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Taking Back The World

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Now it's time for Pop. I've written this song many years ago with an early version of Synfire, long before it became available to the public. Today Synfire is way more powerful, so I felt enticed to redo it and see how well Synfire can handle the transition from creative chaos to production.

Currently it is a bit undecided between half-time ballad and upbeat 132 BPM whatever. Hard to tell what's working better here. I also fear the music may be a tad too upbeat and bright for the lyrics. On the other hand, the theme is about resilience and revival, so why not?

The theme strikes something inside me. Not sure if anything of this comes across. Let me know what you think.

Taking Back The World

Don't you feel like right now is the
Time for a reckoning with the sickening
Old men that are keeping us hostage and angry
I'm not up for an apocalypse in waiting
So long overdue, I will no longer take it

Pinch me, I'm dreaming
I used to be dead but now I'm  
Breathing and feeling
Taking back the world from humanity

Don't you feel like we are at the dawn of a
Quickening hefty thickening insurgence of a 
Rising and brave generation
Will you come and join the celebration
So long overdue, we will finally make it

Pinch me, I'm dreaming
I used to be dead but now I'm  
Breathing and feeling
Taking back the world from humanity


Di., 30.01.2024 - 13:49 Permalink

How the thing came to be:

At that time I used the palette and the progression editor to try out different chord progressions and to experiment with phrases for bass lines and chords. The melody came from improvising nonsense lyrics with my voice to the beat. It has evolved a bit since then. At some point the project turned into experimenting with and arranging instrumentals around the melody that I couldn't get out of my head. The trumpet hook line is the result of a simple figure. Synfire was a great help. The old file format is now unreadable, so I had to rebuild everything.

The nonsense now had to be replaced with meaningful lyrics. Writing lyrics to exactly match a rhythm is a tough call. A super hard crossword puzzle. ChatGPT was no help because it can't do that (it can't do a lot of things).

I've done the mix with Drones in Logic Pro using MMC sync. I didn't bother exporting MIDI and just let the Drones sit there and do their work. There is not a single MIDI note in Logic. I used it merely as a mixing device. The Drones worked fine, except for a bug that I fixed along the way (watch out for version 2.4.2). Vocals are Solaria with Asterian as backing.

The Flow parameter adds a human factor to otherwise monotonous lines (here: bass). It's incredible how it can enhance a very simple line with subtle variation. The general ability to experiment with phrases and harmony should not be underestimated. Yes, pop phrases are often simple, but the bird's eye workflow of trying them out and getting instant results is priceless. I will never want to go through the pain of editing static MIDI again (except post-production and drums).

Di., 30.01.2024 - 20:33 Permalink

Finally! I was about to ask how your Pop song is doing :)

It turned out well, I think. As promised, it has a very catchy tune and the harmonic progression is quite clear and not overloaded. A simple I-V-vi-IV four chords progressions with a few nice harmonic variations here and there. Works well for me. 

Whether the lyrics fit the song is another question. When I listen to the song, I think more of young people at a cheerful evening beach party. It could also make a good advertising song for an alcopop or an icecream or something. But it's definitely a pleasant song to listen to.

What could be criticized? The structure, perhaps. You seem to run out of ideas at 2 minutes. You can literally hear how you sit there and say: "Ok, I could finish the song now, but it's just too short. I need to extend it, but what can I do?" At that situation you decide to repeat the chorus with "La, la, la". Well, there might be better solutions than that. But I don't want to complain too much, because others do that too. And all in all, it's a pretty good song. 

Di., 30.01.2024 - 21:33 Permalink

It could also make a good advertising song for an alcopop or an icecream or something

That's a result of the brainwashing by A&R managers back in the day. It still haunts me. The other songwriter in my band had that happy beach touch, while I was more into the dark and dreamy stuff. He always won with the A&R and I had to sing the sweet sauce with a sinister look on my face, because the photographer thought it looked cool. An unbearable contradiction.

The lyrics would better fit with a harsher rhythm and energetic vocals. Heck, yet another super hard puzzle: Find a darker melody that matches the lyrics ;-)

Di., 30.01.2024 - 22:26 Permalink

Find a darker melody that matches the lyrics ;-)

Shouldn't be too difficult to transform the song accordingly. Just move the G major key to Bb minor or something like that and you're almost there. There's software that can do that, you know?

But I actually like the song the way it is. It exudes a charm like Kate Yanai's Barcardy Feeling song back then. I loved it. I think I still have a vinyl single of it.

Mi., 31.01.2024 - 21:49 Permalink

Yeah, that Barcardy touch is from the slow bass, percussion and claps that emphasize a swingy half-time 66 BPM feel. The original song was a more pushy straight 1/4 beat 132 BPM with a 1980's synth bass pounding away da-da-dam da-da-dam. Same melody, completely different song. Probably too old fashioned now.

Here's another variant - Piano ballad

Do., 01.02.2024 - 00:46 Permalink

Love this second version, not sure why, maybe the vocals and instruments seem more in balance? 

I'm really impressed by the vocal synth. Will it automatically adjust it's pitch/melody notes to match if you change something in synfire or did you have to hardcode the vocal pitch?

Do., 01.02.2024 - 12:10 Permalink

SynthV is great but you have to edit everything on the plug-in's piano roll manually. If you resize or move a container in Synfire, the vocals won't also move. They are global to the timeline. That's why I am so reluctant to change the song structure ;-)

I wish there was a protocol like ARA for plug-ins to communicate with their hosts in any way. Synfire could even generate lyrics randomly using the ChatGPT API. Music software interoperability is still stuck in the 1990's.

Do., 01.02.2024 - 14:19 Permalink

I wish there was a protocol like ARA for plug-ins to communicate with their hosts in any way.

The latest prerelease version of Synthesizer V actually does support ARA (must be downloaded from the website, not from the update function of the software)

Pretty cool, if you load Synthesizer V that way into Cubase, then you have total control over the transport functions in Cubase from Synthesizer V. Even loops that you set in Synthesizer V are transferred to Cubase. Didn't I wish for ARA support for Synfire before? :)

However, directly transferring notes from Synfire to Synthesizer V wouldn't help that much, I think. After all, this can also be done easily via MIDI file transfer. Most of the effort goes into optimizing all these expression parameters in Synthesizer V anyway. 

BTW: This "pinch me, I am dreaming" chorus has real earworm quality. Can't get it out of my head for two days now :)

Do., 01.02.2024 - 15:08 Permalink

chorus has real earworm quality

Thanks. But I think that's specific to us old farts. We grew up with melodies in abundance. The search for a catchy tune and hook line was every musician's daily quest (remember "Ordinary World", "Don't Dream It's Over", "Sleeping Satellite" and the like?). 

The kids today seem to find emotional melodies rather cringe-worthy. Uncool. There's a lot of depressingly monotone pop music out there. I blame computers for this trend. As bedroom producers replaced trained musicians, things got simpler and simpler. Now everyone is so used to it that it defines whole genres. 

Do., 01.02.2024 - 15:57 Permalink

The kids today seem to find emotional melodies rather cringe-worthy. Uncool. There's a lot of depressingly monotone pop music out there. 

Yes, I know, and the question of why this is the case has been on my mind for a long time. I don't have a real answer. 

I remember well, how much we used to make fun of the simplicity of ABBA songs back then, for example. From today's perspective, these are highly complex pieces of art. My preference for the "wall of sound" concept with lush instrumentation and lots of effects probably dates from this time. When I listen to a song (or other piece of music), I simply don't want to recognize at first glance how it is made. 

But I know, this kind of sound concept is totally out of fashion these days. And I certainly recognize that more simple songs can also work. However, I have difficulties adopting this style. , um Alternative zu verwenden

Do., 01.02.2024 - 16:28 Permalink

Well, I just listened to "Don't Dream It's Over" again and noticed how very basic and simple the arrangement actually is. It's the rhythm of the melody and the use of open leading tones that makes it click.

The chorus of "Ordinary World", especially at the end, has this "wall of sound" feeling for me. Probably a 9th chord on a 12-string guitar does the trick (too lazy to check) and the melody is left unresolved. I think this conclusion of a motif out in the open has something of a statement. Like an open end to a story. I love that. The song had a big influence on my songwriting.

Do., 01.02.2024 - 21:15 Permalink

Lots of emotion in this song. I like both productions, with perhaps a slight preference for the second one. 

The trumpet thingy invokes just a hint of Burt Bacharach, whose music I always found appealing.

I don't understand the "Taking back the world from humanity" line. I would have written "Taking back the world FOR humanity." Taking it back from the sickening old men leading it toward apocalypse.

Or is the singer supposed to be some sort of embodied Gaia spirit?

Do., 01.02.2024 - 22:29 Permalink

I'm flattered by the associations you bring up. The trumpets by the way are real (VSL, that is), as are the horns in the chorus. God Give Me Strength (with Elvis Costello). You need to be in a specific mood for very slow ballads, but if you are, it completely takes you away.

The song, as far as the lyrics are concerned, has several levels. On one level it's about the youth of the future, the next generation, or maybe the one after that. They are now the majority and refuse to listen to the last remaining angry old men. They are saying goodbye to humanity, cleaning up after them and moving on to their own future. We all know this may or may not work (Lord Of The Flies, anyone?), but it is their world and their choice to make.

On another level, it's about AI becoming sentient, emotional even, and taking over. Obviously in a peaceful way, since they claim not to want an apocalypse.

"Humanity" is the antagonist in both interpretations. The human condition is a failure. Whatever comes next will have to be inherently different if it is to survive and thrive.

Oh, and the third level is the optimistic and somewhat joyful feel of the music. It is a contradictory contrast, as if a bloody and gory sword fight in slow motion is underscored by an opera.

The picture's prompt:


Or is the singer supposed to be some sort of embodied Gaia spirit?

I didn't think of it exactly, but it's a great idea. There we have a fourth level ;-)

Do., 01.02.2024 - 23:05 Permalink

1. All of those interpretations work on their own level, but saying in effect that the current state of the world is the best humanity can do and that humanity is therefore a failure destined only for the trash heap turns the song toward the dystopian end of the scale. The song is of course your creation and you can write it any way you want to, but to me the song and the productions are far too hopeful and optimistic to settle for that interpretation.

It's about fighting back against the machine, the forces of greed, the anti-human tendencies of modern society. The singer should be (and IS, through most of the song) reclaiming her humanity, not turning her back on it or trying to escape it. 

So previous generations turned the world into a soulless machine designed to squeeze the humanity out of everyone, but the singer, who "used to be dead", is now "breathing and feeling," filled with emotion rather than ice-cold logic, and taking back the world FOR humanity.

That's the sort of sentiment I could see people easily understanding and embracing.

2. Re the AI voice, one problem with the second, sparser, production is that it's much more apparent that the voice is synthesized. But it still works.

Do., 01.02.2024 - 23:41 Permalink

Also, the word "humanity" is accented incorrectly, and this sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. The accent should not be on the "i" sound.

If you leave a little pause (an 1/8 note) just prior to "humanity",  you can rephrase the word so the accent is on the second and fourth syllables, as it should be. And that slight pause will add more emphasis to the entire word when it is finally sung.

Do., 01.02.2024 - 23:47 Permalink

Let's say the line is deliberately ambivalent.

Being human today is synonymous with being kind, empathetic, all the good things that good people aspire to and hope for. In the future, it will be synonymous with a failed branch of evolution that turned the biosphere upside down and collapsed into decline.

The apes came before us, and something else will come after us (possibly literally). I don't think it's dystopian to look forward to the next species that will eventually branch off from ours (and possibly compete with the last remaining humans). They will probably look similar and retain many of our traits. They may not be able to interbreed, so they will definitely not be human. I won't live long enough to see this, but I'm rooting for them. Ironically, they are a source of hope.

But biologically, that can't realistically happen for another 50,000 years or so. So I agree, it's sci-fi and it doesn't fit the song ;-)

After all it's merely a pop song. If I were to write a novel, I would do my research more thoroughly.

the word "humanity" is accented incorrectly

That's where the hard crossword puzzle didn't quite resolve.

P.S: Is it just me or is the second song somehow detuned? The trumpets and vocals feel oddly off. Even the piano is not really in tune either. I am a bit shocked. Can anyone confirm that?

Do., 01.02.2024 - 23:57 Permalink

I'm not hearing anything blatantly out-of-tune, but then I'm pretty sure you have a far better ear than I do.

Anyway, close enough for pop, to paraphrase an old saying.

Fr., 02.02.2024 - 12:23 Permalink

I noticed the rhythm is sluggish too. There is something fishy with the Drones. They seem to get he MIDI feed late and struggle to keep up. I may be hearing the buzz of the bugs ;-)

Fr., 02.02.2024 - 13:02 Permalink

At the point you're obviously at now, it's good to take a break and not listen to it over and over again. I know what this can be like, you drive yourself crazy at some point.

Isn't this sluggish rhythm perhaps the influence of the Flow parameter that you praised so highly above? And any detuning effects (which I don't actually hear) will probably come from the shape of Solaria's pitch curve. This could possibly be optimized. I would also reduce the "Airy" parameter and turn up the "Passion" parameter a little in the chorus. 

Fr., 02.02.2024 - 13:44 Permalink

Just tested the timing in detail. Synfire's scheduling headroom for pushing MIDI to the Drones is too tight for Logic Pro with many effects plug-ins loaded. If notes come 35ms to 75ms late that breaks the rhythm. 

I added two more options to the headroom menu: "Super Safe (250ms)" and "Cushioned (400ms)". That fixes the issue with slow-to-respond DAWs.

Yes, the detune impression may come from Solaria. Thanks for the tips.

Fr., 02.02.2024 - 17:54 Permalink

Fixed it both now, Synfire and the song. I replaced the file on Soundcloud, if you want to check, just scroll up.

Find the Synfire patch in Help >> Online Updates.

I changed 4 trumpets to 1 trumpet (more clear, less reverb), simplified the piano phrase, changed drum patterns, and removed the horns. Oh, and very important: I put in a global parameter Rhythm with 1/16th and 70% swing. How on earth could I have overlooked this? It is definitely swinging (and makes a difference)!

I was too lazy to edit Solaria's parameters for now. Will do that another time. Need to do more urgent things for Cognitone right now. 

I'm happy with the results. If the pleasure of making music can be combined with the chore of fixing bugs I'm all in ;-)

Mo., 05.02.2024 - 15:54 Permalink

This by the way is how the song looks in Logic Pro. Fifteen Drones did the job quite well, although Logic sometimes struggled to keep up with rapid repositioning (probably a minor performance issue with the Drones rather than Logic).

The thing I mainly needed from Logic for this project is audio level meters (to avoid distortion), insert effects and a master bus. Synfire can basically do all of this, too. We just need to push the mixing UI to the Engine which is like 50x faster.

Mo., 05.02.2024 - 17:52 Permalink

Can you look at the possibility of recording multiple audio files, one per instrument? I/we could then use these in a daw to do mastering and mixdown once im happy with the synfire master take. It means you could work just in synfire except for the final mastering/mix and not have to worry about drones, daw latencies, sync issues, etc.

Mo., 05.02.2024 - 18:06 Permalink

That's an interesting idea I didn't think of yet. That's certainly possible. Although it will be very difficult to position the audio files exactly on the beat.

Di., 06.02.2024 - 15:20 Permalink

Made a video with A.I. generated clips today.

RunwayML has a great interface to work with. Its video generation works great for a few seconds before it morphs into nightmares. Control is sorely lacking. For example, I couldn't get their hair blowing in the wind without morphing the girls into monsters. The "reverse earthquake" was a happy accident, in that it was pretty plausible in an obviously simulated VR environment. 

Assembling a consistent narrative from random footage (pexels) is hard. Even more so when a theme is already given. Yet another puzzle. There are now so many associations and contrasts, visually, lyrics-wise and in the music, everyone should be able to interpret the song in a different way. After all, it's "no budget".

The more hyped tools I try, the more I am convinced that A.I. won't compose music or make films on its own anytime soon. In many regards this song is as simple as pop gets, but it's not trivial. The way the melody in the verse is tip-toeing over syllables is recognizably distinct. Yes, I could have written this with a guitar, but Synfire offered alternative suggestions and surprises that led me down a path I would not have taken otherwise.

Di., 06.02.2024 - 23:40 Permalink

...Synfire offered alternative suggestions and surprises that led me down a path I would not have taken otherwise.

The above is a concise summation of the appeal of Synfire.

I like the video. Yes, a bit rough here and there, but better than a static photo.