Why I Compose in GarageBand

GarageBand, compose, music, electronic, post-rock, Erik Satie, Grooverider, William Basinski, Antonin Dvorak, Edvard Grieg, minimalism, creativity, French horn
The preliminary mix for “Airship” in GarageBand
I compose using the GarageBand app for iPad. I use a limited selection of instruments and any field recordings I make. My arsenal consists of a small number of synths and, on occasion, any instruments that suit the aesthetic or theme of a track (the French horn* in “Airship”, for example). I think I work best when I have these self-imposed restraints. When you only have two bass synths to choose from, you spend less time cycling through endless options and more time wrestling with what you have to produce the sounds, effects and textures you want. To me, that is the “experimental” part in experimental post-rock music. This rigid framework forces me to be creative. It is a stimulating and interesting exercise and GarageBand provides the perfect environment in which to do this. It is uncomplicated, often very sophisticated and always a pleasure to use. This approach appeals to my minimalist aesthetic and love of precision. I like “clean” music, whatever the genre, from Erik Satie to William Basinski to Grooverider. I want to create such simplicity in my own work and composing music digitally helps me do that.

Forgotten Fields

* My adoration of the French horn comes as a direct result of my obsession with Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191 and Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16. If you have a quiet moment, please listen to the first movement of the Dvorak cello concerto for the most sublime use of a French horn I have ever heard. (Only Grieg’s subtlest use in the second movement of his piano concerto—my favourite piano concerto—comes close, in my opinion). When I first heard Dvorak’s use of that instrument, I am not ashamed to say that I wept, as I do today, every time I hear it—so graceful, so delicate and so stirring of one’s soul is the sound it produces.

How Being Bothered Saved My Mix

Mixing Console

In The Mix

I spent the whole of Saturday doing the preliminary mix for “In The Hangar”, the opening track of the Airship album. I say preliminary because, once all the tracks are mixed, one inevitably goes back and adjust or rework all the mixes for greater overall consistency in the final album. I like to keep my mixes simple. The less I fiddle, the better. Usually, this involves nothing more than adjusting volumes and adding fades. But occasionally, it involves going back to the drawing board with one or more tracks.

Bothered By The Bass

This happened on Saturday. For “In The Hangar” and “A Good Day For Flying” (the track that follows) I used a synth bass, which had lost its appeal. I must confess, I was reluctant to change it because I didn’t feel confident about finding the right sound to replace it with in my limited arsenal of synths. Also, it’s unnerving, having to change something as fundamental to the mix as the bass. Suffice it to say that I wasn’t enthusiastic about the prospect. But, throughout the mixing session, it kept bothering me; I knew I had to change it.

Saved By The Bass

Eventually, I gave in. On the verge of resigning to a bass I didn’t like, I stopped being an idiot and started experimenting. It wasn’t long before edits to stock basses in GarageBand produced just the sound I was looking for. I breathed a sigh of relief and shook my head, thinking about my initial hesitation. Not only did I save my mix, but I learned a lot about creating unique synth sounds, in the process. I realised that it is better to follow my natural intuition about what I’m doing, that no matter how uncomfortable it turns out to be, it’ll lead to better understanding and, I hope, better music.

Forgotten Fields