This was done last year (9 Feb 2006) for the library’s “Alternate Worlds – Fantasy Genre Guide”. Composed, drawn and illustrated entirely with Photoshop Elements on a Windows PC.
My colleague, Wai Ling, suggested that I think along these lines for the illustration:
” Alternate Fantasy – stories featuring alternate & parallel worlds, for e.g. being 2 places at one time…Or 2 very contrasting landscapes within 1 sphere… Or some thing/person making the jump/cross between 2 worlds via some portal…”
I ran out of ideas for this illustration — or rather, I couldn’t think of anything that could fit into 800 x 800 space without being too elaborate. I’d originally pictured a man jumping through a time portal, or walking through a time portal into settings with differences (e.g. jungle instead of buildings). In the end, I used some website references sourced by my colleague, which showed a man in a spacesuit standing at the mouth of a cave, staring out into a vast space with stars. Unfortunately, I don’t know where’s the source of the photo, so I don’t know who to credit.
Anyway, I adapted the “Suited-man at mouth of cave” idea by sketching, cropped a cloud-burst photo from my stock collection (of a cloud burst) as the background.
For the cave, I used various brush settings (Dry brush, Wet) and Opacity settings to add highlights to the cave entrance. Then I used the Spot Healing Brush (“Create Texture” settings) to blend in the colours, using the traditional pastel technique of starting with dark colours and gradually working towards lighter tones.
For the suited-man, it was also pretty much using the same pastel technique.
Then I added in the three coloured-spheres in the sky, with a Wet Brush and Opacity setting.
For final touches, I used the Lens Flare filter (Filter-> Render-> Lens Flare) on the sky image. Also used the flared lens filter on the suited-man layer, to make it blend better into the overall picture (or else it would’ve looked like a cut-out).
While visiting CDbaby.com to check out the tracks from Singapore band, Lunarin, the CDbaby.com recommendation engine pointed me to this heavy metal band called Heavensdust. I was intrigued by their description — that they mixed heavy metal with Japanese drums and instruments.
They seem to have been around for some time. Their more recent albums sound more sophisticated. The “Japanese instruments” isn’t very heavily featured, imho. Still, I like the sound of their 4th album, “Without A Voice”. Their sound reminds me of Evanescence, which explains why I like them.
If Lunarin had to choose to deliver a message with the music, it would be that contrasting elements can and do work. The band’s biggest breakthrough was perhaps to balance melodic female vocals with hard-hitting riffs and drumbeats, while at the same time, to indulge themselves in a myriad of styles reminiscent of art-rock and metal. Contradiction should have been the band’s moniker.
I was inspired by the heavy bass track from “Dry”, by Singapore band “Lunarin”. So I picked up my guitar and whacked a few typical barre chords:
Em/ C/ G
D/ Am/ C – D
Then it was simply building up the song in layers. Along the way, I added the synths via GarageBand. Essentially, it’s still a rock piece. Quite a fun project, but also a challenging one in terms of engineering the sound. I wanted to get that full sound of the distortion/ overdrive effect. The original recording was in mono, and sounded flat when I compared the sound with the Lunarin CD. I think I eventually achieved something close enough, by overlaying the recordings and boosting the bass.
Highlights of how it was done (click on the images to view larger-sized pics):
I found that I could get a heavy-stereo layered sound by repeating the tracks as layers with slightly different effects and equalizer settings. The mix included Overdrive, Chorus, Equalizer (boosting the bass settings), Compression etc. But GarageBand had limits to the number of effects for each layer (e.g. I wanted to experiment with overdubbing). So I did the next best thing — I exported the tracks as MP4 files (in orange colour), then imported them back in to add different effects. It worked quite well.
There are 24 layers in total. As the song isn’t too long (under 4 minutes), my Macbook Pro had no problems handling the size. I didn’t encounter lags and didn’t have to lock any tracks.
For this piece, I wanted to add as many variations to the sounds as possible. For instance, the guitar lead for the first stanza (after the intro) had seven layers in total, each with slightly different settings.
As always, the sound engineering part is the most time consuming. Like previous songs, I identified the parts where the sound levels “red-lined”, set that segment as a repeat-loop and adjusted the levels.
I’m learning that sound engineering is part a science and also a skill, ‘cos there’s more than one way to achieve roughly the same effects. E.g. to create a fuller sound, I could add a Chorus effect to one layer, or have more than one layer of the same track with slightly different settings.
A poignant piece by Shel, who remembers his friend Charlie:
He gave me the two things I need most—encouragement and shit. He gave a lot of people encouragement. He saved the shit for a select few of us. His encouragement pointed me toward the top and his shit stopped me from going over it.
Charlie taught me about life and living; about death and acceptance. He taught me ethics without preaching, about tolerance without suffering assholes and about patience even if I wouldn’t get to the bloody point.
I’ve never heard of that song before. It’s a nice piece. Vanessa did a nice job with the piano and singing. Since I was itching for something to play on my guitar, I decided to add a guitar track to Vanessa’s recording. About three hours later, here’s Mix 2 (Playing time: 4min 16secs):
Then I downloaded and imported Vanessa’s MP3 file into GarageBand (it appears as the orange track in the screen shot).
I listened to the song and played along with my guitar plugged into GarageBand. After I was comfortable with a few basic notes, I started recording.
The next two hours was spent on recording the guitar tracks in parts — the chorus, stanzas and a break. In between recordings, I also spliced and editing the tracks. The main guitar melody was played with a custom Lead Distortion setting. The part for the break was also with a custom distortion setting (“Lead Chorus Stereo Spread” effects). I also recorded an acoustic part (with a slight flanger effect).
After I was satisfied with all the recorded tracks, I started on the mixing and sound engineering phase. This took up about two hours. I added a slight echo and a reverb effect to Vanessa’s original MP3 track. For the guitar tracks, I adjusted the volume down, so that it doesn’t drown out Vanessa’s vocals.
I’d did a first conversion to a MP4 file. Having heard it as a MP4 file, I noticed the volume of the guitar tracks were too consistent throughout. And they were too loud for my liking. I had to remind myself the song was about the vocals and not the guitar playing.
So I went back to GarageBand, reduced the guitar track for certain parts so that the piano track could come through. Then I converted it to MP4. Once I was happy with the final version, I converted it to MP3 and uploaded it to Archive.org, and then to Odeo.com as a podcast.
As I said, I’ve never heard of John Legend nor this song, until Vanessa’s version. We didn’t plan to “collaborate” on this piece. Well I hope I didn’t muck it up for Vanessa. 🙂