Stars in the Window

The first totally original Glass Door track in five years. Five years of silence and decay were ended when my friend Jared, who I know from around the net, called for submissions for Wires 6. I had previously submitted dusted-off tracks for Wires 4 and 5, but this time around I didn't want to retread old ground. I knew something new was required, and it was time for it.

If anything would get me writing, it was new equipment. I wanted a drum machine because, really, building rhythm loops in Acid is just weak sauce. No matter how well my source drum hits were recorded, the end result, as learned over the years, is a crappy sounding beat. I also wanted to use more synthesis software, maybe even get a hardware sound module if I could afford it. So I installed Reaktor, Acid Pro, and MIDI-OX on my laptop and started looking at hardware. If I was to get a drum machine, I'd need an audio interface, so after two weeks of research, I settled on an Alesis SR-16 drum machine and a Lexicon Lambda USB audio and midi interface. I had everything I needed but the inspiration.

It came to me in the form of a quiet Friday night in a quiet coffeeshop on the edge of nowhere. I fired up Reaktor and MIDI-Ox and started experimenting with different sounds, playing along on the virtual MIDI keyboard to see how those sounds played, looking for their natural rhythms. I found something really cool and started recording my poking and prodding with Acid as I pecked out what would become the melody of a brand-new song. "Stars In the Window" was born.

I spent several weeks thereafter working on the track. The first hurdle was working on the arrangement. The original take was horrendous structurally; it had bad phrasing, measures that took less than four beats, missed notes, the works. The challenge was to fix all that and give it a real structure: the prelude, the presentation of the idea, the expression of counterpoint, some drama, and then the main climax before denouement. The arrangement had to be right before I ever went about adding the other parts.

After finishing the arrangement, the bassline was the first addition, just to solidify the melody. Somewhere in there, I heard a prevaling rhythm; it spoke and I had to listen. Clack, shuffle, shuffle, beat. It grew strong, so I spent a few days building those phrases in the drum machine, strung them together with the fills and transitions I made into a sequenced song.

This became my first experience in sequencing pure MIDI; most of my experience at this point had been sound files. This was the first track I've made with absolutely no loops whatsoever; loops are useful, but they shouldn't be an end to all means. Aside from the cricket and frog chirps which I recorded in the field, this was all MIDI. And to watch everything flow the first time, in realtime, to the master MIDI clock, I tittered like a schoolgirl at how awesome it was.

Everything was written, arranged, and programmed; all the tracks had been created and recorded into isolated sound files. I set the mixing sliders, clicked play and heard everything together for the first time. That first playthrough was a rough mix but there, right in the big middle of it, was emotion. Pure, overwhelming emotion. It hit me hard, and I wept smiling.

I spent the better part of a week cleaning up the rough parts, altering velocities, working out timings, building the envelopes and learning the beginning rudiments of the art of mastering (which I suck at, I'll confess). Learned about sound compression, equalization and how nothing works as you'd expect. Nothing. But I muddled through it and made a proper mix, which you hear on Wires 6. This track makes me happy, and I'm happy with this track.

I went into the creation of this track with no template, no idea, no concept. The goal was to let a little seed take root and grow, following its own natural order. I didn't know how it would sound or what I would call it until it made its leaves known, until it cast a shadow. I closed my eyes as I listened to the early versions; what I saw in the melody were memories of riding in the back of passenger vans traversing the flat lands of southwest Arkansas at night; either I was returning home from some church camp or one of my evenings at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia. But always I watched out the window and stared at the stars on those cold, clear nights, the faint light of towns in the far distances. Always I watched and imagined someone out there watching back. This song reminded me of those rides.

←Back to Music