Practical EDM Analysis 1: Dada Life – Happy Violence
I attempted to recreate Dada Life – Happy Violence using Abletone 8 Suite as the digital audio workstation. This was intended to better my understanding of the composition and production processes that were involved. I identified and re-wrote the bassline, melody and drum patterns which I think are very close to the original, however the production does not carry the same level of quality. I am still configuring the chord and organ patterns and I intend to complete these within a couple of weeks.
Despite the same drum patterns and melody, this track lacks a lot of the aesthetics of the original track produced by Dada Life (listen to link below).
Although there are clear differences in the sound quality, I used this initial reconstruction to perform the first attempt of analysis to better understand its construction and also to identify effective methods of analysis. Using Ableton Suite 8 as the platform, the reference material was loaded onto the ‘Arrangement’ page where the waveform of the music is visible. By looking at the waveform, it is possible to see visually where the sections of the track are divided and the structure can almost be determined visually. However, it was also necessary to listen to the track for changes in the instrumentation (such as the kick dropping out or percussion being added in). These changes signaled a new section and were identified and noted using Ableton’s locators. The locators in the diagram below (1 to 12) indicate the twelve sections of the track. Using Ableton as the visual interpretation.
[Screenshot of Dada – Happy Violence (Original Mix) Waveshape in Ableton]
At first glance, it is possible to identify 10 main sections equally spaced out on the waveshape (11 if you look closely). It is possible to see that there are four beats (kick drums) in a bar and four bars in a phrase. The track begins at locator 1 with four elements; a kick, bassline, clap and percussive snap sound. This develops and more elements are added after sixteen bars (at locator 2). The first ‘chorus’ comes at bar thirty three at the third locator (01:00 minute) when all the elements playing in the first thirty two bars end abruptly and two new synthesized sounds are heard. This section in EDM terms is called a ‘break’ (Quote) and lasts for a duration of seventeen bars (00:30 minutes). The break builds up to a climax and drops back into the initial elements with the new synthesized sounds playing on top, at locator four. This pattern continues for 16 bars. After 65 bars, at locator 5, a few elements are dropped out and the motif is cut short which plays for 15 bars. On the 16th bar, all the elements are dropped and only the synthesized chords a white noise sound effect is heard. This leads into bar 81 (locator 6) which is the main chorus or ‘break’. This break begins with just the synthesizer playing a melody and another synthesizer playing a chord on top of it. The tension builds at bar 97 (locator 7) when a snare drum starts playing a 4/4 rhythm on top of the melodic sequence and the sequence is pitch shifted towards the higher octave. At bar 113, the instrumentation stops abruptly and a chord sequence is played for one bar. It is slightly surprising that the beat does not come back in on the 113th bar (locator eight) which would be another 16 bars after the initial, but comes back in at bar 114.3, making the initial section 17.3 bars. The following two sections, between locators 9 and 10, are exactly the same as the sections between locators 4 and 6 (just repeats). The next section, between locators 11 and twelve, is the outro and has the same construction as the previous section 10, however a low-pass filter was applied to the bassline which leads to the final phrase.
By looking at the structure of these tracks it is fair to state that the elements can be seen as layers like building blocks. Studying the diagram below, it is possible to see how the structure develops in layers of instrumentation. The diagram demonstrates simply how the analysis object begins with five layers, progresses to seven layers and evolves by adding and removing layers.
Drum Pattern 1. This was the drum pattern used between bars 1 to 16, 49 to 64 and 113 to 128.
As discussed earlier in this blog the kick fundamentally plays 4/4 in a house track, and this analysis object is no exception. This is the solid foundation of the track, it creates the greatest impact out of all the instruments when it is dropped or when it comes back in. The clap rests on the second and fourth beat of the bar. This clap creates the feeling that the drum loop is complete and arguably has the second greatest impact when it is dropped from or added to the pattern. The second clap is layered on top of the first clap on the fourth beat and creates a subtle change of the clap sound that might not be heard unless listened to from an analytical perspective. It makes the drum loop more interesting by taking away the monotony of using only one clap. The off-beat kick drum at the end of bar snaps the drum loop back to the start completing the groove.
Drum Pattern 2. This was the drum pattern used between bars 17 to 32, 65 to 80 and 129 to 164.
The only difference between these patterns is the addition of the percussive instrument in the second pattern. This subtle change in instrumentation drives the track and helps maintain engagement. It also acts as a signal to the Dj playing the record that the section has finished which he can use as cue points to begin mixing his next track. The percussive hits act in a similar form to the conventional high-hats of a typical house track. However the first and third percussive hits are played slightly in-between the beat and the off-beat creating a slightly jerky almost tribal like rhythm.
[Image shows main melodic motif]
ON = on the beat OFF = off the beat
The image above displays the full melodic motif that is repeated throughout the track. The initial three notes are played on top of the kick drum which arguably gives them more impact and creates a more aggressive sound. The notes on the off-beat create a snappy rhythm and makes the track sound more interesting. When experimenting with the track on all down-beats, it has a completely different sound – less aggressive and much of the energy is lost. When the notes are all played on the off-beat, the energy carries better, however it does not have the impact as when they are mixed between off-beat and on-beat. Clearly a combination of off-beat and on-beat combinations is vital to conveying an effective rhythm.
The bassline is very simple; four sustained notes on the beat. The notes are sustained just long enough to decay just before the following note is played, thus making the notes more distinct. It plays well against the melody is predominantly on the off beat.
IV) Melodic / Motif content
Analysis of Intervals
The melody was analysed for the movements between the notes i.e. the intervals.
[Steps = semitones]
1.0 C > G = 5 steps down 8.0 G# > G = 1 step down
2.0 G > C = 8 steps down 9.0 G > D = 5 steps down
3.0 C > G = 8 steps up 10.0 D > D = 0 steps
4.0 G > A # = 3 steps up 11.0 D > D# = 1 step up
5.0 A# > G# = 2 steps down 12.0 D# > D = 1 step down
6.0 G# > D# = 5 steps down 13.0 D > C = 2 steps down
7.0 D# > G# = 17 steps up
Full four bar melody (up / downs) =
Full four bar melody (interval size) =
The timbre of a sound is identifiable through its harmonic content. The timbre of the instrumentation is crucial for making the track sound interesting. It plays an important role in formalizing the characteristics of the sounds; whether generic, unpleasant, exciting etc. Synthesizers are complex instruments used in electronic dance music and are capable of creating interesting and identifiable sounds. However if there are too many effects or the timbre of a sound is overpowering it can result in the mix sounding muddy and lacking impact. (Snoman 2009i; Hewit 2008i). Timbre (in music) is defined as;
“The quality of a musical note or sound or tone that distinguishes different types of sound production, such as voices or musical instruments. The physical characteristics of sound that mediate the perception of timbre include spectrum and envelope. Timbre is also known in psychoacoustics as tone quality or tone colour.”
– Anon (No date)
The most important timbre of an electronic dance music track is arguably the synthesizer patches. However, this presents a challenge in process documentation. It is extremely difficult to replicate a synthesizer patch without being able to see the method the artist used to produce the sound due to the vast number of possible settings the synthesizer can be set to. Despite this, the author attempted to recreate the sounds as accurately as possible for the purpose of the project.
Timbre: Bass Synthesizer
[Figure 17. Bass synthesizer in Ableton]
The bass synthesizer is comprised of two oscillators; a saw tooth and a sine wave each one octave apart.
The synthesizer attributes which seemed to define the sound most closely were identified by the author as the oscillator wave shapes and their amplitude and filter envelopes. The synthesizer information was then collected in numerical data format which allowed results to be compared with other productions. Thus this table was devised to showcase the results. (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release = ADSR).
[Figure 18. Table shows synthesizer make-up]
[Figure 19. Ableton overdrive]
Ableton’s overdrive (analogue compressor emulation) was inserted on the synthesizer to add slight distortion and give the synth a grittier edge.
[Figure 20. Ableton compressor]
Finally the sound was put through a compressor using very hard compression settings, which resulted in a gain reduction of approximately -6db. It was intended to maintain the perceived loudness of the bass and act as a amplitude envelope control.
As mentioned above, an exact replica of the synthesizer settings used in the original production was nearly impossible to reproduce, even for an expert, due to the limitless number of effects and synthesizer settings available. The table above shows the settings for the bassline following the original as closely as possible. Although not perfect, these synthesizer settings match the original settings as much as possible and provide an insight into how the original synthesizer patch was created.
Timbre: Melodic Synthesizer
[Figure 21. Ableton analog synthesizer]
The melodic oscillator was constructed using two oscillators; a square wave and saw tooth. As displayed above, a high pass filter was only applied to the saw tooth oscillator and intended to take just the low end to allow the square wave through.
[Figure 22. Table shows synthesizer make-up]
Summary of First Analysis Attempt
Although the structure and melodic information could be replicated accurately, this experiment encountered a few difficulties which could prove to be a threat to the project. It was extremely difficult to reproduce accurate synthesizer sounds due to the complex nature of synthesis and the endless setting options. If the synthesizer sound is not able to be replicated without an ear for synthesis production then it could demonstrate that the art of synthesis is too complex a process and therefore not be included in the step-by-step guide. However, the reinterpretation did appear successful so with more practice and further research, these issues can hopefully be overcome.