I was a finalist in the SOUNDS OF RED BULL Composer Challenge. The video I had to score for the competition came with no production sound which gave me the idea to integrate some of the elements of the music with the visuals to blur the boundary between the engine/cars sounds and the score.
I used low distorted guitars as the engine sound from :37-:50, snare drum hits as exhaust flame backfires at :57, :59, and 1:04, and amplifier feedback as tires screeching at 2:23.
Other sections turned out less “literal” but I was able to score them in the same spirit of “musical” sound design. Wherever there was slow motion footage I used a low synth note with a high resonance low pass filter opening slowly (:45, 1:00, 1:08, 1:40). At a climax at 2:18 I used an epic multi-octave guitar dive bomb to highlight a dramatic slow motion shot of the car going around a smoking turn with the chase helicopter coming up from behind a cliff!
This was blast to work on and gave me a chance to play around with many elements I enjoy; aggressive guitars, modern synths, big drums and programming, and incorporating sound design ideas into the score in a novel way. Many thanks to the Red Bull people.
A cuíca (kuweeca) resembles a drum with the addition of a wooden or bamboo stick fixed to the middle of the drum membrane from the inside of the drum. Sounds are generated by friction from a wet cloth rubbed on the stick while placing a finger on the outside of the skin (where you’d normally strike the drum) to dampen the skin and obtain pitch variations. It generates an unique and expressive sound. To me it’s reminiscent of a bird squeak or a monkey or even a lion with its lower sounds (I have read that it in Africa it was used for lion hunting because its sound is reminiscent a female lion, thus attracting the male).
Some accounts trace the cuíca’s origins back to Angola (the pwita) and it travelled to Brazil via the slave trade in the 17th century. Other accounts claim that it came from North Africa or the Iberian peninsula (the sarronca). In either case, later on in the 1930’s the instrument became incorporated into the instrumentation of the Brazilian samba school (escolas de samba) playing the role of a pitched rhythmic ostinado (repeated pattern) along with the rest of the various drums.
Over the years the instrument has made it’s way into various non-native Brazilian music genres including jazz, pop, rock, funk, and reggae. Some of the cuíca’s most iconic non-Brazilian appearances are in Quincy Jones’ “Soul Bossa” from the Big Band Bossa Nova album of 1962 and Paul Simon’s “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” from his self-titled album in 1972.
I find it interesting that the type of pitch glides and rhythms that are natural to the cuíca are reminiscent of lead synth parts that have come into fashion in contemporary EDM/house genres such as Dutch house, etc. So it is only natural to me that the cuíca would sound at home featured in a modern EDM production! “Cuiqueiro” blends various Brazilian rhythms, samba drums/percussion, halftime/double time feels, 808/909 percussion sounds/programming, modern digital synths, and production techniques. (A cuiqueiro is a cuíca player.)
Paul Belger of Flux Foundation, an art collective based out of San Fransisco that builds large scale public art, invited me to be a part of an interesting project for Burning Man 2015. Flux was building an interactive art piece inspired by Coney Island’s historic Dreamland amusement park that tragically burned down in a colossal fire in 1911. The Flux team wanted me to create music/sound for the experience. The project had many aspects which I enjoyed: sound design, location recording, incorporating found sounds, and historical research, so I gladly accepted the offer.
Dreamland, along with Steeplechase Park and Luna Park, was one of the original iconic theme parks of Coney Island from the beginning of the 20th century. It was built in 1904 and was designed to be bigger and grander than neighboring Luna Park. It had a tall central tower, a railway that travelled thru a Swiss alpine landscape, gandolas on a Venetian canal, lion tamers, side shows and thrill rides.
In the beginning of the 1911 season while preparation work was being done late at night, there was an electrical malfunction. In the ensuing darkness, a worker who was calking a leak spilled a bucket of hot pitch which started a fire. All of the buildings were made of highly flammable material and the fire spread quickly thru the park. Unfortunately the near by high pressure water pumping station malfunctioned and by morning the park was totally destroyed.
The theme of Flux’s Dreamland is wonder, carnivals, childhood rides, and memories of the past. The installation consists of a central spire reminiscent of a spinning carnival ride along with other surrounding sculptures which have lighting, flame, and sound effects. These effects are controlled by the spinning of the central spire which onlookers are encouraged to do.
On reflecting on what kind music/sound I was going to produce I knew that traditional “music” wouldn’t be appropriate. The pacing of regular music wouldn’t have worked because the sound had to go on for hours and hours. I also wanted the sound not to be intrusive to the experience and be more of a background element. I decided an ambient soundscape that slowly revealed different evocative sounds from carnivals, the past etc., was the way to go….
I veered away from the more obvious childlike, dreamy carnival sounds and went toward something more ominous and darker, possibly foreshadowing the fire. The team at Flux agreed that it was a good creative direction. I produced five different pieces ranging from 30 to 60 minutes each with low pulsing drones, static, and vinyl crackle, along with recordings of carrousels, carnival music, barkers, rides and crowds that I captured on location at Coney Island (The historic Cyclone roller coaster included!). It was rewarding to incorporate authentic sounds from the actual location the sculpture was inspired by.
Here’s a video of Dreamland when the carousel section of my piece was playing:
Here’s a video of when a more ethereal section was playing, incorporating music box piano, roller coster sounds, crowd, and dreamy/hazy ambient sounds:
It was a great project all around and I was grateful to be a part of it, thank you Paul!
On a side note, the historic Coney Island B&B carousel, built there in 1906, has been recently refurbished and has a beautiful German-made Gebruder Bruder organ. Turned out it wasn’t working the day I went there, which I only realized after I paid for the ride, sat on a carriage, and turned on my recorder. The carousel music I was recording was coming from a CD playing thru speakers and not the organ I was looking at!
I was determined to get a real carousel organ “on tape” so I went to Brooklyn Bridge Park which houses Jane’s Carousel, a 1922 carousel made built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and originally located in Youngstown Ohio. I got some great recordings of that organ, from on and off that carousel, which ended up in my Dreamland pieces at Burning Man 2015.
I had the opportunity to work on a project for industry veteran Linda Lucchesi, owner of Memphis’ legendary Simply Grand Music which is the home of Sam The Sham and the Pharaoh’s “Wooly Bully”!
“Red Rose Blue” caught Linda’s attention which led her to ask me to remix “If It’s Good To You (It’s Good For You)” written by Dan Greer and performed by Barbara and the Browns, a southern soul and gospel vocal group led by Barbara Brown and backed by her family. The band released music from the early sixties to the early seventies.
My approach for this remix was that I didn’t want to just take a snippet or hook of the track and add new material the way many remixes do, instead I wanted to honor the song and work around it’s form and performance. I considered it more of a “re-production” as opposed to a “re-mix”.
The individual stems that were sent to me straight off tape were lead vocals, background vocals, bass and drums together, congas, piano, 2 guitars, horns, and congas. I kept all the vocals as is and re-arranged the background vocals a little. I processed the horns, guitar, and drums in different ways to sound like vinyl samples so I could trigger from a sampler and achieve a “crate digging” hip-hop production vibe. All the other stems I didn’t use. The new material I added were a huge kick and snaps/claps beat and I also recorded some new guitar at 1:15.
Snippet of the original song from the album “The Women of The Sounds of Memphis”:
My remix here:
The remix as featured on Rookie Blue Season 5 Episode 4: