The RPM Challenge is an annual, um, challenge to make an album of music in a month. That’s 35 minutes or 10 songs, whichever comes first. I completed it once in 2010, which was when I made my first album of both music and lyrics.
Each year after I’ve thought about doing it again, but either couldn’t find the motivation or inspiration. For some reason, though, this year felt different, despite knowing I didn’t really have time or ability. I logged in, said I was going to do it, and then…did not. I got a few lyrical ideas jotted down, and even recorded a couple sketches, but nothing legitimate materialized, and it sucks. Musical projects usually get priority, but the style of music I was intended to do (folk with lyrics) was too ambitious for me, and it would require actually recording myself, which requires quiet and focus, and not just zoning out in Logic with headphones for hours.
It never feels good to say you’re going to do something and then not do it. Thankfully, there’s no penalty for not completing the RPM Challenge, except that I don’t have more music to add to my body of work, but that’s OK. There’s still lots of back catalog to go through every now and then, and Fly Like Venus‘s album is almost out!
I have a new album of music out. It’s a 5-track EP called Gray.
The genres range from faux alt metal to funk rock to piano pop to moody synth rock to orchestral ballad. There are defined melodies and lyrics even (check Bandcamp or your media player’s lyrics tab), but I didn’t have time to record them, so you’ll have to sing them to yourself where you think they fit! Production time on the album has been going on for many months, as usual, but it felt finished to me, so the Internet now has it.
THE DETAILS, IF DESIRED
The subject matter is a mix of personal reflection and abstract stream-of-consciousness. No idea where they really come from, except my own head and its influences and inspirations.
For those who want a little more detail, though, I tried:
- Totes Plents Parks – a phrase uttered by my wife, probably due to something parking-related. Sometimes we just all need some space, and there’s no better way to convey that than with loud rock music and a weird title.
- One Bark and a Couple Murfs – inspired by the family dog. She barks, as lots of dogs do, but she also “murfs”, which is kind of a closed-mouth balance between barking and growling. We sometimes joke that she gets a “case of the murfs” if they become frequent. Some upbeat funk rock seemed to exemplify her in these moments.
- Polygonal People – this phrase came up in an online chat with some friends, but its actual origin is now lost on me. My best guess is that we were talking about video games, and 3D modeling of people. In real life, we’re not made up of polygons…but we could be.
- Ruse – just a cool word that goes with a track that has a unique sound and vibe. I used a new Native Instruments synth to get the main rhythm part, somewhere between an organ and a distorted guitar moving to and fro.
- Humble Obscurity – originally the album was going to be called this, but it felt a little too showgazer-ish, since I often feel like as a musician that I live in obscurity, but must remain humble about it, because my life is pretty good even if I never became a hotshot rock star or film composer or whatever. The big, emotional orchestral sound is something I’ve tried to emulate for many years without entirely being successful, but I keep trying.
Note: these albums didn’t necessarily come out in 2016, but I listened to them A LOT in 2016 (I’m behind on a few things)
- Songs For Broadcast: part II by Breakmaster Cylinder
- Learned about this artist via the Reply All podcast (BC did their theme). Good mix of stuff that just kind of rules.
- Pulse by Sithu Aye
- When I need an indie Joe Satriani fix.
- Trilogy by Carpenter Brut
- Hotline Miami 2 brought me the intense synthwave stylings of Mr. Brut, and I am all the better for it. This album is his entire Bandcamp output so far.
- Retro-Active Pt. 1 and Retro-Active Pt. 2 by Keiji Yamagishi
- It took me far too long to finally check out these albums by the composer of the original Ninja Gaiden soundtracks. Great electronica.
- Island Universe by Syntax
- I forget where I found this originally, but it’s some really sweet, chilled-out, 80s synthwave. Transportive and relaxing in a unique way.
- Lunaria by Daminal Cannon
- Chiptune and badass instrumental guitar rock come together in a tight, blissful package.
- BlastPortable by temp sound solutions and alex mauer
- A random blog post linked me to one song on this album, and I immediately fell in love with both it, and the rest of the album. I’d seen temp sound solutions on other random Bandcamp releases, but somehow never got into them, despite their dozens of releases. This may be the start of a new collection, though. Also, I specifically thank logear level 4-2 on infinite repeat one evening while I hacked away at a game project: its punishing loop of minor key tension really did the trick for some reason.
- Interventions by Horse Lords
- This band is one of the most surprising discoveries I’ve made in a while, due to their unique sound. As producers of an amalgamation they describe as “West African rhythms collide with just intonation guitars, art-fire saxophone, minimalist grooves, and collaged zapdowns”, I will just say it’s unlike anything else in my catalogue.
I’ve been listening to Composer Quest for years, spurred on by this tweet from a Mr. Whitaker Trebella, who is a friend of the podcast host, Charlie McCarron.
Besides interviews with people in the creative field, and helpful audio workshops where Charlie goes over music production on tracks he’s recently created, they also do quests, which are compositional challenges. I try to do them when I can (or am even able!), but I definitely tried my hardest to stick it through the latest one: Composer Quest Olympics. A series of events, like Weightlifting and Hurdles, each proposed a different constraint for that section’s composition, and 10 days later it was due. I dig constraints, as it gives the otherwise unlimited potential for a single piece of music some guidance.
Well, six challenges, two-ish months, and an awards ceremony later, the CQ Olympics are complete: and I won 3 medals! Two were for challenges I did with one or more people, and one was for a solo effort.
It’s exciting to win anything at anytime, even though I was surprised on the ones I won for, and the one I thought was a shoo-in got 0 votes. I guess I don’t know what the people (read: this specific audience) was really looking for. Alas!
The band I’m in, Fly Like Venus, played their first show recently! It was at the Company Pub and Kitchen, which is a pretty nice venue, with its own stage and crew. We got it on video and it can be viewed in the little box below.