We have really great friends. Not only are they fun to be around and generally up for anything (including schenanigannery), they're also incredibly talented, wonderfully creative, and immensely driven. My good friend John is a shining example of this.
John is, perhaps, the biggest maker of all our maker friends. At very least, the things he makes are physically the biggest. A project to John is generally seven months long and involves welding thousands of pounds of steel and assembling it in the middle of the desert at Burning Man. He's built the infrastructure for our camp ever since 2009, and is largely responsible for creating the structure that houses our events - structures that are no less than 64 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall.
When Keen Motion Pictures announced that they wanted to film our group of Burning Man friends, from initial concepting to the Burn, I was quick to offer my help as a composer. Today, after a year and a half of editing and six months of scoring, we finally premiered Factory of One. It turned out to be pretty amazing.
It's been a long time since I've done anything musical in front of an audience. I miss the days of being in bands, putting myself out there, and hoping that people don't ridicule such an essential, critical part of me. When the film started rolling, I took a moment to look around at the audience, and was both impressed and petrified with the amount of people that had shown up. The place was quite full, and a whole bunch of people were about to be subjected to an hour of my music. Poor souls. About 4000 situations ran through my head as possible outcomes here, ranging from the sound quality sucking and being difficult to hear (did I master the audio well enough?), to people feeling the sound was too thumpy (there is a lot of bass, too much?) to people having an absolute total indifference to my creative endeavors. None of these scenarios were particularly positive. I recoiled into my seat a little bit.
Boy, was I wrong.
It sounded really, really great. From the first serious 808 kick dropping in time with the chop saw, I started to relax as the bass rumbled through the theatre. Wendi turned to me with a giddy, excited smile that told me how well it sounded.
At that point, I had license to sit back, relax, and enjoy the film.
One of the big parts to the story is just how much work goes into building a theme camp. Nat and Sage keep returning to John's garage, and I scored three separate pieces, each one building layers upon the last. While there's a sense of repetition, the music (hopefully) doesn't become redundant. The final track has a pretty massive stack of layers, and includes two super squelchy leads crisscrossing in aural space:
It's not all synthesizer fun though, as the narrative thread calls for a few different moods. When Wendi and myself announce that we're unable to make it that year (boo) I turned to a more organic instrumentation with a few layers of bells stacked on top of each other with a slowly attacking pad.
My favorite song in terms of straight-up-I-want-to-listen-to-this is 'Routing'. By now, John has finished building the structure, and is headed down to Burning Man. As I was composing, Wendi was in the shower and emerged saying she really liked this one line that I couldn't identify. She hummed it to me and wasn't anything I had written. I believe the acoustics from my studio bled strangely into the shower, but because the line she hummed was so fitting it actually made it into the final track. She is so talented!
Following Routing, there's, arguably, the most difficult scene in Factory of One. I don't want to spoil anything, but both narratively and musically the chapter is a bit of a downer, so afterwards I move into super-major-tonality, bubbly synth pop land to relieve all the stress the audience would be carrying. I heard a few people exhale, as though they had been holding their breath anxiously.
The section that I'm most proud of however is the 'Burning the Man' segment. I initially expected that I'd be creating the biggest, most epic piece yet, with stacks and stacks of keyboards and mad drums all growing in this incredible crescendo to coincide with the actual burn. Instead, I pulled way back and used only two instruments - a sort of sitar combined with a whistle, and crafted an old, ancient sounding, primal melody that reminds me of something Irish if it was slowed down by about 80%. It was a risk to go so very opposite what people - myself included - expected, but it worked really well because the energy of the footage and the crowd is amplified through the juxtaposition. If you listen closely, there's a Space Delay echo that grows in amplitude throughout the track so by the end there are dense, playful sounds bouncing around. Nat and Sage did a fantastic job capturing the burn from the inner circle, and applied some really nice temporal effects that, I believe, are some of the best clips of the entire documentary, perhaps of any Burning Man footage I've ever seen. It's pretty magical, and I took a moment to observe the audience. Everyone was still, attentive and immersed. I feel like I paid proper homage to Burning Man with this piece.
Finally, John reflects on his year in the final chapter, and I revisit the opening track to bring things full circle. This time, however, I add some spunky drums and a few melodic layers as inspirational spice. It ends on a positive note, and one of my proudest moments in life will forever be when people applauded me for the music I created.
All in all, it's been a great exercise for me, and I'm very excited to work on more music. Clocking in at 52 minutes, this is more music than I've written in the past 10 years combined. With any luck, I'll have another 52 minutes of audio by this time next year.
Finally, this wouldn't be complete without thanking a few people. Thank you to my lovely wife who not only hummed great melodies but offered all the right feedback for me. Thanks to Nat and Sage who gave me the opportunity and granted me enormous creative freedom to take risks. Thanks to Ryan Donahue for making the great poster in record time. Thanks to the folks at Korg and Alesis for making the keyboards that powered all the sounds (Triton Extreme and Andromeda, specifically). Thanks to Logic Pro for revolutionizing the way I write music. Thanks to Audio Damage whose plugins are the thing that compelled me to stop sequencing on my keyboards and opened new doors into processing and manipulating my sounds. Thanks to Standard Beat Co, whose percussion loops are the only thing I didn't create.
The full album, which includes all the above tracks and about six more, is on BandCamp, and can be purchased here: http://lucastswick.bandcamp.com/.