Day: May 15, 2016

You and me and Dr. Lee.

Brent Lee came over and worked his magic on two songs back in February. The first is a ten-minute semi-psychedelic thing I still need to staple a few finishing touches to. The second is this thing right here.

You’re hearing only five different sounds (or sound sources) even in the noisiest moments.

The first sound is the Fender Rhodes electric piano. I ran it through the Count to Five pedal and then processed it some more. There are two iterations of this. One is distorted and smeared by a series of delays set to overlap. The other sounds much more like itself, but it’s distant, more of a murmur, heavy with reverb and phaser.

The second sound is Brent’s soprano sax. My first thought was to run him through the Count to Five and maybe something else, but there’s such a beautiful tone to his playing in the open air, it felt like it would be a sin to hide that. So there’s a fair bit of reverb and delay on him, but it’s accenting the naked sound instead of reshaping it.

The third sound is wind chimes. In the past I only ever recorded them straight. This time I sampled them with the Yamaha VSS-30 and messed with the sound a little, reversing it in places, playing lower or higher on the keyboard to create sounds the wind chimes couldn’t ever make on their own.

The fourth sound is the flute patch on the Casio SK-1, not too prominent in the mix, more of a subtle sonic wash than anything.

The fifth sound is Brent’s sax again, fractured and bent out of shape. I was trying to figure out a way to sample him after the fact. I don’t work with a computer or any recording software, so there aren’t a lot of options, and the digital mixer’s routing capabilities as I understand them are limited at best. I’ve worked out a way to run a master out from the mixer into the SK-1, but all the samples I’ve grabbed like this have come out sounding distorted and lo-fi — even for the little Casio.

As a backup plan I thought I’d try cranking the monitors a bit, holding the VSS-30 up to one of them, and soloing the sax track. I didn’t expect it to work.

It did, and it sounded far better than it had any right to.

I sampled a few seconds of sax and processed that a few different ways. A lot of what you’re hearing that sounds like a synth or a hung-over, heavily-treated electric guitar is this, and when the real sax drops out of the mix, everything you hear for the rest of the song — that whole warbly, shoegazey coda — is nothing but the treated sample layered a few times, played a few different ways. There isn’t a second of guitar or conventional synthesizer anywhere in the song.

I toyed with the idea of adding some bass, drums, and acoustic piano to all of this, to ground things a little and introduce some groove, arrhythmic as it would have been. The few bits of work I did in that direction didn’t really inspire me at all. Felt like things were getting too grounded.

I liked it all better when it was swirling and weightless. So swirling and weightless it stayed.

Brent’s sax ends up being the only sound that’s more or less presented as itself, right down to the occasional clicking of his fingers against the keys. It’s the one organic thing fighting to keep its head above water, almost but not quite getting swallowed up by all the ambient sound around it. I didn’t plan it that way. It was just one of those things.

Cole Porter understands.

Public domain footage comes to you care of Walter Ruttmann, an early experimental film pioneer who abandoned architecture and painting after the first world war left him scarred with PTSD. He left the hospital determined to make films and was financially secure enough to work outside of the studio system, creating short films free of any commercial considerations. Most of what you’re seeing here is Lichtspiel: Opus II (1923), with a little bit of Opus I (1921) thrown in at the end.

These must be some of the earliest abstract films, and some of the earliest examples of cinematic kinestasis. The images were created with smudges of oil on panes of plate glass, paper cut-outs, and camera movement. Sometimes you stand back and look at some of the art people were able to make long before you were born, through improvised methods, without any of the advanced tools we take for granted now, and all you can do is shake your head and give a little awed-like grin. And sometimes you slap some music you’ve made on top and it just works.