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BWS 100


Warren Smith

 Genre: Other

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This is the concluding piece of a 100-song collection – the Brooklyn Walking Songs – a project that has kept me creatively engaged for the past four years. The collection wasn’t conceived as a grand ambitious concept. Rather, it was something that developed as time went by and the songs started piling up - a singular idea growing complex.

The beginning was simple enough. Upon moving to Brooklyn, my wife and I decided to sell our car and rely on public transportation to get around, as well as walking. It wasn’t long before I noticed I was humming and whistling new melodies during neighborhood hikes. I started recording these melodies, and then tried developing them into more elaborate and complex compositions. Recognizing a common theme, i.e., that they all came from the walking experience, I conceived what I thought was the lofty ambition of composing a dozen Brooklyn Walking Songs. But once I got into it, the songs kept coming. Soon I doubled the number to 24. I was on a “walk and roll” high!

As melodies continued to arrive in my brain, I tried to analyze where they were coming from. This became a special concern when I raised the goal to compose 100 songs, because the creative challenge was not only to write original music, but also to make every one of the one hundred different from its companions. I worried about duplication, both in melody and in sound. When I was younger I wrote most of my songs by banging around on a guitar until something usable developed out of the sequences. Occasionally, behind the wheel of an automobile, I came up with ideas that seemed related to the rhythm of the road. The act of walking was generating new melodies faster than I could keep up with them. One hundred songs – that sounded like a big number, a worthy challenge, bordering on the excessive, but it was certainly attainable, because I realized that for every song I was developing, there were two or three melodies I was passing on, usually because they weren’t distinct or of enough interest. The way these melodies arrived seemed unconscious. There were times when I thought I might be recycling something I’d just heard in a store or cafe (virtually every place you go into these days has some form of music playing), but it never seemed to be anything I could specifically pin down. When I come out of a store consciously humming a melody I had just heard, well, that simply remains that song for me, and doesn’t lead to any spinoff or new thing. Usually, I would be just walking along and a melody suddenly manifested that seemed to fit the mood of the moment.

The collection falls into halves based on recording software. The first 48 songs were done with a digital sequencer called MicroLogic. The program had a bug, causing frequent crashes, and problems with the output. After I acquired Apple’s GarageBand, the sound and the production process improved dramatically. Then I joined MacJams, which gave me valuable peer feedback, which led to more improvement (especially in two factors – learning to use drums loops and overall production values).

What makes a walking song a walking song? For me, the answer was simple – it’s a composition developed from a melody that occurred while walking. (This collection became more specific by being about melodies that occurred while walking around my Brooklyn neighborhood.) I set no preconditions and I had no format for style. Some songs were rendered as two-handed piano statements, yet some became three and four-handed, if that’s what felt right. On others I went crazy with synthesized sounds. Lengths vary from a short 24 seconds to 4:45 (the longest). Tempo was song-specific. Some songs became developmental, circling back on themselves. Others became exercises in variations. A couple became nothing but a series of tangents – walking songs that headed off wherever they wanted to go.

It has been said that an artist always faces challenges from the past. In composing these pieces, I didn’t feel like I was competing against anything specific. However, in the background, I heard echoes of classical precedents, like the Arabian “One Thousand Nights and a Night,” where a variety of stories are clustered under a general theme, like Bocaccio’s “Decameron” (100 stories), or Yoshitoshi’s “One Hundred Aspects of the Moon” (100 prints), or like the structure of some of Chopin’s piano-piece collections.

There’s always a certain let down when a goal is reached. Mixed in with the joy of achievement is a sadness of knowing something significant is over, that I’ll never pass this way again. I think this is why there is as much enjoyment in the process as there is in hitting a mark. I even find this to be true of individual songs. When I’m recording an instrument (most of the walking songs were made with a synthesizer keyboard), trying to get the notes and the timing right, I love doing take after take until I arrive at a place that is acceptable, but then a certain sadness creeps in, because I’m aware that I’ll never perform this sequence of notes again – not ever. I may go on to listen to a finished piece a hundred times in the weeks and months and years that lie ahead, and there will be moments when I’ll marvel at how it all got put together into a compositional whole, but rarely will I find the listening as thrilling as the process of creation.
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Hits: 3269
Comments: 14
Fans: 1
Plays: 211
Downloads: 117
Votes: 3
Uploaded: Dec 29, 2005 - 06:14:36 PM
Last Updated: Dec 29, 2005 - 09:42:58 AM Last Played: Apr 25, 2019 - 02:01:40 AM
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G5, M-Audio Keystation 49e
thetiler said 4986 days ago (December 29th, 2005)
I really like the effort the love, the caring
you put into this. All the writing and telling how this was concieved. Lot of
writen thus to me shows caring because it seems so carefully done.
Catchy melodies, I can almost see you walking down the street Especailly
with the add of the beat. Like the happy melody theme as well.

Nice going, lots of fun to listen to!

Great going Warren, thanks for sharing your musical work!!!!
Check out my latest song called They Went Underground
Warren Smith said 4985 days ago (December 30th, 2005)
I really like the effort the love, the caring
Thanks, Tiler, for the kind comments. Even with what I wrote above, I didn't
elaborate about the personal significance this project had in terms of making
music. Before it, I had written a couple of "suites" consisting of four or five or six
pieces thematically related. Otherwise, writing was always on a song-by-song
basis, letting them accumulate until there was enough to fill another album. The
idea of building a collection of walking songs presented me with a new
challenge - something beyond simply crafting of another single organic piece. It
is impossible for me to say how well these pieces stand on their own as well as
working together as a collection, because I am too close to them. But you are
right about the effort - it represents an immersion.
Check out my latest song called Toe Jam
dreadmon said 4986 days ago (December 29th, 2005)
Wow, this is such a treat
to listen to - it's very evocative and I can just picture what you must be seeing as you're walking the various routes. Your joy comes through loud and clear, it's very infectious! There are dozens of "hooks" in this piece alone, and I love the stylistic marriages that are taking place throughout. Your ear for melody and counterpoint is quite delightful!
Check out my latest song called Don't You
Warren Smith said 4985 days ago (December 30th, 2005)
Wow, this is such a treat
Thanks, Dreadmon, for being so responsive. I think your term "stylistic
marriages" is a good summation of what I try to do with melody and
counterpoint. Right on!
Check out my latest song called Toe Jam
drakonis said 4985 days ago (December 30th, 2005)
Congratulations on the milestone
All in all, it's just another crack in the sidewalk to step over and walk
past. I like the melody and the echoed counterpoint. I do *not* like
the widely spread drums banging alternately in each ear, I prefer
drums to be only slightly spread off-center. I think this is a great
skeleton piece, but it needs more harmony and orchestration added to
fill it in more... it seems to be missing some chord progressions to
make it more full. It is a happy upbeat hummable tune... definitely fun.
Check out my latest song called Miwok
Warren Smith said 4985 days ago (December 30th, 2005)
The harmonica plays the skeleton keys and the rain
Using drums and where to place them has been a huge developmental issue
for me over the course of this project. One of the great benefits of
participating in the macjams community has been reading and pondering the
discussions about percussion, whether in the forums or in song comments.
As a result, I know I have improved considerably ... and I also know there is
much more to learn. That said, I am not uncomfortable with what I've done
here. Your personal preference for drum placement fits snugly within the
majority of expressed macjams opinion - that they should be placed central
and slightly spread. So I know I am going against the grain. But this is where I
like to hear them: chattering back and forth across the broad spectrum.

As always, your feedback is astute, and therefore, valuable. As to adding
orchestration and harmony - I'm afraid that's beyond my skill level. I wouldn't
know where to begin. I'm a short story writer, not a novelist; a song writer,
not a composer of symphonies. You may be able to conceive of methods to
flesh out this piece, but for me the skeleton is the original melody to which I
try to add muscle through tone and variation. I'm happy when I get the
skeleton to dance!

Check out my latest song called Toe Jam
kristyjo said 4984 days ago (December 31st, 2005)
I really like your description
It tells a lot about your music and how it came about, and that's always
interesting. How did you save these songs between the walk and then
getting them into your software program? That's always the problem for
me - I have a good idea that then evaporates before I get it written down
or recorded.
Personally, i'd like to here a pad of strings playing chords in the
background - you end up with lots of open fifths in this treatment, and
that gives it an empty sound in some places. However, I DO like the fugal
treatment with the different octaves.
Check out my latest song called How Far Is It to Bethlehem
Warren Smith said 4984 days ago (December 31st, 2005)
voice memos
I know what you are talking about. You can be walking along and a great
melody starts running through your head and it seems so distinct that you
are sure there's no way you won't remember it. Then you get distracted by a
conversation or hear some other music and ... poof ... it's gone. My primary
solution was to use an iPod I seemed to always have with me. I bought an
"iTalk" microphone by Griffin, which plugs into the top of the iPod and allows
you to make "voice memos." I would whistle the tune as a memo, which would
get transferred into iTunes whenever I connected the iPod to the computer.
When I was ready to work on a new piece, I'd simply open both iTunes and
GarageBand, rummage through the voice memos and try to translate
something I had whistled into song.

I appreciate hearing your perceptive analysis.
Check out my latest song called Toe Jam
jim mason said 4872 days ago (April 22nd, 2006)
i loved your story
reading the description of your walking song was very cool. i think
every songwriter can relate to this story. i think my respose to finishing
a project is more like a severe depression, which can last weeks, i love
the way you can describe that feeling. i am slowly learning to enjoy the
journey, because the end isn't always very fun. thank you for sharing
your thoughts with us and also for giving one eyed jimmy jive a listen.
Check out my latest song called Life Was Better Without You In It
announcer said 4783 days ago (July 20th, 2006)
Great stuff ... but
Your discussion of learning the drum programming and using loops
explains why the drums seem to be the weak point in this otherwise
very good tune. Here are some things to consider with drums. 1st ...
think of a a kit as a single instrument. Most instruments are not
"stereo" they are mono. They can be recorded and mixed "stereo" with
a sound stage that surrounds them and adds width and depth to them
but in general they originate in a single place in space. Because drums
are a pretty "big' instrument in terms of their size, some stereo spread
over the kit works out OK. But the main elements of the kit stay put in
one place. The kick and the snare are in the dead center. The high hat
and the ride may be off to one side a bit and the toms may cross the
sound stage as a group. The crashes may be a little wider.
2nd ... Reverb and compression used in the right amount can really
give the whole kit a different sound and when used properly can really
help the overall mix of a song create the desired mood and feel. With a
bit more reverb and a delay before the verb you can make the kit
sound like it is really being pounded hard as opposed to a more
intimate sound stage with less reverb or shorter reverb tails.
3rd ... EQ can help a lot in the same manner as the reverb and delay.
I too have been recording various things since long before I care to
admit and the nice thing about programs like GB is that effects are
really easy to experiment with and easy to undo if you don't like them.
As you know, working with analog gear always meant either commiting
something to tape that was not "undoable" or making compromises
with effects because of the expense of owning enough effects to do
what you might want to do with each track. The biggest PROBLEM with
programs like GB is that the effects ARE easy to use and as a result are
often over-used or used ineptly by neophytes. Hope this helps. I like
the idea of your 100 song project. What a great way to spend your
time, and expend your energy.
Check out my latest song called Blood Moon
Warren Smith said 4778 days ago (July 25th, 2006)
Great stuff ... but
Your explanations of drum placement and production are clearly stated and well-though-out. I appreciate you taking the time to share this information, which should help improve my percussive technique. However, I don't think it actually fits with what I was trying to accomplish here.

My concept of a walking song is about movement. Your dictum that the drums have to be a single entity fixed in the center doesn't square with that. When you are walking through a neighborhood, percussive sounds come at you from multiple directions. In a number of these walking songs I experimented with drums coming from different places. The goal wasn't trying to literally reproduce the sounds of the street - mostly the beats remain an abstraction - but that was the often the idea I was shooting for: multiple percussive impressions.

Lately I have been recording bumping and banging sounds I come across when walking around, with the idea that I might use the hammering and sawing and pounding noises as actual percussive elements (assuming I get back to recording any more walking songs in the future).

Maybe I think this way because I have no performance background? These days, generally, when I start making a piece of music, I don't conceive it as a reprodution that sounds like it was played by a band, a quartet, or an orchestra. I concentrate on how the sounds work together, rather than how they fit into a fixed placement formula.

Of course, because of this, it's no wonder I rarely make the picks lists. ; >
Check out my latest song called Toe Jam
announcer said 4769 days ago (August 3rd, 2006)
Great stuff ... but
Warren ... Sorry it took so long to respond but vacation called me off to the
northern reaches of Wisconsin.

When you use the word "dictum" to describe my treatise on drum sounds and
mixing you may be using too strong a word. I am a great believer that there
are some tried and true "rules" that are accepted practice in any artistic
endeavor, but I also believe that if everyone followed all the rules all the time
music would never progress at all. Music, like all art, is a living, changing,
evolving, growing, living thing and it grows by people changing the "rules" as
they go along. As a teacher of an artistic endeavor, I do believe that it helps
most people if they know what the "rules" are before they break them, and I
insist my students explain why they chose a non-traditional path or approach
on a project. You have a reason to make the production choices you made
here on the drum track and that is totally your decision because it is your
music. There is not any "right" or "wrong" way to do anything that you do for
yourself. ;-)
Check out my latest song called Blood Moon
Warren Smith said 4764 days ago (August 8th, 2006)
Well said
The famous saw "Rules were made to be broken" can be taken more than one way. At first glance, it appears to be a rebel's credo of defiance. However, as so aptly spelled out by you in your comment, rules are made for a reason, and one of those reasons is to challenge them through creative interpretation. Or something like that : >

Thanks for returning for a follow-up response.
Check out my latest song called Toe Jam
Roxylee said 4729 days ago (September 12th, 2006)
Great walking tune!
This peppy melody makes me want to go out for a walk. Very nicely
done and it's fun, too. :-)
Check out my latest song called Emma, by davisamerica
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Name: Warren Smith
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Born in a Minnesota blizzard, I'm now residing in a coastal heat of Brooklyn, New York City. I recorded my first original composition as a teenager using a reel-to-reel tape recorder back in 1967, and I'm still finding it a creative challenge... [see more]

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