Drops on Demand

05 May 2014

Composing Drops To Ship

So, I thought it high time to share some thoughts on how the musical side of this project is coming together. After all, we need some drops to ship, right?

My aim within the Dropship is to create a generative music system that will constantly churn out fresh beats for literally as long as you care to listen. When you turn the cranks, the music should build naturally and seamlessly towards a dizzying frenzy that feels like it’s constantly rising without ever quite reaching climax. Finally when you smash the Drop button, the music should deliver the pay-off you’ve been working for with enough gut-inverting, booty-shaking decibels to make your bike’s inner-tube burst. After a few progressions of the post-drop beats, the music should gently and naturally decay down to a more relaxed state, from where the cycle begins again.

During the build-up phase, if our potential drop-recipients stop turning the cranks, the music should gently decay back down to it’s pre-build state. However, at some point during the build-up phase, the music will have reached a sufficiently cacophonous state to warrant the drop, and the Drop button will light up. This is ‘Drop Mode’, which should feel like an extension of the build-up, where the music infinitely shifts up in tone, until the Drop button is pressed. The Drop Mode allows people to ready themselves for the drop without being preoccupied with the cranks, and it also allows us to better quantize the event so that it definitely occurs at an effective point in the musical loop.

It seems to me that the most challenging part of this project will be to program enough generative possibilities to ensure that the music doesn’t get too repetitive over time. To aid this, we need to address the range of genres and musical styles that the Dropship will accommodate, the balance between real-time synthesis and loop playback, and the addition of any extra tricks and techniques we can employ to add variety.


The main genres will be dubstep and house, but really, it could be anything with a loud and obnoxious drop. Drum and bass also works well, and when it comes to the pre-build section of the structure, we could be listening to anything from dub and reggae through to baroque (seriously).

Synthesis vs. samples

Clearly it’s not feasible to simply playback loops of all the drops that we want to hear coming from the Dropship, so if we want to have a wide variety of genres, styles and sounds we’re going to have to indulge in quite a lot of realtime algorithmic composition. This means that no melodies, drum patterns or instrument combinations are absolutely hard-coded - rather, the algorithm contains sets of parameters within which thousands of permutations of these elements can exist.

For main melodic instruments such as basses and synths we’ll need to be doing realtime synthesis, rather than relying on pre-produced loops, as this allows us ultimate flexibility in terms of melody, structure and effects processing.

Furthermore, individual one-shot drum samples, sample-synths and vocal snippets will sit alongside synthesised elements to ensure that we have the highest production quality sound available. Extra processing and effects will also be layered on to these sampled sounds in realtime to add yet more stylistic range.

Environmental influences

Once we’ve got a range of generative content in the system, we can start assigning their parameters to various external influences such as time of day, elapsed time and day of the week. This means that we could specify that, for example, dub pre-build sections only occur between the hours of midday and 3pm, and perhaps only on Sunday. Certain genres could appear at any time of day or week, but only appear when the Dropship has been roaming the playa for over 8 consecutive hours. These restrictions will guarantee a certain level of variety throughout the multiple days of BM.

We can also make the musical mood change at significant times like sunrise, midday and sunset, making the patch reactive to its environment.

Will be back with some more specific examples of how the patch is coming along, soon...