“I'm an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I'll bring you something out of it”
- Jon Lennon
I’ve always thought of myself as an ‘ambient’ songwriter. Until recently, I assumed it was a matter of taste, and to a large extent, I still believe that to be true. But after some recent realizations, I’m starting to think a lot of it might have to do with instrument choices and the subconscious reasons behind them.
Case and point, I’ve always been a fan of using and designing sounds with slow attacks, and long releases.
I love using these sounds in slower time signatures and have a tendency to shy away from short pulsing notes, ostinatos, and aggressive playing in general. Why?
My (probably wrong) assumption has been that I didn’t know how to write in these styles, but I recently stumbled on an alternate idea: the sample libraries and sounds I’ve used were not equipped to write in these aggressive styles. So if you agree with Jon Lennon (you should) whatever toys you have available, as an artist, it becomes your responsibility to make the best of them. It might require more labor, but it’s what makes your work interesting. All of this has been a roundabout way for me to say that playing instruments as they are, rather than what you wished they would be, can certainly force you down paths you did not anticipate. These paths will help shape your interests and abilities as both a performer and listener.
And I suspect that this played a large part in my evolution as an ambient composer. Several years ago, when I started converting all of my analog gear to digital, I started honing in on these ambient soundscapes that I like so much, and at the time, some of the more aggressive sounds (staccatos, ostinatos, sforzandos, etc) frankly, just sounded awful. This isn't a knock on the engineers who designed these awesome toys by the way, it's really, reeeeallllly hard to design believable orchestral instruments that can do everything a real player can do. Legato and vibrato are still very difficult to reproduce convincingly as well, but for me personally, nothing takes me out of a song faster than hearing an obviously fake instrument attempting authenticity (I'm as guilty as anyone at this). The technology has come a long way and with the availability of good libraries nowadays, it's making me wonder what else I can do that I haven't tried yet......
Anywho, I'm writing some new piano songs, will have something to share soon!