Enjoying Music at Home

A common misconception is that to enjoy music, you have to sit and listen to it with no distractions. We often forget that it can be used as a backdrop to gatherings within our own homes.

An evening inWhen we go out to a cafe, pub or restaurant, we take it for granted that music will be playing. In some cases, you may not even be aware that it is being played – this can often happen in cafes. In these circumstances, music is being used to set a mood and create an atmosphere. If it was turned off, the entire environment would change dramatically.

While music gets played when we have a party at home – there are many other occasions when it gets forgotten.

An evening at home with a few friends can be transformed with a bottle of wine, a good playlist and something as simple as a board game. This simple set up can create some of the best entertainment around.

Board games have changed since we were all young and there are now so many more types of board games to choose from. We are no longer limited to just the best family board games that we knew and loved from days gone by.

The volume of the music is incredibly important – it needs to set the mood and atmosphere. If too loud, the music will become the focus and not your chosen game.
The types of board games that work best in this kind of setup are those that require interaction between players and not just simple dice rolling or piece placing – some of these also include the best Christmas board games.

While this is a great way to enjoy music and to have fun generally, it also works brilliantly as an icebreaker if you have a few friends meeting for the first time. In this case go for a creative game – this will help bring most people out of their shell.

Obviously, the choice of music is equally important – put it all together & you’ll create an evening in with friends that will be remembered for a long time to come!

Autotune – Give Us A Break!

There was a period, not so long ago that you could actually listen to a piece of pop music without hearing Autotune. Ever since Cher abused it in 1998 with her song Believe, we haven’t been able to escape it.

Auto-tune robotsWhat most people don’t actually know is that Autotune started out as an expensive separate piece of hardware that processed audio. Its purpose was purely to subtly effect the tuning or pitch of the audio signal, effectively locking it into tune. At that time computer based digital audio was experiencing a huge growth in popularity. Because of this, Autotune became an affordable software plugin that was available to the masses.

If used correctly, it works brilliantly – gently correcting the tuning of a voice of instrument, whilst still allowing it to sound natural. However, thanks to the Cher effect (known from now on as Cherness), it has become commonplace to crank it up to 10 and use it as an effect – or to stylise a voice. This is now so common that it can be heard on pretty much all pop tunes – the voices sound bland, unnatural, robotic & lacking in talent.

While we do still have the occasional guitar oriented pop band that can actually write songs, play instruments and sing, the diluted influx of talent show dross is smothered in a layer of Cherness. Why the producers of this tat obsess over making them all sound the same, I don’t think we’ll ever truly know. Hopefully, someone with some actual talent will shine through & change this direction. For a while it seemed that artists like Amy Winehouse may have had some influence here, but due to her unfortunate demise, it was relatively short lived.

As Autotune has developed over the years it can now also change the timing of voices. We now have to wonder in reality, how close to being in time and pitch are these ‘Artists’. If they really do need this much correction, should they really be in front of a microphone in the first place?

Hopefully over the next few years we will finally see the demise of the TV based talent show. If the popularity of these drops, then hopefully we will once again see an increase in quality artists coming through the ranks. Or at least a significant shift in musical direction.

Perhaps the next concern might be that since we have now had a 1980’s based resurgence, the next decade to be abused will be the 1990’s. While a good portion of the 90’s was filled by Britpop – there was also a lot of trash in the early 90’s. If it then gets to the point where producers start using the likes of Cher’s Believe as inspiration – what happens when an existing abuser of Autotune, takes that as further inspiration?
To be honest I don’t know & I really, really don’t want to hear the results…for the love of music, please stop using Autotune!

The Dawn Of Epic Music

As big budget Hollywood film effects and wizardry have evolved over the years, the music has had to grow along with it. Film scores are no longer purely classical pieces & are increasingly merging genres left, right & centre.

Many of use were brought up with the sound of John Williams ringing in our ears and enhancing films like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. His influence on film music is unmistakable & is perhaps in part, some way responsible for the journey that film score has taken over the last few decades. His music accompanies on screen mood and action perfectly, setting the scene time and time again. While his music is epic, it isn’t quite epic music.

As visual effects artists continually strive to make the unbelievable on screen look bigger, better and more awesome than ever before. To help the visuals succeed, the music also needs to be huge. You will now regularly hear a full orchestra, choir, programmed dance style drums, heavy bass synths all mixed together into one enormous sound – this is Epic Music.

Epic music isn’t just film scores or video game music, it is a genre within its own right. One of the biggest names in Epic Music is actually a company, yes a company, called Audiomachine. They create huge scored pieces of music specifically for film makers and game creators to use either for working with, or in some cases for use in a final project. These pieces of music are packaged together in themed albums such as Phenomena, Tree of life and Existance. If you subscribe to a streaming music service like Google Play Music I strongly recommend having a listen – there are some fantastic pieces of music on there!

Another artist that also produces some amazing music is a relatively unknown UK composer, Ronnie Minder. His pieces are grouped together on small EP’s, or Cinematic Episodes, these are also well worth listening to. Given their shorter length, they are also very easy to listen to as well.

Epic music will continue to evolve – a bit like pop music tends to reinvent itself every few years. When you have artists such as Daft Punk and Chemical Brothers creating scores for films – they will without doubt influence other traditional composers and film makers along the way. The Tron soundtrack that Daft Punk created is perhaps the most mainstream example of Epic music. Although their approach was more digital based, they did also use orchestral pieces as well. We will continue to hear gentle nods to this for many years to come.

Having been a fan of both classical music and electronica for as long as I can remember – this blend gives us the best of both worlds. The digital side embraces not only dirty sounding analogue synths, but also distorted drums and big, enhanced bass. An orchestra is capable of producing anything from gentle intimate string pieces right up to huge dynamic full orchestral pieces with rasping brass. Combine these previously alien styles of music gives you an emotional range that can accentuate and enhance any visual experience…surely this is the best of all possible worlds? It is after all Epic Music.

The Evolution Of Video Game Music

There once was a time when video games were filled with crunchy 8-bit beeps and tones that were extremely poor imitations at recreating real world sounds and instruments. Video game arcades were filled with repetitive, simple sounding tone based music that had the power to annoy. This primitive sound track was very much an accompaniment, sometimes an afterthought and didn’t really add anything to the playing experience.

Spin on a few years and we saw the introduction of sample based music – still crunchy 8-bit audio, but actual recorded sounds. This was a game changer – literally. Still to this day, I think that Xenon II megablast on the Commodore Amiga was groundbreaking in this respect…as well as being very memorable. With music provided by Bomb the Bass and alien voice samples actually in game – this was finally audio that enhanced the experience and added an extra dimension to the game world.

As PC’s and video game consoles have evolved generation after generation, so have the games themselves. As game worlds expand creating more depth and detail in each new generation, the audio also becomes more refined adding greater realism and involving atmospheres.

Now that video games are more widely accepted as a mainstream form of entertainment – not just reserved for geeks, the budgets have rocketed skywards.
The biggest game franchises now have budgets on the same scale as the biggest Hollywood blockbuster movies – and often make far more money in return. This huge increase in budget brings with it the opportunity to produce fully scored orchestral soundtracks.

Because of the technical nature of video games – it is also triggering a fusion in musical styles. This now applies to both video games and film. Musical scores now combine classical orchestral sections along with hard sounding, bass injected synths and dance style drum beats. Almost a grown up version of Dubstep – this has generated a whole new genre of music commonly referred to as Epic Music.

With the launch of the Playstation series of consoles, we saw a shift in the way that some games used music – or put another way, how music saw games. For a period, games were built around musical artists & were used to promote music. One notable example of this could be Chemical Brothers – their first biggest success was partly due to the wide exposure they received from cult space racer, Wipeout. While this may not quite be the case now, the music in games is viewed with just as much, if not more importance.

Video game musical scores are now available to buy in any record shop on the high street – or to listen to on demand through a streaming service. As I type here I am currently listening to the Call of Duty: Ghosts soundtrack which more than stands up to being listened to on its own, away from its original intended context.

I doubt the scores sell especially well – nor can I imagine that in the grand scheme of things that they generate much income. But it is very interesting to see how something that was once an afterthought is now a very important part of the gaming experience.

As we slower progress through more and more generations of game consoles, I find it hard to predict where things will go in the future. While the music itself can’t really progress much further. It is possible that the way that it integrates with game play develops further…I look forward to the day when the pace and style of moves that my character performs on screen are actively mimicked by an interactive score.