Analysis – Atrium

Bass Clef

Well well well, ladies and gents it has been a while hasn’t it?  I decided to take a short break from my musical adventure briefly to play with another hobby of mine photography.  Although this post isn’t about that, if you’re curious, check out my gallery from Iceland here.  So many interests.. so little time.

Some of you who follow me via facebook and twitter might remember a little song I pushed out last December.  Not that little really, its a  hulking 12 minutes long (I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan, if you now what I mean).  I figured I’d give you folks a run down of how the track is structured and some of the ideas I put into the track.  With that…

vt100 – Atrium

Before we get started, consider familiarizing yourself with  the track:


Why Atrium?  The working title of the track was actually  “Lunchroom”.  It has a lot to do with the swath of life changes that seem to find you while you’re eating lunch, especially when you’re a kid.  That’s not entirely true actually, the title was was “Lunchroom Parts 1 and 2.”  This was very specifically a Pink Floyd reference where they would write a song in movements; very classical.  For example: Saucerful of Secrets, Shine on You Crazy Diamond, half of Ummagumma, and if we’re talking Pompeii you can even throw Echoes on the list.  If you haven’t noticed, I’m a huge fan.

I suppose I went off on a tangent.  Why Atrium?  Its not a lunchroom per say but, in some cases, its where you may find the lunchroom.  Here’s the definition of Atrium:

 a large open space within a building usually with a glass roof

There are some other cool ones too, like this one:

an anatomical structure of the heart

You get the idea.

The Parts

I mentioned above that this was originally titled “Lunchroom Parts 1 and 2” – I bet if you spend 12 minutes you can probably figure out where I did that.  I see this song as really two tracks stuck together.  They are closely related in a number of ways (instrumentation, themes).  However, despite that relationship, I strongly felt that I wanted the song to take such a massive left-turn that it deserved its own attention.

Part 1

Part 1 has a more typical (for me anyway) song structure.  It follows a structure I’ve used in other EDM tracks.  It looks like this:

Intro – Section 1 – Small Break – Section 2 – Long Break- Section 3 – Out

The sections are straight forward, each one is very similar to the one before it but I try to bring it up a little bit.  The breaks are used to introduce new elements.  For example, after section one there’s a new melodic arp that shows up in the second break.  It plays in section 2 along with some additional drums.  In the long break I introduce pads, and then they join in section three.

The sections have other differences.  There’s a tablas track (god i love those).  With each section I added new glitches to it.  The idea was that, although repetitive in nature, the song kept changing slightly enough that you (hopefully) wouldn’t notice.

I also do things like play with effects via automation to help increase/decrease the tension.  The arp’s delay is automated as are some distortions/delays on the pads.  These are pretty standard EDM tricks.

Part 2

For part 2 I wanted a couple of things to happen:

  • I wanted it to connect with part 1 as a cohesive whole
  • I wanted to drastically morph the track into something completely different without things being too abrupt.

The structure of part 2 is more like this:

p1-outro/p2-intro – the cruiser – the build – the resolution – fin

The Cruiser

A huge part of making this idea work was sticking with a lot of the instruments and samples I chose to use in part 1.  As part 2 begins I start with the arp introduced in part 1, but I leave the delays more cranked up than before.  I do program the arp differently but I’m more or less using the same drum track.  The drums change by slowly introducing glitches.  New Distortion fades its way into the arp.

As the progression continues I use the same bassline as in part 1.  I do introduce a new part around this time which is a different arp; I call it the sparkle arp.  When its introduced it purely backs up the chords that are being played.  The pads come back in too, although they are more warped than in part 1.  There’s a build (again using similar techniques to part one) and then there’s a more dynamic shift.

Like in part 1, I’m playing with a lot of automation to make the builds happen gradually.  Old trance tricks like automating the delay and decay on the second arp.

The Build

The shift here is pretty egregious – everything drops out and the arp is hitting heavy and hard.  There’s a new riff now, a climbing of the scale.  I bring in the second arp and the pads here and have some fun with vocal samples.

Notice here that there’s no bass – I just felt complete without it.  Plus I liked the contrast versus the other parts of the track.

You might also notice that now I’ve got more effects going on in the builds.  Same builds, but  spun with more ideas.

The Resolution

And after all that now the song is really ready to handle something different.  I bring in a whole new synth (My Nord Lead 2 for the curious) playing some stabs.  The stabs bring the listener back to the arp which slowly builds.  I was actually emulating some of Pink Floyd’s Echoes here; its pretty much my favorite song.  This section builds back up and is using most of the elements from the prior parts of the song.

There’s some cool but subtle stuff here – there’s a theme I made with the arp in part 1.  I’ve got both arps (the distorted and the sparkly) playing it now but over a new bassline and supported by the stabs. I do embellish a bit with these in the last four bars; sort of my version of a guitar solo but its gentle. And then, done.

Of course, same old trance automation tricks applying here.

Other notes

When you know a song this well its easy to write a book, I’m not going to do that to you but there was another first – this was my first track produced entirely in Ableton Live.  It was a reasonably pleasurable experience but I ultimately found myself missing Logic.  I love, love, love programming drums in ableton.  I also had a great time hacking up audio clips, Live really makes this painless.  Especially as I was arranging and mixing I missed Logic’s workflows.  Live also didn’t work as well with some of my outboard gear.  Live sort of left me having to do a lot more collapsing of things, clicking around and so on.  Part of that is on me, and the other part is that Live doesn’t seem to have the features Logic does (yet).  I’ll still use Live for sure, but I hope that the authors can ‘professionalize’ it a bit more.  Just my opinion but since its my blog, my opinion is right.


That’s it, that’s atrium.  More on the way, got sketches for the rest of the album but so much work to be done.  Anything you want me to go deeper on, you just let me know, ya dig?