Superhero is a synthetic exploration of the universal story arc of costumed crime fighters known as superheroes. They possess super powers, have secret identities, unrequited love, and continuously battle the same supervillian without ever dying, or if they do, are somehow reborn to fight another day. Superhero story arcs have many similarities, but it is the distinct voice of the superhero that draws us to our favorite characters and stories.
What follows documents how I went about creating each piece and what the resulting compositions mean to me with respect to the superhero story arc but of course I hope that you bring your own interpretation. Enjoy! -bob
Behind the Mask
Superheroes typically have a secret identity, an identity that is not that hard to see through but for some reason, nobody in the story can make the connection. Clark Kent’s glasses are the disguise? Really? The mask also represents that our superhero cannot always be themselves and that inside they still have fears, doubts, and when all is said and done just want to be loved.
Behind the Mask starts off with a solid groove and a bass line that is handled by the Novation Peak. The bassline is shadowed a Strymon Big Sky reverb set to a short vocal tone. The melody, also played using the Peak, is now a short terse variation of the formant tone, wooden and plucky. As the piece progresses, ethereal tones enter that represent Arabella’s inner feelings and thoughts; her doubts, uncertainty and loneliness. The Make Noise Shared System modular is used to provide these haunting tones.
Superheroes get their powers in several different ways; the bite of a radioactive insect, gene mutation, exposure to gamma rays, or because they are not of this planet. Arabella, our superhero in the making, is about to discover her own super power, her own voice and as a result will have to decide; do I use this for good or for gain.
This piece begins with a rhythmic gamelan pattern on the Novation Peak. This gamelan patch is using the Frequency Modulation feature of the Peak’s Filter to achieve the metallic tone. As the track progresses, we are introduced to the voice of our hero portrayed by a formant patch on the Moog Subsequent-37. A formant is a harmonic of a note that is augmented by a resonance. This technique can be used to simulate human vocal tones such as vowels. This format patch is used throughout the collection and you will see how it starts out soft and mild here in this first piece and then gains strength and power as our story progresses.
Arabella decides to use her powers for good. It was either that or use them for evil. She chose…wisely. Oh, Kyoto begins with the sound of an approaching tsunami provided by the DSI Prophet Rev 2 and the Moog Subsequent-37. These patches leverage undulating LFO’s to move through the filter frequency, resonance and oscillator pitch.
Enter the bustle of a Japanese downtown portrayed by a Novation Peak patch that simulates metal sticks playing metal strings, another use of the Peak Filter’s FM feature. Arabella battles the oncoming deluge using her new found super powers. We hear her becoming strong, confident and in charge as she saves the day.
Every superhero has their anti-hero, a supervillain who also has superpowers that rival their own and who looks to oppose them at every turn.
High Noon opens with the Arturia Matrixbrute in Paraphonic mode, comping on a 3-part chord. The combination of each of the three oscillators tweaked to their own sound and the Matrixbrute’s note-to-oscillator assignment algorithm, creates the effect of a wind instrument section in a vaudeville revue. Underneath is a ‘Stranger Things’ arpeggio on the Moog Subsequent-37 and the deep rumblings of a massive bass undertow provided by the Novation Peak.
The Superhero Theme is provided by a classic horn patch on the DSI Prophet Rev 2. The straightforward nature of the melody and brass tone ooze with decency and good citizenship. Our supervillain answers the Superhero theme using a greasy, brass patch playing the same melody on the Novation Peak. It’s a brass patch that uses just a touch of FM on the entry of the tone so that it breaks apart before becoming whole. The melody is also played off beat to enhance the sarcastic reply.
In the third iteration of the Superhero Theme, Arabella’s voice is heard speaking over the theme providing a warning to our villain to go no further. This formant patch is created on the Matrixbrute, using the three oscillators and combining the Steiner-Parker and a ladder (Moog-style) filters with emphasis on two different resonant frequencies to represent a more bold and powerful Arabella. The supervillain replies again and this time showing the she also has the same superpower as Arabella and that Arabella has meet her match. The battle begins.
Arabella reaches down deep and in the final refrain finds a new level to her super power that finally vanquishes her foe.
Its complicated being a Superhero, managing a secret identity, traveling around the world saving the day, every day, day in and day out. It’s exhausting. For Arabella, peace does not come easily.
This piece is a recorded live performance on a modular system consisting of the Make Noise Black and Gold Shared System along with additional modules such as the Xaoc Batumi, Mutable Instruments Rings, Tides and Ripples and several others. There are many parts that come and go and weave in and out to form a complex tapestry of sound and rhythm representing Arabella’s dreams of a simple life, a quiet life, one without such complications.
Many years have passed; we find our hero has gone through many trials and tribulations, won and lost many battles, and has not always acted in the most honorable way as she had hoped she would when she began her life as a superhero. She has many regrets, has lost her way and lost her love. Now in her twilight, she asks forgiveness, she pleads for understanding, and in her final breadth she finds peace.
Redemption combines a simple chord progression provided by the Make Noise Shared System tELHARMONIC and Rene modules. The church organ like patch is gently modulated by the DPO LFO and is sustained by adding a Strymon Big Sky reverb to the signal path. Over the chord progression we hear, for the last time, the Moog Subsequent-37 formant patch as Arabella’s voice soaring over the heavenly bed.
The Allusion of Now
Where am I? Literally where AM I? I can’t feel my body yet, I am. How long do I have to wait and where am I going? I was just about to make tea…
This final piece, void now of Arabella’s voice, combines two unsynchronized arpeggiators, one played by the Novation Peak and the other played by the DSI Prophet Rev 2, to define a floating atmospheric. The Matrixbrute provides the somber chords that come and go..
- Arturia Matrixbrute Analog Paraphonic Synthesizer
- Novation Peak Digital/Analog Hybrid Polyphonic Synthesizer
- DSI Prophet Rev 2 Analog Polyphonic Synthesizer
- Make Noise Shared System Modular System
- Moog Subsequent-37 Analog Duophonic Synthesizer
- Roland TR-8 Drum Machine
- Squarp Pyramid Sequencer
released March 15, 2018
Cover art 'PowerBoy and PowerMan Learn Not to Fuck with Nuclear Weapons' by J. Billbrough
All songs composed, arranged, performed, mixed and mastered by Bob Familiar