Well, I’m back with another blog post. This time, I’ll be talking a little about how I composed some of my latest album, Cypher. I’m going to look at the first track on the album, “Tetralogy I”, and deconstruct a section of it. In the press release for the album, I talked about how Cypher was never intended to be an album. It started out as a trial of a new virtual instrument (VI). Every time I buy a new sample library or VI (which I’ll explain in a later post), I write a track or two just to get to know it – but with Keyscape by Spectrasonics, those one or two tracks turned into eight. It’s such a great library of keyboard instruments that I couldn’t help using it to explore a more minimalist, contemporary style. I was so inspired that the entire album took just two weeks to write, record, mix and master.
As the title suggests, the album explores the idea of numbers and codes. I wanted to use those concepts to show the wide variety of moods and sounds keyboard instruments can create. The tracks are titled by the number of instruments they use; each track is composed of blocks of musical ideas that are repeated, moved around, and manipulated, or of a single idea or repeating chord pattern that I explore through texture and rhythm. “Tetralogy I” and “II” also explore how multiple instruments can combine to create patterns – many of the “heard” melodies and basslines are actually a combination of several instruments. This is what I’m going to talk about in this post.
“Tetralogy I” is a piece for four pianos. I used Keyscape’s LA Custom C7 grand piano for the recording – and I used the VI tools to customise each one to sound slightly different, so that it feels like there are four different pianos playing. (I’ll talk about manipulating instruments in a future post, too!)
I started by coming up with an idea for one piano – a riff, if you like. These were short ideas (two or four bars long) that I then repeated to make an eight-bar section. I wanted building blocks of music, so that each piano could be layered on top of the first to fill out a pattern. I could then change one or two of the patterns to change the sound slightly – or change all of the patterns for a more prominent shift in the music. After writing a few patterns for one piano, I built the next ones around the first, so that a bassline or melodic pattern appeared across two or three of the instruments. I might make Piano II and Piano IV, share a bassline, for instance, by making their patterns run up and down the keyboard in opposite directions.
I kept going, layering corresponding patterns (for Piano II, then III, then IV) on top of one another until I’d written the whole piece. It was a challenge to fit all the parts together without it sounding too muddy or cluttered – but it was a fun challenge, like a really tough jigsaw puzzle.
So that there was a bit of structure to the piece, I sometimes returned to previous patterns, rather than constantly creating new ones. Occasionally, I kept a pattern in two or three of the pianos and added something a little different on top to stop it from being too repetitive – a difficult task when the whole concept is repeating patterns!
Here’s a closer look at the ending of the piece. Firstly, take a look and a listen to what Piano I is doing (don’t worry if you don’t read music; that’s what the audio clips are for!):
Piano II sounds like this:
Piano III is having fun playing this:
And Piano IV returns to playing the opening pattern (but where that was in a minor key, this part is transposed into the major to give the ending an uplifting feeling):
What do they all sound like when put together? Like this:
Hopefully, that explains a little about the process of writing Cypher. It was a lot of fun, even if pieces like “Tetralogy I” were challenging at times. I’ll be back soon with another post, probably something a little easier on the brain!
Like what you hear? You can stream Cypher on Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, Napster and many other platforms, or buy it on iTunes, Amazon, Pro Studio Masters and more!
*delete as applicable