About Thien

Put on your favorite headphones and crank up the volume, fellas! We shall navigate this chaotic symphony of life together, one note at a time.

Two-Week Self-Employment Trial | A Curious Reflection

Continuing with the music career experimentation series, I tried to work on my own for 2 weeks this time.

“A self-employment trial?”, you may ask.

Yes. We try a trial before we buy a software, before we register for a class. Why not a trial to a much bigger life decision, like, a career choice perhaps? I like music. I want to do more music. But do I really want a music career? A career shift is certainly intimidating, so I want to make sure that: 1. I can endure it, 2. I will be content with my decision.

Good things is I’ve been dutifully writing journal everyday, so I can look back into my notes with details of the ups and downs between those two weeks. I use Daylio app, by the way, great app! It pops a reminder for me to write a journal entry everyday and rate my current mood. It’s mind-boggling how writing can help clarifying out thoughts. I’ve been having a better sense of what activities I enjoyed and vice versa after I write more! Mentioned similar thing back in the July reflection.

Sat 11/2, Sun 11/3: Organize priorities. Meditate and think about what I want for my career. Organize computer. Think about platforms to upload music. Decided to create a YouTube channel since that platform support easier navigation between songs. The blog will focus more on philosophy of life and music discussion.

Mon 11/4, Tue 11/5: High-performance. Write a lot of music, do MCG work. (even with different timbre, if the melody is not the top voice, and the top voice (not melody) is also moving, actual melody will sound muddy). Noted that I accidentally paid for something but stay calm, learn, and move on.

Composed Clash of the Clans and a short jazz-influenced piece.

Wed 11/6: Exhausted from composing, so read book and watch cowboy bebop, jazz jam at night. Thought of balancing between working alone and working with others in music (ie: film) Learn that if I improvise random things, I will soon run out of ideas, but if I stick to an idea and gradually develop it, I have more material to go on.

Thurs 11/7, Fri 11/8: try singing, practice for an audition. Realize that there is so much to singing that I have yet to master. Followed through with going to the audition even though I tried to chicken out at the last minute. Confronted my fear. Even I suck, nothing happens.

Composed a meditative music piece inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

Sat 11/9: Give myself time to relax after one week, watch a movie, do some low-key tutorials of a Ableton.

Finish composing Dante The Doubtful Detective.

Sun 11/10: Workout, try Tai Chi Chuan, decide to try Brazilian jujitsu. Decided to stop going to beginner band practices. Actively think about priorities in life and things to say yes or no to.

Mon 11/11: Frustration from thinking I’m not able to write music after sitting for quite some time in front of a jazz-influenced piece. Took a break to walk and got out of the negative mindset. I’m not good yet, but I can train to be better. Realize that I will face this in more ways and different forms in the future if I follow this career. So beside the ups, I start to catch glimpse of downs in a self-starting career.

Tue 11/12: Jot down idea for a longer music piece. Tried Brazilian jujitsu. Experienced chicken-out effect at the last minute again but pushed through and happy that I tried it.

Wed 11/13, Thu 11/14: Balance doing work on my own and go to places to hang out with other musicians. Went to SVL open mic on Wednesday and SFO and jam on Thursday. Realize that there could be different groups and activities to join for different purpose and different level of commitment as well as skill, I should choose to spend my time wisely, not just go to any meeting. Realize also that I have the tendency of sleeping ever so slightly but progressively later during the day if not monitored tightly. Some people recognizes me from performing at the open mics in both SVL and SFO, probably because I pour my heart into the performance and do something unique of my own. Should apply this philosophy to any type of content creation if I want to be a distinguishable artist among others. Solid time of being in the music community.

Finished composing Something Romantic, Something Ruined.

Fri 11/15: Should prioritize time of what I do and who to hang out with. Out of politeness yes or fun. Should practice politely decline.

Finished revising Dawn with A Crescent Moon.

Sat 11/16, Sun 11/17: Organize things and focus on the business side of music. Adding videos to my old musics and upload them to YouTube to potentially reach more people. Workout. Read. Doodle some music. Find out about music workflow, administrative stuff.

The goods:

I have learned from the last time and be more content with myself for reaching my exhaustion limit and not able to produce constantly. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so it’s important to take time to relax and do other things, take care of myself. Music is a communication device, so while learning music theory is necessary since I’m still a novice in music, but having a story to tell with music is essential, so get a life, do other things we enjoy as well.

I realize the importance of balancing between music craft and music business. If I want to work in the music industry and make a living, being skillful is good, but not enough. I need to be recognized as a skillful individual as well. That brings in exposure with the music communities. Beside, I need to hang out with people and do projects with other people as well since working in isolation is not healthy in the long run.

The bad:

I realize the self-destructing tendency to doubt myself along the way. When we are doing something with an unclear path. There will be times when we question ourselves at a profound level, is it worth it at all, is this all a joke. I will need strategy to deal with those times. We think and feel differently under those times, which can lead to outragous decisions, so it’s best to plan ahead.

I need to plan ahead which tasks to do at which time of the day. Between the areas of music that I need to learn (composition, ear training, playing piano, singing), music business, reading, writing, general self-improvement, I cannot let instant gratification decides which one to focus on at the moment. Building a routine habit is the best way to make sure I tackle everything with enough time intended.

The mixed-bags: How to prioritize my time

There was some good highlight from the week where I spent much needed time on organizing things, administrative tasks of maintaining my blog, my YouTube channel, and the MCG. These tasks can be mildly uncomfortable and seems like wasting time at times, but this is important to pave the way for creative times.

I took the time to try out some nice new activities, give me different perspective on what else is going around outside of my esoteric world (voice audition, jazz jam, Tai Chi Chuan, Brazilian jujitsu), choose what to continue (I’m sticking with jazz jam and Tai Chi Chuan for now), what to discontinue (beginner band, “polite yes”). These should be planned ahead more and stick to the plan.

The up-lifting:

Still not beaten (Telltale’s The Walking Dead reference anyone?). I’m currently back to my 9-5, but this trial has been informative. And I plan to continue pursuing this career path, which may include some more extended trial periods.

Dawn with A Crescent Moon | The Nguyen Composes

This is a short piece inspired by this beautiful morning sight at 6:30am.

Since I didn’t write this piece in a notation software (I used GarageBand instead), the following sheet is just an outline of melody and harmony for analysis purpose.

If you like this piece, you will also enjoy The Starry Night, aother meditative piece inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night painting.

My composition process for this piece:

I intended for the bass going back and forth with string pizzicato to bring a rhythmic, routine, somewhat hustling feel to the night time. The melody dabbles briefly to Dorian but back to Minor at the end of each phrase so maybe that’s where the folkiness comes from. I want it to represent the beautiful scenery that is always there, longing to be appreciated, but neglected nonetheless by the busy and hustling lifestyle of the night. Maybe the pensive sadness is also inspired by the downward crescent moon like an eye looking down with eyelid almost closing.

But then all of that is washed away by the sun (soon to be) rising at the end, inspired by that bit of pink sky above the trees. I want the sun rising to cast some overwhelming brightness to the piece, thus the Picardy third shifting modes from Dorian/Minor to Major, and the crescendo sustained strings. Hm, maybe I should even increase the volume there a little.

Something Romantic, Something Ruined | The Nguyen Composes

Two people long for, yearn for the magical spark from the beginning. Where did it go?

If you like this piece, you will also enjoy my other melancholic piece Every Journey Ends.

My composing process:

I wrote the slow waltz part at the beginning first and feel that it exudes strong yearning. So I decide to explore that emotion more. The middle part is intended to be the part where the music explores what is being yearned for. It serves as the happier cousin of the beginning, where the harmony stays the same for the most part, repeated, with a cloud on its feet, and spiccato string to provides the dancy feel. The middle part progressively gets happier until it suddenly all come crashing down again at the chromatic whole tone scale climb and fall back down.

I could wrap the piece up here by restating the opening, but I want to add a bow on top of this story. I modulate this piece to its relative major, playing a similar melody to the beginning in the same tempo. Although a major scale usually sounds bright, in this context, it highten the difference with its surrounding, always make me shake my head in sorrow because it’s just too beautiful. After the brief moment of crying out in major, the piece goes back to the original melody and harmony in minor key to conclude the yearning journey, disappointedly that through all that longing, all that imiginary happiness, and crying out for something, anything out there for help, nothing changes. Perhaps, it’s too late.

Note on the romanticism of the piece:

I chose the picture of a couple for this piece since I think it is the concept most often associated with the yearning feeling. But this piece doesn’t necessarily need to apply to romance between two persons. The core feeling of the piece can be applied to romance with an idea, with a concept. The original thing I thought of for this piece is dreaming of a wealthy life, or dreaming of being happy, just to realize that it wasn’t real.

Music connects directly with our feelings while words have to go describe can never describe the precise feeling. Just like I can never use words to explain to you the exact experience of getting punched in the face (not that I did experience it, just close), I can never use words to explain to you the exact experience of listening to a piece of music. It evokes something different for each and everyone, either due to nature, or nurture. So experience music, specifically, and art, generally, for what it is. It doesn’t matter if our interpretations of art differs from the majority’s.

October 2019 – A Curious Reflection

Hello, it’s Thien The Nguyen. We have much to catch up on.

I took off in October to focus on different music activities. I think the model of alternating months of blogging and not blogging is working for me so far. That means one month of intensive writing and composing (and sharing them on this blog), following by one month of pressure free studying and reevaluating my goals.

I believe that deadline is helpful, especially in art to produce and move on to creating the next thing. If the artist is sucked into the black hole of perfectionism, he will not able to move on to learn the next thing. I’m been there. I’ve been so afraid of churning out a bad product that I let it catch mold in my computer for forever. Deadline definitely help with that, it helps us move on, to quit working on the previous project when they are good enough. This way, we will learn, and be able to churn out gradually better stuff day by day. Just have to accept that sometimes we don’t do well, but it’s important to push them out anyway so we can move on to the potentially better one.

And we should not be concerned with whether this recent product met the expected quality that other people expect of us based on past performance. This is exactly why the movie sequels stuck in a rut of repeating the same thing again, they don’t try to experiment with new things, but stick to the old formula that works to please people.

The month off is still necessary, first to avoid stress of constant deadlines, and to dive deeper into things that require more time investment upfront. For example, I tried out a new notation software and a new Digital Audioi Workstation, That requires time of not being able to produce music. But because of this time investment, I can potentially make better music in the future.

Ok, so what did I do in the October?

In October, I pushed a local music composing group into reality. The group is where people compose to weekly challenges, share, and critiques our work, so we can learn from each other. It takes place every Monday, hence this quirky audio I made for the group:

The music composing group is now the reason I enjoy Mondays.

Throughout this, I learn that consistency is key to starting something, when we know there is a need. I know that there isn’t a composing club or group in my local community, so I stick with it. I only do this for my own need of making more friends who share the same passion as I do. The by product is I organized something, figure out the logistic of making music, sharing music, and commenting on each other’s, at first offline, then online.I take the hard work of organizing so I and other people can have a good time only worry about making the best music we can. I’m by no mean the leader of the group, but I did lead in willing this group from an idea into existence.

Then it dawns on me, I tried so much in high school and college to join club leadership positions, but they all feel bland and I didn’t enjoy it. But now, I see this as necessary to get what I want (a music composing group) since no one else is willing to do it. So wanting to lead is the incorrect desire, incorrectly wanting to do something and, if required, lead people in the process is the correct desire

In October, I went to music jamming sessions for the first time and join a beginner band. It was fun, and eye-opening at the same time. I thought I’m decent at music performance until I’m at the band stand, struggle to jump in at the right time for my part.

While improvising, I learn that if I approach it randomly, I will soon run out of ideas of things to do, I’ve already run up and down the highest and lowest notes of my vocal range and varies tempo, what I’m going to do next? When I tried to approach it like a mini composition, which means I established a core idea and gradually expand on it, introducing new idea one thing at a time, saving my vocal range for later iterations of the idea and keeping it slow at first, so I can make it more exciting later on during my improvisation. Improvisation is still composing, but on the spot.

In October, I tried a Cubase (a DAW or audio software), not liking it a bunch, though, due to the complexity. I find myself enjoying writing notes on the staff paper than arranging sounds. I later discovered Dorico, from the same developer as Cubase: Steignberg. I’m loving it. The ease of writing notes on the staff plus the great sound library available meaning I can create better sounding music. Comparison of Every Journey Ends in the old software and the new software.

Audio from Noteflight (old software)
Audio by Dorico (new software). The violin sound is a bit more smooth. But of course, still nowhere comparable to a real performance

In October, I started to transcribe the music pieces of the level that I want to achieve. Transcribe every single sound. This way, I can learn how the great composers arrange different instruments in their piece, how it all fit together, the dynamic of them, and understand the harmonic structure as well.

In October, I started to train my ear so I could recognize different notes in the Major scale so I can potentially identify the chords in split seconds after hearing them, and not necessarily have to replay the same portion many times. It’s definitely slow, but I can see some progress. I can start to hear the different qualities between I IV and V chords while jamming blues.

What’s next, then?

With the slightly better sound quality, I decided to start uploading my music to YouTube. First, this platform makes it easier to look for and jump between my different music pieces, rather than having to look for specific related blog post on the blog. Second, YouTube is more geared toward sound in compare to a blog. But why not Soundcloud, for example? Each social media platform has its own ettiquet. I’m using YouTube pretty much on a day by day basis and know how to navigate it. Also, YouTube is kinda big, if ya haven’t heard.

And of course, I will keep writing, composing. Prepare thyself, especially, thy ear.


Clash of The Clans | The Nguyen Composes

I now upload my music to YouTube as well. Kind of an upgrade. I will gradually update all the older music, too.

The blog will still be used to write reflections, contemplate philosophy, and nerd out about music theory.

If you like the fantasy music, you will also enjoy Welcome to The Sunrise Village.

Here’s the process of writing this piece:

The initial idea was to write a Lydian melody on top of a Phrygian harmony of the same tonic center, hence the clashing nature between them. After writing a few measures, I can hear the two modes never cease to create stark dissonance against each other. So I decided to bring that quality out even more instead of tucking it away in some cute (musical) corner. And I decided it would be pleasing to the ear if the two becomes one by the end.

Indeed the piece conclude with melody and harmony both in Lydian, hammering the most iconic Lydian chords I and II back and forth. These two chords always sound ethereal to me, and is the great triumphant conclusion to the conflict portrayed earlier.

What’s left is to write the middle part, painting an ever more conflicting battle. I have experimented with the contrast between bowing and pizzicato strings sounds in another piece and loved it. So I used driving pizzicato strings in the background, signaling where the battle begins. I also ended up introducing another voice among the string in Phrygian in a call-in-response manner with the Lydian trumpet. That worked out well.

After the battle reaches a climactic point with density of notes and rhythms, I suddenly switched to a slower tempo section, but with even more heighten tension. It’s as if the two modes are now done having fun, and start to throw more meticulous blows at each other with the intend to end the battle for good.

Throughout composing this piece, I learned two things.

First is to be more comfortable with writing dissonant music. As long as the notes have a purpose, the composition will work. I’m internalizing the idea of “there is no wrong notes, just notes that bring different feelings” more.

Second is more specific toward writing polymodal music. I tried constructing a palette of notes in Lydian that works with specific chords in Phrygian. That doesn’t work well.The high dissonance makes it hard to find combinations that work, resulting in a limited musical toolbox to pick-and-choose from. Instead, letting Lydian does Lydian thing and Phrygian does Phrygian thing works better.