‘Bedtime Nursery Rhymes’ is a little project that I have been working at on-and-off for a few months now amongst all the other stuff that I’m involved in. It grew from a combined wish to work on something that had a more obvious market and also for me to have an excuse to experiment with conceptual sound; playing with sound synthesis is something I have wanted to do more of for a while now.
The idea of the compilation was to choose well-known nursery rhymes that I could use and tailor to work together as a whole to promote calm feelings and aid sleep in children. Also, I have fond memories of certain story books that I read as a young child due to the magical atmospheres they created. If I could create something that would invoke these kinds of magical feelings whilst having a valid use and it also allow me to experiment, I would be very happy.
To create these atmospheres I would need a palette of songs that would invoke visual imagery as well as work towards that calming feeling; the songs chosen were almost of little importance as it was the effect that I wanted to create, however, choosing well-known tunes would have an obvious advantage. So, I ended up choosing: ‘Curly Locks’; ‘It’s Raining It’s Pouring’; ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’; ‘Rock-a-Bye Baby’; ‘Kum Ba Yah’ and ‘Brahms’ Lullaby’ (originally known as ‘Good Evening, Good Night’).
For the sounds I used some synthesizers from the Logic Pro audio recording and production software, the Sculpture synthesizer in particular. Sculpture works on a basis that other synths don’t usually take into account. Synthesizers usually allow you to make various types of sound wave and then merge them together in different ways to produce different sounds. They usually also allow you to manipulate these sounds further using various effects but Sculpture was designed to work a bit more like a traditional instrument. Within the software you effectively manipulate a string like you would do on any traditional, analogue instrument; you get to choose what this string is made from (glass, wood, metal), how the string is being vibrated (plucked, hit, etc) and even how the medium around it is behaving (is it thick like water or thin like air?). Amongst these parameters you also find more traditional synth settings (which I wont go into in fear of alienating the non-musical reader!), some effects and even a control over the imaginary pick-up that converts the string’s vibration into electrical energy (like the pick-up on an electric guitar which enables it to be an electrical instrument). One function of Sculpture in particular that I have not yet talked about is the most interesting for me as well as being important considering the thematic nature of the music: As described, Sculpture allows you to use different types of string manipulation (plucking etc) but you can layer three types on top of eachother and one of these can even be an input from an audio clip. Any audio clip at all can be used to morph your sound and, as will be seen, it is this that formed the basis of some of the tracks.
Now for the actual pieces of music…..
The tune for ‘Curly Locks’ is actually used in various nursery rhymes but I used this one as I wanted to create some visual imagery and I thought a great way would be to make some sounds feel curly… The sounds used here are therefore wavy, slightly pulsating and also move around from one speaker to the other. I also chose to have a bouncing ball effect sounding Sculpture’s imaginary string. Being the most lively of all the tunes I decided that this one should be first.
To enable calm passage into sleep I decided that each track should merge into the next and next up would be ‘It’s Raining, It’s Pouring’. This used the Sculpture synth in a more obvious manner and predictably enough I chose an audio clip of rain to sound it’s imaginary string. I also used a similar idea with ‘Kum Ba Yah’ where I used an audio clip of a fire burning. For both of these tracks I wanted the main melody to be far away from the background noise. With ‘…Pouring’ I wanted to invoke the feeling of being inside , safe and dry behind a window on a quiet evening whilst watching the rain. The rain and uncomfortable wetness that goes with it would be very distant and in real-life it is the rhythmic pitter-patter of the rain on a window that I personally find very comforting. This idea was very similar in the creation of ‘Kum Ba Yah’. For this one I wanted the effect of somebody telling a magical story around the camp-fire before bedtime in a forest that Tolkien may have written about; distant, other-worldly melodies convey the story whilst other background noises emulate the fire and the non-threatening wild-life within the forest. Not somewhere to be scared, but somewhere to excite the imagination.
‘Twinkle, Twinkle…’ was designed to feel like staring up at a clear, silent and soothing night’s sky. I always get a childish wonder and amazement at how vast the night sky is when I look at it and it is this I wanted to capture. Towards the end of the track, the stars even begin to sparkle at various points across the sky. The music then gradually merges into ‘…Baby’ and it is here where I really wanted to step down a gear towards sleep. The rhyme conjures up images of wind in the tree-tops as well as sleep (although I didn’t want to have any mention of any falling cradles!). So, for this I chose noises synthesized to sound like calm breezes and after a while of playing around with the sounds and rhythm, I noticed that I could create a soft, regular breathing noise of somebody sleeping.
Finally, Brahms’ Lullaby makes a soothing entrance to finally lull the listener to sleep with all of the imagery of the previous tracks to fuel wondrous dreams . There was no real obvious connection of sound here for me but I fondly remembered a music box my mum once owned that played this tune so therefore I tried to create a music box tinkle to carry the melody. There are a couple of pre-made music box sounds amongst all the synth on Logic Pro but as they didn’t really hit the spot I ended up creating my own that I felt was delicate enough. The background noise in this track was actually one of the first things that I thought of when I came up with the idea for ‘Bedtime Nursery Rhymes; arguably the most comforting noise we are ever exposed to could be said to be the noise a baby may hear in the womb and I have actually heard a couple of sleep aids that try to replicate this. Of course, I have no scientific basis around choosing the sounds that I did but I could not deny that these sounds really had a pleasing, meditative effect on me. Therefore I decided to create my own version but, as with all of the sounds I created for the collection, I wanted to hint and influence imagination rather than force-feed. The imagination is a powerful thing and above all I wanted to get this working to create fond memories that could even stay with some one into adulthood. I thought that if I could create a special state of mind that would excite and intrigue then I would have achieved what any musician hopes to do. Why should edgy music for adults be needed to achieve this…?