This case study refers to a collaborative project with Darcy Wilson composing an ambient style electronic song. For this reason I am conducting this analysis of Tycho's Daydream as this will be used as a reference track for this project. Daydream was written and produced by Tycho; was mixed and mastered by Tycho and Count; and was released on the album Dive in November 2007.
Ambient style music can be quite widely defined. Incorporating elements of many different styles and ambient is often used as a sub-genre to many genres of music. Typically there are no particular instruments specifically attributed to this style of music. Instead this style is generally defined by its ability to provide the listener with a sense of relaxation. Mike Watson describes ambient music as having origins as far back as the 19th century, through pioneering artists such as Claude Debussy and Erik Satie (2016). The genre was manipulated in the 1960's due to the addition of analog instruments through rise of psychedelic rock. The 1980's brought the genre in to the digital age. Digital instruments are still a common occurrence in ambient music today. These electronic composed songs can also be associated with styles such as acoustic chill and downtempo. An element that is most concurrent in this style of music is the illusion of large spaces through the use of both natural and artificial reverb.
Tycho is an EDM producer from San Fransisco. He combines electric and analog instruments to create ambient downtempo style electronic music. Tycho was primarily a freelance graphic designer while being a musician a side project. Recording Dive was still considered a side project for him, however it gave him the inspiration to solely concentrate on music for an entire year for the creation of the follow up album Awake (Essmaker, 2013).
- Key Signature: Ab major
- Time Signature: 4/4
- Tempo: 70 BPM
- Length: 5 minutes 36 seconds
- Bar Count: 99
Structure / Instrumentation
Consistent with the ambient music genre, Daydream does not use traditional structure methods and therefore can not be well defined. For this reason I have simply labeled each change throughout the song with the letters A through J as shown in the image above. Although some instrumentation appears to be playing phrases consistently throughout the song, there are definitive shifts throughout the song yet none of these appear to repeat themselves.
Daydream's instrumentation consists of a drum kit; bass guitar; two electric guitars; acoustic guitar; two synths; a person whispering; and hi hat samples that are played in reverse. These instruments are represented in the image below as follows: Drum kit (DK), Bass (B), Guitar 1 (G1) (electric), Guitar 2 (G2) (electric), Guitar 3 (G3) (acoustic), Synth 1 (S1), Synth 2 (S2), Whisper (W), and Reverse Hi Hat (RH).
Section A (00:00) 8 Bars - Introduces the song with a slow crescendo featuring Guitars 1 and 2 being joined by Synth 1 at 00:06 and Guitar 3 at 00:20. The Whisper track features sporadically from Bar 5 onwards.
Section B (00:27) 6 Bars - Drums begin. Reverse hi hat track is added at bar 11 (00:34).
Section C (00:48) 14 Bars - Bass begins along with Synth 2
Section D (01:36) 2 bars - Drums and Synth 2 drop out of mix.
Section E (01:43) 8 Bars - Drums return.
Section F (02:10) 6 Bars - Drums drop out. Bass fades out at Bar 41 (02:18). Reverse hi hat fades out at Bar 41 (02:17). Synth 2 returns at Bar 42 (02:19) for 1 bar.
Section G (02.31) 14 Bars - Drums return 1 beat before start of section. Bass returns and Guitar 3 fades out at Bar 46 (02:34). Reverse hi hat returns at Bar 47 (02:38). Guitar 3 returns in Bar 51 (02:53). Synth 2 returns in Bar 52 (02:56).
Section H (03:19) 5 Bars - Drums and revers hi hat drop out at beginning of section. Bass Guitars 1 & 3 and Synth 2 fade out by Bar 61 (03:26).
Section I (03:36) 21 bars - Drums returns at beginning of section. Bass returns at bar 56 (03:43). Reverse hi hat, Guitar 3 and Synth 2 return by Bar 72 (04:02). Guitar 1 returns at Bar 81 (04:34).
Section J (04:48) 14 Bars - Drums drop out immediately. Bass, Reverse hi hat and Whisper fade out by Bar 86 (04:51). Guitar 3 and Synth 2 fade out by Bar 91 (05:09). Guitars 1 &2 and Synth 1 slowly fade out til end of song at Bar 99 (05:36).
The drums consist only of a kick, snare and hi hat. The kick and snare hits are extremely consist, which indicates that these are samples rather than a live recorded drum kit. It is unclear as to whether several kick samples were used as the lower velocity hits become lost in the mix. However, it is clear that there are at least two different snare samples. One sample having a very tight sound with a short attack and decay while the other has a much longer tail. Both appear to be heavily compressed. There is also a second hi hat track that has been reversed in recording, indicated by its unique envelope (very slow attack and sharp decay).
The bass guitar has a warm sound indicating the musician picked with fingers rather than using a pick. Considering that this would have been a low budget album, the bass was most likely recorded as a direct input and then run through an amp emulator.
Guitar 1 is an electric guitar that is most likely fingerpicked as the picking pattern across separated strings would be awkward to play with a plectrum. The short attack time on the strings would also suggest the guitarist uses their fingernails to pick rather than the flesh of the finger. The melody is only two bars in duration, which has been looped throughout most of the song. The guitar appears to have a wide range of frequencies, consisting of warm lower mids, bright upper mids and sustain in the highs. The lack of sub and mid frequencies suggests it was EQ'd with a high pass filter and a band filter cut. The prominent, sustaining high frequencies suggest a single coil pickup close to the bridge. A clean amp setting was used due to the lack of distortion.
Guitar 2 is an electric guitar, the picking style is unclear. The guitarist doesn't play with any specific agenda, which gives the impression the this track was improvised. The warmer tone indicates a pickup away from the bridge. The lack of high and sub frequencies makes it difficult to distinguish which style of pickup is used. This frequency content indicated that both low and high pass filters were used. There is a very long sustain with each note rarely decaying before the following note. This could also be due to the high level of reverb, which is separate to and features a much longer tail than that of the other instruments. A clean amp setting was used due to the lack of distortion.
Guitar 3 is a lightly strummed acoustic guitar. There appears to be more high frequency content as the sound of the pick on the strings is more prominent than the actual chords. This suggests that the guitar may have been recorded with a large diaphragm condenser microphone. It is also likely that a high pass filter EQ was used, possibly around 1kHz as the warm sound of an acoustic guitar occurs below this point. This high frequency content makes the actual chords being played indistinguishable.
Synth 1 is quite low in the mix and is often discernible from Guitar 2. An analog synth would have used as this often Tycho's preference. Additive synthesis would have been used with sine wave oscillators due to its very clean tone.
Synth 2 is similar to that of synth 1 however it uses a faster attack time. It is also in a lower register, which may be due to being played lower or from the oscillator being down tuned.
The whisper varies between a simple exhale and unintelligible whispering. The track doesn't present an agenda until the last minute of the song where an exhale every second bar. The higher register of the whisper indicates a female vocalist. However it's possible it is a male vocal with a high pass filter EQ.
Overall Spectral / Dynamic Content
True to the nature of ambient style music Daydream incorporates a large amount of reverb. It is clear the artist is trying to create a large psychoacoustic space by making use of a long early reflection time and a reverb tail of almost one second.
The dynamics of Daydream stay fairly consistent throughout the song as can be visualised below. It is evident that there is a long fade in/out at the beginning/end of the track. There are also three points in the song where the overall level drops momentarily but this most likely due to the absence of the drums in these sections.
As can be visualised below, Daydream doesn't feature a wide stereo field. With most content being directed in the centre. This is consistent throughout the song. There is the occasional sound that is directed around the stereo field but is generally too low in the mix to draw attention. It should also be noted that the reverb, which is prominent in the mix, creates the illusion of a wider stereo field and is not clearly visualised in the image below.
The overall frequency content of the song can visualised below. This shows that bass and mid range frequencies are prominent in the mix. This is due to the bass guitar and kick being quite high in the level of the mix. Also the guitars, synth and reverb would all contribute to the mid range frequencies. The lower mids and higher regions are neglected, which is likely due to the lack of vocals, which would ordinarily contribute to this range.
Daydream is a very aptly named song. The music drifts in without the listener quite noticing that it has done so. The large space created aids in giving the listener a sense of weightlessness within a nonspecific environment. The addition and removal of instruments throughout the song provides the illusion of movement or travelling (being on a journey), while the main guitar is hauntingly beautiful with its relaxed absence of structure. This all combines to implement a cool sense of relaxation. Just like a daydream.
Essmaker, R. & T. (2013). The Great Discontent: Interview with Scott Hansen. Retrieved June 18th, from http://thegreatdiscontent.com/interview/scott-hansen
Scott Hansen a.k.a. Tycho [Image] (2014). Retrieved June 18th, from http://krvs.org/post/kexp-presents-tycho#stream/0
Watson, M. (2016). A Short History Of Ambient and Downtempo Music. Retrieved June 18th, from http://www.ambientmusicguide.com/history-of-ambient
Pro Tools 12 [Image] (2015). Avid. Retrieved June 18th.