Octobverse

I decided to join my artist friends who take part in the yearly tradition of Inktober. They complete a drawing using ink once per day throughout the month of October.

I have very limited skills as a visual artist, so I decided to take part using my hobby as a songwriter, writing a song (in ink) each day, recording it and sharing to Instagram. I wrote 31 songs in the month of October. It was challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

I usually only finish a couple of songs per year. My songbook contains plenty of half-finished sketches and abandoned ideas. When I complete a song I usually do nothing with it. I honestly didn’t think I had enough material or motivation in me to complete this project and that it would end in failure. I was wrong.

Format

I was posting my songs on to Instagram where there is a 1 minute maximum length for video. This gave a brilliant restriction as it removed the pressure to always have a classic song structure and gave me an achievable target that I can fit in around my day job. I admire Stephen Merritt’s short ukulele songs and think that this instrument and a short songwriting style work well together.

Lessons

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find enough writing topics. Inktober provides a prompts list that would help me out occasionally, but I often struggle when writing to an abstract metaphor. I prefer songs that get straight to the point. Messiahsez says “the blues is about your life”, and for the month of October, this became my biggest source of inspiration. I wrote a song about social change that came from ordering a burrito, a few songs about going to gigs, a couple of songs about how I didn’t have time to write a song. When I sit down and apply myself – I actually have a lot of things to say.

I also learned that a small daily task is an excellent driver for productivity. <1 minute of music is really achievable and whilst there were a few days when I felt forced into doing it, I still did it every day. I do have the time in the evenings to make art, and realizing this is really important as I drift further from my Digital Minimalism commitments and back into old habits.

I find prototyping videogames to be a great creative exercise but get drained very quickly when trying to ‘build’ them. The same is true of songs. I was able to play with ideas without the requirement for them to be well built, and that was invigorating. I am now keeping a hold on the creative side of writing as I continue to write beyond this project.

What’s next?

November was a relatively light month for my creative projects. This was partly because of increasing pressure at work and partly because October’s project was pretty intense and I needed a little break. I am writing up a few songs into a longer format and will be posting them on a new Soundcloud page. The objective is to make demo recordings, but as always I am feeling too attached to quality to share. Finding that room for creativity and play in this task will be essential. I would like to find a new regular challenge to help motive me to complete this, and ideas are welcomed.

Until I move them to a more sensible place, the curious can find my songs on my Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/mikey_pb/

Game Trailer Music: RememBear

My last entry was about how I created the trailer for the RememBear. This post focuses on the trailer’s music composition. If you’ve not seen the trailer yet, I’ll let you catch up below:

In my last post I talked about my storyboarding process and how I blocked out the story I wanted to tell. I approached the music composition with the same mindset, such as I could have written to the final storyboard without any video! I always talk about how important storytelling is in music, as in all art, and a videogame trailer is no exception.

We open with an establishing countryside theme, which is quickly interrupted by a sneaky, atonal bear melody. This is what the entire game is about in musical form – there is no respite from the incoming flood of bears! Since I’m using a woodwind quartet, The bear melody is in my lowest available register on the bassoon – a classic villain trope!

After building tension with a rising semitonal pattern, we switch to the Ranger’s theme, rather American sounding with it’s tuned percussion, military tone and homophonic arrangement. As the voiceover says, the player is the commander of a troop of park rangers and so a disciplined musical score reinforces this idea.

The ranger’s theme is finally interrupted by a bassoon, loudly playing its lowest note, as the bears appear to savage one of the rangers. This is intended to be a shock moment in the trailer and so the bassoon’s return is apt, and narratively this reinforces the concept of the bears interrupting the picnic. The lowest note on the bassoon is also out of key, which heightens the unpleasantness of the savaging.

Writing this score was great fun. Getting the tone right was surprisingly easy, but figuring out the clearest voicings for the different parts was occasionally tricky – I’ve not written much for woodwind quartets in the past! The instrumentation in the game’s title music was chosen to imitate Banjo-Kazooie, so I thought it best to use a similar timbre in the trailer for consistency. Creativity loves boundaries so being unable to introduce a French horn, for example, was both annoying and constructive – I hope you like the music!