Tuesday, February 12, 2019

I made a something: Bahia de los Muertos

I made a something. I guess it's musical, at least the second part is. It is organized sound.

I went down to Baja for New Years Eve with Angel and a group of friends. I made field recordings of the weekend, both indoors and out. I mixed, edited, and arranged the field recordings as a stand alone soundscape/narrative of our time down there, in a not very chronological order. I was lucky enough to get Deena Rosen to read some haikus she wrote on the trip and the track art is a photo Roger Thomasson took from the house down there. 

The second track is loops made out of what I captured that I mixed in and out and then later set to music: piano, cello, microKorg. I ran a bunch of tracks through an RE-101 and laid down some droney reverb over the background. This created a susurrus that gave the project a dreamlike quality. I also noticed that the susurrus, taken as a whole, was hovering around certain notes: G, A, A#, C, and D#. That's an grouping: G and C fifth/forth; A# and D#, dominant fifth; A and C, minor third; G and A#, minor third. There's a lot of harmonic potential in there. But enough nerding.

I tried to make a melody out of all of that, but nothing stuck. I think part of the reason was the loops themselves, they were constantly making new arrangements every iteration, because the loops all have different play lengths. There's all sorts of new combinations of sound every second, though over time certain ones stand out. This creates a constantly shifting landscape which makes a consistent melody hard to apply, or at least for me it was hard. Every time I found an enticing melody it felt like I was imposing order instead of bringing forth new musical ideas. I tried to address this in the mix, but many of the tracks were recorded poorly. (I tend to record loud things and up close via low input as it cuts down on windnoise and popping and other recording artifacts, things I don't want, but this time some things were too far away or too quiet for the input level I had. Frankly, I really need to get a windshield for my handheld, you know, one of them dead cat/clown nose things to cut down on wind and increase my input level. Live and learn.)

So, because I couldn't really find a melody that represented the piece I ended up playing a bunch of little variations in free time, with no backing track, on a Rhodes piano. Then I threw on a bassline that's imposes a bit of order, some cellos to smooth things over and bring out some more emotional nuance, and a random-pattern microKorg arpeggiator. That sounds all fancy, but really, I just messed around with things and twiddled knobs until it good. One thing that didn't come out until the final mix is the musical downbeat that was captured on one of the recordings. It makes a kind of beat that's in the mix on the second track, "La Muerte Sueña," that I would've liked to have explored more, but I ran out of time. Next time, boost volume and mix everything first, before trying to write music. 

At any rate, I'm pretty pumped with the result. There's some real delicate sounds that I just love (the crickets calling back and forth to each other), so I'd suggest listening to this at at least 75% volume, maybe up to 85%, with some really good headphones, but I've played this on a lot of systems and it sounds good all that I've encountered.

Finally, I wanted to dedicate this project to Michelle Ybarra, who organized the trip along with Joanne Lee, even though she didn't make it down, and all the rest of the Bajajaja crew:

Angel Lowrey
Todd Sills
Benita Sills
Sarah Solomon
Roger Thomasson
Deena Rosen
Elizabeth Ly
Liam O'Donoghue
Julia Hathaway

It's on soundcloud and on bandcamp (at bottom), so take your pick:


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