Welcome to Tracking “La Cerisaie” episode 1. I am your host, Tooru.
Today I am going to go through the process of how I make and arrange a song using Propellerhead’s Reason 5. Let’s go through the first bit of “Cat-Head Imako.”
The anatomy of a song from “La Cerisaie”:
- First, at the top of the window you can see what are called bars. Bars are arranged in groups of four, with a number above three little notches. The notches symbolize the number of measures after the printed number. The first notch after the number 9 is measure 10, the third notch after the number 5 is measure 8, etc. I will be referring to these bars throughout the… uh, episode.
- The track labeled NN19 1 provides the organ/whatever part at the beginning. It was originally programmed in a different time signature so that when the grinding synth and hi-hats come in it gives the impression of the real song starting without warning. It’s very jarring at first and I was considering taking it out.
- Said hi-hats are provided by the track labeled Kong 2. “Cat-Head Imako” uses two drum tracks in the form of Kong Drum Designers. For all songs including this one, Kong 2 is the main drum track. Kong 1 provides backup percussion and supports Kong 2. Unfortunately you can’t see Kong 1 in here, because it’s up at the top of the Reason window.
- The sub-bass is Thor 1. Nothing much else to it.
- In addition to the two Kongs, “Cat-Head Imako” uses three Dr. Octo Rex modules with I believe ten different loops. The synth immediately after the organ intro is the work of the top Dr. Octo Rex, labeled 85_9 (the name of the loop). The Dr. Octo Rex 1, starting at measure 24, provides the quasi-techno loop I love so much.
Let’s zoom in on the drum fill on measure 12.
This is the Kong 2 in action. I’ll walk you guys briefly through this fill.
- Basic terminology: BD = bass drum; SD = snare drum; HH CLS = closed hi-hat, TOM FLOOR = floor tom; TOM LO = low tom; TOM MID LO = middle-low tom.
- Measure 12 starts like the other measures before it: with a hi-hat phrase. The hi-hats in the intro to “Imako” are a repeating pattern consisting of tuplets and a bunch of other stuff.
- The second half of the measure is where the fill starts. The bass drum and the floor tom hit simultaneously on the third beat, immediately suggesting what I hope is a feeling of urgency to the listener. Then, the fill itself, which is nothing special. The only notable part aside from the random wailing on the toms is the bass drum-snare drum backing. The second half of measure 12 started out with a regular bass-snare beat in eighth notes. Then I got the bright idea to change the bass and the snare to sixteenth notes and move the snare beats a sixteenth to the right.
Now because I’m such a nice guy, I’m going to let you hear the fill slowed down to half its tempo so you can grasp exactly how it was set up. Get it here.
This is another drum part that I feel is musically relevant.
New drum track terms: SD BRUSH = snare drum (played with brush); RIM = rimshot.
This passage is what musicians like to call a polyrhythm, which is one rhythm played over a completely different one. Notice how in this 16-bar measure, both the bass drum and the rimshot hit every four bars, but the brushed snare hits every three bars? This polyrhythm is partially obscured by the toms in the master track, but you can download two bars of the polyrhythm with some sub bass laid over by clicking here.
On that link (which by the way, you should have clicked if you want to know what I’m talking about) you can hear how the brushed snare triggers five times while the bass drum triggers four times, and then both rest for three bars before starting on the next measure. The sub bass is then laid on top of it all, hitting on the first bar and the tenth bar.
Let’s fast-forward and take a look at the second fill next. This fill hits at around the 1:57 mark and isn’t all that much different from the first…
… except for volume.
This fill is, I believe, one of the only ones I’ve composed that starts out almost inaudible and builds to the highest possible volume in just one measure. I was able to accomplish this by using Reason’s built-in velocity controls… velocity, of course, being a fancy musician word for “volume.” One of the more noticeable aspects of this fill is that the hi-hats maintain a constant volume, so the listener is fooled into thinking it’s just another measure of the main beat until the toms start to become audible and the bass and snare drums come in. More observational readers will discover that this measure contains another polyrhythm, this time on the snares. And as before, I’ve generated a slowed-down version of the fill so everyone can see how I constructed it.
Finally, let’s examine measures 15-18. These measures come together to form what is easily the most awkward part of the song. And when I say awkward, I mean awkward. I mean awkward as in surfing YouPorn with your pants down and your dick in your hand only to discover that your sister’s on the front page in a four-way lesbian orgy.
At least the other three were hot. I regret nothing.
The four measures that comprise the section I’m about to show you tinker with concepts called “on-beats” and “off-beats.” Most music is presented in 4/4 time, which means that the quarter note counts as one beat and, more importantly, that there are four beats in a measure. “Cat-Head Imako” is entirely 4/4, so it can be counted as 1-2-3-4. Now to explain on-beats and off-beats, we have to delve a bit into musical theory. There are a number of facts regarding these things:
- The first beat is the strongest and most immediate part of the entire measure. That’s a fact of life. Take practically any rap song or a popular song you remember from your childhood. Chances are it has a bass drum, a chord change, or other something on the first beat.
- The third beat is strong as well, but not as strong as the first. The first and third beats are called on-beats and basically define the feeling of the measure.
- The second and fourth beats are the weaker beats. These beats are called the off-beats.
This is a short drum loop that I made to illustrate the concept of on-beats and off-beats. The kick drum hits during the on-beats (beat 1 and 3) and the snare drum hits during the off-beats (beat 2 and 4). The hi-hats denote pulse beats, which exist in between on-beats and off-beats and are much weaker than either of them.
This is an example of a syncopated drum loop. The differences between this loop and the previous one are immediately apparent. For starters, the on-beats are mostly absent and are marked by hi-hats while the kick drum and snare drums occur between them as either off-beats or pulse beats. The first loop is stable, while the second presents a chaotic, disoriented atmosphere for the listener. Try counting along to both of them. They are both 120 beats per minute, they are both 4/4, and they both last for two measures, but there’s a good chance it’s difficult to keep time to the syncopated loop at first.
Now that the theory’s out of the way, check out this raving monster of a drum loop from “Imako.”
In that loop all instruments except for the drums and sub-bass have been cut out of the mix. This is what you will hear in measures 15-18 of the completed song. The loop’s first two measures are simple enough, but when you get to the middle of the third measure, between you and me, something amazing happens!
And now I can talk to animals The on-beat and the off-beat shift over the next measure! Try keeping time with that, suckas!
Well, that’s pretty much all I have to say about “Cat-Head Imako.” Remember, “La Cerisaie” drops on the 31st on BitTorrent and Mediafire! Tell all your friends!