My adoption of minimalism is going really well. My bookcase went from 3 rows packed with books I’ll probably never read again, to only containing about 15 books. Most of my cassette collection is boxed up to either be stored in the attic, or gotten rid of completely, and a few of them need to be digitized first. By going through my clothes, I emptied two shelves full of clothes and and moved everything into my hamper. Every time I go through one of these processes and start to declutter and get rid of things, it feels liberating and free. My first batch of donations went out today- a gigantic box of books and some t-shirts. I have more clothes to go down to my younger cousins as hand-me-downs, and still have to go make a large CD sale to Princeton Record Exchange.
But while I was going through my cassettes, I stumbled upon a few gems that I had recorded myself, and there’s one in particular that I wanted to talk about in this post.
One of the tapes had some improvised synthesizer music recorded on it- and I started listening to it. Using various clues (the people’s voices who interrupt the tape every once in a while, the fact that the synthesizer I was using isn’t at church any more), I was able to date the tape to around 2004 or 2005, meaning I would’ve been finishing 5th grade.
Listening to it, I was kind of surprised at the quality of music I was freely improvising. It sounded pretty good, actually. Yes, I clearly made mistakes and non-deliberate choices throughout the tape, and no, my piano technique wasn’t flawless and there are one or two times on the tape where I had to abandon an idea because I realized I couldn’t pull it off. But there’s also some really nice pieces I built- some are more free/out-there, some are more sound sculptures, and some are very straight forward melodic/harmonic pieces almost like a movie score.
So, just for kicks, I decided to digitize the tape and release it for free. In total, there’s 35 improvisations included on the album. They’re largely unedited- except for taking out a 2 minute interruption mid-side A, all of the mistakes, abandoned ideas, and minor interruptions are intact. The result is that any given improvisation could be only 20 seconds long, or 4:03.
A few words on the digitizing process and amateur sound restoration/mastering: Physical equipment-wise, the process was pretty bad. The tape was recorded from the headphone jack of a Fisher-Price toy cassette recorder/voice changer. Literally. That is, however, better than my “My First Sony” walkman which is subject to all sorts of pitch warping. Everything was recorded and mastered at 24bit 44.1khz. The signal chain went something like Toy tape player -> Sony Acid -> noise reduction -> FL Studio -> Minor additional reverb -> Mastering (frequency/level fixes, buss compression, EQ, multiband compressor, stereo separation, Maximus, limiter). Overall, I definitely don’t have fine-tuned ears for mixing and mastering yet, and I don’t know the tool kit that well, but this was the best I could do for a DIY release.
Below is an embed of the Bandcamp release. Feel free to go there and download it for free (or pay, if you’d like.) For reference, my personal favorite/recommended improvisations are: 1, 8, 9, 11, 16.2, 25, 29, 33, and 34.
Update: After some consideration, I’ve decided to move “35 Improvisations for Synthesizer” to be hosted on my MediaFire account. The download link for a .zip of all 36 mp3 (320) files is here. If you’d like to pay for the album, feel free to donate via PayPal (coming soon). Otherwise, enjoy the free music.