Life and Death of a Circus Clown

January 22, 2008 10:53 PM

This song consists of two parts: the life of the clown, and the funeral of the clown.

This mini-suite represents my first attempt at Midi-based songwriting; it was written in the Spring of 2001.

I didn't have a piano-type keyboard, but I wanted to make some music with an underused Mac G3 at work. So I looked for freeware that would let you compose music on a staff. I found Sibelius, and it was awesome, until a few months later, when they decided to call their product in and make it purchase-only.

At the same time, I also had to switch to a PC (as I didn't want to spend all my time at work writing music, when there was filing to do), and couldn't find any similar programs that had worked as well as Sibelius. Also, in trying to edit and build upon songs, the volume levels kept going all a-screwy. Where volume levels for certain instruments were all hunky-dory on Sibelius, I couldn't figure out why certain instruments blasted and others couldn't be heard upon going to the PC. That's probably because I know very little about composing with Midi.

My Midi period lasted for about 5 months total, and then withered. I had written about 16 little ditties by then.

Recently, I got a touch-sensitive keyboard, and a week ago I bought a MIDI cable. Next, I have to find a good program.
Question: Anybody have suggestions for freeware programs that will let me do "regular" midi composing as well as composing by staff notation? (I really liked putting the notes on the staff, and visualizing the music that way. It taught me a lot about staff-reading.) Any recommendations for one style over the other? Comments about freeware vs. commercially available software? (Should I go to AskMe?)

SO! Hopefully I can pick up where I left off.

And I hope you enjoy.

posted by not_on_display (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

N_o_d, this is terrific. My first reaction was that it could be an outtake on the recent recording Songs for Ice Cream Trucks that didn't make the cut because it had a slightly sinister undertone.

What I like best about it is that it uses cheesy midi patches to great effect.

I'm a mac person, so I can't answer your questions, but my impulse is that you may have to go with commercial software to do what you want. I use Logic Express and Reason together to do both matrix grid and staff notation midi, and I like being able to toggle back and forth between the two formats. Hopefully someone with PC knowledge will tell you that I'm wrong and that there is the perfect freeware program out there.
posted by umbú at 6:01 AM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't say I enjoy the MIDI sounds, but the composition is really good. And even if MIDI isn't my thing, it was great to hear this, thx for posting it.
posted by micayetoca at 8:59 AM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow, thanks for the Ice Cream Trucks link -- I love that kinda stuff.

I think I'm going to scour AskMe for Midi and non-Midi-related ways to make music on a PC. I've always done it by guess-and-click, and I've been getting frustrated, hitting strange walls while using Audacity, etc. One day, I may even record something I think sounds close to how I wanted it to sound.

Thanks, as always, for the encouraging words!

Danke! Tchau!
posted by not_on_display at 1:45 PM on January 23, 2008

I don't have any midi ideas, but I wish you luck. Definitely check AskMe. As micayetoca said, this is a great composition and I'd love to hear more.
posted by snsranch at 5:54 PM on January 23, 2008

I like it. Umbú is right, good voicing.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:03 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

micayetoca said exactly what I want to say about this. I don't have tips for you about a staff-based music program, but I would definitely encourage you to use midi as a signal only, and let an orchestral VST do your actual instrument sounds. To achieve that (legally) you're going to have to spend some money, but it seems like it may be worth it based on your obvious skill for this kind of composition.
posted by edlundart at 10:50 PM on January 23, 2008

This is so much fun! I have a strange affinity for those goofy GM patches, presumably from DOS adventure games.

I can't really help for PC sequencing (I'm a Mac guy lately), but if you want dirt-cheap and don't mind working in a piano roll, I hear Reaper isn't too bad.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:51 PM on January 25, 2008

I like this precisely because I barely know how to listen to it.

That makes no sense, except to me, I think.
posted by ORthey at 5:13 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like this because I'm totally going to defeat that boss monster.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 12:33 AM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is a piece of twisted brilliance. My polka dotted bobble-hat is off to you.

Good luck in your future endeavours-- I look forward to hearing more.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:07 AM on January 27, 2008

Very Final Fantasy-esque! I really hope you do pick up MIDI-based composing again.
posted by ignignokt at 11:49 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is charming and funny. Could make an excellent soundtrack for an animated short. Something with fat little birds running around grabbing men's neckties with their beaks, and flying off with them, perhaps?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:56 AM on February 1, 2008

Or maybe something about a clown...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:57 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe fat birds stealing clowns' neckties. I'll call Pixar.
posted by not_on_display at 8:11 PM on February 3, 2008

Looking out my window, the trees are laden thick with snow.
It's snowing like crazy and the wind has whipped up and everything is white against a charcoal gray sky.

Your piece fitted well. Then I thought that snowflake and friends will eventually melt.
Then a quiet church filled my mind and I longed for a harpsichord tune.

Definitely call Disney, soundtrack of a skink slipping along, lost in a tall corn field.
More ditties please.
posted by alicesshoe at 10:51 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hi n_o_d, I thought I'd left a comment on this because I *know* I've talked about it with you before, but I guess it was just over a different channel. I'm listening to this again over 10.5 years since you posted it, and it's one of my all-time favorite things I've heard here on MeFi Music. It's dramatic, fun, suspenseful, and the arrangement is great. Paints a great picture mentally. Could also be a soundtrack to a classic video game.

As for the patches, I think the MIDI sounds definitely do provide a special character/unique quality. I agree there's a charm there; if the patches were replaced by real instruments, for me a lot of that charm would be missing (although I'm sure it would still sound good!).

I'm so glad you took the time to do this when you did, and that you shared it here way after the original creation.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 1:25 AM on July 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hey, thanks! I listened to this the other day, too, and was impressed by some of my abilities in that song—It was something I really could have composed only in 2000, and only with Sibelius, when it was freeware. I remember walking to work and the moment the main theme suddenly appeared, I remembered it, downloaded Sibelius, and transcribed it onto Sibelius after a few stabs at the interface. And the more I poked at Sibelius, I marvelled at how much Sibelius could do, all at once, and make it sound good and like I wanted it to sound (its native midi patches were PRO, and it sounded like an orchestra)—and do it all via a sheet-music interface. I was learning about writing sheet music as I wrote this song, because it was so easy to scribble shit, hit play, and hear what happened.

And then sibelius became wicked expensive, and all other freeware paled in comparison, and GAME OVER. And really, Sibelius's patches were so much better than any I've encountered since, that this made it sound way more video-game-ish than the original (at least 20 years later in my head).

It's dramatic, fun, suspenseful, and the arrangement is great. Paints a great picture mentally. Could also be a soundtrack to a classic video game.

Yeah that was exactly what I loved about what came out, is that it had twists and turns but also a major overarching theme that connected the whole thing; great for video games. One person I played it for said it sounded like it should be part of a larger video game soundtrack. (The other was a dick and said it all sounded derivative and it had all been done before but better bla bla bla.)

So hey thanks! It makes me want to look at Sibelius again an—ugh it's $600. fuhh. Anyway back to the drawing board, doot doot!
posted by not_on_display at 7:29 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

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