How To Write Brainwave Entrainment Music

About four years ago, I was in a rather curious phase in my journey as a composer. I was involved in writing and producing music that had what’s called “brainwave entrainment”. The works that I wrote for such a purpose pretty much sounded like this:

Take note that it’s best to listen to this music with your eyes closed and with headphones on:

This particular piece that I entitled “Night Sky” was released under a record label that was called a7records and is now known as Roundwaves. Now, what the heck is the purpose of all this? Music written with brainwave entrainment techniques (a.k.a. binaural beats) is part of what we can call “functional” or “applied” music i.e. music that is not solely written for simple listening pleasure or entertainment. Such music includes those used in film, video games, animation, etc. If music for movies enhances the viewing experience to a whole new level (try watching films without music, they suck!), brainwave entrainment music is designed to put you in a particular state of brain activity. Why? The theory is that setting your brain’s electrical activity into a particular phase will help facilitate various functions such as eliciting sleep, improving concentration, helping you to relax, excite you, etc. As it is universally known, music is a very powerful agent for altering your state of mind. You feel pumped up when listening to speed metal as you go across the freeway. You kind of feel very cheesy when you hear David Pack sing “You’re the Biggest Part of Me”. You kind of what to bob your head up and down when you hear some kind of four-on-the-floor drum and bass hit. Music with brainwave entrainment built into it is kind of like that too.

Now, the question is how do we actually go about writing music that is theorized to have the effect of relaxation, sleep, and other effects? Here goes:

  1. Know what kind of effect you want to elicit first before you go write your track. Do you want your listener to just relax and chill? You need your music to elicit an Alpha wave response. You want them to go to sleep? Go Delta wave. Go ahead and read up on what these brain waves are and what they’re associated with. Start by reading this Mental Health Daily piece.
  2. We need to generate the basic backing track for it, and that basic backing track is something that has a binaural beat that is equivalent to the brain wave activity you are trying to produce. To do this, you need two sine waves, tuned to a barely audible bass or contrabass frequency, one panned hard left and the other panned hard right. Now, it is VERY IMPORTANT that the two sine waves are tuned in such a manner that the difference between them will create an oscillating beat equal to that of the frequency of the brainwave you’re trying to elicit. For example, the sine wave to the left is tuned at 50 Hz and the sine wave to the right is tuned to 38 Hz. The difference between the two is 12 Hz, the upper limit of Alpha waves. The easiest way to do this is to use Audacity to generate these sine waves that are tuned to the exact frequencies you need. The length of this binaural beat track (or tracks) depend on how long you want your music to be. Usually 8 to 10 minutes is enough.
  3. Make sure that the sine waves you use for your binaural beat is in key to the music you are going to write. This is plain musical common sense. Why? First of, you want to make the music as pleasant sounding as you want. Tune your sine wave to a root or a fifth. Second, anything atonal or dissonant will only irritate your listener. For instance, if my music is in the key of G and I want Alpha waves, my left sine wave is in 24.5 Hz (G0 if A4 is 440 Hz) and my right sine wave is 36.5 Hz (about a microtone below D1 if A4 = 440 Hz). 37 minus 24.5 is 12 so I expect my binaural beat to match Alpha waves. In some instances, you may have to adjust the pitch of your sine waves accordingly if your music changes to distant keys. The point is that your sine waves (more or less) have to be in tune to the music.
  4. As for the amplitude of your binaural beats, it should be kept to a minimum as possible. You bury it in the music and it should be more felt than heard. This is the reason why we usually tune our sine waves to bass frequencies.
  5. When your binaural beats are set, write your music over the binaural beats. Notating it first on paper (or your scorewriter) or improvising over it doesn’t matter as long as you get to have appropriate music over it.
  6. Make sure that the music is LONG. We are not writing a radio hit here folks! Not everybody can fall asleep, concentrate, relax in just under a minute or two.
  7. You can write in any genre as long as it is appropriate for the effect that you want. You surely won’t want screaming metal guitars on your sleep music, right? It’s just common sense.

I suppose these steps should be enough to get you started in writing your first brainwave entrainment piece. If you all think I missed out on something, please leave your comments below.

Solo Piano Music by Mark A. Galang Featured on “The Eskalets” by Christine L. Villa

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About two months ago, I received a commission to write solo piano music for “The Eskalets”, a short story in DVD format by Christine L. Villa, a children’s book author and poet. For this particular project, I chose to perform and improvise a mashup of four of my solo piano compositions. For now, I can perhaps call that particular mashup as — guess what –“The Eskalets”.

If you’d like to discover the story of four baby robins and and their journey starting from their nest up until they learn how to launch themselves up into the air, click on this link (or the photo above) and purchase the DVD direct from Christine. I am sure that the captivating story of the Eskalets would teach your children the value of family, the way to deal with adversity, and the road to becoming independent.

Remembering “Archery: Shoot the Apple”

Archery - Shoot the Apple

About a year ago I believe, I worked on this physics-based game called “Archery: Shoot the Apple”

I was successful in designing sounds and composing music for the game from scratch. The good thing is that anybody can still purchase the game from Amazon or Barnes & Noble for $0.99.

The thing that amuses me most this time is how they describe my sound effects as “funny”. I would take that as a compliment.

Berocca Aluminum Tube Kazoo

It’s true: You can create musical instruments out of garbage. Being inspired by Frank Zappa as well as the Landfillharmonic, I decided to go create an improvised instrument and improvise some solo quasi-trumpet garbage jazz on it.

I’ve been taking Berocca (the fizzy vitamin tablets) for the past three weeks now as supplements. As a result, I have these leftover aluminum tubes. I thought that perhaps I can turn these tubes  into musical instruments so I made a kazoo with one of them. I cut out the other end of the tube, place some kind of wax paper membrane on the other end, secured it with a hair tie, and voila I got myself a kazoo. I wanted to know how it sounded like  so I filmed myself. It sounds okay to me and I think it would be useful in various musical creations. At the very least, I can grab the attention of my cats with it. It’s either the cats love it or it emits certain sound frequencies that they themselves can only hear so well that it’s annoying.

Cycfi Research Neo Pickups Now Available!

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Yes, folks. Cycfi Research has decided to release the latest incarnation of the Neo Pickups. The Neo Pickups are full-range, low impedance (active) pickups that can be powered via lithium ion batteries (the kind of stuff that powers your smartphone). If you’re a luthier or a DIY musical instrument builder, this might be the thing that you are looking for. If you have luthiery knowledge plus the capability to understand wiring diagrams, then these pickups might just be the thing you will need to amplify any steel-stringed instrument such as guitars, mandolins, pianos, etc.

The Neo Pickups are for serious hackers and DIYers only. If you’re an end-user (such as myself), these are not for you. You will need the assistance of somebody who knows electronics well in order to get them working for you. As far as I know, end-user versions of the Neos are currently under development. However, I do think that this initial release will pave the way for the end-user version to make its appearance.

I have used the prototype pickups before, and one thing I could say is that the sound of these pickups is comparable to a canvass i.e. the transparent sound of the pickups plus EQ for filtering will allow you to get all sorts of guitar tones that you can think of. At the bare minimum, you can emulate single coils from Strats,  humbuckers from Les Pauls, a shamisen, a classical guitar, a dreadnought acoustic, and other kind of stringed instruments by merely getting a spectral analysis of the instrument you wish to mimic and then apply the information to create EQ settings that will let you get the sound that you want. Goodbye piezos as far as I’m concerned.

To purchase your set of Neos, please go to http://www.cycfi-research.com to purchase. It costs $25 per coil so a set of six coils for your guitar costs $150.

For more information, read Cycfi Research’s own announcement at http://www.cycfi.com/2014/04/its-official-neo-series-now-available/.

Going Back to Facebook?

Okay. If you are one of those 10 in a billion readers of this blog, you might be aware of my views towards Facebook (not so pretty). However, given the sort of livelihood I’m trying to keep, it is necessary for me to engage in social media. I realized that (regardless of how much I dislike it) this should be done. This is something I learned from a seminar conducted by Filipino advertising guru Roberto Caballero (they guy behind the WOW! Philippines advertising campaign). Therefore, I have created another Facebook account. The big difference now is that this new account is strictly from a professional visibility standpoint. The likelihood of seeing yours truly on Facebook as “Mark the Person” is highly unlikely.

Anyway, should you find it within reasonable bounds, please visit my Facebook page at  https://www.facebook.com/markgalangmusic. “Likes” are much appreciated. Thank you very much. Now, it’s time to go back to chores and writing music under my work-for-hire contracts.

The Joys of Using Contemporary Technology and Electronic Musical Instruments

In an ideal situation, I would have a perfectly soundproofred and treated recording studio with a live room, a vocal booth, and a dead room. I would have the drum kit of my dreams in its own booth mic’ed up properly, and I would would have another room for guitars, a grand piano inside the live room, a rack of synthesizers, an orchestral room (with instruments), etc. I could go on and on about what I would like to have. Unfortunately, budgetary constraints would not permit this. I don’t have a million dollars to fund such things. Thanks to latest advances in technology, I don’t need too much equipment in my home studio.

I actually make a living with an electronic piano from the ’80s hooked up via MIDI, a couple of guitars, a condenser mic, a multi-effects pedal with modeling, a tube amp, a number of VST instruments, scorewriters and a DAW, an audio interface (that I should replace soon!), and other bits and pieces here and there that make noise. That’s about it. Thanks to VST instruments, I have access to great quality sounds that about 10 to 15 years ago I would not have such as orchestral sounds, horn sections, and drums. Many thanks to the people who have made home recording a lot more convenient!

At this point, I don’t have the funds for acoustic treatment or soundproofing, and so I have to make do with recording acoustically using a number of workarounds such as putting a thick comforter or blanket over my amp and mic for recording electric guitar old-school style, recording vocals during the “dead” hours of the day (or inside the car using my Zoom H4n). So far, I have been successfully recording acoustic stuff this way, not the most ideal thing in the world. However, these workarounds will certainly fail if I were to record acoustic drums. Not only will I have a lot of difficulty finding mics (which I don’t have) or the quietest pieces of hardware around, I will also be in trouble with my wife (who will most certainly wake up to the noise of drums) as well as the neighbors. I had experienced getting a phone call from an irate neighbor once when I was rehearsing with Jacob’s Ladder (about 15 years ago!), and I’m not going to have that kind of trouble again. And so, the solution for that would be MIDI capable electronic drums. I found this video that will explain better how electronic drums are advantageous over acoustic drums, fully convincing me that this is the way to go if I’m going to do drums faster rather than programming those parts (a tedious process, BTW):

Speaking of workarounds, even highly acclaimed bands like Haken (my son’s current favorite) use such techniques to record their albums. The next video shows how Haken vocalist Ross Jennings records some of his stuff:

As you can see, you can record vocals in an attic with some blankets, duct tape, and a good mic hooked up to a DAW. Of course, nothing beats a professional recording studio for the job, but workarounds like these augmented with today’s technology can deliver results that are pretty much close at the fraction of the cost.

These things, dear readers,  are only a few examples of the joys of using contemporary technology and electronic musical instruments.

 

Cycfi Inc., Neo Pickups Coming Out…Soon!

I happen to be one of the few people who have tried out the prototype of Cycfi’s Neo Pickups, and so I have first hand experience of how awesome they really are. With its flat response, Joel (Mr. Cycfi Research himself) and I were talking about sculpting and shaping its sound to whatever we want, only to be limited by the capabilities of a parametric EQ and one’s imagination. I remember saying that one of the most basic things you can do with it is mimic an acoustic guitar. A few days later, we now have this video demonstration:

Notice that this guitar player is assuming a classical guitarist’s seated posture, playing Francisco Tarrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” on a Fender Strat, but it does not in any way sound like your typical quacking Strat! (I would know how a Strat should sound like because I grew up with one). Matter of fact is that it sounds eerily close to a concert classical guitar. I’ll be first to admit that (having had some classical guitar training) certain nuances like the sustain and attack of the notes would give away that it’s not a classical guitar, the timbre is very close that only classical guitar nuts (like some of the people I know) would be able to tell that it’s not. Perhaps there is some form of bias on my part that I know it’s not a classical guitar (having physically manipulated that guitar), but it would be safe to assume that a casual listener might not be able to figure it out.

This is a point that was proven in a blog post by Roy C (http://royconguitars.blogspot.com/) regarding the Neo Pickups. In this test, there are four clips and the challenge was to try and identify what sort of guitar and/or pickups were used in each clip:

Is it a MIDI guitar, a Martin, a Taylor, a Gibson, EMG 81s? None of the above, folks! It’s just a Fender Strat with Neo Pickups. Heck, the guitar could have been a cheap knockoff and it would have sounded like some of the most expensive guitars in the world with those pickups. I suppose it would be safe to say that what the E-Bow people call “string synthesis” could be easily done with Neo Pickups. Who needs MIDI guitars when you have these, right? And it is very obvious that I am GASsing for one of those that I already envision taking out the EMGs on my ESP LTD and replacing them with these. Without a doubt, I will soon write a composition utilizing these pickups (with the side effect of fulfilling one of my composition requirements at the university, hahaha!).

The Cycfi Neo Pickups target release date will be somewhere around March 2014. For more details, visit http://www.cycfi.com/projects/neo-series/.

The Never-Ending Quest for Tone

Every musician wants to sound excellent, hence we find the never-ending quest for tone. You see it everywhere: at the NAMM and Musik Messe shows, musician’s forums, and music stores. At the dawn of the internet age, everybody can call himself or herself an expert, even without qualification, and thus we see conflicting information about how to achieve great tone as a musician. What is it that can really lead us to achieve that perfect tone? As far as musical instruments are concerned, I have come to the conclusion that there are two general things that lead to great tone: musicianship and craftsmanship.

I once learned from a short video tutorial by guitar giant Steve Vai that great tone starts at your fingertips. I do believe that to be true. My piano teacher, Prof. Richelle Rivera, had always stressed that proper hand positioning, correct wrist motion, and exploiting gravity produce the desired full tone over the piano. This is the reason why seemingly thin-framed pianists like Franz Liszt as well as my teacher (a rather petite woman) could achieve a sound like thunder over the piano even though they are not muscular like John Petrucci. This is one reason why my piano teacher wanted me to practice those wrist motions as I play through pieces over and over again against a constant metronome beat, something that would result in impressive tone and robot-like precision. Guitars and violins also follow the same principle that training results in the best possible tone. Although I can find whatever note I want over a fretless violin fingerboard, I could never bow a violin properly unlike my son who years of training developing his bowing hand. It was only after a number of years of practice on the guitar that I could achieve the kind of tone I wanted on that instrument. This is why they say that every great musician will be able to play great music even on the crappiest of instruments.

Craftsmanship is the second ingredient towards a great tone. You cannot really justify that tone comes out of tonewoods. Even if you give a mediocre luthier excellent materials like hard and flamed maple, ebony, Brazilian rosewood, and cedar, all of those expensive materials will still yield an instrument that sounds like crap. Hand over plywood to an excellent luthier and he will produce a cheap $75 guitar that sounds like $3,000 one. I have a Greg Bennett CD3 that can rival the tone of an expensive Gibson Les Paul. I also have a Korean-made Axtech Stratocaster copy that sounds like a Fender Strat and have tested a Chinese-made Jay Turser guitar modeled after the Fender Thinline Telecaster that can give the original a run for its money. The point is that excellent craftsmanship will always yield an excellent tone.

We can all sum up my ramblings as follows: To acquire excellent tone, practice on your instrument regularly and listen to yourself. Afterwards, when you are about to buy your next guitar, inspect for craftmanship and test it to see whether or not it can provide the best tone you can possibly have.

Early Evening at Cycfi Research, Inc.

Last Saturday, I got invited by the man behind the Cycfi Alpha, Mr. Joel de Guzman, to visit his facility somewhere in Quezon City to discuss ideas and possibilities regarding music as well as the innovative projects he undertakes. Realizing that this was one of those opportunities that I should not miss, I gave Joel my schedule and when I would be able to go visit. Fast forward to around 5:45 p.m. yesterday, I was with my son at the gates of what appeared to be a 21st-century-state-of-the-art residence, complete with tight security, a laboratory, and a properly built and well equipped studio. The first impression I got was he pushed the concept of SoHo to the extreme. The gate was opened and Joel welcomed us into his home office and conference room.

Joel de Guzman Cycfi Research Inc

(Mr. Joel de Guzman)

Joel de Guzman is one of those rare, forward-thinking individuals. He is an IT consultant, software developer, musician, instrument maker, and open-source advocate. It’s not off target to say that he’s the local Bob Moog. He strongly believes in give-and-you-shall-receive philosophy so much that he posts his designs and concepts freely on the web which include his hexaphonic pickup design and the carbon-fiber/glass truss rod. He is a living testimony of a person who has been blessed so much because of his belief in giving. One could easily see that the gates and storehouses of heaven have opened up for him because of his unselfish attitude in life.

We talked about a lot of things, mostly exciting and forward-looking ideas for making music. Right there and then, I realized that I was in a presence of a genius. The things we were talking about were mindblowing to say the least. Joel was particular about how he could use waveshaping to explore new timbres and techniques when using the full-range hexaphonic pickup that he has been developing. The math of it all was mind-boggling to me (being a person who has struggled with math) but I guess I had enough knowhow to understand how I could use it. The idea of synthesis using the guitar’s strings and pickups as an oscillator has been expored by a number of other institutions. Companies like EHX have played with the idea by developing the POG and HOG pedals and Moog Music even has its own guitar for that purpose, but Joel made me realize that you could do more than that with his full-range pickup, a parametric EQ, and a waveshaper. He also had the idea of hiring me as his child’s music theory tutor. Sadly, I could not accommodate his request, given the distance I would have to travel to go there and give lessons.

After discussing ideas about how we could work together, Joel gave us a tour of his facility. The Alpha prototype was in the process of a paint job so he was not able to demonstrate how it sounded like. We went into his recording studio and he showed me a Fender Stratocaster with the prototype hex pickup installed. The pickup sounded rich on a Marshall combo that the guitar was plugged into. More than that, the hexaphonic output of his pickup was also connected to his Logic Pro based DAW. How it sounded like was something I have never heard on any other guitar. It was phenomenal! Imagine having individual control over each string having its own excusive output routed to a dedicated channel. Andres Segovia once said that the guitar is an orchestra unto itself. Joel’s hexaphonic pickup pushes that to a whole new level. I was very fortunate enough to have tried it for myself.

Mark@Cycfi Research Inc 01-28-2014

(The author smiling like an idiot with Joel’s Fender Strat and the Cycfi Hexaphonic Pickup)

It sounded crazy good with each string having a different position in the sound field starting with the low E string panned hard right and the high E string panned hard left. Since the pickup had a flat frequency response of 20 to 20,000 Hz, you could do all kinds of things with it and a parametric EQ. One of Joel’s intentions in developing this pickup is to disprove the idea that a full-range pickup is brittle sounding. Upon strumming my first chord on his guitar, I realized that he was right. Noodling with Joel’s Strat for a bit made me see all sorts of things that you can do with it. Some of the more basic things I thought I can do with it is faking an acoustic guitar with a solid-body electric (without the need for piezo saddles) and simulate any kind of pickup. That’s just the tip of the iceberg! Applying distortion to it while it is rigged in a hexaphonic manner was very interesting: full triads sounded very nice and very different. Rather than the aggressive high gain sound you usually expect from your typical humbuckers running into Marshall stack, it sounded more like a guitar orchestra. You could actually play your thirds with the gain all the way up to 10 without sounding harsh or dissonant. I could already imagine setting up six amps in a room or hall, surrounding both guitarist and audience, with each string’s signal going through each amp, exuding music like you’ve never heard before. An added bonus is that the pickup is so quiet even with distortion that the only thing a noise gate would do in this instance is to turn down the ambiance from the amp itself. Another thing currently in development is for this pickup to function as a sustainer. Once Cycfi Research finalizes the design of this pickup, I’m very sure that the serious musician will have to rethink about how to make a sound with a guitar. The question of single-coil versus humbucker would not matter with this kind of pickup. Rather than getting a pickup installed to give your guitar a certain kind of character, you can get the exact kind of voicing you want with this hexaphonic pickup by just using EQ.

Cycfi Hexaphonic Pickup Prototype

(Cycfi Research Hexaphonic Pickup Prototype)

To cut the story short, I was very happy and honored to have met Joel. I hope that this will be the start of a mutually beneficial working relationship. More important than that is the fact that I have met a new friend who has the same sort of passion that I have for something new in music, finding ways to make music that’s really progressive.

To find out more about Joel and his projects, visit http://www.cycfi.com.