Experiments in Music: The Sound of Silence
Hello fellow music geeks! So, Father Christmas brought me an iPad this year…and money for a tattoo…anyway, the main function for this suave piece of technology was for all the note-taking, organising, researching etc I’m going to be doing come September…not to mention all of the cryptic Facebook statuses of someone in the flat using the last of my milk and teabags, Instagram posts of me practising hard (or at least posing like I am) and tipsy snapchatting.
However there is this amazing app already installed called GarageBand, which most people have heard of, but in case you haven’t it’s basically a multi-tracking system that allows you to create songs using your own recordings and pre-produced instrumentation/loops that can be manipulated and layered to sound like you have your own backing band. Basically it’s a recording studio you can fit into your handbag… or manbag (we don’t discriminate here) and it’s cool…a wee bit nerdy, but cool! Now I’m not a complete stranger to this fun bit of tech, I used this app back when I completed my music GCSE (oh those were the days) , but that was approximately 145678.35 updates ago, so essentially it was like discovering it all over again. So, I was fiddling about on it using the guitar synthesiser…thing (technical term) using the only chords I really know how to fiddle with, which is the chord sequence from the first song I ever learned on guitar- Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence…and as I’m a big fan of their music, I decided to attempt to make a cover of it.
Once I got the initial repeated sequence down, I started adding bits and bobs to it using the guitar synth, which were quite simple to manipulate…once I’d decided on what tempo, rhythm and style I was going for…because I couldn’t just do a straightforward copy, where’s the fun in that…would have taken less time, but hey ho no pain no gain. Eventually I’d got a pretty nice groove going, maybe not as Paul Simon intended, but I liked it, especially when I stuck a solid drumbeat in, there’s nothing cooler than sticking a hard rock kit into a classic, it’s like refurbishing a classic car.
Two and a half hours later and I had the full backing track down, all five verses and space for an instrumental section (ambitious much?!) now all I needed was vocals…and an improvised solo. Now I am no Whitney Houston, but I did spend 5 years in the Upholland High School Choir and won the performing arts award in primary school (I mean who needs a Grammy when you have that experience?!) add a decent(ish) ear for harmony…and being too impatient to wait to ask someone else to sing it and I had my vocals done. NowI’m not expecting any Brit Award nominations (though I’ve practised my winners speech many times in the shower, using a bottle of Herbal Essences as my prize, so I’m prepared nonetheless) but I was pretty proud of the vocals. The only drawback was that the microphone I was using, although it wasn’t horrendous….it was the microphone attached to my earphones, so the quality wasn’t quite as clear as I would have liked and my breathing was a little in the style of Darth Vader, but it did the job.
The hardest part of the whole project was definitely the brass parts, due to having to overcome audible breathing and trying not to overwhelm the microphone, both of which were inevitable if you’re not careful when using such a tiny microphone. Luckily garageband has quite useful noise gate settings and reverb options which worked miracles when working with such limited equipment.Then came the small task of coming up with the brass parts. I wrote out about 6 different ideas for the instrumental solo…and wasn’t happy with any as they all seemed too complicated, so I tried just improvising over the top of the track and it’s no surprise that the one that fit the best was the simplest, as Simon & Garfunkel’s music is blissfully simple sounding, so it makes sense that overcomplicating everything just wouldn’t fit. Trying to find some little brass titbits to fit in amongst the last two verses was also pretty tricky, so I kept it simple with small scalic runs, first solo then as a two part harmony, duet fanfare-style flourishes and small extended turn at the end.
Good Starting Point
Now I know there are other programs which do a similar, if not better, job than Garageband, like logic for example, but for a rookie just starting to experiment with multi-tracking, it’s a damn good programme with enough features to ease you into the process, and let’s face it, if I can work it, anyone can.
So, in short it was a really enjoyable project to do, and something I hope to learn from, develop and try again with a different song…and I’d also like to take this opportunity to apologise my family and the neighbours who put up with me warbling and blasting various brass instruments till 10pm.
If you’ve got any recommendations for songs or equipment to improve the quality of my covers I would really appreciate it- contact details as always are below.
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