Friday, 25 May 2012

A song for the studio - part 1

I have been writing and recording music for more years than it would be flattering to mention, but in all that time I have never actually had a chance to record in a 'professional' recording studio.

By way of a 'thank you' for my piece The Heart Sonata, my friend Lee has very kindly given myself and my brother (whom had performed best man duties at the wedding) the gift of a 'Studio day' at Broadwood Music

To quote their web site:
"This range of gift packs caters for people who write songs but have no means of turning them into reality. Basically we provide a producer/engineer, a recording studio, some instruments if required and we are then at your beck and call to get that song idea out of your head and onto CD!"
Now, I obviously do have the means of turning my ideas into reality, but I'm still excited to have the opportunity to record in a real studio. I will also be nice to have someone else worry about the engineering for a change so I will be able to focus on the music. Also I'm intrigued to see if they can sprinkle some 'fairy dust' on the mix to give it that 'pro sound' - Time will tell.

My brother is a singer, songwriter and guitarist and we have been writing songs together for about as long as I have been recording. As we now live many miles apart we have not had many chances to directly collaborate in recent times, although that's not to say we don't ever work together it's just that now days we have to work by exchanging tracks and ideas via the web using Dropbox. This process is workable but a little slow and works best when one of us a fairly fully formed idea of how the song is going to be.

We have a pretty extensive back catalogue of material we could choose from for the session, but we both agree that it would be cool to write something completely new just for the occasion. My feeling is that we need to get together in a room with a couple of guitars and a note pad and throw down some ideas - so we have a writing session pencilled in for a couple of weeks time.

I can't wait personally - always enjoy the opportunity to jam some ideas with other musicians as the bouncing of an idea produces results in directions that you would never normally hit working alone.

My plan is this - I hope to end up with 3 versions of the song we write. The first would be the scratch demo with make during the writing session. The second is a more fully produced version I will work up to explore where I want to take the track and obviously the third will be what we record on the studio day.

Hopefully there will be a marked difference in the three versions, but only time will tell....

I will let you know!


Monday, 21 May 2012

Back to basics - Such a complicated task!

Who would have thought that going right back to basics and composing a simple solo piano piece would be so hard.. Not me fool that I am!

The Brief

Towards the end of last year I was asked by a friend if I would like to write a piece of music to be played at their up coming wedding during the signing of the register, "Of course I would!" I said. After hearing a sample piece they had chosen as reference (Le Onde by Ludovico Einaudi) I thought to myself that's right up my alley, this should be easy!

So I set to work. Just me, my piano and my best ideas....

The brief was to create a piece of background music for the signing, and my aim was to write a simple piano solo at around 4 mins long in a 'modern classical' style. I was certain that my piece would be played alongside the reference piece so I wanted to keep that in mind too so that they would blend nicely.

Background music is an unusual beast in that it has several contradicting properties. On the one hand it needs to blend into its surroundings both thematically and tonally to serve its function, but the composer has a duty to ensure that the music is never bland. It must also not be overly dramatic so that it commands attention, but it must never become distracting through virtue of being annoying like the hum of a fridge or a dripping tap!

Setting to work

With nothing but a blank 'canvas' in front of me I set to work finding some chords and melodies to hopefully spark an idea. Several different themes presented themselves but I found that I tired hearing of them very quickly - If I was bored of it after a minute or two playing about with the ideas how would the listeners feel after 4 minutes! This block persisted for several weeks. Each time I would sit down for a writing session I would end up seemingly further from an idea! The panic was starting to set in, but my saving grace was I had started my writing process over Christmas and the wedding was not until early April so time was still on my side at this point.

Many, many hours of playing, composing and frustration ensued until finally the germ of an idea began to grow ever so slowly. The melody for main theme began to take shape and I felt I was onto something special. From this was able to write the second theme melody and started to play with ideas on structuring these themes into a full piece. To my ears my main theme was both simple and elegant, and worked equally well in all registers but really found its warmth in the lower octaves, so I decided that this would be its 'home' and the piece would ultimately want to resolve to this inversion of the melody.

A second block in the road

So by this point it was plain sailing all the way home right? - Wrong!
It's been a long time since I have composed an instrumental piece, let alone a solo piano piece. The baulk of the music I have written and produced in recent years being pop or rock songs. I found myself struggling to structure the piece and the realisation I came to was that I was thinking about it in a conventional song style (verse - chorus - verse etc.) and not in a more organic way where the piece grew and evolved without such obvious section lines. Time for some research... A listen to a few of my favourite classical pieces soon brought some clarity and gave me the push I needed to get this thing done - Phew!

I nurtured it and coaxed it into shape and finally finished the piece around a month later. By this time I had created a new middle section and added simple variations to each repeat of the main themes to ensure the piece always had a degree of forward momentum.


After spending so much time with a piece it becomes very personal, but ultimately this wasn't my piece of music and had to be passed onto it's new 'owners'. After a nail biting wait after to the 'client' I am pleased to report that they loved my efforts. Here's a direct quote from Lee's post to me on Facebook after hearing my piece:
"How about a few more words
Incredible , emotional , perfect , tears , professional, talent"
"What can I say Chris you have captured exactly what we wanted with very little to go on, it really does not seam to do it justice but thank you, what a talent you have my friend"
Kind words indeed which make all the effort and heart we as musicians pour into our works worth while. The piece had been a lot of work, but I had gained so much from it. Spending so much time purely playing piano had really brushed up my playing, and I had rediscovered some of the tricks and secrets of the solo instrumental - Most of all I had created a new piece of music which I was truly proud of. 

The piece in question? - The heart Sonata - I would love you all to take a listen. 

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, 19 May 2012

Welcome - A brief history

Welcome to the Square Spiral blog. Where to start? Perhaps a quick introduction is in order followed by a little history.

I’m Chris, and Square Spiral is the guise under which I pursue my musical endevours. I’m a musician and composer with a passion for recording going back many years now from my earliest fumblings with cassette tape bouncing, right through to my current Sonar X1 DAW rig. The march forward of technology over recent years means that it is now possible produce excellent quality recordings on a modest budget with very little physical kit. Also, the use of Digital Audio Workstations (DAW’s) gives today’s muscians full recall and automation of practically every parameter of a session making it easy to work on several projects at any one time, and switch between them with the minimum of fuss safe in the knowledge that everything will be exactly as you left it when you return.

Over the years I have turned my hand to many forms and styles of music ranging from pop right through to musical theatre and most things in between. At my core I am a pianist but also play guitar. Recently I have begun concentration mainly of production, working with singer songwriters to bring their ideas forward from simple demos to complete produced mixes. Much of my work can be found on my SoundCloud page if your interested – I would love for you to take a listen to a few tracks.

Its not all production though, I still get down to some good old fashioned composing from time to time. One recent example is The Heart Sonata, a solo piano piece I wrote after being asked by a friend to write a piece to be played at the signing of the register at their wedding. This was a great honour and a considerable personal challenge, but my hard work paided off as they were very pleased with the final piece as was I.

So that’s a little history to get things rolling, and I may fill in some of the blanks over time but now onwards and upwards!


Just tweaking the mix...

Welcome to the Square Spiral blog, the upcoming home to the musical endeavours and and musings of me, Chris Upfield under my production guise of Square Spiral Audio.

As you can see, I’m still finalising the mix and tweaking the levels right now, so please be patient while I get it all sorted.