Anchor is Out Now!  You can order the 'Home silk-screened limited edition colored vinyl LP w/DL code' in our webstore.  

FOR ALL PRESS INQUIRIES CONTACT TREVOR DE BRAUW / BIZ3 trevor@biz3.net
FOR ALL BOOKING INQUIRIES CONTACT ANDREW MORGAN/BILLIONS andrew@billions.com

We're on tour now:

10/26   New York NY LPR
10/27   Philadelphia PA Boot & Saddle
10/28   Washington DC DC9
10/29   Durham NC Pinhook
10/30   Atlanta GA Drunken Unicorn
11/01   Asheville NC The Mothlight
11/02   Nashville TN High Watt
11/03   Louisville KY Zanzabar
11/04   Cincinnati OH Southgate House (Revival)
11/05   Columbus OH The Basement
11/06   Buffalo NY Sugar City
11/07   Boston MA Great Scott
11/08   North Adams MA The Elks


Here's a new track called IO:

Here's the Official Video of for IO we made with the trebuchet we built:

Here's a track from Anchor called Great Equator:

Here's the official video for Great Equator made using Electron and Light Microscopes:


Our Indiegogo Campaign Video from Summer 2013: 

Zammuto LP 2 from Nick zammuto on Vimeo.

A video describing my method of rhythmically scratching the 'locked groove' of vinyl records:

Scratch Edition from Nick zammuto on Vimeo.

Bass Projector from Nick zammuto on Vimeo.

Filmmaker Matt Day made a documentary about my studio process, the home we built in Vermont, and the formation of the band leading up to our first shows last february.  You can watch it now on Pitchfork TV  


Blog

Track 9: Stop Counting 

Anchor Blog Series: Entry 9 

https://soundcloud.com/zammuto/10-stop-counting

You might recognize bits of this track in the music I made for the ‘Bass Projector’ video:

Bass Projector from Nick zammuto on Vimeo.


Years ago, I was traveling through the South and stopped to camp in Pensacola, FL.  It was early summer and I remember floating in the water, which felt like amniotic fluid, with small waves coming in at random intervals, washing my body in and out against the white sand in the shallow water.  It put me in a strange kind of trance.  While floating in the ocean, it becomes easier to feel the latent energy of the world as a kind of ‘sound’. Each ripple in the ocean having an untraceable source, you can’t know much about it specifically, but generally speaking, while floating there, about every 45 seconds a small jelly fish would bite me and wake me up.  And THEN, as I was passively being washed and stung, I looked up and saw five F-18 military jets rolling and diving directly above me, showering down huge thunderous engine noises.  (Apparently the Blue Angels, the naval stunt squad, trains out of Pensacola).  It was a very peculiar set of sensations:  The deep chaos of the ocean meeting the land, invertebrates injecting me with venom, and a military-industrial complex show of force all at the same time.  As I worked on this track I could not shake this warm floating/stinging/spinning/rumbling sensation from my mind.

Given the reality that there is an element of life that is truly out of our control, I wanted to try and make a track that had no discernable ‘one’, to conjure that existential feeling of being lost, but being ok with it.  I think this track has the potential to be very disconcerting, since no one likes feeling lost, but there is a key to hearing it that I hope you will discover over time.

The track is in a three count and a four count simultaneously: the polyrhythm, ‘four over three’.  Our drummer, Sean Dixon, and I really bond over polyrhythms.  There’s an innate syncopation that creates a sensation of space by including unvoiced nodes.  By naturally placing silence where there ‘should’ be sound, the brain fills it in with whatever it has to fill it:   latent thoughts, subconscious emotions, judgments, mental activity of all kinds.  It happens on a surprisingly microscopic scale.  Some rhythms are good at suppressing thoughts and feelings, others are good at enhancing them.  I find polyrhythms fall in the latter category.  They become a kind of mirror.

I had Sean improvise in 4 over 3 while tweaking effects in real time on the PCM81. We used the same three mic recording technique that we used in track 1… Kick through the Vermona Retroverb and overheads through the stereo effects chain: PCM81>Electrix Filterfactory (notch filter)>Butler Spring Reverb.  I spent several days going through the recordings from this session and pulled out all of the ultra-fine moments and saved them as stand-alone sounds that I could rearrange easily.  The notch filter on the Electrix Filter-Factory does particularly delicious things with open cymbal sounds.

This main synth sound is the Moog Slim Phatty using a theramin as a cv control for the filter cutoff frequency.  I played notes on a keyboard with my left hand and used my right hand to operate the pitch antenna of the theramin (which was a gift that the fine folks at Moog gave me when I helped them out at the Solid Sound festival in North Adams, MA a few years back).  Moog is one of those companies that is very generous with artists, and they have a really wonderful sense of how to make synths expressive in a deep analog way.  Moogs can a get a bit silly sounding since it’s a bit too easy to get the bleeps and bloops that made people pigeonhole early synths as too ‘non-human’.  But, I’ve found that, if treated right, analog synths have this deep emotional oceanic quality that works precisely because of the lack of human touch in the sound… like the deep math within baroque music there’s a spiritual lift when the music seems to be moving by force of nature rather than by human intention.  There’s an incredible feeling of infinity while turning the knobs of a good synth.  Using a theramin instead of a knob heightens this feeling further as your body literally becomes a part of the circuitry.
 
The low clicky intro (which really gets my ASMR going) also came from the Slim Phatty, playing ultra-low frequency sawtooth waves and filtering the result through an auto-pan pedal.

The original synth improv had a loose timing to it, so that some measures were randomly 10, 11 or 12 beats long.  There was a pleasant unpredictability to the timing of chord changes so instead of quantizing, I built the track around them.  I reinforced the changes with a Nord Clavinet patch and some low bass notes from Mikey.  Nick Oddy brought his Fulltone Tube Tape Echo (the real deal) up to the studio in January and we spent a wonderful evening playing with it.  He played guitar while I moved the slider and knobs to change the tape speed and echo feedback.  There is no other sound like it.  We also did another session last fall of all ‘horror soundtrack’ type sounds that I used to create the background atmosphere of this track. 
 
The vocals came last.  I sent them at double and quadruple speed through the ‘Butler’ spring reverb and pitched the resulting reverb tails back down to the original speed to get the big long decays on ‘Morning’.  I’ll explain this technique in greater detail when we get to ‘Sinker’, since I use it there as well.  Here are the lyrics:


Morning,
Morning,
You don’t need the medicine,
To see the grid lines.
 
Trying to sleep in a house with odd angles,
Please stop thinking,
Morning,
Morning,
You don’t the medicine,
To make amends.
 
Bent edge,
Admit you’re powerless,
To your compulsions.
 
Morning,
Take a walk outside,
Morning,
Brain bleach genuine,
Wake up,
With x’s on your hands,
 
Morning,
Brain bleach genuine,
Morning,
You don’t need the medicine.
 
Thanks for reading: tomorrow track 10: Sinker 

Yours,
 
Nick

Upcoming shows: (starting Oct. 26)  New York - Philly - DC - Durham - Atlanta - Asheville - Nashville - Louisville - Cincinnati - Columbus - Buffalo - Boston - North Adams, MA 

Track 8: IO 

Anchor Blog Series:  Entry #8

IO

https://soundcloud.com/zammuto/09-io

I wanted to YELL on one track on this record.  Yelling is really not my thing and that’s part of the reason I had to go for it.  One of my favorite records is Tom Waits ‘Bone Machine’ because of the huge range of textures he gets out of his voice (and other instruments).  I’m no Tom Waits, obviously, but I like the idea that I’m not defined by the sound of my voice and I can get different textures out of it without sounding disingenuous (I hope). I’ve found being alone in a car is the perfect place to explore what happens when I raise my voice, and it took a while running various errands, but I found this spot where I can get a good kind of high growl out of my otherwise limited voice.  Now that I know where this spot is I can get back to it pretty easily, so it was time to try it out in a track.  I recorded it clean, and then sent it hot through the tubes on the ‘Butler’ to get a bit of distortion.  I doubled the voice here and there, which gets nice and thick when forced through vacuum tubes, without the cold harshness of pedal type distortion. I added a bit of slap back type delay as well.

The song is about growing up half in the eighties and half in the nineties and the awkward transition from hair-metal to grunge which corresponded to the transition from middle school to high school for me.  We used a hybrid electronic/acoustic drum kit to shift the texture through the decades.  It’s about Reaganomics and how I felt, back then, that our educational system tends to narrow the scope of our lives, while launching us into careers that will inhibit self-actualization in the long run.  This forces an extraordinary amount of ‘unlearning’ to happen later on to get back on track.

Lyrics:

Set, I’m gonna fit right in when I put on my good clothes,
All I gotta do is pick six digits then I’ll live among the innermost,
Another cannonball, waiting for the axe to fall on the shit catapult,
people say I ain’t got no soul, but who knows.

Set, stagflating on the inside, another sunny day,
Gonna press the button over and over and I can’t wait for the eighties to be over again,
If I don’t give it up, how they gonna trickle down, I put my shit on the catapult,
My face is just a stepping stone, could go to Canada, could go to Mexico.

Oooh, another hot night cinematic, brand new fully-automatic soul

my muscle truck is just a metaphor

Set, invisible hands gonna pull all the money out,
Gonna take every red cent, why you gotta be so reticent,
People say you gotta learn to love the smell when you run the shit catapult,
People say I ain’t got no soul, but who knows,
My face is just a stepping stone, could go to Canada, could go to Mexico.

Now that I’ve started looking for them, I see ‘shit catapults’ everywhere.  One thing our culture excels at is the acceleration of shit.  This track gave us the once in a lifetime opportunity to build a giant catapult, so I designed and built one last August.  It’s a trebuchet, actually, which is much more efficient than a catapult at slinging shit.  I’ll write about this project more later.  Here’s the video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETMhibbH2bA

I designed the trebuchet to hold 1000 pounds of counterweight, which can send a 10 pound object over 400 feet. 

Voyager I recently became the first man-made object to leave the solar system.  On their way past the outer planets in the late 70’s the Voyagers recorded the ‘sound’ of the planets and moons they past, in the form of radio waves given off by their magnetospheres.  Dorky, I know, but they actually sound really amazing, all phased out and alien.  I got my hands on one of these recordings a while back, and that’s how this track got started.  I took the sound and put it through a volume envelope generator built into the Acid DAW, sort of like an extreme tremolo, to get a pulsing sound that sort of reminds me of a panting dog in front of a military airport. (the sound that opens this track)

I got in the habit of sketching out kick/hat/snare patterns for Sean with our Yamaha DTX-12, the very useful little drum pad/sampler that lives among Sean’s drums in our live show.  It’s great because we can load any sound we want on it and Sean can gracefully incorporate it into his playing.  I was immediately drawn to the 80’s sounding ‘gated’ snare that came preloaded on the DTX-12 because it was so dated and goofy, it made me smile.  For some reason it worked really well with the Voyager sound, so I ran with it.  Then Sean came up last August and recorded the same pattern on acoustic drums.  So, I had two distinct drum kits playing the same beat, one electronic and kinda 80’s and one acoustic and kinda 90’s.  Having two drum-kits to use in different sections of the track spawned the theme for the lyrics.

Gene Back, our amazing guitar/keyboard player from our first tours, came up with Sean last August and we recorded his violin while tweaking real-time effects.  This is where those crazy fiddle breaks come from.  Then, Nick Oddy came up in January and we recorded his electric guitar through an Eventide pitch-factor/delay effect.  Both of these were amazing sessions that yielded a lot more than can fit in this track. 

Thanks for reading!  Next up ‘Sinker’.

Nick

Upcoming shows: (starting Oct. 26)  New York - Philly - DC - Durham - Atlanta - Asheville - Nashville - Louisville - Cincinnati - Columbus - Buffalo - Boston - North Adams, MA 

Track 7: Electric Ant 

Anchor Blog Series: Entry #7

Electric Ant

https://soundcloud.com/zammuto/08-electric-ant

I think ‘genre’ is a very superficial concept.  From my perspective, music is about the details and those trump any category that can be applied to a track or an artist.  There is a certain spirit of playfulness and subversiveness that is universal in good art, no matter where it comes from or what it sounds like.  I want to make records that ignore artificial boundaries and attempt to reveal a unity that is under the surface.  Life is short, and I’ll be damned if I get stuck in one place (creatively speaking) for too long, there is too much to try and learn.  I hate the idea of becoming or maintaining a brand.  Its clear from the reviews of ‘Anchor’ that at this point in my career I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.  Every review of the album began with a paragraph about ‘The Books’.  Many people don’t want me to change, but if I don’t others will complain that my approach is stale.  There’s no way to win this game and so I intend to ignore it and focus on thinking freely, following my internal compass and working with people I admire and respect.  That is, I’d rather be damned if i do.      

Electric Ant (lyrics):

I met her on an airplane,
50,000 feet high,
Complained about the champagne,
She had a sparkling whine,
We talked about the plan of the city,
And how she could have done it better,
She was so profanely pretty,
You could tell she was a money getter,
 
She told me, “Buy low, sell high,
This valley got made by raining money from the sky.”
She said, “Buy low, sell high,
Even if the thought of spending your life here makes you wanna die.”
 
It’s gonna be alright if we keep sub rosa,
It’s gonna be alright if we keep sub rosa,
It’s gonna be alright, underneath a hung rose all night,
Don’t wanna be alright, underneath a hung rose.
 
I met him on a bullet train
He was the ammunition
You could feel the room shift,
When he made decisions,
You could see his head split open,
Half man, half man,
He had no use for the real estate,
He was the middle man.
 
“Buy low, sell high,
This valley got made by raining money from the sky.”
“Buy low, sell high,
Even if the thought of spending your life here makes you wanna die.”
 
It’s gonna be alright if we keep sub rosa,
It’s gonna be alright if we keep sub rosa,
Don’t wanna be alright, underneath a hung rose all night,
Don’t wanna be alright, underneath a hung rose.
 

Obviously, this song is about my disillusionment with the cancerous obsession our culture has with making money at all costs.  In the verses, the game was to start with a sort of cliche image of overly confident business people in transit and then abstract it to reflect human systems as a geophysical force.  That is to say, zoom into a self-involved individual and zoom out to reveal the ant army.  But then, the chorus is in a completely different key, sort of ruing the fact that we are generally so reticent about what really satisfies us. 

To be honest, it was kind of a nightmare working on this track.   It was an exhausting process of tweaking and second-guessing and I almost killed the track several times, but somehow it survived.  I have a feeling this track will split the audience between those who really like it and those who really don’t, and to be honest I kind of like it when that happens, so I’ll always take that risk and release it.  In fact, one thing I am really proud of with ‘The Books’ and ‘Zammuto’ is that our audience is filled with ‘individuals’.  We are able to largely avoid the ugly groupthink that plagues mass art consumption.  People respond to different moments in the show in very different ways, and I remember looking out into the audience to see little pockets of laughter or a single person in tears, like little sparks going off.  It feels very open-ended and makes me think that music should be ‘spongy’ in a way that it’s absorptive because it’s mostly empty space.  It’s been one of the greatest privileges of my life to be able to travel around the world and play concerts. It’s funny, but I often remember the travel better than the shows.  I get emotional when I’m traveling.  I love people watching, and being in a foreign place always gives me fresh eyes to notice patterns.  People’s motivations are very, very consistent from place to place, despite the cosmetic differences between local cultures.  People thirst for opportunities, watch out for their own, and then spend vast amounts of time and energy looking for escapes, both large and small.  I think we’re all kind of in it and above it at the same time, and ordinary moments can be very dramatic when you take a certain perspective. 

Technically speaking, The idea for the main groove in this track came from the same initial session as track 4.  I was playing around with TR808 samples running through outboard gear (mostly the Vermona Retroverb and Lexicon PCM81) which I could tweak in real time to create a lot of different but related textures.  I’ve noticed, in my hearing, that when bass notes go really low I can’t hear the pitch very clearly.  I think I must have narrow ear canals or something, but the bass kick on this track is right on the threshold for me, which created an underlying feeling of uncertainty of where the floor is.   Also, finding the right vocal effect was key to making this track work, and I needed to find a vocal sound that produced a feeling of heightened presence and alienation at the same time.  Usually I record vocals dry and then apply effects later, but in this case I recorded the vocals through the effects in real time and committed to the wet sound from the beginning.  In this case it’s a classic lexicon gated reverb with different amounts of pre-delay on the verses and a chorus/delay on the chorus.  The bass in the choruses is from the DSI Polyevolver.

Tomorrow, I0.

Yours,

Nick

Upcoming shows: (starting Oct. 26)  New York - Philly - DC - Durham - Atlanta - Asheville - Nashville - Louisville - Cincinnati - Columbus - Buffalo - Boston - North Adams, MA 

Track 6: Don't Be a Tool 

Anchor Blog Series: Entry #6

Don’t Be a Tool (Instrumental)

https://soundcloud.com/zammuto/07-dont-be-a-tool

Here’s a picture of the studio my brother, Mikey, took in February and carefully labeled.  I set it up so that I stand while I work, which I find keeps my mind more active and less stuck in loops.  I started hanging stuff from the ceiling last year so that I can reach all of the knobs in the whole setup while standing in the center of the stereo field.  The main compressor/EQ/preamps are located right above my head so I can do detailed trim work with my head in the sweet-spot between my monitors. The drum kit is in the same space, 180 degrees from this shot.   

Once again, the guiding principal while working on Anchor was ‘less-is-more’.  These days, given the ease of multi-track production, it’s way too easy to throw a million sounds and ideas into a track.  I consciously wanted to open the tracks up and let them breath by removing unnecessary layers.  By limiting the number of active layers to just three or four, I could focus more attention on what I truly love about sound: nuance, clarity, and peripheral detail.  I think it takes an adjustment of expectations to appreciate this approach, but for me it’s the difference between listening ‘to’ music and listening ‘through’ music: the first being passive consumption, and the second being more of an active investment of concentration.  Over the last few years, especially being the father of three very energetic boys, I want music to help me stay centered and focused. Given the frenetic pace and shortening attention span of our culture, being more centered and focused seems more and more important.

Don’t Be a Tool 

This track was an exercise in using a mono synth to maximum effect in a single take. The main synth sound in this track is the Moog Slim Phatty, recorded through the Vermona Retroverb and  Lexicon PCM81. I wrote the line entirely with midi and set the low pass filter envelope to be extremely velocity sensitive.  This means that the harder a key is struck, the brighter the note will be.  I carefully entered in velocity data for each note so that texture changes and gains complexity as the track develops.  The Slim Phatty is a mono synth, meaning it can only play one note a time, but I made it my mission with this track to jump around octaves as much as possible to transcend the mono-ness, which yielded some very strange non-idiomatic riffs.  I was particularly impressed by the Slim for its ability to give huge bass notes and piercingly clean high-notes in a single patch.  A digital or virtual synth would have trouble here. The second layer of synth is the Polyevolver, which I improvised over the Moog layer, using the same ‘fifths’ patch from ‘Good Graces’ but with a quick attack time, and medium release.     
Until recently I’ve shied away from reverb.  All of the Books tracks were bone dry (with a few exceptions).  Being stuck ‘in the box’ gave me access only to the most rudimentary digital reverbs, and they rubbed me the wrong way since they tended to obscure the fine detail of the samples I was working with. But recently I’ve had a reverb epiphany.  I feel like a lot of the technical methods I’ve learned over the last year involve using reverb as compositional tool, and as a way to create space, either a realistic one or a super-natural one.   I recently heard a great interview with a sound recordist that experimented with firing guns inside of anechoic chambers.  The sound is shocking, in a very unimpressive way… it makes you realize that reflected sound plays a huge (and largely subliminal) role in creating the context of a sound.  Mushing sound out in space and time, either as reverb or delay, is a FINE art that I haven’t fully appreciated until recently.
 
The drums came from a brush session I had recorded with Sean last summer for another track.   We recorded it at a much faster tempo and I pitched it down about 7 semitones which gives it THAT sound… dark and loose.  I pitched individual brush hits slightly differently to give each one its own timbre.  I applied a wet Lexicon stage reverb and recorded it to a different stereo track so I could lift it here and there to change the space of the drum track.  Towards the end, I applied a circular pan, which makes the drums move left to right and forward to back simultaneously.  There are other details in there too, like a bit of scratch rhythm and a sweet orchestral sample I got from the end of a song on an old record. 
 
The rumbling sound at the end came from very low notes played on the Slim through the Electrix Filter Factory and massive amounts of reverb.  The airplane like sound at the end comes from a recording that voyager II made of the ionosphere of Jupiter’s innermost moon, Io.  More on this later…
 
Yours,

Nick

Upcoming shows: (starting Oct. 26)  New York - Philly - DC - Durham - Atlanta - Asheville - Nashville - Louisville - Cincinnati - Columbus - Buffalo - Boston - North Adams, MA 

Track 5: Need Some Sun 

Anchor Blog Series:  Entry #5

Need Some Sun

https://soundcloud.com/zammuto/zammuto-need-some-sun

Track Notes:

I must have been a baby when first heard Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’.  I can’t remember not having that groove in my head.  It was the best-selling jazz single of all time, which is counter-intuitive on a number of levels.  The most salient feature of the song is its odd time signature, 5/4. In fact, the whole record (‘Time Out’ - from 1959) is in odd meters, and is definitely worth a listen.  As a kid, I knew that the flow of the song was very different than anything else I had heard, but it wasn’t until my prog-y ‘Rush-y’ freshman in high-school days (admit it, we all had them) that I figured out how it worked.
 
I don’t know why 5/4 isn’t more popular, but I love it because it’s EVIL!  It has a disconcerting cosmic quality, like that falling feeling you get when you look up into a clear sky at night.  Pentagons don’t stack well and they take up space in an uncomfortable way… they aren’t square enough and they’re not circle enough.  They are irrational… in fact, my second favorite irrational number is buried within them… the golden ratio (phi) is the relationship between a pentagons diagonal and its edge.  I think it’s the touch of evil that ‘easy listening’ has always needed that helps explain the popularity of ‘Take Five’.
 
I’ll spare you the lecture on the golden ratio’s strong sway on the structure of the living world, but suffice it to say, I like working in 5/4 because it conjures existential drama.  My dad used to tell me that it is the WILL that comes first, and logic and reason are a distant second.  And, furthermore, he’d say one should be weary that logic and reason are usually just backhanded ways of justifying what the WILL has mandated in the first place.  I love my dad.  (like I love pentagons ;)
 
I often sing spontaneous nonsense words over tracks in progress to find interesting vocal rhythms and melodies without having to worry about singing specific words.  Sometimes the patterns of consonants and vowels that come from these nonsense lyrics leads to interesting word combinations that feel right in the track even if they make no sense, and have the power to precipitate a larger idea.  Jeff Tweedy told me one time (when I was visiting the ‘Loft’ on a Books tour) that ‘good lyrics settle on a song like dust on furniture’.  I’ll never forget that advice.   In this case, none of my vocal takes sounded that interesting so I reversed them against the track and to my amazement the reverse melody actually worked much better… and this is how I got the transition to the bridge and chorus.  I re-recorded them in forward time and the rest followed naturally.  Here are the lyrics:
 
Don’t you always say I need some sun,
Need some daylight, set the high-beams on,
Driving out,
Driving out,
Going to California
Gonna see the teacher,
The charismatic leader.
 
Three days Northeast/Southwest,
Where the time and space is,
Starving body, starving soul, starving head,
Pay no mind, the road erases.
 
gonna sit, sit, sit…
 
Driving out,
Driving out,
Stay awake in these cornfields,
Stay awake in these cornfields,
 
Moonlight,
Heaps coals,
Of fire on my head,
Stay awake for days,
And move things with our minds.
 
Inner monologue says I need a crutch,
To keep from tripping on the crooked cross,
Where the continent divides.
Whoever painted this double line,
Left the piss-mark of the true pioneer’s son.
 
Gonna see the teacher,
The charismatic leader,
Stay awake in these cornfields,
Stay awake in these cornfields,
 
Moonlight,
Heaps coals,
Of fire on my head.
 
I think this song is about me (and probably many others) when I was in my twenties.  Making the transition from an environment of ‘higher education’ to a world of mundane rat races was soul crushing.  It’s really a story for another time, but in my twenties I found myself in a place where I couldn’t imagine a future, and was frantically searching for someone to tell me what to do to fix my life.  That person didn’t exist, but the search for them did lift me out of my predicament.  Generally, I feel like if you don’t deal with your existential shit in your twenties you’ll probably end up taking it out on the other people in your life until it becomes a midlife crisis later on.  At any rate, I was determined to get my crisis over with so I decided to drop everything and hike the Appalachian Trail in 2001.  I walked from Maine to Georgia in 129 days, and after that my internal compass was much stronger.  This song became about that moment of dropping everything and ‘lighting out’ for a new frontier.

Sound-wise, one thing you should never do, I’ve been taught, is hard-pan bass (because it will throw the needle out of the groove).  I started the instrumental part of ‘Need Some Sun’ by ignoring this advice.  The bass-line consists of synth bass on the left and picked electric bass on the right.  The synth is one of those classic Nord samples with a nice clicky attack, and the bass is Mikey’s prized Kramer from the 70’s with the aluminum neck and flat-wound strings, picked and record direct through the Tech 21 Sans-Amp.   I find the wide bass effect to be exceedingly enveloping (almost uncomfortably so).  I used midi to automate the synth side and ran it through a lot of different effects at different octaves to get most of the supporting textures.  Then i slowed it down by 1/2 and offset it to create a cannon through certain sections.  I also used the Ipad synth ‘Sunrizer’ which is incredible and can’t recommend highly enough, especially if you’re on a budget.  I put my Ipad in an Alesis dock (with midi in/out) and trigger Sunrizer with the Nord etc.  The kick drum came from an old Korg sample I had from somewhere.  There is a bit of acoustic guitar and acoustic hi-hat/ride in there, too.

Ok, tomorrow is Track 6 - Don’t Be a Tool: a short instrumental that starts side B.

As always, please help us keep this thing alive: 

1). Check out our webstore: (zammuto/thebooks/soundsculpture

2). Come to a show: (here are two great reviews from our recent west coast run: Portland,LA

3). Most importantly!  SPREAD THE WORD.  

Upcoming shows: (starting Oct. 26)  New York - Philly - DC - Durham - Atlanta - Asheville - Nashville - Louisville - Cincinnati - Columbus - Buffalo - Boston - North Adams, MA 

 
Yours,
 
Nick     

Track 4: Henry Lee 

Anchor Blog Series:  Entry #4

Henry Lee

https://soundcloud.com/zammuto/04-henry-lee

A (somewhat unrelated) note about ‘The Sample’ class:

Last fall, I taught a course at Williams College about sampling called ‘The Sample’.  Although listed under ‘Art’, it was a multimedia class focused on sampling and appropriations in 5 categories:

1) Audio  2) Video  3) Still Image  4) Text  5) Objects 

I set up the classwork as follows: Assignment 1:  produce three 'blackout' poems. Assignment 2: write a 3 page paper about a sample based work of your choice (to help develop a language to talk about samples and how they can be used). Assignment 3: sample collections: collect at least 20 high-quality samples from 3 of the 5 categories and compile them in a ‘class library’ (stored in the classroom and digitally online) so that everyone in the class has access to all of the samples collected. (there were 13 people in class so this resulted in a library with about 800 decent samples) Assignment 4: Create a compelling work of art, music or text based on the samples in the collection.  Assignment 5: Create a sample based work of art in the medium of your choice using any sample from inside or outside the library. I brought in my enormous collection of thrift store videos and vinyl from my ‘Books’ days to sweeten the pot, and provided a turntable for the class to use.  I also limited the use of the internet as a sample collection tool, since I find there is a lot more character in physical sources, as everything on the internet has already been pre-curated and digitized.  The class was tutorial style, so we had one 3 hour full class session per week on Monday nights, and another 1 hour meeting in 4 small groups during the week.

We talked a lot about what makes a sample good (and bad) and came up with a list of words that describe the hallmarks of good sample based work:  Alchemy, Subversion, Perspective Shift, Re-contextualization, Serendipity, Synchronicity, Transcendence, Emergence, Zeitgeist etc. All of this was intuitive while working on ‘The Books’  and I came to trust the feeling of ‘not forcing’ the compositions, and rather just letting the sounds find each other as if I wasn’t there.  Samples, within the space of a mind, have a certain freedom to tumble around and orbit each other and form unexpected relationships that make more ‘sense’ than the conscious mind ever could.  I think this is the essence of creativity and it feels ‘right’ when the self disappears in the process.  This was the take home message of the class, and I think we all made progress getting there.  I’ll probably always think in ‘samples’ because of my work in The Books. I may try to do an online version of this class someday (anyone interested?).

Although my process has changed (and will continue to change) I’ll always be sampling in some way.  In the case of Henry Lee, it was an exercise in re-contextualizing an old song and giving it a new sonic framework.

Henry Lee

I like working in pentatonic while sketching out structures for songs since it provides a relatively ‘uncolored’ and ‘uncluttered’ set of harmonics that are easily moved in big chunks.  Later on I can add ‘white notes’ to easily change key and mood in organic ways.  This is how ‘dark and light’ work in this track (and many others on the record).  I’ve started thinking of it as a ‘partly cloudy’ approach to song writing, where there are periods of bright and gloom, and it’s easy to transition between them.  As i wrote earlier, this album was about finding a darker more enveloping sound world and pulling out all unnecessary sounds, leaving cleaner relationships between lines.
 
The music and structure of the track was more or less complete before I started working on the lyrics.  I tried and failed miserably for several days trying to find good words and melodies for the track, and started to feel desperate and defeated.  The 4/4 frustration started to set in.  So, I started to look to the public domain for inspiration.  I turned to THE SOURCE of modern American songs, which is Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, a 4 LP compilation of songs recorded in the late 1920’s.  And there it was: The first track on the first record.  A ‘murder ballad’ from 1929 called 'Henry Lee' by Dick Justice, based on the Scottish folk standard ‘Young Hunting’.   I love how murder, death, revenge, and scorn were such strong themes in traditional music, and the sentiment fit perfectly with the music I was working on… something unexpectedly dark and graphic was just what was needed.  I tossed the original melody, reworked the lyrics quite a lot, and changed the sentiment so it had more of a ‘good riddance, he deserved it’ kind of vibe, rather than a ‘woman scorn’ story.  Here’s my version of the lyrics:

She leaned against the wall,
He came in for a kiss,
In her hands she held a pen knife,
Stuck between his ribs,
 
Some of you take him by his cold white hands,
And some of you take him by his feet,
And throw him in the deep, deep well where,
He should be,
Henry lee
 
Come down, come down now,
Alight upon my knee,
A man who kills his own true love would,
Kill a little bird like me,
 
If I had my bend and bow, now,
If I had my arrow and my string,
I’d shoot you through your soul and your yearnings,
Would be in vain,
Be in vain,
 
Lie there, lie there, lie there,
‘til the flesh melts off of your bones,
The shallows don’t know you anymore,
Now the crabs crawl out of your skull,
 
Some of you take him by his cold white hands,
And some of you take him by his feet,
And throw him in the deep, deep well where,
He should be,
Henry Lee.
 
I recorded it in my low register and panned two different takes hard left and right to create a large hollow space within the track for the bubbling details of the other sounds to roil.  I recorded Daniela singing the melody an octave above me on my trip to Toronto in February and kept her voice centered and heavily awash in reverb to make it into a kind of female ghost floating between two clear male voices.  I hope this falls under the category of ‘good sampling’, as it felt right to extend the tradition of a celebrated folk song into a new light.  Of course, I’m not the first to try it with this song:  here’s Nick Cave and PJ Harvey’s version.
 
The bass part and rhythm of this track came from the ‘gear’ experiments I was doing in Sept/Oct to familiarize myself with all of the new capabilities of the studio.  Having the Surachai TR808 samples gave me some juicy vintage sounding electronica rhythms to send through the new gear, so I set up a simple thumpy kick pattern and sent it to the FMR Really Nice Compressor’s sidechain input.  This is the only low cost analog compressor that has a sidechain input (that i’m aware of) and it’s in stereo to boot.  So useful.  Side-chaining (or ducking) compression is a common way to get a kick drum and bass to work together without low end dissonance or ‘woofiness’.  Basically, the kick drum signal tells the compressor to drop the sound of the bassline whenever the kick drum is there, which gives a nice clean kick sound and heavy bass at the same time.  This has been around a long time in high-end mixing/mastering but bands like Daft Punk and many others started the trend of using it as a compositional tool, and now you hear it everywhere in pop music.  It’s interesting because it’s a subtractive technique that allows you to cut into a ‘wall of sound’ in a rhythmic way.  The bass in this song came from Polyevolver played through the compressor sidechained to the 808 kick.  I also applied it to some higher synth notes and took that recording and shifted it against the original rhythm to provide a subtle counterpoint. 
 
The strummed-harpy synth sound that comes in in measure 3 is also Polyevolver sent through the ‘Butler’ springs, as well as the PE ‘mellotron flute’ sounds in the rest of the track, which I noodled in pentatonic and perfected digitally.  I also set up a dark drone using the ‘flute’ sound through an ‘infinite’ reverb patch on the Lexicon pcm81. The drums were recorded similarly to track 3 (Hegemony) and post processed in various ways to achieve a range of drum textures that all interlock.  Again Sean Dixon proved his creativity during these sessions.  It took us a while to get beyond my original bad ideas for the drums, and finally he hit upon a few amazing poly-rhythms.  Somewhat like in the track ‘Shape of Things to Come’, he managed to play two syncopated patterns of different lengths against each other while having left and right hand switch roles now and then.  I’ve always been a big fan of the Police, especially Stewart Copeland’s adventuresome playing, and I often hear parallels in Sean’s approach.    I also love the bold mixes on police records, with the hi-hat way out in front.

Thanks for reading, tomorrow Track 5: Need Some Sun.

And please help us keep going:

1). Check out our webstore: (zammuto/thebooks/soundsculpture

2). Come to a show: (here are two great reviews from our recent west coast run: Portland,LA

3). Most importantly!  SPREAD THE WORD.  

Upcoming shows: (starting Oct. 26)  New York - Philly - DC - Durham - Atlanta - Asheville - Nashville - Louisville - Cincinnati - Columbus - Buffalo - Boston - North Adams, MA 

Yours,

Nick

Track 3: Hegemony 

Anchor Blog Series:  Entry #3

Hegemony:
https://soundcloud.com/zammuto/sets/zammuto-lp2/s-LZ1CQ
 
This one began with the drums, of course.  I was determined to have at least one track on the album feature Sean Dixon’s monstrous abilities in an unabashed way.  Sometimes I feel like bands, in an effort to maintain ‘coolness’, end up becoming the sum of their inhibitions.  We have no claim to coolness, and thus we fearlessly tackle the unrecommended. 

I asked Sean what a punk beat would sound like in 3/4 (instead of 4/4) and he said “Oh, like this…” and I pressed record.  Then after a while exploring the double-time beat he said, “But the really cool thing is that you can go here…” and he proceeded to drop into a 3/4 break without missing a beat.  It was a MOMENT.  I’d never heard a 3/4 breakbeat, and I don’t know why!?  They sound great, especially after a 3/4 punk freakout. 
  
After we recorded the drums I got stuck for a while…Where could one possible go from here?  Louder?  If we did distorted guitars and picked bass it could get unwieldy, so punk instrumentation was out.  I sat on it for a couple months while working on other stuff, and it finally hit me that the drums are so vertical and busy that I needed the other elements to be more horizontal, spacious and minimalistic to ground the drums. Daniela Gesundheit was traveling to a wedding nearby and was available to stop by the studio in August 2013 and I thought her voice could work wonders on this track.  I scrambled to write a melody worthy of her voice.  I ended up using the automatic harmony generators in the TC Helicon Voice-live 2 (the vocal processor I used a lot on the first Zammuto record) to sketch out a 4 part harmony.  She’s got a great ear for harmony and we were able to record the 4 layers in an afternoon.  It was a hot day and we needed to keep the door to the studio open, which explains all the bird sounds buried in this track. 
 
Hegemony. I don’t know why this word popped into my head, but it’s one that I truly love.  I have a passionate interest in things that are ubiquitous but go largely unnoticed…  the giant forces in our lives that hold the fabric of everything together but fall so completely into the background that we don’t see them.  This covers everything from the laws of physics to corporate dominance to politics to dynamics in intimate relationships.  It’s EVERYWHERE once you start looking for it.  (Here’s a great example of 'situational blindness').  Also, the fact that the word ‘Hegemony’ has two widely accepted pronunciations seems important, in a strangely poetic way.  So the lyrics became (in a pseudo-palindromic form):

Try to make it look like an accident,
Cold wind blows all around a magic ball,
When you looked down,
You made it look just like you’d gone away,
But I can feel it all,
Yeah, you looked down,
You made it look just like you’d gone away,
I can feel it all,
 
Hegemony x42 (3 x 14)
 
Repeat verse 1
 
Sometimes I think of language as an uninvited guest in an otherwise perfect mind.  So, It’s a great exercise to concentrate so intensely on the sound of a word that the meaning of it disappears.  It illustrates an important property of language.  Repeating a word many times has a way of undoing it’s meaning.  The sound of the word becomes more and more abstract as the signifier becomes divorced from the signified.  I think hegemonies arise by the reverse process: an abstraction is repeated to the point where it becomes accepted as fact.  ‘Consent is manufactured’.  Things we never needed before become necessities.  This is how tools, in the form of objects and people, are made.  Personally, I want to use tools without becoming a tool.  But, it’s hard to find a perspective that unveils the hegemony most of the time. Usually it requires taking several steps back, and outside of one’s comfort zone.  But hard work is rewarding.
 
After mixing the harmonies (both Daniela’s and mine) I sent the vocals through the Vermona Retroverb all together to unify them into a mono track and give them a bit of vintage spring flavor.  Then I started looking for supporting elements and once again I found them within the Nord Electro 3.  Another great thing about Nord is that they provide a vast library of vintage keyboard samples that you can download directly to the keyboard, including the original Mellotron and Chamberlain tapes, and classic patches from early synthesizers.  I spent several days going through them all and compiled my favorites in a library of my own.  They come in very handy.  I processed most of them through the outboard gear as I tracked them.  Then Mikey, my brother, came in and recorded the slinky bass line that pulls it all together.  The crazy distorted organ sound at the beginning and end of the track is the Farfisa organ from the Nord, through its onboard amp-modeler and a Moog Cluster-Flux, which the kind folks at Moog let me borrow while it was in the prototype phase. 

For those of you who are interested in the technical aspects of drum recording:  We recorded the drums with 5 microphones: D6 on the kick, two 414’s for overheads in ‘recorderman' configuration as close as possible, and e604 on the snare top, an Audix I5 on the snare bottom (sort of pointed towards the kick point) and an e604 on the big floor tom recorded through a UA 710d preamp with a touch of '1176' compression on the takes.  (plus an art tube pre on the tom).  I wanted stereo drums as quickly as possible (since they are easier to work with) so I roughly EQ'd them using Izotope alloy.  One AMAZING trick I discovered is that if you record snare top and bottom, EQ them so they sound as alike as possible and pan them hard right and left, the snare becomes incredibly vivid (without a volume boost!).  The overheads are panned hard as well, the kick in the center, and the tom a bit to the right, then bounced it all to stereo.  This sounded ok, but too 'clean'.  So I sent it OUTBOARD.  I sent a stereo analog signal through the R.K Butler tube spring reverb, only used a tiny touch of reverb, but drove the tubes pretty hard to distort the transients a touch.  Then I used the VLA2 compressor, set to a slow attack and fast release to bring out a lot of detail in the ringing of the drums that you couldn't hear in the digital mix.  Finally, I used the Kush Electra EQ to find the sweet-spots in the drum sound and lift them.  The sweepable mids on the Electra are very unique, and if you eq the left and right slightly differently you can widen the stereo image in a very compelling way.  The mind behind this EQ is Gregory Scott, and he has an extremely useful web presence that I’ve learned a lot of tricks from.  
 
OK!  Tomorrow: Track 4 – Our version of an old murder ballad called ‘Henry Lee’.

remember:

1). Pick up something from our online store where you’ll find:(zammuto/thebooks/soundsculpture

2). Come to a show: (here are two great reviews from our recent west coast run: Portland,LA

3).  Most importantly!  SPREAD THE WORD.  We need to grow a bit more to survive.  Share this post, tweet, facebook, whatever.  If all of you turned just one person on to our music, we’d be golden, totally independent and in the black.

Starting on Oct 26 we’ll be heading through New York - Philly - DC - Durham - Atlanta - Asheville - Nashville - Louisville - Cincinnati - Columbus - Buffalo - Boston - North Adams, MA (a special home town finale).   We hope to see you out there.

yours,

Nick

Track 2: Great Equator 

Anchor Blog Series: Entry # 2

Great Equator:

https://soundcloud.com/zammuto/sets/zammuto-lp2/s-LZ1CQ



Here’s the video I made for the song using electron and light microscopes (I used to be an analytical chemist in an art conservation lab years ago, and it was nice to revisit the old scopes in the lab.)

I’ll write more about the making of the video later.

A general note:

I feel like I need to be alone to do my best work, especially given the endless looping and trial and error that goes into producing this kind of music.  I feel like some people HAVE music in them and it pours out of them complete and perfect, and all you need to do is press record.  I am not one of those people.  I’m introverted and self-conscious, and moments of FLOW come few and far between.  I think I’m more of a scientist at my core, and I’ve set up my studio so that it feels like a microscope for sound.  I love detail and I love clarity of texture.  For me it’s the fine detail that carries the emotional weight of a track and my ears are always traveling to the periphery and the spaces between sounds to find meaning.  For me, the unintentional quality of the ‘edges’ of sound provides an organic support for the more intentional central elements of the track, so one can find deep sound and deep structure simultaneously.

Notes on Great Equator:

When I was in middle school, I started going to the public library in the town where I grew up to borrow vinyl records.  They had a good collection.  I was pretty voracious about trying new music. It was my first exposure to Bach, Kraftwerk, Ornett Coleman, Weather Report etc. and I also listened to all the sound effects records in the collection (that had little snippets of airplanes and applause etc.).  There was no automatic return on my parents turntable, so at the end of each side the music would end and the needle would spiral in and slide into the circular ‘locked-groove’ at the center.  I would always wait for that sound and listen to the thump and crackle of that run-out groove, each like a fingerprint for that record.  It made me realize that ‘silence’ isn’t silence.  It’s just the taste of your own tounge.

That little loop of silence seemed like a gift.  A little negative space to work in.  It wasn’t long before I tried purposefully scratching across it.  Using thumb-tacks, razor blades, sand paper etc, I started making marks there to see what they sounded like.  The thumb tack produced a nice bassy thump.  The razor blade produced a quick snap.  The sand paper sounded like a maraca.   If I scratched inward the sound would appear on the left speaker of the stereo.  Scratching outward made it sound more on the right. Using a protractor I measured out different angles that corresponded to rhythms.  Working at 90 or 45 degrees was in 4/4.  Other integer divisions of 360 produced other time signatures.          

I finally perfected the technique last year with the ‘Scratch Edition’ which includes a template for 5 different time signatures with divisions for 8ths, 16ths, and triplets.  Here’s a video I made about it.

Scratch Edition from Nick zammuto on Vimeo.

I’ve made hundreds of these loops and recorded all of the loops and compiled them into a collection.  maybe someday i’ll make them public.  Last year I took some electron microscope images of the scratches at a local college which you can view here: http://zammutosound.com/galleries/147175/electron-micrographs-of-record-scratches.

this became the idea for the Great Equator video.

My very favorite of the rhythms I scratched is the one that opens this track.  It’s in a quick 9/8.  As a composer, I get very frustrated with 4/4 because of its ubiquity and its squareness.  By pure repetition, our ears have become hard-wired for the tension and release of 4/4, and every genre of it has idioms, tropes, and conventions that, as a composer, are very difficult to transcend.  Not so with 9/8.  In fact, all of the tropes of 4/4 work to 9/8’s advantage because it feels like there’s a tiny space where the one should be, refreshing expectations every time around.

9/8 also suggests some wonderful polyrhythms.  You’ll find it’s as easy to count this track in sixes as in nines, which creates a very natural 2 over 3 relationship… the three feels waltzy, while the two feels marchy… a great contradiction.  So the opening seconds of the track are clean illustration of how the gears of 9/8 intermesh, with the final gear coming in as the snare sound about halfway through the first verse.  The kick, hi-hat, and snare sounds are sampled directly from a tr-808, a classic vintage drum machine, by Surachai in Asheville, NC, who generously made them available for download here.  I also treated the scratched rhythm in a few different ways with the Lexicon PCM81 so I could change the texture of it here and there throughout the track.

Next came the chord progression for the verse/chorus structure which is where the primary idea for the key change between verse and chorus was born along with the 3 measure figure of the verses (a 27 beat loop that makes perfect sense, who knew).  The main synth sound comes from the Polyevolver, which has a unique built-in distortion circuit and really comes to life when squashed a bit by a compressor… in this case it’s the ART Pro VLA2 (the best kept secret in cheap analog compressors along with the FMR RNC).  Mikey (my brother) improvised the bass line very early on in the process, which wonderfully counteracts the stiff staccato of the electronic drums.  Sean Dixon recorded drums over the loop with some amazing performances, but after working with them they didn’t fit with the clean metronomic style of the rhythm, so I’m saving those recordings for another track.  The great thing about drums and percussion is that they are un-pitched and therefore unconstrained by key or scale (and to a large degree, tempo) so they are easily transplanted to other tracks.  Sean’s playing is so creative that it often happens that new ideas are sparked, and the original context for the recordings are left behind.

After settling on the chord structure, I needed a WRENCH to throw in the works in the form of a bridge/breakdown/outro.  I wanted something bright, vertical, and extremely syncopated to counter the long horizontal decay tails of the verse/choruses.  The solution came from the Nord Electro 3, the red keyboard that we (and countless others) tour with.  It has great emulations of classic organs with harmonics that can be fine-tuned with virtual drawbars, and in this case I found the punch I was looking for in a ‘Vox’ organ sound with a bit of room reverb on it.  I wrote the notes out in MIDI (within the Acid DAW) always striving for the gnarliest, most unexpected places to place the hits.  I’m a terrible keyboard player, so MIDI is a good friend of mine when working on key parts.  Then I recorded the same part with a heavy hall reverb on it and placed it in a separate layer below the Vox-room recording.  Using Acid’s built in volume envelopes I pulled up the hall reverb sound between random notes to give that sense of space expanding and contracting.  Also, you’ll notice that the kick and snare sounds switch roles now and then, to further shift the gears in these sections.  It became one of my favorite moments on the record.  I feel like whenever a radical texture can enter a composition in an unexpected but strangely perfect way, it becomes a MOMENT that is unforgettable.  It’s a somewhat risky way of writing since it usually doesn’t work out, but so worth it when it does.  I suppose this is true in any medium… if you can get a crazy idea to work, its pure gold.

Next I added guitar during the second and third verses, to help push the development forward.  I did a session with my Fender Stratocaster recorded ‘direct’ through a Sans Amp and Vermona Retroverb.  Guitar riffs, like 4/4, are another ubiquitous thing that is almost too stale and worn out to attempt, but I landed on a unique riff by capo-ing up high so that fingers land on the 3rd and 4th of the root simultaneously, creating a dissonance that works in unexpected ways against the chords. It’s as if the 3rd and 4th are duking it out for dominance as the riff decays.  It creates a cloud of uncertainty in the mood of the track, which is extended by the key change in choruses.  In January, Nick Oddy, our guitarist and keyboard player extraordinaire, came up and we recorded the hanging washed-out guitar chords that support the verses.  Synth pads would have felt cheesy, but these guitar chords felt just right to subtly fill the spaces in the track.  They were recorded through an Electro-Harmonix Freeze pedal > a volume pedal > an eventide ‘space’ pedal with a randomized volume mod.

All that was left was the lyrics, which are the hardest part of the process for me.  The words that come naturally to my head are truly insipid, and I hate myself for it.  I need to employ massive amounts of self-trickery to deceive my non-verbal brain into writing worthwhile songs.   Outright theft works well, as in the first track.  This one was more slippery.   While working on the lyrics for this track I became obsessed with reading the wiki tvtropes.org.  As they say on their front page “Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations.”  It’s literally a catalog of all of the tricks and conventions of fiction writing, backed by thousands of examples.  Right off, I got a few great lines from it.  The kind of lines that invoke an entire world in just a few words.  That was enough to get me started.  I also re-read a book we have here at home called ‘The Home Planet’ which is made entirely of quotes from people who have left earth to live in space.  Eventually the song coalesced:

Oh, my love
It’s been more than fun.
We’ve been around the sun,
The moves we made were radical.
Gravity is only a theory,
In need of revisions.
And we’ll keep on rising to better see,
Where we’re from.
Why have become,
So afraid of change,
Why can’t deserts handle rain.
 
Slower now,
We go around the sun.
Now life’s a kind of condensation,
A certain type of rust.
Bad vibrations shake the coins across the table,
Oh, here it comes.
I try to hold the reins,
With these folded paper hands,
And plan on shifting sands.
 
Oh, Great Equator,
City of sound.
All we have in a single frame,
For the first time.
Oh, my loves, I wish you could see,
What I’ve seen.
Or should I spend my days,
In empty pyramids,
And do what the echo-chamber says.
 
I recorded the song in two vocal layers in tight harmony throughout, with no clear lead voice, like a mutant Simon and Garfunkle (we used to call ourselves ‘Simon and Glitchfunkle’ back in the Books days).   I also recorded at low volume in my lowest register so that the vocal stayed within the ‘pocket’ of the track instead of soaring out on top.  I carefully matched the volume of the two voices and sent them both through the gentle analog distortion circuit of the Vermona Retroverb, which sonically glued them together into more of a single sound, and mixed them mono in the center of the track.    I recorded a thick spring reverb of the vocals to another stereo track, and lifted them more and more in the mix as track develops.  I love the way ‘ducked’ reverb blossoms in the space between lines, so I left a lot of space in this song to leave the tails exposed.

Thanks for reading, everyone.  Tomorrow: 3) Hegemony. 

And (sorry to repeat myself but for the good of my children I must) please remember there are three ways you can help keep this crazy thing alive: 

1). Pick up something from our online store where you’ll find:(zammuto/thebooks/soundsculpture

2). Come to a show: (here are two great reviews from our recent west coast run: Portland,LA

3).  Most importantly!  SPREAD THE WORD.  We need to grow a bit more to survive.  Share this post, tweet, facebook, whatever.  If all of you turned just one person on to our music, we’d be golden, totally independent and in the black.

Starting on Oct 26 we’ll be heading through New York - Philly - DC - Durham - Atlanta - Asheville - Nashville - Louisville - Cincinnati - Columbus - Buffalo - Boston - North Adams, MA (a special home town finale).   We hope to see you out there.

yours,

Nick

Track 1: Good Graces 

Anchor Blog Series (My notes on the tracks from our new record Anchor, one per day for 12 days)

Good Graces:   


Last April, as part of the tremendous Indiegogo campaign that funded ‘Anchor’, I wrote down my creative/technical notes for each track and shared them with our backers along with previews to the tracks.  I wrote it all down while it was still fresh in my mind and many people suggested I make these writings available to everyone, after the release.  So, I’m going to post one per day for the next 12 days.  (Please forgive the number of emails from me during this time).  Creative notes are towards the top and technical/production notes are towards the end.

General notes on Anchor:

With this record, I set out to make something more internal, darker, a bit slower and more enveloping with locked-in grooves and fewer moving parts.  It was a conscious effort to take a step back and focus on the essentials as I developed a new set of studio techniques, especially drum recording, analog synth programming, and lyric writing.  After our first record, I was craving more space in the music and deeper emotional resonance with the voice and lyrics.   So for this record, I consciously tried to pull anything unnecessary out of the mix, so the lines could interact more clearly, stand on their own and leave space for each other.  I worked on ‘Anchor’ from November through early April in my little studio cabin at our home in Vermont (as seen on the cover of the record).  It’s a winter record, to be sure, and now that it’s getting colder I’m hoping you all will take some time to relax into it.  I try to make records that are ‘growers’: a bit jarring or unexpected at first but make perfect ‘sense’ over time.  It may take a few times through to figure out how it all fits together, but I promise, I’ve put all the same concentration and detail into this record as all of my others, albeit in a different sphere.  I don’t intend to repeat myself much in the years I have left making music, there is simply too much ground to cover.  So please enjoy this record for what it is and expect something completely different next time around.  Expectation leads to disappointment, as they say.     

1). Good Graces:

I’ve always been a huge fan of Gillian Welch.  Her lyrics are incredible and timeless, and I know she’s spent countless hours poring over the songs of the ‘Old Weird America’ for inspiration.  (If you’ve never heard her start with Time (The Revelator). Following her lead, I found a great collection of songs here: toneway.com/songs and I read through them all.  I kept finding repeated images and a kind of surprising raw lustfulness in the words of these songs, the kind of thoughts you think when you meet someone you know you must HAVE, and wrote a new song based on the themes that struck me: (lyrics)
 
When I first saw my love,
She had her shoes in her hands,
Bare feet on the floor, ooh yes,
I’ve got to get inside her world.
 
I’ve got to get inside,
Get inside,
Get inside her,
Good graces.
 
I wish I was a cherry tree,
And every time she past she’d take a few of me,
Got to be inside her flower,
Old Man, you’re gonna lose your daughter.
 
I’ve got to get inside,
Get inside,
Get inside her,
Good graces.
 
Give me roses while I live,
I live if it’s me that you adore,
Useless are the flowers that you give,
When on earth we meet no more.
 
The last verse was taken pretty directly from the traditional song ‘Give Me the Roses’ and was clearly in a different voice.  Last February, I made a special trip to Toronto to visit my dear friend Daniela Gesundheit (her real name!) and her excellent husband Dan Goldman, who are the band Snowblink.  Daniela ended up singing on four songs on this record, and we recorded the final verse of this song on that trip, in their apartment in Chinatown.
 
The concept for the melody of the verses was to twist the scale as much as possible by ending each line on an odd note, and double the voice with subtle piano notes to reinforce the twists.  It’s not major, it’s not minor, it’s not blues: it shifts between the three without commitment, allowing light and dark to shift unexpectedly in small moments.  I sang it in my high quiet feminine voice, since it felt right to twist the gender of it as well (although my wife has complained that it’s not sexy enough).  Oh well.  Unfortunately, for her and my music career, being sexy has never really been on my radar.  I treated the vocal with a great patch from a classic lexicon pcm81 (early digital unit) that has chorus on the left and delay on the right, which makes it wide and mysterious.  Daniela’s voice went through the ‘Butler’ spring reverb (see below) to pull into the space of the ambient synth. 
 
Because of the unexpected success of our fundraiser, I was able to raid ebay for some great old gear and improve the studio’s capabilities 1000%.  Over the course of July-Oct, I assembled an incredible stereo effects chain (for surprisingly little money) consisting of:

  • A vintage ‘Lexicon’ pcm81 reverb/multieffects unit (classic 80’s/early 90’s sound)
  • A vintage stereo 12 spring reverb (‘R.K. Butler’ Real Tube) (classic 70’s sound)
  • An ‘FF’ Electrix Filter-Factory, multimode analog filter with LFO sync
  • A ‘Vermona’ Retroverb Lancet (a mono multimode filter attached to a spring reverb)
  • An FMR ‘RNC’ (Really Nice Compressor) capable of analog side chaining
  • A Kush Electra Stereo EQ rack unit, (a very unique way to boost transients)
  • A ‘PE’ DSI Polyevolver hybrid synth (recently discontinued) with four note polyphony


This allowed me to work almost entirely ‘outboard’ (computer free) while tracking this record.  This was a new experience for me, with a steep learning curve, but SO much more satisfying than being stuck ‘in the box’ doing endless computer work, trying to use lifeless DSP effects.  In fact, I didn’t realize how much time I spent fighting my gear until I had the ‘real’ thing.  Computers, it turns out, only emulate.

Generally speaking, I do a LOT of sketch work, and I wait patiently for good ideas to find each other before I try to make them work together in a composition. When working on the tracks, I feel like there is an obvious ‘next step’ in the compositional process, which is almost always the ‘wrong step’, and I abhor that tendency to do what ‘makes sense’.  The counterbalance to this inhibition is that I want the music to feel right, and have a strong inner logic, especially on repeated listens.  I don’t care if the music is a bit disorienting on the first listen, as long as listening naturally goes deeper with every play.  I think this tendency probably limits the size of the audience quite a lot, but the QUALITY of the audience is greatly improved (as you all illustrate, perfectly).  It takes a long time to make these tracks, and the stories of making them become complicated, so forgive my long windedness.

Long before the lyrics began taking shape, the track started with an improvisation I did on the PE through the outboard stereo effects chain. (Here it is for download: it’s kind of glitchy and boring but maybe you can remix it: https://soundcloud.com/zammuto/pe-cr-improv-cc/s-XNT72). This improvisation was completely erased from the final version of the track, but served as the skeleton around which the drums were performed.  Sean Dixon came up in August and improvised the drums over the synth loop while I tweaked effects in real time as he played.  Just three microphones, kick plus 2 overheads, the kick going through the vermona and the overheads going through the lexicon/FF.  Playing with the synth loop is how he came up with the idea to leave the kick off the one.  So great!  I love Sean, both as a player and as a human being.  Being a drummer/ninja vigilante, means Sean knows all about the ‘one’ and when to avoid it.

I improvised the bass-line on the PE a couple weeks later while listening through Sean’s session, along with the hook from the Slim Phatty (a Moog mono synth I’ve had for a few years (zebra butt) recorded through the Vermona. I also started humming the melody of the chorus at this point, but unfortunately the words that popped into my head were ‘you’ve got to dig inside your cold feces’, which I knew had to change, so I left the track behind for a bit.  Eventually, ‘Cold Feces’ became ‘Good Graces’ and then I was back on track.

A few weeks later I was doing a series of very ambient improvisations in the pentatonic scale (always useful and easily transplanted) with a simple PE patch I created using two analog triangle waves tuned a fifth apart through the FF into a fully wet ‘R.K Butler’ spring reverb.  You’ll all be familiar with spring reverbs from surf era guitar. Many modern guitar amps still have a genuine spring reverb, recognizable by their sproinginess when faced with bright transients (percussive sounds).  In a spring reverb, the echo sound is made by physically passing the sound through a metal spring and recording what comes out the other side.  It’s a wonderful, dense and idiosyncratic sound that can really transport a person in time and space, without any of the trappings of ‘reality’ (i.e. the cool familiarity of sounds bouncing off objects in real spaces). The R.K Butler is a stereo spring reverb, with six springs on each side, fed by vacuum tubes (which can be beautifully overdriven) and followed by a simple fixed three band eq.  When I went back to listen to these sessions it occurred to me they might work with the song.  Indeed, they did, sort of, except the scale differed by one note, which actually provided a subtle key change that sparked the idea for the vocal melody.   

The watery voices at the beginning of this track came from sending Diane Rehm’s Friday News Round-up (one of my favorite shows) through the FF with an LFO on a strongly resonant band filter, creating a sort of Charley Brown wah-wah adult sound.  This is how I imagine NPR sounds to my three sons.  Then, by further pushing them back in space using the Lexicon ‘Medium Hall’ algorithm, (a beautifully realistic digital reverb that lexicon invented in the eighties), I got them to ‘dissolve’ into the background synth.

As an aside, I’ve started mastering within the timeline of the tracks.  I use Sony’s (formerly Sonic Foundry’s) Acid as my primary DAW (all of The Books and Zammuto records were made with it), and for this record I put Izotope Ozone on the master bus, so I could really play with how the track saturates against the ceiling of digital space.  I’ve done a lot of mastering for other people over the last few years, and for my own work I got very tired of trying to imagine how the master would sound, since it leads to too much guess work.  This way I can fold mastering into the compositional process.  It smoothed out the process since I didn’t have to bounce new versions every time I wanted to change the master.

Thanks for reading.  Tomorrow: Track 2:  Great Equator.  And please remember there are three ways you can help keep this crazy thing alive:

1). Pick up something from our online store where you’ll find:(zammuto/thebooks/soundsculpture

2). Come to a show: (here are two great reviews from our recent west coast run: Portland, LA

3). Most importantly!  SPREAD THE WORD.  We need to grow a bit more to survive.  Share this email, tweet, facebook, whatever.  If all of you turned just one person on to our music, we’d be golden, totally independent and in the black.

Tour Dates: Starting Oct 26 we’ll be Touring through New York - Philly - DC - Durham - Atlanta - Asheville - Nashville - Louisville - Cincinnati - Columbus - Buffalo - Boston - North Adams, MA (a special home town finale).   We hope to see you out there.

More tomorrow,

Nick

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  • Aaron Geiger

    Aaron Geiger Kirkland, IL

    I'm framing my limited edition colored vinyl and accoutrements for "Anchor." Idea: I have some artwork and thingiverse tokens to go along with a poem; it would be fully complete if set to your music. You could give the DL code to print off the tokens.
    I'm framing my limited edition colored vinyl and accoutrements for "Anchor."
    Idea: I have some artwork and thingiverse tokens to go along with a poem; it would be fully complete if set to your music. You could give the DL code to print off the tokens.
  • Neil Curtis

    Neil Curtis Staffordshire, England.

    I love the keyboard sounds in 'Need some Sun' and indeed throughout the new album. Beautiful choices made here! They really make for a sonic treat. Question is....which synthesizer sounds are they???? software synths??? Please come to the UK!
    I love the keyboard sounds in 'Need some Sun' and indeed throughout the new album. Beautiful choices made here! They really make for a sonic treat. Question is....which synthesizer sounds are they???? software synths??? Please come to the UK!
  • Jerry

    Jerry Austin,TX

    New Album and accompanying artwerk look and sound great. Also the Vinyl itself is a "honey" of an object.
    New Album and accompanying artwerk look and sound great. Also the Vinyl itself is a "honey" of an object.
  • chris

    chris mass

    previewing the new stuff from NPR. Great as usual! Just wondering, your music would be great in surround, any ideas to release it in 5.1?
    previewing the new stuff from NPR. Great as usual! Just wondering, your music would be great in surround, any ideas to release it in 5.1?
  • Dallas

    Dallas Davenport, IA

    If you happen to pass through the Quad Cities, IA/IL at any point, be sure to stop. Great music is always welcome here.
    If you happen to pass through the Quad Cities, IA/IL at any point, be sure to stop. Great music is always welcome here.
  • Logan Brennan-Sawyer

    Logan Brennan-Sawyer Leiden, The Netherlands

    Thanks so much for the wonderful music and creativity. Being a Southern Vermont native (the Putney School) and living overseas, your music brings me back to those green hills and fields. It may be flat and rainy in Holland but when I listen to your music and close my eyes I am home in Vermont again. Thank you.
    Thanks so much for the wonderful music and creativity. Being a Southern Vermont native (the Putney School) and living overseas, your music brings me back to those green hills and fields. It may be flat and rainy in Holland but when I listen to your music and close my eyes I am home in Vermont again. Thank you.
  • Patricia

    Patricia London, UK

    Eagerly waiting to hear the whole album and even more for live shows in Europe! it's been far too long!
    Eagerly waiting to hear the whole album and even more for live shows in Europe! it's been far too long!
  • Kevin

    Kevin Salt Lake City

    I caught a show in SLC a few years ago and had never heard of such a thing as a Zammuto. I approached the merch table after you guys blew me away and saw The Books displayed, at which point I bought as much vinyl as I could carry and Nick was kind enough to hold it at the table so I could watch explosions in the sky! Wonderful to see you're coming back.
    I caught a show in SLC a few years ago and had never heard of such a thing as a Zammuto. I approached the merch table after you guys blew me away and saw The Books displayed, at which point I bought as much vinyl as I could carry and Nick was kind enough to hold it at the table so I could watch explosions in the sky! Wonderful to see you're coming back.
  • Gabe

    Gabe Flagstaff, Arizona

    What!?!? No Flagstaff date on your tour! For Shame!
    What!?!? No Flagstaff date on your tour! For Shame!
  • Tom

    Tom Melbourne, Australia

    I hope you manage to make it to Australia with Zammuto. Love your work man.
    I hope you manage to make it to Australia with Zammuto. Love your work man.

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