Sounds of the Biomes

Sounds of the Biomes

Welcome to an in-depth look at "Sounds of the Biomes."  Here you can learn about the origin of the album and the pieces included in it.

 

About the Album

Background

 

Junior year of high school was starting.  It was the first unit of biology class.  It wasn’t an honors class or anything special, just biology.  This first unit was just a general unit about the basics.  What could be interesting about the basics of biology?  I thought it would just cover information about cells and genetics.  This first unit actually covered the earth and why certain species lived where they did.  There are areas scattered across the planet where climate, plants, and animal species differ called biomes.  I was fascinated with this unit.  The biomes of the earth were all unique places with their own special features.  How could I express this?

Juilliard Pre-College was beginning.  It was the first day of classes.  No crazy electives, just the core classes, and lessons.  My first day back with my composition teacher is always a recapitulation of what I was up to during the past summer.  That summer was full of excitement at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI).  At this program, I found my musical voice.  Electronic music was always an interesting field for me.  After meeting people like Missy Mazzoli and Nico Mully, I realized that I should use this fascination to create my own new sound.  Synthesis was a term brought up to me during my time at BUTI.  I proceeded to start a collection of different synthesizers that I could use in my music.  One was a Moog Sub 37, and the other was a Dave Smith Prophet 12.  

 

 

The Album

 

 

There was the biomes unit.  There were the synthesizers.  There was my electronic background.  There were ideas, music, sounds, and the pure need to write something new.  The biomes illustrated the true beauty of the earth.  This was why I decided to express that beauty in music.  Electronic music could be used for this.  An album, maybe?  "Sounds of the Biomes" feels right.  

However, I knew that there were many albums or youtube videos that try to portray a certain biome with meditation music or samples.  Sounds of the Biomes is not meditation music.  It is rather a series of songs without words for each biome.  This wasn’t enough though.  Those other albums and youtube videos could also be classified as a series of actual pieces of music not having to do with meditation.  I took my approach even further and decided on making each piece tell a short antidote.  A story of happiness.  A story of sadness.  Maybe a story of love.  Many feelings could be put into these stories while keeping the integrity of each biome intact.  Overall, it would make the listener more engaged with the music instead of treating it as background music.  I knew at this point that I had something that might have never been done before in electronic tape music.

 

Instrumentation

 

This album is not music concrete.  All pieces are able to be played live to a certain extent.  This is because almost all of the sounds come from various combination of a Moog Sub 37, Dave Smith Prophet 12, and digital synths created in Logic Pro X.  Although the album is fixed media, all parts were played in on these synthesizers.

 

 

Album Layout

 

 

The album is composed of 12 unique pieces each representing one biome.  The biomes are in the order of Desert, Savanna, Chaparral, Rainforest, Wetlands, Coral Reef, Ocean, Temperate Grassland, Temperate Forest, Alpine, Boreal Forest, and Tundra.  The first half of the album until Ocean uses a theme presented in Desert that can be found in all of those first pieces.  The second half uses a theme that is in Tundra by foreshadowing it starting with Ocean.  Overall, the beginning of the album is more playful and the end is on the dramatic side.  

The Pieces in the Album

 

 

Desert

 

Desert starts with a pulse.  This pulse gradually increases in tempo until it becomes a fixed speed.  This symbolizes the gradual sunrise seen in a desert.  Once the tempo is set, the piece continues in a crazy wall of sounds coming from the left and the right.  All of the sounds demonstrate the vast life living in the desert.  Lizards, scorpions, rattlesnakes, and the scorching heat make the desert a lively place.  At the end of the piece, the pulsing starts to slow down symbolizing a sunset.  All comes back full circle to create a surprise ending with only one slow pulse dissolving to set up the next piece.

 

Instrumentation: 5 tracks of Moog Sub 37.

 

Savanna

 

Savanna is the first track to use digital synths.  The ideas bounce off Desert in a moderate tempo.  The beginning starts off with one held-out note that starts an arpeggio idea.  This mixes with the main theme from Desert to show the relation between the two biomes.  However, the savanna can include dangerous lurking species hiding and ready for attack.  Halfway through, the piece shifts into a quiet fast tempo to demonstrate the uncertainty of being alone with predators.  Throughout this section, the dynamic increases as if something is chasing you and getting closer and closer.  The build-up keeps intensifying until it reaches a climax.  This climax is one held chord that cascades into a boom which ends the piece.  This represents the predator finally catching up to its prey.

 

Instrumentation: Moog Sub 37 & Digital Synths/Samples.

 

 

Chaparral

Chaparral is composed of all digital synths.  I took the patches in Logic Pro and stripped them down to their bare bones.  Some sounds are even a simple sawtooth, square, or sine wave.  I tried to bring out where the biome is by using an 808, representing cities in California.  Overall, the music is upbeat and bouncy.  

 

Instrumentation: Digital Synths/Samples.

 

 

Wetlands

Wetlands heavily uses samples of kitchen appliances along with rain.  I took the kitchen samples into a sampler and added reverb to them to create a sense of space.  I also used many legato styled synths to make the mix feel more wet.

 

Instrumentation: Digital Synths/Samples.

 

 

Rainforest

Rainforest is one of the most busy tracks in the album.  This was my first time using distorted sounds in an electronic piece and I used them to create a very busy atmosphere.  For the instruments, I was lucky enough to play around with an Arp 2600.  I combined this with sounds from the Moog and the overall texture was very thick because of this.  Along with the synths, I used many samples of trees and foley.  One sound is a tree being cut down.  This is to bring awareness of how humanity can affect the biome.

 

Instrumentation: Moog Sub 37, Arp 2600 & Digital Synths/Samples.

 

Coral Reef

 

Coral Reef includes many quotes from the other biomes in the album.  The first one is the desert theme which is present in all of the biomes before this.  However, it is more direct in this biome because of its similarity of thriving life.  There is a load of tiny and hidden life in the coral reef which is what the music represents.  The second quote is the theme from Ocean.  This is more of a foreshadow and is harder to spot because it hasn’t been introduced until this point.  Coral Reef shares this theme with Ocean because it is the closest biome to the coral reef.  The whole second half of the piece is bringing awareness to the biome because it is currently in danger.  The industrial sounds from the drum machine illuminate the idea of pollution in this certain biome.  It is a situation that is occurring in this biome that needs to be addressed.  The end is a transition to Ocean by using the fog horn sample and introducing the splash sample that is used throughout Ocean.

 

Instrumentation: Moog Sub 37, Digital Synths/Samples, & Drum Machine.

 

 

Ocean (feat. Katie Jenkins)

 

The Ocean is the largest biome on the earth.  There can't be an average temperature because it spans from the equator to the poles.  The beginning depicts the surface where the waves keep splashing and never stop.  The music then creates a melody that repeats three times, each time intensifying as if you are sinking to the bottom of the ocean miles and miles down.  After this, the second half begins by setting up the emotion attached to this piece with is the feeling of longing.  As the ocean separates the land masses, it separates people creating the feeling of longing.  These thoughts shaped the second half of the piece where there are two voices calling out to each other.  One voice is a synthesizer playing like a Theremin.  The other is a sweet voice singing.

 

Instrumentation: Moog Sub 37, 4 Digital Synths, Samples, and Improvised Soprano Vocals (feat. Katie Jenkins).

 

 

Temperate Grassland (Impromptu)

Temperate Grassland was improvised in one take on the piano.  To make the mix have more space, I added a huge amount of reverb.  I wanted to bring out the beauty with wind-like synth sounds.  I also added organ pedal samples to enhance the low end of the piano.  This track is also accompanied with a music video.  The video is composed of various shots of the grassland in the area around my college.  

 

Instrumentation: Improvised Piano & Digital Synths/Samples.

 

 

Temperate Forest

Temperate Forest is composed of looped material that rises and falls throughout.  I used one digital synth throughout which was a looped melody.  With this piece, I wanted to shift the overall feel of the album to be more dramatic and cinematic.  In the beginning, I played the melody from Ocean again to show that a forest can be like an ocean in how big it can be.  This piece starts the transition into Alpine by hinting sounds from Alpine.

 

Instrumentation: Moog Sub 37 & Digital Synths/Samples.

 

 

Alpine

Alpine is the longest piece in the album at 11 minutes.  It uses samples from orchestral percussion that are processed to have longer decays and be more resonant.  As the piece thins out in the middle section, I wanted to create a feeling of climbing a tall mountain.  The music keeps rising in volume and gets more tense until it reaches a climax.  I wanted this to feel as if someone has finally climbed the tallest mountain and is staring out into the horizon.  Out of every piece, I feel that this one really bring out the quote on the album cover, "There's a beauty to be found beyond the horizon".  I also felt that bringing the theme from Ocean into the climax would help that idea.

 

Instrumentation: Moog Sub 37, Prophet 12 & Digital Synths/Samples.

 

 

Boreal

Boreal is depicting the coldest types of forests known as boreal forests.  These are the last biomes in terms of climate that can support the growth of trees.  At first, I wanted to give a feeling of being lost in a cold, never-ending forest.  Then, I shift focus in the feeling of the forest to the atmosphere and sky.  The middle section depicts what it would be like to see the northern lights in the forest.  I tried to bring out the pure beauty of the scene.  

 

Instrumentation: Moog Sub 37, Prophet 12 & Digital Synths/Samples.

 

 

Tundra

Tundra has maybe the simplest melody with the biggest amount of drama.  I used a repeating bass line and chord progression throughout with minimal changes.  As this happens, the chords get bigger and swell up into a huge climax.  To depict the emptiness of the biome, I made sure to have each phrase connect as if there are no phrases at all.  Since there are small amounts of life and humanity in the tundra, I also added the sound of church bells in the distance.  Overall, Tundra bring the album to a peaceful end.

 

Instrumentation: Moog Sub 37, Prophet 12  & Digital Synths/Samples.

 

Listen to the Album