A Small Grey Box Filled With Joy

June 10, 2017 5:44 PM

I made this upbeat, major-key, low-fi-sounding jam entirely on my OP-1, the same gizmo used in these videos. The transitions aren't as good as they could be, but they're definitely a level up for me. The whole thing falls apart at the end in a glorious heap. A good LET'S GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY instrumental.

Sequenced, recorded, and mixed entirely on the Teenage Engineering OP-1 synthesizer. Additional grime/sparkle added after the fact in Ozone.

posted by Sokka shot first (4 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Awesome! "Happy" tag is right.

Care to talk about your compositional process?
posted by mpark at 7:34 AM on June 18, 2017

I listened to this on repeat for about half an hour while I was trying to finish a rather mundane task at work, and it was great. The transitions worked fine to my ears - nothing sounded out of place and I liked that the varying sections kept things interesting. The section around 2 and a half minutes in, with the wavy-sounding background pitches, sounds like a conflict of the story that gets resolved.

I do not understand how this is lo-fi?

Agreeing with mpark -- would love to hear more about your process. Is this something you worked on little by little over a long period of time, or...?
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 12:04 AM on July 3, 2017

I would say it came together over a week or two of noodling around with the various phrases that figure into it during evenings after work.

My composition process (god that sounds pretentious typing it out) typically goes in this order: drums, chords, bassline, melody theme, melody variations, dynamic variations. In this case I knew I wanted to make something with that very straightforward "boom, chik-boom, boom-chik" drum phrase that's the first thing you hear.

I'm not much of an instrumentalist, but most of what training I do have is in drums and percussion. This means I tend to over-elaborate my drum parts, and I wanted to do something that would push back against that. I'd been watching a bunch of the bizarrely addictive Japanese reality show "Terrace House," and its main title theme is a kind of generic synth anthem that uses a similar beat, and it had kind of caught my attention as something I wanted to use myself. So that's where I started.

I've had a recent fixation on thick, vaguely chiptune-sounding chords (ever since using them to what I feel is a very nice effect in this piece, so that's where I went next, followed by the plucky string arpeggio that comes in third.

Once I have three or four parts that sound good-ish together, I'll take a step back and think about where I want to go next. I've had pretty good luck making "fake," sampled-sounding breakbeats in Ableton, but I'd never tried it on the OP-1, so that's where I went next. I don't remember exactly how I made THIS breakbeat, but I'm pretty sure I used a kit I made from sampling my own acoustic drums, then digitally pitching them down to sound slushier and boomier. (Then using a judicious amount of the OP-1's weirdo reverb effect.)

Once I had that breakbeat drum and bass section figured out, I wanted to come up with a good transition. (Better transitions between musical ideas is something I’m trying to improve on.) I resampled the breakbeat and set the sample to just repeat sixteenth (or maybe thirty-second?) notes when I held a key down, then put a low-pass filter effect on it and set the cutoff frequency to follow the OP-1's accelerometer. (!) This let me get that crescendo-ing effect that leads into the second section by holding down the key and then tilting the whole unit to control the size of the sound. I felt very clever.

For the slide-whistle-sounding lead that takes over during the breakbeat section, I tweaked an OP-1 preset that’s meant to sound more like a theremin. I really love how it ended up sounding.

The third section uses a four-chord progression instead of the fairly lazy two chords used in the first two sections. This one I just kind of muddled my way through, but I like how shamelessly it commits to the triplet swing feel after the rigidity of the first two sections. I have a fascination with sounds that sound “broken”, which is where the leady janky toy sound comes from. I think it’s FM synthesis (which I’m very bad with) plus a glitchy, circuit-bendy effect. Probably went too far.

For the end I wanted to recapitulate everything that had happened in the song so far and have it build to a big crescendo. The coda wound up being a little more drawn-out than I’d meant, but it turned out to be fun in a different way, so I left it.

Regarding the “lo-fi” descriptor—I guess it’s not exactly apt. I meant it to gesture in the direction of the fuzzy, lived-in feel I was going for with this piece, but it’s more of a general vibe than anything else—I mean, there isn’t really an antecedent sound for it to have low fidelity of, if nothing else.

Rangefinder: It’s insanely flattering to hear that you put this on repeat! I’m so pleased to hear you liked it that much. <3
posted by Sokka shot first at 9:12 AM on July 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Really digging this one. I think this counts as lo-fi in this era, I had a four track in high school and this feels the same as playing with that. Lo-fi in spirit? Lo-tek?
posted by q*ben at 4:15 PM on April 21, 2018

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