time with a French Canadian flute player who had managed to rig up a little echo delay out of bare components (I mean, literally, where you would normally have had a 'breadboard' circuit board holding the soldered wiring all together, he had bare wires, mostly twisted together) and he was trying to get a Fripp-style echo act together for busking. A few years later in Berkeley, I briefly saw a violinist (I think) on a street corner working into a little bucket brigade of echo pedals hooked in series.

 

In 1990 or early 1991, I was watching a (conventional and none too adventurous or virtuosic) guitar and flute instrumental duo in my then-relatively-new favorite coffee house with the proprietress. The music was simple and unassuming, the flute player hesitant and the guitarist a simple strummer.

 

Suddenly, the guitar player stopped in the middle of a song, put his guitar in the case, slammed it closed, and walked out, leaving the girl flute player stunned, her flute literally still in her hand. She finally came over to the proprietress -- who had probably paid 40 or 50 bucks for the act -- and apologized, saying something like, Oh, 'John' is very serious about his music and he can't stand it when people aren't paying attention. The owner and I looked at each other. It was a busy, crowded coffee house on a date night.

 

When they'd left I said to the proprietress, Look, I'll put together the perfect coffee house act -- and I won't care if no one listens and everyone talks because I already know who I am and where I'll be... in a coffee house, making background music on a Friday or Saturday night. I did and I did and I ended up playing there as Frippenstein (a tribute to Fripp's Frippertronics solo act), and later as Tranz Azul, on and off for a decade.

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Awesome stories, wish I had anything to relate back but unfortunately I have next to no experience haha. I guess using layered echos was a fad though? Not to take away from it as a way to create some nice sounds.

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Awesome stories, wish I had anything to relate back but unfortunately I have next to no experience haha. I guess using layered echos was a fad though? Not to take away from it as a way to create some nice sounds.

I'd say it's bigger than ever but instead of using a simple DDL (that's digital delay [line] to you unjargonized youngsters :D ), most folks use dedicated sampling/looping boxes or even pedals. I like to flip through the FX section of Musician's Friend or other catalogs and marvel at all the live-looping oriented toys. Back when I was first doing it, by crackie, all I had was a 7.6 second Digitech rack echo, and its only feature was a toggle switch that would 'lock' the contents of memory and just loop it around -- which was kind of nice when you were in a groove and wanted to be able to take a solo and not have to worry about the echo either decaying away out from under you or building up through excessive feedback and blowing you away. But, you know, I think you've really got to watch your step if you have the same element repeating too much. Unless, of course, your audience are a bunch of club drug tweakers. :facepalm::D

 

I love Fripp's introduction to a brief Frippertronics performance from 1979 in this vid below... unfortunately, there apparently wasn't time to show him build up the loop, which he would do with heavy use of his volume pedal to lay down a layer at a time of what you hear when he starts the tape...

 

[video=youtube;K8kcuqIqmIU]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8kcuqIqmIU

 

An interview on Fripp's philosophy...

 

[video=youtube;kJ0_IlD7c14]

 

 

FWIW, here's a link to the very first three pieces* my old pal Michael Rothmeyer and I recorded live our first time playing together in February 1993. We did a quick soundcheck and just plunged in, cutting three long improvisations. There are, of course, no overdubs. We ended up playing live together a number of times through the 90s. Him on guitar and echo loops, me on keys and echo loops. Setup took forever. (Toward the end of my run, when my gear had got a little more complicated, I counted something like 83 cables, including power IECs and wall warts.)

 

We both played a lot as solos, as well. I also had a larger ensemble called Drift, with electric violin (Ann Dejarnett), lap steel and 6 string electric guitar (Steve 'Caz Camberline' Becker), and percussion and woodwinds (Kurt Schnyder). We played a number of club gigs, a cool museum grounds-at-sunset-overlooking-the-Pacific gig, and an outside music festival. Improvisational music is at once exhilarating and terrifying. ;)

 

* The fourth piece was an overdub, my pal Jeff Turmes playing a wild and wailing tenor sax over the first piece, with Mike's guitars mostly mixed way down (conflicted). I later added a spoken word part over the top and flew a robo-rhythm section in under that. It shouldn't have worked, but I

. The text of the poem is somewhat disturbing though.
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Cool stuff, thanks for sharing. I enjoyed listening to Fripp... seems like a real interesting guy and a great player. I don't know that I could enjoy or appreciate his music as much as someone else, but it's different and creative. Honestly I have to sit back and think about what was going on in music at that time to better appreciate what he's doing. Otherwise I would be much less impressed. I like the concept and I like the sounds I hear, but I'm not a huge fan of totally improvised music. Maybe it's because I couldn't sound good doing it, but I like there to be some kind of base that a song is built on. Listening to him speak was neat too, he seems kind of intellectual and deep in a way. I feel like I could almost relate, he's very open about feeling uncomfortable in public and how he's not much of a traditional rock musician.

 

I listened to a few minutes of the first piece on your project's page, and I like it a lot. The more modern sounds and kind of ambiance seems more familiar and enjoyable to me, like it's an easier palette to hear someone improvise on. Neat project, and it's awesome that you played out some in that format. Again, I can't easily imagine what must have been involved as far as technology at the time. Not sure I would've had the patience for that kind of setup, but if it were my music that I loved making who knows. Please forgive me for not spending more time listening, I'll check it out another time for sure.

 

I appreciate the input. The progressive experimental music involving loops wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but it's something to consider.

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Cool stuff, thanks for sharing. I enjoyed listening to Fripp... seems like a real interesting guy and a great player. I don't know that I could enjoy or appreciate his music as much as someone else, but it's different and creative. Honestly I have to sit back and think about what was going on in music at that time to better appreciate what he's doing. Otherwise I would be much less impressed. I like the concept and I like the sounds I hear, but I'm not a huge fan of totally improvised music. Maybe it's because I couldn't sound good doing it, but I like there to be some kind of base that a song is built on. Listening to him speak was neat too, he seems kind of intellectual and deep in a way. I feel like I could almost relate, he's very open about feeling uncomfortable in public and how he's not much of a traditional rock musician.


I listened to a few minutes of the first piece on your project's page, and I like it a lot. The more modern sounds and kind of ambiance seems more familiar and enjoyable to me, like it's an easier palette to hear someone improvise on. Neat project, and it's awesome that you played out some in that format. Again, I can't easily imagine what must have been involved as far as technology at the time. Not sure I would've had the patience for that kind of setup, but if it were my music that I loved making who knows. Please forgive me for not spending more time listening, I'll check it out another time for sure.


I appreciate the input. The progressive experimental music involving loops wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but it's something to consider.

See if you can't check out the Fripp/Eno No Pussyfooting album. Frankly, I wasn't impressed by that vid clip I posted -- but the No Pussyfooting stuff is real longform, meditative kind of music. (Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to be on either Rhapsody or Spotify, which I just installed the free version of.)

 

On the Rothmeyer/Frippenstein stuff, I'm gratified you got a chance to listen to even a few minutes. It, too, is longform stuff and who's got time for 10 and 15 minute tracks in the middle of a busy week? ;) My buddy Mike had a few more echo pedals and things -- but all the delays were pretty short back then. I think his longest was 8 seconds but he bucket brigaded a couple together for longer. It was a lot of fun but improv is like aerial work without a net, you know? Exhilarating but sometimes a little unnerving.

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