Various Early Music Compositions
By Forrest Landry

What can I find here?
This collection of music represents most of my composition efforts -- work that I did from about 1987 until about 1993. Most of this work is about 40 years old, and represents a time in my life that has long past, presented now for your amusement, given that there is probably no other place that anything like this could even be published.

What is available, that I could to listen to?
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This is probably the single best completed piece of music I have composed. It it is intended to be played on a pipe organ, and is heavily influenced by the work of Bach. As such, it is a partial fugue form, where it has a theme, counter-theme, which are then combined and arranged in a counterpunctual style, with various elaborations and embellishments. Obviously, living in far rural Maine at the time, I did not have access to any such instrument, and so attempted to synthesize one purely electronically.

This music was composed on a custom designed music system, with a lot of my own code added to create the specific instrument sounds, composition effects, etc. However, being recorded and rendered on a 486 machine, the synthetic sound quality will (unfortunately) be apparent.

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This specific piece was the last composition I attempted in this period. It is an unfinished piece, due to a bad hard drive crash -- one that simply erased all of my work, compositions and otherwise, that had been done prior to that point. This was especially unfortunate, since after long effort, I had finally achieved a specific musical effect -- total integrative immersion -- which begins at time 5:30 in this recording. Fortunately, I had at least taken a tape recording of the unfinished progress so far, so thus, still have it now.

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From the above larger context, the key section is extracted and repeated. Because this particular segment represented the pinnacle of what I had been striving for musically, I wanted to study the segment to see if I could figure out how to do it again.

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A single instance of the extracted segment by itself. Intended for input to various analyzers to see if the raw underling midi control signals could be recovered. Current software is not quite able to do it. Will try again in a couple of years.

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This is my response and experiment with attempting to implement a more 'new age' style of music. At the time, that style of music was a lot more popular and was seen as 'innovative'. However, I personally found it too often to be too simple for my tastes, and hence, I wanted something that was somewhat richer in form and tonality.

Moreover, for various reasons, I was also rather lonely at the time, and hence, the overall flavor of this music ended up being rather sad.

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This piece is, in this collection, one of the very few which was purely played. Everything else was more composed, as in edited statically, etc, on the computer, whereas this one was simply just expressive of how I was feeling at the time.

I noticed that the quality of the recordings are not so good. What is up with that?
All of this music was composed on home built equipment and 2nd hand consumer electronic gear. This was all that I had at the time, and this did not allow for anything near the level of professional recording quality that is everywhere standard today. Most of these are simple open air recordings made to conventional consumer grade medium quality cassette tape. Aside from having designed the waveform synthesis of the computer instruments themselves, the computer speaker, intended more for user signaling, and maybe for gaming, was not designed for high quality music recording. So the quality of the computer instrumentation is not going to be that good. I attempted, interactively, to get the best performance out of this 1990's era computers as I could, though there are limits to what is possible.

Hence, in some recordings, background sounds will also be heard, despite my best efforts at the time to suppress such effects. These audio tapes were copied about 8 years later onto minidisks, after, in some cases, being moved from one tape to another. About 12 years after that, the minidisks were themselves copied onto the computer, where they were received as wave files, and then transcoded into the 128bit MP3 files found below. Unfortunately, it is also the case that the computer receiving the minidisk audio was occasionally busy, so even more glitichiness was added thereby.

What about the names? Did you name any of your work?
A few pieces have provisional names, though most were never titled. The names shown here are mostly file tracking numbers associated with the minidisks. A few of the given names were recorded on an index file which was also lost, sometime in 2003 to 2006 time-frame.

What else did you write?
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This is a prelude to the song immediately below.

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This is one of the simplest compositions that I did in this phase of my attempts to write new music. What is being explored here is not so much the melody as it is the various shifts and colors that can be added to the phrasing, so most of what is happening is modulation there. The best part of the figurative work is at the beginning, and was also intended to be in a single high melody track, which unfortunately, is now also lost (the necessary track never rendered in the audio recording due to a configuration error on my part at the time of transfer).

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This piece is a self convolution. Essentually, the same melody occurs in the treble and base, and on every two measures, one of these phrases is rotated exactly one eighth note. This gives a shifting phase, out of which the melody line is constructed. The melody you hear is the result of the combination.

The instruments were chosen such that the interaction of the two different shifted versions of the melody would create, via a kind of harmonic recombination, a new 'synthetic' melody -- one that does not actually exist anywhere in the score. This pattern of shifting thus gives a series of phrases in this virtual melody, thus composing the piece. In the end, so as to have an natural sounding ending, the bottom is doubled in time so as to create the possibility of a coda which is then used to end the song.

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This is a longer and somewhat more complex free form composition. I was exploring how multiple instruments could be combined to create a more orchestral effect, though ultimately, I discovered that I was more interested in more fugue like structures rather than just having the instrumentation carry the effects.

Note; there is one glitch in the middle having to do with the minidisk to mp3 conversion, where due to some other process in the OS, there was some sort of transient buffer overrun. I did not notice the problem until years later -- hence it remains in the recording.

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This piece is an exploration and series of experiments in 'micro-structuring' in music. Basically, the idea is to compose the melody not from individual single notes at some pitch, but to instead use of compact fast chords. This offers a much richer textural landscale in which to compose music, and also, because of the added dimensionality, a much more difficult and complex composing experience.

Due to this complexity, this piece is more of a sketch than it is completed music, as I was attempting to find out more of what could be done, particularly in the direction of integrative synthesis, which ended up being achieved elsewhere. The composition itself is mostly a series of starts and developments -- it does not have a proper coda.

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This is another somewhat simpler free form multi-melody composition.

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This piece is a Holloween special. It is meant to be as creepy as possible. Part of the effect and the intent was to explore the use of a bending bar effect in combination with a more traditional sounding great church pipe organ. Partly, this was effected by my obtaining an actual commercial digital synthesizer, with allowed for transmission of bending effects, which an actual physical instrument would never be able to do. Hence, the exploration of these effects is something that was brand new, and actually a lot of fun to do.

Also, be advised, this piece is somewhat longer than it needs to be. Partly this was so it could be played in a loop without sounding too redundant to people coming in from the street who were only stopping by momentarily for Holoween activities (ie, creepy ambient music).

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This is the other of the very few wholly played pieces. It was not composed as it was just my experimenting with the midi recording equipment. It also makes specific use of the bending bar effect.

At the time, I had some idea of what I intended to do extemporaneously, though I did not realize at the beginning that the bend setting was already well out of position when I started, hence the much longer and deeper bend than I expected -- so I had to shift what was playing rather unexpectedly. The net result was so much fun, and shifted the intention so much, I left it in as is, and simply called it good.

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This is not actually a 'song' that I composed -- it is the result of a programming mistake. I was attempting to implement a MP3 player, as at that time, the standard was actually rather new, and players were not at all as common as they are now. I also wanted to understand better how the synthesis worked, to see if I could use those techniques for making more realistic sounding synth instruments (for example, see below).

Anyway, one time when I was attempting to test the player, I set it up to play the opening 'star trek' theme, and rather than hearing that, the granular synthesis unit produced the above (I had setup one of the timing rings improperly). However, the net effect was so interesting I started the audio capture device and recorded the above. Hence it being available here, substantially transformed from anyones original intention. This is easily the most interesting result of a software mistake I have ever made in code.

This is not music. This was my 'Geek Cred' answering machine message. At the time (around 1995), I was doing a lot of contract software engineering, and so I decided that it would be fun to have my answering machine message reflect that. Now, no one has separate answering machines attached to actual land lines for telephone, and my phone number has changed several times since then anyway, so this has no relevance to anything except that it was partially a result of my MP3 synthesis experiments above. It was amusing, and was rather hard to do, so I figured that it may as well be made available for nostalgic reasons. At the time, I simply did not know any other code geeks, so I never really had a chance to show this off. Better late than never.

Where was all of this done?
All of the music linked above this line was recorded in a home studio I setup in a rustic camp building in Litchfield Maine. It was a relatively quiet and isolated place, but also beautiful, situated on the shore of 'Little Purgatory Lake'. A lot of the core work of my metaphysics was done there, along with the music herein displayed.

What equipment were you using at the time.
In the Litchfield studio, which is the only studio I ever myself had, I had a 486 computer running a version MS-DOS 6.0 with a midi adapter, a basic MIDI keyboard, a couple of synths (including a MT-32), an effects processor, a digital transposing sampler, a mixer board, and a 20 channel graphic equalizer.

In all of the music below this line, I was recording using other peoples equipment, computers, etc, in progressively simpler setups. For this next group, I was at the University of Maine at Farmington, using their 486 computer, which had all of the composition support and synthesis done on the machine itself -- only the Midi keyboard was separate. On this machine, I could edit the music using a piano roll interface, and write code to define how the instrument synthesis was done. Hence the sound of the compositions below this line will not be anywhere near as good as the ones above.

So you are saying that the music will sound different?
Quite a bit different. Not only was there a significant gap in time between when the music above was created, and the music below (at least two years between), but the equipment had changed a *lot* in that interval. Everything below was created earlier in time (the songs were composed in reverse order on this page, with better later works sorted to the top). The equipment I had in Litchfield was very much better than I could temporarily borrow when I was at Farmington. It is also apparent that my composition skill had improved in the interval as well. Hence, these are more to document personal interests at the time, then they are presented as being 'listening quality' compositions.

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Those all sound fairly similar.
Yes, partially that was because I had more limited instrumentation and not as much skill in using it. A lot of them are exploring what I could do, and they also reflect something of my mood at the time.

This next group of compositions, I personally think are somewhat better, though they occurred even earlier, by a couple of years. I was traveling by bicycle in Oregon and had stopped in Ashland Oregon for the winter. In return for dis-infecting the local high-school from a very early software virus infestation, they let me use one of their Mac+ to write some music on. The following three pieces are the result.

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Note, this is actually played twice. I was trying to see if I could get better sound quality out of the Mac+ speaker, using different instrument tonality. The computer itself had a 2 inch speaker (and no other audio output) so the recording had to be open air to cassette tape (you can hear the mechanical switches when the recorder is stopped).

A Mac+ is a fairly primitive machine to be doing work on. And then bounced through more than one tape, then minidisk, then as mp3 files. I am surprised it sounds as good as it does.
Yes. Though even earlier computers were used too. All of the compositions below this line were done on an Apple IIgs.

Note, for some reason, for the next several recordings, the volume is quite low, and you will probably need to max the volume on your playback device to hear them.

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The volume setting problem was fixed in the following recordings.

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This piece was composed manually using actual physical cassette tape. I had a non-midi Casio keyboard synth, and I recorded a few sounds to tape. Then I cut and spliced and re-recorded the tape over itself several times to create repeating figures at different intervals. I made a custom tape drive to get the periodicity, along with another unmodified tape recorder to bounce the signal around, edit, etc. I also had another special tape drive that I had designed so that I could change the playback speed very slightly, and overlay on itself, so as to get overall a kind of phase effect. Basically, the composition was done without any digital equipment. It was all tape splicing, over recording, and mechanical timing effects. All of the sound effects were the result of the way in which the multiple over-recordings of the tape (also a custom modification to the electronics -- bypassing the erase head). It was at least 8 years until I could get similar effects using purely digital computing equipment. The 8 bit computers at this time were simply too primitive for this sort of synthesis.

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I remember that I was attempting to push the limits of what the Apple IIgs machine could do at the time, by choosing a harmonically rich instrument and overlaying as many notes as I could get away with before the machine glitched or halted completely.

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Another even earlier experiment with custom tape manipulation. Multiple overlays so as to create an ambient space effect. You can hear the dry kernel of the this piece, before tape mod, as given from the Apple IIgs speakers here:
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Another tape mod composition.

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Another open air very early music composition recording. The background machine noise is the fan of the computer itself. Unfortunately, on this device, the output speaker was not far enough away from the fan, and no other audio output was available.

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This particular composition is notable insofar as it is my very first attempt at composing music (ever). Moreover, it is also the only music that I have composed that has ever been played on a real physical instrument. I did not have the skill to play it myself, and so these recordings are made with the help of a local music teacher (Richmond Maine), probably in May of the year 1989. Everything else I have composed has only been rendered digitally. This piece was played as our high school graduation intro music -- which also makes it the only piece that I have ever had publicly performed.

The following alternate recording is a different version of the same piece, played at a different time. One of these was a practice session, and the other is the 'finish' version. (I forget which is which, hence am including both renderings). 1 1st_organ_md_314_y_e

Do you still play music?
When the hard drive crash occurred, sometime around 1993, I lost nearly all of my writing, code, and music, everything made prior to that time. The tape audio recordings -- mostly for my reference -- was all that was left.

Given that this happened right after I had made such a key transition in my work, I was truly despondent, and I did not attempt to write or play again for something like 10 years, when I found some people who were exploring west African Drum patterns, and whom I could play with. None of that work was recorded -- all of it was live, and mostly was actual play. It probably would not be as interesting if you were not actually dancing at the time.

Since then -- I last played with that drum group sometime in 2007 (Amherst MA) I have not done much music, though I have been wanting to. Ie, I have not attempted to write anything myself.

I did at least contribute about $10K worth of equipment and support (for video, etc), advice, and occasional edit suggestions, over a 5 year time-frame, to another local music group that I really liked called Vakoum

Basically, I am waiting for inspiration to re-start. Probably this depends more on external circumstance and oppertunity, inclusion, celebration, etc, as much as it does on anything else internally.

Do you do anything with acoustic instruments, or is all of your work just digital?
I bought a 'Dusty Strings' hammer dulcimer sometime around 1998. I love it, though I do not play it very often. Even in my own home when I am by myself, I still feel a bit shy about playing. Moreover, when I am with other people, I do not mind showing what it sounds like, though I feel that my skill is not yet at the level where I could "perform". To me, music feels like actual play, and needing to perform for others comes too close to something feeling more like work.

As far as what my playing sounds like, here is a short video snippit taken by a friend who had hever heard this type of instrument played, so I noodled around for a minute or two, so that she could get the flavor of it.

Video Clip