Music By Curtsy Rehearsed
Recently, I put the finishing touches on Dereferenced — the latest and final release from Curtsy Rehearsed. You can find all music releases by Curtsy Rehearsed on the Bandcamp page. Playable versions of several songs are included in this post.
As I have made little to no effort at self-promotion I was surprised to find that the previous Curtsy Rehearsed project (released 12 months prior) had received some press attention, albeit in a local Irish paper you may not have heard about:
Found at the business end of a recent Bandcamp dig, there’s relatively little that your writer knows about coder and music-maker Shane Crowley, outside of a keenly-honed grasp on technology’s ever-shifting contours as displayed in blogs linked out from his Curtsy Rehearsed project’s Bandcamp page. On the evidence of this lightly glitchy yet slightly woozy serving of electronic exploration, it’s a state of affairs your writer would like to rectify.
source: Evening Echo
This exposure to the most minor of press coverage motivated me to explain why I — an academic, non-musician who last attempted music in school — started this project and what I was trying to achieve.
Soundtracks to Lectures#
My original motivation was to soundtrack lectures. During the era of Covid-19 lockdowns I had to teach remotely. I wanted to create good lecture videos, which — for me — had to include music. In my naivety, I immediately (and fairly) got a copyright strike on YouTube. I then found some copyright-free music but hated all of it. In the absence of alternatives, I decided to make my own music.
The resultant songs are an interesting artifact of the time. Most of them are included in the three-part Theory of Parts series, named after a metaphysics paper I was then struggling to write and publish.
The anxieties of the early-phase of the pandemic bled into the songs, even if they were only intended as interludes to lectures on food chemistry! One of my favourites from that period — "You Won't For Long, Then You Will Again" — was a reflection on the constraints young people were living under and their anticipation of one day being free of them. The album art was my "garden" at the time, a network of pipes and vents inhabiting a forgotten space behind city apartments and businesses.
Experiment and Bricolage#
I am not a real musician, but I do music. Not being a musician I rely on whatever capacity I have as a listener and an openness to use whatever is to hand. I find sounds I like and combine them. When they inevitably sound bad I modify, replace and arrange until things sound better.
The process is experimental in the scientific sense: there are a set of questions regarding a mixture of components (sounds), followed by an arduous sequences of tests of those hypotheses, which may involve the substitution or modification of those components, before a central idea begins to emerge and is refined for eventual presentation.
Sometimes I judge that a song has not succeeded. Yet these failures often get re-incorporated into something new. A recent successful song-making procedure looked like this:
- Two failed songs were re-sampled and combined
- A phone recording of me singing incoherently was processed
- Samples from a pre-WW1 woodwind performance were incorporated
- Everything was tweaked, arranged and mixed over several days
Some others were composed in a more traditional way, with me poking at a MIDI keyboard in an amateurish manner until I captured something that sounded right.
I have no universal recipe, partially due to my own impatience and inconsistency.
Music for What Exactly?#
I wouldn't recommend the music for a dinner party. I don't think it can be danced to. I am unsure if it will lull anyone to sleep. The songs, I feel, are useful as prompts for thinking about creativity, memories, technology and modern life.
Having this library of songs helped me conceive and structure lectures. If I wanted students to feel the gravity of a weighty topic I would use a more sinister song, like Being Qua Being. To create a sense of optimism about the potential of science and technology I might use Progress is Monotonic. In lighter moments, or when I needed to switch gears, I would play Fantasy Machines.
Sometimes I listen back to these songs and think: What was I thinking when I made that? Why does it sound the way it does? How did I decide to give it that title? They are — perhaps — tools for introspection.
This project has a lot of baggage, forged as it was in a crisis. I still associate the making of music with the job of doing lectures. As it was originally intended as "background music" I didn't want to foreground myself too much, which is one of the reasons vocals are either absent or obscured.
One of the first Curtsy Rehearsed songs does include me singing, albeit filtered through a fairly heavy vocoder:
When my voice is present in other songs I might not even be able to identify it as such. It could sound like something else entirely now. Twisted, fragmented and mingled beyond recognition.
Recently, I have wanted to place a greater emphasis on vocals, while keeping things woozy and weird. One of my reasons for processing my voice with vocoders and other effects was the low-quality of the sound recorded through my microphone. After finally investing in an audio interface, my recording quality has increase dramatically.
With better audio fidelity it is time again to experiment with vocals and lyrics in a serious way for the first time since my school years (see the deMake project where I revisit these early demos). So I am retiring Curtsy Rehearsed to create a new secret alias. This is to encourage as much experimentation as possible without concern for how a wayward student or colleague might react.
Empathy for Musicians#
One benefit of trying hard to make and release music is the sense of empathy it creates for those who do this with even greater seriousness.
Mastering is a complex, technical and artful process, which I know very little about. Doing it well ensures that the collection of sounds have an optimal quality across a range of devices, platforms and listening situations.
It reminds me of the least fun part of my other hobby — app development — where you try to ensure that the app is available/accessible to the broadest group of people. Say you've made an interesting game or animation but now:
Does it run on Windows, Mac and Linux? If it runs in a browser does it run on this specific browser that 2% of internet users still use? How does it look on the smallest phone screen on the market?
Similarly, you might make a song that sounds great on headphones but what about earbuds? What about one earbud? What about cheap bluetooth speakers? What about YouTube after it compresses the file? Early on I realised that certain recording artifacts like high-frequency pops and cracks were only evident when I listened on earbuds. So I would try to first mix with headphones and then with earbuds. Then I noticed that the mix would sound muddy through speakers!
Even if you compose, mix and master everything to your satisfaction, there is no guarantee that the manner in which it is heard will be as you intended. A coherent album, with a tone that evolves and tracks that provide context for each other, may be summarily dismissed after a 12-15 second preview of two tracks, listened to out-of-order through a single bluetooth earbud.
You should be encouraged to learn new skills even when they might initially seem beyond your abilities. You will get better in the trying and might even make something worthwhile. At a minimum, you will develop a greater appreciation for the difficulties that its practitioners must overcome.
Dereferenced is the final release from Curtsy Rehearsed. Curtsy's entire discography can be purchased at a reduced price of 16 euro from the Bandcamp page. Several individual releases are available for free, including Transitive Nostalgia.