Behind the Music: Mæstolyte

After 2 years of latency, I finally dug up good ol' Mæstolyte from the compressed depths of my hard drive to make one last attempt at making it sound like music instead of your run-of-the-mill General MIDI masterpiece.

It should be noted that this monstrosity has been lurking around since 1998. This thing is four years old and still doesn't have a convincing ending. Sure, it's got 3 big sections, and everybody who's heard the meat of the piece loves it, but that ending's been haunting me on and off since 1998.

I have never spent so much time tweaking and reworking any project I've ever had any involvement in than on this stupid song. I haven't driven a car that long, I haven't worked a single job that long, I haven't even kept in constant contact with people (aside from family) for that long.

Wherefore Mæstolyte?

Well, barring previous attempts foiled by the crashing of a hard drive, this was the first presentable piece of music I had ever written. It constantly needed tweaking because my skill as a composer was just being uncovered. Naturally, as I grew weary of the constant repetition of the 2-measure melody, I put it back on the proverbial shelf to concentrate on other compositions, which were finished much quicker than even Mæstolyte's first draft.

After quickly finishing pieces like Kangiqsualujjuaq or Omniscience, I was satisfied with my own artistry and let Mæstolyte become more and more antiquated with the passage of time.

COMP 2000 also distracted me from composing hours of danceable (or at least groovable) music with a constant barrage of art-music assignments with near-future deadlines. I didn't mind that; I am very proud of many of the projects I turned in for that course. The only problem was that a very small percentage of that output was recorded, whereas my electronic works were almost immediately available in digital audio form.

My theory is that I left Mæstolyte behind because it was the only piece to this day I've composed entirely in General MIDI instrument patches. I only did it because back in 1998, it was the only tool of tone-generation at my disposal. Since then, I have been gifted with a much nicer expandable synthesizer and the ability to capture the resulting audio with a multitrack hard disk recorder.

It was with this synthesizer that I composed Omniscience and Luminous, using its marvelous and fresh sounds as my sonic canvas. At first, I found it satisfactory to simply capture its sequenced playback as audio ready for distribution, but later, I discovered the sonic advantages of capturing each track separately and mixing them in post production.

This led to my May 2002 composition entitled Epithet. This piece used the multitrack audio editor as my sequencer, and the notation editor in conjunction with the synthesizer to create short clips of source audio for the audio editor to manipulate. After premiering this piece to a few friends, it was obvious that it was much less popular than its predecessors, Mæstolyte, Omniscience, and Luminous, but it furthered my exploration into sound creation and continued my quest for artistic satisfaction.

What followed this project was a relatively large undertaking for a young composer. I decided to re-render and re-mix all of my previous electronic tunes, adding bits here, adjusting pan positions there, flanging this, reverbing that, ultimately yielding a much more satisfactory product than the original 16-channel MIDI capture.

This project was much easier to complete on the later pieces, the only special operation necessary was to capture each channel separately. Mæstolyte, on the other hand, had its own issues. When I first started playing with the capabilities of the synthesizer, I tried playing Mæstolyte through it, yielding the same, hideous result every time. Remembering this every time the idea came to mind, I dismissed the thought as impossible.

It was just a cheap song, rendered on a cheap synth, and no matter what I do to it, it's going to sound cheap. Sure, it was fun, but it was cheap fun

Along came 21 July, 2002: a lazy Sunday afternoon. There was entirely so little to do that I found myself opening up Mæstolyte, reassigning General MIDI patches to more robust QS equivalents, and systematically recapturing every voice used in the piece. I ran some filters, boosted the lows and highs, and before 1 this morning, I had completed the first phase in the rebirth of Mæstolyte.

One look at the multitrack view on my computer will make anyone's head spin. Blocks of sound everywhere, crammed uncomfortably into 5 tracks, enveloped where appropriate, and about 10 separate >5 minute uncompressed .wavs open. The system crashed a few times during the recording process (par for the course when you're processing such a large amount of data through temporary HDD space), but no serious errors surfaced, and the project was nearing a stopping place.

But that pesky ending showed up in my to do list again. All of the endings to the song were bad, but this one was terrible; I can't believe I actually distributed copies of the song with that ending. It goes nowhere, is purposefully out of tune with itself, and adds an extra 60 seconds to the play length. Something must be done to stop this ending from ever being heard again.

An idea came to mind that could put a stop to the whole ending controversy, but I have yet to implement it. But ending Mæstolyte? Doing so would close the longest chapter of my life yet. Many pieces have gone through the entire process of composition from idea to performance since my first piece was started. Maybe its unfinished status is the life force for every piece of music I write. That's a force much bigger than a simple piece of music, bigger even than myself. Who am I to end Mæstolyte?

Alternatively, I could tack on a new ending every few months (or years) and never officially declare Mæstolyte a completed work. After a few years, people will flock to hear what I've done to Mæstolyte in the past year. I could hold the Annual Mæstolyte Festival for the premiere of the full piece with its new ending, and even hand out a program with all the past endings, and my plans for next year's ending. I could set up a table with CD's of the many different Mæstolytes on it, arranged in chronological order:

Or I could finish it and get on with my life.

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