Sonic Decoration and Soundscapes

Most musicians and producers, when recording their music, make assumptions about what’s to be recorded.  Their first assumption is that the music must sit upon a backdrop, or sonic canvas, of pure silence.  The second is that any decoration to be added to the music, which isn’t strictly part of the song or described in the song writing, is of the musical performance kind.  They will use devices such as trills and appoggiaturas to decorate the instrumental performances or melisma to decorate the vocal performances.  But there are other options available.

Firstly, who says you have to record the music against a backdrop of silence?  You can add a soundscape, perhaps consisting of some atmos and effects, recorded in a real sound environment, found in the field, or you can create one with synthesis and sampling.  Why not start with the faint sound of a jungle, for example, or the buzz created by a crowd, recorded at a live event?  You can even create an eerie moonscape, if you want, drawn entirely from your imagination.  Making the song sit on top of that soundscape, even in parts, can produce a much more interesting track than recording over silence.  The beauty of this is that you can combine atmospheric sound elements to create a backdrop to your music that never existed, but which can intrigue the listener, nevertheless.  You can clear the atmospheric backdrop away, once you get into the song, or you can leave it there as a sort of permanent sonic background.  It can be very effective.  Better than that, soundscapes are often a good way to segue from one song and into another.  They can serve a bridging function, a bit like a bridge in the structure of a song can.

Similarly, when the song is finished and you are putting the finishing touches to it, you can lay up incidental and momentary glitches, sound recording fragments, effects, risers, downshifters, stings and stabs, whether you make them out of organic instrument sounds, synthesised sounds, field recorded “found sounds” or by mangling and manipulating any of these sound sources through extreme processing, time shifting, time stretching or other effects.  These little added noises can decorate your music and add sonic interest and surprise, when the song structure becomes repetitive or too predictable.

As with all decoration, going over the top and putting too much on is an aesthetic decision, which can render your music gaudy, repellent and atrocious, or so cheesy that it becomes good.  Just a little decoration, tastefully applied, can make an ordinary song sound like an extraordinary once.  Think of these decorative sounds as the spices in a chef’s spice rack.  They can add flavour, or they can overwhelm the dish.  You have to use your taste to decide how much is too much and if too little leaves your music lacking in seasoning.  The decision is up to you, so make it judiciously.

Of course, if you just want to record your music onto silence and add no decoration, you can do that.  That’s been done already, though.  The alternative is to make soundscapes and decorations that nobody has ever heard before, thereby adding your unique stamp to the sound.  Combine that with novel arrangements, musical performance decorations and judicious selection of timbres and instrumentation and you have an infinite sound palette with which to paint, capable of rendering your unique signature.

If your aim is to have your very own, instantly recognisable, signature sound, the use of soundscapes and sonic decoration is one way to achieve that goal.

About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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