Tracks Which Caught My Attention

I’ve got a few cool tracks for you guys to listen to. I Found these while listening to a variety of playlists online, and I like to keep paper and pen handy to jot down tracks which I quite like. I’d like to share a few of these with you now, along with a little note of what caught my ear in these pieces. Enjoy!

 

“Biggest Part of Me” by Ambrosia (1980)
A funky soul number. Classic 1980′s sound with American 1970′s drum sound. Great vocal performances, and the instruments all create a great warmth and it never feels cluttered.

 

 

“Kei’s Song” by David Benoit (1987)
A dark piece of smooth jazz. Some beautiful chord changes that create great atmosphere. Beautiful string orchestrations; don’t often get to hear these sorts of beautiful skills anymore. Modern commercial string pop arrangers make the strings sound so dull and without emotion. Masterclass this one!

 

 

“25th Floor” by Bungle – DJ Marky & Bungle Remix (2007)
This ultra sexy and cool drum and bass remix is totally superb. Lo-fi drum breaks similar to that of LTJ Bukem, provide such great momentum. The splatters of vocal are well balanced from the sine bass and E.P chord vamp. Typical jazz influence as usual from this style of DnB, so called as Atmospheric DnB.

 

 

“Above your Head” by Anoraak (2010)
Similar in style to “A Real Hero” by College, as heard in the 2011 Ryan Gosling movie, ‘Drive’. ‘Above your Head’ has a late 1980′s sound to it; almost Pet Shop Boys, but with a less commercial sound. Just like in the College song, I like how the bass is really driving this track.

 

 

“Love the Way” by Danism – Crazy P Remix (2011)
Everything is just so great in this track. I totally love the piano; very little compression. I really can’t stand those artists today (Coldplay for example), who take a perfectly amazing piano and then compress the sound to bits. It really doesn’t sound great at all – please stop it Coldplay!! Now onto this track; the bass is well balanced and I like the subtle use of Dorian mode for the overall harmonic structure. A quality track that groove along. A great bit of engineering skill means this mix works well at all volume levels.

 

 

“Fireworks” by Wolfram – Johan Agebjorn Remix (2011)
Another track where the bass is proving substantial movement in the song. A lot of dubstep producers can learn a lot from these sorts of songs. The kick drum is very late 1980′s; I’m sure the S-A-W team would approve. The vocals are very subtle, but the exceptional use of double tracking, delay and reverb give the track a great dimension of space. The chorusing on the bass really works as it pulls the bass away from the middle of the mix, and feels like it is spread out. This greats a lot of space in the bottom end and cuts through the mix well. A little treat of a track this one!

Be Still My Soul

In the summer of 2006, I was playing soprano cornet with Eccles Borough Band, when the band secretary, Val Davies, informed me it was her husband’s birthday coming up. Jim Davies, who played 3rd cornet, has a fond love of the hymn from Finlandia, “Be Still My Soul”, by Jean Sibelius. As a special birthday treat, Val commissioned me to arrange the piece for the band and dedicate it to Jim. It was a pleasure to mark his birthday in such a way.

The arrangement is characteristically dark and lush, with subtle splashes in the harmony, but all the while maintaining a beautiful warm sound. A careful balance of homophony is juxtaposed with subtle polyphony. In moments of polyphony, the music should not become cluttered, and in the homophonic sections, the music should exude character and texture of tone, almost choral in nature.

The last section of the piece is a simple balance of homophonic chorale writing with question-and-answer counterpoint. The cornets sounding completely electric, the horns and baritones adding warmth, the euphoniums adding character, the basses adding depth and width, and of course, the majestic trombones add a stamp of British authority.

This passage of music grows and grows in intensity before reaching its closing half a dozen bars or so; the percussion and bass trombone supply the grandest of symphonic grit as the band power through to the final chord of D major.

Farnworth and Walkden Band performed the arrangement as part of their summer 2013 concert programme. I am told it went down a storm, and I am also told that a tam-tam roll found its way into the score on the final chord. We shan’t say anymore on that.

At the beginning of 2014, I contacted Stephen Cobb about the arrangement, and he was very generous to open the piece up to the International Staff Band of the Salvation Army. The band were very kind to make a sight-reading rehearsal recording for me. Extremely impressive stuff I must say, and I have had amazing feedback about the piece, not least the surge in sales for this piece — internationally.

You can listen to the ISB performance below (please remember, it is a breathtakingly beautiful performance in my view, so be warned, I won’t be responsible for tears). If you would like to purchase the band set for your band, you can do so now by clicking here.

 

 

Why I love Lilypond

When I first began my voyage into composition, it was at a time when you didn’t fire up computer software. It was a golden time of buying manuscript and writing directly onto paper; I still remember being all of 15 years old and having a set of Panopus orchestral manuscript hand-delivered to my door on Christmas Eve!

Still to this day, I write purely by hand. I don’t sketch and then flesh it out on the computer; I write the whole thing out on manuscript, and it gets typeset later. I write by hand for many reasons (perhaps I can talk about this in another blog post?), but the important thing to get across is I don’t use the computer at all for composition. Not even arranging or re-scoring; everything I do is written by hand. This is true even for my latest big project, “The Complete Band Trainer”, although for reasons I shall never know, I binned the handwritten originals upon sorting through my things in preparation for moving to York in November 2013.

What the computer is amazing at, is producing nicely-printed sheet music. In 1998, I got a copy of Sibelius when it first made its move from Acorn computers to the Windows platform. I thought it was amazing, although my first typeset scores took a very long time to get right and were hardly what I’d class as publisher grade.

I used Sibelius for publishing since I set up Devilish Publishing in 2002, but began to migrate to Lilypond from 2006. In 2012, I completely ditched Sibelius for all publishing duties and now do all typesetting in Lilypond.

My enthusiasm for Lilypond is not without the contentious feelings of others. Or should I say, the contentious feelings of people who either were so stuck in their ways with Sibelius, or just wanted to do what everyone else was doing. Quite frankly, I don’t care what everyone else is doing. If Steve Jobs took that attitude, there would be no iPhone.

I simply could not use what I felt to be an inferior product, when an alternative was out there that would produce sheet music so beautiful, never yet seen in the brass band environment. Not only that, it was easy to use, extremely powerful and packed full of professional features that were somewhat lacking in Sibelius. Most of all, Sibelius looks ugly; it looks digital and rigid. Lilypond has chunkier blacks with far less right angles, more expressive bezier curves (slurs and phrase marks). The beams are well thought out and the fonts are scalable. Unlike Sibelius where one font is used for all sizes of music, Lilypond uses different fonts for different sizes, resulting in a more consistent look no matter the size.

Basically, it looks top notch, it can do all the fancy geeky stuff Sibelius has yet to catch up on. Comparing Lilypond to Sibelius is rather unfair because Sibelius is clearly inferior. A good rival for Lilypond is SCORE; seen as the industry standard for music typesetting.

The problem is, to save money, the big publishers often employ 3rd party music editors to typeset the music. These editors come from different musical backgrounds, but are often composers. In a way, the art of engraving has been lost a little to the economics of business, but that is just a harsh reality of the publishing business in the 21st century. Luckily there are still “engravers” out there working for the big firms too and there is ever-increasing activity on the web comparing the different software available. Advice from actual engravers; excellent!

So why do I love Lilypond? Because it looks amazing, it is mind-bogglingly powerful, totally professional, publisher grade, and no more “extracting parts”. But most of all, no one else in the banding world had the foresight to realise that our bands need the highest quality music products. I can provide what is lacking. And that makes my job worthwhile.

Anthracite Dances

Last year, I was commissioned by Yasuaki Fukuhara to write him a brand new ragtime-inspired solo for xylophone and brass band.

I spent many weeks listening to the famous George Hamilton Green, whose ragtime style is greatly respected by many players of the xylophone. I wanted to capture that lighthearted magic and combine it with my stereotypically dark sound.

The title of the work – Anthracite Dances – was conceived by my wonderful girlfriend, Helen. She has been a great support whilst writing the work, and she has now been roped into typesetting the piece. Not bad for someone who isn’t a musician, and she doesn’t whinge as much as musicians do about reading my handwritten originals!

It has long been a mission of mine to write a xylophone solo, so when this commission came along, it was the perfect opportunity to put pencil to paper.

Anthracite Dances is written in duple time and comprises of two different ragtime vamps; one which is steady, and one a little more stilted with tetrachords in the bass. The xylophone part sits on top, with ragtime shuffle quavers intertwined with carefully placed triplets.

The xylophone is a great instrument, but it is prone to sounding comedic or childlike at times. For this reason, the xylophone glissando is only ever used to enhance the dark qualities within the music.

As a small interlude, the cornets and trombones play block chords at fortissimo. These chords are held down tight with unison trombones playing the famous chimes that ring from the Queen Elizabeth Tower.

A section of improvisation occurs where the band performs long chords over continually changing time signatures. Yasuaki is given a series of notes within each chord, which he can utilise in any order and in any rhythm he likes. This gives the xylophone soloist a chance to put their own stamp on the music.

A sample of the xylophone soloist part is below:

Yasuaki especially commissioned Anthracite Dances for his CD, The Golden Apples of the Sun; it was a pleasure to have him record the work, and also Leyland Band, who have recorded my music previously. The album is conducted by Richard Evans, aka “Dick the Stick”. I have had the great pleasure of Richard conduct several of my works throughout the years, and I’d like to thank Richard, Yasuaki and Leyland Band for their performance on the album. I always feel very lucky to have my music recorded by such fine artists.

You can learn more about Yasuaki’s album here.

You can purchase the sheet music of Anthracite Dances here.