The world of music composition is essentially dominated by western music culture theory. In western music culture, there are twelve notes to an octave. Those notes can be arranged in a variety of ways to create scales, each scale evoking a different emotional quality. And by playing various notes in a scale simultaneously you’ll play a chord, and then a progression of chords, and so on, with each chord progression likewise evoking emotion. And often, you’ll add percussion instruments to accentuate the rhythm of your chordal progressions. Just how many chord progressions and rhythmic combinations are possible in the world of music? While I’m certain the number is staggeringly large, I don’t think the answer to that question really matters. The important question to ask is: how many combinations actually would work for what you are going to create for your video game? That, my composing friends, is a much smaller number; three, four, maybe even a dozen. And with so few options to employ in a composition, how on earth can a composer differentiate him/herself from the teams of other composers vying for recognition? Found Sounds.
So welcome to the first exploration of found sounds. This article will explore the inception, creation and refinement of an intense battle beat using objects you can find at your local home improvement store, secondhand stores, your neighbors garbage can (one man’s garbage is another man’s musical instrument), junkyard (a place with even more garbage), or really anywhere that physical objects exist. The particular objects we’ll be discussing now are:
Cardboard barrel with metal canister lid. $10 at a second hand store.
3 packs of dowels...
…$7 dollars at a craft store.
Small Vent Pipe. $1.90 - on clearance at hardware store.
Large Vent Pipe. $7 at hardware store.
Whenever I set out to create intense battle beats, I’ll usually start with a “jam” track, where I’m basically making up a beat on the spot. From there I can usually find something that I like and will build on it. However, being a percussionist is not actually required for this to work. You can always find the sounds you like and employ, or persuade, someone else to perform on these objects for you. Or alternatively, you can create samples from your found sounds objects and perform them the way you do everything else when composing inside the box, with your midi controller.
Step 1 - Getting Your Rhythms Down
So let’s start with the core idea on the barrel:
Now let’s record something simple with the large vent pipe.
Next we’ll record the small vent pipe.
Finally, let’s record a few different fast-paced rhythms with the stick bundles on different parts of the barrel lid and side:
If you put all of this together unprocessed, you may find that you like what you’re hearing or it may sound awful. In this case, what I’m going with has potential but it definitely needs some attention:
Step 2 - Cleaning Up The Performances and Combining the Rhythms
Firstly, I’m going to quantize my sloppy playing track by track and then combine them.
Step 3 - EQ and Effects
The unprocessed sound of this is abrasive. And the main culprit is the cardboard barrel and its metal lid. And because the stick bundles and the small vent pipe provide great timbres in the higher range, I think a muted sound for this drum will be just what this rhythm needs. So with an EQ tweak, a little boost with Sausage Fattener, and one of my favorite plugins, Ubhik G, I’m going to eliminate the high-end and make it sound interesting.
The large vent pipe has a very low resonating tone as well as a fast decaying high pitch that you hear right at the strike. And I want to leave it that way. Ultimately, with each sound you capture you’ll need to decide what you want to hear. And although you may know this before you even start recording, there are always those happy accidents that you don’t expect. Such was the case with this large vent pipe. Much to my satisfaction, the high percussive sound of it is reminiscent of a cajon with snare strings... a sound I very much like. Here’s where we’re at so far...
When I go scavenging for objects to make war beats, I make sure to cover my frequency spectrum. I usually plan on having one to two deep frequency layers, one middle range layer (and this will probably be the core rhythm), and two or more high frequency layers (usually playing the role of faster rhythms). Once you perform the rhythms and put all of your layers together, you can get pretty creative with how you process your signal. And although the effects processing may seem to defeat the point of finding sounds, it really doesn’t. After all, the effect can only manipulate the signal you give it. The sound of a duck quacking versus the pounding of a metal trash can are not going to give you the same result, even through the same signal chain with the exact same settings.
On that note, if you’re making music for a video game client using different signal chain processes with the same rhythmic source can be a great way to create a cohesive set of intense rhythms with slightly or even dramatically different character to be used in different parts of the game. Additionally, adding a low frequency drum like gran cassa can really support the low end and add dimension to the “intense” quality I’m going for.
And finally, you can add sampled horns and strings to get an idea of what your intense battle beat will sound like once you record your live strings and brass. Or if samples are your final destination, a bit of refining and a good mix with your found sounds percussion should give you a pretty good result.
Notwithstanding that there are some virtual instruments in the final composition, I have a predominately live percussion section performed with objects that cost me less than $25.