Interview No. 173
Interview By: @The-Great-One
Today's guest is a composer unlike any other on the site. His musical prowess stems from a study of music within a platitude of forms. From artistic, mathematical, and spiritual. He has been a regular competitor in the Newgrounds Audio Deathmatches, being the winner of the 2020 Newgrounds Audio Deathmatch. I am most pleased and humbled to welcome, @Phonometrologist.
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Q: How did you find Newgrounds and why did you join?
A: One of the few, best things about going to college to study any type of Art is networking with like-minded individuals.
With all sorts of varying backgrounds that colleagues will have, knowledge and resources open up to you that you wouldn’t have been acquainted with otherwise. I studied music in a traditional sense, but there was one individual I met that came from the EDM scene and had their own setup from home. That’s when I first heard about what a DAW was. I remember sitting in his mini-studio as he played EastWest Hollywood Strings and I was blown away by how awesome it sounded. My only experience up to that point with string samples were from the music notation software Sibelius. It was during this visit, that he was demonstrating what someone can produce on a computer by showing me a couple tracks on Newgrounds. Apocalypse 2012 by Peter Satera & An Epic in ⅞ by Benjamin S. Young were the two pieces that he showed me, and it sounded amazing at that time on his studio monitors. I still do enjoy these tracks and it goes to show that there are a lot of hidden gems lurking around in Newgrounds. Albeit the production quality or style of the tracks may sound dated, you really just have to hear them as time pieces within a certain period of our internet history. We don’t necessarily think about how classic video games sound corny or unrealistic if it moves you, and I view Newgrounds music from the past in a similar fashion. It shouldn’t take away one’s enjoyment of these pieces.
From there, I lurked around the Audio Forums quite a bit to see what everyone was about before I had the courage to create a profile to share my own creations.
That was the “how” part of the question, but as to the “why,” I needed to learn and grow. I initially thought joining Newgrounds would help me become a better producer in terms of learning how to mix sample libraries since there are a lot of eager people here to share their knowledge and ideas. What I didn’t anticipate was getting a sense of comradery among my peers. The friends I developed here really allow me to feel at home. Perhaps that is partly due to the fact that I was raised to be a better composer on Newgrounds. And this is why I’ll always come home no matter where I go.
Q: When did you become interested in music?
A: I’m going to take your question to mean when I became interested in music to the point of wanting to write it and share it. Because to simply be interested in listening to music has to be something we as a species are born with. I know one person in my life that doesn’t care for music, because there’s nothing practical for him to do with music. So I know that it is possible that there are people that aren’t interested in music, but I find that so alien to me to try to understand that.
“Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.”
- Keith Richards
I tend to quote a lot of people, because there are so many interesting ideas that we can learn from through others. There are so many mistakes that can be made, and there is so much knowledge to learn that it would be far better to not waste our time in discovering them through mere personal experiences.
I became interested in writing music for others when at first I was a teenager wanting to learn a few pieces on piano. The music that spoke to me on a deep, personal level was a reflection from within so that when I would play for another on the rare occasion, it was a means of connecting with them. In the beginning, I piggybacked using the language of another until I started to become a little more competent in using my own words to express meaning. Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussey were the ones that first showed me how to speak. I never expected to be here writing as much music as I do now. It first started from wanting to learn Für Elise, because I was hearing it played by another. It moved me at the time, and I was confident enough to be able to learn it on my own based on my lessons from the past. I figured I would learn a couple pieces for my own enjoyment, and it grew from there inadvertently. It wasn’t until I was listening to Pink Floyd and Radiohead on my headphones that I really wanted to find a way to share with others that feeling that these bands shared with me. The music was my medication to pain. And when you are given help, I think naturally one just wants to do the same for another.
Q: What age did you start playing piano? Was it your grandmother's piano that you learned with?
A: I did not learn from my grandmother’s piano. My older sister was given a piano by my parents as she was excelling in her piano abilities. My parents had me taking piano lessons at the age of 6 when I didn’t want to. I was never a kid that could sit still even though I grew out of that as a teen when I would just lay in bed for hours listening to music. It wasn’t until later that I started desiring to play the piano, and I became thankful for that foundation I received from earlier in my life. Eventually I surpassed my sister’s ability, and I was given my grandmother’s piano when they moved away. I am privileged to have a family that valued music. But then again, I am privileged to have family despite our problems. I’m often reminded of those that do not and the decisions that are made by others that affect us for the rest of our lives.
Q: At what age did you lose a quarter of your hearing? Has it affected not only your compositions, but your music listening?
A: I don’t recall ever losing a part of my hearing. As long as I can remember, I didn’t have the greatest ears, and it doesn’t affect me in a sense of loss, because I don’t know what it is like to have better ones. I like to make others laugh when I meet them by telling them I rode the short bus. It was due to my lack of hearing that also affected how I spoke. I don’t think it really ever affects how I compose, but it does make it harder to learn from others. It definitely makes it harder to mix and produce. I had to learn to add higher frequencies in my music, and I’m often surprised that people hear things in my music that I cannot hear clearly. I would add noises and instruments to my music and I thought I would mix them so quietly that no one would figure it out. I would mix the sounds to the point where I would not be able to identify what it was exactly that I was hearing. I prefer to do this because I don’t want a nice, clean sound. When I play the piano, I’ve grown to appreciate the noises that accompany me. I never developed a relationship with music in a dead room.
Q: When and how did you discover Philip Glass? How has he affected your music?
A: It was through Napster back in the early 2000s, and I was in my preteen years. I stumbled upon his piano theme that he did for the movie Candyman–Ah man, that was difficult to remember and I haven’t really thought about Napster in years. Strange times.
Since then I slowly discovered more about who Philip Glass was and the music that he wrote ranging from his Einstein on the Beach to his piano Etudes.
… I was about to get into a long technical discussion about the additive process, polyrhythms, and his chord choices, and then I realized I wish I could just sit down with someone and talk about why the music of Philip Glass means so much to me. Ultimately I sometimes think it’s better if someone discovers it for themselves.
His music and words have taught me to think about music and to listen when I don’t initially understand it. This is perhaps more important than any technical point regarding his music. So I’m not looking to be him. When I hear someone trying to mimic him, they often miss just a single element of the entire body that makes Philip Glass’s work his own, and it really just falls apart for me. Sometimes it's a musical zeitgeist, but it’s also the total mind of the composer that their music exists in. Our experiences, disposition, beliefs, and a lack thereof are necessary for the output of art. To mimic the art as someone else ultimately becomes shallow and mere exercise.
Q: What can you tell us about the album The Blue Notebooks? Specifically the track The Haunted Ocean 1?
A: In college, a girl that I liked handed me a copy of The Blue Notebooks. As soon I put it on in my car, I was in love… with the music that is. The mix, timbre, and melancholic notes struck me as if I was revisiting an old childhood friend. That’s how I’ve become acquainted with the music of Max Richter. What’s interesting about this particular album is that it has grown to be his most popular work, yet at that time he had to sell his house after recording it due to a lack of sales. His story, along with Philip Glass holding a day job till his early 40s, should encourage artists out there not to be dismayed, and don’t hope for popularity. What’s popular doesn’t always hold value, and what’s valuable isn’t always popular.
“The Haunted Ocean 1” came 4 years later for a soundtrack on a film I’ve never seen. I don’t care to see it either, because I’m afraid it’s going to affect how I hear this soundtrack. I’d rather consider my own images to go along with these sounds. Sometimes when music plays, you don’t care to analyze it, because by doing so one may sacrifice allure for understanding. For those that haven’t heard it before, if I were to try to explain it in words, then I would be doing the very thing that music tells me not to do.
Q: Your first song on Newgrounds is entitled Edward Scissorhands- Finale. You stated that you wanted to fill out your repertoire for wedding songs. You wrote the entire song down by ear and rushed the mixing. We will certainly get to your knowledge of mixing, my question though is this. If you spent the time listening to the song by ear and writing it down note for note, why rush the mixing? I imagine this is a grueling process for a song.
A: And I really don’t like listening to it because of the mixing. It was rushed because I didn’t know anything about mixing, and I was recording a collection of pieces to show others what they could hear at their weddings. It was a season where many of my friends and acquaintances were getting married, and they kept coming to me to play for them. I haven’t done a wedding gig in a long while, but for a time I thought that maybe I should pursue performing. I slowly realized that I don’t care to play furniture music. I like what Danny Elfman composes and that is why I spent the time learning the piece, and I didn’t want to pay someone else to transcribe the piece for me if I could do it myself. I also couldn’t find a transcription that I liked. If anyone wants the sheet music, I’ll be happy to share it.
Q: You are the winner of the 2020 Newgrounds Audio Deathmatch. This however was not the first Deathmatch you entered. The first being in 2014 when you made it to 16th place. Your audition song was Hope. What made you want to enter the Deathmatch? Why did you choose Hope for your entry?
A: Because who doesn’t want to play Deathmatch? I grew up playing Unreal Tournament and I love tournament brackets. It's just so much fun, until you lose and realize that respawn takes about a year. After participating in my first deathmatch, I’ve learned to accept criticism and to view myself more accurately. It’s great to check yourself by not becoming overly conceited, and it can force you to rethink why we should create art in the first place. So much baggage will cling onto us throughout our journey that will just hold us down from continuing. For example, the desire to prove to the world that we have something valuable to offer, and when it fails to meet our expectations, we get depressed. The discipline is to create art the same way we did when we first fell in love with it. Eventually we grow up and see our own imperfections that we lose the innocence of creating. My daughter loves to draw, and she doesn’t think twice about scribbling and making odd shaped faces. How sad it will be when she comes to the point in her life where she hesitates to draw that line for thinking it isn’t good enough. Unfortunately, that flame dies when we compare ourselves to others, and when we allow them to extinguish it.
The audition piece was chosen because I knew how strong the competition was. I really wanted to be a part of it. It was an earnest piece to reflect the sentiments I had in regards to the human experience. The hope comes in when you realize that while you may have started on this journey alone, you will eventually find others striving alongside you.
Q: The 2020 Newgrounds Audio Deathmatch would see you as the winner. Your audition piece I believe was Twin Helix. You have gone through the process of building this song. This being one composed on your grandmother's piano. You though dedicated this song to your son. What is the story behind the dedication?
A: When my daughter was born, I wrote a lullaby for her, and so when my son was born, I knew I had to write another. Now that I finished his, I hope to record the one I dedicated to my daughter later this year. It’s ironic that I finished his first, but that was only the case because I wanted to submit this as the demo to 8Dio’s Solo Violin library.
I remember thinking at the time how surreal it is to be a parent, and how helpless we are when it comes to how any of us come to exist. So many things could go wrong as we are being formed in the womb, e.g., miscarriage, abortion, and a range of birth defects. I think about that as a parent in the hopes that I will meet the child and that they will be alright. And so when it came to creating this piece, I really tried to allow the music to form on its own without forcing it. To believe that all I had to do is be ready to discover what was being formed naturally; to accept that I am helpless in making anything better.
Q: The piece that took you to the final round of the Deathmatch would be God's Sovereignty. It is a personal piece for you. A guidance through solitude - reflections of your faith. Although the song helps fill in the blanks, perhaps you could elaborate more on this meditation that brought the melody from within, to us here today.
A: My thoughts could go in many different directions that I really don’t know what I’m about to say will be satisfactory. The structure follows the golden ratio, and I see the form as an analogy to one’s life.
Some pieces are more analytical than others. This one involved more emotional writing, and it’s really simple. Yet, it is so satisfying to play, because I don’t have to struggle or think when I do. Throughout my days, I seek the stories of people that have suffered to remind me that my life isn’t the reality for so many. Peace is hard to grasp externally and that much harder from within our minds. One of the ways I give back is to learn from those that suffer, and to think of them often so they aren’t forgotten. It’s the least I can do to hear their story, and be grateful to share their wisdom to my children and others. Eventually it becomes too much, and when emotions seep from my soul, I use this piece as an outlet. The simple chord progression and rhythm helps guide my thoughts to think through this without having to think about what my fingers are doing.
When I’m alone with my piano, I will play this as a piece to meditate and worship. Forget any religious connotations you may have with the word worship. It comes from your identity. I admit that I am weak, and no better than a pig. What kind of music could a creature such as myself possibly write? I understand the futility in approaching music to create something true and meaningful, so letting go of the idea that I can control my circumstances, and how another might interpret the sounds that I produce, frees me to receive instead of expecting that I have anything of worth to give. “A Dream Within A Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe shares an image of losing more through tightening our fists, and when our hands are closed, we are not open to receive. I see this as a principal in life as well as in music. The melody for this particular piece came from listening and being in a frame of mind to receive it.
If I were to share too much about how I view the meaning of this piece in detail, I’m afraid I would be limiting the listener’s own participation.
Q: The song that would win you the Deathmatch was entitled Vessel Full of Dreams. The poem in the description is beautifully written and matches the song in its entirety. You have gone into detail on how the song was composed in past descriptions of songs and even on the forums. I could not find any details on this song though. Would you kindly share the process behind it?
A: The how is easier to explain than the why.
I was tinkering around on the piano for several days and I kept the melodic writing simple. It felt like a ticking clock. I added microphones closer to the strings than I did previously on tracks, and I kept it slow so I can capture more of the reverberation and noises of the mechanics between notes. The whole contour of the piano part starts from high to low, and the chord progression reflects the same motion. I kept having this image in my mind of an old man or woman at the end of their life reflecting back on the memories of their youth. After recording the piano part, I was about to add a section in the middle with a more elaborate arrangement. It would have had a kick, and it might have sounded more like EDM. My wife told me to get rid of that, and she was right. I surely would have ruined it if I had not listened to her. It would’ve been out of character for me to get a little crazy when I had kept it intimate throughout the competition thus far. So when I scratched that section, I decided to suspend the music through string trills and pads. I just didn’t think it was enough, because typically I have to wrestle with the notes to come on the page. It started with the piano part beginning at 1:05, I added the middle section, and then I added the bookends of the piece. It felt more like speed painting, and I was doubting whether it was convincing enough.
Q: You have competed in the 2014, 2015, and 2017 Newgrounds Audio Deathmatch. How did it feel competing in the 2020 Deathmatch? What were your thoughts when you won it?
A: I also got destroyed in the 2019 competition as well. So you can imagine that this year turned out unexpectedly for me. I was sure it was going to be AlbeGian when I heard his track. The irony is that I almost didn’t join, but decided at the last minute in the hopes that I would be paired against LD-W for an atonal round of music forcing the judges to have to choose one noise against another. When that didn’t happen, I didn’t strive to win like in the past competitions when I would throw in the kitchen sink. I put in every effort, but I wasn’t worried so much about how to please others as I did in the past.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t win. I’ve learned to enjoy losing that I sometimes forget how to win properly. I have to tell myself that it’s just a fun competition, and it doesn’t mean I have accomplished anything. I have to tell myself that winning doesn’t mean anything except that there are some people that enjoy what I wrote. A lot of it is luck and being consistent in this competition.
But with all that being said it doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for the judges collective decisions. I am more grateful for their willingness to serve this community in their contributions which have cost them a lot of their time.
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