Winding River- the process.

So this is my new track!

As far as composition goes, this is certainly a first for me.

This compilation of vocal track upon vocal track actually started as a 4 part theme that I worked on with a loop pedal. I had a couple of the chord parts down as well as a groovy bass line… but not much in the way of a tangible melody. Anyway, I played this little scrap to one of my friends and he said that I should record it and send it off to my music tutor for the competition to win an exchange trip to Italy. First I thought ‘No Way’ since he said this only two days before the deadline. Then I thought, I need to show that I have some confidence in my composition… so I text Graham and set up an ad hoc recording session for the next evening.

I had pitched it as a four part piece, but in the hours approaching the recording session I decided to develop my ideas a little on garage band using a pod cast mic… hours later I was knee deep in vocal tracks with lyrics and arrangements and all sorts of things. It had certainly ‘grown up’ over the course of a few hours. Throughout the recording and mixing it had developed into something that I was actually pleased with! So off it went on a trip to Jamil Sheriff via email. It is really my first composing venture of this nature, so they only miracle I’m expecting is for somebody to enjoy it! But you never know- ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’.

So… what’s it all about? And how did I try to convey it?

When I had put the initial chords together, I was overwhelmed by this sense of instability that was embedded in the harmony of the piece. From this, the lyrics seemed to just appear in my head. ‘Crept up, as slick as the water’- this has instability on the face of it all. From this first line I think I knew where I was going with it. I wanted it to be a reflective song about how life can trip you up sometimes, how ‘it could never happen to me’: and then it does.

Crept up, as slick as the water,

Could never see it coming,

I bet your mind starts running now.

I think we can all relate to that ‘Oh no’ feeling when something awful happens; when you just want to retreat into the back of your mind and pretend that it isn’t happening.

Arms up, to Mothers and Daughters,

All’s fair in war they told us,

Someone said that about love too.

This is the second half of the verse; here I wanted to create an image of someone in distress, maybe even held at gun point. It HAS happened to them and they are in the most awful place I can imagine- in the middle of a war zone. I wanted to convey that nobody here is definitively the guilty party; we are all victims of this ebb and flow of mistakes and decisions that put people in these situations. I adapt the quote ‘All’s fair in love and war’; it was important to skew it as this quote has no truly original origin, it is a compilation of sayings about the fairness of love and war. I wanted to make war the prominent party and love the after thought to reflect the priorities of the scene I was trying to set.

The close harmonies and the volume building in the repetitive bass parts build the tension leading up to the solo. I tried to add a little rasp to my tone at the end of the phrase to put emphasis on the desperation. The solo is never really allowed to escape itself and expand, it continues in a circle until suddenly. ‘Crept up as slick as the water’ hits with unison rhythm and split harmony.

After this I felt the piece needed to drive on so I used a ‘ka’ sound to bolster the rhythmic strength of the progression. I tried to vocalise ‘ka’ so that it didn’t really have a specific pitch and it acted more as a percussive sound. I added to the sense of ‘non-pitch’ by adding a close note to further warp the sound. After a lot of emphasis on chords I decided to let this rhythmic idea take over and take a duet with the melody; it provided a much needed break. Carrying on the more relaxed feel I went into a different lyric and layered this using call and response. This also gave some rhythmic tension to the rather substantially divided feel that had been going on. It also tailored out the piece for the next section.

Unusually I added a little ‘stop time-ish’/ ‘shout-ish’ section into the middle to break up the piece and really bring in a jazzy feel implemented with some earlier ideas. This also let the  piece breathe and it gave the solos somewhere to move and grow throughout and over the melody. After this, we have a sort of ‘recapitulation’ with ideas repeating as the end of the piece approaches; although there is some adaptation of the melody towards the end.

I didn’t want the piece to just fade out… I wanted a definitive ending. The bass part ‘bam, bam, ba doo, dey ooh’ had been filtered through the entire piece. However, this was a key component of my original idea so I wanted it to be the key component of the ending. I made a feature of it by extending the length and adding some more harmony. I’m pleased with that  2 bars more than any other 2 bars of the piece! More so for the contrast it provided.

So THAT is what was going through my mind when creating and adapting this piece. Looking back at the process has really helped me on my way to developing other compositions, so if you enjoyed this spiel of ideas- there should be more to come!

Thanks for reading.


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