Chance Composition in a RampItUp!

A happy accident meant that Belvue School in Ealing started DM’s classic RampItUp! programme at the same time as enrolling six of its students on our Introduction to Music course (Great video about ITMhere). The school requested that we cover two units of the course over the duration of the RAMP!, and we thought it might be interesting to share some of our ideas to intergrate the aims of the two programmes within our sessions. So for session 2:

ITM Aim: Create a Chance Composition

RAMP! Aim : Provide an overview of Soundbeam set-ups and Garageband and Bebot on iPad.

Method 1 – Melody

The most popular piece of kit in the session was, predictably, the huge foam die that bounced around the floor to generate our numbers. Each participant generated a number between 1 and 6 and used a single soundbeam pad to trigger a sound on this number as we moved around a 6 beat cycle. When all the participants played, a beautiful composite melody was created, which we then attempted to sing, with some more able participants playing the melody on tuned percussion (this would work also really well on thumbjam). The class teacher then randomly moved between soundbeam set-ups , turning our pads into drums, sound effects, synths. We discussed which worked and which did not (drum sounds and those with fast attack, as well as the ‘haunted house’ set-up we found to be best).

Method 2 – Harmony

Edit Chord feature on Garageband

We now moved over to Garageband and the Smart Guitar. It is possible to customise each chord in GB to create a smart guitar with only one chord, or 6 chords, or the same chord with different qualities (Gmaj, Gmin, G aug, G dim etc). We used the first six chords and linked them to numbers on our die, thus generating a ‘chance’ chord progression that participants could strum, block chord or find picking patterns for. We built on the previous week’s rhythm exercises to create a rhythmic pattern for our chords, and thus ended up with a deeply grooving chord progression.

Method 3 – Soloing

One of the participants taught us a trick here- when I invited him to draw some mountains on the whiteboard to represent pitch moving through time, he instead drew something that looked a bit like a duck’s head, and proceeded to draw it on the playing surface of bebot , slowly and methodically, to create a beautifully rich melody. Bebot’s ‘x’ axis is always assigned to pitch, but the ‘y’ axis’s assignment various according to preset– on some it is volume, others a filter sweep, others amount of effect etc. As such, working from an image that moves in both directions in two dimensions provides fantastic expressive possibilities. The chance element comes when we pick pictures at random to use as the basis of our solos…

Next Week

In the next session we aim to record our composition layer by layer using Reaper , which will, we hope, contrast our 3/4 beat melody against our 4/4 harmonic pattern, creating some juicy phasing to solo over. Watch this space, and do add your own ideas in the comments!

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