The Making Of ‘I Can Sing A Rainbow’

Last week I re-released a 60-minute ambient piece of music called I Can Sing A Rainbow.

Andrew Howie - I Can Sing A Rainbow

I originally put this album out in 2011 as a bonus freebie for anyone who bought my Calamateur record The Quiet In The Land. This new version has been tweaked and re-mixed by me, then re-mastered by Steve Lawson. It’s a free/Pay-What-You-Want download over at my Bandcamp page.

You can listen to it here while you read this if you like 🙂

When I first put this music out in 2011, I planned on writing a blog post about how I put it together. Now, just over 5 years later, I’m finally getting round to it…

ICSAR notes

Some rudimentary notes I made back in 2011.

From the outset, I wanted to approach the composition of this piece in a way I had never done before; that is, using mathematics and rainbow-related scientific facts (caveat: I’m crap at both maths and science) to put in place certain musical “rules” for the piece, before playing a single note. I also wanted to make sure the music didn’t descend into new-age-relaxation-music territory which, given that I was using rainbows as a starting point, was always going to be a risk 😉

So, to start with, I learned on Wikipedia that “it is impossible for an observer to see a rainbow from water droplets at any angle other than the customary one of 42 degrees from the direction opposite the light source”. I proceeded to use this newly-learned fact in a significant way, letting it determine the speed of the whole piece – 42 BPM (a.k.a. *VERY* SLOW).

I then set up three musical soundscape pads to run continuously throughout the piece, representing the sun, the earth’s rotation of the sun, and the rain. I made similar decisions and calculations to the one described above with regard to when and how often these sounds would appear and fluctuate.

Next came the colours. As there are seven colours in the rainbow, I decided to compose a musical phrase to represent each one:

  1. Red – Comprising of one note. A fluctuating synth sound that starts at 25 mins in, occurring once.
  2. Orange – Comprising of two notes. A warm, fuzzy synth sound, occurring twice. First heard at the 12 minute mark.
  3. Yellow – Comprising of three notes. A slow, arpeggiated synth phrase, occurring three times. First heard at 7m 30s.
  4. Green – Comprising of four notes. A fast-picked bass guitar played through reverb and distortion, occurring four times. First heard 20 mins in.
  5. Blue – Comprising of five notes. A warm, slow-attack soft bell-like phrase, occurring five times. First heard 4 mins in.
  6. Indigo – This one is slightly different. I took a recording of a *very* well-known song about rainbows and time-stretched it (preserving the original pitch of the song) to exactly 60 mins long. This sound slowly fades in and out six times throughout the piece. The first time you hear it clearly is at about the 4m 10s mark.
  7. Violet – Comprising of seven notes, played on the piano, occurring seven times. The first time you hear it is at 1m 45s.

Once I had composed these seven musical phrases, I spaced them out evenly throughout the piece’s 60 minute duration.

Here’s what that looks like in the edit window of Pro Tools:

After piecing these seven musical phrases together, then overlaying them over the soundscape elements already described, all that was left to do was to mix them together. Here’s what that looked like:


And that’s it.

Of course, I don’t think for one second that what I’ve done here is innovative or particularly original – far from it! A quick read of this article on looping and this Wikipedia article on ambient music will soon make that evident.

In point of fact, it’s my long-held love of ambient music that has inspired me to make my own; both this piece and my album from last year, Scars Are Like A Beacon.

Here are some of the artists and albums that have inspired me over the years. If you like I Can Sing A Rainbow then you’ll probably like these too (and vice-versa!):

Remember, I Can Sing A Rainbow is a Free/Pay-What-You-Want download, so please do head over to Bandcamp and grab it for whatever you want to pay for it.

Thanks for reading 🙂