Quick Tracks Nº 10: Write a Song Like a Machine Might

Welcome back to the dance floor, Quick Trackers! Once a month, we hook you up with a short production or songwriting challenge, aimed at helping to up your musicianship. To respond to the challenge, just email us, leave a comment, or post to social media with the hashtag #quicktracks and tag us @learntosoundfly.

Just in time for your seasonal allergies to remind you that even though the warm weather beckons, all you really want to do is stay indoors and play with your machines and devices, here’s a challenge made for a rainy April day!

After over 100 years of post-Industrial Revolution tech development, we’ve gotten pretty used to the bevy of machine sounds now invading our lives daily. So much so that I think I’d go so far as to say that what was once relegated to the avant-garde, the blending of musical and non-musical sounds (those of machines and nature but also computer-generated and synthesized noise) known as musique concrète, has become nearly commonplace in today’s popular electronic music.

From the clanking of subway cars, the motoric rattling of home appliances, the bleeps and bloops of telephones and watches and those little cylinders that offer to do your home shopping for you, cash registers, heating pipes, engines, and so much more, our lives are forever scored by the music of machinery. But for this edition of Quick Tracks, we’re not going where you think we’re going…

Instead of using machine sounds in your track, we challenge you to write the chorus of a song (or a verse + chorus) as if YOU ARE a machine! (But you can still use machine sounds if you want.)

Sound weird? It totally is. What if you were an oven? What would a hit single sound like to you? What does an oven like to hear lyrically, what makes an oven dance, or fall in love? Probably a lot of chopping, water from the kitchen sink, maybe the sounds of heat or crispiness, the rush of the gas to your head as you prepare to cook some dinner. What if you were a desktop computer, recalling fondly the nostalgic sounds of the dial-up modem from your childhood?

Pick a machine. Use the sounds of your machine or generate lyrics that describe or mimick them, and build a song from the embodied perspective of that machine and their vision of reality as best as you can. This songwriting exercise helps you extract narrative and storytelling skills from deep within your subconscious, and you can use your beat production skills to enliven the sound design as well! Creativity counts!

Volts for Thought

One of my favorite albums growing up was Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, an album that made spectacular use of extramusical sounds to create some haunting imagery.

From the clocks that signal the beginning of “Time” to the ringing cash registers of “Money,” not to mention the burst of psychotic laughter and the heartbeat that begins the entire journey, the album is a psychedelic masterpiece that questions our dwindling sense of humanity (are we in fact becoming these machines?).

More recently, the Baltimore-based experimentalists Matmos created an entire album using sounds from their washing machine…. And then performed it! What I love about this is that it succeeds in imagining the sonic environment from the perspective of a washing machine — these are the sounds of life for this machine!

Start by choosing the machine with whom you will be sharing your state of consciousness. Then think rhythmically, melodically, lyrically, about your dual life. In other words, think musically. And hey, don’t discriminate — toasters can be composers too!

What might you come up with? Let us know!

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