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  • Annette Singh

"Var. on Endless Handbag" pt. 4: Process

After having addressed everything else that was poured into that song, I'd like to go over the process behind the making of Variations on Endless Handbag.


Did you know? The entire process of making it took place on Discord, mostly on a locked channel in my server! (I know it's a bit of a shameless plug, but if collaborations like this interest you, feel free to join in!)


Early stages

After having confirmed my friends' participation in the project, I set to work on FL Studio. I wrote for piano and some barebones orchestration -- orchestral strings and xylophone. I had trusty FL Studio's own Flex, which gave me the soundfont quality piano and harp, and Spitfire BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover for the strings and mallets.


The first person besides myself to record for Variations was AkioDaku, who necessarily needed to do so as he was laying down bass guitar. However, he couldn't do so without something to back him up. He needed at least some basic drums to get an idea of the feel.


At the time I had a constraint of three weeks with which to record drums at Soundskills, a creative community space near me. Their regular preamps failed, which meant that at all times when I was recording the drums, I could only use a small USB audio interface with two mics -- a kick mic and an overhead -- plugged into it. Below was my failed attempt on the first week, which Akio used as a reference to record his bass.



The second week of production would prove more fruitful, as by then Akio had recorded bass and BBank had recorded his guitar, giving me more to work with. My drumming was noticeably more confident. After five or six attempts, I managed to capture both audio and visuals for my drum takes, both of which feature in the video below.


(Side note, I needed to take a video of this as I was submitting a soft-released, unfinished version of Variations to an audition, where my performance as a drummer would be gauged. The bonus of it is that I get to share it with you all.)



Later stages

I mixed the soft-released version, but as more instruments were added, it got a bit too much for me to handle. By that point, AlbeGian had recorded / programmed his Hammond organ sections with Arturia B-3 V at his disposal, and Mackievellian was working on his guitar playing for this piece.


It was around this time that LD-W offered to mix the project, a task I happily delegated to him seeing as he has frequently offered me constructive feedback on that front for previous pieces, and I trusted his ear. (Also because he has amassed a computer with powerful systems and a huge amount of VSTs through promotions and giveaways and was willing to give us a hand with what he had at his disposal.) Most notably, he had an instance of Brainworx bx_console N on every single mixer track -- a powerful piece of kit that emulates the Neve VXS Console. You know, that MASSIVE CONSOLE that you see in professional studios!


Mackie took the longest to prepare his guitar sections as his instrument needed fixing up, and he needed to rehearse a good bit before recording.


All in all, the project took somewhere around six and a half weeks from start to finish. In addition to our camaraderie, the hard deadline of 26 June felt a good distance away for the most part, so we felt like we could take things at our own pace. I felt rushed because I had a soft release to prepare for, and a hard release some time later, complete with visualiser to be released on YouTube and on the home page of this very website.


We were all excited for the release of Variations, and we knew that ours was not the only cover of Endless Handbag out there -- I checked; there seem to be at least twenty on Newgrounds, all under different tags. I did make sure to listen to some of them, just to be sure that I wasn't pinching ideas off anyone. I also wanted to see what was already there.



Quick note on the art and visualiser

Would you believe it if I told you that I currently draw on MS PowerPoint?


It's true! Once I hooked up my tablet into the computer, I used the Draw function on PowerPoint to get me those quick sketchlines and those clean outlines later on. But who would have thought that the image would have gone from this...

This is a screen grab from MS PowerPoint featuring the crude sketch lines of what would become the sleeve cover artwork for Variations on Endless Handbag. Later in the article, I describe the image in detail; this is a cruder version of the image with light blue lines on a white background instead.
So yes, in case you didn't know MS PowerPoint had a Draw function, you do now!

...to this? (Worth mentioning is the fact that I only added LD-W's lines into the artwork as soon as I delegated the mixing to him, which was about halfway through production time; I couldn't just leave him out of the artwork because he was as much a part of this as the rest of us. Also, to be clear, the drawing was done on MS PowerPoint; the colouring was done on Autodesk Sketchbook.)

This is the Newgrounds tank against a backdrop of a sunset... or a thermonuclear explosion, take your pick. The background is orange, with eerie darker orange clouds. Sitting on the tank are, from left to right, LD-W, Troisnyx, AkioDaku, and AlbeGian. The latter three are holding their respective instruments in their hands; a drum, a bass guitar, and a keyboard. On the ground in front of the stationary tank are BBank and Mackievellian, seated down. Next to Mackievellian are two guitars, a blonde Telecaster and a red Ibanez, which are BBank's and Mackie's guitars respectively. Both are resting on the front of a tank, and are propped up by a cardboard box which is just out of sight.
Sleeve cover artwork for Endless Handbag, titled "décennie," the French word for decade.

For the visualiser, LD-W and I bounced ideas off each other. He showed me a screenshot of what he had come up with, based on the artwork I had drawn, and I built up on that. At one point, the visualiser might have looked like the image below, but FL Studio -- the program I use both for music-making and visualiser creation -- had some instances of bad code that caused cascade failures in the project.

This is a screen grab from FL Studio 20. Open on here are the playlist with the audio signal and automation clips, and a default plugin called ZGameEditor Visualizer, which helps us make visualisers. The artwork which I described earlier is shown on the mini-screen of ZGameEditor Visualizer, in widescreen format rather than square. In the negative space are black-coloured logos of all of us who were involved in the making of Variations -- Troisnyx featuring AlbeGian, AkioDaku, BBank, and Mackievellian. Beneath these logos is a line, and beneath that is text aligned right: "With additional prod. by LD-W." Above the logos and below the text are two lines from which bars would rise and fall to the beat of the music.
I managed to get a screen grab of this seconds before the errors resurfaced.

LD-W continued and completed it, and sent the visuals to me in their final form, the one that you see on the homepage at the time of writing. I will be putting it into the "Watch" section of this site in due course. He added some radioactive yellow dust in the background, which was a very nice touch.


(Side note: most of the artwork you'll be seeing from me will be cover and visualiser artwork related to future track releases. Some of the images are just purpose-drawn for blog posts, but that's about it. This site showcases my music, after all; I am a musician, first and foremost.)



Final thoughts

I know that I've written a lot about Variations on Endless Handbag. A big motivator for me to write this is to dispel the notion that pieces like these are out of anyone's reach. Yes, some things need to happen and some things need to be learnt, and we need to be in the space to learn these things, and have access to the facilities and resources that enable projects like these to happen. But regardless of whether we have the renown or the resources or the expertise or the requisite skill level, we have dreams, and we should all keep them alive.


Because even when you and I don't have access to the same resources, I truly believe that you are capable of making things that can blow away listeners, and take them to beautiful places. And I want to see and hear more of it from you all. When we make art like this, it's because we have things to say. I know that you all have things to say. Your voices deserve to be heard, through your creations and otherwise.


And don't let anyone take that away from you.


< Back to Part 3




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