Thursday, August 18, 2011

Transcription, Composition and Improvisation, by the Fool

Poor Aegthil hasn't got out much recently, so he has very little to say for himself. Well, to be honest, he very rarely has anything much to say for himself, or nothing interesting at any rate, but that doesn't seem to stop him. Isn't it at least a little strange how we can create characters that are so good at annoying ourselves. What this means of course --- and this is indeed a frightening thought --- that there is a lot of Aegthil in me and that I am merely annoyed at myself for being such an annoying twit, and wished I wasn't.

Oh dear. Let's just pretend I never said anything like that. Or even thought it.

What I really came here for is to ruminate on transcriptions and the like. You see, I'm currently in the middle of transcribing Vamos a Bailar for Ashmara. And I hate doing it.

So why did I say I would? Good question. I really don't know. I mean, I love the song and all, and it would be fun to have a proper band version of it, and Ashmara is a LOTRO bandmate, and blah blah blah, but as of right now none of this seems like a very good reason at all.

Doing a transcription is such a completely different thing from composing. When one composes a song for LOTRO --- well, when I compose at least. I don't know how other people do it --- you know the instruments you can use, the sounds they make, the sounds they can't make, and so you have a very good idea of what you can and can't do. So, given a particular feel you want to achieve, swing, reggae, blues, renaissance, Irish, etc, you think of the tools you have, and figure out the best path to get there. You put it all in your head, fit things together, and then sit down to write the abc file.

Me, I always lay down the drum track first. If you get the rhythm wrong, you're screwed, no two ways about it. Then the bass. Then the chord rhythm. Then the melody. Then the counter-melody rhythmic line. And at the very last, the improvisation passages, if there are any. And those I just make up as I go along.

With each new track you add, you keep listening to how they fit together, and adjust and tweak as desired to keep it sounding like the thing in your head. The job is to get it out of your head in a way that doesn't wreck it.

Ah, but transcription is the complete opposite. There, the original song is in someone else's head. Not yours at all. They had a vision, they had a feel, and they used a week in a professional studio to get those sounds exactly right. You've got a crappy drum kit, the most pathetic bass sound ever, and an out-of-tune horn section.

So most of the time it just can't be done. You just cannot match the vision in this other person's head with the tools at your disposal. Maybe it's a great song, like Vamos a Bailar. But that greatness does not translate well, and attempting to make it translate is an incredibly frustrating thing. It drives me up the bloody wall.

And that's only one frustration. Improvised passages are another frustration. Some are very well known, and the feel is so perfect, that you feel you really need to keep them. But figuring out the exact notes that guitarist played is not fast. Not difficult, but S...L....O..........W. And anyway, it's all improvised, so who cares what they happened to play that day in the studio? They play it differently every time, and so should you.

So I sit staring at these improvised passages, wishing that I could just write down what I would play, not transcribe what someone else happened to play, but knowing that this would make the song worse, and the transcription much less effective. After all, everybody KNOWS the solo in that video on YouTube. The fact that it was improvised is not important to them at all. They want to hear THAT solo. Not your solo. The real one.

(Mind you, last night Beor put the solos through Finale for me and dumped out some sheet music. I love the guy. I might get this damn thing finished now.)

Live performances are an entirely different kettle of fish. There, you can rely on the bass player (who, by the way, is playing a real bass, not a bloody piece of crap theorbo) to play a real Cuban line, or whatever. He's a pro, he knows what to do. Same with the drummer, the guitarist, everybody else. They all know their jobs, and do them. It's different every night, but the fundamental job remains the same. It's not transcription, even when you're playing someone else's music. It's all improvisation, which is nothing but composition on the fly.

So. Transcription. Why did I ever say I'd do it? I hate Ashmara.

1 comment:

  1. Don't we all play characters who have something of ourselves inside them? Would it not indicate some type of mental illness if one could create an entirely seperate subconscious spectre that had no bearing against their own other-worldly split-persona?

    You should rejoice as it were - if Aegthil was a choir boy he would be rather dull, and your Fool ipso facto. Better to be cocky, arrogant, dim-witted, and a hilarious, verbally-liberated smart-ass in my opinion!

    I go about composing the opposite way - melody, bass, harmony, counterpoint, and finally the rhythm. Go figure.

    Are you done doing transcriptions then?