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  • Writer's pictureShannon Rampe

Music Release: Kids Book Tunes

In keeping with the music theme from last week's post, this week I want to share with you one of my very favorite creations: an EP of electronic music I created in 2002 called "Kids Book Tunes." For those that want to just listen to the "Kids Book Tunes" EP and don't want the whole backstory, you can jump ahead.


"Kids Book Tunes" is one of my very favorite creations because it is so weird and it was born out of a burst of creative experimentation. Most of my creative works are fiction or occasionally poetry or game design where I spent weeks, months, and sometimes years designing, editing, and revising until it's as close to perfect as I can make it.


"Kids Book Tunes" was the opposite of that. "Kids Book Tunes" was born in a sporadic rush of creativity; working on it was so fun and batshit crazy that it's all I wanted to do in my free time for the few weeks it took me to create it.


So what is "Kids Book Tunes?" Well, you know those children's picture books that have a strip down the side with buttons that play a noise or song when you press them? That's right, the really obnoxious ones - often board books - that kids gnaw on and slobber all over and mash until the buttons don't work or the batteries die? Yeah, those! We called them "noisy books."


In the early 2000's, I worked for Half Price Books, and one of the great things about working at HPB was that we were allowed to borrow books pretty much whenever we wanted.


So one day, I got the bright idea to borrow about 20 or so different noisy books from the store. I took them home and recorded the sound clip of each button as a separate file. Most of the books had 8-10 of these so that gave me somewhere in the range of 150-200 sound samples to work with. I returned all the books (with no additional teeth marks or slobber).


Then I set down to create. Initially, I began simply assembling the samples together into different arrangements using very early version of Soundforge. I soon found that the raw samples themselves weren't very interesting. They lacked mid-range or bass tones and thus as songs were very squeaky. The volume levels were also wildly inconsistent.


Here are a couple of raw samples, one from the "Dumbo" noisy book and one from "The Itsy Bitsy Spider."


Dumbo_Track 3

Itsy Bitsy Spider_Track 5

So, I began to experiment. I processed the samples through sound editors like Konvertor, Soundprobe, and FruityLoops to speed up, slow down, reverse, and pitch-shift the sounds to get different variations and tones.


I also created some accompanying samples outside of the noisy book samples. I recorded samples of myself playing a kalimba, which is an African-inspired thumb piano (basically metal keys attached to a sound board with a gourd on the back as a resonator), and a doumbek, which is a type of goblet drum commonly played in drum circles. Mine happens to be metal and has a tambourine mounted in the body, so it is capable of bright, brassy tones in addition to the deep central thumps.


Finally, I began playing around with a really fun piece of synth software called Sawcutter, which at the time was freeware. By simply painting notes with the mouse on the 16-bar measure grid, you could create very simple melodies. Then you could warp those melodies by directly messing with the waveform, the envelope, or by adding reverb, delay, distortion, or other effects. It is very basic by today's standards, but a lot of fun to play with. I programmed a very simple melody loosely inspired by Kansas's "Dust in the Wind." (Don't worry Kansas fans, no one is going to mistake my adaptation for Kerry Livgren's!)



Then I began to plug all of these combinations of synth melodies, pre-recorded rhythms, and edited kids book samples back into Soundforge and began to assemble them into increasingly complicated and, to my ear, interesting layers. I was creating purely for the joy of what I enjoyed hearing, working from only a crude understanding of music theory and songwriting but mostly just out of instinct.


I produced four songs: Song 1, Weird Shitsky, Russhin Bitz, and Dust in the Wind. I saved them and shared them on Mini Discs, which are a format that was even shorter-lived than CDs. (For those who haven't seen them, Mini Discs are what they sound like - essentially smaller versions of CDs that held about 80 MB of data, just enough for a handful of weird electronic songs.) I passed them around to friends who probably quickly chucked them in the trash and then I forgot about them.


Then, this year, while having a conversation with a friend about weird music, I thought about them and went to dig them up. There they were, in an archive folder on battered old hard drive: Kids Book Tunes. It was time to bring them back.


I thought YouTube would be the easiest way to share them, but that meant I needed visuals to go along with them! So I used Microsoft's Clipchamp software to assemble little video vignettes to accompany each tune.


And thus, I present to you the first public world premier of "Kids Book Tunes!" Enjoy!


Kids Book Tunes









 

Thanks for reading, watching, and listening! I'm supposing these are probably the most unusual songs you have heard this week and I hope that you were either delighted or amused by them.


These songs are publicly available on YouTube. I invite you to share them with your friends, loved ones, or really anyone you want to impress or annoy.


And remember, subscribe to my newsletter for more fun stuff like this, free stories, recommendations, and more.

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