Like many people, I read, a lot. Storing and organizing that amount of information is a project I've spent much time contemplating. Like most, I make my highlights and notes while reading through a book and think that is enough. This went on for almost a year until I came to the realization that I wasn't actually remembering anything I was reading.
I since developed a simple system in where after I've finished reading a book, I transfer all of my highlights into a document, which I then review monthly. Often in conversations, I refer to this commonplace book as a way of recalling something currently being discussed. If there are any serious lessons or teachings I wish to remember, I'll use spaced repetition and active recall techniques to commit them to memory.
This blog entry is to serve as a compact document of lessons I wish to remember after studying Nosaj Thing's work for a month while building a track and tutorial around his sound. The tutorial is over an hour long, comprising of around 13,000 words. There's no realistic way anyone can remember that amount of information, which is why I present my '5 Key Takeaways' at the end of the video, for the audience to have a concise package to both remember and apply to their own work. I'd like to expand on each point here in a text format that people can take at their own pace and refer back to when necessary.
- An Instrument Called Space
Until really listening to Nosaj Thing's music, I previously considered the only elements I had available to use while creating a piece of music were audible sounds. It quickly became apparent, that what makes his music so special (to me at least) is the breathing room between instruments. He uses space as an instrument. Rather than being something to avoid, he embraces the silence and seems to build his compositions around it. Incidentally, the space he leaves capitalizes on the dualities of silence and noise. The silence is obviously inaudible, but the space it leaves allows the other elements to breathe, making for an extremely organic sounding composition.
A quote from Austin Kleon neatly sums up my point up:
“In the end, creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out.”― Austin Kleon
2. Shoshin, The Beginner's Mind
"What is beginner’s mind? It’s dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas about something and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner. If you’ve ever learned something new, you can remember what that’s like: you’re probably confused, because you don’t know how to do whatever you’re learning, but you’re also looking at everything as if it’s brand new, perhaps with curiosity and wonder. That’s beginner’s mind." - Leo Babauta
It's all too easy getting in a groove when creating music, or really, any creative work. There are no rules, so we develop our own. You have that template you use to start each project, that collection of sounds you like to draw from, or that style of music you go to for inspiration. Eventually, freedom becomes its own version of restraint unless you actively fight to stay creative.
3. Birthing new sounds out of one another
The 8-bar rut has become all too real in music production. Getting stuck in an 8-bar loop is the reason thousands of musicians haven't finished many of their works. One reason for this could be the inability to find new sounds to pair with the existing ones. And for that, I have a solution I learnt from Nosaj Thing.
The idea is simple; create a new variation out of a sound rather than searching for an entirely new one. In the tutorial, I gave the example of using a delay to introduction pitch artefacts from a vocal chop and a pluck sound, but really, your imagination is the only ceiling.
4. Use Your Stereo Width!
I'm not just referring to sounds in stereo either, but more so, instruments that are actively moving around in the speakers. Auto pan is your best option here, my favourite is PanMan from Soundtoys, but you can use any that you have on hand. Low frequencies are always better left in mono, so I'd recommend focusing on your high-frequency elements. I used a couple of rain field recordings for this purpose in the tutorial. Even though it was only an example, it goes to show that you can get pretty creative with this. It's also worth noting that if you choose sounds that contain lower frequencies (sub 1 kHz) you should create a second version, high pass them and apply the auto pan to that version. There are a multitude of Nosaj Thing records this can be heard in. For example, Fog, Aquarium, and 2K.
5. Don't add more, add less
The last lesson is about becoming mindful of all the elements contained within your project. Do you need all of that low end in your hats? Do you need anything over 10 kHz in your kick drum? Do you need anything under 20 Hz in your music? Admittedly, the low frequencies are the biggest culprit of clogging up a track and reducing your headroom on the master output, but many aren't aware of the frequencies in their work that just don't need to be there. Mixing is very much like sculpting; you're supposed to be removing what you don't require, not adding in more. Most music producers know this, but Nosaj Thing's music made me more aware of what I didn't need in my own projects and thereby increasing the space available in my mix as well as my headroom.
Enjoy the holidays!
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