Sunday, 24 May 2020

Then the Halls Were Empty... and I Turned It On!

I've finished a new song! It's an instrumental that tells a little story. This composition is the centrepiece for my album: here the gate that it's all about is opened for the first time, into who-knows-where. After this the real drama starts: the next song is about how the entire facility needs to be destroyed in order to stop creatures from flooding in!



The first 2 minutes of this song actually started as the soundtrack for a cancelled Ronimo game, all the way back in 2012. I wrote a few short pieces for that and this one made it in. I started by building a rhythm from workshop sound effects, like a tape-measure sliding back in, and then composed the rest from there. While the atmosphere worked really well with our game prototype, the rhythmic sound effects turned out to be problematic: the game also had real sound effects and that didn't combine well. So I simply removed the rhythmic part from my song and then it sounded good in the game. I think this is a beautiful example of how creativity and iteration work: the things you make serve a purpose in the process, even those that get scrapped in the end.

When that game was cancelled, this track went into the fridge. Nevertheless it remained one of my favourite tracks and I came back to listen to it quite often. I wanted to do something with it, but didn't know what. Back then it was only 1:50 minutes long and that felt too short to be 'finished'.

Then I heard Home By The Sea by Genesis. I'm a huge fan of Genesis so it's not rare for me to listen to their music, but this particular time I suddenly realised that I could try doing the same structure for my own song. Home By The Sea is basically two songs in one: it starts as a pop song but halfway it quiets down and then at 5:07 a big beat sets in and it becomes an amazing instrumental. I wanted a similar transformation in my own song! So I tried emulating that vibe, but I failed and it doesn't sound anything like the original. In this case however it did capture something else: I really liked the resulting sound! To me that's another great example of how creativity can work: take an inspiration and then morph it into something completely different to make it your own.

I continued from there, turning it into a 6:25 minutes long piece. That actually makes it my longest composition since I was in a prog-rock band over 15 years ago.

For the title I drew some more inspiration from Genesis. The original title of my song was "And Then The Halls Were Empty", but the more active second part didn't fit that quiet title anymore, so I needed to add something. Genesis has a wonderful pair of songs called "Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers..." and "...In That Quiet Earth". I figured I could do something similar with the title of my song, hence the ellipsis (...) in my title. (Note that the second half of the title also sounds a whole lot like another Genesis song, but that's actually a coincidence that I didn't notice until I started writing this blogpost.)

The inspiration for the final bit (starting at 3:44) comes from the song Prelude 1 by Floex and Tom Hodge. Here the result is closer to the inspiration, but I feel my composition is different enough that it's become its own thing. I actually met Floex (Tomáš Dvořák) at a conference a few years ago and was fan-boying to the max, since his soundtrack for Machinarium is one of my favourite game soundtracks. Especially the second half of The Glasshouse With Butterfly is mind-blowingly beautiful. Turns out Tomáš Dvořák is also a very friendly guy to talk to. :)

Since I've started the tradition of creating cello sheet music for all of my songs, I've done so for this one as well. From the perspective of the cello this isn't my most interesting composition, but if you'd like to play the cello parts, you can find sheet music and an MP3 to play along to (without the cello) on music.joostvandongen.com. This website also has sheet music for all my other compositions.

This song actually completes the line-up for my album, which will be called "The Ageless Gate - A Cello Tale". All 13 songs are now complete, making for a grand total of 47:03 minutes of music. The only steps left now are mixing/mastering and making things like a cover and booklet, since I want to make a proper CD out of this one (as well as put it on streaming services like Spotify, of course).

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