Some pounding on the wall of my shower, sheetmetal at a historic mercury mine site, the a capella vocals from Starlifter, and a whole lot of drums.
Hogan's Gambit on Bandcamp
One prolific night, I sketched out about 25 minutes of music in three songs, all using the same set of sounds. Metalkit-A was the first song in that group, and the one that had lasting power for me. The song doesn't really have a story, other than Enrique sent me some recordings he made in his car of Alan Watts talking that he thought I should use in a song. Well, here ya go Hank!
A while back I was running by the railroad tracks near my house and had the idea to use a sample from the Honeydrippers' version of Sea of Love, specifically the "I" in "I want to tell you...". The way Robert Plant sang that has so much character, I thought it could be the basis of something else. I took more samples than that from the song and made something very different from it.
Bahar sent me a recording she made of the parrots that live in our neighborhood, and that became the intro.
The main melody sound is a note sampled from the Stylophone that Derek gave me many years ago. Other sounds are egg shakers I keep at my music desk, the squeaky shelf that seems to get play in all my songs, and other synth sounds I made.
Most of the drums, percussion, synths, etc were made from recordings I made. The vocals come from this video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYGIbyBfspY Made over the course of almost a month, bits and pieces at a time. The name comes from a C-141 Starlifter cargo plane. The song is 141 BPM.
The song title is an anagram for Paul Alan Levi, the creator of the PBS logo theme sound from the 70s. www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCuqlLq1k7o That sound really intrigued me (or freaked me out) as a kid, so here it is wrapped into a song. There are samples from the movie The Iron Giant in there.
This song title is the name of the street where Bahar and I stayed during our trip to Barcelona.
Continuing with the fun looping percussion recording workflow, Supermercado started out as a few distinct 8-bar phrases that I figured out how to weave into a song.
One of the main sounds is 5 tracks of Wytse speaking (he has a great YouTube channel where he reviews software and shows mixing/mastering techniques), all layered on one another and panned across the stereo field. I took that layered sound and made an instrument in Kontakt with it, where each note-on triggers the sample from a random starting point. A couple knobs on my BCR-2000 control the note length and sample speed. This song has the most tracks of anything I've done -- 55 tracks in all.
I like how this song moves through some different moods, so it was good enough to finish and put out there.
I made Gotham a week after Quiet Now. Things were flowing. I continued with the looping recording percussion workflow with this one. For example, there are 5 clap tracks, each recorded individually but panned differently. This makes for a natural feeling "people clapping" feeling I think, even though it was just me clapping.
I'm really digging the piano (especially with some FX applied). The main sound in this track is Logic's Clavinet simulation put through some modeled amp/pedals. I also learned to use a compressor to beef up sounds by really overdriving it, but output in parallel so the clean signal is like 75% and the effected signal is at 25%. Thanks to producing legend Andrew Schepps informative videos on the subject to open my eyes to a simple but effective technique.
This song alternates between a light bopping-down-the-sidewalk feel and something more serious. It sounds great on a big system.
This song opens with a recording of frogs from Lake Ranch Lake combined with Bahar's windchimes. At the lake there was a frog right next to us, but then it got quiet. This song was a shift in workflow for me, using many layers of recorded percussion. I would sequence a simple drum and bass pattern then record in cycle mode, with Logic configured to create a new take for each cycle. Press record, and go to down on lots of different instruments. Then choose "Unpack Folder to New Tracks" and everything is layered.
I think this is a more "musical" track for me, with strong melody, chord presence and kind of a traditional structure. I used Logic's Rhodes simulation, ESX 24 grand piano, and Mellotron instruments. There is also a lot of recorded kalimba (normal and reversed) in there.
As an experiment, I cloned the project from Featherboa to start a new song. The initial version came together really quickly -- maybe 6 hours. I decided it needed a vocal element, so I headed over to the Sound Traveler YouTube Channel. This channel specializes in binaural recordings of different places. I saw a video on the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya, Japan and decided this would be the one. The music I had laid down had a Japanese feel to it, so it was a good match. Now there was a theme to the song, so with several iterations over a week or so (e.g. it started out about 7 minutes, but I trimmed it to 4.5) it was done. It's more chill than the other stuff I've done lately.There are some Naomi samples in there (again), along with an instrument I made by recording the hum of the fluorescent light in my kitchen turning on and stabilizing.
Most of my songs have a theme or story, but this one is just a song. The floppy spatula makes another appearance in this song, in a very prominent role. There are a few samples of Naomi singing, but pitched up or otherwise tweaked.
The US government has broadcast the current time from Fort Collins, CO using the station callsign WWV at shortwave frequencies 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz, continuously since 1920. When I was a kid, we had an antique radio that could pick up these frequencies, and I would spend quiet nights with a makeshift antenna attached to this radio listening to the hypnotic pattern of clicks, tones, and announcements. I can't remember what jogged my memory, but I spent some time looking for a high quality recording of the station to reminisce. I found this great blog post of a guy who went right to the source to learn more about this public service and make some recordings sans interference.
Naturally this evolved for me into a piece of music. I had started a project a few weeks back where I experimented with a song transitioning from 4/4 time to 6/8 time, and in turn the perceived tempo increases 50% with that change. That project was a dud, but I kept the idea alive into this project. Starting with a basis of 120 BPM to match the 1 Hz WWV recording, it transitions into a wormhole of time and rhythm as you go inside the signal at 180 BPM.
There were some fun sounds involved in making this song. The static sound at the beginning of the track is actually my sock feet rustling on the non-skid surface of my desk's footrest. The hat sound is something hitting an oven rack, but pitched up. The main "snare" sound is a big floppy stainless spatula struck against a piece of plastic played at normal and half speed simultaneously. The bamboo stick is used on a couple tracks, as is Naomi's lovely and haunting singing voice.
This song took several weeks to come together, mostly due to my lack of focused time to work on it. I think it worked out well here though, since I had a lot of time to digest the progress of the song and make small tweaks without the pressure of 4am looming. There are about 30 tracks in this song.
I recorded Marina playing her Ukulele and singing the song "Riptide" and was moved the weepy daddy pride, so I knew I needed to do something more with the audio. The following week, The Drique visited and we spent an hour or two noodling with a guitar I'm borrowing here and recorded the whole thing. More raw materials!
The song took a few weeks of slow/false starts to get going, though I knew the bass part behind Marina's singing was going to be a main part of the song. It really came together when I started playing with Logic's vocoder instrument. The texture that a simple vocoder instrument can bring is super cool, and so the song got "interesting" for me once I started layering in those sounds.
A lot of the percussion in the song is various hits of drumsticks and bamboo sticks I have here at home. The metallic melody line that comes and goes was just a single sampled hit of drumstick against my 8 quart kitchen pot, tuned and spread across the piano keys. There are 41 instrument and audio tracks in this song.
I did a youtube search for Afrobeat music, and stumbled across "God is Love" from Complex Soundz (Spotify Link) and thought it was a super cool song. I pulled the audio into Logic and did a lot of slicing and dicing to chop the first 1/3 of the song into 1 measure pieces. All those pieces went into a Kontakt instrument where I spent a lot of time setting loop lengths and tempos so everything could work together.
The beginning and end of the song is audio from Tomáš Slavik's intense winning run at Red Bull Valparaíso Cerro Abajo 201. I was watching this video and closed my eyes and was taken aback by the crowd sounds whizzing by and decided to incorporate them into this composition.
Most of the drum sounds and the subbass are mine, as well as the little organ ditty at the end. While this song shares a ton with the original (could it be a remix?), structurally it's very different. The name "Good Evils" is an anagram of "God is Love".
Jan Jelinek's "Rock in the Video Age" came up randomly in my car and I really took to the song. I liked the texture and the minimal but interesting style. Of course, I thought I should try something like that. This also coincided with an equipment dream come true -- a 43" 4K monitor. If a 28" 1440p was an eye opener for working with music, surely more than double the pixels (8.3MP vs 3.7MP) would be an eye blaster! It took a bit of getting used to to look at so much screen, but it's awesome to have so much space for music and virtual instruments and effects.
Anyhow, this song came together pretty quickly over the past week. I spent at least as much time tweaking it as I did laying it down to start. It was really really fun to make and I hope to come up with an "album" of similar songs to start the year.
There are a few notable sounds in there. There's a brief sample of Stevie Wonder when he was on Sesame Street in 1973, a vocoder instrument with a 1/64 arp on it receiving textures from a speech synthesizer from Mindport in Bellingham, WA saying "NAOMI", the good old rotating cabinet in my kitchen making a beautiful deep bowed instrument sound, the sound of me tapping the body of Marina's ukulele, and the venerable "claps galore" sample set that I made by clapping from different parts of the house with the mic in a fixed place.
The opening sample on this song is my niece Ginger playing the ukulele. She was strumming along while I recorded with my laptop. I chopped up each strum and laid them out across a sampler instrument. The drums are from a YouTube video of Bernard Purdie (again!). The violin/cello sound is a rotating cabinet in my kitchen that I noticed made a lovely low squeak, recorded with my portable stereo mic, then loaded into Kontakt 5 (just got this software after Transpo -- good sound but a primitive UI, hopefully they fix it in 6). The chiff/flute sound is a recording of me blowing across a bottle of Reed's ginger beer, recorded with an SM57 and loaded into Kontakt. The "waah" sound at the end is a kazoo mangled like crazy in Kontakt and using a lot of FX.
This was one of the simplest and quickest songs I've made. It's just 12 tracks (Transpo, for example, is more than 30), and took about 10 hours start to finish, where most songs have taken me 20-30 hours.
Losososos on Bandcamp
There were two main sources of inspiration for this song.
I grabbed a bunch of samples from the Mellotron film and made a sampler instrument from them (so easy in Logic Pro -- Ctrl-E). I was thinking to mix the retro string vibe with a modern artificial environment. The samples dictated the tempo of 113 BPM, which ends up being a slow-but-danceable tempo. The samples were also in 3/4 time, so I set up the project that way.
The funny thing is that I built the song around those samples, then ended up removing them about halfway through because it sounded better without them. Thanks for the launchpad though!
This was a fun song to put together because the grid was in 3/4 but I really was making a 4/4 song. This added some mental complexity with dealing with the grid, and how the phrases weren't necessarily on the measure lines, but I think it had the interesting effect of bringing in elements at more interesting/surprising times, since it wasn't easy just to jump on 4-measure divisions.
The train-like kicks at the end are a kickdrum alternating with a reversed version of that kick, passed through a tape delay simulation. There are some 909 hats with some cutoff automation and auto-filter, and some claps from one of the stock drum kits that comes with Logic. The other sounds are either synths I made in Alchemy or based on samples and stretched out and put thru lots of effects. One neat thing I worked on was automating the "pan-spread" parameter for the arp-y sound to really open the door on the song when it takes off a couple minutes in.
The vocal sample at the end is from some old Howard Cosell footage (again from YouTube) turned into an Alchemy instrument that lets me scrub the sample playback position with a knob. Maybe I'll do a post on that instrument one day, since it's a really interesting effect.
I set out to make a reggae song. I had a bunch of samples I took from an old instructional film starring drumming legend Bernard Purdie that I really wanted to use in a project. I also learned the bassline from The Orb's song "Valley" and wanted to see what I could do with it. The result is a dubby, dancy tune with a pretty big bottom end. "Nothing is ever precise..."
This song starts with some samples from a hike I took with a friend on a graveley trail -- our different cadences were making a cool rhythmic pattern. There were also crickets chattering, which I took to turned into a cricket rave party in the track. I set out to make a dancy number with this one that felt light. There's a running joke in dance music where typical dance beats mimic the phrase "boots and cats" repeatedly. If you listen carefully, you can hear me whispering that through the song in certain parts. The cutting-acid sound is a kazoo put through pitch correction and the Ringshifter effects. Bahar helped me to construct the extended mellow ending, which I think really makes the song, along with Naomi's crazy vocal samples that sound like a dog squeeze toy. I'm proud of how this song ends. "And then I don't know what happened next..."
This project started with an audio recording Marina and her friend did of a song they made up. I put a some samples of a line her friend sang through some pitch and modulation effects, chopped it up, and laid it out on the keys across a couple octaves. The title refers to astronaut Ed White, who was America's first spacewalker in the Gemini 4 mission. He was supposed to be outside the capsule for 4 minutes but ended up staying outside for 12. There are samples from NASA's audio recordings of radio communications of that mission throughout the song. Marina's friend singing "I know, I know" ties back with Ed White's playful exchanges with Mission Control and how he knew he was supposed to "get back in!" but he knew he could stay outside longer and really soak in what he was doing and seeing.
This song started out with the idea that a looping water recording could be put through a tremolo and used as a rhythmic device. Even cooler if it could transition seamlessly from "babbling brook" to off-beat percussion. The girls and I like to explore the Sanborn Creek next to Sanborn Road. It's an ever-changing adventure, rock-hopping and climbing over downed trees. It's also a place where I like to bring my mountain and road bikes. I wanted this song to be about that stuff.
I recorded a little stream on a hike near Lexington Reservoir ... that would be close enough to Sanborn to count, right?
The next inspirational element came from a recording experiment I did with the sliding glass door in my kitchen. Read about that here: The Window Drum Dilemma. The huge bass sound had to find a home! And so it did.
The other sounds in the song come from a 4-oscillator Alchemy synth I made that can be controlled in 8 ways by the knobs on my controller, a percussion set I made from slapping and banging on my kitchen floor, a click sound from something banging into the Rode i-XY mic when recording the stream turned into a kickdrum, the default ESX-24 sine wave processed through a simulated guitar amp, samples of Bahar playing the Daff, and a percussion set I recorded from my bike.
This song changes more than other songs I've done, and I like that. I think I'll keep doing more of it.
I was noodling in sound-making mode with a set of sounds and instruments I had come up with over the last few weeks when I heard of a dear friend's father's sudden passing. There were a lot of similarities between her story and the experience we had when Santosh (Arti's dad) passed away in 2007, and so it stirred up a lot of memories of that time. We were with him when he died, and that moment lives with me very clearly to this day. I wanted to make something to express these feelings, and to illustrate what happens to the people in the situation when this happens.
The song is made of a cast of characters. One of them dies. They all act on their own, and they all change in different ways after the moment of death. There are new patterns, rememberances, resurgences. They find a new order and life goes on.
Sound-wise, this song features a 4-oscillator Alchemy arpeggiator patch I made that is very automatable, a dove call that I whistled, some long vocal notes wrung through tons of processing, an egg shaker, and 8 claps. The claps were one idea that I had to have the mic in one part of the house, and clap from different rooms and distances from the mic. The product is an impulse map of my house, and that impression may be given in headphones.
This song was unique for me in that I performed each track end-to-end. Normally I will come up with some good phrases and loop them. By a Thread was actually performed.
This song is a story of two people. One is moody and unsure. The other is a calming and beautiful presence. Fruhling is the German word for Springtime.
The lead sound is me singing through a plastic kazoo, then a ton of pitch correction and processing was applied in the computer. The other singing is me too, made possible by even more pitch correction and effects. This is the first time I have actually tried to sing in a song. Thanks to technology, no ears are bleeding. I also played the kalimba with drumsticks, recorded a ratchet, and tapped a stainless steel bowl with plastic sticks.
I had a bunch of samples that just kind of fell together in this song. There's kind of a dadaist element to it, since the main sample is my mom saying "just something, any old thing", responding to me putting a mic in front of her and asking her to say something. This song is proof that you can take anything and make it into music.
Kalimba plays a lead role in the song, as does my box of noisemakers that I recorded indiviaul hits on and then sequenced as sampler instruments. Jingle bells, egg shakers, toy tambourine, and recorder flute.