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Subject: Composing sound loops (Was: FLASH: Bacground Music and Sounds)
From: Scott Wilkinson
Date: Sun, 28 Feb 1999 01:14:06 GMT

Being a Juilliard graduate (for whatever that's worth) and a composer, I can
offer a few subjective tips for everyone on writing background loops...

1. All loops, no matter how well composed, get on peoples' nerves after a
variable length of time. So always include a sound on/off button (and make
it obvious). Alternatively, only include brief sound accents or splashes in
your productions that don't repeat.

2. The more up-tempo and energetic your music, the sooner it irritates the
listener (e.g. house- and/or rave-style loops with a throbbing electronic
drumbeat get old *very* fast)

3. The more mellow and relaxing your music, the longer people will
appreciate it. You can learn a lot by listening to the ambient music of
Brian Eno (e.g. Music for Airports) and the minimalist music of Steve Reich
and/or Phillip Glass.

4. Open, "perfect" intervals (for those musically knowledgable) like 4ths,
5ths, and octaves are more pleasing to the ear (when repeated) than stepwise
scales, dissonant intervals, and melodies that just noodle around (so to
speak). Pentatonic scales (the black keys on a piano) are more pleasing than
major/minor scales (which is why so many windchimes are tuned to pentatonic

5. Natural, acoustic sounds are generally more enjoyable and unique than
electronic, synthesized sounds. In other words, if you have a
pretty-sounding set of windchimes, record them and use those, rather than
the "Analog Stack" patch on your Roland synthesizer. (Marc Hoffman has some
great acoustic sounds at his Dart Frog Media site.)

6. Though empty space (silence) in music and sound is nice (and often
overlooked), it "shows" noise more in an 8-bit sample than continuous sound.
So if your sounds have some empty space here and there, try going with a
16-bit sample if possible, or apply a little noise gating to your samples (a
process that mutes the noise in silent stretches).

Again, these tips are subjective, and I'm sure some of you may disagree. But
they're ideas based on two decades of performing, listening to, and
composing music of all kinds.


Scott Wilkinson
Alias Design, Inc.

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