Made In Japan Retrospective-Track 5 “Airport Pianos”

Out of all the tracks on the Album Airport Pianos is the one that I enjoy listening to the most. I think this is mostly due to the experimental way of making the track with has distanced me from the process resulting in something I feel that I curated instead of composed.

The Original Idea behind this track came from a field recording Made in Haneda Airport whilst waiting for a flight between Tokyo and Osaka during my trip.

We had arrived early to make sure the check in process ran smoothly and that left us with a few hours to wait in the Airport for our flight. Whilst walking around the terminal to I heard this audio instillation in one section of the terminal.

The audio instillation was plying random notes from a piano which formed chords that reverberated around a large cylindrical hole in the ceiling. I really enjoyed this relaxing and close to ambient sound caused by this generative piece of art. It was a quiet morning at the airport with only a handful of people about and so I set up my field recorder in the space and let it run for half an hour to record this instillation.

When I got home I listened to the recording with the thought of turning elements of it into a track to add to the album. The first issue I came across when listening back to the recording was just how noisy the space had been. Although there were only a handful of people who walked past the space in the half hour I was recording. The very reverberative nature of the space enhanced their talking and the clattering of their case wheels on the hard tile floors. Attempting to remove these resulted in a recording that was so full of holes it was closer to a Swiss cheese then any usable piece of audio.

After attempts to cut out the louder sounds failing mistrably I wondered if instead I could create something usable by concealing them a bit more. With some EQ, and specific gain reduction useing RX I reduced the louder clacks, knocks and shouts in the recording but then ran the whole recording through a large reverb.

This worked surprisingly well as the material in the recording I wanted to use was already slow shifting piano chords in a large reverberant space so adding more reverb to them didn’t take away the texture I wanted for airport pianos. However It had a great effect on the shorter more jagged parts of the waveform smearing the dialogue and knocks into long atmospheric pads that created a brooding texture underneath the piece. I bounced down this recording with the reverb applied and then cut out certain sections I liked to the most to arrange into a melody for the piece.

After the pad like melody was created I felt like airport pianos still needed some texture with stronger rhythm/transients for the listener to latch on to. As the original recording was of a piano I decided that I should continue that trend with a more forward melody driven piano part. However I wanted to stay true to the generative nature of the original audio and remove myself from the composition process as much as possible.

To do this I experimented with the ability in Ableton Live to turn audio into midi data. I took the long reverb tales from the piano chords and turned them into over an hour of midi data which I then fed into a piano sample library. I then went through this piano roll and selected the sections that could work in the track.

Although the algorithm was really struggling with the reverb tales, most of it was in the correct key and I found that the end of the tails were the most rewarding. The amount of midi data refined into fewer notes that had an almost human sloppy playing style as the algorithm tried to derive notation from a weakening signal. It’s these moments that become the end of Airport Pianos. I chose the more erratic midi generation as the track progressed to give the feeling that the track was collapsing in on itself.

With the track and its running time now finished, I still felt like the spaces between the notation was a little too vast. I had a speech sample from the original recording that under reverb had become this larger ominous pad sound. It provided some texture in those gaps but it only seemed to work in about a third of an octave range before sounding too digital. To circumnavigate this I replaced the higher and lower pitched tones with an old recording I had made of Male and Female Choirs in Manchester treating them with the same processing.

I finished Airport Pianos about halfway through making the album and it marked a turning point in my composition for the rest of the record. The hours of experimentation started to pay off with music that I struggled to define and yet had a clear style. I continued to use this collection of techniques on other tracks changing the tone of the entire album.

Leave a Reply