Sunday, December 3, 2006

Song: Lose It

Lose It
Mix 3
December 3, 2006

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Sometimes the words just won't come out of your mouth and then you lose it.
Sometimes you think you know exactly what to say and then you lose it.
Well, you still stumble along and keep the conversation moving.

Sometimes you find you know how everything works but you can't prove it.
Yeah, you can argue your way, but now you know you're gonna lose it.
Why bother anyhow? There's nothing you can ever say to prove it.

So lose it.
So lose it.
So lose it.
So lose it.

Sometimes it looks as though everybody knows what they are doing,
While you just tumble around and hope they notice you're still moving.
Don't you get caught up where you walk — just make sure that you keep moving.

Influences: Chantigs, George Harrison, The White Stripes.
Instruments: Yamaha CG-130SA Classical Guitar, Dean Exotica QSE Acoustic/Electric Guitar, Martin Backpacker, Washburn Cumberland 12-string Acoustic Guitar, Johnson UK-120 Soprano Ukulele, Squier P-Bass Special, Epiphone Wildkat, MeanBeat Percussion Samples, DigiTech RP100 + Microphone.

Sometimes the words just won't come out of MY mouth, and then I lose it. What, I can't be autobiographical once in a while? Write a song the kids can relate to? Crazy!

Given the subject matter and how it's obviously just a word-for-word quote of my internal monologue, it should come as no surprise that the song was written in one night, as opposed to many others which sit on the back burner for months or years at a time (because I'm pretty bad at coming up with lyrics). The only trouble was that I wrote this as more of a poem — I didn't have any music in mind, and it took me several months before I bothered trying to put it to music.

I decided to go all out with this mix, bringing in most of the acoustic stringed instruments I owned at the time for the backing chords. As for the slide guitar solo, I purposely designed it around the flanged microphone feedback effect I had coaxed out of my DigiTech RP100 and recorded previously during a bout of experimentation.

Structurally, this is a good example of twelve-bar blues. Compare, for instance, the classic "Shake, Rattle, and Roll", or "I'm Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman" by The White Stripes, or even the theme from the 1960's Batman series.

Brownie points to you if you appreciate the delicate art of rhyming a word with itself.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Demo: The House (Oh No)

The House (Oh No)
November 1, 2006

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Well, the room was bare,
Too clean when I woke,
Though I swore I'd stay awake through it all,
They're gone. They're gone.
The moon was burning through that night
When they left me.

Not a strand of hair was left in the bed;
Not a web was left on the floor,
Oh no. Oh no.
I tried to warn them,
Tried to stop their poor mistaken souls...

But an angry dog was left in the yard..
Couldn't leave for fear of the dog,
Oh no. Oh no.

So I sat and stared, and watched as the walls
Didn't move. The floor didn't creak,
Oh no. Oh no.
And nothing special passed behind me..
Nobody slammed a door...

When the sun came up
The house was all mine,
And the hound had gone.
It's warm and it's calm.
It's fine. I'm fine..

Influences: Masato Nakamura, The Flaming Lips, Sarah Slean.
Instruments: Martin Backpacker, Praat.

Just your run-of-the-mill tale of apocalyptic abandonment, with a touch of cynophobia and non-hallucination.

Here's how it came about: So, while taking a quick trip back in time to play Sonic The Hedgehog 2, I figured on getting some kicks out of the old sound test screen. After chewing on a few tracks, I popped it up to track 10 (hexadecimal 10, mind you) — the by-now niche-famous Sonic 2 tune that never made it into any actual levels. Wouldn't it be cool if this tune had some lyrics? Alright, let's do it.

So I let that percolate for a while...

Hey, and now there's this song sitting there, waiting to be recorded. Okay, that should be easy!

Ack. This needs a female vocalist. I hain't got one on hand... Hey, I know! Let's be all progressive and experimental and use Praat, a speech analysis/processing program, to up the pitch and timbre some.

Hey, that's got a nice texture to it. But it's kind of hollow sounding. But hey, backwards reverb is cool, and should cover some of the imperfections. That was a technique used by The Flaming Lips from time to time in their early albums. You can hear an example in the song "You Have To Be Joking (Autopsy of the Devil's Brain)" from their album Hit to Death in the Future Head.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Song: Sever (Ballad of The Leg With Gangrene)

(Ballad of the Leg With Gangrene)
Mix 4
October 5, 2006

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Sever me! Sever me!
Sever me! Sever me!

Let me go! Let me go!
Let me go! Let me go!

Help! Help!

Influences: Meg White (drums), George Harrison (volume pedal).
Instruments: Pulse Pro Jr. Drum Set, Squier J/P-Bass, Epiphone Wildkat, Kramer Focus 111S/Volume Pedal.

This song represents a series of happy accidents, starting with a recording of several fairly uninspired practice drum jams using the Pulse Pro Jr. set. Following my normal procedure at the time, I named each separate drum jam after a random word from a random Wikipedia article. As I was naming what would become the backing drums for this song, I came across the keyword Sever, referring to various Portuguese parishes. I thought the name sounded cool, and the drum beat wasn't half bad, so I went with it.

The next step was to pull the two bass lines out of the blue (allowing the whim-based changes in drumming to guide key changes) and record them — the low, left-speaker one first, followed soon after by the higher harmonizing right-speaker line. After letting that stew for a while, I decided to move forward and quickly threw together the rhythm guitar, using the Epiphone Wildkat recorded acoustically to get that sharp, trebly sound from it. Finally, I decided to make use of the volume pedal I had owned for nearly a year, and which had served me well with one of the two bands I was in during my last semester at William and Mary the same year. Pairing the Kramer Focus 111S with the volume pedal, I quickly kicked out the last instrumental portion of the song.

After mixing all the guitars and the drum track together with FruityLoops and letting a few people listen to it, I started to fancy (in no small part due to the random name that had been tacked onto the drum track) that the volume pedal/guitar was trying to say something... "Help me, sever me, sever me, let me go, etc." So I decided to sing that into the can and hook it up to FruityLoops' vocoder along with a copy of that guitar line. Although I had recorded vocals for the entire length of the song, I elected to confine them to the climax.

Despite how quickly this song went from a throwaway drum practice recording to a full-blown quadruple-guitar instrumental complete with frivolous vocoder-steeped pleading, I consider this to be the closest I've come to achieving the kind of music I'm truly aiming for: a pure emotional wave — first shocking you to attention, then slowly drawing you towards the absurd but eerily believable climax, and finally letting you back down to the ground — where, if you're like me, you realize that at only a minute and a half long, you can afford to ride this wave a couple more times — and maybe a little louder next time...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

WCWM - Robot ID

WCWM - Robot ID
September 21, 2006
[41 sec]

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WCWM, 90.9 FM.
WCWM, 90.9 FM.




Influences: Stephen Hawking.
Instruments: DocTalker Text-to-Speech Suite; Wine Glass Click Sample; FruityLoops: 3x Oscillator, MIDI Guitar Harmonics, Percussion Samples.

I created this, along with two other recordings, as a gift to WCWM a few months after I graduated from William and Mary. During my last year there, I ran a radio show for two hours each week. The show had a premeditated playlist, focused on running two tracks in a row by the same artist (a twin spin!) to help convince listeners that the artists were worth really getting into. My thought process had been that if I liked one song, I might go download the song — but if I liked a couple songs, I might run out and buy an album. In a two-hour show, I averaged about 16 artists, divided into two-artist sets broken up by short PSAs. In preparing my playlists, I would premix each four-song set, carefully timing the transition from one song to the next so that the rhythm wouldn't skip a beat, and I generally tried to link the two artists in a set by lining up the key of the second and third songs. So, I might be OCD (OCPD?), but I like to think that my listeners benefited from it.

The high glassy clicking throughout the track is one of many samples I recorded of bumping wine glasses together in different ways (and, amazingly, not breaking any of them). In the interest of full disclosure, I believe that this sample in particular was of two wine glasses bumping bottom-to-bottom.

The Text-to-Speech vocals were generated by a program called DocTalker, released by Willow Pond Corporation in the mid-1990's. The melodies of the vocals were created by chance, by setting up the utility to use a random intonation. I played off those melodies to create the backing music.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Instrumental: Coffinee

July 26, 2006

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Influences: The Seatbelts.
Instruments: Dean Exotica QSE Acoustic/Electric Guitar.

I just kind of made this up out of nowhere. Only took a few minutes. I was sitting around and noodling and started picking up a folksy western vibe and went with it. Don't ask about the name... I have no idea.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Song: Turn It On

Turn It On
Mix 4
February 18, 2006

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Everyday I wonder how living would be
If you gave a little more than a damn for me;
You've got pictures of your friends pinned up on the wall,
And am I the biggest, the biggest fool of them all?

Come on and turn it on...

Well I get so lost when I don't know where I stand,
But then I don't need no one here to hold my hand,
And so the news starts spreading around;
If you've got a minute then I'll show you just what I've found.

Come on and turn it on...

Though I don't know what I want, I'll tell you one thing I've got,
I've got a handkerchief round my neck,
And I'm ready to go with just a knock on the door,
And then you won't ever have to think of me no more.

Come on and turn it on...

Influences: They Might Be Giants, The Strokes.
Instruments: Dean Exotica QSE Acoustic/Electric Guitar, Palms & Thighs.

During my last week of finals in December 2005, I woke up one morning with the words and riff of the refrain to this song repeating OVER and OVER in my head. I kept mulling it over while getting out of bed, and in the shower I started to think about lyrics that would fit as verses to go with the refrain. The first thing that came to mind was a line from "Spooky", a song by Classics IV. Just then I thought about how sometimes They Might Be Giants would incorporate bits of lyrics from popular songs into their own songs (such as in the song "The Biggest One" which borrows lines from the song "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor), and I figured I might as well try that out and see what happens.

I ended up borrowing lines from "Spooky" for what became the second verse and following it closely by a less-obvious borrowing from Jet's song "Get What You Need". Then I started working out the first verse and managed to borrow in a line (and a rhyme) from "Take Me To The River" by Talking Heads. Finally, I borrowed a little bit out of the song "Geek Stink Breath" by Green Day to introduce the third verse. However, despite borrowing lyrics and, to some extent, vocal melody from those songs, I managed to kind of rearrange their meanings from their original contexts and combine them with my own lyrics into a theme of getting tough on a failing relationship. (Autobiographical? Hardly.)

I recorded this version of the track as a demo to the band I was playing with during my last semester at William and Mary, called The Adventures of..., A.K.A. "Bro Party". (We didn't ever actually perform the number.) There are three recordings of my Dean Acoustic/Electric Guitar (plugged in as an electric) in the track, one covering the low end with palm-muted power chords, and the other two providing more rhythm and chords. Both the foreground and background vocals were recorded against a slowed-down version of the instrumentation and pitched up one semitone to get a different sound. To round out the track I did some leg-slapping for percussion.

Not much more to say. Don't sue me.