Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Play date vs. Baby Frankenstein

I’ve heard some ghastly music mixes in performances over the years. One time, the performance was like 3 minutes long and there were like 6 different pieces used. Seriously, folks, it’s really annoying to hear the music suddenly switch from piece A to piece B without any editing in-between. ESPECIALLY if the pieces don’t have any relationship to one another.  Beyond the annoyance for the ears, it detracts from your performance! My brain has to switch from A to B quickly and, while it’s adjusting, I’m totally missing the dancing that you’re doing! So, once again, I’d like to make a plea for better music editing.

This is really my opinion and you don’t have to agree with me but I have huge issues with using only small portions of a piece in my performances.  I tend to use the whole piece.  I’ve seldom done some music mixes because of that.  To me, up to a certain point, if you are using only bits and pieces of a music piece, you’re kind of deconstructing someone else’s art for your own needs. And I have some issues with that.  Now, I do love industrial music and we all know that they do sampling quite a bit… and that’s fine. But may I point out that they do it with artistry and the insertion of those elements is so well done that it’s seamless.  Also, both with industrial music and electronica, it can get repetitive so I understand cutting such music; if you do, I’d like to hear a representative portion of the piece, though.

I know enough musicians to know that their music is their children… just like my dances are my children.  So I view performances as actually a play date between my child and the musician(s)’s child.  And, yes, it’s possible to have a play date with more than 2 children, of course! You can invite other musician’s “children” to play but, just like in real life, it shouldn’t be complete and utter chaos.  In real life, if play dates were too chaotic, the parents would put an end to it or go with smaller numbers. Similar analogy with your mixes.

Also, try not to make a baby Frankenstein. Sometimes, I’ll hear mixes where the songs have so little to do with each other that it totally felt like someone patchworked a baby Frankenstein together (you know, like an arm comes from this child and a leg from this other child, and a torso from this other child, etc.). Just like you should be striving for your music, your costuming, your movements, your hair and makeup to work harmoniously together and have common elements, you want the pieces that you’re using to work together and create a seamless story.

I don’t know if these tendencies to want to mix music that have nothing to do with each other is a by-product of wanting to perform them all and feeling like there aren’t enough opportunities.  I totally understand that there’s a lot of good music out there. But I think that it’s important for a performance to have focus and, if you use music pieces that have nothing to do with each other in your mixes, it will give a sort of schizophrenic effect of not knowing where you wanted to go. If you’ve ever watched Project Runway or Top Chef, you’ve most certainly heard the judges say something like “there are some good ideas in there but this lacked focus.”  It’s like that.

Believe me, based on the few times that I’ve had to mix or cut music, it takes a long time to get a seamless effect (and, yes, even with doing just a cut). There are tons of softwares out there, some free, to help you out (I use Audacity). But it still takes time.  So take the time. And, no, it’s not something that you can pull off at the last second unless you are very experienced with these editing softwares. If you don’t have time to do a good job (I understand being pressed for time), try to find a DJ who can help you with that. There are a lot of DJs out there and a good one should be able to mix your pieces very seamlessly.

So when you’re picking out the different pieces that you want to mix together, think of the story and mood that you are weaving together.  Consider that you’ll most likely need to adjust the mood with each piece… even if they’re all about, say, sadness. No two pieces are exactly alike. How are you going to transition the pieces from one to the other musically? And how will that affect your dancing? 

What progression are you going for? Worst mixes are going up-down-up-down… e.g., happy, anger, love, more anger, hope, hate, etc.  So strive instead for some sort of progression… something that would make sense in the real world. People are rarely this chaotic in their emotions (PMS excluded, of course). And, throughout, keep in the back of your mind this question: What is the overarching theme of the whole piece? That should help you figure out how to order things.


AJ said...

I really do hate having to edit my music, because it does feel like I'm saying "Hey, original musician, your composition wasn't good enough for me, I am going to cut some things out, k?" As such, I try to avoid having to do anything more than trimming down excessively long intros or endings to conform with time limits...

I do wonder if some of the badly-cobbled-together music mixes come from dancers seeing a performance where the music goes from something pretty-pretty to something really hard (metal or hip-hop, usually) and they want to capture that "AHA!" moment but don't quite hit the mark.

Sharon Mitzy Sheen said...

I'm working on this choreography now, which is about 4 minutes long, and I feel like I don't have a choice but editing the music, because the way the story develops in my dance is very specific. But now after reading your post I will try to be gentle, and try not to create a "baby Frankenstein"...

Alice Aisling said...

A lot of our modern music is just as you said - too repetitive and there is no choice but to cut it in some way to get dynamic ranges for a choreography. Fair game in my eyes because it was probably not meant for bellydance and there are discrepancies to go through.

Just for the record, I intend to pay a professional just to merge two complete songs for me because I don't trust my audacity editing skills and want to have a quality audio that won't sound different on stage than it did up till that point.