Wednesday, March 6, 2019

John Maus - Cop Killer

Last December, 2018, Facebook started spamming my feed for an upcoming show of John Maus at the Great American Music Hall, which I simply ignored. I mean, come on, I'm not dumb enough click on sponsored posts or even turn them off cause I don't want to give FB any kind of data on what I do and don't like. I try not to even hover over the ads, with the mouse or my eyes. Never heard of John Maus, not interested.

But here's the thing. They don't need any more data on me. They got me figured! For the most part. I still get ads for terrible kickstarters cause I backed one one time (what? who didn't think invisible panties wasn't a good idea? hmm? we all thought it was golden.) and they think cause I watched an episode of American Gods that I must really be into Neil Gaiman and bombard me with ads for some online class/lecture that starts with Neil sitting in a leather chair and trying to look like an elder fictionier... or something (note: I am truly not interested in NG... unless he wants to give me a grant, or a loan, or a blurb, or will just glance at me from the other side of the room, what a dream!). Anyhow, finally came across John Maus and yeah, they got me figured out. Still, not about to click on any ads, though:

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Black Moth Super Rainbow - Twin of Myself

There's a new venue in San Francisco, the August Hall over on Mason. It took over the Ruby Skye venue that I worked at for one night only back in like 2001.

What was a dark but very cool place has been lit up and remodeled to bring out some of the old classic luster. The mezzanine looks great, whole place looks great. But I said it was a new place, but truth is, its been around for a minute. Or at least the promotor has: Live Nation. I could go on about this, but these articles cover the corporate encroachment/take over of the bay area music scene in detail. I will say that Live Nation moved the show time up on us without any notice so I missed the opening acts. Methinks this was due to the show not selling out so they wanted to close down as soon as possible. Whatever the case, shady corporate hijinx in SF is nothing new, in fact is downright old. 

At any rate, we did get to see Black Moth Super Rainbow and man did they slay. It was like watching a master class on how to do lo-fi electro-synth-pop. From the lights to the vocoder to the performance, watching these guys live was truly awesome. And inspiring. Inspired me to really dust off the vocoder and go down a rabbit hole of old synths that I'll write a post on later. In the meantime, feast on the magic that is BSMR:


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Nils Frahm - Says

I was at a friend's wedding and the place we stayed in had one of them creepy Alexa machines. My roommate has one. The kind that's always listening and probably recording me and my tastes to sell to North Korean by way of the Ukraine darkweb hackers... and Google.

Figured I'd try it out so I said, "Play modern, beautiful, experimental classical music." It played this piece second.

One thing I really like about this piece, and you can see him do it live, is that he really gets into what he's playing, I mean, he learns the mechanics. Not only has he dug into both the Roland Juno-60 (the constant arpeggiator in the background) and not only is he very well versed in the piano, he plays the Roland RE-501 like an instrument. He's actively playing/messing with the tape delay, the motors and speed and anything he can futz with. I first saw John Dwyer of the Oh Sees do this at the Chapel a few years back. I know I'm late to the game, people have been playing tape delays as another instrument since they came on the scene (terry riley, etc). But I've never had one. Frahm inspired me to go out and get one. Which I did! Totally stealing this guy's steez.

I can only assume that even though I travelled to Colorado for the wedding and don't own an Alexa, Alexa still recognized my voice and knew exactly who I was. Or, this really is just straight up modern, beautiful, experimental classical music.

Let's believe that.

At least for now.

Monday, February 18, 2019

screams - Death City One [1], You Will Set This City On Fire

Hey so, I released a little four song EP in 2018: Death City One [1]. You can listen to it for free, not that you will, but I thought I'd write up some production notes, just cause, hey, why not? I'll go song by song. But first, an intro:

DCO1 is made up of four songs, three of which I wrote this year (2018) and one that I wrote, jeez, I don't even know how long ago, two? three years? Talking about Under Cover of Dark. The idea behind this release was to keep going. My main band, Face Tat, is still around, still active, however, the other half of the band, Mike G, moved on over to New York, so you know, makes the whole jamming aspect hard. Yes, of course, there's plenty people can do from afar, such as Postal Service. Plenty of artists don't even meet in person, they just send tracks back and forth. And that's all well and good, but first you really have adapt your music playing style and process for a studio project. This ain't always easy.

I grew up playing in a bunch of bands that none of you have ever heard of, so I learned to play live with others. Really learned to write by vamping out parts. In the studio, it's all on you. There's many different ways to skin a cat and write a song. Some people jam, others write lyrics first, others strum guitar. Some people are very intentional and know exactly what they want to get out of a studio. For me, music is a process of discovery. I don't really feel so much like I write or compose music, but instead that I discover curious little musical ideas, some of which have been done before, but all of which I want to share. Thing is, the studio allows you to do anything, and sometimes that makes one feel directionless, and therefore nothing happens. I really had to dig in and just experiment. As time's gone on and I've built out more and more of my studio (which is nothing fancy, just a collection of synths, guits, and drums) I'm discovering more and more what I can do. So, these songs reflect a lot of studio growth and discovery. Case in point: You Will Set This City On Fire.

One of the things about studio writing, and most creative projects I work on, is that I write about 80% of a song in about one sitting, in just a few takes. But these takes are mostly terrible. I mean, they're great ideas, but they are not at all for public consumption. They're rough, lots of mistakes, maybe only a few good takes, but that doesn't matter, they're all scratch. I then spend a week or so recapturing the initial idea and recreating the sound clean (or sometimes dirty) and flesh out the body of the song. So, we're at about 95% here. After that, every single studio session is about grinding down the remaining 5%. Editing, overdubs, mixing (and mixing and mixing), mastering, making tiny little fixes. This is why deadlines are so important. The first 70% you can do in a day, the next 20% takes you two weeks, and the last 10% can take a month or longer. As you get closer to 100% and "perfection" the more it costs in time and effort. Is that little pop at the end that will take you three hours to edit out or do all over again worth it? Sometimes yes, but mostly no. Songs are never finished, just abandoned. And the only way for me to impose this is by deadline. My point here is I wrote YWSTCOF in one weekend, while my bud Al Lover was in town visiting. We hanged out one night and after he left I just a laid out this drum pattern and heavy bassline. I didn't really know what to do after that so I slapped on an arpeggiator for the chorus part, which I played by hand, meaning I was adjusting the tempo of the arp via knob twiddling. Sometimes I feel that arps that are so on time and in sync with the tempo with computer precision just takes the life and excitement out of the sound. Sometimes this is good, you want a cold, unemotional, detached feel. But for this song, it was supposed to be loud and dirty and messy, which it is.

After that, I wanted to play with tone. This song is nothing if not playful. Such as that Beastie Boys 808 tom at the end of the drum phrase. Everybody I played it for told me to take it out, but for me, that was the tone of the song. Dirty ass bass and drums with a playful tone. To accentuate this I added that twinkly arp in the intro (just a microKorg with the resonance turned up). To play with tone more I played that main melody on a Roland Gaia and then decided to get real cheesey and used some midi mens chorus preset in Logic Pro X.

Finally, about 95% done I showed it to Al Lover and all he said was, "you need some hella trappy high hats on that." So I asked him, "care to send me some hella trappy high hats?" So he did. I messed with them a bunch, but they're all Al. And he sent them to me remotely. Like this is some kind of real studio.

As if.

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: