Anchor Blog Series: Entry 9
You might recognize bits of this track in the music I made for the ‘Bass Projector’ video:
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:
You don’t need the medicine,
To see the grid lines.
Trying to sleep in a house with odd angles,
Please stop thinking,
You don’t the medicine,
To make amends.
Admit you’re powerless,
To your compulsions.
Take a walk outside,
Brain bleach genuine,
With x’s on your hands,
Brain bleach genuine,
You don’t need the medicine.
Thanks for reading: tomorrow track 10: Sinker