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Oblique strategies for electronic music

Submitted by on July 27, 2009 – 10:15 am 5 Comments

Creativity and inspiration can often be quite elusive.  Sometimes I can sit down in my studio and great sounds and music simply pour out of me; other times I find myself staring at my computer or synths for hours, unable to come up with something that sounds remotely interesting or unique.

There was a thread on the Analogue Heaven mailing list a couple of days ago about inspiration (or lack of), and it turned into a discussion about strategies to overcome “writer’s block for musicians”.  There were a lot of fun ideas, so I thought that I’d present them here.

These ideas were originally meant for electronic music producers, but could apply to just about any type of music compisition.  If you have any ideas to add to the list, please leave them in the comments.

So, here we have it:  170+ oblique strategies for electronic music:

1. Stop thinking of drums as KICK/SNARE/HIHAT
2. Use more 16th notes!
3. The relationship between percussive sounds and rhythmic noises can be a melodic relationship
4. Turn it into a melody
5. Turn it into percussion
6. Turn it into a pad
7. Think about a bongo player sitting in the street
8. Select a new random tempo
9. What Would Joe Zawinul do?
10. Make a cliché

11. Put in something off-key
12. Get reckless
13. Less logic
14. List your standard process from start to finish, now reverse it
15. If you dismiss an idea, stop and ask yourself why
16. Skip your first impulse and use the second one
17. Do something that isn’t 4/4 now
18. How can you make this fall apart
19. Play it backwards – the part, don’t reverse audio.
20. Pretend your mom is sitting next to you

21. Pretend your dad is sitting next to you
22. Swap midi clips between all elements
23. Keep everything, but change the order
24. Keep everything, but change the timing
25. Only one note at a time
26. Just play every other note
27. Think of something that seems like a bad idea, then use it
28. Play it like a child would play it
29. Play it with your knuckles
30. Play it with your elbows

31. What would you make if you knew everyone in the world was listening?
32. What would you make if you knew no one would ever hear it?
33. You’re not married to that octave !
34. Make your melody your bass line
35. Make a song with no drums at all
36. Make a song with only drums
37. Limit your options
38. Remove a part that’s giving you trouble. Just cut it!
39. What would your least favorite musician do?
40. Abandon normal instruments.

41. More everything!
42. Less nothing
43. Split the parts and play them with two instruments
44. Do it sober/drunk for a change…
45. Process something acoustic
46. start with something different
47. Stop. Turn a different knob
48. reverb or delay, but only for a little while
49. play less, faster
50. play more, softer

51. Take your favorite bit and make it unrecognizable
52. increase complexity, decrease density
53. Increase density, decrease complexity
54. Try to write the part with your voice
55. use your environment
56. Let the machines play, make some tea.
57. sample it, reverse it
58. Is modulation really necessary?
59. Use fewer patchcords.
60. Noise, or silence?

61. Turn it up to twelve and leave it there.
62. Plug an input into an output.
63. Use tracks with different tempos
64. Reach for the farthest knob
65. Delay the inevitable
66. Do that only once
67. Remember that old sound source you love but never use?
68. Don’t use the same old signal path
69. Unpatch everything and hook it up with intent for this specific project
70. Stick with the very first thing you try

71. Unplug
72. Copy it, alter it, repeat
73. Your mom
74. Reverse the loud and quiet
75. What insect — going where?
76. Play closer. Then farther
77. Record in silence. Add harmony
78. Return to the start
79. Start at the end
80. Pick a number. Use it

81. Reverse hands
82. An empty mind
83. Advance without fear
84. take a different approach to sequencing
85. change your clock source; ‘pattern’ not click track
86. go into unfamiliar territory; try something that you’ve never done before
87. use an element for something other than its ‘intended purpose’ (envelope/delay/filter as a sound source)
88. start with noise, then subtract
89. add layers
90. sculpt the feedback

91. cut it up and rearrange
92. build up, tear down *gradually*
93. patch it up silently before you turn it on, then adjust
94. add the element of *chance*
95. Constrain chaos
96. Halftime
97. Reveal Hidden Structure
98. The One is where you think it is
99. Take it outside
100. Overdub from memory

101. Let it slide
102. Nostalgia as a weapon
103. Make something out of sync
104. emulate a style you cannot stand
105. sustain everything
106. replace with a sine
107. repatch
108. stop writing. start painting
109. invert
110. sell everything. Buy new stuff

111. Stop Time, then resume
112. Play it so wrong it’s right
113. More digital
114. Close your eyes
115. Engage in intentional imitative synthesis
116. What would Springsteen do?
117. Pick out two odd “gear partners” and turn everything else off
118. Only use short patch cords
119. Make the sound with your voice
120. Turn off the effects

121. Make the sound smaller
122. Turn off the computer
123. repurpose your equipment
124. The studio is the instrument
125. Clean out the filter
126. Actually program a sound
127. Start recording, turn on a movie, mute the sound and write a soundtrack in real time for whatever you see
128. Think small
129. Think big
130. Remove one frequency band

131. End now
132. Blindly cut
133. Oppose it
134. Cage it
135. Unleash it
136. Bjork called, mix too tame
137. Too serious, make it laugh
138. Think of a note. Now don’t play it
139. Remove a beat
140. You play so many notes…

141. Compress time
142. Play when it’s wrong
143. strip it; invisible or naked?
144. Play the drum part on a keyboard, and play the keyboard part on the drums.
145. Imagine what the world sounds like to your cat (who can only hear down
to 45Hz, but all the way up to 60K!!)
146. Learn the alphabet in another language.
147. Compose the theme song to the movie about your life.
148. Go to the zoo
149. Close your eyes and find your way twice around your home
150. Do two things; Show half of one, half of the other

151. pretend the computer isn’t programming you
152. sketch the project in a different material
153. Mute, don’t compute
154. Ring (modulate) the changes
155. Check your pulse, is it racing?
156. It’s hip to b square
157. Close your eyes, open your mind
158. Take a step back and move forward
159. Move your chair, brush your hair
160. Put your fingers in your ears

161. Make loudest voice but a whisper
162. Inspiration comes in many forms
163. Play with time
164. choose your least favorite element, remove everything else
165. choose an element and reverse the sequence
166. turn on the tv
167. turn OFF the tv
168. invert your chords
169. drop something and mimic the sound. don’t use the result for percussion. or do
170. Go as far as you can with the monitor – if not the computer – switched off

171. Draw up a list of your top five presets, and delete them
172. Silence at any time during the session should be eliminated unless as a deliberate tactic
173. Commit to your mistakes and take inspiration from them; do not undo or revert to any saved versions
174. Do not use automation at any stage, instead mix all sounds in realtime
175. Bounce all audio and delete source tracks before each overdub
176. Do not overdub; do as much in realtime as possible. If the result is unsatisfactory, consider this a limitation of your system

A huge thanks to Andreas Wetterberg for compiling the list!


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