Sepp’s been into bullwhips. he made this one out of rope, ball-chain, and hockey tape.
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Listen to Anchor:
Official Video of for IO with the trebuchet we built:
Official video for Great Equator made using Electron and Light Microscopes:
Our Indiegogo Campaign Video from Summer 2013:
i turned 40 today.
Anchor Blog Series: Entry #11
This is the last track on the LP and it is about death (as last tracks often are). I certainly don’t mean it to be depressing. In fact, death’s inevitability has always filled me with wonder in a way that enriches my day to day. Thinking about it always brings me to the realization that I don’t know much of anything. The most basic facts about what is really going on here are a total mystery. As Alan Watts said, “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what. That is what our knowledge amounts to.”
I recorded the lyrics at home and then recorded Daniela’s harmony in Toronto on my visit there in February. She has an amazing ear for harmony and we were able to hone in on a nice development pretty quickly. I used the PCM81 to post process the vocals and push them back in space at the end of each stanza. I met Daniela through my wife’s sister, who was a schoolmate of hers. I heard a demo she made in college and was blown away, and it’s taken a while for the collaboration to come about, but I’m so happy to have her contribution on this record. She and her husband Dan Goldman have a band called Snowblink. Check out their record ‘Long Live’ (to start), it’s incredible.
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Anchor Blog Series: Entry #10
I named the track ‘Sinker’ early on because of the repeated sinking melody that was stuck in my head while working on the chords. The vocal melody is simply a pattern of descending notes that end in different places… like leaves falling out of a tree from different heights. It was a useful way to unify the lyrical flow while writing non-rhyming prose.
When you’re home, just wind on water
Anchor Blog Series: Entry 9
You might recognize bits of this track in the music I made for the ‘Bass Projector’ video:
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.
Anchor Blog Series: Entry #8
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.
Set, I’m gonna fit right in when I put on my good clothes,
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:
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)
Thanks for reading! Next up ‘Sinker’.
Anchor Blog Series: Entry #7
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,
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.
Anchor Blog Series: Entry #6
Don’t Be a Tool (Instrumental)
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.
Anchor Blog Series: Entry #5
Need Some Sun
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.
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)
3). Most importantly! SPREAD THE WORD.
Anchor Blog Series: Entry #4
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.
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.
She leaned against the wall,
Thanks for reading, tomorrow Track 5: Need Some Sun.
And please help us keep going:
1). Check out our webstore: (zammuto/thebooks/soundsculpture)
3). Most importantly! SPREAD THE WORD.
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