Today I am going to talk to you about aesthetics and all that it implies. I will start by mentioning some terms to delimit a more concrete thematic circle: beauty, symmetry, elegance, truth, recognition, taste. There are different definitions about the multiple aspects of aesthetics, for example: “set of principles underlying the work of a particular artist or artistic movement”.
If we talk about music, we find different genres, like pop, jazz, electronic music, etc. Plus many sub-genres, sometimes with ridiculous names. All this is more or less defined, according to the instruments or sounds they use; the tempo, the rhythm, the harmonies, etc. For example: distorted electric guitar, simple 4/4 time signature with bass drum in 1 and 3 and snare in the middle, moderate tempo and lyrics dealing with love, alcohol and motorcycles, are part of the “set of principles” that define Rock’n’Roll.
On a much smaller scale, principles can endow a given track with character. I don’t know if there is an estimated number of how many electro dance music tracks can be found out there. But how many of those tracks are actual hits, and how did they come to be? If you can answer this question accurately, and you know your way around an electronic production rig, you stand to make a lot of money.
One very important thing is simplicity, that is, you have to get straight to the point. In terms of instrumentation, any classic rock band was lucky enough to have just a drummer, a bass player, a guitarist and a singer. You can record a band like that on a four-track tape and, if they know their instruments well; you don’t have to worry about the overall sound.
As handy as the “create new track” function in your DAW is, it can be a curse if you can’t find the right material. Sometimes you have 5 tracks called “bass line” and each one of them contributes in some way to the lower frequency area of your creation. But you’re not satisfied, what are you going to do? Of course you’ll open another track in an attempt to fix it, adding whatever you think is missing. After a while you’ll eventually reach that point where you give up on the project or at the very least, your willpower is met with boredom after listening to the same loop for too long….
The problem here is that the bass line is not defined. The solution is to find a sound and a line that tells the whole story. Although it’s not easy, your first step should always be to select all the half-baked tracks and hit delete.
Sometimes your creation has all the necessary elements: percussion, bass line, some pad, some glitches, a little bit of this and that. It has a nice groove and you like the loop. But somehow it still sounds like a step backwards and you’re looking for the step forward: vindicate yourself.
Personally, I find it hard to find the right words after endless discussions. I could say anything and somehow it would fit. Now, what do I really want to say?
One solution is to start with that claim and then build everything around that. The better you define it, the more committed you will be at the beginning of a production, and the easier it will be to find the right elements and decision making.
Timing is perhaps the most important issue in music, and I don’t mean playing in sync, I mean creating the right moment for something great to happen. If you try to tell a really good joke to your friends when you’re talking about something completely different and serious, then the joke is lost or not very effective.
In almost any style of music you can find moments of breakdowns or interruptions. Especially in electro dance, where they are known as ‘breaks’. The purpose is to create tension. A moment later, the break ends and the rhythm starts again. Usually a break lasts 4, 8 or 16 bars.
For example, in some of my creations I have had the feeling that the breaks were too short so that at the end of the reverb the sound would die out sufficiently before the bass drum comes back into play. So I tried reducing the extinction of the reverb plugin, but then it would disappear too quickly. Adding another 4 pulses was too much, even one or two beats of the beat seemed too long to me.
In the end I ended up adding a quarter note to that break and it was just right. It may seem a little strange to make such a distinctive beat change, especially when you think about the DJ having to deal with it. But when that’s exactly what the piece needed to be great, then you really know your stuff, like a good DJ knows his.
This tension of construction and release is achieved through the use of contrasting elements. The most obvious change that occurs in a break within electronic music is the disappearance of percussion. But contrast means only two things that are – in extreme cases – opposites. The break uses the timeline to join two different parts, one after the other.
Contrasting elements can also appear simultaneously. Aphex Twin is legendary for combining fast, hard drum loops with slow, ultra-smooth pad sounds. The use of more tempered analog synthesizers in conjunction with samples from Commodore 64 games is another way of generating pleasant “problems” for the ear.
In general, I feel that not enough attention is paid to the fragile and quiet material. Everything has to be at a very high volume and sometimes even a bit more. Dynamic nuances and small details make the music interesting (to listen to). On the dance floor it gets on my nerves when the music sounds like junk food. Sure it’s good enough for you, but it’s not a delicacy at all. Taste is in the nuances….
The other big enemy is the “volume war” of the last two decades. It’s something I always warn the mastering engineer about, trying not to be overzealous. I like dynamism and quiet elements.
Today there are so many possibilities and sound sources that making good selections is becoming increasingly important. It’s not just a matter of good or bad sounds, or old or trendy instruments. It’s not even a matter of taste. As long as you have something to say and manage to clearly express your point of view and have fun, your creation will have identity and originality.