Jacarta – Music Production Tutorial

  •       1.     Jacarta - by Daniel Portis-Cathers - Dan Portis-Cathers

Creative thought is generated in an infinite number of ways. (Artist Amy Mfuni created the charcoal drawing shown here while listening to this piece). I was in a certain mood from listening to the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack over a period of several days.  Additionally, I had begun to dig more thoroughly into Spectrasonics’ wonderful Omnisphere instrument plugin. Hearing other powerful music and playing with great tools often inspires me to create.

I like juxtaposing haunting ethnic voices with interesting techno and world beat rhythms. This technique is effective because it mixes old world with new world. Because I’m familiar with writing in many styles, I love combining compositional techniques. It’s often my best opportunity to create something fresh.


The form for this piece was dictated largely by the loops and instruments available. I kept it simple - ABA. Unless I’m scoring to picture, I let the sections determine the direction themselves.What I mean is that available loops, length of melody, a key change or the number of instruments used can make it clear when you should add a new section or just end the piece. Many other non-musical factors also enter in - the audience for which you are composing, the lengths and energy levels of other pieces that may appear in the same collection, your personal level of energy at the time, etc. I usually keep production music library pieces to around two minutes.

Musically, don’t be afraid to establish a groove and let it run. Just be sure to do the work required to give each repeat a little something special. People enjoy grooves, but the devil is in the details.


Starting with an Omnisphere bell rhythm called Steps of Eternity 2, I added a wah effect through the Omnisphere fx engine. Then I overlayed it with a whole tone piano arpeggio to create immediate tension. A vocal ostinato built using the Omnisphere arpeggiator begins in m. five and establishes a counterpoint to the oud strums (World Music Apple loops) which form the basis for the A section. A couple of middle eastern vocal sets from Apple’s Voices jampack provide just enough material to create an interesting and mysterious ethnic vocal throughout. The female vocal supplies the melodic content and the male vocals the occasional spice and contrast.

The heavy drum fills are from Spectrasonics’ Backbeat library and the main drumming sections are from the RMX core collection. The tablas in the B section are from Apple’s World Music jampack. The bass is from Spectrasonics’ Trilian and uses the electric Studio Bass. The built-in arpeggiator has lots of presets. With a little tweaking, I designed a fairly natural sounding bass groove using the Summertime  arpeggio pattern. It should be noted that most of the grooves have slightly different swing/feel factors. These can be conveniently matched on the Spectrasonics side by dragging other MIDI grooves into the RMX Time Design window - or on the Logic Pro 9 side by using their Flex View tools - several ways to skin the cat.

In the B section the intensity shifts so that it focuses on individual instrument solos. I found a combination of instruments (flute, oud and violin) that seemed to generally work together. Figuring out what loops will work together is usually a matter of trial and error. Logic Pro 9 is my current DAW of choice. The Flex View feature makes it easy to adjust pre-recorded loops if they aren’t already an Apple loop.  In this case, I tweaked a violin Apple audio loop to work with a MIDI flute Apple loop. The MIDI oud parts were supplemented with an occasional audio loop from the Apple World Music collection.

Additional Notes

In the B section I pulled out the heavy drums, anticipating that the listener would need a break and that I could build the intensity level up again when I added them back into the final A sections.

By the time I am nearing the end of a composition, I am usually tired of hearing the piece through so many times. But it is important to remember that no one else has experienced it that way. It would be easy to recap the A section and finish the piece. Instead, when you’re in the same boat, you might consider creating a false ending and repeating a section with some minor variations - then extending the last measure or two. In this case I chose to recap A, do an A1 and then end. I felt this would better prepare the listener for the conclusion by giving them more time to experience tension before the finale.