With the recent release of The Musical Melodyian EP (available on Bandcamp), music producer, Scott Tooby, reflects on how he created the cosmic tunes for this transmedia production as well as his thoughts on the ever-precarious future of music.
J. Sayuri: What was the vision behind the sound and music of the Musical Melodyian EP?
Scott Tooby: To create music that is evocative of alien landscapes and musical traditions. This was an experiment to imagine what music made by other life forms might sound like. But since I wanted to keep the music somewhat accessible and grounded, I decided to experiment with the idea that alien music might have a lot of commonalities with our own (tonal centers, modes, physical instruments, rhythm, meter).
I utilized many different kinds of acoustic ethnic instruments, human and animal vocal samples as my sound sources. I then processed these to recast them in a more “alien” light – creating a music that sounds foreign but somewhat familiar at the same time because it’s derived from earthly sounds and arranged into common formal structures.
JS: Tell me a little bit about how you produced the tracks of the EP?
ST: The music of the EP is derived from audio samples, recordings, and musical sketches I’ve been compiling for the past two years in addition to some new material I created in the final weeks before releasing the EP. More than three-fourths of the voices in “Drim Drim” and about half in “Hobijobi” are resampled recordings of me playing acoustic ethnic instruments (djembes, gongs, Thai woodwinds, kalimbas). The remainder of voices are derived from my collection of synthesizers and drum machines (primarily a Korg R3, Volca Beats, and Roland JD-990).
Many of the featured voices on the EP are resampled versions of acoustic instruments I recorded (like the hyperactive djembe solo at the start of “Drim Drim”). This resampling process was time intensive. I’d record individual notes of an instrument, edit them into discrete audio samples, and compile a comprehensive library of all the sounds that particular instrument could make to create a “virtual” version with virtual sampler instrument software (Kontakt).
By playing on a MIDI keyboard or programming sequences in my music production software (Logic), I can trigger the prerecorded audio samples, process them further, and create new types of sounds from these instruments that wouldn’t otherwise be possible when playing them live in the real world. This isn’t a new concept in music production practice, but by accentuating the glitches and unnatural quirks I got out of this process I was able to create the alien instrument sounds I was envisioning.
Meditations on Mount Kromtor was produced differently than the other tracks. It was assembled as a heavily processed sound collage derived from a single synth performance as well as recordings of birds and whales.
JS: How did the narrative of the Musical Melodyians influence how you produced the music?
ST: I don’t think there’s a concrete active influence – I think it’s more subconscious. I don’t plan my Melodyian music and sonic palette around a literal interpretation of the narrative, I’m inspired by the Melodyians’ visual aesthetic and character imagery to make sounds and music that I think fits the general “Melodyian vibe.” In this way, I’m constantly adding to my palette of sounds so that the Melodyian sound always evolves in step with the larger transmedia project.
JS: What is your vision for the future for the Musical Melodyians and your development as a composer and music maker?
ST: Aside from continuing to develop the narrative aspects of the larger transmedia project, I plan to develop the Musical Melodyians as instruments. I’ve already created prototypes of Melodyian digital synthesizers housed within 3D-printed robot shells, but I want to expand this and create new forms of electroacoustic instruments that I can use for future music projects. Eventually I’d like to create Melodyian instruments that other musicians could use for their own music-making.
As a composer, I’m inspired by other composers like Harry Partch and Raymond Scott who built their own instruments in pursuit of creating the exact kind of music they wanted to make. I aim to do this as well, create my own instruments, and become a self-sufficient music maker.
JS: Do you see a sustainable future for music producers?
ST: Historically it’s never been easy for musicians and artists to make a living from their work. Even though the digital music revolution has brought about exciting new models for music distribution and enabled virtually anyone with a laptop to produce and distribute their own music, it’s certainly not any easier to make a living in music. The US and global music industry revenues were at all time highs in 1999, but starting in 2000 crashed for over a decade after the digital music revolution exploded. Global music industry revenues still haven’t bounced back to their pre-1999 levels.
The digital music people consume today is intangible, so it’s inherently easy to overlook its value versus a physical product. Unless you’re buying a vinyl record or CD, the general expectation is that music should be free, which is why some would argue it’s never been harder for artists to make a living from their music. I personally believe if you’re a fan of an artist’s music, you should support them by buying their music.
But I’m encouraged to see new forms of online crowd-funding like Patreon, which enable fans of creators to support them in a sustainable on-going basis – much like traditional art patronage systems dating back to medieval Europe and beyond. I’m also a fan of BandCamp, which allows fans to pay music creators directly for their work and sidestep conventional music distribution venues like iTunes. This is the only place where you can purchase the Musical Melodyian EP currently. (Only $4 – that’s less than a drink at a bar. What a steal! Buy it and support the Musical Melodyian project! Okay, ending brazen self-promotion.)
If music producers and artists are going to have a sustainable future, I think we’ll need to innovate and create new models for profiting from our work that are fit for the reality of our modern world. But by studying the past, I don’t think we’ll have to completely reinvent the wheel.
JK: Any advice for other music producers?
ST: With unprecedented quantities of music content flooding the Internet, I think modern producers have a social responsibility to be extra mindful about the music they put out into the world. As a producer are you releasing music that’s contributing something new, or just adding to the noise? I think we should always strive for the former.
Keep making music and don’t wait for inspiration, life’s too short.